RECORD OF THE 3rd (SPECIAL RESERVE) BATTALION, 1914-1919.
EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
The splendid work carried out by this Battalion during the War, and its functions, have been referred to in the Record of the Depot in previous volumes of the chronicle. It remains to give a more detailed account of its movements and services, and this has been supplied by Captain A. V. Spencer, D.S.O. :--
The 3rd Battalion mobilized at the Depot on 8th August 1914, and there took over its arms, clothing, equipment, and mobilization stores. The balance of the Army Reservists, who had not either left to join the 52nd at Aldershot or been retained for duty at the Depot, were posted to the Battalion, which left the same day for its War Station, Portsmouth, the marching-out strength being 24 officers and 1,210 other ranks.
On arrival at Portsmouth at midnight, billets were taken up, with Headquarters at the Central Hotel. At 6 a.m. the following morning (9th), twelve detachments were sent out to man Vulnerable Posts in the Portsmouth Defences. On the 11th the remainder of the Battalion proceeded into camp on the Portsdown Hills, near Fort Purbrook, where it was brigaded with the 3rd Royal Berkshire Regiment, 3rd Highland Light Infantry, and 3rd Leicestershire Regiment.
In October 1914 the Battalion left the Portsdown Hills for Cambridge Barracks, Portsmouth.
In March 1915 a detachment was stationed at Fort Nelson, on the Portsdown Hills, afterwards moving to Fort Widley. Headquarters remained at Cambridge Barracks, where recruits underwent the earlier stages of their training, proceeding to the hills for field training and such work as could not be conveniently carried out in Portsmouth.
In May 1916 the whole Battalion was accommodated in Fort Widley and in camp close by.
In September 1916 Headquarters and four companies moved to Fort Purbrook, two companies remained at Fort Widley, and two recruit companies went to Cambridge Barracks again.
From April 1917 the Battalion was quartered at Fort Purbrook, and in huts and tents at Farlington Hutments, with the exception of one company left at Fort Widley.
In October 1917 the Battalion left Portsmouth for good and proceeded to Dover, being quartered at Longhill Camp in huts, supplemented in summer by tents. At Dover the Battalion experienced frequent air-raids and alarms of hostile bombardments and raids from the sea.
In November 1918 the Battalion moved to Tunbridge Wells and was billeted throughout the town.
Early in January 1919 the Battalion marched, at twelve hours' notice, to Crowborough Camp, some eight miles away. Here the accommodation was huts.
In March 1919 the Battalion left England for Victoria Barracks, Cork, where it remained until taken over by the 52nd Light Infantry on 1st August 1919.
From the beginning of the war the 3rd Battalion received drafts of untrained recruits from the Depot, and its principal duty was that of training and drafting these men to the various battalions of the Regiment overseas. As soon as the Battalion had arrived at its War Station drafts of recruits began to come from the Depot in large numbers, as many as 1,200 arriving in one week. The difficulties of the situation at that time, caused a great strain on the Headquarters, officers, and N.C.O.'s of the Battalion. There were neither boots, clothing, arms, nor equipment for the new arrivals, but they showed splendid spirit in spite of the conditions. The strength of the Battalion now rose to over 2,500. As time went on recruits arrived from the Depot clothed, and arms and equipment were forthcoming for them at the 3rd Battalion Headquarters.
As sick and wounded returned from France and the other theatres of war they were posted to the 3rd Battalion after leaving hospital. They underwent a period of convalescence and refresher training, until passed medically fit to return to the front, when they were drafted abroad again.
Another duty of the 3rd Battalion was the training of young officers, who joined from Sandhurst or one of the Officer Training Corps or Cadet Battalions. Officers returned sick or wounded from other Battalions were also posted to the 3rd Battalion for duty until medically fit again for service overseas.
During the first few months of the war many calls were made on the 3rd Battalion for both officers and N.C.O.'s to assist in the formation and training of the new Service Battalions of the Regiment.
Drafts were even called for to bring Reserve Battalions of other Regiments up to strength, and of N.C.O.'s and men, fit only for garrison duties, for Garrison Battalions, and for the Labour Corps.
All through the war there was a constant demand for N.C.O.'s and men for units of all kinds for duty both at home and abroad, and a regular succession of drafts proceeded weekly to all Battalions of the Regiment in France, Italy, Salonika, and Mesopotamia.
