Machine Gun Training Centre is a term that may refer to two separate establishments, both raised during wartime but with no continuous history, as during peacetime, the training of Machine Gunners was carried out within the Machine Gun Platoons and Machine Gun Companies of the Infantry Battalions.
The Machine Gun Training Centre of the Great War was the overarching establishment formed for the training of Machine Gunners of the Machine Gun Corps, with the exception of the Motor Machine Gun Corps. This was established at Belton Park, Grantham, and incorporated the Machine Gun School.
The Motor Machine Gun Service formed their training centre at Bisley, Surrey, on 21 November 1914 (as they had been formed earlier). It was formed by virtue of Army Council Instruction 193 of November 1914.
193. Motor Machine-Gun Training Centre, Bisley
[Reference paragraph] 5 of L. 20/Art./3784 (A.G.1) of 26th October,1914, it is notified to [General Officers Commanding] that a motor machine-gun training centre at which personnel for motor machine-gun batteries will be trained will be opened at Bisley on 21st November, 1914.
The motor machine-gun training centre will be under the command of Major R. W. Bradley, DSO, South Wales Borderers, and the permanent establishment will be as shown on the attached table (Appendix XIII).
The training centre is intended to allow for six motor machine-gun batteries being trained there simultaneously.
The officers, serjeants and corporals now attending the machine-gun course at Hythe, together with the 40 privates sent to Hythe by the [General Officer Commanding-in-Chief] Eastern Command, will proceed to Bisley on 21st November, 1914.
Instructions have been sent to the [General Officers Commanding-in-Chief] Eastern, Northern and Irish Commands, to send to Hythe the privates selected by the, up to the numbers shown in paragraph 7 of the former L.
The privates selected by the [General Officers Commanding-in-Chief] Aldershot and Southern Commands, will be sent to Bisley at a later date, under instructions which will be issued by the [War Office].
Separate instructions are being issued regarding the transfer of these men to the Corps of R.H. and R.F.A., and for their posting to the motor machine-gun service, in accordance with paragraph 3 of [Army Order] 480 of 1914.
(L. 20/Art./3784, A.G.1.)
The War Establishment for the motor machine-gun training centre was shown in Appendix XIII of the November 1914 Army Council Instructions. It’s summarised here:
- 1 Lieutenant colonel or major
- 1 Adjutant
- 1 Quartermaster
- 1 Serjeant-major (Warrant Officer)
- 1 Mechanist Serjeant-major Army Service Corps (specially enlisted foreman artificer from Vickers)
- 1 Clerk
- 1 Cook
- 1 Driver for motor car
- 3 Batmen
- 1 Motor car for commander
A total of 3 officers, 2 warrant officers and 6 rank and file, giving a total permanent cadre of 11 men.
Second World War
Initially, Machine Gun Training Centres, were part of the Depots of the Infantry Regiments who formed the Machine Gun Battalions. Upon mobilization in time of war, the Depots were formally changed to Machine Gun Training Centres and organised as at the February 1939 war establishment, ready to produce at least 100 trained men monthly, with increments in the staff for every further 100 men trained.
This was part of a wider plan for mobilization and compulsory military training for a militia. A detailed plan was set out on 31 May 1939 and issued in Army Council Instruction 300 of 1939. This is shown in the images in full.
Prior to being sent to a Machine Gun Training Centre, an infantry soldier would have undergone their basic training at an Infantry Base Depot or Primary Training Centre.
There was also a Machine Gun Holding Battalion established and affiliated to Scottish Command (Army Council Instruction 1268 of 19 October 1940).
The staff of a Machine Gun Training Centre were normally drawn from the regiment to whom the Centre was providing soldiers. Army Council Instruction 378 of April 1940 set out the exchange parameters.
- Regimental Machine Gun Training Centre may exchange with battalions of the same regiment.
- Regimental Machine Gun Training Centre also serving affiliated units may exchange with battalions of the same regiment and affiliated battalions.
- Pool Machine Gun Training Centre may exchange individual members of the staff with warrant officers or non-commissioned officers of battalions of the same regiment.
The War Establishment for the Machine Gun Training Centre in June 1942 for issued alongside that for other training establishments.
- V/692/1 18th June 1942 – Infantry Training Centre, Machine Gun Training Centre, Motor Training Battalion, Reconnaissance Training Centre, Headquarters of a Primary Training Centre.
