Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Lieutenant Colonel William Herbert Ames, T.D.

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Ames wrote the Introduction to the book. I’ve included it here in its entirety:

INTRODUCTION

The raising of the Second Line of the Territorial Force became necessary when it was decided to send the First Line overseas. The Territorial Force was originally intended for home defence, a duty for which its pre-war formations soon ceased to be available. The early purpose, therefore, of the Second Line was to defend this country.

On September 8, 1914 I was privileged to begin to raise the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the Battalion whose history is set out in the following pages. I opened Orderly Room in Exeter College, Oxford, and enrolled recruits. The first was Sergeant-Major T. V. Wood. By the end of the day, we had sworn in and billeted over 130 men.

The Battalion was created out of untrained elements, but what the recruits lacked in experience they made up in keenness. The Secretary of the County Association had an excellent list of prospective officers, but these had to learn their work from the beginning. We were lucky to secure the services of several non-commissioned officers with Regular experience; Colour-Sergeants Moore, Williams, Bassett and Waldon*, and Sergeant Howland worked untiringly, whilst the keenness of the officers to qualify themselves to instruct their men was beyond praise.

At the end of ten days sufficient recruits had been enrolled to allow the formation of eight companies, which exactly reproduced those of the First Line, men being allotted to the companies according to the locality whence they came. A pleasant feature was the number of Culham students, who came from all parts of England to re-enlist in their old Corps. Well do l remember my feelings when I sat down to post the officers to the companies. It was a sort of ‘ Blind Hookey,’ but seemed to pan out all right in the end. Company officers had to use the same process in the selection of their non- commissioned officers. Of these original appointments all, or nearly all, were amply justified–a fact which said much for the good judgment displayed.

With the approach of the Oxford Michaelmas Term the Battalion had to move out of the colleges (New College, Magdalen, Keble, Exeter, Brasenose and Oriel had hitherto kindly provided accomodation) and into billets. Training was naturally hurried. As soon as the companies could move correctly a series of battalion drills was carried out upon Port Meadow. This drill did a great deal to weld the Battalion together. The elements of digging were imparted by Colonel Waller behind the Headquarters at St. Cross Road, open order was practised on Denman’s Farm, whilst exercises in the neighbourhood of Elsfield gave the officers some
instruction in outpost duties and in the principles of attack and defence.

The important rudiments of march discipline were soon acquired. Weekly route marches took place almost from the first. Few roads within a radius of 9 miles from Oxford but saw the Battalion some ‘time or other. The Light Infantry step caused discomfort at first, but the Battalion soon learned to take a pride in it. The men did some remarkable marches. Once they marched from the third milestone at the top of Cumnor Hill to the seventh milestone bv Tubney Church in 57 minutes. Just before Christmas, 1914, they marched through Nuneham to Culham Station and on to Abingdon, and then back to Oxford through Bagley Wood,
without a casualty.

At the end of 1914 Second Line Divisions and Brigades were being formed, and the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry became a unit of the 184th Infantry Brigade under Colonel Ludlow, and of the 61st Division under Lord Salisbury. Those officers inspected the Battalion at Oxford before it left, at the end of January, 1915, for Northampton.

The move from Oxford terminated the first phase in the Battalion’s history. At Northampton fresh conditions were in store. Smaller billets and army rations replaced the former system of billets ‘with subsistence.’ Elementary training was reverted to. The Battalion was armed with Japanese rifles, a handy weapon, if somewhat weak in the stock, and range work commenced. The seven weeks at Northampton, if not exactly relished at the time, greatly helped to pull the Battalion together.

The period was marked by a visit of General Sir Ian Hamilton, who inspected and warmly complimented the men on their turn-out.
A minor incident is worthy of record. One Saturday night a surprise alarm took place about midnight. The Battalion was young, and the alarm was taken very seriously. Even the sick turned out rather than be left behind, and marched the prescribed five miles without ill effects.

Just before Easter, 1915, the 61st Division moved into Essex in order to occupy the area vacated by the 48th. The Battalion’s destination was Writtle, where the amicable relations already
established with the inhabitants by Oxfordshire Territorials were continued. Though our stay was a short one, we received a hearty welcome, when, on our return from Epping, we again marched
through the village. After a fortnight at Writtle, the Battalion moved to Hoddesdon, to take part in digging the London defences. We left Writtle 653 strong at 8 a.m., and completed the march of 25 miles at 5 p.m., with every man in the ranks who started. Three weeks later we were ordered to Broomfield, a village east of Writtle and near Chelmsford. There was keen competition to take part in the return march from Hoddesdon ; 685 men started on the 29 mile march, which lasted 11 hours: only 3 fell out. The band marched the whole way and played the Battalion in on its arrival at Broomfield.

