Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange

Biddulph and the Great War

At War: Recruitment in 1914 and 1915

The Biddulph Company

By September 19th 1914 attempts to raise a company from Biddulph & District was well underway. The aim was to form the Company from the young men who supported the many and varied sports societies that had grown throughout the area. From cricket and football teams to the athletes of Knypersley gymnasium and members of the bowling club – all were encouraged to join the Biddulph Company which was to be led by Mr. Richard Harding.

The Chronicle reported that Mr Harding “asks for single young men to assist him in raising a company in Biddulph for the New Reserve Battalion of Territorials of the 5th North Staffordshire Regiment for general service. The pay is the same as in Lord Kitchener’s Army; Mr. Harding has applied for a Commission in this Company, so that, if required the Biddulph men should fight together for their country. This is quite a step in the right direction and the popular captain of Knypersley’s first eleven cricket team should not be long in filling a company of single young men eager to show their patriotism and loyalty both to their country and their village. A unique opportunity is thus afforded of again reviving the defunct prestige of the old Biddulph Volunteer Company.”

The Weekly Sentinel frequently reported on the progress of recruitment to the Biddulph Company.

Recruiting at Biddulph

Young Sportsmen Forming a Full Company

Enthusiastic Scenes

“A splendid response has been made in Biddulph to Colonel Dobson’s appeal for a Reserve Battalion of Territorials to supplement the 5th North Staffords. The appeal was energetically taken up by Mr. R.S. Harding, the captain of the Knypersley Cricket Club’s first eleven, who was granted the privilege of forming a company, or half-company. The Public Hall, Biddulph, was thrown open for recruiting during last week, and such was the patriotism inspired by Mr. Harding’s efforts that there has been a steady flow of recruits every day.

Mr. Harding was supported by a voluntary recruiting staff, amongst those giving their services being Mr. J.W. Casstles, the ex-colour sergeant of the old Biddulph Volunteer Company, Mr. T. Jackson, Mr. J.A. Lees, J.P., Mr. C.G. Myott, JP, Mr. R.W. Heath, JP, Mr. F.S. Heath, Dr. A.G.S. Wallace, Mr. S. Gibson, Mr. O. Harding, Mr. W. Lowe, Sergt. H.J.Smedley, etc.

By Monday 54 men had been attested and in the evening they paraded in the Public Hall, when every man was provided with a kitbag by Mr. R.S. Harding, who has applied for a commission in the battalion. The men were addressed by Mr. Harding, Mr. Robert Heath, JP, CC, Mr. J.A. Lees, JP, Councillor J.H. Cole, the Rev. R. Bateman, (Vicar of Biddulph) and Mr. F.S. Heath, youngest son of Mr. Robert Heath, who has also applied for a commission in the battalion. The recruits are men of all classes; most of them single men of good physique, and from all parts of the district, including Brindley Ford, Newchapel, Packmoor and Mow Cop. The men were put through an hour’s drill by Corporal J.W. Wright, a time-expired Lanashire Fusilier and a member of the old Biddulph Volunteers.”

Enthusiastic Send-Off

“Remarkable scenes of enthusiasm were witnessed on Tuesday morning, when the men again paraded, the streets in the vicinity of the Public Hall being packed with a dense concourse of people. Before leaving, Mr. W. Lowe gave every man a packet of cigarettes. Eleven more recruits were signed on, and the company, now 64 strong, formed fours outside the Public Hall in Wharf Road, and marched to Mr. Harding’s residence at Knypersley, where they were paraded on the lawn, photographed, and most hospitably entertained. The company afterwards formed up on the lawn, and every man was presented with a regimental ‘swagger stick’, pipes, tobacco and safety razors, the gifts of Mrs. R.S. Harding. Councillor J.H. Cole also handed round a liberal supply of tobacco.

In addressing his men, Mr.R.S. Harding said he felt very proud that they were all going to serve together, and he hoped to be able to form a full Biddulph Company. They were all going away to serve their country, but in doing so they must not forget that there were also others who, though not going away, were serving their country equally as well by staying at home. There had been a great deal of work attached to the business of recruiting, and he was personally deeply grateful to both Mr. Casstles and Mr. Jackson for the splendid assistance they had given. Neither of these men was able to leave his home to serve his country, like the recruits were doing, so they had done what they possibly could at home for the men who were going. Mr. Harding then called for three cheers for Mr. Casstles, Mr. Jackson, and all who had rendered assistance in the recruiting. These were heartily given, and also for Mrs. R.S. Harding, Mr. Harding, and the wives, mothers and sweethearts left behind.

