The first centralised Machine Gun training was carried out as a course for Junior Officers at the School of Musketry, Hythe. Those Officers that attended courses between 1890 and 1914 were often those who went onto command the Machine Gun Battalions of the Great War. That small course of instruction, based on the use of two guns as part of a pre-War Infantry Battalion seems somewhat irrelevant when compared to the organisation of those Machine Gun Battalions with 64 guns each and using barrage fire on regular occasions. It was here though, that those ideas of concentrated machine gun fire and machine gun tactics were first explored and the potential acknowledged but not, until much later, realised. Many of the early manuals on the Vickers were written by those Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers who were instructors at the School of Musketry. These became the staple reading for all course attendees.
Mobilization for War in August, 1914, meant that courses at the School of Musketry was closed and its instructors sent to different establishments around the United Kingdom to train the large numbers of soldiers and oversee the preparations for War.
Following the high-level of casualties during the first months of War, and the recognition of the skill with which German machine gunners were being trained, it was decided to form a small machine gun school as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. This was formed on 2nd December, 1914, at Caserne d’Abret, St. Omer. The school was opened under the command of Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Baker-Carr, who had previously served as an Assistant Instructor at the School of Musketry. The initial cadre of troops were from the 28th (County of London) Bn, The London Regiment (The Artists’ Rifles). These then went on to serve as Instructors at the school and elsewhere. Initially, training equipment had to be borrowed from Service Battalion.
With its success, the course numbers grew to the extent that, by April, 1915, the school was moved to the Benedictine Convent at Wisques, four miles from St. Omer.
With the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in October, 1915, a training centre was required within the United Kingdom. This was formed at Belton Park, near Grantham. It was formed by a nucleus of instructors sent from the Machine Gun School at Wisques.
“Almost at once thousands of men began to pour into the wooden huts which rapidly spread themselves over Lord Brownlow’s parklands at Belton Park. Thousands of horses, mules, and vehicles appeared; and, within two weeks of wintry rain, the park was submerged beneath a sea of mud. The task of sorting and re-equipping all conditions of men, in every kind of uniform, some holding the rank of sergeant and corporal, from the various New (Kitchener) Army battalions from which they had been drafted, other regulars and special reserve soldiers from regimental depots with much machine gun experience, would have tried the patience of a Job.”
As well as producing whole Machine Gun Companies for attachment to new Infantry Divisions, it also provided training for reinforcements that were then sent to the Machine Gun Corps Reinforcement Base Depot, established at Camiers in March, 1916. Starting with drafts of 500 per week, the depot establishment increased to 1,800 by June, 1916. The Machine Gun School, in France, was moved from Wisques to St. Cecile Plage, near Camiers, in June, 1916.
On 31st May, 1917, the Machine Gun School in France had its name changed to the ‘G.H.Q. Small Arms School’. The staff of the school, and the Training Centre, were responsible for developing many different items of equipment and paperwork that became synonymous with the work of the Machine Gun Officer. The change of name to ‘Small Arms School’ reduces the duplication as, by this time, the Machine Gun Training Centre, Grantham, also incorporated a Machine Gun School.
The number of students at the Machine Gun Branch of the G.H.Q. Small Arms School was 77 Officers and 260 N.C.Os. The duration of the course was 23 working days.
SYLLABUS FOR OFFICERS
(a) Esprit de Corps, discipline and the offensive spirit in Machine Gunnery.
(b) The general study of Machine Gunnery, indlucing the tactical aspects, and the place occupied by the Machine Gun in modern war. S.S. 192, Part I.
(c) The theoretical considerations regarding Machine Gun fire, and the various methods of applying that fire. S.S. 192, Part II.
(d) Instruction in maps and in the instruments and appliances used in Machine Gunnery.
(e) Practical training in how to apply Machine Gun fire, whether direct or indirect, to meet all tactical situations.
(f) Machine Gunner’s mathematics.
(g) The working out of fire problems from trench maps.
(h) Revolver shooting.
(i) (i.) Gun drill, (ii.) Barrage drill.
(j) Training of Machine Gun Companies.
(k) Reconnaissance and reports.
(l) Organisation and administration of Machine Gun Companies.
(m) Night firing.
(o) Fitting of pack-saddlery and the packing of limbered wagons.
(p) Lectures and demonstrations on the use of Machine Guns in:- (i.) Warfare of highly organised defences; (ii.) Warfare of improvised defences; and, (iii.) Open warfare.
(q) Outdoor tactical exercises, bringing out Infantry tactics and the employment of Machine Guns in co-operation with Infantry Battalions and with other arms in:- (i.) Advanced and rear guards; (ii.) Attach and defence of villages and other defended localities; and, (iii.) Attack and defence in open and semi-open warfare.
(r) Machine Gun communications in battle.
(s) The co-operation of all arms.
(t) Organisation of groups and “batteries” of Machine Guns for barrage work.
SYLLABUS FOR N.C.Os.
The syllabus for N.C.Os. includes most of the above subjects in a slightly less advanced form. Particular attention is paid to map work.
In addition, instruction is given in the following subjects:-
(a) Characteristics of the Machine Gun.
(b) Care and cleaning.
(c) Points before, during and after firing.
(d) Stoppages and immediate action.
(f) Indication and recognition of targets.
(g) Fire orders.
(h) Preparation of range cards. Use of ground and cover.
(i) Night marching by compass.
(j) Physical training.
(k) The tactical exercises for N.C.Os. include Infantry tactics, the actual selection of gun positions, and exercises in bringing the guns into action in support of Infantry Battalions.
The establishment of the School was:
|Detail||Officers||Warrant Officers||Clerks||Staff-Sergeants and Sergeants||Rank and file||Total|
|Chief Instructor (Lt. Colonel) – Graded as General Staff Officer, 2nd grade.||1||1|
|Instructors (Majors, Captains, or Lieutenants) – Graded as instructor, School of Musketry, Hythe||4||4|
|Assistant Instructors (Majors, Captains or Lieutenants) – Graded as assistant instructor, School of Musketry, Hythe||5||5|
|Adjutant and Quartermaster||1||1|
|N.C.O. Instructors – Includes 15 per cent quartermaster-sergeant instructors and 15 per cent company sergeant-major instructors.||46||46|
The Machine Gun School moved from Grantham to Seaford on 12th August, 1919. This was to enable the grounds at Belton Park to be returned to Lord Brownlow and reduce expenditure. At this time, the establishment of the School was 274 Officers and Other Ranks.
In October 1922, the Machine Gun School was moved again to Netheravon, Wiltshire, where it took over the premises of the Cavalry School. This was at a cost of £6,250 to do works to the accommodation and the construction of a new Machine Gun range.
By 1926, is was officially described as the ‘Small Arms School – Netheravon Wing (Vickers Machine Gun).’ This was later changed to omit the reference to the Vickers MG. During the Second World War, it was referred to as the ‘Small Arms School – Netheravon Wing (Netheravon)’ and, by July 1945, it had become the ‘Infantry Heavy Weapons School (Netheravon).’ In 1948, it became the Support Weapons Wing of the School of Infantry. It remained as such for the rest of the Vickers’ service.
Whilst it was at Netheravon, the instructors of the Small Arms School Corps who specialised in machine gun and mortar instruction, as opposed to the rifle and light machine gun that was taught at Hythe, were permitted to wear crossed machine guns as part of their rank insignia. This was instead of the crossed rifles worn by Hythe instructors.