"The Story of the 9th King's in France"


Shortly after the commencement of the Volunteer Movement in 1859, many members of the newspaper and printing trades in Liverpool were desirous of forming a regiment composed of men connected with those businesses. A meeting was held in the Liverpool Town Hall, and the scheme was so well received that steps were taken towards the formation of a corps. Sanction was obtained, and on the 21st February, 1861, the officers and men of the new unit took the oath of allegiance at St. George's Hall. Thus came into being the 80th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers, and on the 2nd April, 1863, the 73rd Battalion of the Lancashire Rifle Volunteers was amalgamated with it. In the early days of its existence the new unit attended reviews and inspections at Mount Vernon, Newton le Willows and Aintree. Some time afterwards it was renumbered the 19th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers. Later, in 1888, it became the 6th Volunteer Battalion of The King's (Liverpool Regiment).

The early parades of the Regiment took place at Rose Hill Police Station, and the Corn Exchange, Brunswick Street, until Headquarters were established at 16, Soho Street.

To those who took part in these parades great credit and thanks are due. Through their efforts an organised battalion came into being, men were trained for the bearing of arms and the defence of their country should the occasion ever arise, and the soldierly spirit was inculcated in many who followed a civilian occupation. Those who survived until the Great War, though not privileged to lead on the battlefield, had at any rate the satisfaction of realising that their work was not in vain. Directly attributable to the efforts of the early volunteers is the fact that in 1915 the Territorial Force was ready for the reinforcement of the Regular Army in the Western Theatre of the War, and this afforded the New Armies which Lord Kitchener had formed ample time for the completion of their training.

In 1884 the Headquarters in Soho Street were changed for more commodious and better equipped premises at 59, Everton Road, where the Battalion remained domiciled until 1914. During the South African War the Battalion sent out a company, and the experience the men gained there proved very useful at the annual camps. Several of the men who went to South Africa were privileged to serve in the next war. On the formation of the Territorial Force the Battalion was once again renumbered and henceforth it was known as the 9th Battalion of The King's (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force.

The recruiting area of the Battalion embraced the Everton district of Liverpool, a locality inhabited chiefly by members of the tradesmen and artisan classes, which furnished the Regiment with the bulk of its recruits. There was a detachment located in the country at Ormskirk, from which the Battalion drew some of its finest fighting material. Agriculturalists make good soldiers, and this was evidenced on many occasions later by the behaviour and ability of the men from this town. In the ranks there was a sprinkling of sailors and miners, whose several callings equipped them with knowledge which proved useful in their new profession. The officers for the most part were drawn from the professional class and business houses of the city.

There came on the 4th August, 1914, a telegram to Headquarters containing only the one word "Mobilize." On that day Great Britain declared war on Germany. Notices were sent out ordering the men to report, and at 2p.m. on the 6th there was only one man unaccounted for. The mobilization was satisfactory.

Difficulties immediately presented themselves, for the men had to be housed and fed. The first night the men spent in the Hippodrome Theatre, where the artists gave them a special performance in addition to the public performances. Afterwards sleeping accommodation was found in the Liverpool College. Through the kindness of the committee of the Newsboys' Home in Everton Road arrangements were made to feed the men. There were too many for them to be fed all at once, so that meals had to be taken in relays. At Headquarters there was a certain amount of congestion, for equipment, picks, shovels and other mobilization stores took up a considerable amount of room. Besides this there were collected at Headquarters civilian milk floats, lorries, spring carts and other vehicles which had been pressed into service as regimental transport. Horses with patched civilian harness gave the transport the appearance of a "haywire outfit." After the officers had gone to the trouble of collecting this transport it was taken away by the Higher Command and given to another unit. The same fate befell the second set of horses and waggons. The third was retained.

According to orders the Battalion entrained under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Luther Watts, V.D., on the 13th August, at Lime Street Station, Liverpool. It was not known at the time whither the Battalion was bound. In the afternoon Edinburgh was reached, where there was considerable bustle on account of the departure of some regular regiments for the front. Crossing the Firth of Forth, the men saw with what activities the Naval Authorities were preparing for the reception of further warships. Dunfermline proved to be the destination of the Regiment, and on arrival supper was provided by some ladies of the town. The men were accommodated first in tents at Transy, and afterwards in billets in the Carnegie Institute, St. Leonard's and the Technical Schools and the Workhouse. The inhabitants of Dunfermline and district were extremely kind to all members of the Battalion, and almost every man had an invitation to visit newly formed friends nightly.

There were at this time not enough blankets in the possession of the authorities, so that an appeal was made which brought forth an ample supply of civilian blankets. Colonel Hall Walker, T.D., the Honorary Colonel, gave the Battalion ,500 when it was at Dunfermline, which was expended on extra clothing and other comforts for the men. It was a very generous sum and proved of great value.

