Playing at soldiers

Berkshire Education Committee was interested in national proposals for a scheme to train teenage boys not yet old enough to join the armed forces. A committee comprising councillor and chair of the committee, H G Willink and Messrs Mansfield and Childs of Reading University reported back. Their main concern was that the men most suitable for running such a programme were away at war, but they also felt that younger boys should not be militarised. Another big issue was the connection between social class and officer status.

Report of Cadet Training Sub-committee to the Education Committee

First report of the Special Sub-committee appointed on 29 April 1916 by the Berks Education Committee to consider the Lord Mayor of London’s “Scheme for the National Organisation of Cadet Training”.

We have met and considered this Scheme; and have also had before us a detailed Scheme of the Essex Education Committee “for the formation and organisation of Cadet Units”.

While not prepared to recommend either Scheme in its entirety, for reasons which will appear, we desire to express our appreciation of the aim underlying both, and to state that in our opinion there is need for some well-considered system by which lads below 18 years of age may not only gain the benefits of discipline but may also undergo a training which will exercise and develop their intelligence. We are convinced that this is essential if the youth of the country is to be adequately prepared either for future naval or military service or to be efficient and useful citizens of the Empire.

The Lord Mayor’s proposals fall under two heads, viz:

1. The establishment of a “National Cadet Council”, with certain relations to other authorities and with a quasi-subordinate system of City and County Cadet Committees…

2. The early introduction of a uniform system of training, upon lines following generally those of the Australian Cadet Scheme (which is established by law) but on a voluntary instead of a compulsory basis.

Under such a Scheme, lads above elementary school age and under 18 would be organised as Senior Cadets, who would receive a minimum of training in Physical Drill, Company (and some Battalion) Drill, Field Training, and Musketry. Boys from 12 to (say) 14, or Junior Cadets, would undergo a training which could only be called military in the sense of being preparation for military work. It would consist of Physical Exercises and Marching Drill, together with any two of the following: Miniature Rifle Shooting, Swimming, Organised Games, and First Aid. Senior Cadets to have a simple uniform, but Juniors none.
As regards the relations with existing formations – OT Corps would not come under the Council at all, the Boys’ Brigade, Church Lads’ Brigade, and YMCA, as well as the Boy Scouts, would remain separate, but close communication between them and the Council would be encouraged; and no objection is raised to lads or boys passing to or from them and Cadet Units, or even belonging to one of them and to a Cadet Unit also.

Note: The Essex Scheme, which contains no reference to the Lord Mayor’s proposals, invites “the co-operation of District Educational Sub-committees, School Managers, Teachers and others, with a view to the formation of Cadet Units”, the membership age to be from that of leaving the elementary school till 19, but no admission after 18….

The Scheme … lays down an elaborate curriculum of instruction, to be given in connection with the Evening Continuation Schools…

One further point may be noted. The Australian lad of 14 receives a “Record Book” in which his military history is entered up to the age of 26 years, and individuals unable to produce a Record Book with a clean service sheet are debarred from any service under the Commonwealth Government. There would, however, appear to be insuperable difficulties in the way of including this valuable feature in any voluntary Scheme, at any rate before the system was in practically universal operation.

Taking the Scheme as its stands, we are of opinion, in regard to the first “head”, that the establishment of some such central consultative body as the proposed “National Cadet Council” is desirable, provided that its functions are in the first instance confined to inquiry, ventilation and discussion; and do not extend to an immediate setting-up of a definite new Scheme, still less to its actual bringing into action.

We give due weight to the objection that the absence on active service, or the employment on other war work at home or abroad, of so many of the men best fitted to construct or introduce a system of such importance is a serious obstacle to arriving at a satisfactory decision upon the best lines for it. But we also feel strongly that the present united spirit of patriotism in public opinion ought to be utilized before reaction sets in, as may very likely be the case when the end of the war comes into sight…

The important point to bear in mind is that no new Scheme can be satisfactory which will not fit into a general plan for National Training for Home Defence, or which will in any way prejudge the question whether such training is to be on a voluntary or compulsory basis….

There are certain points which to us seem fairly clear, and which may be worth stating, if only to elicit discussion.

