Mobilization at Birr in 1914
- The series WO 35 at The National Archives (Kew, London) is dedicated to the administrative and Easter Rising records of the British Army in Ireland. A document within the piece WO 35/56A is titled ‘Mobilization and Local Defence Schemes: Depot, Leinster Regiment’ and is dated November 1910.
- This document comprises some 120 pages (although a few pages are blank apart from the page numbers). It is clear from annotations, stamps and other evidence that the document underwent significant amendment over the period 1910-1914 and it is believed that the instructions in the amended document were current when mobilization was ordered in August 1914. The document includes a copy of the poster (Army Form D 427; approximately 13″ x 16″) that was to be displayed by the police across the United Kingdom in the event of general mobilization and a sketch map (approximately 23″ x 18″) of Crinkill Barracks, Birr with annotations in red ink concerning the local defence scheme.
- The purpose of this note is to extract selected information from the document within WO 35/56A that may be of general interest.
The Peacetime Depot of The Leinster Regiment
- The Depot mobilization scheme reveals that the Depot of The Leinster Regiment (located at Crinkill Barracks, Birr) was commanded by Major J Craske DSO[i] and comprised two recruit training companies (designated A and B). The peacetime strength of the Depot fluctuated as recruits joined and left. The scheme gives a total peacetime strength of 150 as a planning figure and suggests that there would have been spare accommodation for a further 250 men before it would have become necessary to put 15 men into each barrack room or consider other options for emergency accommodation.
- Major Craske also commanded the 100th Recruiting Area. The recruiting infrastructure comprised:
- Recruiting Officers at Maryborough and Drogheda (and possibly a third Recruiting Officer based at Birr).
- Recruiting Sergeants at the following 18 locations:
- King’s County. Birr, Tullamore, Edenderry and Banagher.
- Queen’s County. Maryborough, Portarlington, Mountmellick, Mountrath, Stradbally, Abbeyleix and Heath Camp.
- County Longford. Longford and Ballymahon.
- County Westmeath. Mullingar and Athlone.
- County Meath. Drogheda, Navan and Dunboyne.
- The permanent cadre of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of The Leinster Regiment was collocated with the Depot at Birr. [ii]
Overview of Mobilization Plans
- The Depot mobilization scheme was primarily concerned with the mobilization of soldiers of the Regular Reserve who were members of The Leinster Regiment and who thus held Identity Certificates instructing them to report to the Depot at Birr in the event of mobilization. These individuals would have served for seven or more years with the Colours and then assumed liabilities as Regular Reservists until the twelfth anniversaries of their original enlistments. The number of Regular Reservists expected at Birr obviously fluctuated as individuals were transferred to the Regular Reserve at the seven-year point and others were discharged at the twelve-year point. Soldiers who had served with the Colours for more than twelve years (including those who had served for 21 years and become eligible for pensions) had no reservist liability. [iii]
- Under the Cardwell system, most infantry regiments (including The Leinster Regiment) had one regular battalion serving at home and one regular battalion serving overseas (in India or elsewhere within the British Empire). The battalions periodically rotated between the home and overseas roles; in 1911 the 1st Battalion of The Leinster Regiment moved from Devonport to India and the 2nd Battalion returned from India to Cork. The overseas battalion was kept at full strength with drafts from the home battalion; the latter was consequently often well below full strength. Mobilization plans thus envisaged that most infantry Regular Reservists reporting to the regimental depots on mobilization would be drafted to the home battalions.
- The Cardwell system also generated the likelihood that many of the Regular Reservists of The Leinster Regiment would be resident within the 100th Recruiting Area and would thus be able to reach Birr within 24 hours of mobilization being ordered. [iv]
- Mobilization plans differentiated between general mobilization and partial mobilization. General mobilization required all Regular Reservists to report to the locations specified in their Identity Certificates immediately they became aware that the police had displayed general mobilization posters (Army Form D 427; see Paragraph 2 above). Partial mobilization would have been effected by the despatch of written instructions (Army Form D 463) by post to those individuals required.