The usual training took place, and considering the circumstances a high standard of efficiency was attained. In October the Regiment proceeded by train to Tunbridge Wells, where it remained until it proceeded overseas.

The training here consisted of an early morning run followed later by a Battalion route march or field practice. Judged from later standards the training was not as intensive as it might have been owing chiefly to the facts that, unfortunately, no parade ground was available, and little, if any, assistance was afforded by higher formations. An occasional night alarm also ordered by higher authorities discomforted everyone and did little good. Recruits were sent to Sandwich for musketry, and the Battalion assisted in digging trenches, machine gun emplacements and other defensive works on the inland side of the canal, originally constructed by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars, and which skirted Romney Marsh. Half the Battalion, that is four companies, was sent to assist with the London Defences near Ashford, where the men learnt to construct what the Royal Engineers were pleased to call "Low Command Redoubts," and which were badly sited on forward slopes. The experience gained, however, proved very useful afterwards in France.

Parades at Tunbridge Wells finished early in the afternoon which afforded ample time for recreation. The townspeople were very hospitable and extended cordial invitations to the men, who availed themselves freely of them. At Christmas time the men fared sumptuously through the generosity and kindness of their hosts.

In January a company was sent to guard cables and vulnerable points at Birling Gap, Cuckmere Haven and Dungeness. Several other similar duties afforded diversions from the usual training programme.

While at Tunbridge Wells the greatest keenness was displayed by all. Officers were jealous of anyone who was lucky enough to be sent on a course of instruction. There were voluntary classes for the study of tactics at which the younger officers sedulously studied the principles of outposts, advance guards, rear guards and so on. Everyone wanted to know more of his new profession. The thirst for knowledge was not adequately quenched as there were unfortunately, too few courses and too few instructors available.

Such an ardour possessed the men for the fight that in some it reached the pitch of fear lest they should arrive too late upon the battlefield and receive only a bar less medal. Some actually wished to transfer to another unit so as to ensure getting out at once. When at last the anxiously awaited order came that the Battalion was to go "over there" one officer was overcome with exultation. His intense joy at being allowed to serve his King and country on fields more stricken than parade grounds was clearly marked. After many months of distinguished service in the field, he now rests peacefully at Montauban.

The few days immediately preceding the exodus of the Regiment were days of great activity and preparation. The affairs of the Battalion had to be completely wound up. The mysterious pay and mess books were completed and company cash accounts closed. New equipment was given out to officers and men, as well as wire cutters, revolvers and other necessities of active service. Field dressings were handed out, dark omens of what was now to be anticipated. The transport section received its full complement of waggons and limbers, together with its full number of mules, which proved to be equal to any which proceeded to France.

Under the impression that active service meant the end of the comforts of civilisation, officers provided themselves with supplies of patent medicine, bought small first aid outfits and elaborate pannikins containing numerous small receptacles, which did not prove useful and were ultimately lost. Spare kit including Sam Browne belts was packed and consigned to the Depot. In anticipation of an early death many of the officers and men made their wills. This was encouraged by a rumour that the War Office had ordered a further 76,000 hospital beds to be prepared.

At the end of December, 1914, Lieut. Colonel Luther Watts, V.D. took over the command of the Reserve Battalion at Blackpool, which had been formed late in 1914, and Lieut. Colonel J. E. Lloyd, V.D., was gazetted to the foreign service Battalion.

Mention should here be made of the fact that shortly before leaving England the old eight company organisation was abandoned, and the new four company organisation adopted, and each new company was divided into four platoons. The change was exceedingly beneficial, as it would have been difficult in the field for a battalion commander to give orders to eight company commanders. More responsibility was thrown on the company commanders, who were at the time senior enough to assume it, and for the first time the subaltern was given a command. For the future he had his platoon which carried much greater responsibility than that previously attached to a half company. It was a fighting unit, and a separate body in which was reflected the work of a good commander.

The 12th March, 1915, was the day destined for the departure from Tunbridge Wells. One by one the companies, headed by a band kindly lent by one of the other units quartered in the town, marched through the streets for the last time. The greatest excitement prevailed when "D" Company, which was the last, passed through the streets just as the shops were opening. Farewells were waved, the troops were cheered, and for many this was their last look at the town which had afforded them every hospitality for the past few months.

Arrived at the station, the men entrained for an unknown destination, and there was some speculation as to which seaport it would be. It proved to be Southampton, from whence the men embarked later in the day for France. The excitement had to some extent worn off in the cool of the evening, and as the men had their last glimpse of England by means of the beam of the searchlight, many thought of the happy homes they were leaving behind to which they would perhaps never return. The journey to France was uneventful, which circumstance was due largely to the protection afforded by the torpedo boat destroyers and other units of the Navy.

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