Saturday, 29 September 2007

1914 Mobilisation.

John spent the spring and summer of 1914 at Cambridge. His diary shows him that he travelled to Aldershot on the 9th of April, and returning on the 14th Easter Tuesday. Quite possibly this was a T. A. training camp.

A practise mobilisation had taken place on the 14th of March, but it had been just routine training, and as his university term only ended two days later, he may have missed it anyway, as it doesn't appear in his diary.

On Whitsun Bank Holiday, 1st of June he took his Tripos, with term finishing on the 3rd. Like so many others during that hot summer he had no idea of the horror that would befall them all. His diary is full of events like the Royal Horticultural Societies Holland House Show, and garden parties. On the 6th of July he left for a holiday in Guernsey and Sark.

On the 28th of June 1914 Gavril Princep had assassinated Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

By Sunday the 2nd of August John had returned, and riding his Bough motorcycle he had set out for Perham Down Camp on Salisbury Plain where that years summer camp for the Queen's Westminster Rifles was being held.

2 Sun - 8 aft Trin. Camp to 16th
11.30 arrived Perham Down Camp by motorcycle 1200 Battalion arrived.
8.30 news of invasion of France. Message start mobilisation. Struck Camp.

At the news of the invasion cheer after cheer was heard from every camp.[1]

The battalion had only left Paddington Station that morning, August 2nd, 1914 for Salisbury Plain.
Rumours had been around for several days that war might be imminent, even before they had left London.

By 9.30 pm. orders were received that the entire 2nd London Division was to return to London. Major Waley Cohen the 2nd in command was acting as railway transport officer.

John records:-

3 Mon, Bank Holiday. Left Camp 1.30 AM. 10 O'clock dismissed from Headquarters. King & Queen cheered at Palace by night crowd.[2]

The Battalion had returned by train to Paddington Station arriving in the early hours of Bank Monday Monday, August 3rd. On the following day, the 4th of August war was declared on Germany, and orders to mobilise were issued.

On the following morning the official telegram ordering John Baber to report to the mobilisation centre arrived.

To Lieut Baber 9 Phillimore
Gdns Kensington to
Mobilize 8 am Endowed Schools
Officer Commanding
Queens West's

[1] Henriques, page 1.
[2] J Baber's short diary no 1.

Abergavenny and Crickhowell 1913.

Figure 1. Pay Parade at Abergavenny. John Baber is the officer seated to the left at the table. The other officer is Lieutenant Glasier.

In the summer of 1913 the Queen's Westminster Rifles went to South Wales for its summer camp.

Figure 2. The Orderly Sergeants. Sergeant Saville, & Sergeant Major Kelly.

Figure 3. B Company at Abergavenny. The officer's are Tyrwhitt,
Cohen, Cox, Whitmore, J.A. Green.

Figure 4. Tent Inspection

By this time John Baber had joined the unit. In the following photos it is possible to see that the regiment is still training for a Boer War type of campaign, and how the regiment was very much a "family", and one which provided for many of the men, the only chance of an annual holiday.

Figure 5. The men, sadly no names.

The troops were main recruited in the Kensington and Westminster area. John's parents lived in Phillimore Gardens.

As he had in 1912, John Baber kept his map from the exercise. It shows that they camped in a field to the north of Abergavenny between the Pant-y-gelli and Llantilio-pertholey lanes.

Figure 6. Route of march. (Please click on image for larger version.)

From Abergavenny they "trekked" to Crickhowell.

Figure 7. Camp at Crichhowell.

From John's map it appears that the photo may have been taken at Glan - Usk Park. From there they marched up into the Black Mountains to Tal-y-Maes.

Figure 8. Camp at Tal-y-maes.

Evening at Tal-y-maes, with the canteen being provided by Spiers & Ponds Stores of Queen Victoria Street in Westminster. The regiment seems to have provided it's own logistics. Warmly wrapped up the band appears to be about to give a concert.

Figure 9. The officers mess at Tal-y-maes.

Pridmore, Tyrwitt Inery(?)
J A Green, Townsend-Green, Lambert, Shoolbred, Henriques, Corbet, Glasier, Townsend - Green, Challis, 
Baber, Whitmore.
Most of these officers would serve throughout the Great War.

