H. C. (Herbert Charles) O'Neill.

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August went to Archangel. From the landing up to the
capture of Oboyerskia they remained in the Archangel
area and returned to Murmansk on relief by American
infantry. Two other battalions also served in Russia, the
45th and 46th, and the former won two V.C.'s. Each of
these was awarded long after the war proper had ended.*
But the exploits are worthy of record here.

The first was awarded to Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on
August 10th, 1919, at the Sheika River, North Russia.

The platoon to which he belonged, after fighting a rear-
guard covering action, had to cross the river by means of
a narrow plank, and during the passage an officer and
three men fell into a deep swamp.

Without hesitation, under intense fire, Corporal Sullivan
jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them
out singly. But for this gallant action his comrades
would undoubtedly have been drowned. It was a
splendid example of heroism as all ranks were on the point
of exhaustion and the enemy less than 100 yards distant.

And the second to Sergeant Samuel George Pearse, M.M.

For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and
self-sacrifice during the operation against the enemy

* See note, p. 2.


battery position north of Emtsa (North Russia) on
August 29th, 1919.

Sergeant Pearse cut his way through the enemy barbed
wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and
cleared a way for the troops to enter the battery position.

Seeing that a blockhouse was harassing our advance
and causing us casualties, he charged the blockhouse
single-handed, killing the occupants with bombs.

This gallant non-commissioned officer met his death a
minute later, and it was due to him that the position was
carried with so few casualties.

His magnificent bravery and utter disregard for per-
sonal danger won for him the admiration of all troops.

There were still other battalions who served in the
operations which are more strictly comprised under the
title The Great War. The Mayor of East Ham had raised
three or four brigades of artillery when he formed the
impression that an infantry battalion could also be formed.
After consultation with Major F. Cannon, the recruiting
officer at East Ham and Barking, he wrote to the War Office
early in October, 1915, and approval was given, subject
to the proviso that if 600 men were not raised before
Christmas the approval would be withdrawn. Major
Cannon took up the recruiting, and in the first three weeks
secured only one recruit, a typist, who was employed in
the office. A few more offered themselves early in Novem-
ber, and at the end of the month the total sprang to 500.
Only one N.C.O., C.Q.M.S. Childs, afterwards killed in
action while serving with the 10th Queen's, was available
to pay, billet and look after the new recruits. Major
Cannon was placed in command, and the other units of the
regiment supplied officers. At Christmas the battalion
(the 32nd) was ordered to Aldershot and remained there
until May 5th, when it embarked for France under the
command of Lieut. -Colonel Key, of the Yorks and Lanes.
Regiment, who had lately returned from Gallipoli. The
men were quick to learn and, though the officers were
drawn from various units, the battalion worked well

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together, and with the 26th did good service in the

An honourable group of units was formed as Labour
battalions. Among these were the 34th, 35th, 36th and
37th Battalions, which were raised in the spring of 1916 at
Falmer, near Lewes, and left for France in June. Colonel
N. A. K. Burne was in command of the 35th, Colonel G. E.
Even, C.B., of the 36th, and Colonel Savage of the 37th.
The battalions served in various parts of the country,
unloading ships, making roads, or constructing ammunition
dumps. While working on a ship at Rouen in the morning
of January 28th, 1917, Private Noble slipped on the gang-
way and fell into the Seine. It was bitterly cold and the
Seine was crowded with boulders of drift ice. In spite of
this Private Robert Barker, of the 35th Labour Battalion,
finding that Noble could not swim, jumped into the river
and supported him until both could be pulled out. He was
awarded the Royal Humane Society's Testimonial on
Vellum for this brave action.

