TRAINING A COMPANY FOR WAR IN 1914

Wednesday, December 16, 1914

In Camp, West Down South, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “General training.  Battalion drill, and company in attack.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: During the period leading up to the declaration of war, the British Army was revising its training manuals, based on its experiences in the South African Wars.  The Canadian Army was doing the same to a somewhat lesser degree.  Andrew Irocci, in his book “Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915,” has written:-

Rapid Training of Company for War is the title of one such supplemental publication that first appeared in November 1914.  Its author was Captain Arthur Percival Birchall, a career officer whose service in the 7th Royal Fusiliers dated back to the turn of the century.  In 1913-14 Birchall partook in an exchange program with the Canadian militia, working on its instructional staff in western Canada.  As a company officer with the Royal Fusiliers, Birchall had already gained much experience leading regular troops, but his work in Canada revolved around the citizen soldiers who served in the Active Militia, so he was well placed to comment on the intricacies of turning ordinary civilians into disciplined fighters.  Birchall admitted that raising and training an effective citizen army under wartime conditions was an ambitious undertaking, but he remained optimistic, believing that the solution to the Empire’s crisis lay in efficient training tempered with a good dose of common sense.  Birchall soon practised what he preached as commanding officer of the 4th Canadian Battalion on Salisbury Plain.

As a career soldier, Birchall knew all too well that citizen soldiers – even those who had eagerly served in the Active Militia – had a great deal to learn.  Training and practice were essential, and Rapid Training urged readers to make the best of limited time.  During heavy rain, field activities could be replaced by indoor instruction.  It was advice that would come to resonate especially deeply for thousands of Canadian soldiers camped on the flooded Salisbury Plain.  More generally, Birchall condensed the goals of basic company-level training into a series of topics, including physical fitness, marksmanship, small unit tactics, defensive work and fortifications, and night operations, as well as various specialized skills (scouting, machine guns, and signalling).”   [2]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 16, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089681.jpg
[2]   Andrew Irocci, “Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915, Toronto, Ontario, University of Toronto Press, 2008, pp. 33-35.

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