Figure 10. John's map marked to show the route of the march.

Major Henriques would later write in the regimental history "The First Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918."

"Two notable camps... The second was that held at Abergavenny in 1913, when the Grey Brigade marched to Tal-y-maes, a deserted spot in the Welsh mountains, where it bivouaked for several nights and carried out strenuous training in attack, defence and outposts. The approaches to the camping ground were so steep that, with the exception of some of the Battalion's wagons, none of the transport could get up, and all baggage and supplies had to be man-handled for a considerable distance across the rough ground. Many were reminded of this experience when they were called on in France for the first time to provide carrying parties for the front line.[1]

Figure 11. The men washing in a stream on camp.

Figure 12. The Camp Abergavenny.

[1] Henriques "The First Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918." Page 2 & 3.

Early days 1912 to 1914

The regiment was one of the many rifle volunteer units formed as a result of the renewed fear of the French following the Crimean War. The French Army had been seen to be far more effective than had the British Army.

With the advent of the steam driven ironclad, France could now have a fleet off Portsmouth or the South Coast in hours, regardless of the weather.

In 1859 the Queen's Rifle Volunteers, was formed, and in the following year 1860, it merged with other companies in Westminster to form The Queen's (Westminster) Rifle Volunteers.

Several changes in identify followed, but by 1908 and the Cardwell Reforms it had become the 16th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles).

John Baber was up at Cambridge University during 1912 at Trinity College, Cambridge University. In that year he joined the University OTC and witnessed the large-scale manoeuvres that took place to the south of Cambridge.

John hoped to become a Regular Officer as had his grandfather Major General Charles Barton, and his great grandfather who were both Bombay Artillery Officers . However Baber was rejected by the Army because of a unhealed injury he had sustained to his shoulder whilst playing rugby at Marlborough College.

Following the rise of Germany in the 1870's, it had become increasingly certain that Germany and not France was likely to be the next enemy.

This fear, coupled with events like the Agadir Crisis of 1905, led to a series of novels by writers like Eskine Childers and William Tufnell Le Queux. Le Queux in his book "The Invasion of 1910" published in 1906, had envisaged the German's mounting a series of surprise landings in Essex and Norfolk. Marching rapidly inland, the German's would rapidly overwhelm local garrison's at Colchester and Norwich. As the main British Army mobilises and moves north east, a series of battles had broken out on a line from Saffron Walden to Royston.

The British Army at this time was based mainly at Aldershot, and in the book it marches up via Baldock to take up a position along the chalk ridge running as an extension from the Chilterns towards Newmarket.

Figure 1. Map showing the site of the 1912 Camp of Exercise

The books of Le Queux and others influenced military thinking, and in 1912 exercises were held that followed this scenario. It appears that John Baber witnessed the exercises, and possibly took part with the OTC.

Figure 2. Cover of Map of Exercise area.

His growing interest in military affairs led him to keep his copy of the 1912 Ordnance Survey Map for Cambridge, which still exists. The exercises were designed to test the ability of the army to resist a German invasion of the north Norfolk coastline. The British Army had marched up from the Aldershot region, and a large-scale battle was fought just below what is now Royston golf course. From the ridge overlooking Bassingbourne, the King, French and other officers observed the "battle."

John later recorded that he had owned a Brough motorcycle with which he was able to reach the then very high speed of 60 mph on the Cambridge to Ely road, and which he had used to tour the exercise.

During the following year John would join the Queen's Westminster Rifles.



The Queen's Westminster Rifles was a territorial infantry regiment that took part both in the First and Second World Wars.

My great uncle John Baber served in the unit from 1913 until May 1940 as an officer, except for a short period of between 1916 and 1918 when he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. During this period however his unit spent much of its time firing in support of the battalion.

The photos he took, together with notes, and maps combine to offer a really vivid picture of life in this regiment.

If you are connected with the regiment in any way, or can offer additional information, I would be very pleased to hear from you, as I am sure that my great uncle did not intend this material to be shut away, and he would have wanted future generations to know about these events, if only to make sure they never happen again.


Nick Balmer