But for the most part the work of the Labour battalions
did not offer the opportunity of spectacular actions. The
men worked steadily and well. The work was heavy, and
for some time the 35th worked in shifts, by night as well
as day, unloading heavy gun ammunition from ships at
Rouen. In May, 1917, the Labour battalions were broken
up and formed into Labour companies of 500 each, the
35th becoming the 103rd and 104th Infantry Labour
Companies ; the 36th, the 105th and 106th Labour
Companies ; the 37th, the 107th and 108th Companies.
Sergeant Lyles, of the 36th, was among those who, at the
end of the war, received a decoration, being awarded the

Another group of battalions was composed of Jewish
recruits. When the idea was first mooted in the autumn
of 1915 by Mr. Joseph Cowen and Dr. Eder, it met with
no sympathy at the War Office. But in April, 1915, the
Zion Mule Corps was formed in Alexandria, Egypt, by
some 500 or 600 Palestinian refugees and local Jews. It


was commanded by Lieut. -Colonel J. H. Patterson, D.S.O.,
and did good service in Gallipoli, but was disbanded in
the summer of 1916. About 100 of its members re-en-
listed in the British Army, were brought to London and
posted to the 20th London (Territorials). They after-
wards formed the nucleus of Jewish N.C.O.'s and
instructors for the Jewish infantry battalions.

In the meantime the old idea had sprung to life once
more and the Government was pressed to allow the
formation of a Jewish unit for Palestine. The movement
was led by Mr. Vladimir Jabotinsky, and was strongly
supported by Dr. Weizmann, the President of the Zionist
Organisation. In April, 1917, the War Cabinet decided
to allow the formation of the unit. In August its forma-
tion was announced under the name of " Jewish Regiment
of Infantry " ; but this description was subsequently
withdrawn and the Jewish battalions became the 38th to
42nd Royal Fusiliers, with their depot at 22, Chenies
Street, W.C., and their camp at Plymouth. The battalions
were chiefly intended for the reception of Russian Jews, to
be enlisted under a special convention with M. Kerensky's
Government. Permission to use Kosher food was granted
with the assurance that the battalions would be employed
on the Palestine front, and would be granted a Jewish
name and badge if they distinguished themselves.

About 2,000 Jews joined from England, a proportion
of them being volunteers. Their enlistment was stopped
after the fall of M. Kerensky's Government and the
victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia ; but, in the beginning
of 1918, a widespread movement of voluntary recruiting
began in the United States and Canada. Jews in the
Argentine were also allowed to enlist, and practically the
whole of the able-bodied young Jews in the liberated part
of Palestine (Judea) applied to be enlisted. These various
sources involved large numbers ; but owing to technical
difficulties connected with the numerous nationalities and
difficulties of transport, only a small proportion of those
overseas could actually be enlisted. But altogether about


10,000 joined the Jewish battalions, of whom over three-
quarters were volunteers; and some 5,000 actually served
in Palestine. The recruiting campaign in the United
States, Canada, the Argentine, and especially Palestine,
evoked unprecedented enthusiasm, both Zionist and

The 38th Battalion, under Lieut. -Colonel J. H. Patterson,
landed in Egypt in January, 1918, to complete their
training, and went to the front in June, 1918. They
reached Ludd on June 6th, and were inspected by General
Allenby, for the second time. After a few days they
marched off to take their share in the line and took over
the three miles lying between Jiljilia (some three miles
west of the Nablus road) and Abwein. They speedily
won their spurs in the tasks of the hour — scouting,
patrolling and trench digging — and were then given a
most trying part of the line in the Jordan valley. The
seven miles for which they were responsible stretched
westward from the Jordan above Jericho, and seemed at
times to be almost an island in a sea of enemies. On the
west was a gap which offered a constant invitation to
the enemy ; but the battalion ably supported the Anzac
Mounted Division in harrying the Turks and discovering
their plans. They also took part in Allenby's attack in
September by capturing the ford of Umm-esh-Shert on
the night of the 21st, and so enabling the mounted troops
to cross the river towards Es Salt (Ramoth Gilead) and
outflank the Turks. In this operation they were assisted
by the 39th battalion, commanded by Lieut. -Colonel E. L.
Margolin, a former officer of the Australian Expeditionary
Force. The force known as Patterson's column crossed
the Jordan and occupied the road between Tel Nimrin
and Es Salt until the collapse of the Fourth Turkish
Army and Second Turkish Corps, when they returned to
Jerusalem with a large body of Turkish and German
prisoners. They had performed distinguished service,
and were awarded a number of distinctions.

