Each One a Pocket Hercules1: The Bantam Experiment and the case of the 35th Division

Few episodes in the massive expansion of the British Army in 1914-1915 more graphically illustrate the haphazard, improvised and often reactive nature of that process than the story of the ‘Bantam’ experiment and, in particular, the experience of the 35th (Bantam) Division.2   What began as a well-intentioned attempt to harness the patriotic spirit of men  who, due to their diminutive stature, would otherwise have been denied the chance to serve their country, led, in reality, to disappointment and tragedy, principally because no one, at the outset, appears to have carefully considered the full implications of the scheme they had initiated.

When, in August 1914, Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War, set about the task of enlarging Britain’s military forces by creating a series of ‘New Armies’ – each duplicating the six infantry divisions of the Regular British Expeditionary Force (BEF) – he had, as yet, no clear idea of the ultimate size of those forces.  His first appeal for recruits, on 7 August, invited men aged between 19 and 30 to enlist for general service ‘for the duration of the war’, the stipulated physical standards being a height of 5 feet 3 inches and upwards and a chest measurement of at least 34 inches.3  The scale and speed of the response, however, exceeded all expectations and, in the absence of any pre-war blueprint for the mobilisation of Britain’s manpower resources, Kitchener’s initial failure to impose a ceiling on enlistments and regulate the flow of volunteers produced a situation in which the existing recruiting machinery was overwhelmed.   On 3 September, less than a month after Kitchener’s first appeal, the total of men (33,204) who joined the army in one day was greater than the average annual intake in the years immediately prior to the war.4  Many regimental depots, designed for 250-500 men, had to cope with five or ten times that number and the majority of recruits faced severe shortages of accommodation, uniforms, weapons, personal equipment, bedding and rations within days of their enlistment.   Criticisms of the treatment of recruits grew in Parliament and Kitchener and the War Office were forced to find rapid solutions to these problems.   One answer was to allow civilian committees to raise new local battalions on the condition that they would assume responsibility for housing, feeding and clothing their own recruits until the War Office was ready to take them over and refund the costs involved.   A second solution was to apply a brake to enlistments by altering the height and chest requirement for recruits.   Accordingly, it was announced on 11 September that the minimum height standard had now been raised to 5 feet 6 inches and the minimum chest measurement to 35.5 inches.5  In late October, with enlistment returns already showing a sharp decline, and with congestion at the depots starting to ease, the minimum height standard was reduced to 5 feet 4 inches.   On 5 November it was reduced again to the early August requirement of 5 feet 3 inches.6 

Nevertheless, this relatively low minimum standard still excluded many potential recruits, such as sturdy miners, who were small in stature but physically fit.   As the autumn wore on, and recruiting figures continued to fall after the September peak, civilian recruiting committees in various parts of the country began to seek ways of bringing such men into the army’s fold.

Partridge and Love Ltd, Bristol (printer); 35th (Bantam) Division recruiting poster (Art.IWM PST 0971)

The most widely accepted version of the birth of the first Bantam battalions recounts how, in October 1914, an unidentified miner had walked all the way from Durham to Birkenhead in Cheshire in a vain attempt to enlist.   Rejected yet again in Birkenhead as being too small at 5 feet 2 inches, he offered to fight anyone in the room and was only removed from the recruiting office with great difficulty.   On hearing of the incident from Alfred Mansfield, the Secretary of the Birkenhead Recruiting Committee, Alfred Bigland, the local Member of Parliament, sought and obtained permission from Kitchener and the War Office to raise a special ‘Bantam’ battalion of medically-fir men between 5 feet and 5 feet 3 inches, who had hitherto been ineligible for the army.   On 18 November, in a letter to the Birkenhead News, Bigland announced that the Committee was ‘now ready to receive the names of men who are willing to join what it has been decided to call the “Bantam Battalion”, believing that a man is as good a soldier and as plucky a fighter at 5ft.2ins., as at 5ft.6ins.’   Men wishing to volunteer for the battalion were told to send their particulars on a postcard to Alfred Mansfield on the understanding that such postal applications would be given priority when recruiting commenced in the normal fashion.   Details of the proposed new battalion were circulated to recruiting offices throughout the country and other authorities were informed that if prospective Bantams passed a local medical examination, they would be issued with a rail ticket to Birkenhead, where they could join Bigland’s unit.   To avoid enrolling weaklings who might be incapable of carrying full infantry equipment, it was specified that men of 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 3 inches in height should have a minimum chest measurement of 34 inches.   By 27 November 1,098 applications had been received and recruits arrived from all quarters as soon as the actual process of attesting the volunteers got under way at the Birkenhead Town Hall on Monday 30 November.   Although a stringent medical examination saw some forty men rejected for inadequate chest measurements in the first hour, many more were accepted, and the initial target of 1,100 was reached in just two days.   A similar number had enlisted by the evening of 3 December, thus providing sufficient men for two Bantam units – subsequently designated the 15th and 16th (Service) Battalions, The Cheshire Regiment (1st and 2nd Birkenhead).7  It is plain that a large proportion of the early Bantams were robust individuals who certainly did not represent the ‘bottom of the barrel’ in manpower terms.   One of them, J J Hutchinson, found himself among miners, shipyard men, dockers from Liverpool and Birkenhead, workers from the lead industry who carried heavy metal all day, and bakery workers accustomed to lifting weighty sacks of flour.   ‘None of these men were exactly weak’ he recalled.8

Alfred Bigland MP inspects troops of the 15th Cheshires on their first public parade.

At roughly the same time, a Bantam battalion was being recruited in Manchester, where six City battalions of normal-sized men had been raised by late November and a seventh was being recruited.   On 21 November the Mayor of Manchester sought permission to raise an eighth City battalion, this time of Bantams, and received the necessary approval next day.   Manchester’s city fathers may well have been influenced by Bigland’s activities in  Birkenhead, but some historians point out that a Mr D E Anderson, from the Manchester Branch of the National Service League, had, for some time, been compiling a list of under-sized men, possibly hoping to spur the War Office into accepting volunteers below the 5 feet 3 inches standard.   Advertisements for the unit appeared in local newspapers, including the Manchester Guardian, on 26 November and recruiting was soon in progress.   Eventually designated the 23rd Battalion, Manchester Regiment (8th City), the Manchester Bantams attracted a large number of miners from pits in the Wigan area as well as businessmen and office workers.9

Other British cities can similarly claim to have been in the forefront of the Bantam movement.   In Edinburgh, a past president of the Rotary Club, J P Dobbie, appears to have proposed a ‘Short Stature’ battalion as early as 4 December.   Enlistment began before the end of that month for what became the 17th Battalion, Royal Scots (Rosebery) – the sub-title being  testimony to the leading role played by Lord Rosebery in recruiting for the regiment.   In Glasgow, the local Rotary Club was likewise instrumental in persuading the Lord Provost to raise a Bantam battalion, the 18th Highland Light Infantry (4th Glasgow) – quickly nicknamed ‘The Devil Dwarfs’.   It was not until the beginning of March, however, that, following pressure in Parliament, official War Office sanction for these two Scottish Bantam units was confirmed.10  Meanwhile, in December 1914, the Mayor and Corporation of Leeds had raised the 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Leeds).  

17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (courtesy Mike Dixon / Great War Forum) 

Three more Bantam battalions were raised in Lancashire in the first quarter of 1915 – the 17th and 18th Lancashire Fusiliers (1st and 2nd South East Lancashire) and the 20th Lancashire Fusiliers (4th Salford).   While recruiting for the first two of these was comparatively brisk, the reservoir of potential volunteers was clearly not unlimited, as the Salford Bantam battalion was still only 300 strong in early June 1915 and only attained the required numbers by the end of July.   The 15th Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) were raised by the Mayor and a committee in Nottingham in February; the 19th Durham Light Infantry (2nd County) by the Durham Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in January and February; and the 14th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment (West of England) by the Bristol Citizens’ Recruiting Committee in April 1915.   The 19th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) contained a strong element of colliery workers and also men from the Tyneside and Wearside shipyards, and the West of England Bantams included miners from the Forest of Dean alongside recruits from Bristol and Birmingham.11

Together these battalions formed the infantry of the 35th (Bantam) Division.   The divisional Pioneer battalion was the 19th Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Pioneers) and the artillery brigades were raised in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Accrington and Burnley in  Lancashire, and West Ham in East London.   The Pioneers, artillery and engineers were all non-Bantams.   When the division assembled in camps around Masham in Yorkshire in June-July 1915, the 17th, 18th and 20th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 23rd Manchesters made up the 104th Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General G M Mackenzie ; the 105th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General J G Hunter, comprised the 15th and 16th Cheshires, 14th Gloucesters and 15th Sherwood Foresters ; and the 106th Brigade, under Brigadier-General H O’Donnell, contained the 17th Royal Scots, 18th Highland Light Infantry, 19th DLI and 17th West Yorkshires.   The divisional commander, from 5 July 1915, Major-General Reginald Pinney, a teetotal officer who would become notorious in the BEF for denying his troops their rum ration.12

Major-General Reginald Pinney

A dozen more Bantam battalions were recruited, mostly in the spring and summer of 1915, enabling the War Office to form a second Bantam division, the 40th.   Four of its original battalions were from Wales, two from Scotland, two from Lancashire and one each from Yorkshire, Middlesex, East Anglia and Derby.   However, by the time the battalions arrived at Aldershot in the autumn, it was becoming obvious that many men recruited for the later Bantam units were unfit even for training at home.   As George Cunningham, a Glaswegian in the 14th HLI, observed : ‘We had a lot of wee lads who never should have been accepted…I was fair disgusted at the medics for taking them in at all.   We youngsters with a bit of heft to us could see there wasn’t much chance for a fighting battalion until they got rid of the runts’.   One battalion which joined the division at Aldershot over 1,000 strong, was subsequently reduced by medical rejections to barely 200 men.   While the Welsh battalions in 119th Brigade – containing large numbers of tough miners – retained their identity, two battalions in the 120th and another two in the 121st Brigade were disbanded, each being absorbed by one of the two remaining battalions in their respective brigades.   To avoid further delays in training or the postponement of the 40th Division’s departure for France, four non-Bantam battalions were transferred from the 39th Division in late February 1916, seriously diluting the 40th Division’s Bantam character before it left for the Western Front.13  Two Canadian Bantam units – the 143rd Battalion, from British Columbia, and the 216th Battalion, from Toronto – were raised in  1916 but both were broken up on reaching England the following year.14   Thus, since it was the only division to cross to the Western Front with its original Bantam infantry component relatively intact, a survey of  the performance of the 35th Division in the field perhaps offers the best means of assessing the validity of the whole Bantam experiment.

