1914 – The Origins of Pals Battalions – Origins of The Chums – The Men
1915 – The 34 th Division
1916 – Moving To France – The Battle of the Somme - After the Battle
1917 – Arras – Ypres Salient
1918 – The German Spring Offensive – The Armistice – Battle Honours – The Grimsby Roll of Honour – Links
The First World War started on a sunny August Bank Holiday in 1914. Few people knew then, that the war would drag on for four years, leaving many dead and forever shape the future of the 20th Century. This is a brief story of a group of men from Grimsby who joined together to form their own Pals Battalion, known for posterity as ' The Grimsby Chums '.
1914 - Origins of Kitcheners Army, the Pals Battalions
At the outbreak of war, the British Army was 450,000 strong and required a large expansion of manpower to bring it up to the strength of the other European Armies. A Territorial Force of 250,000 men existed as a semi-trained reserve, but the newly appointed Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, had the thought in his head of 1 million men in khaki. He appealed for his first 100,000 on August 7th 1914.
His idea was to organise the civilians that enlisted into an army of Service Battalions named after the areas they were raised. These were then to be attached to local regular units. The response was overwhelming. By August 9th, 3,000 men a day were enlisting. 30,000 men a day were enlisting before the month was out and by the end of the year Kitchener had his 1 million in uniform. Although a success, the rapid recruitment brought problems of shortages. Of uniforms, rifles, officers and drill instructors. Local dignatries and magistrates were allowed to act in the name of Kitchener and organise, drill and feed the men until the chaos could be sorted out.
Kitchener agreed to the creation of Battalions formed from men of a common background. The men were of common occupations, professions, sporting associations or even youth groups such as the Boy's Brigade or Public Schools. The collective term for these Battalions became the 'Pals'. Of around 304 such Battalions, only one chose to become know as the 'Chums'. These were the 'Grimsby Chums'.
Origins of the Chums
Grimsby already had it's own Territorial Battalion, the 5th (Territorial) Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, principly raised in Grimsby, but also in Gainsborough, Scunthorpe, Louth and Barton-on-Humber. It did not take long for them to be up to strength and away from the town having turned down many offers to join their ranks. However, agreements were reached to harness this enthusiasm of the men of the town. Alderman John Herbert Tate, 50, received a telegram from the War Office to form a new Battalion. Posters went up around the town appealing for men to join up. As in many other towns, Grimsby men believed in England and the Empire and although not from military stock, knew their duty and enlisted.
Alderman Tate appointed George Bennet, a local merchant and retired Capt. of 1st Lincolnshire R.G.A Volunteers, as temporary CO. In turn, Bennet brought with him old colleagues Capt. T.Maudsley and Lieut W. Vignoles ( both local men ) to help. A permanent CO was needed though, and it was not long before the war Office 'sort out' experienced officers (retired) to bring order to the new units. It was more for the name ( local dignatry ) than his actual experience of commanding men that George Heanage was appointed CO 10th Lincolns.
In the early days, there were no uniforms or drill equipment except for the odd rifle fron the OTC stores. Some of the men found soldiering restrictive, and required to be brought into line by Lieut Vignoles. The ever present anxiety among the men was that the war would be over before they were trained and ready, but things were gradually brought together through drilling, church parades and the focusing of minds as the first casualty lists of the war were published. More officers were appointed including J. Kennington, C. Branfoot and E. Cordeaux. Cordeaux had retired but was once commander of the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment.
The next requirement for the 1000 strong Battalion was to find a a permanent camp to carry out training away from the distractions of the town. Alderman Tate approached Earl of Yarborough at Brocklesby, an estate about 10 miles outside Grimsby, to allow a camp in his grounds. Permission was granted and along with surplus post office uniforms the Battalion made itself at home. Winter 1914 through to the spring of 1915 was spent in training and sporting pursuits in preparation for the passing out parade. By May 1915 the Chums had uniforms, rifles and looked like a proper Battalion. Their passing out parade took them from Cleethorpes through the whole town to end up at Peoples Park where a short service was held and the salute taken.
1915 - 34th Division
Now part of an army, the 10th Lincolns moved to Ripon for musketry training and more importantly to join up with other units to form their Brigade. It was here that they also absorbed 150 men from Wakefield who were volunteers looking for a unit.
