The British Army would be the weakest field force of the four combatants at the First Battle of Ypres . In Britain there was a popular story that comparing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France with the mass conscription European armies, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany had dismissed it as a contemptible little army . It was probably an effective piece of recruiting propaganda by the British, but in essence it was not untrue .
The British saw their role as maintaining dominance of the seas, and offering financial support, whilst providing a small highly trained army to supplement the French . In equipment and resources the British Army a career force of professionals took second place to the Royal Navy . Later in the war as recruits were put through their training, exasperated Non Commissioned Of cers (NCOs) watching civilians struggling to become soldiers would utter Thank Gawd we ve got a Navy .
The role of the pre-war British Army was primarily policing the empire and units were deployed throughout Britain s imperial possessions, however this meant that often forces at home were understrength . Indeed, in echoes of current moves in the early twenty- rst century, prior to the First World War, the army itself had been reduced by 16,000 men as a politically acceptable cost-cutting exercise . However, it was those understrength units stationed at home that were to form the basis of the expeditionary force (later known as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)) that was to be sent to France in 1914 .
The force was initially made up of six formed infantry divisions and a cavalry division, which would be created from existing brigades on mobilisation . To bring these formations up to war strength 60 per cent of their manpower were reservists . After the outbreak of war, units serving abroad were brought home to form additional Regular divisions .
Alongside the Regular Army, there was the Territorial Force (TF) of fourteen infantry divisions and fourteen Yeomanry brigades . The Territorials, as part-time volunteers, were often viewed with some suspicion by the Regular Army, as many of them had not seen active service . The Territorial Force s primary role was home defence and its members could only be sent overseas if they volunteered and only a small number of units had done so before the outbreak of war, but this soon changed .
During theearly weeks of the war, the BEF was to suffer heavy casualties and so individual TF units began to be sent to France in September 1914 (at the same time three TF divisions were sent to replace regular units overseas) . The first TF division did not, however, deploy to an active theatre of war until March 1915 . However, once in the frontline regular soldiers, though they were happy to tease them, were more than happy to be reinforced by Territorial soldiers .
Ri ’eman Henry Williamson of the London Ri ‘e Brigade (a Territorial formation) recalled that at Ypres in 1914: We were brigaded with regulars who wore balaclava helmets . The whole feeling was one of tremendous comradeship, and these old sweats who were survivors of Mons and the Aisne, they had no fear at all, and any apprehension we had of going in under re was soon got rid of in the trenches. (from Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Great War) However, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, unlike the Germans, was prepared for a long war and realised that Britain would need a large army to see out the con ‘ict . He, too, did not hold the Territorials in high regard and therefore decided to raise a mass all-volunteer army (later dubbed Kitchener s Army), who would receive similar training to that of Regular Army units .
The men of the New Armies, as they were called, enlisted for four years or the duration of the war . Shortage of equipment and facilities meant that it would be many months before any of these new divisions deployed overseas . In the early months of 1914 Corporal Clarke of the Gordon Highlanders recalled that class still dominated the army and in Ypres while the men slept on ‘oors and in outhouses, the of cers slept in beds in the most af ‘uent houses in the town: The hell they were all about to enter was to virtually destroy that differential; when men are at their Maker s door and ‘ying shrapnel can open that door at any minute of the day, every day, there was to be a bond built up between the two. (from van Emden, The Soldier s War) Enthusiastic but untrained volunteers bolstered reserves, 51,647 enlisted in August 1914 and that figure rose to 174,901 by 5 September, just eight weeks prior to First Ypres .
While some 4,192 of the regular soldiers had more than fifteen years of experience, 46,291 had just under two years . The British Army elded just 4,000 gunners and seventy-six guns per division . Each infantry battalion contained just two machine guns .
The solitary Cavalry Division was comprised of only 9,000 men, twenty-four machine guns and the same number of light artillery pieces . The British could say that what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality . Their NCOs and soldiers were highly trained .
As a result of their experiences in the war in South Africa, British infantry were very pro cient marksmen, capable of ring twenty aimed rounds per minute a rate that came to be known as the Mad Minute . The Royal Artillery also lagged behind the Germans and French in 1914 . Guns were still expected to provide infantry with close support in the frontline and the technique of indirect re was largely ignored .
