The Lothians during World War One (I)
Training for war
The yeomanry came out of the 1908 Territorial Army reorganisation with a new name and a new role organised about a headquarters and two squadrons in Edinburgh, a third at Hawick, and the fourth, A Squadron, at Dunbar. Each squadron had up to a dozen subsidiary drill stations, which were used for regular training. So for much of the time the regiment was dispersed. However, the entire body assembled each summer for annual exercises, often at Hedderwick, near Dunbar, where they practised their role as Mounted Infantry.
The regiment comprised the headquarters – the colonel and his staff, and the clerical, support and transport specialists of the regiment – and four squadrons. Each squadron was nominally commanded by a major and had 3 or 4 troops commanded by a captain or lieutenant. Each troop had 30-40 men organised in 4 man sections. In total the established strength in 1908 was set at 449 officers and men and an additional 16 man machine-gun section but in practice, in peacetime, the regiment could be under or over this number at any particular time.
The Territorial Army was organised for home defence and mounted infantry regiments were their strike force. They were tasked to respond in short order to any threat within their operational area and hold until supporting arms could arrive: in the words of the drill book, ‘to obtain information and to combine attack and surprise to the best advantage’.
A Squadron was headquartered at Dunbar and drew its men from East Lothian, Midlothian, Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Its drill stations were at Haddington, North Berwick, Tranent, East Linton, Musselburgh, Greenlaw, Duns, Coldstream, Earlston, Lauder, Kelso, and over the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Thus comparatively few men of the county served in what had been its ‘traditional’ regiment.
When the war broke out, the regiment mobilised at their squadron headquarters but by the autumn of 1914 they had regrouped in Haddington. During the winter they were reorganised by disbanding one squadron and deploying its men across the remainder to bring them up to strength after unfit troopers were combed out and others were deployed to raise a second line regiment. By the end of the winter the 1/1st Lothians were training as the ‘active service’ regiment and the 2/1st Lothians were gearing up as a training and reserve force for maintaining the 1/1st in the field. (In 1915 a 3/1st Lothians regiment was formed and became a feeder for both the other elements.) The reorganisation was achieved while undertaking all the duties of coast defence and security that had become the regiment’s responsibility and was barely completed before their active service role was rethought.
The expansion of the Territorial Army and its deployment overseas to support the British Expeditionary Force in France and in other theatres meant the adoption of new structures. Before the war the Territorial Army was organised as brigades of 3 or 4 infantry battalions or mounted infantry regiments (there was a divisional structure but it was a regional system, not an operational role). The front lines under the conditions of the war operated with larger units, the divisions: integrated forces of 3 or 4 brigades and their supporting arms. Divisions in turn were subordinate to corps and the corps to armies. It was all a vastly different scale to the days of training in a drill hall in East Linton or Earlston with a few chums.
It also meant that there were too many yeomanry regiments in the mounted infantry role. The first clue the men of the Lothians had that they were in for change was the issue of new saddles in the cavalry pattern – and good old-fashioned cavalry sabres. They were to train as divisional cavalry – the eyes and ears of the divisional commander and his means of communicating rapidly with the elements of his division. From May 1915 they trained in their new role at Hedderwick and by the end of July 1915 the squadrons had left for England and their new divisions.
RHQ, B Squadron and the machine gunners joined the 25th Division
D Squadron joined the 22nd Division
A Squadron joined the 26th Division
The nature of the regiment’s war service makes it difficult to assess the scale of the casualties suffered during the conflict. The best account of the regiment lists 34 killed, died of wounds or disease; many more were wounded or sick and returned to arms, transfered to service duties or invalided out; the unit war diaries may hold more information. These numbers take no account of the (estimated) 224 men of the regiment commissioned from the ranks and posted out, a large proportion of whom died, or the troopers of B Squadron and the machine-gun troop who were similarly transfered to other regiments. The high number of officer promotions (equivalent to half the regimental strength) is often taken to be a mark of the quality and professionalism of the regiment.
Find out more about tracing World War One men and their units. As mounted infantry and cavalry, with their distinctive uniforms and regimental badge, Yeomanry troopers are usually easy to spot in photographs. The regiment’s postings mean it is difficult to trace an individual’s service – perhaps we can help?
Keywords: World War One, First World War, WWI, WW1