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The ERY was one of a number of units formed in the wake of the 2nd Boer War to remedy a perceived weakness in the British Army's structure - the shortage of quality mounted troops. Initial recruitment was by public meetings at Hull, Beverley and other places within the East Riding. The intention was to create a 4 squadron regiment of around 600 officers and men.
To mention but one event, Major Stracey-Clitherow (then the ERY's 2nd in command) made an appeal at a "smoking concert" in the village of North Cave, where it was hoped to raise 40 men. (Hull Daily Mail 12/2/1903).
In the Beverley & East Riding Recorder for 11/4/1903, it was noted that 340 men had been recruited already, with 145 men signed up for A squadron (based in Hull) and C squadron (based at Escrick, recruiting from the western part of the county) with 111 men.
The selection of the running fox as the emblem of the regiment - seen on its collar badges and buttons - very much reflects the hunting and shooting aristocracy who very largely made up the original officer complement. There were many significant landowners, who inhabited sizeable country estates, such as Escrick, Hotham Hall; others were the sons of major businessman, like the Wilson family who developed a massive shipping company based in Hull.
The composition of the ERY's officer force can be tracked through a variety of sources. Prior to the war, local newspapers regularly published statistics on recruitment to the Territorial Force (as the Territorial Army was the called). Sometimes more detailed articles discuss particular officers who have joined the regiment. Monthly, quarterly and annual army lists gave names, ranks and dates of commissions. Army appointments were also officially published daily in the journal The London Gazette.
Recruitment of officers in peacetime clearly depended on being able to find suitably experienced individuals who were available and prepared to serve in the ERY. As the East Riding Yeomanry was a new regiment (leaving aside its rather short lived predecessor in the Napoleonic wars period), it had no 'pedigree' and this may have limited the choice of officers. Local recruitment amongst men with strong ties to the area was always likely to be the first option. Does the available data support this theory?
Putting the sources together, by October 1908, according to figures published in the Whitby Gazette, the ERY had 25 officers (which would have been pretty much a full complement). In July 1914, on the eve of World War I, there were 21 officers. By December 1914 there were 42 officers, much of this increase being due to the creation of the reserve/training 2/1st ERY in September 1914. In November 1915 there were 74 officers (by this time the 3/1st ERY had been created) and the total had reached 86 by the end of December 1916.
The overall number of officers identified during this research project is around 197. This figure includes some honorary officers and one or two doubtful cases, where the evidence for someone being an ERY officer rests on a single unverifiable source (usually a newspaper article). Of these, about 49 were in the ERY in the period 1902 up to August 1914. The remaining 148 joined the ERY (or were promoted from the ranks) in the period 1914-1918.
A summary of the available information on these 197 men can be found in the main database on this website, available to download on the Yeomanry homepage.
Image: General Baden-Power, with Lord Wenlock, founder of the ERY, and his staff, probably 1903. Image courtesy of Hedon Museum & the Estate of Mr W. Palmer
Regimental structure (officers)
The notional officer strength of a wartime Yeomanry regiment would have been about 29, made up as follows:
- Regimental Headquarters: - 1 Lt. Colonel (the commanding officer), 1 Major (2nd in command), 1 Adjutant (Administrative assistant) and 1 Quartermaster (in charge of supplies), a Medical Officer, a Veterinary Officer, 4 interpreters (total 10 officers)
- The Machine Gun Section - 1 officer
- The 3 service squadrons - each commanded by a Major, with 1 Captain and 4 Subalterns (Lieutenants/2nd Lieutenants, total 18 officers)
However, theoretical strength is one thing; campaign strength was often quite different.
The ERY's war diary occasionally gives figures for the effective strength of the regiment in the period after the regiment arrived in the Middle East. These figures will have excluded those sick and any officers detached for other duties. On June 15th 1916 for example, there were just 17 officers. By July 23rd, with several officers having arrived with drafts from the 3/1st ERY in England, effective strength had reached 24 officers. By January 1917, with the ERY about to join the front line, officer numbers had climbed to 29. By December 31st of that year, by which time the ERY was back in reserve, there were just 17 officers, reflecting casualties sustained, detachments and sickness.
