The Queen's Westminster Rifles
(16th London Battalion) at
Leverstock Green, 1914
The War Journal of Bernard Joseph Brookes
Notes made when I was drafting "The London Gunners Come to Town"
Page Refs in London Gunners: 134, 141-143, 147, 149, 162
The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918 by Major J Q Henriques, includes a chapter (14 pages) on Mobilization and Training, about half of which deals with the period they spent at Leverstock Green. Bernard Brookes' Journal, a microfilm version of which is held in the Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum, contains rather more personal details.
Brookes, B J PP/MCR/283
Ts journal (106pp) with additional related letters, postcards and other material, covering his enlistment and training in London and Hertfordshire in the Queen's Westminster Rifles (1/16th Battalion, London Regiment) from August-October 1914 ...
Bernard Joseph Brookes enlisted 7th August, 1914, and volunteered to go overseas on the 11th. On the 28th they took the tube to Euston Station, and then a train to Boxmoor. From there they marched to Leverstock Green where "E Company" were given quarters at Well Farm2. He was later made a signaller. The following text consists of short extracts from his journal.
30th August, 1914: The next day being a Sunday, the Catholics paraded in undress uniform and marched to Church at Boxmoor3, and as it was a quiet day and we had no equipment, we quite enjoyed the journey. At the Church Sergeant-Major W J Price (who had lately been awarded the D.C.M.) came up with his men (R.F.A.) and I had a chat with him again feeling proud (I soon lost my pride however) - a Rifleman on familiar terms with a Sergeant-Major. During the afternoon I called on Frank Carroll in the Civil Service Rifles at Bedmond (which by the way was out of bounds) and we had tea in a cottage.
We had a Field day on the 7th September and the next day the Brigade (13th County of London, The Kensingtons; 14th London Scottish; 15th Civil Service Rifles; 16th ourselves) turned out for a Route March, and the Queens Westminster led the Brigade.
About this time the village Post Office4 found that they could not cope with the extra work which the influx of troops had occasioned, and it fell to the lot of the signallers to take over the work connected with telegrams, and tender messages to sweethearts and wives had to be left at the mercy of the Signal Service Section.
The 2nd London Division went for a Route March on Monday the 21st September, and the Artillery was also in attendance, but there was very little pleasure in a Route March of this description. It is so slow, and the length of the troops in fours being so great, the unfortunate battalions at the rear get a great deal of dust.
Our Great day was on Monday 29th September when the Division was inspected by Lord Kitchener. ... Instructions were received during the night and we had an early breakfast, parading on the Green at 7.0am. We marched, accompanied by the Band, to a Park near St Albans, the name of which I cannot bring to mind5. We were by no means the first battalion on the scene, and it was a blazing hot day. The Division was drawn up the slope of a hill, and as we marched to our position we could see a dense mass of men with bayonets brightly shining and rifle barrels reflecting the rays of the sun. We took up our position, and at the appointed time Lord Kitchener put in his appearance. After inspecting the Infantry, the Artillery "marched past" and one wondered how the Germs could possibly think that they could win the War when there were so many men and guns. It took a long time for the guns to pass and we were at "Attention" all the time. No wonder such thoughts were in my mind.6
The next item of interest was the three days firing at Hemel Hempstead7, commencing on Thursday the 1st October. After I had fired my first shot I thought the world had come to an end. The "kick" of the rifle gave me an awful hit on the jaw and also bruised my shoulder badly. Of course the moral is to hold one's rifle tightly ...
On Saturday the 10th October the signallers were moved into a Farm by themselves ... It was very comfortable, and the quarters were better that those in which we had been.
The country around was very pretty, and we had many day's outings (pardon Battalion and Brigade Field days) when we had to cook our own dinner. On the whole we enjoyed them immensely, especially the signallers with their bicycles who somehow or other often managed to get lost, but they could usually be found in the local "pub".
We were all up early on Sunday the 1st November for we had plenty to do. Of course the village turned out to wish us "Good-bye". The Battalion went in two parts, the right half under the Colonel, and the left half under Major J W Cohen at 10.30am. The Band struck up "Auld Lang Syne" as the left hand battalion moved off. Only the signallers were left, and we dismissed for a short time and entered the "Tuck Shop", and at 11.0am left Leverstock Green on our bicycles for Watford, arriving there about 11.30am. The Battalion had a good reception when marching through the town.8
The Queen's Westminster Rifles left Watford by train at 12.40 and travelled via Willesden, Basingstoke and Winchester, arriving at Southampton at 4.20pm. Tea was served and they boarded the S S Maidan and set out for France.
1 Most of the 2nd London Division marched to the St Albans area on 16th August. Presumably Brookes' left later because he was not enlisted until after the outbreak of war.