The men then marched to Black Bull Works, where another extraordinary reception awaited them. The roadway was almost impassable, owing to the masses of people assembled to wish the recruits ‘God-speed’. Hundreds of workmen lined the walls of the works, while the sirens, whistles and hooters emitted a perfect bedlam of sounds – Black Bull’s recognition of any notable public event. Salvo after salvo of cheers rent the air as the men drove away in chars-a-banc and motor cars, and down the long expanse of the works, past Black Bull railway station and through Brindley Ford the enthusiasm displayed was a sight not easily forgotten.

Outside Brindley Ford Council Schools, Mr. Gee had assembled the school children, and they cheered most enthusiastically to the accompaniment of a frantic waving of flags, as the chars-a-banc flew past.”

Reception at Butterton

“Butterton Hall was reached shortly before four o’clock, and after the company had been inspected by Colonel Hall in the park they were marched to their quarters in the stables. Mr. J.W. Casstles and Mr. T. Jackson accompanied the men, and before they left they were able to satisfy themselves that the men were in clean, comfortable, and healthy sleeping quarters. Within an hour of their arrival parties of the men were vigorously enjoying themselves at football in the spacious recreation ground.

In the Biddulph recruits Colonel Dobson should find the right material for upholding the best traditions of the North Staffordshire Regiment, and it is pleasing to note that in his speech at a recruiting meeting on Tuesday evening Colonel Dobson paid a high compliment to them, when he said, Biddulph has shown us the way; they have sent me 65 men this evening. Colonel Hall was so delighted with the physique of the men on Tuesday that he promptly asked for 50 more like them.

On Wednesday several more were signed on, and a further batch sent out, bringing the total to 75, and, as the recruiting is still going on, it is more than probable that when the next lot leaves today (Saturday) the Biddulph company at Butterton Hall will answer a roll call of 100 men.”

The drive to recruit 100 to make up the Biddulph Company was ongoing with numerous meetings and speeches at the Public Hall. Recruits sent home on furlough were encouraged to persuade their friends to enlist and their presence in the town must have been a powerful motivation for recruitment. A week later the men at Butterton were granted leave of absence from Saturday at 1pm until 8am Monday.

A Chronicle article describes their arrival back in Biddulph: “Right through the town to the Public Hall, where the char-a-banc unloaded, the men cheered to the echo and sang Rule Britannia right lustily, the inhabitants being taken quite by surprise.

The men all looked well, and many of them evidently benefited from their short experience of a soldier’s life. One and all expressed a real pride and pleasure in the discipline, parades, drills, marches and other duties inseparable from the daily routine at Butterton Hall. None had felt the work too severe, and there was a plentiful supply of wholesome food, all of good quality.

Both Mr. R.S. Harding and Mr. F.S. Heath were delighted with the manner in which the men had acquitted themselves, and they were both anxious to increase the strength into a full company of 100 men.

This should be possible, as the recruiting is going on quietly, the Public Hall being open every day. The total muster of the first detachment despatched to Butterton Hall last week was 62.”

More enlisted a few days later: “The roll call was called by Mr R.S. Harding promptly at 8 o’clock, and after a short drill, the company formed fours and proceeded on their long march to Butterton Hall.

The baggage was conveyed by motor car, with Private Fred Hill, who was unable to march owing to a sprained ankle, as baggage orderly. Despite the early hour plenty of people assembled at the Public Hall and at Knypersley Schools, and from the latter place the men had a good send off.

General regret was felt that Mr. F.S. Heath was unable to return with the company. Mr. Heath was taken ill in Biddulph Church on Sunday evening, and is temporarily unfit to resume his duties in camp.”

And again the following week: “For the second Saturday in succession the Biddulph Company attached to the 5th North Staffords Reserve Battalion of Territorials at Butterton Hall were granted a furlough until Monday morning, and they came singing and cheering through the town on Saturday afternoon. They all looked wonderfully well, and as a company their two weeks of soldiers’ life has smartened them up almost out of recognition. They have given every satisfaction on parade and in the company marching and drills, and by the time they are able to shoulder rifles in the new uniforms, the ‘H’ Company will undoubtedly show themselves to be a smart, soldierly set of men. The Biddulph Company is still short of its full complement, and now that the excitement created by the memorable departure of the first draft for Butterton Hall has subsided, the recruiting has again reached a low ebb. This should not be. More men are still wanted, and though Biddulph has now actually supplied through one source or another about 170 men in answer to the country’s call, there need be no hesitation in another 100 signing on. Only four recruits have joined this last week, and the full strength of the Biddulph Company is now 84. This is 16 short of the full company, and the advantages to Biddulph men of enlisting in this company and bringing it up to full strength are so obvious that surprise may be expressed at the reluctance of young men at joining their mates. Few of the companies at Butterton Hall are so happily situate as the Biddulph Company and fewer still enjoy the privilege of having an officer like Mr. R.S. Harding with such a personal interest in his men.”

