The Battle for the Ford

An Incident at Sarratt during the First World War


The Ford, Sarratt - posted 1913

On the outbreak of the First World War the London Territorial Force moved to war stations in Hertfordshire, with their headquarters at St Albans, and with the Royal Field Artillery based at Hemel Hempstead. There were frequent exercises over the surrounding countryside and the following excerpt from The London Gunners come to Town relates to the above ford.

There were frequent field days particularly in the area between Water End, Nettleden and Berkhamsted Common to the west and Whelpley Hill and Ashley Green to the south. The following exercise took place in the valley of the River Chess, somewhere between Sarratt and Chenies/Chorleywood, while Second Lieutenant Pilditch [the author of the account] was acting Orderly Officer with the 7th Brigade Headquarters.

I rode with the Adjutant [Captain Marryat] in the afternoon and we brought the Brigade along to its Gun-pit digging positions by 5 o'clock in the evening. The Adjutant, the Colonel [Chambers] and I then had tea with some very nice people in their garden. We then rode back again and saw the Batteries bivouacked in a huge field about a mile in rear of the positions. We then went back and had a very jolly supper at these people's house. They deserve to be remembered in the same breath as those angels at Watford on the trek here. [Captain] Lloyd, [Major] Mead, the Adjutant and [Doctor] Spurgin were there, and later [Second Lieutenant] Pixley and [Lieutenant] Burgess, and we had a noble supper. Then we went back to the Medical cart, (our sheet anchor at night on these occasions) which was parked in the corner of a field, and the Colonel and Doctor shared it. 

I slept in my rug-bag near Pixley's little car. About 11.30 p.m. we were woken up to go round the outposts. I was asked to be taken and had to cling on behind the car, sitting on a very sharp nut! 

Ford over River Chess
Coles, Watford, circa 1905
(see Fords)

The Adjutant had very bad 'flu'. We had a most exciting time and were frequently held up by our 'Cavalry Outposts', with logs of wood laid across the road and other nefarious devices. Later, not knowing the counter-sign, we met [Captain Patrick] Cooper brandishing a huge shillelagh at a ford on the river [Chess], and many bloody sights and sounds going on along the opposite bank and in the wood which the attacking party were trying to force and so storm the gun positions. 

Then we went on to visit O.C. Outposts, to wit Captain Callaghan, who had taken up a sound strategic position in an inn commanding the ford! Then we sat drinking whiskey and water and telling yarns till about 2 o'clock when they all went off to bed and I went back to the Medical cart and slept by the side of it very happily till about 6.30 next morning.

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