In the spring of 1915 it was decided to prepare the Territorial Second Line for foreign service. Considerable improvement resulted in the issue of training equipment. Boreham range occupied much of our time. A musketry course was begun but
never finished: indeed, the bad condition of the rifles made shooting futile. Six weeks were also spent at Epping in useful training, at the conclusion of which we returned to Broomfield. The Battalion was billeted over an area about six miles
long by one wide, until leave was obtained for a camp. For nearly three months the men were together under canvas, with the very best results. Strenuous training ensued. I am reminded of a little incident which occurred during some night digging at Chignal Smealy.’ The object of the practice was to enure the men to work, not only when fresh, but when tired. Operations opened with digging with the entrenching tool–each man to make cover for himself. By 8 p.m. this stage had been reached, so tea and shovels were issued. At 9 p.m. serious digging began, the shelters being converted into trenches, and this continued till 1.30 a.m. Coffee was then served, and work went on till dawn, which provided an opportunity to practice standing to. A rest followed, but after breakfast work was again resumed. About 10 a.m. an officer round a man sitting down in the trenches and ordered him to renew his efforts. The man obeyed the order at once, but was heard to remark to his neighbour, ‘ Well! If six months ago a bloke had told me that I was a-going to work the ‘ole ruddy night and the ‘ole ruddy day for one ruddy bob, I’d never ‘ave believed him!’
At the end of October, 1915, I consider that the Battalion reached the zenith of its efficiency during its home service. It was a great pity that the Division could not have been sent abroad then. In-
stead, each battalion was reduced in November to a strength of 17 officers and 600 men. Individual training recommenced, until specialists of every kind flourished and multiplied. At a General’s inspection during the winter a most varied display took place. Scouts were in every tree, a filter party was drawing water from the village pond, cold shoeing was being practised at the Transport, cooking classes were busy making field ovens, wire entanglements sprang up on every side, nor was it possible to turn a corner without encountering some fresh form of activity. I fancy the authorities were much impressed on this occasion, for nothing was more difficult than to show the men, as they normally would be, to an inspecting officer.

In January, 1916, the Battalion, having been recently made up with untrained recruits, moved to Parkhouse camp on Salisbury Plain to complete its training with the rest of the Division. We arrived in frost and show and left, three months later, in almost tropical heat – remarkable contrasts within so short a period. The Division was speedily completed for foreign service; new rifles were issued, with which a musketry course was successfully fired, though snow showers did not favour high scoring. We were made up to strength with drafts from the Liverpool, Welsh, Dorset, Cambridge, and Hertfordshire Regiments, were inspected by the
King, and embarked as a unit of the first Second Line Division to go abroad.

Thus at the end of 18 months’ hard work the preparatory stage in the Battalion’s history was concluded. Its subsequent life is traced in the chapters of this volume.

The period of home service is wrapped in pleasant memory. It was not always plain sailing, but difficulties were lightened by the wonderful spirit that animated all ranks and the pride which all felt in the Battalion. I recall especially the work of some who have not returned; Davenport, Scott, Stockton, Zeder, and Tiddy among the officers, and among the non-commissioned officers and men a host of good comrades. Nor do I forget those who came safely through. No commanding officer was ever better supported, and my gratitude to them all is unending. I think the Battalion was truly animated by the spirit of the famous standing order, ‘A Light Infantry Regiment being expected to approach nearer to perfection than any other, more zeal and attention is required from all ranks in it.’ Equally truly was it said that not by the partial exertions of a few, but by the united and steady efforts of all, was the Battalion formed and its discipline created and preserved.

W. H. AMES, Colonel.”

Sergeant James Walton

* I believe that the Waldon mention above is actually my Great Grandfather, James Walton. I cannot find a Sergeant Waldon in documents relating to the the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. I also know that my Great Grandfather was very active in the establishment of the Battalion. I would be very pleased if someone can shed some light on this.

James Walton is saluting an officer just out of the picture.

James Walton on the left with new recruits being drilled, Museum Street, Oxford, late 1914 or early 1915.

Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Ames continued:

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

After the Battle of Fromelles, 19th July 1916
“Soon after these events the Battalion was unlucky to be deprived of Colonel Ames, a leader whose energy and common sense could ill be spared. This was the first change which the Battalion had in its Commanding Officer, and it was much regretted.”

From His Earlier Life:

From: Oxford men, 1880-1892: with a record of their schools, honours, and degrees, By Joseph Foster

Ames, William Herbert, born in Remenham juxta Hurley, Berks, 8 July, 1868; o.s. Charles Herbert, late of Remenham, arm., deceased. New Coll., matric. 14 Oct., 87, aged 19 (from Eton), B.A. 91; Honours :—2 classical mods. 89, 3 classics 91.

From the Lincoln’s Inn Admissions 1420-1893

Admitted on 24 April 1891 was William Herbert Ames of New College Oxford (22), the only son of the late Charles Herbert Ames Esquire of Remenham, Berkshire, late of the Madras Civil Service.

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