It was a company that absorbed many of the ‘best of Biddulph’. The best sportsmen: athletes from the gymnasium, cricketers from Knypersley, footballers from the many local clubs and also talent from the choirs and bands. So much so that the following year, many of the usual activities such as the annual wakes week cricket match had to be abandoned.

Full Company Almost Complete

“A meeting in support of the recruiting movement to complete the Reserve Battalion of the 5th North Staffords at Butterton Hall, was held in the Public Hall on Saturday evening.

There was a large and enthusiastic attendance, which included members of the fair sex. Previous to the meeting, the men of the Biddulph Company on furlough for the weekend paraded at Lane-side, Mr.R.S. Harding’s residence, and, headed by the Biddulph Prize Band, with torch bearers, they marched from Knypersley, via Tunstall Road and High Street, to the Public Hall. Here a dense crowd of people had assembled, and much enthusiasm prevailed at the unwonted spectacle of the soldiers marching through the town, the first such sight for many years.

The meeting, which opened with the National Anthem by the Band, was presided over by Mr. Robert Heath, JP, CC, chairman of the Urban District Council, and he was supported by Mr. A.D. Stanley Stocker, JP, Captain and Adjutant H. Johnson and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. R.S. Harding, Mr.J.W. Casstles, Miss Heath, Miss Lees, Miss Bird, Miss L. Bird, Rev. E. Wheeldon, etc.

Mr. Heath said he was willing to show his sympathy with the work Mr. Stocker and Captain Johnson were going to speak about. He had seen in the papers that the Reserve Battalion at Butterton Hall wanted still about 130 men to complete its full complement of 1,000, and that the Biddulph Company wanted about 20 men to make up their full company. He knew that the Biddulph contingent at Butterton Hall was very anxious that the number of 100 should be made up of Biddulph people. They were all very happy together, and wanted to drill and fight with comrades from the place they all came from. (Applause). That was what the meeting was for, to see if they could not help to make up the complete number for this company. Mr. Heath said he hoped the meeting would complete that. He was at Butterton Hall on Friday and saw all the men come in after a march, and he thought they all seemed as keen as mustard. The officers and instructors were also equally keen to get the men efficient.

Mr Stanley Stocker, who met with a most cordial reception, said that since he had had the privilege of speaking not long ago to a Biddulph audience about the war, he had been proud to see that Biddulph had not been behind other parts of Staffordshire in sending men to act with His Majesty’s Army for the defence of the country. He was very proud of the part North Staffordshire had taken, and he thought it had done a very worthy share. We were told, Mr. Stocker said, and we must quite understand, that before this war ran its course, and before victory was won, that large numbers of our young men must be ready to place their services and their lives at the disposal of the country in this terrible time. Mr. Stocker then dwelt on the treachery and ferocity of Germany towards Belgium – unfortunate little Belgium, whom not even the lying Press of Germany could pretend was responsible for the war. English men and women, he said, must be in one accord with the action of the Government in carrying on with this war, and he was proud to think that with the exception of a very small and insignificant minority, the country considered that the Government had only done what they ought to have done.

Referring to our Navy, Mr Stocker said our Fleet had bottled up the German Navy in the North Sea so that it no longer existed only if it stayed in port. It was, however, bound to come out some day, and when it did come out he did not think it too proud a boast to say that it would go down. (Applause).

Conscription: Touching briefly on conscription, Mr Stoker said that whether rightly or wrongly, our system left us with a small army, but it left others to spend their lives and earn their living as they liked. He would not quite say if that was right, but he would say that if our young men through this system had time to enjoy themselves in time of peace, then in time of war they ought to present themselves for service if they wanted to be free from the curse of militarism. The country had the right to expect this of every young man, and now was the young man’s duty to pay his debt to his country. He fully believed that the young men of the country were absolutely sound at heart, and he felt perfectly sure they would go from Biddulph and North Staffordshire as freely and as big in numbers as from any part of England. (Applause).

The whole Empire was sending it young men – men from Canada, India, and Australia – because they knew their services were wanted if their liberties were to be retained. And if, Mr Stocker said, these men in far-off lands can see it, what about Biddulph and North Staffordshire men. There was no excuse to be blind to the enormous consequences of not acting in a proper and fitting manner. Twenty men were wanted to complete the Biddulph company – just twenty men. If they wanted 200 it might be something, but he was quite convinced that 20 more men would be easily forthcoming from Biddulph to help pull that Potadam bully from his throne. (Applause).

Even if some of them had good jobs, there was no better job for a young man, Mr Stocker said, than to take a part in the defence of his country. The King and country wanted them. Mr Stocker concluded an eloquent and spirited address by reading the words of a poem by Harold Bentley, which had been printed in the Sentinel. He thought it brought closely home to every young man his duty at the present time. Young men could stay at home if they were afraid: the country had no use for them, and they were only a disgrace to the country which bred them. He hoped there was no young man present but could say, I am one who stood up when England wanted me; stood up for her honour and her very life in the hour of need, and did my part when the great fight was on. (Applause).

