Cheshire Yeomanry’s Mobilisation and Move to Norfolk, 1914
The Chalmondsbury Flower Show at the beginning of August 1914 included a military tournament. Reportedly great skill was shown by members of the Cheshire Yeomanry and Shropshire Yeomanry in the prize events, which included tent pegging, lemon cutting, potato race and Victoria Cross race. From these genteel times the yeomanry shifted onto a war footing during the month.
On the 4th August 1914 the United Kingdom declared war with Germany and the the next day the Territorial Army was mobilised. Cheshire Yeomanry mobilisation took place at its pre-war training centres:
- Regimental Headquarters: Chester
- "A" (Tatton) Squadron: Knutsford
- "B" (Eaton) Squadron: Chester
- "C" Squadron: Northwich
- "D" Squadron: Macclesfield
The Regimental Sports, advertised to take place on 12th August, were cancelled.
Manchester Evening News reported on 10 August that the "C" Squadron of the Cheshire Yeomanry, quartered at Northwich and drawing from an area covering Northwich, Tarporley, Nantwich and Audlem, had practically completed the purchase of horses and were well mounted. It was also noted that the Northwich football field, the Drill Field, had been converted into a camp, the horses being stabled beneath the covered stands.
Within a week "C" Squadron were on the move to a new camp. After several false alarms the men received orders to leave the Drill Field on Saturday 15 August and the Chester Chronicle (22 August) described the departing camp preparation as in a "state of well ordered bustle and activity".
Crowds of eager-eyed people assembled at the Drill Field and lined the roads, where carts, floats and lorries loaded with kit took to the road in advance of the Yeomanry. Under the pre-war mobilisation plans Cheshire Yeomanry was to have moved to Ireland, their destination was however a new camp near Eccleston, off Rake Lane on the Eaton Estate, south of Chester. Here they were joined by the remainder of the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade, except for the Shropshire Yeomanry.
While at Eccleston some further recruiting was necessary to replace the few who had not volunteered for overseas service and those who had failed to pass a medical test.
On Thursday 3 September the Eccleston camp was evacuated and the Cheshire Observer (5 September) described events:
Throughout the day there were stirring scenes in the city (Chester), which was agog with excitement. The units concerned formed the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade, under Brigadier-General Herbert, and they included the Cheshire (Earl of Chester's) Yeomanry, under Col. Hubert M. Wilson; the Chester Ambulance Corps, under Col. Hamilton of Hoole; the Denbighshire Yeomanry, under Col. T.H. Sykes; and the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery. Altogether they were nearly 2,000 strong, and had over 1,800 horses. The Yeomanry rode in squadrons, but the Artillery the Ambulance Corps journeyed in complete units. All rode from Eccleston along the Eaton road and through the main streets of Chester, around the Cross, to the Northgate Station, many the horses being watered and fed at the Chester Cattle Market, where there were many interested onlookers.
The Welsh Border Mounted Brigade were bound for Norwich to join the 1st Mounted Division, the division being formed in August for the purpose of home defence. It took around 13 trains to carry the huge shipment of men, horses and equipment; the first departed at 6:25am, and others followed at about 90 minute intervals, the last departing after midnight. It was reported that the train carrying “C” Squadron of the Cheshire Yeomanry stopped for a couple of minutes, and unannounced, at the Northwich platform. A card bearing the following message was also thrown out of the carriages: “We are the Cheshire Yeomanry going to Norwich, and probably shall be at the front in three weeks’ time.”
The following morning the men marched 14 miles from Norwich to their allotted camp at Bungay. For some reason this camp was unsuitable and five days later the Regiment moved to Kirby Cane Hall nearby. Sometime in October there was a further move to Langley Park, Loddon, not far from Norwich.
The job of the Brigade in Norfolk was coastal defence. The sector allotted to it stretched from Gorleston, the name given to the southern part of Great Yarmouth, to Southwold, 11 miles south of Lowestoft, a distance altogether just over 20 miles. The Regiment's area included Gorleston and the coast immediately south of it.