The Lothians during World War One (IV) – A Squadron, continued
This page is the fourth in a series examining East Lothian’s Yeomanry contribution to the British Army during World War One. Earlier pages show the origin and evolution of the Lothians and Border Horse in the years running up to the war.
The recently released war diary of A Squadron, the 1/1st Lothians and Border Horse contained an interesting bonus. The officer entrusted with keeping the diary entered the names, ranks and positions of the entire squadron; this is not at all usual. It does, however, open the tantalising possibility of tracking the war service of the complement of a single unit from start to finish!
The Squadron (equivalent to an infantry company) was organised as a Headquarters and four fighting troops (the equivalent of infantry platoons), each of which was commanded by a junior officer. Six officers, 23 non-commissioned officers and 101 troopers entrained at Dunbar – six short of full strength. The squadron was also 28 horses short of establishment, a deficiency that would have to be made up at their destination camp at Heytesbury, Wiltshire. They did, however, have two motorcyclists on the strength – a precursor of the mechanisation that was to revolutionise warfare during the conflict.
Within the table of organisation, a number of men had specialist duties in addition to their fighting role. Distributed through the Troops were transport drivers, clerks, storesmen, cooks, trumpeters and, essential for a mounted unit, the farrier and his staff of shoeing smiths. Seven men were also designated ‘batmen’, or officer’s servants. Promotions, illness and casualties caused continual changes in the establishment; in the photograph above none of the named lieutenants were with the squadron in that rank a year previously – although two were then serving as senior NCOs.
The Squadron had a brief period in France as their division worked up but, before it was committed to the line, orders were received for a new deployment. They moved south to Marseilles where they embarked for Greece and the Salonika Front. They remained in that Theatre for the remainder of the war and a period of post-war policing.
On the mostly static front, the Squadron became ‘Jacks of all trades’. As a tiny unit, amongst what grew to be a substantial army, they were lucky to be able to maintain their identity through several reorganisations. At times they were used in their proper scouting role but also served dismounted in the line and for various special missions. Behind the line tasks such as providing escorts for supply runs, POW camps and even agricultural work were on the agenda as was dealing with the local communities that remained in the fighting zone: policing, issuing passes, inspections and general ‘hearts and minds’ work in ensuring relationships were kept on friendly terms.
Organisationally, at times they and other small cavalry units were regrouped as a ‘Corps Cavalry Regiment’ under the direct command of the higher formation. At other times Troops could be found operating independently. A considerable amount of time was spent in training for all eventualities. Most of this service was accomplished under harsh conditions: there were few of the rest areas and relief centres that grew up behind the lines in France. Despite some losses on the battlefield, promotion, disease and accidents were the main causes of changes in personnel. It wasn’t uncommon for a trooper to be (honourably) discharged to home when the rigours of the campaign conditions had broken their health. Very few of the original 130 men were still with the Squadron when it returned to the UK at War’s End.
If your ancestor or relative served with the Lothians and Border Horse during World war One, we would be delighted to hear from you. All the photographs on this page came from such a contact, via the family of Lt Tam Dale, Scoughall Farm, East Lothian, for which we extend our thanks.
Keywords: World War One, First World War, WWI, WW1