A Record of the Naval, Military, Social, Commercial and Industrial activities of the
citizens of Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey.

Reproduced from the 'Liverpool Courier' - a special report in 76 parts

 

THE LANCASHIRE AND CHESHIRE RGA and the LANCASHIRE (Fortress) ENGINEERS

24 June 1919 Part XXII (22)

   In the days of peace, which now seem so far behind us, it was only dimly realised by the people of Merseyside that an organisation existed in Liverpool under the title of the Mersey Defences. But whilst we slumbered in security Brigadier-General Edwards, the Officer Commanding, had been organising for some years, with the aid of a slender staff, the plans which would come into operation if ever this country found itself at war with one of the Great Powers. It only needed a signal to transform “The Mersey Defences” into an effective force, ready to repel an invader from that portion of the British coast being approximately between Formby and Parkgate. In this article we shall relate the activities of the two principal Corps upon which Brigadier-General Edwards had to rely for the defence of the Port of Liverpool, so far, at any rate, as the actual repulsion of an enemy from the coast itself is concerned. Had an invading force been successfully landed, it would, of course, have called for the opposition of all branches of the British Army, but we have, happily, no necessity to chronicle such activities.

THE LANCASHIRE AND CHESHIRE ROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY

was formed in 1908, on the organisation of the Territorial Force, by the amalgamation of the 1st Lancashire R.G.A. (Volunteer Force) and two companies of the 1st Cheshire R.G.A. (V.F.), the object of the amalgamation being to enable the Artillery Defences of the Mersey to be manned by one unit, and thus avoid a divided command. The 1st Lancashire was founded half-way through last century by a famous citizen, Mr. Wm. Brown, and it has been popularly known ever since as “Brown’s Corps.” A son of the founder of the Corps still maintains the family interest and tradition by acting as its hon. colonel. We refer to Sir Alex. Hargreaves Brown, Bart., V.D., who has on several occasions during the last six years furnished practical proof of his deep interest in the Corps.

   The duty for which the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A. had trained in peace-time was the manning of the guns at the various forts in the area of the Mersey Defences, which were maintained in working order by a small permanent staff. Their period of annual training was spent in their own area, excepting for one year in three, when they were despatched to another area. On Saturday, August 1st, 1914, they were to have left Liverpool for Shoeburyness, having been allocated for training with the Thames Defences. These orders were cancelled owing to the imminence of war, and they proceeded instead to man the Mersey Forts at Perch Rock, Crosby, and Seaforth. We do not propose to set up a discussion in these articles as to which section of the Territorial Force was first on active service, but we think the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A. had a distinct start as a corps, seeing that when the order for mobilisation was issued on August 5th it was already at its war stations and in full working order. One other point should be noted, especially as it emphasises our oft-repeated claim that the men of Merseyside have achieved unusual distinction. We believe that the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A. is the only Territorial Corps which has had the entire responsibility for the gunnery in the defences of a British port.

   The authorised strength of the corps was 33 officers and 624 other ranks, and immediately after mobilisation it was brought up to full strength. Then permission was given for the corps to recruit up to 50 per cent. over its ordinary establishment, and in a  few weeks this had been accomplished, whereupon an increase of another 50 per cent. was sanctioned.

  With the corps at doubles strength, it will be realised that the responsibility devolving upon Lieut.-Colonel T.H. Arden, T.D., became exceedingly heavy. In private life a solicitor, being a partner in the well-known firm of Messrs. Gamon, Farmer, and Co., who are closely associated with the affairs of the diocese of Liverpool, Colonel Arden has been an enthusiastic citizen-soldier for many years, having joined the R.G.A. in 1895, acted as Officer Commanding the two Cheshire companies from 1909, and being promoted to the command of the whole corps in 1913. Some idea of the deep interest he has taken in the work of the corps may be gained from the record of the company which he commanded under the Volunteer regime. No. 3 Company of the 1st Lancashire R.G.A. during the nine years ending 1907 took part 27 times in gunnery competitions. They won the first prize 24 times, the second prize twice, and the third prize once – a record which can scarcely be surpassed.