Above: Recruitment poster for the 143rd Bttn, CEF

Having completed its training on Salisbury Plain, the 35th Division crossed to France in late January-early February 1916, joining Lieutenant-General Haking’s XI Corps in General Sir Charles Monro’s First Army.   For the next five months the division was engaged in routine trench warfare in what was then a comparatively quiet ‘nursery’ sector in the flat Flanders countryside between La Bassée and Armentieres.   The division sparked mixed reactions among the British units that it encountered during its instruction and acclimatisation period and those that relieved it in the line following its tours of trench duty.   For example, the taller men of the Guards Division seem to have viewed the Bantams with affectionate amusement.   A private in the Guards, Alec Thomas, wrote : ‘After we finished telling the Bants they had duck’s disease, we had to take a lot of very funny insults in turn.   Very sharp tongues they have, and we’ve taken to the little chaps right away’.   Others were less kind.   On relieving a Bantam battalion at the front, Captain Richard Peirson, an officer in the Northumberland Fusiliers, was approached by his agitated company sergeant-major, who protested : ‘Sir, them bloody little dwarfs have built up the fire steps so they could see over.   Now when my lads stand up, half their bodies are above the parapet’.15  In  an effort to eliminate such complaints, the Bantams were ordered to take two sandbags each into the line to be filled and placed on the fire step so that the men could see ‘over the top’ without raising the fire step or lowering the parapet.16  Some sources indicate that, when the Bantams entered the front-line trenches or breastworks, the Germans opposite greeted them with crowing noises or calls of ‘Cock-a-doodle-do’.17

Throughout these first months of trench warfare there were few signs of the problems to come and, in fact, the men of the division were praised for their behaviour in the line and for the manner in which they adapted to conditions at the front.   Harrison Johnston, an officer in the 15th Cheshires, wrote in his diary on 2 March, after a German bombardment : ‘The men were fine and none of them left their posts…I was very proud of the lads’.   Three days later he remarked, with equal pride, how well his men had reacted to the miserable conditions at the front : ‘Lads who’ll stand last night will stand anything.   Up to their knees in snow water, most had been nearly up to their middles coming in…’18  The troops were also congratulated by Haig, Monro, Haking and Pinney on their response to a German raid on 30 May and their actions during a successful raid by the 14th Gloucesters  on 9 June.19   Harrison Johnston noted on 31 May that there had been a ‘lack of any sort of “wind”…’ in his battalion, while the war correspondent Philip Gibbs, describing the raid by the Gloucesters, declared that the Germans ‘don’t crow now over the Bantams’.20  On the 35th Division’s  departure from First Army and XI Corps early in July, Haking told Pinney of his appreciation of the ‘fine fighting qualities’ that the formation had displayed since arriving in France.21  By this time there had been important command changes, Brigadier-General J W Sandilands having taken over 104th Brigade on 14 April and Brigadier-General A H Marindin the 105th Brigade on 6 May.   Both officers would remain with the division until the end of the war.22

It was when the division moved south in July 1916 to take part in the Somme offensive that serious misgivings began to emerge about its collective combat effectiveness, fighting spirit and physical fitness.   To be fair, its prospects of success were limited, from the start, by a combination of factors beyond its control.   First, it was never committed to an attack on the Somme as a complete division, its infantry operating throughout as individual battalions or brigades, often attached to other commands.   Secondly, its infantry battalions were frequently employed on trench-digging duties or to provide carrying parties, thus suffering from fatigue and incurring casualties from almost constant shelling whilst being denied a reasonable chance to fight back.   Thirdly, it was mainly deployed in the difficult Maltz Horn Farm – Arrow Head Copse – Guillemont sector, with the added complications of fighting alongside the French Sixth Army.23  Fourthly, it was serving under General Sir Henry Rawlinson in the British Fourth Army in July and August during the very period in which Rawlinson was displaying an unfortunate tendency to launch repeated small-scale and localised attacks with inadequate forces on narrow frontages, not least in the Guillemont area.24  These extenuating factors notwithstanding, it has to be said that the division’s performance on the Somme was less than impressive, while its morale and resilience appear to have become increasingly and unexpectedly fragile in the latter half of 1916.

The 35th Division did show some promise in its first meaningful engagement on the Somme, when, on 18 July, the 16th Cheshires (105th Brigade) played a key part in the defence of Waterlot Farm, near Delville Wood, against a determined German counter-attack.   Lieutenant H D Ryalls and the battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel R C Browne-Clayton, both won the Distinguished Service Order in this successful but costly action.25  However, on 20 July, battalions of 104th and 105th Brigades had an  equally painful but far less successful experience in  a hastily-prepared and ill-conceived attack typical of Fourth Army’s operations at this time.   The 15th Sherwood Foresters (105th Brigade) were ordered to assault and capture a 1,000-yard stretch of German trenches between Maltz Horn Farm and Arrow Head Copse, but the odds were stacked against them from the outset.   The front to be attacked was far too long to be taken by a single battalion; the supporting artillery was unable to observe the effects of its fire upon the objective ; and the timing of the assault (5 a.m.) meant that the advancing troops were illuminated by the rising sun.   To make matters worse, the Sherwood Foresters were already exhausted and hungry, having been in the line, under continuous artillery fire and gas, since the night of 16-17 July.   A few hours before the battalion was due to go ‘over the top’, Lieutenant-Colonel R N S Gordon reported that the men had been forced to wear respirators for some time, that they were badly shaken by shelling and that only two of  his companies were in a fit state to attack.   Two companies of the 23rd Manchesters (104th Brigade) were accordingly sent up, just two hours before Zero, to support the assault.   When the attack went in, some parties on the right reached their objective but were driven back to their start line by shell, rifle and machine-gun fire.   A second attack, later in the morning, by the Manchesters,  supported by the two remaining companies of that battalion, had a similar outcome.   The combined casualties of the two battalions were over 400 officers and men for no lasting gain of ground, the Sherwood Foresters being temporarily reduced to one officer per company.26

Dismay at this setback was compounded by an incident involving an NCO and a section of ten men of the Sherwoods who had been instructed, in  the early hours of 19 July, to garrison a forward post near Arrow Head Copse and to hold it at all costs for forty-eight hours.   Exposed to intense shelling and machine-gun fire for much of the time, having had no rations for three days, and fearing an imminent German attack, the party returned to its own lines at 10 p.m. on 20 July, some five hours earlier than ordered.   The NCO, Corporal Jesse Wilton – who had enlisted in the battalion on its formation in February 1915 – was subsequently charged and found guilty of quitting his post, sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on 17 August 1916.   Recent historians of the 15th Sherwood Foresters suggest that when Wilton’s party returned from its isolated post, officers ‘drew revolvers to control some dreadful moments when a panicky retreat began to spread’ and also conclude that Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon no doubt ‘feared for the steadiness of his battalion’.   No one at the time or since seems, however, to have properly addressed the point that, as whole companies of the Sherwood Foresters and Manchesters had fallen back to their own lines several hours previously, it was perhaps not unreasonable for Wilton and his men to have followed suit later in the evening.27

Yet another small-scale attack, at battalion strength, was undertaken by the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers (104th Brigade) on 22 July.   The assault was to be made in  two columns against enemy trenches from a point south-east of Arrow Head Corpse to Maltz Horn Farm and it was intended, in the process, to demolish German wire entanglements which were not visible to artillery observers.   Although company commanders only received their orders around 9 p.m. on 21 July, the attack proceeded at 1.30 a.m. next morning.   The right column got to the objective but was compelled to retire while the left column did not even reach the German trenches.   In his report on the action, Brigadier-General Sandilands noted that continuous shelling had probably prevented the battalion’s officers from making all the necessary preparations but he also revealingly commented that, in his view, the time allowed for such preparations had been too short for an attack by New Army troops.28  Just over a week later, the 17th West Yorkshires and 17th Royal Scots (106th Brigade) were scheduled to support the attack by 30th Division in the Guillemont-Falfemont Farm sector on 30 July.   Congestion in the trenches ahead of them blocked the progress of both battalions and, while a platoon of the 17th Royal Scots was able to help a battalion of the 30th Division consolidate  line just east of Maltz Horn Farm, nothing else of substance was achieved by 106th Brigade that day.29

The division’s infantry were given a welcome break from front-line duties until 9 August but, as the divisional historian underlines, the work involved in absorbing new drafts – which now, apparently, contained many men of poor physique – and making them fit for the line, ‘demanded a considerable amount of attention from the officers concerned, and left little time for rest or recreation’.   However, the casualty replacements were sorely needed.   The 16th Cheshires, for example, mustered barely 600 men by late July and were reinforced by a draft of 150 before returning to the front.30

Senior officers of the division were to express mounting concern about its fighting efficiency and the low standards of recent drafts when the formation next saw serious action.   The 16th Cheshires were detailed to capture a German strongpoint some 90 yards east of Arrow Head Copse.   Heavy artillery was to bombard the strongpoint and the field artillery was to place a box barrage round the objective once the heavier guns ceased to fire.   Zero hour was fixed for 9 p.m. on 20 August but, with only a few minutes to go, Lieutenant-Colonel Browne-Clayton informed his superiors that it was impossible for him to get the men ready to attack, because the heavy artillery was not only still firing but firing short, the trenches were blown in and most of the Stokes mortar ammunition was buried.   The Brigade Major was sent forward to tell Browne-Clayton that the attack must proceed, albeit an hour later at 10 p.m.   The latter insisted that it would be unwise to attempt any further enterprise that night.   In a disturbing admission to his brigade commander, Browne-Clayton wrote that he was ‘ashamed to say that the battalion is quite demoralised.   I do not think that they would stand up against anything, and I honestly think it would be safer to get them relieved if possible.   Company commanders tell me that very few men would follow their officers over.   They are quite hopeless’.   In the end a compromise was reached whereby a small party would reconnoitre the strongpoint.   The party got close to the objective and was joined at 4.30 a.m. by a patrol from the 14th Gloucesters, but German barbed wire proved impenetrable and, under machine-gun fire, both groups withdrew.   In the wake of the abortive operation, Brigadier-General Marindin attributed the failure partly to the fact that, in firing short and beyond the stipulated time, the heavy artillery had contributed to the demoralisation of the Cheshires, yet he too raised grave doubts about the quality of recent recruits : ‘ The class of men we are now getting…are no longer the ‘Bantam’ proper, but are either half-grown lads, or are degenerates.   Col. Clayton’s and the Brigade Major’s reports show the state of affairs among the men’.31

Soon after this failure, on 24 August, the division was due to co-operate with the French I Corps in an advance near Falfemont Farm.   The plan called for 104th Brigade to attack and enter the German line on a 350-yard front immediately south-east of the farm.   The brigade’s role was restricted to strong patrols followed by two infantry companies, which were expected to hold and consolidate the objective – no easy task for a relatively small number of men.   Moreover, as no troops were to advance on the left of the selected battalion, its flank would be exposed to fire from Falfemont Farm itself, which was still in German hands.

