4th Hants Mobilisation 1914

World War 1 – Yateley’s Story

 The 4th Hampshire Regiment – 1914 to 1915

Call Up and Embarkation

Out of about two hundred Yateley men who took part in the First World War no fewer than twenty nine served in the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. Of these five were to lose their lives with many more wounded.

The Territorial Force (Army from 1920) was formed in 1908 from the Volunteers and Yeomanry under the Haldane reforms of 1907. Up to the outbreak of war in 1914 it always consisted of the 4th and 5th Battalions of the respective Regiment and was for ‘home’ service only however it could volunteer for overseas service if necessary

The 4th Hants, based in Winchester, was ‘called up’ at the outbreak of the war in August 1914 and, like other Territorial Battalions, immediately set up recruiting centres, mainly in the central and northern parts of Hampshire, of which Yateley was one. Men from other Counties were also recruited into the Battalion at Yateley.

In September the Battalion assembled at Bustard Camp on Salisbury Plain where it was split into two halves – the 1/4th and 2/4th respectively. The 1/4th was commanded by Lt.-Col. F.J. Bowker and his second-in-command was Major W.B. Stilwell. The 2/4th was commanded by Lt. Col. Naish and his second-in-command was Major J.B.L. Stilwell. The Stilwells were brothers originally from ‘Hilfield’ in Yateley. Two junior officers in the 1/4th Hants were also Yateley men – Lt C. M. Macrae and 2nd Lt. ‘Jack’ Stilwell, the latter being the nephew of the two Major Stilwells. With the local Territorial soldiers in the 2/4th Hants was Lance Corporal Cyril Bunch, from a long established Yateley family.

During their camp both half Battalions were requested to volunteer for overseas service in India to which they collectively agreed. The idea prevailing in the War Office at the time was that the ‘part time’ Territorials, not being trained to the degree of the Regulars, could ideally replace them on garrison duty guarding the outposts of Empire. The Regulars of course were urgently required for service in France and Belgium to help stem the German advance.

The 1/4th were almost immediately embarked and sailed for India on the 9th October 1914. They landed at Karachi on the 11th November 1914 and were attached to the 4th (Rawalpindi) Brigade in the 2nd (Rawalpindi) Division in January 1915.

After an initial order for the Battalion to move to Redhill (which was immediately rescinded and lead to much ribaldry in the following months) the 2/4th Hants embarked for India on the 13th December 1914 on board SS ‘Caledonia’, an ex Atlantic Liner (in 1916 the ‘Caledonia was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean). Their final destination was to be Quetta in Baluchistan which guarded part of the North West Frontier border with Afghanistan.

Turkey enters the war

On November 2nd 1914 the Turkish Ottoman Empire, encouraged by German intrigues, decided to throw in their lot with the Central Powers, and declared a Jihad or Holy War against the Allies including Britain. At this time the Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Middle East including Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia as well as Egypt in theory. However the latter was now under British control with the all-important Empire lifeline, the Suez Canal, linking it to the so-called Jewel in the Crown, India.

The Suez Canal route to India, and Britain’s oil supplies from the Gulf, were now threatened but the 2/4th Hants had, by now, arrived at Port Said and were now sailing through the Canal.

 ‘Xmas Day was spent in Port Said and the Suez Canal. The less said about turkey the better. It was the case of ’Turkey, Turkey everywhere’ but never a piece to eat, and most of us spent a happy Christmas on underdone mutton. Next morning at 4am we ran aground and for two hours or more hope was almost abandoned, desert on either side and terrible turbulent Turks advancing to the attack. However at 6am the Orderly Corporal of C Company fell out of bed and the resultant roll enabled the ship to free herself and continue her course.’ – ‘The Tiger’, Quetta May 1915

In 1915 the Turks did indeed reach the Canal and briefly landed a few men on the western bank. They were quickly repelled and subsequently defeated at the Battle of Romani, twenty miles east of the Canal, after which they were forced into a slow retreat across northern Sinai back to the Palestine border. It was to this front, now on the Palestine border, that the 2/4th Hants were to return from India in 1917 –

Sergeant Cyril Bunch, who had been promoted to this rank during the voyage, sent back a series of postcards to his family in Yateley recounting his observations on the voyage to India.

 ‘Am writing this in a café at Port Said on Xmas Day. We have two hours shore leave. The warmth is just comfortable. Will write you a longer letter when I get on board. This is a proper EasternTown everything quite alright. Just going on board for dinner, Love from Cyril.’

 Saturday 26/12/14

Have been travelling through the Canal all night. We must have gone out of our way a little as the ship was stranded from 3 till 7 this  morning! To get off the troops had to go to the stern of the boat to raise the bows. Suez was reached at 10.30 am. It looks a much cleaner town than Port Said. A railway runs near the Canal between the towns. Indian troops are stationed at intervals by the Canal. There are a few trenches. On the Egyptian bank there are several villages with irrigation systems.