  In June, 1915, it was decided to form a Second Line Corps, and Lieut.-Colonel H.D. Behrend, V.D., was appointed to the command, which he occupied for a period of two years, when the two lines were amalgamated.

   Lieut.-Colonel Behrend, V.D., possessed a lengthy experience as a civilian-soldier when war broke out. In 1887 he received a commission in “Brown’s Corps,” attaining field rank in 1900, and was gazetted Hon. Lieut.-Colonel in 1906, transferring to the T.F. Reserve in 1914. The Second Line of the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A., which he commanded for two years, was stationed with the First Line at Crosby, and maintained the happiest relations throughout the period. Whilst Colonel Arden was away in France on an extended visit, Colonel Behrend acted as C.R.A. Mersey Defences. A special word of praise is due to Captain A.N. Wray, who acted as Adjutant of the Second Line, for his efficient services.

   With regard to the general work of the corps in the area of the Mersey Defences, there is little to record that is of special interest. The enemy never managed to get within range of their guns, thanks to the British Navy. The firing which took place from time to time was occasioned by the irregular conduct of vessels entering or leaving the port, and there have been several instances where vessels narrowly escaped destruction by gunfire owing to the conduct of those who were in charge at the time, but fortunately no serious casualties were caused.

  But it is to be hoped that those who may have been inclined to sneer at the part which has been played by the members of the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A. and their confreres of the Lancashire (Fortress) Engineers, who have shared with them the task of defending the Port of Liverpool, will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the full meaning of the special order issued by Brigadier-General R.F. Edwards, C.M.G., commanding Mersey Defences, which we append:-

SPECIAL ORDER.

The following Special Order issued by Brigadier-General R.F. Edwards, C.M.G., Commanding Mersey Defences, is published for the information of all concerned:-

   On the conclusion of all defensive arrangements in the Mersey Garrison, the General Officer Commanding wishes to convey his thanks to all ranks of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers who have manned the defences of the Port for the period of four years and four months. The duty has been hard and monotonous, and has not been relieved by the interest of repelling a hostile attack, but the work has been most cheerfully and efficiently carried out, and the General Officer Commanding has no doubt that, if the enemy had attempted any hostile action against the Port of Liverpool, it would have been defeated, with the same success that has crowned the efforts of the British armies in the other theatres of the War.

   The conduct of our troops under most disheartening conditions has been excellent, and the General Officer Commanding can never sufficiently express his thanks to all ranks engaged in the manning of the Mersey Defences, for the support they have so willingly and efficiently given him during the very trying period of the War. He wishes that he could thank each man personally, and hopes that Officers Commanding will convey to all ranks his extreme satisfaction with the manner in which they have upheld the great name of the British soldier.

   It must not be thought, however, that the services of the corps were entirely restricted to the Mersey Defences. In 1915, four companies consisting of 12 officers and 312 other ranks, were despatched to the Thames and Medway Garrison, and one company comprising 3 officers and 78 other ranks went to swell the Humber Garrison. A similar company was next posted to the 39th Siege Battery for service overseas, and at a later date a second overseas company was despatched to the 95th Siege Battery. In addition 16 Siege Batteries were formed at Crosby mainly from the personnel of the Lancashire and Cheshire R.G.A., and 64 officers and upwards of 3,000 other ranks have formed part of the British Expeditionary Forces in France, Flanders, Italy, Salonica, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, whilst other officers have been detached for service on garrison duty at Gibraltar, Malta, and Hong Kong, and with the Mountain Artillery in India. The latter are, in all probability, still on active service with the force that is engaged on the frontier of Afghanistan. In addition to the foregoing record of services rendered beyond the area of Mersey defences we have still to add the fact that the corps rendered considerable assistance to the London Anti-Aircraft Defences by supplying both officers and man, whilst 2 officers and 28 other ranks were sent to France becoming No. 11 Anti-Aircraft Section.