Looking at the available data on ERY's officers, a number of broad categories can be discerned as seen in the following chapters.
Many of the original ERY officers had previous military service with the regular army, including the Boer Wars and India. So although this was a new regiment in 1902, the officer corps was not without experience, although it did not necessarily prepare them adequately for the demands of modern warfare that faced them in 1914. The regiment's first Adjutant, Captain Charles Calvert was formerly in the 1st Royal Dragoons and was presumably appointed because of his regular army experience.
Peers, landowners and 'gentlemen'
It is clear that most of the pre-war ERY officers came from wealthy university-educated backgrounds. They included representatives of very old East / North Riding families such as the Langdales (of Sancton) and the Palmes (of Naburn)
At least five individuals had (then or later) peerages and there were also numerous JP's, Deputy or Lord Lieutenants of the East Riding and a sprinkling of local Councillors.
Beilby Lawley, the founder and first Colonel of the ERY was created Baron Wenlock in 1880 after a short spell as a Conservative M.P. for Chester. Major Reginald Bethune (Viscount Garnock) who joined the ERY in 1905 was another prospective politician, being the (unsuccessful) Unionist candidate in the 1906 Buckrose elections. He became the 12th Earl of Lindsay in 1917. Even some of the junior officers were from titled families, such as the resoundingly named Ronald Douglas Stuart Mar Erskine (Lord Cardross), who entered the regiment as a 2nd Lt. in 1911 and later became the 15th Earl of Buchan.
Lieutenant Harold Otto Danckwerts, who was a wartime addition to the regiment, was later a High Court judge and was one of a number of ERY officers who achieved knighthoods later in life. We might also mention in passing the Honorary Colonel of the ERY in 1903, Marmaduke Constable-Maxwell (Baron Lord Herries), who was Lord Lieutenant of the East Riding.
Another category of officers were the 'new rich', the sons of major businessmen. Arthur Stanley Wilson was the original commander of A squadron ERY, juggling this with a career in politics - he was Conservative M.P. for Holderness (1900-1922). During the war he was with the King's Messenger Service and was taken prisoner by an Austrian submarine in late 1915 and held for a year and a half. His brother Clive Harry Adolphus Wilson seems to have been a very popular figure in the ERY. After service in the Boer War, where he was wounded and awarded the DSO, he came to the ERY as a Captain, eventually reaching the rank of Major. He did not serve abroad during the war due to ill health. Their cousin Guy Greville Wilson also joined the ERY as a Captain in 1904 and was destined to command the regiment during the war. 2nd Lt. Oswald Beddall Sanderson was also connected with the Wilsons, his father being the managing director of the Wilson shipping line - another good illustration of the degree to which family ties and patronage contributed to gaining commissions in the regiment.
The following would have technically been officers by virtue of their commissions, but socially speaking, they were on a slightly lower level within the regiment. They nevertheless performed important functions in respect of the welfare of men and animals. In a number of cases, these officers were attached from other units and so technically were not members of the ERY (they would have probably retained the regimental badges of their parent unit).
See the ERY Database for further information on these individuals.
- Captain J.C.V. Denvir
- Captain Edward John Bromet
- Captain Dolan
- Veterinary Lt. John James Ridley (pre-war)
- Captain Frank Bradley (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) was the ERY's veterinary officer during the war. Leonard May's memoirs call him 'another likeable officer'. He achieved the notable feat of bringing back his horse 'Taffy' from active service, who then lived and worked in the Beverley area well into the 1930's. 'Taffy' seems to have been one of only two ERY horses to come back from the Middle East - when the regiment was converted into a machine gun battalion in 1918, most of the horses were either shot (if in poor condition) or sold off.
- Reverend Arthur Montague Batty (pre-war)
- Reverend Frederick B. Marsdin (pre-war)
- Captain/Chaplain E.M. Cooke
British army officers of course had a well-developed social circuit amongst their own class - images in the album of Sergeant Major Lee Smith (Hedon Museum collection) show two of the Wilson brothers fox hunting for example. Many of the pre-war officers were horse owners and Clive Wilson was a member of a polo club in Hull. Occasionally, officers would organise social events that would include other ranks within the ERY. There were regular point-to-point horse races pre-war, with prizes, though it is notable that the officers had their own separate race.
