The Essex Regiment During the 1st World War
This was a talk that I attended at Roman Circus House in Colchester. it was part of the 2015/2016 winter season of talks organised by the Colchester Archaeological Group.
I very nearly didn’t go – it had been a very busy cold day day, but I’m so pleased that I did.
The talk was given by Ian Hook, the curator for the Essex Regiment Museum. the museum is a part of the Chelmsford Museum in Oaklands Park, and it’s well worth a visit. Here’s our article about our trip to the museum in early 2016.
I had been a little concerned that the talk would be rather dry, concentrating on battles and battle honours, but in fact Neil concentrated on the human stories, referring to soldiers, their experiences, where they joined up and the affect of the war on local communities. The talk was very well illustrated, with photo’s of soldiers and Essex towns and villages, as well as some rare photo’s of the regiment in battle formation in the Sinai Desert.
The 8th Essex Cycle Battalion was based in Sir Issac’s Walk in Colchester. It was believed that a man on a bike would be as fast as a cavalry soldier, and at the end of the day the bike wouldn’t need to be fed and watered. The 10th Battalion were also based in Colchester.
At the start of the war, the country was very unprepared for the rapid expansion of the army. There was not enough accommodation in barracks for soldiers, and so many were billeted with local families. Families had little say in the decision, but were paid 3/4d per week per soldier. There was also a great shortage of uniforms, blankets and equipment. One soldier on signing up and arriving at Warley Barracks, spent his first night in the army sleeping on the parade ground, sharing a blanket with another man. There was a shortage of khaki uniforms, and new conscripts were issued with blue uniforms which were greatly disliked. One group of men in Colchester clubbed together to buy a uniform from Rentons on the High Street so that they looked like a real soldier when they went home on leave.
On Abbey Fields in Colchester huts were eventually put up to accommodate soldiers. At the end of the war, many of these huts were sold and became village halls.
On the Western Front in France, the Essex Regiment named trenches after Colchester roads, for example Lexden Road, and Long Wyre Street.
Some members of the regiment became prisoner’s of war, and the Essex regiment prisoner of War Fund was set up to provide them with some home comforts.
There was a Volunteer Battalion of the Essex Regiment. This was different form the Territorial Army. they didn’t serve abroad, and were quite an elderly group of people. they were similar to the Dad’s Army of the 2nd World War.
Here is my article about a talk on First World war nurse Kate Luard