August 2014 – August 1914 The 11th Mobilise
August 1914. The 11th Hussars mobilise.
On 29th July, 1914, the British Government, concerned at the rapidly-deteriorating international situation following the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in late June, issued orders for the army to enter a “precautionary period” – the lead-up to full mobilisation.
The 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) were at Aldershot, at Warburg Barracks. They had arrived there in 1912 and were part of the spearhead of the proposed British Expeditionary Force – along with The Queen’s Bays and the 5th Dragoon Guards they formed the 1st Cavalry Brigade of the Cavalry Division – and were earmarked for France on the outbreak of war. Warburg Barracks had been built between 1856 and 59, and were demolished in 1963: The Prince’s Hall and Warburg Car Park now occupy the site.
War was declared on Tuesday 4th August: reservists were recalled (these were men who had completed a specified length of time with the army but were eligible for recall if required). All reservists were instructed to return to their regiment’s depot, which in the case of the 11th Hussars was in Dublin, so Captain F G A Arkwright was sent to collect the required number. He returned with 120 men. These were immediately put through Riding School, sword drill and training on the new machine guns (the regiment had two) in order to bring them to full efficiency for the forthcoming campaign.
Horses, too, were required. Prior to the war, the government had set up a census of all horses in the kingdom and powers were in place to permit requisition of all that were required. Within twelve days over 120,000 horses were collected. Additionally, horses were sent voluntarily. The brother of the regiment’s Commanding Officer gave eight hunters (all of which survived the war), and other Hunts gave a number of horses.
By 11th August, the regiment was fully-equipped with men, horses and material, and that evening the Brigade was inspected by His Majesty King George V.
There was much discussion amongst officers and men about what lay ahead: many of the younger officers greeted the entry of Great Britain into the war with (according to the regimental history) “customary enthusiasm”. Older officers were less sanguine; General Briggs, commanding the 1st Cavalry Brigade, told his commanding officers that they could expect to lose 50% of their regiments within weeks of arriving in France.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ansell, commanding the 5th Dragoon Guards, came down to the Officers’ Mess late one evening, in his pyjamas to tell the younger officers of the brigade that “… war was very likely to prove very different from what they seemed to imagine.” (Ironically, Colonel Ansell was to die himself on 1st September).
At 9.39 a.m. on the 15th August, the regiment left Farnborough Station on four trains bound for Southampton, where they began to arrive at 11.30 a.m. They soon embarked on three ships – the Cestrian (a cattle boat from
Liverpool, which needed to be cleaned before the regiment could embark), the Basil and the Munificence. Sailing at 5.00 a.m. on the 16th, arrival at Le Havre was at 4 p.m. the same day. 26 officers, 523 men and 608 horseslanded in France – as fine a regiment of cavalry as ever saw service.
The 11th were at war. The month of August brought action at the Battles of Mons and Le Cateau. The first fatality, Private William Roberts of A Squadron became the first of 177 men of the regiment to fall in the war when he was killed on the Mons Canal on 24th August, during the British Army’s first battle of the war. (The first of 23 officers to die, Captain John Ainsworth, was not to fall until October 1914).
The attached photographs show the officers of the regiment before leaving for France. The Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel T T Pitman (centre, with stick), ended the war commanding the 2nd Cavalry Division. Those officers who fell in the war are circled, while those with rectangular marks were wounded. Many were decorated – in the war, officers of the regiment won 12 awards of the Distinguished Service Order with three Bars (a second award), 16 Military Crosses (with one Bar and one officer winning two Bars, or three awards of the Cross). The other ranks won 12 Distinguished Conduct medals and 23 Military Medals. Numerous foreign awards were also gained.
The photograph of Warburg Barracks at the time of its demolition is courtesy of Hampshire Museums Service, while the photograph taken of Le Havre from the deck of the Cestrian is from a collection of photographs taken by Colonel Pitman.
You can see special displays on the service of the 11th Hussars and the 10th Royal Hussars in the Great War in HorsePower museum together with much more about the history of the two regiments and their successors, the Royal Hussars and the King’s Royal Hussars.