Perhaps slightly more democratically, Clive Wilson presided over a cricket match at the Wilson home (Tranby Croft, Anlaby) in July 1906. The match was between his own specially selected team and a team from the Hull-based A squadron of the ERY (consisting of NCO's and privates). There was a report of the match in the Hull Daily Mail on 30th July 1906. The ERY team only made 33 all out, whilst Wilson's XI made 90, suggesting that officers and gentlemen were rather more familiar with the game of cricket! Hopefully the four course meal afterwards, featuring amongst other delicacies salmon mayonnaise, lamb cutlets in aspic, and Madeira jelly might have been some consolation to the losers.
ERY Officers, probably in the Fayum, Egypt, 1916. Image from private collection
Promotions from the ranks
In the British Army of the early 20th century there was a huge social and class gulf between officers and non-officers. The expense of being an officer was considerable, not only in terms of the uniform, horse (if in a mounted regiment) and other kit, but also the costs of belonging to the officers' mess and taking part in social engagements which might require formal dress. Nevertheless, men did make the transition from the ranks to non-commissioned officer and to officer rank.
With regard to the ERY, when did this happen and why? Is there a discernible patter and how did the war affect the social structure of the ERY officers?
In fact the data does seem to suggest that before the war, virtually no one was promoted from the ranks in the ERY to be an officer. One exception is Thomas Stenson Blenkin, who joined the regiment as a private in mid-1903. Blenkin was a water proofer and saddler from Leeds, no doubt useful skills in a cavalry unit. In 1909 he was made Quartermaster & Honorary Lt. in the 5th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
The war clearly created opportunities for advancement, as many more officers were needed and the Army could not afford to be so choosy about social background. At least 32 promotions from within the regiment to be officers in the ERY can be traced; many of them experienced NCO's, but also many commissions straight from the ranks. Twice that many (62) gained commissions in other regiments and there were also a number of newly commissioned ex-privates who joined the ERY from other regiments during the war.
Though there were a few exceptions, these promotions from the ranks seldom took the individuals concerned beyond the rank of Lieutenant. Advancement carried its risks of course. Life expectancy for a newly created 2nd Lt., especially if posted to a regiment in France, could be very short indeed. At least 23 ex ERY men who were promoted to officer rank did not survive the war. They included the three Gresham brothers from Bridlington (Gordon, John Francis and Leonard Stanley). Clerks to a timber merchant in peacetime, the first two died in France, whilst the third was unlucky enough to have been admitted to a hospital in Egypt with a minor illness; the hospital was then bombed by a Turkish aircraft and Gresham was killed in the attack.
An interesting promotion case is Clement Mervyn Rogan (1890-1970), a Hull born grocer. He probably joined the ERY in about October 1914. Images in the family archive show he was a Corporal by the autumn of 1915 and then a Sergeant. By March 1917 he was in officer training at Oxford, travelling to France in June to join the East Yorkshire Regiment. Rogan was from an Irish Roman Catholic background, an unusual combination in the ERY. However his family were perhaps not 'typical' Irish immigrants for the period, having sufficient capital to set themselves up as merchant tailors. So Rogan's relatively well-to-do background and perhaps his performance as an NCO set him on the path to being an officer.
Norman Lea Sissons (1895?-1916) was a private in the ERY for about three months immediately pre-war, and worked in the family paint & varnish manufacturing business in Hull. His commission took him to the East Yorkshire regiment, where he was later sniping / intelligence officer. He was killed in France by a German sniper on 9th September 1916.
Jack Lee Smith (1874?-1968) was another wartime promotion from NCO (in this case Sergeant Major) to 2nd Lieutenant - he achieved officer rank in December 1914. Lee Smith had joined the ERY back in 1903 and came very much from a 'trade' background - he was joint owner of Barkers and Lee Smith animal foodstuff manufacturers and was also a coal merchant. In 1913 he had the contract to supply the ERY with horses for its training camps and drill sessions (another instance of the regiment looking after its own). Lee Smith served briefly in Egypt during 1915-1916, but was then transferred back to England to be commandant of an agricultural distribution centre at Victoria Barracks, Beverley, so he did not see any combat action. Unusually for an ex NCO, Lee-Smith reached the rank of Major with the ERY. His album of photographs (Hedon Museum collection) is an important source for the pre-war years.