The destruction of Falfemont Farm

Representations made to divisional headquarters that the attack had little prospect of success were overruled and the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers were ordered to undertake the task.   As the appointed time drew closer, preparations went further awry.   The Pioneers had been instructed to dig assembly trenches but lost their way under heavy shelling on the evening before the attack, failing to carry out their assignment.   The rest of the division had similarly suffered from shelling and Major-General Pinney, having visited the front line, was obliged to report that, yet again, its infantry were in no condition to assault.   In  the event, although the planned simultaneous attacks by other formations of XIV Corps were cancelled, the Lancashire Fusiliers were ordered to attack with the French at 5.45 p.m. on 24 August and to hold a line between Falfemont Farm and Angle Wood.   The battalion managed to advance some 300 yards and dig in on the southern slopes of the Falfemont Farm spur – a moderate success when measured against earlier attacks – but, for the third time in five weeks, officers at divisional and brigade level had registered severe doubts about the ability of their troops to mount an effective assault on the Somme.32

There were also more disciplinary problems during the division’s service on the Somme.   Private Hugh Flynn of the 18th HLI was charged with desertion after going missing on 26 July, when the battalion was about to return to the trenches north of Maricourt.   Another soldier from the 18th HLI, Private John McQuade, committed a similar offence on 29 July, while attached to 106th Trench Mortar Battery.   Both men were tried, sentenced to death and executed.   Given the growing criticism of recent drafts in  the late summer of 1916, it should perhaps be noted that Flynn  and McQuade had enlisted in April and May 1915 respectively, not long after their battalion was officially sanctioned by the War Office.33

By the last week of August many officers were seriously concerned about the division’s morale.   Captain B L Montgomery (the future Field-Marshal) – then Brigade Major of 104th Brigade – wrote on 27 August that the brigade would probably not be committed to the battle again as ‘the men could hardly stand three helpings of that sort of thing’.   Pinney had already received a ‘very bad account’ of morale in 106th Brigade and, on 27 August, personally inspected the men who had arrived with recent  drafts for 104th and 106th Brigades.   His comments on some of these latest drafts were damning : ‘Manchesters bad…HLI passable.  West Yorks bad.  DLI fair…’   He observed in addition: ‘It is no good putting large numbers of such men straight into a battle.   Some degenerates quickly demoralise the lot.   They have to be broken in to be brave but it takes time.’   When he met Rawlinson that day, the Fourth Army commander conceded that it was ‘rather hard’ on Pinney ‘to have to command poor material’.   After preparing a report on ‘indifferent’ drafts, Pinney circulated a memorandum on reinforcements on 31 August instructing all medical officers that ‘Men found medically unfit or men who are obviously deficient in physique or mind are to be returned to the Base forthwith.’   Despite the divisional historian’s statement that, while it was generally agreed that such a course was necessary, GHQ decided that the changes should not be made until after the formation had left Fourth Army, the process of rejecting men of poor physique – particularly those from the most recent drafts – had clearly begun before the 35th Division departed from the Somme for the Arras area at the end of August.34

Any objective analysis of the division’s performance on the Somme will confirm that it was ill-used and that command shortcomings, especially at Army and Corps levels, contributed to its woes.   But how far can its own internal weaknesses and tactical failures fairly be attributed to the low physical and mental standards of recent drafts, as most sources maintain ?   In this connection, it is instructive to look at the number of casualties suffered by individual battalions from February to June 1916 (inclusive), before they were thrust into the Somme battle.   The figures in the divisional history contain some obvious inconsistencies and points of confusion but nevertheless suggest that no infantry battalion suffered more than 91 battle casualties in all during those months and that the average number of killed, wounded and missing per battalion from February to June was sixty-nine.   Even allowing for sickness, accidents and transfers to other units, these losses of personnel could scarcely be described as overwhelming and it seems reasonable to conclude, from these figures that the division began its service on the Somme with a fair proportion of original or early Bantam recruits still in its ranks.35  In short, although half of its battalions would incur battle losses of between 300 and 400 in July-August, its failures cannot be wholly attributed to the poor standards of the latest drafts.   One might also conclude that some of the blame for the division’s apparently shaky morale abd fighting spirit in the summer of 1916 should be laid at the door of the original Bantams, who may not all have been so ‘sturdy’ in body and mind as their early supporters had claimed.   Certainly there were several New Army divisions which suffered equal or heavier casualty rates and which, in comparison with the 35th, carried out many more assaults on the Somme over a longer period, and yet still achieved a success rate of 60 per cent or more in their attacks.36

Patience with the performance of the Bantams of 35th Division finally ran out in late November 1916.   By then Pinney had been transferred to the 33rd Division, having exchanged commands on 23 September with Major-General H J S Landon, an officer apparently less tolerant of the Bantams than his predecessor.37 

The division had moved to Third Army at the beginning of September and was serving in Lieutenant-General J A L Haldane’s VI Corps, manning the line on a three-brigade front in the ‘I’, ‘J’ and ‘K’ sectors immediately to the east and north-east of Arras.   After a few weeks of routine trench warfare, the Germans opposite the division became noticeably more aggressive.   Matters came to a head on the night of 25-26 November when a raid by over fifty officers and men of the 19th DLI was due to take place.   Following heavy trench mortar bombardments between 2 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. on 26 November, the Germans launched three separate raids on the division’s sentry posts and trenches, particularly the positions held by the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers in ‘I’ sector and the 19th DLI in ‘K’ sector, before withdrawing.   The only appreciable resistance was offered by the 15th Sherwood Foresters in ‘J’ sector, who counter-attacked and drove the Germans out.   The situation in the DLI’s sector was exacerbated by the fact that a number of NCOs and men had left their posts around King’s Crater and another NCO – Lance-Sergeant J W Stones, who had been visiting these posts on patrol with an officer, Lieutenant Mundy – had also left the front line when Mundy was shot and seriously wounded.   Stones and a second NCO, Lance-Corporal E Hopkinson, were later intercepted, without their rifles, by battle police well to the rear, while the whole of the party from a sentry post south of King’s Crater, and including two NCOs – Lance-Corporals J McDonald and P Goggins – had been stopped in the support line.  Meanwhile, the scheduled raid by the Durham had gone ahead at 3 a.m.   Two small groups of officers and men had entered the German trenches but the remainder of the raiders, two officers and 45 men, failed to follow, being prevented from doing so by their own barrage which fell short in No Man’s Land and around the point of entry into the German line.   As the 106th Brigade’s war diary records, the raiders suffered several casualties from it, ‘resulting in their becoming so demoralised that it was impossible to collect the men  and make them return’.38       

The events of 26 November reflected badly upon the whole division, not least the 19th DLI, and retribution was swift and savage.   From the Durhams alone, Lance-Sergeant Stones was charged with casting away his arms in the presence of the enemy ; Hopkinson, Goggins, McDonald and four privates were charged with quitting their posts ; and a sergeant, a lance-corporal and sixteen privates of the raiding party were accused of cowardice.   In all, between 24 December 1916 and 1 January 1917, twenty-six members of the 19th Durhams were tried and sentenced to death, although only three – Stones, Goggins and McDonald – were ultimately executed.   The other twenty-three had their sentences commuted to terms of penal servitude of ten to fifteen years.   Furthermore, the sentences passed on the men of the unsuccessful raiding party were then also suspended so that they could return to duty in various forms, and some stayed with the battalion.   One of them, Lance-Corporal Michael Dempsey, actually won the Military Medal in 1918.39  When his opinion was sought on the sentences handed out to Goggins, McDonald and the four privates who had abandoned their sentry posts, Brigadier-General O’Donnell of 106th Brigade commented that the ‘battalion…has not done well in the fighting line.   They suffered somewhat severely from heavy shelling while in the Somme fighting in July and were very shaky in the advanced trenches before Guillemont in August’.  Landon, the divisional commander, was clearly convinced that an example should be made of Goggins and McDonald and that, in their case, the death sentence should be confirmed:

‘…the NCOs must be held as having especially failed in their soldierly duties, and responsibilities. There are, however, some 400 men in the Division of whom 334 are in the Durham L.I. who are recommended for transfer as being unsuitable mentally and physically for Infantry Soldiers and it is possible that any of them would have behaved similarly under the circumstances described….In view of the mental and physical degeneracy of these men I consider that although the sentence passed on all six is a proper one, the extreme penalty might be carried out in the case of the two NCOs only and the sentence of the four privates be commuted to a long term of penal servitude, and this I recommend’. 40

The divisional historian argues that the German raids again ‘brought forcibly to notice that which commanding officers had been reporting for some time, namely that the major part of the recently received reinforcements could not be trusted to hold the line’.   However, it seems pertinent to observe that most, if not all, of the twenty-six men of the DLI who were sentenced to death at this time were original or early recruits to the battalion.   A number of them, including Stones and Goggins, were miners before they enlisted while McDonald had been a labourer.41  The fact that some of the first Bantams to join up – who had been judged, at the time, to meet the required physical and mental criteria – had, in late 1916, been found wanting tends to reinforce the conclusion that it was not just the later drafts who were sub-standard.   It also reveals serious flaws in the whole Bantam concept as well as raising additional doubts about the thoroughness of the medical examinations which individual Bantams had undergone.

