At the beginning of the Great War, machines guns were held within the sections of the infantry battalions. As the war progressed, machine guns were often being ‘brigaded’ under the command of a Brigade Machine Gun Officer who was attached, and later seconded, to the Brigade staff. This meant that the administration of the personnel and men remained with the infantry battalions rather than the Brigade.
It was proposed in early 1915, by Brigadier-General Baker-Carr – Commandant of the Machine Gun School – that Brigade Machine Gun Companies should be formed. He wrote to General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force suggesting this on 31 March 1915 and it was quickly circulated around the Armies, Divisions and Brigades, along with a note on the organisation of the French machine gun companies at the time. A full copy of this is available below. It would eventually become the pre-existence of the Machine Gun Company in the Machine Gun Corps.
With the establishment of the Machine Gun Corps on 14 October 1915, Army Order 414 also detailed the official war establishment of a Brigade Machine Gun Company, meaning those machine gun companies attached to Infantry Brigades and part of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry).
These companies consisted of a headquarters and four sections of four guns each. There were 150 men, including 2 attached from the Army Service Corps, 52 horses and four bicycles. A full transcript of the establishment is available as a PDF download.
With Army Order 131 of April 1916, an additional officer (Captain or Lieutenant) as second in command, with one riding horse, was added to the establishment, along with one batman.
Terminology of machine gun units was officially set out in 1917.
Machine-Gun Corps.- The following definitions are laid down for the Cavalry, Infantry and Motor Branches of Machine Gun Corps:-
Section = 4 machine guns with personnel.
Sub-Section = 2 machine guns with personnel.
Detachment = 1 machine gun with personnel.
Training Manuals and War Establishments will be amended accordingly.Army Order 164 of 1917.
Other than a few minor amendments, as the Great War progressed, it appears that little changed with the numbers in the company; however, the terminology was changed as, from 1917, there was also a Divisional Machine Gun Company alongside the three Brigade Machine Gun Companies. It’s believed all were using the same organisation though.
Transport was provided by horse-drawn Wagons, Limbered, GS and officers were mounted.
In Spring 1918, many of the Machine Gun Companies were transferred and consolidated into Machine Gun Battalions, each of four companies.
- The National Archives, WO 95/1561/4 – 14 Inf Bde HQ 1915 April.
- The National Archives. WO 123/57. Army Orders 1915.
- The National Archives. WO 123/58. Army Orders 1916.
- The National Archives. WO 123/59. Army Orders 1917.
- War Office, 1917