Clubs, societies and associations
Shared membership of societies might have been another area where ERY officers developed links, either before or after they joined the regiment. At least twenty five ERY men were freemasons for example, including 17 officers, although it has to be pointed out that many would have become masons after they were in the regiment (post war in some cases). It does nevertheless indicate social linkages. All three of the Wilsons (Arthur Stanley, Clive and Guy) were freemasons for example - the two brothers were in the same Beverley lodge. Several future officers joined masonic lodges whilst at university.
If not exactly a pre-requisite, there must have been a strong presumption at least pre-war that ERY officers had attended the 'right' school and the 'right' university. Although a comprehensive search has not been attempted for this study, we can say that at least a dozen ERY officers had attended Cambridge University and given the often overlapping dates, several of them probably knew one other as students. They included Lord Wenlock (original commander of the regiment), two pre-war squadron commanders (Benjamin Haworth-Booth and Arthur Stanley Wilson) and in all seven men who rose to the rank of Major in the ERY.
Likewise there were at least seven Oxford graduates, including half a dozen future Lieutenants.
Looking even further back, at least 18 future ERY officers attended public school, with 14 of them having been to Eton - including Lord Wenlock and the three Wilson brothers. To adapt an alleged quote from the Duke of Wellington, it might be said that the charge at El Mughar (13th November 1917) was won on the playing fields of Eton.
Given the social, educational and family connections already noted, it would be surprising if there hadn't been at least some officer appointments that owed more to these than anything else. For example, Captain Thomas Claud Gurney was appointed as Adjutant in October 1907 after service in the Life Guards. It might not have been entirely coincidental that he was the stepson of Lt. Colonel J.B. Stracey-Clitherow (by 1907 commander of the regiment). Gurney later adopted the name 'Clitherow' and inherited the estate at Hotham.
Wartime combat role
Officers were of course expected in a combat situation to set an example of coolness under fire, issuing the right orders and demonstrating personal courage where required. In the ERY's war diary, we often find officers carrying out reconnaissance of enemy positions, looking for water sources (critical in the Middle East campaign), commanding outposts and leading detachments on operations.
Thus for example on 14th November 1917, when the regiment was at Abu Shushe and under Turkish sniper, machine gun and artillery fire, Major Lyon and Lieutenant Bailey were amongst the many wounded. Frank Wood in his memoirs described Guy Wilson's performance at the first battle of Gaza as 'magnificent'. The leadership role was reflected in the distribution of many awards and commendations to the ERY's officers - see Medals and Awards for details of some of the medals awarded.
Some individual stories
Posted to York for instruction as a cavalry officer, in Crichton's own words 'my health gave way'. He was offered a transfer, but instead was placed in York Military Hospital, his commanding officer evidently believing him to be insane! A further posting to a recruiting depot followed. Allegations of drunkenness, insulting the wife of an officer and consorting with a prostitute at a Beverley public house ultimately led to the end of his career as an officer. In a long and rather rambling letter to the War Office, Crichton rejected these allegations (some of which do seem rather far-fetched), but admitted he was 'highly strung'.
With regard to the insult to the lady, Crichton's 'offence' seems to have been to present some members of a concert party whilst he was in an emotionally excited state. In his own defence he stated 'I am not a teetotaller as I have found very great assistance from stimulants to enable me to carry out my work at the depot. But I would swear on my honour that no one in Beverley or outside it has ever seen me the worse for drink. I may be a trifle eccentric and may also have different ideas socially, politically and in religion.'
Perhaps here the truth really lies - Crichton was simply not emotionally suited for command and didn't come from the 'right' class of person from the Army's perspective.
Crichton went on to serve as a Private in the Army Service Corps, using a variety of names including Norman Curtis-Cooke.