- Plans for general mobilization used a common timeframe whereby Day 1 of mobilization was the day after mobilization telegrams had been issued by the War Office (thereby triggering the display of mobilization posters by the police). It was envisaged that infantry regimental depots would receive and process all their Regular Reservists (less stragglers) and despatch them to the home battalions by Day 3 of mobilization.
- The Regular Reserve was one component of the Army Reserve. The other component of the Army Reserve was the Special Reserve (instituted in 1908 to replace the Militia). The infantry element of the Special Reserve was organized in battalions (the 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions in the case of The Leinster Regiment) whose role in war would be to feed reinforcements to the regular battalions of the parent regiment.[v] The Depot mobilization scheme makes little mention of the mobilization of the 3rd Battalion as a separate scheme would have been prepared by the 3rd Battalion. It is revealed that the mobilization of the 3rd Battalion was not to take place until day 4 of general mobilization. [vi]
- The Depot mobilization scheme does not address the mobilization of officers. Officers who left the Active List were generally appointed to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and were liable to recall in an emergency until reaching defined upper age limits.
Detailed Procedures for the Reception and Processing of Regular Reservists at Birr
- The Depot was aware of the identities of all Regular Reservists due to report to Birr in the event of general mobilization and of their clothing and boot sizes at the time that they had completed their service with the Colours and transferred to the Regular Reserve. The Quartermaster of the Depot was responsible for maintaining individual kits of clothing and personal equipment for the Regular Reservists[vii] and for holding sufficient weapons (0.303″ SMLE rifles with bayonets) for them. The kits (which included prepared identity discs) were held in a mobilization store and the weapons in an adjacent armoury.
- It was anticipated that most Regular Reservists would arrive at Birr on Day 1 or Day 2 of general mobilization and that many of them would travel on scheduled passenger trains arriving at Birr Railway Station at 1025, 1212, 1815 and 2120.[viii] The reservists were then to be escorted to the Barracks on foot.
- On arrival at the Barracks, the reservists were first to undergo a medical examination.[ix] Possible outcomes were:
- Permanently Unfit for Service at Home or Abroad. Individuals in this category were to be discharged from the Regular Reserve and sent home.
- Temporarily Unfit for Service at Home or Abroad. Individuals in this category were to be sent home but would remain members of the Regular Reserve. They were to be warned that their services might be required in the event of protracted hostilities.
- Permanently Unfit for Service Abroad but Fit for Service at Home. Individuals in this category who were required immediately for employment at home were to remain at the Depot for further processing. The remainder were to be sent home but would remain members of the Regular Reserve. They were to be warned that their services at home might be required in the event of protracted hostilities.
- Fit for Service at Home or Abroad. All individuals in this category were to remain at the Depot for further processing.
- All individuals retained for further processing were then to move to the mobilization store to draw and sign for their kits. Arrangements were to be in place for the exchange or tailoring of clothing that did not fit and for the exchange of boots. Those who would be staying in the Depot overnight were to be issued with two blankets on temporary loan. Those not wishing to make private arrangements for the disposal of civilian clothing were to be allowed to deposit such clothing in the mobilization store (at owner’s risk). Weapons would then be issued from the armoury and individuals would be temporarily assigned to either A Company or B Company for the remainder of their brief stay at the Depot.
- It was anticipated that individuals who reported on Day 1 or before 0800 on Day 2 and were found fit for service at home or overseas would depart from Birr Railway Station at 1300 on Day 2 on a special train to Cork (journey time four hours) to join the 2nd Similarly, it was anticipated that those reporting between 0800 on Day 2 and 0800 on Day 3 would leave Birr Railway Station at 1300 on Day 3 on a second special train to Cork.[x] The 2nd Battalion was to send one officer and five non-commissioned officers to Birr to escort these two drafts to Cork. Personal scales of ammunition were to accompany the drafts in bulk.