2 The Battalion HQ was in the village school, HQ Mess was in Pancakes, and soldiers were billeted at Bunkers Farm, Westwick, Westwick Hall and Westwick Row Farms, Potter's Crouch Farm, Leverstock Green Farm, Well Farm and Corner Farm.
3 The microfilm (in negative format) includes a postcard of the Roman Catholic church at Boxmoor, but the quality is probably too poor to reproduce. None of the other postcards are relevant.
4 The Leverstock Green post office
6 Pictures of this visit, showing the artillery and General Kitchener, are given in Watford Illustrated for 3rd October, 1914. There are also accounts of the visit in The Hemel Hempstead Gazette and The Herts Advertiser.
7 The firing range used was probably in the grounds of Mr Secretan's house, The Dell, at Bennett's End, presumably a disused brick pit. The main military ranges were at Gorhambury, and at Chalk Hill, Westfield Farm, St Stephens. However work on constructing these ranges only started towards the end of September and the earliest record I have found of them being used in November, after the Queen's Westminster's had left Leverstock Green.
8 The Book of Watford records that the Queen's Westminster's is one of the many military units with photographs in the Watford Illustrated - before censorship was introduced.
FAMILY TREES (Ancestry)
Bernard Joseph Brookes
Father: Samuel Edward Brookes (1848-1913)
Mother: Martha Ann Daniel (1852-1933)
Birth: 16 Jan 1893 in 8,Raul Rd, Peckham
Married: 15 May 1919 St Anselm's, Tooting Beck
Wife: Nora Una Cole
Death: 04 Apr 1962 in Warlingham, Surrey
Picture from Robert Brookes Family Tree
1911 CENSUS DATA (FindMyPast)
52 Cloudesdale Road Balham, Wandsworth Borough, London,
|Samuel||Brookes||Head||Married||63||London Pentoville||Clerk To Public Notary|
|Martha Ann||Brookes||Wife||Married||59||London Clerkenwell||-|
|Edith Mary Eliza||Brookes||Daughter||Single||26||London Holloway||Teacher|
|Gertrude Mary||Brookes||Daughter||Single||24||London Peckham||Typewriter|
|Frederick William||Brookes||Son||Single||21||London Peckham||Clerk|
|Bernard Joseph||Brookes||Son||Single||18||London Peckham||Clerk|
AN AYLESBURY MAN IN THE TRENCHES.
BRITISH AND GERMANS EXCHANGING CHRISTMAS GIFTS AND GREETINGS.
Sergeant E[rnest] C[harles] Whiskin, of the Queen’s Westminster — one the first Territorial regiments, to go to the front — was home on furlough for few days last week —Sergt. Whiskin, who was good many years ago member the clerical staff of the Bucks Herald, and was until the war broke with Messrs. Shoolbred [spelling in article incorrect], has been in two or three engagements, and has seen a good deal of trench work, coming out of all without injury. It interesting to know that he took part in the fraternisation between some our troops and German soldiers on Xmas Eve and Xmas Day which has been so much talked about, and for which the Germans (they were Saxons in front of the Westminsters) have been so severely reprimanded. He states that two or three of our own men were the first to show themselves out of the trenches, but others from both sides quickly joined them, meeting half-way — a visit to each other's trenches being strictly forbidden, and they came to a mutual arrangement that there should lie no firing on Christmas Day. They shook hands, wished each other the "compliments of the season,” exchanged gifts of cigarettes and various Christmas good things, and altogether spent quite pleasant time in each other’s company. During the day one unpleasant duty was performed. There were some dead Germans lying in a ditch between the lines who were buried both parties combined. The trenches at that point varied in distance from about 200 to 400 yards apart. On retirement for the night the Germans informed the Westminsters that if the latter did not fire that night they would not, and as a result both sides spent a quiet night. Sergt. Whiskin says the men whom he saw seemed very decent fellows. The informal and unauthorised truce was loyally observed on both sides to the end. The Westminsters left the trenches the next day to enjoy their turn of rest at the depot, after which it was Sergt. Whiskin’s good fortune to enjoy his turn of leave home. Whiskin describes the shell fire as giving them somewhat of a natural fright at first, but that the feeling soon wears off. owing largely to the sense companionship with others until hardly any notice is taken of the shells as they pass overhead. The Sergt. is looking remarkably well, and is in good spirits. He returned to duty at the end of last week with the best wishes of his many friends. It may be added that the Westminsters, who completed their training at Leverstock Green, a few miles from Hemel Hempstead, arrived in France at the beginning of November, and were in the firing line fortnight later. They have since been the trenches, and have experienced a good deal of shell firing and sniping. Sergt. Whiskin speaks well of the excellent commissariat arrangements and of the comfort of the troops generally.
Bucks Herald, 16th January, 1915
|1994||Original text drafted|
|September 2014||Page Created|
|December 2014||Xmas Truce information Added|