Machine Gun Training Centre, Northumberland Fusiliers
Formed at the Depot in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on mobilization (September 1939). As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Northern Command (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940). It then closed temporarily on 6 July 1941, with closure as a regimental MGTC and affiliation to No. 24 MGTC on 14 August 1941.
As well as the battalions of the Manchester Regiment, it was affiliated to the 4th and 8th battalions of The Gordon Highlanders and the 5th and 6th battalions of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and provided the training for their machine gunners.
Machine Gun Training Centre, Cheshire Regiment
Formed at the Depot in Chester on mobilization (September 1939). As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Western Command (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940). then affiliated to No. 24 MGTC on 14 August 1941.
Machine Gun Traing Centre, Manchester Regiment
Formed at the Depot at Ashton-under-Lyne on mobilization (September 1939). As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Northern Command and Northern Ireland District (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940). It then closed temporarily on 6 July 1941, with closure as a regimental MGTC and affiliation to No. 24 MGTC on 14 August 1941.
As well as the battalions of the Manchester Regiment, it was affiliated to the 5th and 7th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment and provided the training for their machine gunners.
Machine Gun Company, Manchester Regiment
It appears this was part of No. 63 Primary Training Centre, and in addition to No. 24 MGTC, specializing in Machine Gun Training as a Company consisting of 2 platoons for MMGs, 1 Mortar Platoon, 1 Drivers Platoon. The personnel were drawn from No. 24 MGTC. It was located at Dunham Park Camp, Altrincham, Cheshire.
Machine Gun Training Centre, Middlesex Regiment
Formed at the Depot at Mill Hill, NW7, London, on mobilization (September 1939). As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Eastern Command (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940). It then closed temporarily on 6 July 1941, with closure as a regimental MGTC and affiliation to No. 24 MGTC on 14 August 1941. It also provided training for the Kensington Regiment.
Additional MGTCs were also established as numbered units.
No. 341 Machine Gun Training Centre
The parent unit was the Cheshire Regiment and this MGTC was originally formed on Alderney. At one time it was the only formed unit prior to the withdrawal of troops from the Channel Islands. As of 11 June 1940, the War Cabinet reported that it consisted of 1500 men and, combined with the Royal Air Force on Guernsey, were considered adequate to protect the telephone cable that linked the United Kingdom to France and for the protection of the islands from minor raids.
It moved to Tilshead Camp, Wiltshire, in June 1940, then 1 Rutland Park in Sheffield in September 1940. As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Northern Command (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940).
It was disbanded on 10 March 1941.
No. 342 Machine Gun Training Centre
Formed at Gosport, Hampshire and affiliated to the Middlesex Regiment. As of October 1940, it was affiliated to Aldershot and Southern Command (ACI No 1268 of 19 October 1940). This MGTC was disbanded on 20 June 1941.
Upon affiliation of the Depots to the numbered MGTCs, Machine Gunner Training was concentrated into two dedicated facilities.
The intention of these Centres was to take Infantry recruits from the Primary Training Centres around the country (although aligned to the identified machine gun battalions) and train them in the specialisms required of Machine Gun and Support Battalions. As well as Machine Gunner training and mortarman training, they also taught range-taking and other driver-operator/mechanic courses necessary for operating the Universal Carriers that equipped the Machine Gun Platoons.
Prior to being assigned regiments, they may have worn the insignia of the General Service Corps or Infantry Training Battalions.
The Machine Gun Training Centres were, as of January 1942, permitted to have a Regimental Band as part of their establishment if it had been authorised by the War Office.
No. 24 MGTC
No. 24 MGTC was formed in September, 1941, at The Dale (the Depot of the Cheshire Regiment. With continued expansion of the Army, there was a need to form a further MGTC, No. 26, in October, 1943, following the disbandment of No. 1 Primary Training Centre and No. 1 Reserve Battalion (Support Units). The Depots of the Cheshire Regiment and Manchester Regiment formed No. 24 Machine Gun Training Centre at The Dale, Chester, and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment were transferred to form No. 26 Machine Gun Training Centre at Saighton Camp, then Blacon Camp, Chester.
The 24th Machine Gun Training Centre
In September, 1941, the [Cheshire Regiment] Depot was tranformed into the 24th M.G.T.C. This involved our absorbing the Depots of the other Machine Gun Regiments, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the Middlesex Regiment and the Manchester Regiment. Each Regiment maintained a “Depot” party at their original Regimental Headquarters.
The Colonel of The [Cheshire] Regiment invited the other three Colonels to meet him at The Dale to discuss and decide the policy to be adopted regarding Regimental customs and activities. An amicable and frank discussion ended in the production of a harmonious and satisfactory plan.
