Training on the home front


The second part of our history of the Inns of Court Regiment in Berkhamsted

To celebrate Christmas Day 1914, an officer dressed up as Father Christmas and a plum pudding arrived under guard. The evening ended with a sing-song.

The only dissatisfied person was a man, who in a moment of exhilaration, chased a girl out of a teashop and kissed her, right under the eyes of the adjutant. He spent all night on guard duty.

In 1915, the ranks of the corps increased until the number billeted out was 2,500.

In addition, by the end of the year many hundreds of recruits were detained in London by the absence of accommodation in Berkhamsted.

During the first winter, the mess was in a tent on very muddy ground, but later, a shed was shared with the infantry at Key’s timberyard.

Horses were trained over Ashridge Park, Haresfoot Park, the common and a large field adjoining Chesham Road.

On August 1, 1916, His Majesty King George V came to Berkhamsted to inspect the corps.

He arrived at 3pm and stayed for an hour, during which time he watched sword exercises by the squadron, bayonet and musketry. He then went to the common, where the cadet companies were practising trench warfare and bombing.

Musketry training was handicapped at the start by an almost complete lack of ammunition, and rifles that were not safe to fire, and training was confined to that which could be done without firing.

In 1917, ammunition became more readily available and the range on the common was put in order. On July 17, 1917, the construction of the labyrinth in Kitchener’s Field started.

More than 13,000 yards of trenches were excavated in both the Northchurch and Berkhamsted areas during the course of the war.

The soil at Berkhamsted was not ideal for field entrenchment training, consisting of clay liberally sprinkled with flints. In wet weather the trenches very quickly filled with water due to the impervious nature of the clay.

A trench system was dug between Hill Farm and Norcott Hill. Each company was given a section and left to develop it according to its own taste.

At this time there was a shortage of food and members of the corps were encouraged to grow potatoes and vegetables of all kinds.

Plots were marked out in the camp field and even commanding oifficer Colonel Stevens spent much of his spare time cultivating a large allotment.

The corps remained in Berkhamsted until July 27, 1919, when it returned to Lincolns Inn, and final demobilisation came in October 1919.

In all, more than 13,000 troops successfully passed through Colonel Errington’s rigorous training regime in Berkhamsted – three men even being awarded Victoria Crosses (C. Bushell, W. Stone and J. Harrison).

> Written by Joseph Wright with information kindly supplied from Eric Holland (Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society)