22 April 2015

From Worcestershire to Cape Helles

13099 Private John Sheppard was born in 1892 or 1893 and enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment on the 23rd July 1912. If his army career followed normal patterns of the time, he probably attested for seven years with the colours and five on the reserve and would have been issued with his regimental number at the regimental depot at Worcester.

The Regimental Depot was the administrative heart of the regiment and would have comprised a small permanent strength of around four officers and 60 men drawn from the two regular battalions as well as around 28 NCOs and men who formed the permanent staff of the 5th (Special Reserve) and 6th (Extra Reserve) battalions. There would also have been admin staff as well as Army Medical Corps and Army Service Corps to carry out duties connected with the regimental district. “The chief work of the depot in peace time,” so stated The Army Book for the British Empire, HMSO in 1893, “is to enlist recruits for the regiment to both the regular and militia battalions, [later Special Reserve and Extra Reserve battalions] and to enter them for training and discipline as soldiers… many a high-spirited lad will resent being ordered about in military fashion when he first joins… it is therefore most desirable that the officers and non-commissioned officers who are to be their first instructors… will set them a good example, give them sound advice [and] cheerfully assist them [my italics] in the work they are called upon to perform in the barrack-rooms…”

After around three months at the depot, John would have been transferred to one of the two home battalions. These postings happened eight times a year and all men posted as part of a detachment would then be enrolled in the same company of the home battalion to continue their training. With eight companies per battalion this ensured that all companies in a battalion had their fair share of new recruits. A 12-week training programme with the home battalion of 20 hours per week (a combination of gymnastics, marching drill as well as musketry) would then have followed and after between 18 months and two years’ service with the home battalion, John would then have been sent as part of a draft to the overseas battalion. This posting overseas took place annually.

We do not know to which battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment John was sent. The regiment had four battalions with, by 1913, the 1st Battalion stationed in Egypt, the 2nd Battalion in Aldershot, the 3rd Battalion at Tidworth and the 4th Battalion in India. Looking at other service records of the time, it seems possible that he would have served with the 3rd Battalion initially, and possibly been posted to the 4th Battalion in India in November 1913, remaining there until January 1915.

What we do know for sure, because his medal index card tells us so, is that he arrived overseas at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915. On embarkation in England, The strength of the Battalion was 26 officers and 931 other ranks and we should assume that the majority of these men took part in the landing at Cape Helles.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the battalion did not suffer too many casualties during the actual landings. Seven 4th Battalion men are listed with regimental numbers ranging from 6216 (1901) to 12632 (1911). Those lower numbers could have belonged to men who had extended their service to complete 21 years or to men who, having completed their period of reserve service, had opted for a further four years’ reserve service as Section D reservists.

John Sheppard, whose medals I acquired some while back, survived the landings and would go on to serve throughout the war. No service record survives for him but thankfully a single fragment (below) from a list of wounded soldiers does. This shows that he was from Lower Bentley in Worcestershire and that he was wounded on the 22nd November 1917; vital information which I had not noticed before today.

Medal roll records for this man reveal that he served with three battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment, the 4th, 14th and 1st – and it is possible that it was this November 1917 wound which caused him to be discharged as a result of wounds on the 27th June 1918. He may also have been wounded at Gallipoli although the absence of service records makes this pure conjecture at this point in time.

The image at the top of this post is copyright the Essex Regiment Museum and shows the 1st Essex Regiment landing at Cape Helles, Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. The list of wounded soldiers and the War Diary excerpt from the 25th April are Crown Copyright, the National Archives.

For help with your own regimental numbering or military research conundrums, check out my military research service.

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