Recruits wanted for musketry and drill with the Volunteer Defence Regiment

An enthusiastic band of volunteers for home defence had been formed in Littlewick and Knowl Hill.

Berkshire Volunteer Defence Reg: Littlewick and Knowl Hill Corps

The drills in connection with the above have commenced. Musketry instruction forms the most important part of the work at present.

We are still in want of several recruits.

Drills: Wednesdays 7.0 and Thursdays 8.0.

It is hoped that those who intend to join will do so at once as it is necessary to become efficient as early as possible. All over 17 years are invited to join.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

An unduly large number of young men of enlisting age in the police

Deputy Chief Constable Colonel Ricardo had been checking to see how the practice of calling up Reservists to the police was working out. He was generally pleased but thought some young men were using police work as an excuse for not joining the army.

Maidenhead Police Station

28th June 1915
To the Chief Constable of Berkshire

As Chief Organising Officer and Commandant of the Berkshire Police Special Reserve, I was naturally very anxious to ascertain by personal inspection the results of the organization which, in accordance with your request, I initiated in September last.
I therefore, with your sanction and approval, consulted the Divisional Officers as to the feasibility of holding Divisional Inspections during the months of May and June. I was much gratified with the interest shown in the suggestion, and am pleased to be able now to report that I have concluded my inspection of all the eight Divisions.

Admirable arrangements were made for these inspections in each case by Divisional Officers, assisted by the Superintendents of the several Police Divisions to whom much credit and thanks are due.

The result of the inspections may be looked upon as very satisfactory and the attendance parade highly praiseworthy, taking into consideration the inconvenience and difficulties which must have been experienced by a great many members of the Force, and the sacrifice of leisure which their attendance must have entailed.

Undoubtedly the organization of the Force generally has been attended with good results. As regards numbers, the Force, according to the latest returns rendered, has now a total strength of 3,298, which is numerically a falling off of about 800 from the returns rendered in November 1914, when the force attained its maximum strength of approximately 4,100. The decrease in numbers is due in a great measure to enlistment of members in His Majesty’s Military Forces, so cannot be looked upon otherwise than as advantageous, at all events from a National point of view.
Drill has been well carried out and the instruction imparted most creditable to the Drill Instructors.

I was much struck by the great steadiness in the ranks at inspections, and the physique of the men was quite up to expectations. In this respect I would specially mention the Wantage Division in which an exceptionally fine body of reservists has been enrolled.

I would also like to bring to favourable attention the Maidenhead Division, which I consider is deserving of praise for conspicuous steadiness on parade, and a general state of efficiency which is undoubtedly the product of very careful supervision.

I regret that I had to comment at one or two of my inspection parades upon the unduly large number of young men of enlisting age in the ranks. In most cases the explanations offered for their enrolment were satisfactory, but undoubtedly there have been instances of a want of rigid adherence to the instructions laid down in the Text Book which, with your approval, I compiled for general guidance when I commenced the organization of the Force.

I am glad to be assured that Rifle Drill and Musketry have been practised by a fair proportion of the men and that interest has been taken in the instruction of detachments in First Aid work.
A mounted detachment of 12 men has been formed in the Abingdon Division, and, judging from their appearance, equipments and equitation, I am confident they would be a very valuable addition to the Police Force on [sic] an emergency. I consider special credit is due to this detachment for the trouble and personal expense entailed in rendering themselves so efficient.

Reading Division

The presence of an unduly large number of men of enlisting age in the ranks was noticeable…

Maidenhead Division

It was brought to notice that about 64 men have quitted the Division to enlist in the Army, which is evidence of the fact that a proper sense of duty has been instilled into those members whose enrolment was in the first instance somewhat irregular.

Report of Deputy Chief Constable, in Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

‘The rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery’

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with thanks for her gifts, and more impressions of life close behind the front line.

Mar. 28. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for the cigarettes, the compass, the fresh linen, and for everything else you have sent me. I’m sure everything must have reached me as I have been fairly bombarded with gifts and letters. Thank Mrs Everest [his former landlady] for me for the cake and flowers – both arrived quite fresh. The cake lasted no time but the flowers are still at the last village we were at, where they are the admiration of the household.