This amalgamation called for considerable tact and forbearance from all concerned, because it raised the question of Regimental pride in an acute form. With “the best Regiment in the Service” quadrupled in one barracks, there was a standing excuse for controversy and argument. But, under the sympathetic guidance of Lieutenant-Colonel B.Y. Hayes-Newington, the transitional period of strees soon gave place to one in which loyalty to the 24th M.G.T.C. was found to be compatible with Pride of Regiment.
The work of the Training Centre was to provide Corps training for recruits who, upon being called up, spent six weeks at a Primary Training Centre and were then posted to one of the four Machine Gun Regiments. These men were given 13 weeks training on the gun at the 24th M.G.T.C. before being posted to a battalion of their own Regiment. Later in the war all men on completion of their machine gun training were posted to the 5th Battalion at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey, where they underwent Continuation Training until they were posted overseas.
A subsidiary camp, run by The Dale, was maintained at Sealand Ranges, under Corporal Jump, where many thousands of Regular and Home Guard units fired their Courses.
Change of Command
In December, 1941, Lieutenant-Colonel P.J. McKevitt, M.C., of The Manchester Regiment, took over command and remained till early in 1945, when he was relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Kewish, who, after relinquishing command of the 4th Battalion in April 1944, had for some months been Second-in-Command. He succeeded in reintroducing at The Dale the traditional family atmosphere of a Depot, in which he was able to embrace the officers and men of both remaining Regiments.
Between 1941 and the cessation of hostilities in 1945, there were changes affecting the role of The [Cheshire] Regiment which had their repercussions at The Dale. In 1942, for instance, battalions of the other three Machine Gun Regiments were converted from infantry (machine gun) battalions to infantry (support) battalions, and were equipped with 4.2 inch mortars and 20 millimetre anti-aircraft guns, whilst The Cheshire Regiment remained entirely machine gun.
In June, 1942, No. 78 Primary Training Wing was formed at The Dale, accommodated in the Sandhurst Block and staffed largely by Officers and Non-commissioned officers of The Cheshire Regiment. Men called up for service reported directly to this Unit and received their initial training there. The Officer Commanding Wing was Major W.E. Rowland.
This sub-unit was disbanded in December 1942, but by this time, the 24th M.G.T.C. had outgrown the available accommodation, there having been at one time no less than 2,000 men on the strength of the combined Depot Company alone. Accordingly, in 1943, a new M.G.T.C. was formed at Blacon Camp and the Depots of the Northumberland Fusiliers and Middlesex Regiments were transferred there, together with all men of these Regiments who were under training.
At the end of 1943, The [Cheshire] Regiment received somewhat belated orders to convert to “Support” weapons, and the appropriate changes were made in the Corps Training of recruits at The Dale, although the name 24th M.G.T.C. was retained. This change necessitated the use of larger Field Firing Areas and increased facilities for the training of Carrier Drivers in cross-country work. These could only be obtained in Wales and therefore in 1944 a small hutted Camp was taken over at Llantysilio, near Llangollen, and the following year a much larger Camp and a mansion in the same area were acquired. Both these Camps were staffed and administered by the 24th M.G.T.C. and the additional facilities did much to improve the standard of training.
No. 26 MGTC
With continued expansion of the Army, No. 26, was formed in October, 1943, following the disbandment of No. 1 Primary Training Centre and No. 1 Reserve Battalion (Support Units). The Depots of the Cheshire Regiment and Manchester Regiment formed No. 24 Machine Gun Training Centre at The Dale, Chester, and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment were transferred to form No. 26 Machine Gun Training Centre at Saighton Camp, then Blacon Camp, Chester.
No. 26 MGTC was organised as shown below.
With the disbandment of the Divisional MG Battalions at the end of the War, the Machine Gun Training Centres were gradually scaled down and eventually closed in 1946, with the Depots returning to their respective Regimental homes.
- Barney, 1946
- Crookenden, 1949
- The National Archives, CAB 66/8/27, War Cabinet 11 June 1940, The Strategic Importance of the Channel Islands.
- The National Archives, WO 24/943, War Establishments 1942 January to June.
- The National Archives, WO 24/944, War Establishments 1942 July to September.
- The National Archives, WO 293/1, Army Council Instructions 1914.
- The National Archives, WO 293/24, Army Council Instructions 1939.
- The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.
- The National Archives, WO 379/103, 1940-1947 Machine Gun Training Centres.