Another move was made, this time to Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, where the whole 34th Division came together from the constituent Brigades. It was here that the Chums met their Divisional Commander Major General Ingouville Williams CB, DSO. Further training was undertaken, and it was here that a false alarm was raised that the Division was going to the Dardenelles. They didn't go, but were issued with tropical kit all the same. The 34th Division was an archetypal "New Army" unit. It comprised the Royal Scots, Northumberland Fusiliers and a Battalion of the Suffolks, all Kitcheners men.
1916 - France
The Chums embarked for France on January 4th 1916. They reformed at Le Harvre and set off for rest camp before deployment in the Armentiers sector. It was standard practice to give new units a taste of the trenches in quiet areas. The duty of introducing them to the trench system fell to the regular unit currently there, old soldier to new soldier. The chums were also part of an inspection by Kitchener himself during February. These early months were a prelude to a much greater event to take place in July.
The Battle of the Somme
Like most of the rest of the British Army, the Chums got wind of a "big push". Their involvement in working parties increased, fetching supplies, gas and ammonal explosive up to the front lines. The Somme area had been chosen as the battleground for the push, and the softening up shelling of the enemy line began in earnest a week before zero hour. The Lincolns could hear the bombardment and could see the damage inflicted on the enemy trenches. They believed what they were told by the officers, that the enemy would not survive and that the attack would be over within hours.
The Battle of the Somme was to be the first use, in mass, of the New Kitchener Army and was designed to relieve pressure on Verdun where the French were locked in a fight to the death. Faith in the ability of the the New Army was not high among the regular Staff Officers of the British Command. They did not believe an attack would be successful if it relied solely on an infantry attack. In order to help, a bombardment was which turned out to be one week long and up to that point the largest ever seen. The word was sent round that nothing would remain of the German front line at zero hour, 1st July, allowing the New Army to walk at a steady pace, in line, so chaos did not occur.
The section of the line held by the Chums and their 101st Brigade comrades was at La Boiselle. Prior to attack, at 7.28 am a large mine was exploded beneath the German line, the Chums were then to attack at 7.30 am. Unknown to the Battalion, the mine fell short of the German positions and during the 2min gap between the explosion and the "whistle" the enemy had the chance to set the machine guns.
The Chums were drawn up with A Company on the right, B Company on the left and C Company, opposite the crater, in the centre. D Company were in reserve for phase two. They advanced in four straight lines with no hesitation. It was a matter of moments when the first men fell, as the German mortars and machine guns opened up. Officers and men alike dropped to the ground as if the move was planned in training, in fact they were killed or wounded. Only a few men reached the German trenches, bombing for all they were worth, but in too few numbers they had to retreat.
By 9am D Company were sent to attack led by Major Vignoles, who was soon hit in the hand. Again, the attack broke up and the 10th Lincolns were left powerless to attack, laying in shell holes in no mans land in the baking sun. All were waiting for nightfall to be able to craw back to their own lines for treatment. Several attempts to attack were made with the remnants of the Battalion on the 2nd and 3rd July, but as the roll was called when they were finally withdrawn it read 15 Officers and 487 men ( out of 1000 ) killed, missing or wounded.
Aftermath - Breaking the News
News travelled slowly in 1916 and it wasn't until the 10th July that the casualty lists began to trickle back to the town. Over the next few days the size of the disaster was apparent. Letters from survivors, now in rest camps, spoke of the gallantry of their dead comrades. Letters were written by surviving Officers to the families of the dead. La Boiselle was eventually taken on 6th July.
March 1916 saw conscription enforced in Britain, but these men were not from the same mould of the New Army men. New reinforcements arrived unannounced from the North and East Midlands, but very few from the Chums official reserve, the 11th Battalion. Some of these new men had only been enlisted for four months. After a period of rest and training the Chums were sent to the line at Bazentin-le-Petit for 6 days where the conditions were appalling. This again was not a good time for the Lincolns as they lost a further 200 casualties. This action was the final action the Chums were involved in on the Somme before the battle was officially ended in November. Of the Battle of the Somme's Armies, the Fourth Army had the highest losses. In this Army it was the 34th Division that had the highest casualties, 80% of the strength on the 1st July alone, probably most within the first 15 mins of the attack.