It was the superiority of rifle fire that was considered decisive . There were fifty-four field artillery guns and eighteen Howitzers per division . There was no corps-level artillery control, no reserves in case of heavy losses, very little doctrine and there were not the appropriate numbers of staff or communications for effective artillery infantry cooperation .
Possibly the greatest defect was the lack of a High Explosive (HE) shells . Those that the gunners did have were few in number and hampered by a defective fuse, a problem which would not be fully resolved until 1916 . Ultimately, the lack of Treasury support meant that there was little the army could have done to rectify these problems before the war .
However, in the Mk I 18 pounder the British had an elegant and well-designed gun that would serve throughout the war .
It had a range of 7,000 yards but this was upped to between 9 and 11,000 yards in improved versions .
Such was the quality of the 18 pounder that it would eventually form the basis of the 25 pounder of the Second World War, which was eventually retired in the 1970s.
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The History Press blog
Today, Wednesday 28 November
1st Royal Tank Regiment exercise Freedom of Bury St Edmunds.
Tomorrow, Thursday 29 November
Funeral in Glencorse of Captain Walter Barrie1, from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 11 November 2012
Inquest in Hertfordshire into the death of Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin2, from 2 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on 13 February 2012.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester presenting Afghanistan campaign medals to 4 Logistic Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Dalton Barracks, Abingdon.
1st Battalion The Royal Welsh homecoming parade, Wrexham.
King’s College London War Studies Book Launch: Media Power and The Transformation of War.
Royal United Services Institute event: Nuclear Stability at Low Numbers.
Friday 30 November
St Andrew’s Day.
3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment Op HERRICK medal parade, Warminster.
1st Battalion Welsh Guards exercise Freedom of Cardiff.
TV programme of interest: ‘Scotland’s Greatest Warrior’, BBC2 (Scotland only), 2100hrs – features the 3rd and 7th Battalions of The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Saturday 1 December
1st Royal Tank Regiment homecoming parade, Liverpool.
Monday 3 December
King’s Royal Hussars homecoming parade and church service, Winchester.
Tuesday 4 December
1st Battalion The Royal Welsh homecoming parade, Swansea.
King’s Royal Hussars medal parade, Tidworth.
1st Battalion Welsh Guards homecoming parade, Hounslow.
3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment homecoming parade, Halifax.
Light Dragoons thanksgiving service, Norwich Cathedral.
Wednesday 5 December
Inquest in Cornwall into the death of Sapper Elijah Bond3, from 35 Engineer Regiment, who died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham on 8 December 2011 as a result of wounds sustained in Afghanistan.
Light Dragoons homecoming and medal parade, Dereham, Norfolk.
3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment thanksgiving service, York Minster.
Armed Forces Community Covenant signing by Tower Hamlets Council at the Tower of London.
King’s College London War Studies Seminar: Maritime Operations and Security.
King’s College London War Studies Book Launch – War from the Ground Up: Twenty-first Century Combat as Politics.
Taking over operations for the Royal Gibraltar Regiment during Exercise Jebel Tarik in the UK, the Light Dragoons arrived this weekend for a period of four weeks. YGTV this morning spoke to…
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The Woolwich atrocity has nothing to do with Islam ?
Try this news from Iraq on Monday: At least 57 people have been killed in a series of car bombs targeting mainly Shia areas in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, police say .
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22682400 1 References ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22682400 (www.bbc.co.uk)
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Watch: Ex-British Army Sikh responds to Woolwich attack
Edward Eveleigh joined the British Army reserves in 1936, while attending Oxford University in England . When the war clouds gathered in 1938, I was called up, but only for six weeks, he said . He returned in time to take his university exams .
But I was called up again in September, 1939, about a week before war was declared by Great Britain on Germany . The British Expeditionary Force, which had served in World War I, was started up in 1938 after Germany annexed Austria . When the German Army invaded Poland on Sept .
3, 1939, France and Britain, having pledged to support Poland, joined the fight . My regiment left for France to be deployed close to the border with Belgium . However, I was sent to the base depot .
I was the only non-regular soldier . Eveleigh was assigned to the 3rd Military Artillery Regiment, which served with the expeditionary force s I Corps . He was stationed in the town of Saint-Nazaire, in western France on the Atlantic coast .
I lived next door the well-known La Baule resort where I remained for five months in a very comfortable, furnished house . Not a bad way to spend a war . But it didn t last .