Apart from its disciplinary ramifications, the 26 November episode also precipitated a radical overhaul of the division which fundamentally changed its character and effectively ended the Bantam experiment.   There seems to have been general agreement among officers from battalion commanders upwards that drastic action could no longer be deferred.   Haldane, the commander of VI Corps, reported that he could not be responsible for the security of his front while the 35th Division ‘continued to be constituted as it was’, suggesting that a thorough ‘combing-out’ was essential.   ‘In anticipation of that measure’, he wrote, ‘I ordered the divisional commander to withdraw undesirables, and from the remainder whom I saw myself I extracted many more’.42 

As early as 27 November, the division’s Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS) inspected men of 104th Brigade who had been reported on by platoon, company and battalion commanders, as well as battalion medical officers, with regard to their ‘military efficiency’ and ‘physical and mental disabilities’.   The process accelerated in December as he division was relieved from the front line and moved west of Arras.   Spurred on by Landon, the ADMS inspected all the infantry battalions in the first half of December, rejecting 1,439  men as a result.   Some units – such as the 17th West Yorkshires, 14th Gloucesters and 16th Cheshires – lost over 180 men, a substantial proportion of their strength.43  Ernest Sheard, who had enlisted in December 1914 and served as a stretcher-bearer with the Leeds Bantams, witnessed the medical inspections and examinations at first hand, noting that ‘there was a lot of dodging going on’, with men faking all sorts of complaints in  an attempt to avoid front-line service.   However, he praised the spirit of others : ‘Some of the men when they stripped looked absolute wrecks, [and] how they had managed to carry full packs was simply wonderful…I am sure that nothing else but bigness of heart had got them through’.   Harrison Johnston of the 15th Cheshires viewed the dilution of his battalion with some regret : ‘I’m sorry as the little men had done so well, but I suppose there are no more, as all regiments now take small men’.44

By 21 December, with Haldane himself having twice inspected those recommended for rejection, the number of men deemed physically or mentally sub-standard, and thus unlikely to be able to perform the normal duties of infantry in the fighting line, had risen to 2,784.   Brigade commanders were informed that no more Bantams were to be accepted and that, given the current reorganisation of the division, the Bantam standard 'must be disregarded for good and all'.’   The divisional sign, previously a Bantam cock, was changed to a circular emblem consisting of seven interlocked ‘5s’.   To gain the high-level support necessary for the rejection of such a high proportion of the division’s fighting strength, Haldane arranged for the ‘combed-out’ soldiers to be inspected by Allenby, the Third Army commander.   Haldane confessed that he stage-managed the occasion to ensure that Allenby would sanction a ruthless purge of undesirables:   

The men who had been combed out were therefore drawn up in a line by company along some steeply sloping ground and care was taken that the army commander, who was not lacking in inches, should view them from above and not below.   On the flank of certain companies were disposed a few files of tall cavalrymen…who had been sent to fill vacancies.   Thus, when the inspection took place, the Bantams looked at from above seemed more of the dimensions of young chickens than dwarf poultry’.

In spite of these precautions, one brigade commander, when asked by Allenby for his opinion of the Bantams, began to praise them.   ‘Before he had committed himself too deeply’, Haldane wrote, ‘he got a gentle reminder by a kick on the shins that he was spoiling sport, and the situation was saved’.45

The infantry battalions  of the division stayed out of the line for over two months, giving them a welcome breathing-space in which to absorb incoming drafts.   Several sources suggest that these replacements came chiefly from Yeomanry regiments and cavalry depots and, to help train them as infantry, a Depot Battalion was formed, remaining in existence until 14 March 1917.46  The evacuation of the previously-rejected Bantams continued well into March, temporarily reducing the rifle strength of battalions.   That of the 15th Cheshires on 12 March, for example, was only 400.47  Many of the discarded men were transferred to the newly-created Labour Companies or – particularly in the case of former miners – to Tunnelling Companies.   John Sheen identifies over 150 original Bantams of the 19th DLI who were posted to the Labour Corps and a further sixteen who are known to have served with Tunnelling Companies.   He also shows that, although battalion commanders were told to guard against the possibility of discarded Bantams returning as reinforcements, some men did find their way back to their former units.   Of the sixteen traced as having transferred to Tunnelling Companies, eleven subsequently returned to the 19th DLI.48

The division’s shaky reputation in early 1917 was reflected by the fact that it was not selected as an assault formation in a major offensive until October that year.   Its infantry and Pioneer battalions played only a small part in the pursuit of the Germans to the newly-constructed Hindenburg Line, being used mainly to repair roads and railways destroyed by the Germans as they withdrew.   After three weeks, however, the division received orders to relieve the 61st Division on the left of the IV Corps front as the British Fourth Army closed up to the Hindenburg Line.   The 35th Division now entered the line between Fresnoy le Petit and the River Omignon, north-west of St Quentin.   On 14 April, following a flanking movement, and assisted by a hurricane Stokes mortar bombardment, the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers took a strongpoint near Gricourt before clearing the village to its eastern edge.   Next day the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers seized a large farm called Les Trois Sauvages while the 20th Lancashire Fusiliers attacked and consolidated trenches on the Pontruet Ridge.   As the British Official Historian remarks, these were the first operations ‘of any importance to be carried out by the division since its reorganisation’, though they cost 104th Brigade around 400 casualties.49

On 10 May, IV Corps ordered that, while Les Trois Sauvages might be raided, its retention was not sufficiently important to justify ongoing losses.   Raids on the farm duly continued, an example being that made by two companies of the 15th Sherwood Foresters on 15-16 May under a barrage provided by artillery, Stokes mortars and machine-guns.   Despite this support, the attackers encountered unsuspected wire and abandoned the raid after three vain attempts to cut their way through, having lost 41 officers and men.50   In July the division relieved the Cavalry Corps at Epéhy, opposite Bony and Vendhuile on the St Quentin Canal, in a sector destined to witness intense fighting twice the following year.   In mid-1917 the line here comprised a series of detached posts on the high ground east of Epéhy and, during that summer, attempts by the 35th Division to gain better observation over the ground towards the canal led to a succession of sometimes fierce actions for possession of the ridges, spurs and farms which formed the outlying defences of the Hindenburg Line itself.   Two features in particular – Gillemont Farm and The Knoll – rose some 35-40 feet above the nearest British posts.   The area around the former was disputed but The Knoll was in German hands, offering the enemy a good view of the British positions.   In front of Vendhuile was The Birdcage, a network of trenches jutting into the German positions to the east.   The 35th Division spent three months in the sector under a new commander – Major-General G McK. Franks having replaced Landon on 9 July.   As MGRA of the British Second Army, Franks had masterminded much of the artillery plan for the recent outstanding victory at Messines Ridge.51

Major-General G McKenzie Franks

From 12 July 1917 onwards, all three brigades were involved in raids and counter-raids as both sides strove to improve their tactical situation across the hotly-contested ground.   Serious planning began for a large raid in the Gillemont Farm sector to prevent the Germans from gaining complete possession of the spur on which the farm stood.   As more artillery and ammunition became available – possibly thanks to the influence of Franks – the plan was expanded to encompass an assault on, and possible capture of, The Knoll as well as a subsequent raid on trenches between Ossus Wood and Canal Wood.   The Gillemont part of the attack was also enlarged and an attempt would now be made to capture and hold the German front line opposite the farm.   Rehearsals took place over full-scale replicas of the objectives to be assaulted, with the 15th Cheshires and 15th Sherwood Foresters, for instance, practising almost continuously from 6 August to the eve of the operation itself.52

On 19 August the Cheshires and Sherwood Foresters (105th Brigade), attacking at 4 a.m., took the German trenches on The Knoll in just fifteen minutes.   Elsewhere, the 18th HLI (106th Brigade) assaulted a semi-circular trench to the east of Gillemont Farm, driving the Germans out after hand-to-hand fighting.   The three battalions principally involved lost a combined total of 74 killed or died of wounds, 238 wounded and 16 missing in achieving these successes, the divisional historian noting that the spirit of the troops at The Knoll had been ‘excellent’.   The level of assistance they received is indicated by the expenditure of nearly 23,000 heavy artillery rounds, almost 70,000 field artillery and trench mortar shells and over one million machine-gun bullets which were fired in their support between 19 and 23 August.   However, the division was not allowed much time to settle into its new positions.   On 25 August, a German advance, after an intense bombardment, robbed the 18th HLI of their gains at Gillemont Farm and a gallant counter-attack in the evening by the 19th DLI could do little more than re-establish the division’s hold on he original British front line.   Six days later, a similarly violent German assault overwhelmed two companies of the 17th West Yorkshires at The Knoll and this position too was lost.

Although the division’s tenure of these positions was brief, it had enabled British observers to obtain vital, if short-lived, observation over the German defences in front of, and along, the St Quentin Canal and elements of six German regiments were drawn into a sector previously held by a single battalion.53  The actions at Gillemont Farm and The Knoll were, in truth, tiny in scale when compared with other operations in 1917 but the methodical preparations for these relatively minor affairs were illustrative of the improvements in the BEF’s planning, training and tactics that had been wrought by the summer of 1917.   Without taking part in a major offensive, the twelve infantry battalions of the division had, according to the divisional historian, lost 2,264 all ranks killed, wounded and missing from February to August 1917 (inclusive) – an average of 188 per battalion – but it can be argued that the occasional successes achieved in these minor actions did a great deal to restore the self-confidence and esprit de corps of the division after a rocky few months.54

Although the division moved north to the infamous Ypres Salient in mid-October, it was assigned only a brief supporting role in the Third Battle of Ypres.55  For its officers and men, however, the division’s attack at Houthulst Forest on 22 October 1917 was a far from insignificant event.   It was not only the first large-scale operation the division had undertaken since its reorganisation the previous winter but also the first attack it had delivered on a two-brigade front in a major offensive since crossing to France in 1916.