The 40th Battalion consisted chiefly of Palestinian


recruits. Many Turkish Jews, who were prisoners of war
in Egypt, asked permission to join, and 150 of them were
accepted. They were trained at Tel-el-Kebir and were
employed on garrison duty during the autumn and winter
of 1918-1919. Their first commander was Lieut. -Colonel
Scott, who was succeeded by Lieut. -Colonel F. Samuel.

These battalions had some well-known recruits. Major
James de Rothschild was in the 39th. Jacob Epstein was
for some time a private in the 38th. Anton Tchaikov,
the violinist, and now the Director of the School of Music
at Jerusalem, was at first a private and later a sergeant
in the 38th. Mr. V. Jabotinsky, the initiator of the
movement, was a sergeant and later honorary lieutenant
in the 38th ; and M. Smeliansky, the well-known Jewish
novelist, was a corporal in the 40th, who also numbered
among their privates Mr. Vinnik, the Chemical Director
of the Rishon Wine Cellars, and Mr. Ben Zivi, a member
of the Advisory Council to the High Commissioner for
Palestine. Other names of distinguished and remarkable
men who enlisted in these battalions might be quoted ;
but it is obvious that the units started with a strangely
ideal impetus and naturally cast a wide net among Jews.
The 41st and 42nd Battalions were formed as draft-
training units for the three battalions on active service,
and were stationed at Plymouth.

All these battalions performed good service. During
the trouble in Egypt these were practically the only white
infantry troops in Palestine. They guarded the whole
railway line from Romani up to Ludd-Haifa-Semach. In
the autumn of 1919 they were officially given the name
" Judeans " with a special badge " theMenora " (the eight-
branched candlestick, the symbol of the Maccabeans), with
the Hebrew word " Kadima " (" Forwards and East-
wards "). The sleeve badge Shield of David (38th,
purple ; 39th, red ; 40th, blue) was granted in 1918.

The Territorial battalions mobilised at the outbreak of
war and first acted as guard to the London and South
Western Railway main lines. On September 4th they


embarked for Malta, and after a period of service there left
for France on January 2nd, 1915. Second line battalions
were formed when the first line battalions left England,
and these later became the units of the 173rd Brigade of
the 58th Division, as the first line units joined the 56th
Division. Third line battalions were formed when the
second line left England for Malta in December, 1914 ;
and fourth line battalions were raised as draft-forming
units. These battalions were telescoped towards the end
of the war as a consequence of severe losses and the drain
of supporting three battalions per unit, i.e., twelve batta-
lions in all. The third lines generally became the second
line battalions, and at least one second line battalion
disappeared as a distinct entity. The draft-forming units
were also turned into one. The battalions of the London
Regiment distinguished themselves in many battles of the
war, and, like the new service, labour and training batta-
lions, were proud of being Royal Fusiliers. At times, it
was said that the war was mechanical, but no one can
study the expansion of the Royal Fusiliers without being
more conscious of the spiritual side. It was largely the
old leaven of a famous regiment which turned these
strangely assorted units into splendid righting battalions

who left their mark on the history of the war.

* * # * *

Such in brief outline is the field covered by this
book. The sources are the battalion diaries, personal
diaries of officers, special accounts of particular incidents
contributed by soldiers actually engaged in them, a
considerable number of letters and numerous conversations
with officers of various battalions.

A very interesting chapter could be made of the official
diaries. A certain high officer drew attention to the low
standard attained by the units of his command in this
matter ; but the suggestions made for improvement are
not always beyond criticism. The weather is " never " a
necessary entry, it is stated. This is obviously unsound.
The weather is a deciding factor in many operations ; and


when of two battalions in the same area, one attacks and
the other desists on account of the weather — an actual case
of two Fusilier battalions — it becomes absolutely necessary
to know the circumstances in detail. There is also a
presumably sarcastic remark that the regimental historian
will shrink from the statement that " the battalion played
the Brigade H.Q. at baseball and beat them." On the
contrary. When the men play their football matches
there is a clear indication of the morale of the unit ; and
when, as in a particular case, a battalion is stated to have
been too tired to carry out its fixtures it is reasonably
certain that the unit was too weary to be of much use in
active operations. A final statement that " it is certainly
not necessary to state when officers went on and returned
from leave " is clearly absurd.