1917 - Arras
The Chums, now part of the Third Army, were not the same fighting force they were in 1916. Their ranks of Grimsby men had been diluted by new drafts. They were now to attack in the Arras sector in support of the diversion for the French Army attack on the Aisne. A small bombardment of four days was arranged for this battle. It was 9th April 1917.
The first wave set off at 5.30 am with great success. The enemy lines were reached and occupied. A creeping barrage then allowed the Chums to make further attacks,1500 yards forward of their start positions. This attack was no repeat of the Somme, and although there were casualties, the objectives were reached and the Chums could "dig in" on captured territory. The Chums were now on the forward slopes of Vimy Ridge, and were able to look down on the enemy across the Doui plain in front of them. The Chums had played their part in the most successful day of the war so far.
After a brief period of rest out of the line, the Lincolns carried on with the offensive. The target was not an open countryside target of the previous week, but a heavily fortified town position at Reoux, and its Chemical Works. The Chums Brigade were to attack on April 28th. The attack was started at 4.15 am but was not destined to be a success. Forming up in the open alerted the Germans who opened up with mortar and machine guns. The Chums set off already fragmented. The attack was soon broken up, with small groups of isolated men unable to continue. A German counter attack at 8.00 am led to a retreat and was effectively the end of the Chums attack. The losses were high, 420 dead, missing and wounded. The Battalion was withdrawn from the line on 30th April, shattered.
May and June 1917 saw the Lincolns again in the Arras sector, not far from Perrone. In August they were to attack the Hindenburg line taking the Germans by surprise, before being withdrawn again.
October 1917 - Ypres Salient
After rest and training, the Battalion were put to work as a works Battalion repairing roads, fixing tracks and carrying supplies in the Ypres salient. They went on to take part in operations near Languemarck, as part of the Passchaendaele battles. The rest of October , November and December were spent in rest and training camps.
1918 - Ludendorf's Spring Offensive
On a 54 mile front, mainly facing Gough's under strength Fifth Army, the Germans made a bold, last ditch attack to break the British lines. The chums position bordered the Fifth Army and although not directly attacked, were quickly in danger of being outflanked. Only by the skill of the CO did they manage to fall back and prevent a major disaster for themselves. Again moved the 34th Division ended up next to the 2nd Portuguese Division against whom the Germans launched an attack on the 9th April. The Portuguese gave way and the Chums were forced to fall back on themselves to save their flanks. It was around this time that the Chums spent their last days in the front lines.
The Battle of the Lys finished and it was decided throughout the British Army to re-organise units and draft under strength Battalions into other units, thus disbanding many. May 11th, the Chums were ordered to follow the 4th and 2/5th Battalions Lincolnshire Regiment and disband. Their Brigade was also broken up. Officers went off to serve with other Regiments and the Chums ended up in the reserve lines as a training unit.
The end of the war
The war ended 11th November 1918. On July 6th 1919, the colours of the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment was formally handed over to St. James Church in the town for safe keeping. Parades were held with the remaining men of the Battalion.
In 1923 two memorials to the 34th Division were unveiled. One at La Boiselle and the other at Mont Noir, Armentiers.
It is a tribute to the men of Grimsby and it's surrounding areas, who joined up in 1914, that their enthusiasm and sense of duty played a part in the greatest conflict known up to that date. Times have changed since those days, but so long as we have memories of those men, their sacrifice is not in vain.
Somme 1916. Albert. Poziers Ridge. Ypres 1917. Poelcapelle. Arras 1917. First Battle of the Scarpe. Arleux. Lys 1918. St. Quentin. Bailleul. Estairs. Kemmel Ridge
The information ( not direct text ) contained in this brief summary of "The Grimsby Chums" was taken from the book "Grimsby's Own , The Story of the Chums" written by Peter Chapman 1991 ISBN 1 872167 25 X
I have not intended to breach any Copyright. However, if it is felt that it has done so, please e-mail me.
Further information about Grimsby during the First World War, more information about the 'Chums' (including the original call to arms) and general research info, follow this link to ‘The Grimsby Roll of Honour’ . This is an excellent link!
There is also an excellent web site containing an alphabetical listing of Grimsby's First World War Servicemen, which can be found by following this link. The explanation of it's origin is contained on the home page, as are the limitations to it's accuracy. I am sure you will agree that it is certainly a very good start for research.
For further help in searching for military histories, you might find some hints and tips here.
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