Monday, 2 January 2017

The King's Royal Rifle Corps regimental depot, 1899

There's a nice article in my recently purchased KRRC Chronicle for 1903 which details the workings of the KRRC regimental depot. The article deals specifically with the way in which the depot managed men coming into and leaving the regiment during the Boer War, and I thought it might make a nice opening blog post for 2017.

Traditionally housed at Winchester, and sharing their depot with the Rifle Brigade, a fire in 1894 completely destroyed the King's House and barracks which had been designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1685, forcing a re-location to Gosport. It would actually be ten years before the regiments moved back to their newly built barracks and depot in Winchester. I draw attention to this as this is referred to in the text below.

Notes on the Working of the Depot during the War

"The duties of the Rifle Depot are comprised under three heads. First the care and keeping of the records with all its attendant correspondence; second the receiving, clothing, partial training, and dispatch to the home battalions of recruits; and third, duties connected with mobilisation for war.

"As regards the first heading it need hardly be said that the necessity for accurately keeping all records is as paramount during war as in peace, but when the Reserves are called out all their documents, instead of lying idle on the shelves, are in active use. In addition there are innumerable letters received from relatives and friends, but perhaps the amount of clerical work will be better realised by stating that during the war roughly speaking, fifty-three thousand documents were received and dealt with, while certainly another six thousand must have been received by the commanding and other officers and which, being sent privately, were not entered into the registers. It will thus be seen that on mobilisation becoming imminent, or even probable, one of the first measures is to arrange for a considerable expansion of the office staff, and a carefully thought-out scheme of sub-division of work, in order that the additional clerks may be fully and usefully employed...

"... We come then to the third heading... The first step is the issue of the order for mobilisation, posting up the placards and sending out the notices to the reservists - the latter being done by the paymaster. Arrangements are then made for the housing of the Reservists on arrival, and drawing arms, equipment and ammunition. (This will be unnecessary when the Depot has returned to Winchester, as everything will be stored in the barracks). Then the mobilisation store has to be got ready , and the system which most happily was in force at the Depot was this. All clothing and necessaries were kept in bulk until required, the packages were then opened and the articles places in sizes for issue. There was no attempt to keep the things packed in kits, as lai8d down by regulation, for the good reason that there were no lockers for the kits, nor was there space available for any other system than adopted...

"... Then one waited for the coming of those for whom we had prepared. As a rule, one or two men appeared almost as soon as the notices were sent out and towards the expiration of the time, during which Reservists had to join, they began to come in small parties, but the large majority came only at the last minute. Needless to say this added enormously to the difficulties and militated greatly against the comfort of the men themselves. It is sincerely to be hoped that in future mobilisations the officer commanding the Depot will be permitted to exercise his discretion as to the times and numbers of men to join. To have a thousand men coming into barracks late at night - many suffering from the effects of kindness (?)  shown them during the journey by injudicious friends - meant an amount of discomfort and disorder not only prejudicial; to discipline but quite unnecessary.

"The Reservists having arrived proceeded to the guard room, where each man's name was entered on a roll, a sergeant of either regiment [ie the Rifle Brigade and The KRRC] being there for that purpose. The men were then sent to the companies (the first fifty to A Company, the next fifty to B, and so on). On joining the company each Reservist was given a card, on one side of which was a printed form for the Medical Officer's certificate of fitness or otherwise, and on the reverse a list of the articles of clothing, small kit etc the man had to receive."

I suggest that this same procedure was almost identically repeated at regimental depots up and down the country, not only in 1899 but again in 1914.

Pictured at the hesad of this post is Lieutenant, the Honourable Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC, an officer of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and only son of Lord Roberts VC of Kandahar, who died of wounds in South Africa in February 1900.

Happy New Year, evryone.

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