We are now within constant sound of the guns, day and night, and every now and then throughout this lovely Sunday the rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery.

I’m again quartered in a lovely house, but not so well off for food as as the last house where the folk were most hospitable and opened a bottle of champagne in our honour the last night we were with them. Yesterday we marched up here, and started business again. It’s a rum affair. No sooner do you get going at one place than you are off to another.

Some of our fellows were fortunate enough to see a fine aeroplane fight near here today, but I wasn’t among them, and don’t know how low the fight went – we won though, I expect.

We get daily papers up here one day old and the postal service is excellent, so don’t worry on those scores.

Well dear, I’ve really nothing to tell you except to say how much I appreciate all you have done for me and your regular supply of news…

Yours ever

Will you please forward the enclosed few lines to Will [their older brother, living in neutral Switzerland].

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/16-17)

‘Transported into a Zulu village’: Sydney Spencer describes an army camp

Sydney and his friend “Jumbo” Oliphant were disappointed by the lack of a religious atmosphere at their YMCA camp, but he felt he was doing good work. He paints a colourful picture of the army camp he was serving in his diary:

Saturday September 12th

Saturday night after the Packerton work I went to the Co-operative Hall & banged the piano for two mortal hours for the men collected there. There were about 300 of them & the noise when they were all shouting was deafening in the extreme. I do not feel – neither does Jumbo – that the atmosphere which is allowed & tolerated is by any means what we expected or desired. When an institution sets out to be definitely Christian, & then seems to drop the matter of religion entirely into the background, – well – then one cannot but be disappointed & disgusted too. We don’t, when we get home at night, even have prayers or grace at meals or any other than vapid & even superficial conversation. Perhaps Jumbo & I are too anxious to see the deeper side of men’s religious convictions come uppermost. At any rate the work is jolly good work & it is a great pleasure to do this for the men, for the pleasant manners & simple jokes do one good.

Yesterday I went across to the trenches to see about our new marquee just being put up for us. The whole place, trenches & camp & all is surrounded by barbed wire fences. An ordinary fence of wood – posts about four feet apart & barbed twice are set-up & from each post wires are stretched, on either side to a distance of about 5 feet & then barbed wires are set along these at intervals, so that to the one trying to get through the obstruction there are some twelve or more stretches of barbed wire to obstruct him. Trenches are dug some feet deep. They appeared to be a good five* feet deep or more & about three feet wide. But why they should be so deep I do not see, since the soldiers have to be on a level so that though their bodies are hidden, yet their arms should be on a level with the surface of the ground so that they can level & use their muskets. Of course these trenches are protected in front by stacks of [sic] karkai coloured sandbags through which there must be holes so that they can fire through them. The insides of the trenches are lined with fine chicken gauge wire doubtless to keep the earth from falling and crumbling from the sides. There seem to be networks of these trenches all over the place. I was thunderstruck when I got into the camp itself. I expected to see a huge vista of white tents like flocks of geese on the landscape & suddenly I seemed transported into a Zulu village. The whole ground was covered with straw & hay & rushes. Huts were built all over the place. Simply posts driven into the ground, with cross pieces on the top. Sacking formed the basement of the covering in some places, & then straw, hay & even unthreshed barley & rushes are employed & are tied in bunches all around these erections, forming huts which are altogether the native Zulu huts. Some are quite open in front; & the ground is strewn with straw & hay, others are three parts enclosed, & even have a sacking doorway which completely encloses them. Those long sashes of reeds, which grow up the strand at home in Cookham are employed quite a lot as there are quantities of them in the freshwater ponds & ditches round here. Out of one of these huts – a large completely enclosed one – stumbled a boy of about 19, he had thick black hair & a turn-up nose, & small eyes. He was late for his drill, & he stumbled along, rubbing his eyes & screwing up his eyes in the daylight & looking distinctly not happy. That same young man visits our canteen pretty frequently & the cakes & pork pies he consumes are uncountable.
* correct depth is 6ft 11 ins. (note added 13/10/14)

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 12 September 1914, D/EX801/12)