Prior to the start of the Great War, Lieutenant RS Pringle of the 1st Battalion was one of the first members of the British Army to attend, and qualify from, a Vickers Gun course run by the School of Musketry at Hythe between 25 October and 15 November 1913. He was followed between 29 January and 20 February 1914 by Lieutenant HE Iremonger of the 1st Battalion on the 53rd Qualifying Course at Hythe. Their attendance implies this regiment was one of the earliest to receive the Vickers machine gun.
The Great War
The Queen’s (Royal West Surreys) was an Infantry Battalion that would have had an MG Section as part of its Battalion Headquarters. These weapons would have been brigaded when the Machine Gun Corps was formed in 1915. The guns, and crews, would have been formed into a Machine Gun Company.
During the Great War, the dispositions of Battalions were distributed as follows:
The 1st Battalion was part of the 3rd Brigade, attached to the 1st Division.
On the outbreak of War the 1st Division was quartered at Aldershot, and it mobilized there. The division crossed to France between the 11th and 15th August, concentrated around le Nouvion, and began to move forward on the 21st August.Becke, 1934
As a unit of the 1st Infantry Division, it will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|23 and 24 August||Battle of Mons [I Corps]|
|24 August to 5 September||RETREAT FROM MONS [I Corps]|
|27 August||Etreux (1st Guards Bde)|
|6 to 9 September||Battle of the Marne [I Corps]|
|13 to 26 September||BATTLE OF THE AISNE [I Corps]|
|13 September||Passage of the Aisne|
|20 September||Actions on the Aisne Heights|
|26 September||Action of Chivy|
|19 October to 15 November||BATTLE OF YPRES [I Corps]|
|21 to 24 October||Battle of Langemark [I Corps]|
|29 to 31 October||Battle of Gheluvelt [I Corps]|
On 08 November, 1914, it was transferred to I Corps H.Q. It remained with I Corps Troops until 21 July, 1915, when it was transferred to 5th Brigade, 2nd Division. As part of the 2nd Division, it will have taken part in the following:-
|25 September to 04 October||Battle of Loos [I. Corps, First Army].|
|13 to 19 October||Hohenzollern Redoubt [I. Corps, First Army].|
The Battalion was transferred to 33rd Division on 15 December, 1915.
The 2nd Battalion was part of the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division at the outbreak of war.
The division had no existence before the outbreak of War; it was gradually assembled at Lyndhurst between the 31st August and the 4th October, 1914. The 12 infantry battalions included the three remaining unallotted regular battalions left in England, as well as nine battalions brought back from various overseas stations, viz. – Guernsey (1), Gibraltar (2), Malta (2), Cairo (1), Natal (1), and the Transvaal (2). The mounted troops included an existing yeomanry regiment as well as a cyclist company, formed on mobilization. The Field Artillery was made up by one R.H.A. Brigade (XIV., of two batteries), and one R.F.A. Brigade (XXXV.) still left at home, together with one R.F.A. Brigade (XXII.) from the Transvaal. The two heavy batteries were new units formed at Woolwich after the outbreak of War, and the field companies came from Chatham and Pretoria. Three of the A.S.C. companies (30, 40 and 42) came from Gibraltar, Malta, and Pretoria, but the remaining company (86) was a new formation.
The 7th Division embarked at Southampton on the 4th and 5th October, and began disembarkation at Zeebrugge on the 6th October. The division moved to Bruges on the 7th October, and reached Ghent on the 9th October. During the night of 11/12 October, a retirement on Ypres was begun and the place was reached on the 14th. The 7th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium until the 17th November, 1917, when it began entraining for the Italian Front, on which it served for the remainder of the War. The 7th Division was engaged in the following operations:-Becke, 1934
On 20 December 1915, it became part of the 91st Brigade, attached to the 7th Division.
As a unit of the 7th Infantry Division, its MG Section will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|09 and 10 October||Antwerp Operations [IV. Corps].|
|19 October to 05 November||BATTLES OF YPRES|
|21 to 24 October||Battle of Langemarck [IV. Corps].|
|29 to 31 October||Battle of Gheluvelt [I. Corps].|
|18 December||Rouges Banes – Well Farm Attack [IV. Corps].|
|10 to 13 March||Battle of Neuve Chappelle [IV. Corps, First Army].|
|09 May||Battle of Aubers Ridge [In reserve, IV. Corps, First Army].|
|15 to 19 May||Battle of Festubert [I. Corps, First Army].|
|15 and 16 June||Givenchy [IV. Corps].|
|25 September and 08 October||Battle of Loos [I. Corps, First Army].|
It’s MG Section was transferred on 14 March 1916 to form the 91st Bde. MG Coy.
As a reserve battalion of the 1st Division, it was one of the first units to receive the Vickers machine gun in 1914; however, it was only one gun per battalion at this point, the rest being Maxims.
337. Issue of Vickers Machine Guns to Reserve Cavalry and Infantry.
Ref. L* 104/Gen. No./3592 (M.T. 2) of 5th Oct., 1914, and also regarding the forthcoming issue of Vickers Machine Guns to reserve units of cavalry and reserve battalions of the 1st Infantry Division, G.Os.C.-in-C. are informed that, if possible, those officers who are at present undergoing a Vickers machine gun course at the School of Musketry, Hythe, should not be drafted to the front until they have given at least one month’s instruction to selected personnel of their unit.
2. One Vickers machine gun will be issued to the above-mentioned regiments and battalions immediately.
3. Attention is invited to the advisability of withholding from drafts all officers and N.C.Os. who undergo courses until sufficient time has elapsed for them to impart their knowledge to the necessary personnel.