It is frequently most difficult to discover who was
actually in charge of a given operation ; and unless the
command is stated in detail before every engagement, the
only indication of the sort of force that went into action
is provided by the notes about leave.

But the actual diaries are singularly instructive. Those
of the Regular battalions are almost invariably restrained
and bald to an irritating degree. The new battalions, on
the contrary, give much information, some of it naive to an
almost incredible extent, some of it most interesting to
the historian, all of it useful in forming a picture of the
unit. All the mechanism of posting sentries, carrying out
reliefs, standing-to, etc., is described by one tireless
diarist. Everything is put down coldly and carefully,
with machine-like detachment, until the battalion goes to
Murrumbidgee Camp. Nothing hitherto had disturbed
the perfection of this officer's self-possession. But there
was something about this camp that stirred him to his
depths ; and, in place of the usual carefully dispassionate
description, he states that the camp is " a filthy hole with
a debauched and frozen bath-house which battalion is
supposed to work."

Another diarist ventures the callow remark " One of our


Lewis guns claimed to have hit a German who exposed
himself." A little later we find him slaughtering whole
units without any tentative claims. Another diarist is
perpetually reporting the remains of dead soldiers. Either
he was morbidly interested in this or the battalion had an
unusually gruesome experience. There is a certain
humour in the description of a shelling of billets which
concludes: " One man hit on pay parade." And surely,
as the full description of an early spring day, the following
can hardly be beaten : " Snowed heavily. Men rested
and bathed. Football match." A man who could write
in that vein was certainly innocent of shell-shock ! One
diarist kills three men on two different occasions, with full
details. But as a tour deforce the description by a diarist
of a certain battalion which went through the great
retreat in March, 1918, stands supreme. On March 25th
every unit appears to be retiring about him. The provi-
sional line is crumbling. There is amazing confusion.
Then comes the statement " 4 p.m. Artillery falling short
on X (a neighbouring division). Brigade informed.
Quiet evening." This from a " K " battalion is suggestive.
One wonders what a disturbed evening would havebeen like.
But the diaries are not always complete. One battalion
diary gives no map references for the first seventeen
months, and the first map reference does not give the
number of the sheet. Frequently, perhaps invariably,
the diaries give the position of battalion headquarters,
though part of the battalion may have billeted some miles
away. In most cases this would be of little importance.
But in the case of the 4th Battalion at Mons on the night
of the battle in 1914, it is of the first importance to know
that part of the battalion slept north of the fine which
von Kluck appears to have reported held by one of his
corps ! The battalion diary gives the locus of the battalion
that night as Ciply. Captain Harding notes that they
slept that night in a field " at Mons Hospital." *

* Lieutenant Longman, of the same company, says " Nimy Hospital."
This is clearly a slip for Mons.


At times, where detail is most desirable, incidents have
had to be slurred over because of a complete conflict of
evidence. The time for anonymous heroes would seem
to have passed ; but, with the perversity of the Regular
battalions impelling them to cover up their deeds and the
conflict of evidence where the broad outlines are given,
it will still require years of research before the full flower
of the British soldiers' achievement can be known.



In England the first contact of the British forces with
the German Army formed a unique episode. Other en-
counters took on a grander colouring ; others were viewed
with a graver anxiety. But the battle of Mons, which
saw the first entry of the British Army into the world war,
stirred the emotions deeper than any subsequent action.

It was not in this way, however, that the army first gave
battle. The 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers engaged at
Mons with a coolness which is bewildering and almost
distressing to the civilian. Stationed at Parkhurst at the
outbreak of war, it had reported mobilised before midnight
on August 8th. It began to move on the 12th and sailed
for Havre at 6 p.m. on the following day. The speed and
smoothness of its preparations had outpaced the arrange-
ments for its reception ; and only the Northumberland
Fusiliers of the 9th Brigade could be accommodated in
tents at the rest camp at Harfleur. The weather was hot.
The battalion had embodied 734 reservists ; and as the
troops struggled up the steep hill to the rest camp after a
seven mile march about 97 fell out.

