Public Schools Battalions

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A company of the Public Schools Battalion at "White City" prior to the Battle of the Somme. Photo by Ernest Brooks.

The Public Schools Battalions were British First World War Pals battalions of Kitchener's Army, originally made up exclusively of former public schoolboys. When the battalions were taken over by the British Army they became variously the 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment[1] and 18th (Service) Battalion (1st Public Schools), 19th (Service) Battalion (2nd Public Schools), 20th (Service) Battalion (3rd Public Schools) and 21st (Service) Battalion (4th Public Schools), Royal Fusiliers.[2]

History[edit]

The original battalion began privately recruiting on 1 September 1914 and membership was by application only; over 1,500 applications were received including from retired officers who wished to serve in the ranks. Such was the spirit of adventure that many men wished to serve as private soldiers alongside their mates, rather than as officers. Amongst the recruits were enough former international players for the battalion to field two rugby union and one football team.

Following the success of the original recruitment drive, four further battalions formed at Epsom from 11 September.

However, Kitchener's Army was faced with a dire shortage of officers and so the exclusive nature of the Public Schools Battalions was doomed. "Young gentlemen" — public school and university graduates — were encouraged to apply for commissions and eventually the battalion's ranks were depleted. The numbers were made up with ordinary volunteers but the Public Schools Battalion titles would remain, some of the battalions would be disbanded during the course of the war.

16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools)[edit]

After its formation the battalion moved to Kempton Park Racecourse, and in December to Woldingham From July 1915 it was attached to 100th Brigade, in 33rd Division, and based at Clipstone Camp, moving again in August to Perham Down.[1]

In April 1916, the 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools) joined the 86th Brigade of the 29th Division, a regular division that had served with distinction at Gallipoli. With the 29th Division, the Public Schools Battalion first saw action in the Battle of the Somme. On the first day on the Somme, 1 July, the battalion was in the supporting wave during the division's attack on Beaumont Hamel.

Like the leading battalions, the Public Schools Battalion advanced into withering German machine gun fire. A few men reached the German barbed wire but got no further. Most were cut down or trapped in no man's land. After nightfall those that were pinned down near the German wire were rounded up and made prisoners of war. The Public Schools Battalion suffered 522 casualties on 1 July, 22 officers and 500 other ranks.

The 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools) was disbanded in February 1918.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Chris Baker (1996–2010). "The Middlesex Regiment". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Chris Baker (1996–2010). "The Royal Fusiliers". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 11 May 2010.