Walter Sims: Reporting For Duty on Wednesday 5 August

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courtesy of Andover Advertiser, via Mrs Spankie’s Scrapbook

What a day!

As a reservist, Walter Sims had been among the first to be recalled to the colours. That sounds rather noble, but in fact he and the four others from the village had piled into Eli Goodyear‘s waggon pretty unceremoniously, without time to say much of a proper goodbye, as he had volunteered to drive them to Andover railway station. But of course their friends had waved and cheered, and made a great fuss of them.

As it happens, he had managed to say goodbye to his father, also Walter but called ‘Wallie’ for short. He had been ill with bronchitis for months, and at the good age of 86, had gone to meet his Maker last Sunday. After yesterday’s news of war, Walter had been able to bring forward his burial to early this morning so as to be sure of being able to attend and pay his final respects.

And, scarcely having had time to gather his thoughts, this afternoon he was sitting in a waggon with four other chums from the village, on their way to the battalion depot in Winchester to be licked into shape for a couple of weeks: then they would be off to the front. Only yesterday, he had been expecting to spend this week out in the fields, helping with the last of the harvest. And he had been looking forward to supper at The Plough Inn afterwards, paid for by the farmer!

Walter was of course sad at his father’s death, but in truth he had seen little of him in recent years. When he had gone off to the Boer War 1 in his twenties, his parents had remained together with his younger brother Sidney. But by the time he returned, his father had moved out to live with Sidney at a farm in Andover Down, about six miles away, and his mother had decided to stay in the centre of St Mary Bourne. Walter had not yet married, and had naturally stayed with his mother, and now it was her that he was worried about. He could help her a bit financially now that he was back in the army, but he would never forget the look on her face as she hugged him farewell, and he knew she had been wondering if she would ever see him again. Perhaps she would take his father’s place in Sidney’s home in Andover Down, though he now had a wife, and he was not sure how wife and mother might get on under the same roof. But all her friends were in the village. Maybe she might persuade Sidney to come back to St Mary Bourne. But he had begun to carve out a future for himself there, and would not want to return. And so it went on, turbulent thought succeeding anxious worry. It was worse that there was nothing that he could do, not for the foreseeable future.

Walter shut his eyes, and tried to blank out, more or less successfully, all that was going on around him. That was one thing he had learnt from the last time, how to create a little world of your own into which you could retreat from time to time, during the long periods of waiting, waiting…

 A note on sources

1 No documentary evidence has yet been found of Walter’s service in the Boer War (partly, at least, because Walter Sims was a common name at the time). However, he is said by the Andover Advertiser to have served six years in South Africa,  there is no trace of him in the 1901 UK census, and he would not have been called up at this early stage if he had not already seen military service.

2 We know from the war diaries of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment that they did not embark from Southampton for Le Havre until 22 August, two weeks three days later. Presumably the intervening time was necessary to assemble the reservists, re-train and re-equip them – it would have more than a decade since most of them had seen active service.

I am indebted to Twitter for this reference to James Daly’s blog, and this post:

The 1st Hampshires in the First World War: Le Cateau

When war was declared the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment was part of the 11th Brigade, in the British Army’s 4th Division. They were originally based in the garrison town of Colchester, but moved to Harrow. It was earmarked to embark for Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force as soon as war broke out. Later in the war at Ypres and the Somme the Territorial and Kitchener Battalions bore the brunt of the fighting, but in 1914 the BEF comprised regular, pre-war Soldiers.

The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment left Harrow at 12.20am on 22 August 1914, bound for Southampton. At 7am half of the Battalion and the Headquarters embarked on the Breamaer Castle, and the other half on the Castrian. At this point, most of the men were no doubt hoping that the war would be over by Christmas.

7 thoughts on “Walter Sims: Reporting For Duty on Wednesday 5 August

  1. Although planned to be part of the first wave of the BEF, 1st Hampshires were in 4th Division which was held back for possible anti-invasion duties while the Territorial Force units assembled (see Reservists usually reported first to the regimental depot (Winchester in this case) to be medically examined and draw their kit, rather than going directly to where the home battalion was stationed. All units stationed at home were significantly below strength (1st Royal Scots Fusiliers war diary notes that they required 750 reservists to be brought up to strength, around about 1000 including attached medical and transport personnel), so even the units that did go straight overseas from 12 August would have had to bring their reservists up to speed very quickly.