The subsidiary operations by XIV Corps of the British Fifth Army on 22 October – carried out in conjunction with the French First Army on the left – were intended to maintain pressure on the Germans by pushing northwards into the Houthulst Forest, thus distracting their attention from preparations for the British Second Army’s planned thrust towards Passchendaele on 26 October and simultaneously providing a strong left flank for that main advance.  The 35th Division was to attack with 104th and 105th Brigades in the front line, 106th Brigade being judged numerically too weak for the initial assault.56  When the attack was launched at 5.35 a.m. on 22 October, the 23rd Manchesters of 104th Brigade, on the extreme right, could not gain touch with the neighbouring 34th Division, so exposing the 35th Division’s flank to enfilade fire and obliging the survivors of the leading waves to fall back to their original line after tantalisingly reaching the first objective.   The 17th Lancashire Fusiliers were more fortunate and, by 6.45 a.m., reports were received that three companies were on the final objective around Marechal Farm.   Here they were joined by a company of the 16th Cheshires (105th Brigade) while the remainder of that battalion established a line, for the time being, a little short of the final objective.   The greatest success was achieved by the 14th Gloucesters on the far left, the whole battalion having taken all objectives by 7.45 a.m.   The inevitable German counter-attacks began in the afternoon and continued on 23 and 24 October, forcing the 16th Cheshires and supporting troops of the 15th Sherwood Foresters back from Marechal Farm to Colombo House, leaving the 14th Gloucesters as the only battalion to retain a hold on the final objective.57

The disappointing outcome of the operations of 22-24 October should not be attributed to the officers and men of the 35th Division, who had displayed courage, determination and tactical initiative at all levels during the fighting.   The division’s losses in the sector between 18 and 29 October totalled 2,564 all ranks, including 368 killed and 1,734 wounded.   Stephen McGreal states that the 16th Cheshires alone sustained losses of 9 officers and 327 other ranks in less than thirty hours.   Despite the methodical planning of the initial artillery support, appalling weather and poor conditions underfoot caused many troops to fall behind a deliberately slow barrage, particularly when struggling through undergrowth and over fallen trees in the forest, where snipers also lurked.   Yet, in the words of the divisional historian, morale ‘was of a high standard throughout the operations’.58  A more detailed analysis of the casualties incurred by two of the battalions involved suggests that they still contained a fair proportion of original Bantams and other early recruits.   The 19th DLI, for example, appears, from the fatal casualties listed in Soldiers Died in the Great War, to have lost 33 other ranks dead in late October and early November 1917, of whom six (or 18.18 per cent), according to their serial numbers, were ‘originals’.   In the 15th Sherwood Foresters the proportion of original or early recruits – nineteen, or 36.5 per cent of 52 dead – was even higher.59

On 23 September 1917 the 18th HLI had received a draft of four officers and 146 other ranks from the Glasgow Yeomanry and the official designation of the unit had been altered to become the 18th (Glasgow Yeomanry) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry.60  After the Houthulst Forest action, the infantry component of the division was again subject to reorganisation, further diluting its surviving Bantam elements.   On 15 November, while the division was still in the Ypres area, the 4th North Staffordshires – a non-Bantam battalion – joined 106th Brigade in place of the 17th West Yorkshires, the latter having been reduced to the strength of a single company earlier in the month.61  In February 1918, the cumulative effects of casualties and continuing manpower problems necessitated even more fundamental changes in the majority of the BEF’s infantry divisions, which saw the number of infantry battalions in a division cut from twelve to nine and brigades correspondingly reduced from four battalions to three.   Consequently, in many formations, new bonds had to be forged with unfamiliar battalions ; fresh methods of command and control and tactical handling of units had to be devised ; and esprit de corps had to be rebuilt.

The 35th Division did not escape this painful process, most of the changes taking place in the first half of February.   The 16th Cheshires were withdrawn from 105th Brigade whilst the recently-arrived 4th North Staffordshires moved across from 106th Brigade.   Fifteen officers and 310 other ranks from the 16th Cheshires were, however, sent to the 15th Cheshires with the rest going to a Cheshire Territorial battalion.   The 20th Lancashire Fusiliers and 23rd Manchesters, from 104th Brigade, were both disbanded.   Almost all the officers and men from the 20th Lancashire Fusiliers were to join the other Lancashire battalions in the brigade but many of the Manchesters were absorbed by battalions of their parent regiment in other divisions.   The 14th Gloucesters were likewise disbanded, but twelve officers and 250 NCOs and men were transferred to the 13th Gloucesters – the Forest of Dean Pioneers – in the 39th Division.   Any surplus men from the disbanded battalions who had not been immediately required by other infantry units were posted to the newly-created 12th Entrenching Battalion.   In the meantime, the 12th Highland Light Infantry, yet another battalion with no Bantam connections, had come from the 15th (Scottish) Division to join 106th Brigade.   Henceforth, until the Armistice in November, the 104th Brigade comprised the 17th and 18th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 19th DLI (previously in 106th Brigade) ; the 105th Brigade included the 15th Cheshires, 15th Sherwood Foresters and 4th North Staffordshires ; and 106th Brigade consisted of the 17th Royal Scots, and 12th and 18th HLI.62

True redemption for the 35th Division as a fighting formation came with the great German offensive in Picardy in March 1918.   When the storm broke on 21 March, the division was hurried south from Ypres to join Lieutenant-General Sir Walter Congreve’s VII Corps on the left flank of the British Fifth Army.  

Lieutenant-General Sir Walter Congreve

After a twelve-hour rail journey and a trying seventeen-mile approach march, battalions of 105th and106th Brigades were thrust into the firing line in the Cléry– Hem –Maurepas area, on the north bank of the Somme near Péronne, on the morning of 24 March.   Major-General Franks was soon placed in temporary overall command of the VII Corps battle front, including detachments from the 9th, 12th and 21st Divisions, while Brigadier-General J H W Pollard (who had led 106th Brigade since 20 May 1917), assumed temporary command of the infantry of the 35th Division.   The 15th Cheshires and 15th Sherwood Foresters, in particular, resisted repeated German attacks throughout the day until, at 5 p.m., orders were issued for a withdrawal to a line from Curlu to Hardecourt, a mile or two to the rear.   Though they had inflicted severe casualties upon the Germans, the stubborn defensive actions of the day had also exacted a serious toll from the battalions engaged.   The 15th Cheshires, for example, lost their CO, thirteen other officers and over 300 men.63  The next day, 25 March, the division gradually fell back upon the old 1916 British zone of operations between Maricourt and Montauban, where it put up what the British Official Historian describes as ‘a magnificent fight against at least five German divisions’.   From the early morning until mid-evening, when a further advance to the Bray-Albert road began under orders from VII Corps, the battalions of 35th Division largely checked the persistent German attacks in this important sector.   Inspired by outstanding local leadership at brigade and battalion level, several units – but especially the 12th HLI and 19th DLI – organised or supported telling counter-attacks which either restored the tactical situation or even drove the Germans back at critical stages in the fighting.   When the withdrawal commenced after dark, it was carried out in a ‘perfectly orderly manner’.64 The 35th Division had fought skilfully and courageously for two consecutive days, slowing the German advance appreciably and mounting effective counter-attacks when necessary.

Early on 25 March all VII Corps troops under Franks who were north of the Somme had been transferred to General Byng’s Third Army.   Judging from the successive orders coming from its headquarters between 6 p.m. and midnight on 25 March, Third Army envisaged that, after standing as long as possible on the Bray-Albert position, VII Corps, including 35th Division, would retire beyond the Ancre.   A fresh warning order issued by Third Army at 2.20 a.m. on 26 March re-emphasised, however, that every effort should be made to check the German advance by disputing ground and that a retirement should only take place if ‘the tactical situation imperatively demands it’.   These guidelines were broadly echoed in an order sent by Congreve, at VII Corps headquarters, to Franks at 2.15 a.m., stating that the units under Franks should delay the Germans on the Bray-Albert line as long as they could ‘without being so involved as to make retirement impossible’.   When a withdrawal beyond the Ancre did occur, all bridges were to be destroyed after the crossing.   In a lengthy telephone conversation with Franks, Congreve also gave the latter the firm impression that he was expected to remain on the Bray-Albert position until 10 a.m. but that the retirement to the west bank of the Ancre would definitely take place that afternoon.   Not unreasonably, given the instructions he had received and the latitude apparently allowed to him, Franks therefore subsequently issued his own orders for a withdrawal in echelon from the right across the Ancre and identified the positions to be occupied on the farther bank.

It so happened that, although virtually the whole line was engaged by 1 p.m., several battalions held their ground until mid-afternoon, over four hours longer than anticipated.   Nevertheless, under growing pressure, a general retirement of the 104th and 105th Brigades through Morlancourt towards the Ancre commenced between 2.15 and 3.15 p.m.   As the troops pulled back, Third Army – its resolve no doubt greatly stiffened by the positive messages emanating from that day’s crucial conference at Doullens (where General Foch was empowered to co-ordinate Allied operations on the Western Front) – significantly changed its orders.   First, at 2.35 p.m., Third Army declared that ‘it must be distinctly understood that no voluntary retirement from our present line is intended’, this message being relayed by Congreve to Franks on the telephone, with the latter being told to stop the withdrawal and restore the line.   Then, at 3.40 p.m., a formal written order was issued by Third Army underlining that the position at Bray was to be ‘maintained with the utmost determination’.   When this later order was received, Franks was away from his headquarters and, having conferred with Pollard and Marindin at Morlancourt, decided, about 4 p.m., that it was too late to halt the retirement.   With Franks still absent, his staff did their best, at 4.25 p.m., to inform his key subordinates, by written messages, that Third Army had cancelled all orders for withdrawal and that, if the line were driven back, the retirement was not to be carried beyond the Ancre.   By the time these messages reached heir destinations just after 7 p.m., they were redundant, as the bulk of the 35th Division and attached infantry of VII Corps had crossed the river to take up positions around Buire and Dernancourt, south-west of Albert.   Marindin of 105th Brigade tried to comply with the spirit of Third Army’s amended instructions by ordering his battalions to re-cross the Ancre and reoccupy Morlancourt, although he made it clear to his superiors that he thought the movement stood little chance of success, owing to the  exhaustion  of his troops and ammunition shortages.   Fortunately for all concerned, a message arrived from VII Corps soon afterwards notifying Marindin that the orders to reoccupy the Bray line were themselves cancelled.   One result of the retirement of VII Corps and 35th Division troops on 26 March had been the opening of a dangerous six-mile gap along the Somme between the left of Fifth Army and the right of Third Army, and it was Franks who paid the price as the scapegoat for this development, being relieved of his command late in the evening – perhaps somewhat unfairly considering the ambiguous and contradictory orders he had received over the past twenty-four hours.   His successor, Marindin, was at least a trusted officer, from within the formation, who had been with 105th Brigade since May 1916.65  One might add that the division’s retirement on 26 March stemmed mainly from command and control failures and misunderstandings at Army, Corps and divisional level and was not directly attributable to any serious shortfall in the performance of the front-line troops.

