Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Battle of Bricket Wood

Figure 1. The Queen's Westminster Rifles marching through Leverstock Green, autumn 1914.

The following account of the final weeks of the mobilisation of the Queen's Westminster Rifles comes from a pair of small black diaries glued together, which were carried by John Baber of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles during 1914 and into 1915.

These diary entries are very brief and often hard to decipher, but they capture the rush, excitement and muddle of setting off to war.

Diary Part II Wed Oct to..

Wed Oct 7th

Got home 6 AM
Slept on from 7-8.
Parade 10 AM
Every one d-d sleepy.

Thursday Oct 8

Hold your hand out Brigadier
Hold your hand out Brigadier
On Tuesday night
In the bright moonlight
We saw you, we saw you,
You led us a bloody dance
We thought we were off to France.
We’ve ne’er been sold
Such a pup before
Hold your hand out, Brigadier.
Friday Oct 9
Tests of elementary training, to d.d bad.
Barter’s 1st lecture on the attack.
(Followed by night Ops,
a beastly scramble).

Sat Oct 10

Leave. Gpg.
Capt Hall’s visit.
Shewed him gun & tripods.  He took photographs.

Sunday Oct 11

A lazy day by my own fireside,
by jove it was good.
Pat got his orders hurrah! [1]

Figure 2.  Page from John Baber's diary describing the "Battle of Bricket Wood."

Monday Oct 12

Battn attack on Bricket Wood & R Colne.  Mg’s had rather a good time, & were praised by the Brigadier.

Tuesday Oct 12

Barter’s 2nd Lecture
Met Chas Bell, who has just taken a Commission.
Is Webb for the Scots Guards?

Wed Oct 13

The rain has started,
Immediate action tests.
13th (Kensington’s)
367 points
QWR. 356 points
Quite good.

Thursday Oct 14

Brigade march
Deployment & fight
MG’s in reserve,
No instructions.
Pony hated wet but showed spirit.
Figure 3. Leverstock Green from 1919 Edition of the Ordnance Survey showing
the location of Well Farm and the other billets used by the Queens Westminster Rifles.
Friday Oct 15th

MG’s + E Coy & Scouts defended transport wagon agst F Coy.  Latter were mostly scuppered but probably got the wagons.
Night op!!!
Lazy days.

Sat Oct 16th

A,B Coys & MG Section captured wagon guarded by scout limbers to left flank & guns to right.  Everyone saw limbers, nobody saw guns.

Sunday Oct 17th.

Slack day here.
4pm [We played?] game of hockey with Swainson & “Tripe”.
Am quite convinced that they will not send us out this year, & am afraid we shall get no scrapping in England.

Monday Oct 19.

Brigade staff ride. Very difficult country, so did not learn much.
Kick from Cherub.  We back on Wednesday for 3 weeks course at Welwyn.
6 PM p’Volcano from Cherub, can you leave at 8 AM tomorrow?

Tuesday Oct 20th

Not going today after all.
Belgium fort in
New Hotel


Col Shoolbred
Major Cohen
  “     Tyrwhitt
Capt. Lambert
  “  Low
  “  Henriques
  “  Whitmore
  “  Cox
  “  HR Townsend Green
  “  Hoskins
  “  Shattock
Lt James
  “  Waby
  “  Glasier
  “  Saville
  “  Harding
  “  Townsend Green
  “  Collett
2 Lt Baber M Guns
  “  JA Green
  “  Henderson Scott
  “  Williamson
  “  Swainson
  “  Trollope
  “  Bramble
Transport 2 Lt Bradley
QMaster St Kelly.

The War

Tuesday Oct 27

Battn will sail
to Continent on Friday.
D.A.Do.S. inspects kit
& limbers.

Wed Oct 28th

Viewers from Enfield
for M guns
new rifles
viewer says M guns
in excellent condition

 Figure 4. Maxim Gun, with Lance Corporal Fulton at the trigger.

This machine gun was a "Converted Mark II" Maxim, which had originally fired .45 inch ammunition, which been converted to fire .303 inch ammunition.  A muzzle booster was found necessary for the smaller .303 cartridge to operate the heavy .45 inch mechanism. This was known as the "Ball Firing Attachment." [2]

Writing in the 1960's John Baber said of these guns.

"I was battalion machine gun officer.  I knew nothing about machine guns when the job was wished on to me in August, but, by sitting over my textbooks at night, I managed to learn the lesson which I had to teach my section the next day.  We became pretty good and I was able to take the role of any number in a gun team.  The maxims themselves first saw active service in Egypt when Sir Winston Churchill was a young man, or perhaps earlier.  They were heavy but they were good guns which did not let us down."

Thursday Oct 29

Fulton Roche
Say rifles excellent
Better than short rifle
Ammunition comes
Family arrive for 15 minutes with

Friday Oct 30

No start
Transport going
To be changed

Sat Oct 31

New transport
Water carts
New gs limbered
Mk IV Tripods
Belt filling machines
Tested guns
At [secretary?]
Result V good

The last night before the battalion left for France must have been a tense one for all concerned. What was it going to be like?

[1] John Baber’s uncle, Major Patterson Barton of the Royal Artillery stationed in India, and who was mobilised in the first Indian Army contingent to come to France.

There are some other excellent photographs of the Queen's Westminster Rifles at Leverstock Green from Jon Spence's family album here

[2] Information from Alan E, on the Great War Forum.