With the euphoric volunteering for the British Army that was experienced in the late summer of 1914, many towns and cities formed their own Battalions for service in the Army. Comprised virtually of volunteers, in many cases these became known as ‘Pals’ Battalions. The word ‘Pals’ is normally applied to midlands or northern working class towns or cities, but my research has shown that the 1st and 2nd Portsmouth Pals – the 14th and 15th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment respectively – were very much Pals Battalions. And it was quite credible of Portsmouth to raise two Battalions – over 2,000 men – considering that most of her young male population must have been either at sea with the Royal Navy, or engaged on important war work. Fortunately, the war diary for the 2nd Portsmouth Pals is available to download online from the National Archives website, and it tells us an awful lot about what happened to these young men from Portsmouth in those dramatic years.
The 1st Portsmouth’s were formed by the Mayor and a local committee on 3 September 1914, and would have taken the initial rush of recruits. After gathering and training locally, it was found that there were still enough recruits to form a second battalion, which took place on 5 April 1915. Several men died before they even left Britain – Private R.P.A. Cornhill on 6 August 1915, who is buried in Kingston Cemetery. After training locally, on 30 May 1915 both battalions were accepted by the war office, and began training for service abroad. With so many raw recruits, so many new units and a shortage of equipment, naturally things happened slowly. In October 1915 the 2nd Portsmouths joined the 122nd Brigade, in the 41st Division at Aldershot. In February 1916 they were at Marlborough Barracks in February 1916, before landing in France in early May. Private H.T. Sait died on 11 March 1916, and is also buried in Kingston.
The Battalion disembarked at Le Havre at 0600 on 2 May 1916, marching to a rest camp from the port. The next day they entrained at 1139, before detraining at Godewaerveld the next day and marching to Meteren. After three days in billets at Meteren, the Battalion marched to new billets in the La Creche area. On 10 May 12 officers and 40 NCO’s spent two days in the trenches, attached to the 11th Royal Scots, in order to gain experience. Whilst they were there they experienced some heavy bombardments, and then an attack on the Royal Scots trenches. Two were repelled, but a third gained access to the Scots front lines before being pushed back.
All was quiet again until the 18th, when a gas alarm was raised. The Battalion stood to at 0115, and stood down at 0150. The next day more men went into the trenches for experience, this time 4 officers and 80 NCO’s. On the 25th the Battalion suffered a sad casualty, when Private H. Evans committed suicide. A Court of Enquiry found that he had become temporarily insane. Private Evans was buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord), but unfortunately his record on the CWGC does not give any information as to where in Portsmouth he lived.
On the 28th the Battalion marched from La Creche to billets at Creslow. Two days later on the 30th they moved up to the front line at Ploegsteert Wood, taking over trenches from the 8th Black Watch, between Le Gheer to opposite the Birdcage. A, B and C Companies were in the front line, with D Company in reserve. Ploegsteert was often used to give new units experience, rather than the more active Ypres Salient.
- 2nd Portsmouth Pals Battalion War Diary located! (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)