THE 55TH DIVISION
The West Lancashire Division was formed in the Hallencourt area under the command of Major General H. S. Jeudwine, and given the number 55.
The Battalion entered the 165th Infantry Brigade in this Division. This brigade which was commanded by Brigadier General F. J. Duncan, was entirely composed of Liverpool battalions, namely, the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th King's. In the Brigade the officers and men had the pleasure of meeting friends they had known at home in Liverpool, comrades with whom they were destined to serve for the next two years, principally in Artois and Ypres. Friendly rivalry soon sprang up between the various battalions in the Brigade which made for efficiency and put all on their "mettle." Everyone naturally believed that his was the battalion par excellence, not only in the Brigade but in the whole Division.
The 9th was first billeted in Hocquincourt, a little French village near Hallencourt. Viewed from a distance the village looked picturesque, with the red tiled roofs of the houses contrasted against the sombre winter sky, but a closer inspection revealed a different picture. The houses were rickety, the billets poor, and the conditions insanitary. So backward were the peasants in agriculture that they still adhered to the use of the old fashioned flails for thrashing corn. The Battalion moved on the 20th January to Mérélessart about two miles away, where better quarters were found particularly for the Battalion headquarters, which occupied a somewhat pretentious chateau replete with all modern conveniences including baths, which were very unusual in private houses in the war area. Here the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ramsay, D.S.O., left the Battalion on his promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. Before he left he made a speech to the men and published the following "Farewell Order":-
On relinquishing command of the Battalion to take over command of the 48th Infantry Brigade, the Commanding Officer wishes to express his regret at leaving the Regiment, which he has had the honour of commanding for the last eight months, and his gratitude for the loyal way in which all ranks have supported him. The Commanding Officer is very sensible of the fact that the excellent work done by the Regiment has gained for him his decoration and promotion.
Later in the war he received promotion and commanded the 58th (London) Division as Major General.
While at Mérélessart the usual training took place. There was little work done as a complete unit not much attention being paid to tactical work. A rifle range was at the disposal of the Battalion on which the companies were able to fire a few practices and so keep up their musketry.
It is worthy of remark that of the officers serving with the companies at this time approximately two thirds were subsequently killed during the course of the war, while the survivors were almost all wounded at some time or other.
Early in February orders came along to the effect that the Division was to go into line, and on the 6th February the Battalion left Mérélessart and marched to Longpré where the night was spent, and the next day it reached Berteau court les Dames. A few days were spent here, during which Major C. P. James took over the command of the Battalion, and afterwards it marched via Doullens to Amplier, and after a night's rest in some huts there it reached Berles au Bois the next day. En route it passed through Pas, where there was a steep hill which presented such difficulties to the transport section that they remembered it when they returned in two year's time. At Berles an Bois the men were billeted in the ruined village. This was the first experience the Battalion had of a really tranquil front.
This village lay within a mile of the front line, and it seemed uncanny to be so near the enemy and yet to hear so few shots fired. Indeed it was almost too good to be true. The unit did not take over the defence of this area, and orders came soon that on the 15th the Battalion was to take over a sector on the Wailly front, where it was to relieve a battalion of the 8ième Regiment Territoriale. Accordingly very early in the morning of that day the Battalion marched to Monchiet in sleet and rain under cover of darkness along roads which in daylight were exposed to the view of the enemy, and on arrival the short day was spent in endeavouring to get dry. Monchiet later became the location of the transport lines and Quartermaster's store.