Sometimes the dangers lurked in surprising places . I remember on Christmas Day of 1939 I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a mine being carried straight towards my home . The French, in an effort to create a defensive line, set mines in the water along the coastline .
One of those mines broke from its moorings and was floating straight for the home, built right up against the ocean . It threatened to explode on the rock beneath me . By sheer luck, the wind changed when the mine was about 100 yards away and I never saw it again .
In May of 1940, I was posted to join my regiment close to the Belgian border . At the base, they told me to take off all signs of identity from my uniform . I removed the buttons, the cap badge, and my two lieutenant shoulder stars .
After I had been on the train for about four hours, the military police arrested me on suspicion of being a spy . I claimed to be an English officer, but they were not satisfied and said I had no means of identification . I spent the next 24 hours waiting to be identified by one of my fellow officers .
Then the peaceful existence was shattered by the German s invading Belgium . By telephone I sent the order for the 3-ton lorries (3-ton trucks known as 3-tonners ) to report to me . After a long interval, three gunners reported to me .
The artillery man thought I had ordered three gunners, so we delayed our advance considerably . As we made our way towards Belgium, we encountered hundreds of civilians coming in the opposite direction away from the invading Germans . Eveleigh was given the order to withdraw .
I had to turn around and go in the direction I d come from . He jumped onto the side of the 3-tonner to direct the driver, but he slipped and fell under the vehicle which ran over his right leg . Normally, I should have been directing targets for the guns, but instead, I remained at the gun position .
Then some Messerschmidt s (German fighter planes) machine-gunned us and I did the 100 meters in about two seconds, he said, laughing . Eveleigh, who usually carried a walking cane, dropped it when he made a break for cover . When I emerged from the ditch in which I had sought safety, I looked for my cane until my sergeant major said, We broke it up, sir, we thought you did very well without it .
Subsequently, I took up position as a forward observation post on the edge of a wood forest . Eveleigh and another soldier had missed their night s sleep . We dug a hole in the ground in which we could crouch if attacked .
We were in fact shelled and small trees around us fell upon us until we were released by our comrades when it was decided that we must join the forces withdrawing through Dunkirk . The Germans had pushed through France, and the British, having been pinned down with no where to go but into the ocean were forced to evacuate from Dunkirk . We destroyed our guns and immobilized the vehicles which we had to leave .
The beach at Dunkirk was full of our men . Two of his men reported to Eveleigh they d been on leave when the retreat was ordered . They had been three days catching up with us only to reach us at Dunkirk .
An hour later, the Stuka bombers flew over, and they were among the dead . Dunkirk is full of little mounds, and the men raced to get down into a spot where the mounds dipped . Eveleigh was able to avoid getting hit by the explosions .
Just over half-way through the evacuation, I was lucky enough to be able to join others embarking upon a paddle steamer for England . We had an uneventful passage to Yarmouth . I spent the next year in England until America declared war on Germany in December, 1941 .
In June of 1942 I was sent to Canada I traveled on the USS Monterey which was not yet turned into a troop ship . Myself and five other officers traveled from London to the Port of Liverpool when we boarded the ship at 7 o clock in the morning . We went straight to the dining room for breakfast where we were offered almost everything from caviar to bacon and eggs .
It was a welcome change from the British rations . Eveleigh spent a year in Canada as an artillery instructor . He returned to England and became a barrister (lawyer) and later, a justice (judge) .
Sir Edward Eveleigh he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II served as one of the justices of Her Majesty s High Court of Justice . In 1977 he was appointed by the Queen as one of the Lords Justices of Appeal on the English Commonwealth Appeals Court . The court of appeals in the second most senior court in the English legal system .
Only the Supreme Court of England is higher . The notation in The London Gazette, dated Oct .
4, 1977, read: Crown Office, House of Lords: The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal bearing date the 30th of September, 1977, to appoint Sir Edward Walter Eveleigh, Knight, one of the Justices of Her Majesty s High Court of Justice, to be one of the Lords Justices of Appeal . Sir Edward Eveleigh Age: 95 Birthday: Oct .
8, 1917 Hometown : London Residence: Palm Desert Branch of service: British Expeditionary Force; British Army; 3rd Medium Artillery Regiment Years served: 1938 1946 Rank: Major Family: Wife Nell; two sons, Martin Eveleigh of Raleigh, N.C .
and Richard Eveleigh of London; two grandsons, one granddaughter
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British Army officer survived Battle of Dunkirk during World War II …
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