The Germans entered Dernancourt on the night of 27-28 March but the 35th Division, bolstered by the arrival of the 4th Australian Division on its left, repulsed all other attempts to dislodge it from its positions along the Ancre until relieved on 30 March, even maintaining outpost detachments on the eastern bank at Treux and Marett Wood.   In particular the division fought hard to hold the embankment of the Amiens-Albert railway which looped around the foot of the heights immediately opposite the western exits from Dernancourt.   One German attack here on 29 March was driven back by a bayonet charge delivered by 100 men of the 19th Northumberland Fusiliers, the divisional Pioneers.   According to the Official History, the division sustained more than 3,000 casualties in a week of severe fighting but it had undeniably done much to halt the progress of the German offensive along the Ancre to the south-west of Albert.   The officers and men had little rest or food for eight days but, as the divisional historian remarks, with justifiable pride, every retirement ‘which had been made had been ordered as part of a general plan and was not because the troops had been forced to relinquish positions’.   The fine performance of the division in the last week of March may well have helped it avoid the fate of nine other British divisions which were reduced to cadre and reconstituted that spring and summer.66

During the final and victorious Allied advance in 1918, the 35th Division was at last given a real opportunity to demonstrate its qualities in an offensive role.   Between 28 September and the Armistice, it was frequently in action, serving with the XIX Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Watts) in General Sir Herbert Plumer’s Second Army which, for most of this period, was, in turn, part of the Groupe d’Armées des Flandres (GAF) under the overall command of the King of the Belgians.   For the first time since it has crossed to France in February 1916 – over thirty-one months before – the division was allowed to participate in a series of major attacks as a complete formation rather than being committed to battle piecemeal, as on the Somme.   This undoubtedly helped the 35th Division to achieve a commendable success rate of 60 per cent in its attacks against meaningful opposition in the ‘Hundred Days’, while only one-fifth (20 per cent) of its offensive operations could be classed as failures.   Its performance in these last months of the war compared favourably with the average success rate of 55.7 per cent registered by the ten British divisions in Second Army, being higher than that achieved by the 14th, 29th, 31st, 40th and 41st Divisions and only equalled or bettered by the 30th, 34th and 36th Divisions and by the outstanding 9th (Scottish) Division.67     

Battle of Epehy. Wounded and Prisoners coming in, near Epehy, 18th September 1918. The wounded soldier in the foreground is from a Bantam unit. © IWM (Q 11329)

A sure sign that the division’s reputation as a fighting formation had been well and truly restored was the fact that it was chosen as one of the assault units which were to lead the break-out from the old Ypres Salient, beginning on 28 September 1918.   That day, attacking with all three infantry brigades in line – again for the first time in the war – the division advanced some 6,000 yards through Zillebeke towards Zandvoorde, recapturing such long-contested locations as The Caterpillar, Hill 60, Mount Sorrel and Shrewsbury Forest and collecting around 800 prisoners in the process.   It continued to battle its way forward over the following five days, becoming involved in stiff fighting around Zandvoorde and Tenbrielen on 29 September and then in front of Wervicq and the Gheluwe Switch line on 1-2 October.   These operations were by no means an unqualified triumph.   Bad weather and the poor state of the roads and tracks hampered the movement of field guns and heavier weapons and therefor4e seriously limited the amount of artillery support that could be provided for some infantry attacks.   Casualties inevitably mounted.   Within three days of the start of Second Army’s offensive, the trench strength of 106th Brigade, for example, was reduced from 2,050 to only 500 men.   For all these problems, however, the division had advanced approximately eight miles in five days, seizing 1,100 prisoners, 42 guns and numerous machine-guns and trench mortars.68

There was a ten-day pause in the Allied offensive in Flanders from 4 to 13 October, caused by the deterioration of the roads and the need to reorganise the supply services, particularly behind the French and Belgian sectors of the front.   When the advance was resumed on 14 October, the 35th Division was itself involved in a week-long spell of active operations, which included the crossing of the Lys near Marcke and Bisseghem on 18-19 October.   On the morning of the latter day, patrols of the 19th DLI were sent into Courtrai, thus claiming the honour of being the first British troops to enter the town.   This was a hugely rewarding moment for a battalion which, less than two years before, had reached the nadir of its fortunes.   The division’s role in the Battle of Courtrai culminated in an action lasting some twenty-three hours on 20-21 October, when partly due to a shrewd decision by Major-General Marindin to order a flank march and evening attack by 106th Brigade, the Kreupel and Hoogstraatje ridges were secured and the defensive position known as the Courtrai Switch was breached.   Though its losses of 49 killed, 200 wounded and 27 missing were relatively light considering its notable achievements, these operations, conducted over cultivated countryside full of glutinous mud, nevertheless constituted a strenuous physical ordeal for all ranks and, when relieved, the troops were cold, soaked and exhausted.69

After another short rest, the division was called upon to undertake a further series of operations in the advance to the Schelde between 27 and 31 October.   104th Brigade’s capture of Eeuwhoek and numerous other villages on 31 October – albeit at a cost of 428 casualties – helped Second Army to complete the clearance of the western banks of the Schelde and earned widespread praise, including the personal congratulations of Plumer himself.   The infantry of 104th Brigade were quick to acknowledge the contribution of the artillery in this attack, with one battalion describing the barrage as the best it had witnessed.   As the divisional historian comments, this was a fitting conclusion to three-and-a-half years of co-operation, since it was destined to be the last set-piece barrage fired by the divisional artillery in the war.70   The final period in the line was from 4 to 11 November, a week which saw the division cross the Schelde.   When the Armistice came into effect at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the division’s advanced guards were at Grammont on the River Dendre, some fifteen miles beyond the Schelde.

An examination of the casualties listed for the latter half of 1918 in Soldiers Died in the Great War suggests that original or early Bantam recruits – those with relatively low serial numbers – were still present in sufficient numbers to make a genuine contribution to the final victory.   In a sample of four battalions – the 15th Cheshires, 15th Sherwood Foresters, 17th Lancashire Fusiliers and 19th DLI – an average of 20.6 per cent of those who died during, or as a direct result of, the ‘Hundred Days’ are know to have been born in the battalion’s own recruiting area and to have been original or early recruits - i.e. genuine Bantams.   Similarly, an average of 17.8 per cent of the dead in these four battalions during the second half of 1918 were original or early Bantams who are known to have enlisted, or resided, in their home recruiting area.   Bearing in mind all the trials, tribulations and changes which the division had experienced in  its short history, these averages are perhaps surprisingly high.   They do indicate, however, that there was little essentially wrong with the fighting spirit of individual Bantams, even if the overall Bantam concept, in a collective sense, was flawed and unsustainable.   Moreover, the Bantam experiment in 1914-1915 did not represent an attempt to ‘scrape the bottom of the barrel’ but rather an effort to inject fresh impetus into a flagging recruiting campaign by offering a chance to enlist to patriotic men who would otherwise have been barred from joining the ranks of Kitchener’s Army merely because of their small stature.   It should not be forgotten that the original Bantams were all volunteers, many of them being keen to serve their King and country.   The fact that a comparatively large proportion of the ‘originals’ appear to have been still doing their duty in the last months of the war testifies to their courage and endurance, not to physical failings.   It might therefore be more fitting to remember the Bantam experiment for the qualities of those individual Bantams who fought to the end than to over-emphasise the inherent weaknesses of the experiment itself.

 

Article Contributed by Prof Peter Simkins

I am greatly indebted to John Bourne, Sanders Marble, Stephen McGreal, Tony Richards, John Richardson, William Spencer and Michael Stedman for their help and advice in the preparation of this chapter.

 

Notes

1. ‘Each one a Pocket Hercules’ is a line from a popular verse, ‘The British Bantams’, published in a postcard format, circa early 1915.

2. A ‘Bantam’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a small kind of domestic fowl, of which the cock bird is pugnacious, or as ‘small but spirited person’.

3. Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 1911-1914, LXV, col.2082 ; The Times, 7 August 1914. For a detailed account and analysis of the expansion of the army and voluntary recruiting in Britain  in 1914-1915, see Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army : The Raising of the New Armies, Manchester University Press, 1988 ; also Peter Simkins, ‘The Four Armies, 1914-1918’ in David Chandler and Ian F W Beckett (eds,), The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 241-262.

4. Daily recruiting returns submitted to the Adjutant-General, 30 August to 5 September 1914, The National Archives (TNA), WO 162/3 ; Simkins, Kitchener’s Army, p. 66.

5The Times, 11 September 1914 ; telegram from Adjutant-General’s Department to OCs Districts, 11 September 1914, TNA WO 159/18 ; Recruiting Memorandum, No.72, 17 September 1914, TNA WO 159/18.

6. Army Council Instruction (ACI 251) of 22 October 1914 ; Simkins. Kitchener’s Army, p.104.

7. Stephen McGreal, Cheshire Bantams : 15th, 16th and 17th Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment, Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2006, pp. 17-42 ; Alfred Bigland, The Call of Empire, Cecil Palmer, London, 1922, pp. 23-35 ; Sidney Allinson, The Bantams : The Untold Story of World War I, Howard Baker, London, 1981, pp. 37-49 ; Simkins, Kitchener’s Army, pp. 120-121 ; Arthur Crookenden, The History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War, Evans, Chester, n.d., 346-347 ; Lieutenant-Colonel H M Davson, The History of the 35th Division in the Great War, Sifton Praed, London, 1926, pp. 1-2 ; Birkenhead News, 18 November 1914 ; Daily Sketch, 1 December 1914 ; Major A F Becke, Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3B, HMSO, London, 1945, pp. 51-59.