Captain and Adjutant H. Johnson, who received a splendid ovation from the soldiers present, said he had not come to Biddulph to ask for men to join the company. He had come to answer any questions from young men before they were sworn in. The battalion formed was the 5th Home Service Battalion of the North Staffs Regiment, to take the place of the 5th Battalion of Territorials when they went abroad. Lord Kitchener, in a speech he made, and he could only say to them if they were afraid to go: Stay at home and take in washing. (Applause).

Mr. R.S. Harding said he wished to specially thank the speakers for coming to Biddulph, and for the very kind words they had said about him and the Biddulph Company. He could safely promise the men this: that he would not leave them and if he did not get a commission he would come into the ranks with them. (Applause). Recruits were now coming in so fast that unless they ‘bucked up’ there would be no room for more Biddulph men in their company, and he wanted them all to be from Biddulph, and not a mixed lot. He sincerely hoped that when the time came they would go as Biddulph men to fight together in one company. (Applause).”

A capital snap-shot of Mr Harding’s recruits as they left for Butterton, on September 22nd, has been put on a post-card by Mr. Rowley. It would require two post-cards to hold them all now, and we hope these will soon be on sale. We don’t want anyone left out. [The October 1914 edition of the St. Lawrence Parish Magazine].

All attempts to recruit a full company were abandoned a few weeks later:

Biddulph Territorials

“The Biddulph Territorials at Butterton Hall have received no addition to their numbers from Biddulph, despite the energetic recruiting campaign and the unprecedented generosity of the local subscription list for the wives and dependents of the men enlisting. They are still six short of their full complement of 100 Biddulph men, and this week it has been decided to fill up the company from the battalion. A grand chance has thus been lost by the young men of Biddulph. The company again had leave for the weekend, and with the exception of a few delinquents who had brought upon themselves a salutary punishment, most of the men returned home on Saturday. As a company the Biddulph Territorials have given satisfaction in their drills and marches, and musketry instruction was commenced last week. The health of the men has been very good, very few cases of illness being reported.”

December 1914

After the formation of the Biddulph Company, recruitment seemed to dwindle. By mid-December the Weekly Evening Sentinel of Saturday December 19th 1914 reported: “Quite a lot of khaki men have been in Biddulph this week, many of the soldiers being granted a welcome furlough for the Christmas holidays. Recruiting, however, still remains at a very low ebb in the district.”

Chronicle reports this month suggest irritation at the powers that be with regards to recruitment: “The Territorials at Butterton Hall are now complete, and though this is an evident disappointment to several prospective recruits in Biddulph, these men need not hesitate at sending in their names for any other unit of His Majesty’s forces.

They will be gladly accepted by the Biddulph recruiting agency and every facility given to enable them to join any regiment they wish to enlist in. More than this cannot possibly be done in a district which has never yet had any recognition from the military authorities, and the voluntary work of the self-organised recruiting staff has been considerably discounted by any appreciation of their efforts on the part of those responsible for the enlistment of men willing to serve their King and Country.

The percentage of men actually sent from Biddulph may appear small, but against this can be set the fact that there has been given no encouragement to the Biddulph men to enlist from their own town. The guarantee of £1 per week by the local Committee came at a time when the impetus for local recruiting was transferred from Lord Kitchener’s Army to the call for men to join the Territorial Battalion at Butterton Hall. Thanks mainly to local influences this company was quickly filled up, but still comes the country’s cry, We want more men

More men are not wanted at Butterton, but knowing what has been done in Biddulph by Biddulph men, there still dribbles in week by week, day by day, patriotic Englishmen who are wishful of serving their country – somewhere or somehow. How are these men to be dealt with? The voluntary staff of civilians has absolutely no control over these embryo soldiers. It is admittedly bad policy to reject willing men, yet, unless these men are securely signed on and properly attested, it is utterly useless sending them in to a recruiting depot, say either in the Potteries or Cheshire. The sole expense of transporting these men to any destination has to be borne by private individuals until such times as the military authorities think fit to recognise them, and considering the invidious construction placed upon the gratuitous services of well-known men in the parish, it is certainly high time that a populous district like Biddulph should receive some recognition as a valuable recruiting centre.

There are still numbers of eligible men left in Biddulph – single young men who can well be spared from their present employment; smart lads who will lose nothing by answering their country’s call. The local Committee’s guarantee will see to that. All dependents are well cared for, and nothing is wanting but a properly organised recruiting staff to deal with the situation. The possibilities of Biddulph have not yet been exploited for men willing and anxious to serve.”

For a list of the Biddulph Territorials please click below:

A List of the Biddulph Comany Recruits

The Recruitment Home Page

Biddulph and the Great War

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