(L. 104/Gen. No./3595, M.T. 2)Army Council Instruction 337, 31st October 1914.
The 6th Battalion was part of the 37th Brigade, attached to the 12th (Eastern) Division.
This New Army Division had no existence before the outbreak of the Great War.A proclamation was issued on the 11th August 1914 asking for an immediate addition of 100,000 men to the Regular Army (see Appendix I). Army Order No. 324 of the 24th August (amended by Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September) authorized the addition of six divisions (9th to 14th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army. This augmentation forced the First New Army, and late in August, 1914 the 12th (Eastern) Division began to assemble around Colchester, with the artillery at Shorncliffe.
The 12th Division was chiefly recruited from the Eastern and Home Counties. After enlistment, drill and route marching began at once; but only improvised wooden rifles were available to accustom the recruits in handling arms. As soon as battalions had recruited up to war establishment they moved to the infantry brigade centres and more advanced training was then undertaken. In November, 1914 the three infantry brigades concentrated near Hythe, and in February, 1915 the pioneer battalion joined the Division. Towards the end of February the training had advanced far enough for the whole Division to move and concentrate at Aldershot, to complete its intensive training for war and take part in divisional field manoeuvres. In the early spring of 1915 no fewer than five divisions (10th to 14th) of the six in the First New Army were concentrated at Aldershot for their final training.
On the 24th May Aldershot Training Centre issued orders to the 12th Division to embark for France between 29th May to 1st June. On the 25th May the divisional advanced parties left, and on the 29th the Division began to entrain at Aldershot. The personnel went via Folkestone and Boulogne, and artillery, engineers, horses, and transport moved via Southampton and le Havre. By midnight 1st/2nd June the entrainment at Aldershot was completed. Meanwhile, on the 1st June, the units had begun to arrive to the southward of St. Omer and by the 4th all the units had reached the concentration area. On the 5th June the Division advanced and joined III Corps.
Throughout the remainder of the Great War the 12th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium and was engaged in the following operations:Becke, 1934
As a unit of the 12th Infantry Division, it will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|01 to 08 October||Battle of Loos [XI Corps, First Army].|
|13 to 19 October||The Quarries (Hulloch) [XI Corps, First Army].|
It’s MG Section was transferred by 04 February 1916 to form the 37th Bde. MG Coy..
The 7th Battalion was part of the 55th Brigade, attached to the 18th (Eastern) Division.
This New Army Division had no existence before the outbreak of the Great War.Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September 1914 authorized the further addition of six divisions (15th to 20th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army (see Appendix I). This augmentation formed the Second New Army, and during September 1914 the 18th (Eastern) Division began to assemble around Colchester.
In the earliest days of the formation, trains brought large bodies of recruits who knew no words of command and were accompanied by no officers or non-commissioned-officers. In consequence the detrainment of a party was apt to resemble the arrival of a football excursion crowd. The officer who met one of these trains could only tell the mob to follow him, and then lead the men to the particular encampment which was to accommodate them. The food was sufficient, but coarse; there were no canteens, the tents were crowded, the nights were chilly, there were never enough blankets to go round. Nevertheless in those tedious early days all ranks made the best of everything. At first the men had to march and drill in the civilian suits and boots which they wore on joining; any men whose boots became soleless had to do slow marching on grass. After some time blue uniforms and forage caps arrived, and later on sufficient khaki uniforms were received to allow at least one suit to be issued to each platoon. But the training was progressive and never slackened; and in April 1915 the Division, in full marching order, covering 62 miles in 48 hours.
It was weeks after the infantry had received their rifles before any guns were issued to the divisional artillery. At first the only armament was limited to one improvised wooden gun per battery, and up to November 1914 no battery had more than a score of horses. Nevertheless the difficulties and deficiencies were overcome.
Between the 4th-12th May the Division moved to Salisbury Plain and divisional headquarters opened at Codford. On the 24th June the 18th Division was inspected by H.M. the King; and in July the Division was informed that it was to be prepared to embark for the Western Front. On the 24th July the move to France began, headquarters started on the 25th, and on the 30th July the Division completed its concentration near Flesselles (south of Doullens) in the Third Army area. The Division was placed under X Corps. For the remainder of the Great War the 18th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium.Becke, 1934
It’s MG Section will have been disbanded on the attachment of 55th MG Company, which took place on 13 February 1916, machine gunners may have been absorbed by the 55th MG Company, or trained on the Lewis Gun, which now equipped the Infantry Battalion.
In 1922, the Machine Gun Corps was disbanded and the guns returned to the Infantry Battalion as a Machine Gun Platoon and then formed as a Machine Gun Company in the early 1930s.
Second World War
This remained until the formation of Divisional Machine Gun Battalions in 1936 where guns were brigaded once again when the majority of Battalions had their Machine Gun assets centralised into those Battalions.
The 2nd Battalion was a ‘Chindits‘ Battalion, where it was formed into Columns each having an MG Section of two guns, the Battalion’s MG Platoon being spread across the Columns and supplemented with additional guns and machine gunners where required.
Post-Second World War
Upon the disbandment of Divisional Machine Gun Battalions in the post-WW2 restructure of the British Army, the Vickers Machine Gun assets reverted to individual Battalions as part of the Support Company as a Machine Gun Platoon.
- Becke, 1934
- School of Musketry, Register of the School of Musketry 1911 to 1924 (Hythe: Corps of Small Arms and Machine Gun Schools; 1924).
- The National Archives, WO 293/1, Army Council Instructions 1914.