8. J J Hutchinson, quoted in Allinson, The Bantams, p. 205.

9. Information supplied to the author by Michael Stedman, 30 January 2009 ; see also Michael Stedman, Manchester Pals : 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Battalions of the Manchester Regiment, Leo Cooper, London, 1994, pp.34-35 ; McGreal, Cheshire Bantams, pp. 44 ; Allinson, op.cit., p. 69 ; Manchester Guardian, 26 November 1914.

10. Major John Ewing, The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1925, I, p. 10 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 46-47 ; Allinson, op.cit., pp. 65-66, 78 ; Army Debates, House of Commons, Session 1914-15, HMSO, London, 1916, see 10 February and 1 March 1915, cols. 1166, 1173, 1174, 1197 and 1703.

11. McGreal, op.cit., pp. 43-49 ; Allinson, op.cit., pp. 68, 75-77, 80, 82-83 ; Michael Stedman, Salford Pals: 15th, 16th, 19th and 20th Battalions, Lancashire Fusiliers. A History of the Salford Brigade, Leo Cooper, London, 1993, pp. 54-56 ; Maurice Bacon and David Langley, The Blast of War : A History of Nottingham’s Bantams, 15th (S) Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, Sherwood Press, Nottingham, 1986, pp. 3-12 ; John Sheen, Durham Pals : 18th, 19th and 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.   A History of Three battalions raised by Local Committee in County Durham, Pen and Sword, Barsnley, 2007, pp. 54-57 ; Davson, History of the 35th Division, pp. 2-3 ; see also Becke, Order of battle of Divisions, Part 3B, pp. 54-55.

12. Becke, op.cit., pp. 51-59 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 2-4. Frank Richards of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who served under Pinney when the latter transferred to the 33rd Division, called him ‘a bun-punching crank…more fitted to be in command of a Church Mission hut at the Base than a division of troops’.   However, Sir Douglas Haig, the C-in-C of the BEF, had a much higher opinion of Pinney.   Haig was quick to note the transformation in the 33rd Division once Pinney took over and he also wrote that, when Pinney’s 33rd Division was in the line, he ‘could be sure’.   By the Armistice, Pinney was the second longest-serving British divisional commander in the BEF.   See Frank Richards, Old Soldiers Never Die, Faber, London, 1933, p.217 ; John Bourne, Who’s Who in World War I, Routledge, 2001, p. 234 ; Haig Diary, 28 October 1916, TNA WO 256/13 ; Gary Sheffield and John Bourne (eds.) , Douglas Haig : War Diary and Letters, 1914-1918, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2005, p. 249.

13. Lieutenant-Colonel F E Whitton, History of the 40th Division, Gale and Polden, Aldershot, 1926, 7-10 ; Becke, op.cit., pp. 101-108 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 57-59 ; Simkins, Kitchener’s Army, p. 121 ; Allinson, op.cit., pp. 130-155 (see p. 139 for Cunningham quote).

14. Allinson, op.cit., pp. 175-201.

15. Ibid, pp. 106, 239.

16. Bacon and Langley, The Blast of War, pp. 22-24.

17. See, for instance, Philip Gibbs, ‘Gallant Bantams’, in Daily Chronicle, 19 June 1916 ; Nigel Hamilton, Monty : The Making of a General, 1887-1942, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1981, p. 96 ; Allinson, op.cit., pp. 114-115.

18. Lieutenant-Colonel Harrison Johnston, Extracts from an Officer’s Diary : Being the Story of the 15th and 16th Service Battalions, The Cheshire Regiment (Originally Bantams), Geo. Falkner and Sons, Manchester, 1919, pp. 23, 26.   Harrison Johnston, who crossed to France with the 15th Cheshires in 1916, was placed in command of the battalion , and was awarded the DSO, the following year, see McGreal, op.cit., p. 182.

19. A copy of the Corps Routine Order, dated 9 June 1916, conveying the praise of Haig, Monro and Haking for the way in which the division had repulsed the German raid at the end of May, can be found in the diary of Major-General Sir Reginald Pinney, Pinney MSS, Imperial War Museum (IWM) 66/257/1.

20. Johnston, Extracts from an Officer’s Diary, pp. 66-67 ; Gibbs, ‘Gallant Bantams’ in Daily Chronicle, 19 June 1916.

21. Pinney Diary, 2 July 1916, IWM 66/257/1.

22. Becke, op.cit., p.52.

23. For a recent analysis of the problems arising between the British Fourth Army and the French Sixth Army in the Guillemont sector during the Somme fighting, see Peter Simkins, ‘For Better or For Worse : Sir Henry Rawlinson and his Allies in 1916 and 1918 ‘, in Matthew Hughes and Matthew Seligmann (eds.), Leadership in Conflict, 1914-1918, Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2000, pp.16-22.

24. GHQ to Fourth Army (OAD 123), 24 August 1916, Fourth Army MSS, IWM, Vol. 5 ; Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, Command on the Western Front : The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson, 19145-18, Blackwood, Oxford, 1992, pp. 222-223, and The Somme, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, pp. 167-168 ; Peter Simkins, ‘Haig and the Army Commanders’, in Brian Bond and Nigel Cave (eds.), Haig : A Reappraisal 70 Years On, Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 1999, p. 86.

25. 16th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, War Diary (WD), January 1916-February 1918, TNA WO 95/2487 ; 105th Infantry Brigade, WD, January-December 1916, TNA WO 95/2485 ; 35th Division WD, January 1916-May 1917, TNA WO 95/2468 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 31-33 ; McGreal, op,cit., pp. 110-116. The divisional history states that three officers were killed or died of wounds and a further six officers, including the CO, were wounded in this action, while 32 other ranks were killed. 194 wounded and 7 posted as missing, a total of 242.   McGreal gives a slightly different figure of 244 all ranks.   The action was considered sufficiently significant to be mentioned in Haig’s Despatch of 23 December 1916 : see Lieutenant-Colonel J H Boraston (ed.), Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatches, December 1915-April 1919, Dent, London, 1979 edition, p. 34.

26. 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters WD, January 1916-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2488 ; 104th Brigade WD, January 1916-December 1917, TNA WO 95/2482 ; 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2485 ; 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; Davson, op. cit., pp. 34-36 ; Captain Wilfrid Miles, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1916, Vol.II (hereafter OH), Macmillan, London, 1938, pp. 111-112 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., pp. 25-29 ; Allinson,. op.cit., p. 210 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 116-117. The orders for the attack issued to the Sherwood Foresters at midnight on 19 July are reproduced in Bacon and Langley, pp. 27-29.   The Official Historian (Miles, see above), gives a higher combined casualty total for the two battalions (over 450) than either Davson or Bacon and Langley.   The commanding officer of the 23rd Manchesters, Lieutenant-Colonel E L Maxwell, was among the dead.   Some sources indicate that the second attack on 20 July was delivered at 10.45 a.m., although the Official History states that it was made at 11.35 a.m.

27. Judge Advocate General’s Records : Proceedings of Field General Court Martial and associated papers, TNA WO 71/489 ; Register of Field General Courts Martial, TNA WO 213/10 and 213/11; Gerard Oram, Death Sentences passed by military courts of the British Army, 1914-1924, Francis Boutle Publishers, London, 1998, p.40 ; Julian Putkowski amd Julian Sykes, Shot at Dawn : Executions in World War One by authority of the British Army Act, Wharncliffe, Barnsley, 1989, pp. 111-112 ; Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson, Blindfold and Alone : British Military Executions in the Great War, Cassell, London, 2001, pp, 151-153 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., p. 26. Corns and Hughes-Wilson give Corporal Wilton’s age as 40, whereas Putkowski amd Sykes state that he was 37.   On the same day that Wilton was tried, another soldier of the 15th Sherwood Foresters, Private J Moffit, was also sentenced to death for quitting his post though the sentence was reduced to five years’ penal servitude.

28. 18th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, January 1916-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2482 ; Davson, op.cit., p. 37 ; OH, 1916, II, p. 114.

29. 17th Battalion, Royal Scots WD, January 1916-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2490 ; 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment WD, January 1916-December 1917, TNA WO 95/2490 ; 106th Brigade WD, January 1916-February 1919, TNA WO 95/2489 ; Davson, op.cit., p. 39 ; Ewing, Royal Scots, I, p. 305.

30. Davson, op.cit., p. 45 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 119-122 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., p. 37 ; Sheen, Durham Pals, p. 109.

31. 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2485 ; 16th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2487 ; 14th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment WD, January 1916-February 1918, TNA WO 95/2488 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 121-122 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 47-49 ; Corns and Hughes-Wilson, Blindfold and Alone, pp. 153-154; Pinney diary, entries for 20 and 22 August, Pinney MSS, IWM 66/257/1.   It should be noted that Lieutenant-Colonel H M Davson, the divisional historian and himself an artillery officer, was not wholly convinced, when writing in the mid-1920s, that the reported ‘short shooting’ by the heavy guns on 20 August was British fire, claiming that subsequent investigation tended to show that much damage had been done by German artillery and that hostile high-angle fire from a flank could have been mistaken for ‘friendly fire’ from the rear.      

32. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2482 ; 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, January 1916-March 1919, TNA WO 95/2484 ; OH, 1916, II, pp. 199-201 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 50-51 ; Pinney diary, 25 August 1916, Pinney MSS, IWM 66/257/1.

33. Judge Advocate General’s Department, Proceedings of Field General Court Martial and associated papers, TNA WO 71/518 and WO 71/519 ; Register of Field General Courts Martial, TNA WO 213/12 ; Oram, op.cit., pp. 86, 101 ; Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op.cit., pp. 154-157. McQuade had a poor disciplinary record.   Described by his commanding officer as ‘absolutely useless as a soldier’, he had been left behind when his battalion crossed to France.   When sent to rejoin his unit in June 1916, he had not only gone missing from his draft but was tried on 5 July for disobeying an order, receiving a one year’s suspended sentence to hard labour.