- Regular Reservists not required to bring the 2nd Battalion at Cork to full war establishment and not required for any other specific mobilization posts (eg those listed at Paragraph 22 below) were to be held at the Depot pending posting to the 3rd, 4th or 5th Battalions.
Transition of Depot and 100th Recruiting Area from Peace to War Establishment
- The Depot in peacetime had a permanent staff of regular officers and soldiers and was primarily responsible for the training of recruits. It was collocated with the permanent cadre of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion but was a quite separate unit.
- It was envisaged that on mobilization the regular officers and soldiers of the Depot would be released for employment elsewhere[xi] and be replaced with a much smaller Depot staff drawn from mobilized members of the Regular Army Reserve of Officers (or from officers on the Half Pay List) and from mobilized soldiers of the Regular Reserve. It was further envisaged that this wartime Depot would be subordinate to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion. Its primary task would be to receive new recruits, clothe them and despatch them to the 3rd Battalion (not necessarily located at Birr after mobilization) within 48 hours to be trained.
- The establishment of the wartime Depot was to be:
- One Lieutenant Colonel.
- One Major.
- One Quartermaster.
- One Quartermaster Sergeant (post to be filled by the civilian Mobilization Storeman on the establishment of the peacetime Depot).
- One Orderly Room Clerk (post to be filled by the civilian Orderly Room Clerk on the establishment of the peacetime Depot).[xii]
- One Colour Sergeant
- Two Sergeants.
- Four Corporals.
- Twenty Privates.
- Two horses.
- Additionally, two Sergeants on the establishment of the peacetime Depot were to be retained temporarily at Birr to assist with recruiting duties.
- On mobilization, the families of members of the permanent staff of the peacetime Depot who were residing at Birr would have become entitled to railway warrants to any destination in the United Kingdom.
- The organization of the 100th Recruiting Area has been outlined at Paragraph 5 above. It was envisaged that on mobilization the regular officers and Sergeants would be released for employment elsewhere and be replaced with individuals who were in receipt of retired pay (officers)[xiii] or Army pensions (Sergeants)[xiv] and had registered a willingness to be re-employed for recruiting duties in time of war.
Crinkill Barracks Local Defence Scheme
- The last three pages of the document in WO 35/56A are dedicated to the November 1910 local defence scheme for Crinkill Barracks (which is augmented with the sketch map described at Paragraph 2 above). There is no evidence that these pages were amended after November 1910 and no mention of the threat that might trigger implementation of the scheme. It seems unlikely that implementation of the local defence scheme was contemplated as an integral component of the mobilization scheme as this would have generated demands on manpower that would have been incompatible with the speedy processing of Regular Reservists.
- Outline details of the local defence scheme were:
- North-West Sector. The permanent staff and trained soldiers of A Company (32 men) and about 40 recruits were to secure the north and west walls of the Barracks, the adjacent buildings and, if required, the water supply in the area of ground known as ‘the 14 Acres’.
- South-East Sector. The permanent staff and trained soldiers of B Company (32 men) and about 40 recruits were to secure the south and east walls of the Barracks and the adjacent buildings.
- The permanent cadre of the 3rd Battalion and the balance of the recruits were to constitute a reserve based in the clock tower building.
Implementation of Depot Mobilization Scheme in August 1914
- The regimental history[xv] records the smooth implementation of the mobilization scheme when the War Office ordered general mobilization on 4 August 1914. 288 reservists from Birr joined the 2nd Battalion at Cork on 6 August (Day 2 of mobilization) and a further 317 reservists from Birr arrived the following day. The 2nd Battalion had absorbed a total of 693 reservists[xvi] by the evening of 8 August and at 1800 on 9 August it was reported complete and ready to take the field having ‘equipped itself down to the last man and the last gaiter button’ in exactly 108 hours.