“Dear Mother & Dad,

We are now anchored near Bombay. There is a large amount of shipping here and some very large buildings. I hope shore leave will be allowed, but there does not seem much chance. Our time now is about 5hrs earlier then England.

Love to you all , Cyril”

Karachi to Quetta

After a brief call at Bombay, the Battalion arrived at Karachi on the 11th January 1915 where they entrained for the journey to Quetta.

“Breakfast in the desert in the early morning, when we turned out of the troop train and stretched our legs, was a fresh experience, and the cool morning in a sun-heated land a wonderful time, unequalled under western skies.

 Out came the ‘Dixies’ as soon as the train halted, and the company Cooks were soon busy making tea, while the men lined up in their “messes,” and were served out with rations and mugs of strong “char” as we now learned to call it. Officers turned out in pyjamas, or uniform, if time allowed, to see the men fed, and the train, the only visible object to break the monotonous flatness of the terrain, awaited our pleasure.

We were now travelling through Sind, and after three days of it found ourselves running through red sandstone rocks, scarred and twisted into fantastic shapes, and entering the Bolan Pass at so steep a gradient that two engines were barely sufficient to pull us. But we gained at last the tableland, with its 5,000ft of altitude, on which Quetta lies, and came well within sight of our future home.”

 

Capt. A F L Bacon 2/4th Hants. – ‘The Wanderings of a Temporary Warrior.’

Yateley’s young men, primarily consisting or artisans, farm labourers, errand boys, gardeners and those ‘in service’ most of whom had probably not travelled much further than the nearest town, had left the cool green fields of Yateley to travel to an unknown hot and distant land of desert and barren rocky hills and mountains.

 ‘A’ Company 2/4th Hants, on a rocky hillside near Chasma Tangi Camp, Baluchistan, June 1915 – note the ‘Char Wallah’ (tea man) at the front. Sgt. Cyril Bunch from Yateley is arrowed

 A poem which appeared in ‘The Tiger’ for May 1915 seemed to say it all.

June in Hampshire
In Quetta lamps are lighted
And like a sound in dreams,
The bugle calls at evening
Across the seven streams,
How sweet and faint it seems.
~
O, here I am a soldier
And here my heart must stay
Till twilight’s in the barracks
And with the end of day
My heart is far away.
 ~
For Hannah pass is rocky
And high is Murdar hill
But O for June in Hampshire
And the fields my people till
My heart is crying still;
 ~
The honeysuckle hedges
They will be dusty white
Where grass mowers go singing
Along the golden light
Down smooth fields out of sight.
 ~
Surely on some long evening
When rooks call down the lane
And on the fields at twilight
All softly falls the rain
We shall come home again
 ~
When faint, far cries of sunset
Are in the lime trees cool
And by the ancient spinney
Up from the hidden pool
The boys troop back to school
 ~
For Hannah pass is rocky
And high is Murdar hill
But O, of June in England
And the fields our people till
Our hearts are dreaming still

The Later History of the 4th Hants

The 1/4th Hants’ stay in India was curtailed in May 1915 when they were ordered to Mesopotamia. An expedition had been already been mounted from India to secure Basra and the oil fields in Persia and it was then decided to expand the operation by advancing up the Tigris and Euphrates to capture Baghdad. The Battalion was in the forefront and as a result suffered many casualties. They were also to lose an entire Company as Prisoners of War at the siege and capture of Kut in April 1916, the worst defeat suffered by the British Army until Singapore in WW2. The 1/4th remained in Mesopotamia for the remainder of the War.

The 2/4th Hants spent two years as a depot Battalion stationed at Quetta, however they continually exchanged men with the 1/4th in Mesopotamia with most of the convalescent wounded returning to Quetta. In 1917 they were sent to Egypt in order to take part in the final phases of the Palestine expedition under General Allenby which resulted in the capture of Jerusalem in October 1917. They subsequently served on the western front in France during the final advance of 1918 which resulted in the Armistice of November 11th 1918.

References

There are some excellent contemporary sources of information on the 2/4th Hants at Quetta from 1915 to 1917 as well as eye witness accounts of the 1/4th actions in the Mesopotamia campaign during this period

‘The Tiger’ – The Battalion Journal published by the 2/4th Hants in Quetta between 1915 and 1917 and which includes accounts of the Mesopotamia campaign. The Journal was started and initially edited by Lt. Godfrey Elton, a distinguished historian. He was wounded and captured at Kut. He later became the 1st Baron Elton on the initiative of Ramsay Macdonald, the first Labour Prime Minister.

A.F.L. Bacon – ‘The Wanderings of a Temporary Warrior’ published in 1922.

Bacon was initially a Lieutenant then Captain. He was the only Officer to serve throughout the War in the 2/4th Hants. He was a Barrister-at-Law in private life.

Postcards and Photos sent home by Sgt (Later a 2nd Lt later a 2nd Lt. Pilot Officer in the RAF) Cyril Bunch during the War.

Written by Chris Bunch – Yateley Society