34. Captain B L Montgomery to his mother, 27 August 1916, Montgomery MSS, IWM BLM 1/55 ; Pinney diary, entries for 25, 27, 29 and 31 August 1916, Pinney MSS, IWM 66/257/1 ; McGreal, op.cit., p. 123 ; Davson, op.cit., p. 53.

35. For a detailed breakdown of losses in the infantry battalions in the division, see Davson, op.cit., pp. 308-315, Appendix II, ‘Casualty Lists’.

36. This finding is based on a detailed survey of a sample of 281 attacks carried out by New Army divisions on the Somme in 1916, all of which are mentioned in the relevant volume of the British Official History.

37. Pinney would remain in command of the 33rd Division – the division from which Landon had come – for the rest of the war.

38. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2482 ; 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2485 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry WD, January 1916-January 1916, TNA WO 95/2490 ; 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters WD, TNA WO 95/2488. Detailed analyses and discussions of the events of the night of 25-26 November 1916 can also be found in Sheen, op.cit., pp. 128-134, 273-294 ; Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op.cit., pp. 157-175 ;  Davson, op.cit., pp. 74-80 ; and Bacon and Langley, op.cit., p. 41.

39. Judge Advocate General’s Department, Proceedings of Field General Courts Martial and associated papers, TNA WO 71/534 and WO 71/535 ; Register of Field General Courts Martial, TNA WO 213/13 ; 35th Division WD, YNA WO 95/2468 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489; Record of Service for Private J S Dunn (Burnt Documents), TNA WO 363/D1148 ; Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op.cit., pp. 162-175 ; Oram, Death Sentences, pp. 45-46 ; Sheen , op.cit., pp. 273-294 ; Putkowski and Sykes, Shot at Dawn, pp. 175-178.

40. Proceedings of Field General Court Martial and associated papers, TNA WO 71/534.

41. Sheen, op.cit., pp. 290, 335-353 ; Proceedings of Field General Court Martial and associated papers, TNA WO 71/534 and WO 71/535 ; Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op.cit., pp. 169, 172; Davson, op.cit., p. 80.

42. General Sir Aylmer Haldane, A Soldier’s Saga, Blackwood, Edinburgh and London, 1948, p. 335 ; see also Davson, op.cit., p. 80 ; Sheen, op.cit., p. 132 ; and Allinson, op.cit., p. 244.

43. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS), 35th Division, War Diary, February 1916-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2472 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 80-81.

44. Ernest Sheard, My Great Adventure : The Great War, 1914-1918, unpublished MS account, n.d., IWM PP/MCR/133 and P 285, pp. 267-268 ; Harrison Johnston, Extracts from an Officer’s Diary, p. 121.

45. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; ADMS, 35th Division, WD, TNA W) 95/2472 ; Becke, op.cit., p. 58 ; Sheen , op.cit., p. 132 ; McGreal, op.cit., p. 135 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 81-82 ; Haldane, A Soldier’s Saga, pp. 335-336. From the evidence contained in Haldane’s account, the unnamed brigade commander is most likely to have been Brigadier-General H O’Donnell of 106th Brigade.

46. See, for example, Davson, op.cit., p. 82 ; Becke, op.cit., p. 58 ; and OH, 1916, II, pp. 92-93. It should be pointed out, however, that, in a sample of four battalions – the 15th Cheshires, 15th Sherwood Foresters, 17th Lancashire Fusiliers and 19th DLI – very few (1.3 per cent or less) of the post-1916 casualties listed in Soldiers Died in the Great War can be positively identified as having come from cavalry or Yeomanry units.

47. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; ADMS, 35th Division, WD, TNA WO 95/2472 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 84-85, 90.

48. Charles Messenger, Call to Arms : The British Army, 1914-1918, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2005, pp. 231-233 ; Sheen, op.cit., pp. 132-133, 335-353 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 138-141; Davson, op.cit., p.82.

49. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2468 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2482 ; Davson, op.cit., 92-94, 101-105 ; Captain Cyril Falls, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1917, Vol. I, Macmillan, London, 1940, p. 529, fn.1.

50. 105th Brigade WD, January 1917-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters WD, TNA WO 95/2488 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 114-115 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., 43-45.

51. Davson, op. cit., pp. 118-128 ; K W Mitchinson, Epéhy (Battleground Europe Series), Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 1998, pp. 69-73, 101-108 ; Becke, op.cit., p. 51 ; General Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery : Western Front, 1914-18, Royal Artillery Institution, London, 1986, p.186.

52. Davson, op.cit., pp. 134-137 ; Mitchinson, Epéhy, pp. 104-105 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 157-158 ; Bacon and Langley, op,cit., p. 46.

53. Davson, op.cit., pp. 137-149 ; 105th Brigade WD, January 1917-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 15th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2487 ; 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters WD, TNA WO 95/2488 ; 18th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry WD, January 1916-February 1919, TNA WO 95/2490 ; Mitchinson, op.cit., pp. 104-108 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 157-168 ; Sheen, op.cit., pp. 184-186 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., pp. 46-48.

54. Again these figures have been compiled from those published in Appendix II (‘Casualty Lists’) of Davson’s divisional history, see pp. 306-315.

55. Its action at Houthulst Forest on 22 October was not considered sufficiently important to merit more than a passing and indirect reference in the British Official History volume dealing with that offensive – see Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1917, Vol.II, p. 348.

56. The numerical weakness of 106th Brigade is indicated by the fact that the combat strength of the 17th West Yorkshires had been reduced to 450 rifles, see Davson, op.cit., p. 160, fn.2.   For th background to the Houthulst Forest attack, see Edmonds, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1917, Vol II, pp. 343-344, 348 ; Davson, op.cit., 157-160 ; Nigel Steel and Peter Hart, Passchendaele : The Sacrificial Ground, Cassell, London, 2000, p. 281.

57. 35th Division WD, June 1917-June 1918, TNA WO 95/2469 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2482 ; 105th Brigade WD, January 1917-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 16th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2487 ; 14th Batalion, Gloucestershire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2488 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 161-171 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp, 173-180 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., pp. 48-49.

58. Davson, op.cit., pp. 169-171 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp, 179-180.

59. These sample statistics have been compiled from a detailed analysis of the casualties named in Soldiers Died in the Great War (CD-Rom version published by the Naval and Military Press) ; in the list of original other ranks of the 19th DLI published in Sheen’s Durham Pals, pp. 335-353 ; and the Roll of Honour of the 15th Sherwood Foresters published by Bacon and Langley in The Blast of War, Appendix II, pp.86-99.

60. Both Becke (p. 56, fn.38) and Brigadier E A James, British Regiments, 1914-18, Samson Books, London, 1978 (p.103) state that the drafts of dismounted Glasgow Yeomanry personnel included  146 other ranks, though Davson (p.152) gives the higher figure of 250.

61. The remainder of the 17th West Yorkshires amalgamated with the 15th Battalion (Leeds Pals) in the 31st Division on 7 December 1917.

62. Becke, op.cit., pp. 54-56 ; Davson, op,cit., pp. 183-185 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 184-185.

63. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2469 ; 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 15th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2487; 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters WD, TNA WO 95/2488 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 193-196, 205-206 ; Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1918, Vol.I, (hereafter OH, 1918, I), Macmilland, London, 1935, pp. 413-418 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., 53 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 196-197.

64. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2469 ; 104th Brigade WD, January 1918-March 1919, TNA WO 95/2483 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 12th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry WD, February 1918-April 1919, TNA WO 95/2490 ; 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry WD, February 1918-March 1919, TNA WO 95/2484 ; OH, 1918, I, pp. 473-475 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 199-204 ; Sheen, op.cit., p. 220 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., p. 53 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 197-199.   Lieutenant-Colonel W H Anderson, commanding the 12th HLI, organised and led two counter-attacks by his battalion on 25 March 1918, first at Favière Wood and later at Maricourt.   He was killed in the second of these actions but was subsequently awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

65.Third Army WD, January-March 1918, TNA WO 95/369 ; VII Corps WD, January-March 1918, TNA WO 95/867 ; 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2469 ;  104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2483 ; 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; OH, 1918, I, pp. 488-489, 508-517, 532, 538-544 ; Edmonds, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1918, Vol.II, Macmillan, London, 1937, p.12 ; Davson, op.cit., pp.205-213 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 199-201.

66. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2469 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2483 ; 105th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2486 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 18th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; 18th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry WD, TNA WO 95/2490 ; 15th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment WD, TNA WO 95/2487 ; Bacon and Langley, op.cit., pp. 53-54 ; McGreal, op.cit., pp. 201-203 ; Sheen, op.cit., pp. 220-222; Davson, op.cit., pp.210-217 ; OH, 1918, II, pp.34, 54-55, 94, 113, 457, 491 ; K W Mitchinson, Pioneer Battalions in the Great War : Organized and Intelligent Labour, Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 1997, p.220.   Some idea of the scale of the casualties incurred by individual battalions in the March fighting may be gained from the fact that the 15th Cheshires alone lost 55 officers and men killed and 15 officers and 385 other ranks wounded or missing.

67. For an overview of British divisional performance in the final offensive, and an explanation of the methodology by which the respective divisional success rates were calculated, see Peter Simkins, ‘Co-Stars or Supporting Cast ?: British Divisions in the “Hundred Days”, 1918’ in Paddy Griffith (ed.), British Fighting Methods in the Great War, Cass, London, 1996, pp. 50-69.

68. 35th Division WD, July 1918-March 1919, TNA WO 95/2470 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 257-268 ; Edmonds, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1918, Vol.V, HMSO, London, 1947, pp. 59, 61, 68, 77-79, 85-86, 89.

69. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2470 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2483 ; 106th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2489 ; 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry WD, TNA WO 95/2484 ; Davson, op.cit., pp. 268-284; OH, 1918, V, pp.274, 279, 286, 289-290, 428-430, 432 ; Sheen, op.cit., p. 258.

70. 35th Division WD, TNA WO 95/2470 ; 104th Brigade WD, TNA WO 95/2483 ; Davson, op.cit., 284-288, 290-293 ; OH, 1918, V, pp.444, 447-448, 548-549, 556.