- The regimental history also includes brief details of the mobilization of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions, noting that the 3rd Battalion assembled at its headquarters at Birr on the outbreak of war, completed its mobilization on 7 August 1914 and entrained for Monkstown, County Cork the next day. [xvii]
Photocopy of Relevant Documentation
- Birr Library holds a photocopy of the complete document described at Paragraphs 1 and 2 above (including the poster and the sketch map).
Compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Nick Weekes
[i] In August 1914 Major Craske was appointed to command the new 6th (Service) Battalion of The Leinster Regiment.
[ii]The permanent cadres of the 4th and 5th (Special Reserve) Battalions were located at Maryborough and Drogheda respectively. These two battalions were often described as ‘Extra Reserve’ battalions.
[iii] Many individuals in this category voluntarily re-enlisted following the outbreak of war in 1914.
[iv] Regular Reservists were allowed to take up residence anywhere in the United Kingdom but had to seek special permission to reside overseas.
[v] Special Reservists enlisted for six years (with the possibility of four-year extensions to the age of 40) and were liable for service at home or overseas on mobilization. They undertook initial training of up to six months (often conducted at the depot of the parent regiment alongside regular recruits) and thereafter mustered for refresher training for up to four weeks each year. Former regular soldiers who had completed their obligations as Regular Reservists could join the Special Reserve and serve in it until the age of 42.
[vi] This delay until Day 4 was intended to ensure that the Regular Reservists were clear of the Depot before the Special Reservists arrived. Special Reservists were to be sent reporting instructions (Army Form D 463 B) by post as soon as general mobilization was ordered.
[vii] The maintenance of these kits would have required constant attention as individuals transferred to the Regular Reserve on completion of their service with the Colours and were discharged on reaching the twelfth anniversaries of their original enlistments.
[viii] The mobilization scheme makes no mention of different train timings on Sunday.
[ix] Those who arrived during the night were to be examined at 0700 the next morning.
[x] The mobilization scheme makes no mention of the arrangements for stragglers arriving after 0800 on Day 3 (ie too late to complete processing in time for the train departure at 1300).
[xi] The Officers Commanding A and B Companies were earmarked for temporary employment as company commanders in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion (presumably so that the 3rd Battalion could benefit from the expertise of these officers in the organization of recruit training).
[xii] The incumbents of the civilian posts of Mobilization Storeman and Orderly Room Clerk were former regular soldiers.
[xiii] The mobilization scheme includes a list dated 14 July 1914 revealing that Major R B Fitzherbert (age 47; late The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)) was earmarked for duty at Maryborough and that Captain William Howes (age 58; late The Leinster Regiment) was earmarked for duty at Navan. It may be that Navan was typed in error instead of Drogheda. The mobilization scheme also includes a copy of a letter dated 3 August 1914 indicating the willingness of Captain Chetwood-Aiken to undertake recruiting duties at Maryborough.
[xiv] The mobilization scheme includes a list dated 28 March 1914 revealing that Sergeant McDonagh (age 43; late The Leinster Regiment) was earmarked for duty at Tullamore, that Sergeant Canavan (age 44; late The Connaught Rangers) was earmarked for duty at Longford, that Colour Sergeant Plunkett (age 40; late The Leinster Regiment) was earmarked for duty at Mullingar, that Sergeant Major McGlynn (age 50; late The Leinster Regiment) was earmarked for duty at Maryborough and that Colour Sergeant Hynes (age 55; late The Leinster Regiment) was earmarked for duty at Drogheda. It is assumed that potential incumbents for the further 13 recruiting locations (see Paragraph 5 above) had not been identified.
[xv] Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Ernest Whitton CMG, The History of The Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians): Part II – The Great War and the Disbandment of the Regiment (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1924).
[xvi] This figure suggests that the 2nd Battalion was well below its war establishment (30 officers and 977 men) when mobilization was ordered.
[xvii] These details suggest that the mobilization of the Special Reserve was not delayed until Day 4 of general mobilization (see Paragraph 12 above.