   The adjutant of the first line of the corps from June, 1916, to the present time has been Lieut. (acting Captain) A. Mackenzie, formerly sergeant-major, who was promoted to commissioned rank in 1915, and has achieved remarkable distinction in his conduct of the business of the corps.

THE LANCASHIRE (FORTRESS) ENGINEERS

is another corps specially concerned with the Mersey defences. It also had imposed upon it the responsibility for supplying Electric Light Companies for the service of the Queenstown and Lough Swilly defences in case of war. Originally known as the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers in 1893 it became the Mersey Volunteer Division Submarine Miners, R.E., and in 1898 this title was again changed to the one which it now bears. Happily throughout these changes the corps was not allowed to suffer for lack of a commanding officer capable of maintaining its honourable traditions. Col. Harry Langdon, C.B., V.D., who retired from the command in 1913, had been an officer since 1872. He was in command in 1893 when the first change was made, and successfully carried the corps through the difficulties inherent to such re-arrangements and re-organisation. He was succeeded in 1913 by Major J.H. Jones, T.D., who was promoted in 1917 to the rank of Lt.-Colonel. Col. Langdon’s period of retirement was extremely short, for soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, he was offered by Brig.-General Edwards the command of the Second Line of the Corps, and “carried on” until 1916, when, after being mentioned in despatches, he was transferred to the T.F. Reserve, and the two lines of the corps were amalgamated.

   Further evidence of the prevision of the War Office is to be found in the fact that the Special Service Section of the Lancashire (Fortress) Engineers was mobilised in 29th July, 1914. Special Service Sections of the Territorial Force had been formed in each unit. They consisted of officers and men who could be mobilised at a few hours’ notice to undertake emergency duty whenever such a necessity arose. In this case it was deemed desirable that the Sepcial Service Section of this corps should be despatched to their war stations in Ireland. Forty-eight hours were allowed for this purpose, and it is to the everlasting credit of the Section that it mobilised in full strength (over 100 offices and other ranks), and thanks to the efficiency of the arrangements under the control of Capt. and Adjutant I.W. Reid – who has since been awarded the distinction of M.B.E. – the detachments were actually at their post of duty 36 hours after being mobilised at Tramway-road, Aigburth, where the corps headquarters are situated.

   On August 5th the corps mobilised in full strength – the only absentees being one or two marine engineers, who were at sea. No. 1 (Electric Light) Company proceeded to man the Mersey Defences. No. 2 (Electric Light) Company immediately left for Ireland, to supplement the Special Service Section, and it should be noted that this company included a large number of university students who had been members of the corps – most of whom were subsequently granted commissions. The No. 3 (Works) Company proceeded to Crosby and began the construction of the system of earthworks and trenches intended to protect Liverpool in case of an enemy landing being effected on the coast. Such was the urgency for the construction of these works that civilian labour was utilised for a period, and at a later sate the special reserve regiments training in the vicinity aided in the task.

   When this great undertaking had been successfully accomplished, the Works Company, which had volunteered for foreign service, left England for Malta in December, 1914, under the command of Captain T.R. Wilton, a well-known Liverpool civil engineer, whose partner, Captain G.K. Bell, was also attached to this company and went out with it. We are afraid that the practice that these two offices had established must have been seriously affected by their patriotic acceptance of the extra obligations involved in service overseas. But as we shall show, they and the whole of their company played a glorious part in the tragic Gallipoli expedition, for after four months spent in training at Malta they proceeded to Cape Helles, arriving there on the 1st May, 1915, and being now styled the 555th Lancashire Army Troops Company. They built the stone breakwater at Lancashire Landing and constructed a road from there to Gulley Beach. The breakwater and the road were absolutely indispensable to the operations of the invading force, and it is a remarkable fact that although they were constructed under Turkish fire and in circumstances of the greatest difficulty the number of casualties was very small. A detachment of the company also built a pier at Anzac Bay. In September the company was located at Imbros, where they ran workshops for the Peninsula and also constructed another breakwater and more roads.

