Saturday, 21 September 2013

Preparing for Battle

"The men who fought in the Great War signed up at the town hall and were sent straight to France without any training, went over the top and were killed."

The above quote is a common held view, but is far from the truth.

The ordinary men who joined up in their masses in late summer 1914, began their training straight away. Many were shop assistants, bank clerks, teachers or the many non manual trades that were typical of Britain in the early 20th century, their fitness levels were far below that required for life in the army. Alongside them were men more accustomed to manual work, agricultural laborers, miners, delivery men and factory workers, the first task of war was to bring all the men up to the required standard of fitness. Much of the first few weeks of army life was devoted to physical training.

Across the parks and sports grounds of the British Empire, new recruits found themselves engaged in the type of activities they had last undertaken on the school field. Swedish Drill, running, route marches, gymnastics, boxing and football all played a part in lifting fitness levels.

There was also much to learn about military life, from maintaining discipline, uniforms and equipment, to rifle and bayonet practice, cookery, crossing rivers and digging trenches. It was these skills that were taught in training camps such as Brocton. Even today Cannock Chase, like many other sites across Britain, still bares the marks of this training. 

Far from going "straight to France", the men who joined, for example, the New Battalions of the South Staffordshire Regiment in August and September 1914, remained in training in the UK until July 1915, almost a year of intensive training before they would embark overseas to face the enemy.

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