Saturday, 29 September 2007

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.

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