In April 1915, the City Battalions left Manchester, and moved to barracks in the grounds of a Lincolnshire stately home, Belton Park. The command was now directed by the War Office and a more regular army approach was adopted. Senior NCOs were moved from one company to another to remove the bonds of established friendships and assert discipline. Older NCO’s left the Battalion.
Some men clearly made an effort to terminate their Service. In a post war interview III Platoon’s former Sgt. Frank Ewart Chandler recounted the exploits of the 17th Battalion Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) from enlistment to a time after his discharge.
“…we were led off by a very stalwart ex-soldier…Sergeant-Major Oddy. And he was the only officer [sic] in charge and it was a tribute to the enthusiasm of people that they got into fours and stuck into fours, but … there were rather a large number of halts. And every time we halted, it was at a pub…Oddy would resort to the pub, accompanied by a few of the men … but I remember Oddy finished the path supported on one side by two or three men and the other side by two or three men. Oh, he was a good Sergeant-Major, a very strong chap. He could take a rifle by the end – not the butt end, the other end – and lift it with one hand, holding at length. We all tried to emulate him, but he was the only one in the battalion that could do it.…. He was the Regimental Sergeant-Major and I would talk to him frequently each morning on the strength of the company. Well I noticed at the time he was wearing dark glasses… The rumour went round the Sergeants’ mess that Sergeant-Major Oddy was working his way out of the battalion. And sure enough, he did. He claimed he was going blind. So he left us. “
“…later I was sent from Grantham for training to Manchester in a recruiting week … and we were allowed to go through the offices and warehouses encouraging young men to come in and join the Manchester Regiment and one of my fellow Sergeants took me down into the basement. He said “I’ve found something that will interest you”. It was Sergeant-Major Oddy who, without glasses, was reading the labels on bales of cloth and throwing them through a window to a man in a cart outside. And he wasn’t very pleased to see us.”
The ‘Official History’ identifies Alfred Harrey, late Staffordshire Regiment as the the first Sergeant Major. RSM Harrey was subsequently commissioned Captain on 1st January 1915 and presumably replaced by Sergeant Major Oddy. RSM Oddy was replaced by 34 year old former Manchester Police Sergeant Henry Coates. Henry was living in Salford when he enlisted on 17th February 1915 and promoted to RSM the same day, presumably due to his sixteen year previous military experience with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. This had included the occupation of Crete in 1897/98 and the relief of Peking in 1900. The succession of men appointed to the most senior Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) post, exemplifies the shortage of suitable men to command the new army recruits.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd City Battalions were re-named the 16th, 17th and 18th Battalion, Manchester Regiment respectively. Manchester hadn’t yet been knocked out of the men, as the General had prophesised and the Pals’ spirit remained.
Another aspect of our militarisation was shown at Grantham. Half a dozen lads of our platoon, including myself, walked a distance of three miles one evening to Grantham from Belton Park …We went the round of the pubs, but I had pork pie with lemonade each time, instead of beer. On the way back to barracks we all managed to tumble into an already half-filled conveyance, somewhat larger than an ordinary car without any roof on. Now, I was blown up as you can guess, my pals were canned up, but every one of us, except myself, travelled on the mini-bus without paying! At least that is what they said – one was an N.C.O. (Steve Broadmeadow). (1)
Lance Corporal Stephen Broadmeadow, 8084, was the Son of Joseph and Mary Elizabeth Broadmeadow, of Elsinore, Friars Road, Sale. Like Arthur Bell, Stephen was a keen sportsman and former member of Sale Golf, Cricket and Rugby Clubs. It is quite likely the two men had competed in Cricket matches before the war.
The irreverent scenes off duty were not permitted when the men were training. Private James Roberts 8840 of C Company was penalised 5 days C.B. for “Smoking Cigarette on March”.
Bert Payne (IWM Interview) asserted the need for hard work and stiffening of the men “We went route marching for hard training, because we were very genteel sort of people…we weren’t rough, tough guys.”
In September 1915, the Manchester Battalions left Belton Park and entrained for an established regular army training area on Salisbury Plain, where they were based at Larkhill Camp, close to Stone Henge in Wiltshire.
Military discipline was also enforced at Larkhill, presumably more strictly than the early days in Manchester. For example, Henry Brumfitt was ‘crimed’ by Sergeant Turner for “Dirty Equipment on Parade”. Captain Lloyd penalised him two days C.B. Also, former warehouseman from Salford, Private John Bardsley, faced seven days C.B. for overstaying leave between 12am and 9.30pm on 17th October 1915.
Arthur Bell recounted a tale of a difficult journey back to camp from leave. Clearly he narrowly missed out from disciplinary action.
“On returning to Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain, I got the very last train from Waterloo, but it dumped me at Bulford, leaving me a mile or two across to my own Camp. I soon covered the distance, arriving perhaps at 2 or 3 a.m. It was up in the morning early, the rations for the Divisional march and the mangel wurzels I made out with were not really tasty. However, there were field kitchens with us, and the soup was first class!”(1)
A branch line had been built during the war to carry troops from Bulford to Amesbury and Larkhill. Apparently, the service did not have a late connection with the last London train. This was probably Arthur’s last leave back home to Manchester until he returned from France. There had been an outbreak of measles in Manchester, so the men had not been permitted final home leave prior to disembarkation (IWM Bert Payne).