In the same way officers were constantly being ordered abroad to the different Battalions of the Regiment, and to various extra-regimental duties at home.
In the early stages of the war recruits were not sent abroad in drafts until reported upon by the Commanding Officer as sufficiently trained; but from 1915, as the demand for men became greater, a limited period only was allowed for training. This caused a tremendous strain on the Instructional Staff in trying to get men into shape in the minimum of time. The period of training for the greater part of the war was limited to 14 weeks, though at one time it was reduced to 12, and even on one or two occasions of great stress to 8 weeks.
During the period allowed, the raw recruit had to be instructed in discipline, drill, bombing and rifle-bombing, physical training, bayonet fighting, anti-gas measures, Lewis-gun and musketry, and to fire a week's musketry course. In addition field training, route marching, entrenching, and other of the more advanced work of an Infantry soldier of modern days had to be learnt as best it could in the time, so that the so-called finished article was far from being the trained man of pre-war days. A certain proportion underwent further training as signallers and machine-gunners. The latter training was, however, given up in Reserve Infantry Battalions about half-way through the war, and instead a proportion of the best recruits was compulsorily taken for the Machine-Gun Corps.
From 1916 reinforcements for the 1st Battalion in Mesopotamia were taken from men of only a month or six weeks' service, who were sent to the Regimental Depot in India for training.
All drafts before leaving the 3rd Battalion were clothed and equipped for foreign service, according to the theatre of war to which they were ordered to proceed, and, until the latter half of the war, also armed. Latterly those proceeding to France did not take arms, but were given them on arrival at the Overseas Base Depot,
During the latter part of the war, when the Infantry Base Depots in France were grouped by Record Office Districts, drafts from the 3rd Battalion were constantly posted to other Regiments, thus leaving their own Regiment altogether. Men thus posted to other Regiments were, if invalided to the United Kingdom, sent to the Reserve Battalion of the Regiment to which they had been posted, and thus were lost to their own Regiment. This accounts for the disappearance of certain N.C.O.'s and men which has puzzled some officers of the Regiment. Officers were attached, in a somewhat similar manner, to other Regiments, though in their case there was no posting. The 3rd Battalion was in no way responsible for the destination of either officers or men. All orders for reinforcements were issued by the War Office.
Officers, except in the first few months of the war, were ordered by name, and N.C.O.'s and men according to the numbers shown on the weekly returns as having completed fourteen weeks' training, or as having been passed medically fit. The orders issued by the War Office merely indicated the theatre of war to which the reinforcement was to go, the actual posting being done at the Overseas Base Depots.
Great strain was thrown on all Reserve Battalions in March and April 1918, at the time of the great German Offensive. Every fit N.C.O. and man, whether on the Instructional or Permanent Staff or not, had to be dispatched to France at such short notice that in many cases there was not even time for the six days' draft leave, always allowed hitherto. All men under 19 years of age, but over 18 years and 6 months, were ordered to be drafted overseas, and the urgent orders from the War Office included even N.C.O.'s and men of medical categories fitting them only for duty on the lines of communication or in garrisons abroad.
A draft of some 350 other ranks left the 3rd Battalion in response to this call for reinforcements, and a number of young soldiers of under 18 years of age were sent to the 3rd line Regiments of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Yeomanry for coast defence duties at home.
This left the 3rd Battalion in a very depleted state, and dealt a blow at the Instructional Staff from which it never recovered.
When the Staff was being built up again the Armistice and its resultant demobilization came and, at one time, entirely cleared out every N.C.O. of any standing or experience. Recruits continued to arrive nevertheless, but their training perforce fell far short of what it might have been. On proceeding to Ireland, the 3rd Battalion was ordered to leave all N.C.O’s and men eligible for demobilization in England, and arrived at Cork some 300 strong.
Re-engagements and re-enlistments, as well as the newly enlisted regular recruits who now began to arrive, however, brought the Battalion up in strength, until it reached some 1,000 strong at the time the cadre of the 2nd Battalion arrived and took all ranks on to its strength.
The handing over took place as from 1st August 1919, on which date the 3rd Battalion was held to be disembodied.
Total Numbers Dispatched- from the 3rd Battalion to Expeditionary Forces and other units during the War; Officers, 775; Other Ranks, 26,585.