The men had met with an enthusiastic reception at
Havre. French soldiers on the quay gave them a hearty
welcome, and the troops did their best to show their sense
of gratitude by whistling the " Marseillaise." By a
transition which needs no explanation to those who know
the ordinary Tommy, they then turned to " Hold your
hand out, naughty boy." This, sung with great fervour
and seriousness, was received with bared heads by the
French, who quite pardonably thought it the British
National Anthem. It was a great day, and even the

F. D


settling down into orchards for the night did not chasten
the men's spirits.

But that night a terrific thunderstorm burst over the
camp, and the men, lying in the open, were soaked to the
skin. The rain came down in torrents and it continued
almost to the moment when, on the 16th, the battalion
entrained for the concentration area. The train slowly
crossed the country via Amiens to Landrecies, and every-
where on the line were cheering French crowds with
presents of flowers. Early on the 17th the battalion
arrived at Landrecies and marched to Noyelles, where,
with a little rest and marching, the men got into condition.
These were the days when people at home were almost
holding their breath ; but if they could have seen several
officers and men fishing in a tiny pond and catching
minnows on pins they might have been reassured, or
perhaps, more apprehensive !

On the 20th the battalion left Noyelles for Taisnaires,
and on the following day they marched out as advance
guard and billeted at La Longueville. On this day the
outposts of the 9th Brigade lay across the battlefield of
Malplaquet. The hour of departure on the 22nd had been
fixed at 4 a.m. for 6.30 a.m., but at five o'clock a message
reached brigade headquarters that the starting time was
to be advanced by an hour and a half.

The 4th Battalion were on the march before 5.15, a
very remarkable performance. They were again advance
guard, and by the evening they had reached Nimy, after
meeting with an enthusiastic welcome from the people
of Mons, who loaded them with presents of eggs, fruit,
tobacco, and even handkerchiefs. The position at this
moment deserves notice. Army orders issued by von
Bulow at 8 p.m. on the 22nd showed very clearly that no
appreciable force of the British was thought to be within
the marching radius of the First and Second German
Armies. On the other hand, the British Army did not
expect to meet with anything more than a stimulating
opposition from the Germans. It is necessary to bear the

Brig.-Gexeral N. R. McMahon, D.S.O., who commanded
4th Royal Fusiliers from Mons to Ypres.



latter fact in mind to appreciate the dispositions of the
Royal Fusiliers.

They formed part of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Division,
and their orders were to the effect that the canal was to
be " the line of resistance." But on the night of the
22nd the battalion was occupying posts covering Ghlin,
just south of the Bois de Ghlin and the Bois Brule. There
was no field of fire, and every opportunity for unseen
approach. Such a position, obviously, would have been
unthinkable if any prolonged defence had been contem-
plated ; and, indeed, late in the afternoon the men were
withdrawn to the canal. Even now there were strict
orders that the canal bridges should not be destroyed
without explicit orders from the 3rd Division ; and,
finally, the general disposition of the line, with its sharp
salient about Mons, sufficiently emphasises the provisional
nature of the position and the implied probability of a
light encounter and a subsequent advance.

Mons. — The Royal Fusiliers were to bear the brunt of this
misconception. As the right-hand battalion of the brigade,
they were disposed along the western face of the canal bend,
with the charge of all the crossings up to and including
Nimy Bridge. On their right lay the 4th Middlesex,
charged with the defence of the eastern face of the canal.
The left (IX.) corps of the First German Army was engaged
on this part of the front, each of the two battalions in the
canal bend having to withstand the attack of two regi-
ments (each of three battalions) of the 18th Jager Division.
On the morning of the 23rd the battalion, mustering 26
officers and 983 other ranks, was disposed as follows : —

Online LibraryH. C. (Herbert Charles) O'NeillThe Royal fusiliers in the great war → online text (page 3 of 38)