    There some information on the Hampshires later in the war (and, in the comment, trying to work out when reservists originally enlisted) in my colleague Laura’s blog,

    There were two Walter Sims serving with the Hampshires…I presume this man is 5718, this number was issued in the Boer War period, he would have joined up in the latter part of 1899. A normal enlistment lasted 12 years, the enlistment conditions varied, but part would be active service, and the balance on the reserve. This suggests that Sims opted to join Part D of the reserve after his main reserve obligation had expired. D Reserves tended to be older men, and where they had the choice many regiments tending not to take them on active service immediately…

  2. Many thanks indeed, David, this is extremely helpful. Yes, as you say, Walter was #5718…
    I will correct the text to send ‘my’ men to Winchester in the first instance, rather than Colchester…

  3. It would have been their own responsibility to get there too, no transport sent out to them (an infantry battalion only had a couple of horse-drawn General Service wagons at this time). They did travel free on the railway though.

    • Thank-you very much for your continued interest in the nitty gritty of how it all worked, which is of course partly what fascinates me. It is not all that easy to find out about individuals.

      The first communication problem I am wondering about is how the men were mobilised, ie how they were told they were being summoned and where to report to. Would they have been sent a series of telegrams?

      And then there are the practical problems of how possibly penniless agricultural labourers were supposed to get themselves to Winchester. They could have walked to Andover and taken a train from there (and the services were probably better then than now!). I think I will find them a kindly farmer to ferry them to Andover station in a horse and cart!

      And then train from Colchester to Harrow, and from Harrow to Southampton, followed by troop ship to Le Havre…

  4. Don’t forget that the rail network was much denser in 1914, he would only have had to go to Hurstbourne to catch a train, though if transport were available, Whitchurch Town would have been a better option with direct trains to Winchester. This map is useful for getting a handle on what the rail network used to look like, and the 1913 Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire will probably give an idea of services. I wonder if the conversation between squire and vicar might have included the subject of transport for reservists? Of course, so much was then transported by train that’s it’s likely that at least one local farmer would have been sending some produce to the station.

    As to the mechanics of mobilisation, the call up was given legal effect by Royal Proclamation, published in a special supplement to the London Gazette, published on 4 August. The proclamation was reprinted by most papers the following day I think – of coruse a “precautionary period” had also been operation since 29 July, so msot would have been fairly well aware that mobilisation was increasingly likely. The Friends of the Suffolk Regiment tweeted the mobilisation of their 1st Battalion, which included At dawn on 5th August Hayward and all the other Reservists receive their telegrams recalling them to the Colours. This describes the mobilisation of 1st West Kents. It doesn’t mention telegrams to reservists, but it does talk about parties of men being sent back to the depot to then accompany parties of reservists to base.

    This info on the training commitments of reservists may also be of interest, while this page describes their pay 3/6 a week would have been quite an inducement to stay in Section D! It seems likely he would either have had a rail warrant in his possession ready for his training day, or possibly the mobilisation telegram was treated as the warrant, I haven’t quite been able to establish that.

  5. Many thanks – unfortunately the link is to Kellys 1911, rather than 1913, Directory, and indeed I have not found one online between 1912 and 1920, which is part of the problem. There is no mention of a train service in the 1912 directory. For the purposes of my blog, while I agree that it would be possible to go from Hurstbourne, I think Eli Goodyear would have preferred to take the men to Andover – on the one hand it would save them having to change trains, and on the other, Andover is the market town of the region and as you say he could well have combined the trip with a mission of his own. But this is in effect a literary judgement.

    The mechanics are not my prime concern. I think I had better clarify three aspects of the scope of my blog:

    – it is primarily about the village of St Mary Bourne, the families, houses, farms, inns, places of worship and so on, and their interconnections, i.e. social history. It covers a particular period, the first world war, but it does not purport in any sense to be a history of the first world war. It is about people.

    -It is ‘live’ a hundred years later, that is the characters in it have no foreknowledge of what is to happen. I have therefore removed ‘spoilers’ about what happened to Walter (which I was adding to) – since I am proposing to write about events on the centenary of the day they happened.

    -I have been working on the history of the Bourne Valley since 1994. I have a tree on ancestry with over 10,000 people. The sources I have access to include those available via subscriptions to, for example, Find My Past, The Genealogist, British Origins and the British Newspaper Archive, and I am a registered user of The National Archives. You can assume that if a document is available through these sources, I probably already have it.

  6. Pingback: The Second Wave Of Reservists | St Mary Bourne Goes To War

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