29 December 2009
John Bodsworth looks at what Kitchener's Armies wore in the early part of the war and why ...
War was declared on 4th August 1914 and the following day, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum became Secretary of State for War. On the same day, he asked Parliament to authorise an additional 500,000 men for the Army. It was his personal opinion that the war would last for about three years and not be “over by Christmas”, as was generally thought.
Kitchener's call for the first 100,000 men
Kitchener was not in favour of the Territorial Force being organised locally through the Territorial Force County Associations. Thus his ‘New Armies’ would be raised from volunteers and organised directly by the War Office. On 11th August, the call was put out for the first 100,000 men, aged between 19 and 30, who were willing to serve for three years, or until the conclusion of the war. This initial request for “K1” was met within just two weeks. Organised as additional battalions to the Infantry of the Line, they were numbered-on consecutively from existing battalions, but termed Service (S) battalions.
The Pals Battalions
In addition, permission was granted for the formation of a number of local, or ‘Pals’ battalions, raised by individuals or municipalities. These battalions eventually accounted for some 38% of the New Armies. On 28th August a call for a second 100,000 men to form the Second New Army (“K2”) went out, followed shortly by requests for further groups of 100,000 men to form the Third, Fourth and Fifth New Armies. It should be noted that during the course of the war there were numerous organisational changes to these Armies.
The raising of such a large number of men within a short period caused major shortages in accommodation, equipment, uniforms and weapons. Initially housed under canvas, itself in short supply, a short-term measure was to billet troops in factories, schools and even in individual homes. Eventually, hutted camps were erected. Interestingly, the strength of the New Army battalions greatly outnumbered that of the Regular Army. This is where the real problem of clothing supply occurred.
Read the full story in the January/February edition of the Armourer.