   In December, 1915, Captain Wilton was invalided home, and Captain Bell took over the command, which he retained until his recent demobilisation. In February, 1916, the company proceeded to Egypt, and have since done excellent work there on the Suez Canal before being attached to the Palestine Expedition.

   The following list shows the places in which No. 3 (Works) Company Lancashire (Fortress) Engineers under their new title of the 555th L.A.T. Company served after their departure from Southampton on 12th December, 1914. The date is that of arrival in each case:-

Malta  . . . . . . . . 21st December, 1914.
Cape Helles (Gallipoli) . . . . . . . . 1st May, 1915.
Imbros . . . . . . . . 10th September, 1915.
Alexandria (Egypt) . . . . . . . . 12th February, 1916.
Bilbeis . . . . . . . . 27th February, 1916.
Moascar . . . . . . . . 24th May, 1916.
Serapeum . . . . . . . . 30th May, 1916.
Bally Bunnion . . . . . . . . 31st July, 1916.
Romani . . . . . . . . 8th September, 1916.
Mazar . . . . . . . . 17th March, 1917.
El Arish . . . . . . . . 4th June, 1917.
Rafa . . . . . . . . 1st July, 1917.
Gaza (Palestine) . . . . . . . . 12th November, 1917.
Deir Sebeid . . . . . . . . 27th November, 1917.
Gaza . . . . . . . . 6th March, 1918.
Ludd . . . . . . . . 5th May, 1918.
Jilyvlie . . . . . . . . 6th October, 1918.
El Hamme (Semarh) . . . . . . . . 13th October, 1918.
Ludd . . . . . . . . 2nd December, 1918.

   On the departure of the No. 3 (Works) Company from Crosby, they were replaced by the Second Line Works Company. This company was sent to Colchester to be attached to the 71st Division, but being eventually withdrawn it finally went out to France as the 349th Lancashire Field Company. At Crosby and at Colchester it was under the command of Major A.C. Mitchell, who, chafing at the delay in the departure of the company overseas, eventually accepted another command, much to the regret of his own corps. The history of the 349th is still shrouded in the fog of war. That they have borne a gallant part we may be sure, and the opportunity of lifting the veil may occur when they return to the city whose honour they have upheld.

   From now to the end of 1918 the rest of the story of the Lancashire Fortress Engineers is chiefly a record of the strenuous training and equipment of men and officers and their despatch on drafts to reinforce the companies on active service, whether in Mersey Defences or in Ireland or abroad. They have also contributed largely to other Engineering Corps, to the Tank Corps, and the Royal Air Force, whilst at the time when infantry were so badly required in France quite a large number were transferred to that branch of the service.

The Anti-Aircraft Department have also made heavy demands upon the corps, three companies being formed and trained as follows:-

No.   5 - For service in London A.A. Defences.

No. 49 - For service in Manchester A.A. Defences.

No. 51 - For service in Liverpool A.A. Defences.

   It is interesting to note that nearly all the Zeppelins brought down by the London defences were in the area which was served by our No. 5 Company. Many of the men who served in these detachments are the proud possessors of small gold medals presented by the local authorities for the area in which they served.

   Another fact of great interest concerns the late Lieut. Baxter, V.C. It is not generally known that he was originally trained in the Lancashire (Fortress) Engineers, enlisting as a motor cyclist, and being attached to the Mersey Defences as a despatch rider.

 

Next week’s article will deal with the work of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd West Lancashire Field Ambulances R.A.M.C. (T.F.).

 
 

READ Part XXI (21) LIVERPOOL'S TERRITORIAL ARTILLERY CORPS

READ Part XXIII (23) THE WEST LANCASHIRE FIELD AMBULANCES RAMC (TF)

 
 
 
 

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