The 1st Hull Heavy Battery was recruited from Kingston upon Hull. It was the first unit of the Royal Garrison Artillery raised for ‘Kitchener’s Army‘ and it went on to serve as a howitzer battery in the East African Campaign and as a siege battery on the Western Front. In September 1914, Lord Nunburnholme who was simultaneously raising the ‘Hull Pals’ Brigade (10th–13th Service Battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment), also raised the 124th (2nd Hull) and 146th (3rd Hull) Heavy Batteries and the 31st (Hull) Divisional Ammunition Column. Lord Nunburnholme borrowed Hull City Hall and opened it on 6 September as the Central Hull Recruiting Office for all the units being raised in the city. Douglas Boyd, a Hull Corporation employee, was commissioned as Lieutenant and appointed recruiting officer. By 15 September, 80 men had been enrolled for the battery, many drawn from the shipbuilding and engineering firms in Hull, while drivers came from the rural villages of the East Riding. It reached its full war establishment by mid-December, when it was authorised to recruit an additional depot section to supply reinforcements. A typical Heavy Battery, contained 5 Officer, 170 men, 4 artillery pieces, 8 ammunition wagons, 86 draught horses and between 17-26 riding horses.
The recruits began training at East Hull Barracks on Holderness Road, performing drill in nearby East Park. The men lived at home, and until uniforms arrived the men of 1st Hull Batteryy were distinguished form the other East Riding recruits by wearing a red and blue armband on their civilian clothes. The battery’s guns, four Boer war -era 4.7 inch guns, arrived at Kingston Street Station in late October, and the men dragged them through the streets of Hull, first to Wenlock Barracks, then on to East Hull Barracks.
On 5 November, Captain Williams handed over command and reverted to the RNR (he commanded armed merchant vessels later in the war). The new CO was Temporary Captain, John McCracken, who had been an RGA Battery Sergeannt Major, with 23 years’ experience at the outbreak of war. As part of 11th Division, the battery was formally designated 11th (Hull) Heavy Battery on 1 May 1915, when it established its headquarters outside the city at the former Hedon Racecourse. Here the horse teams were lodged in the racing stables and the battery began serious training.
The photo above, shows the (11th (Hull) Heavy Battery in East Africa. They were formed from the 1st Hull Heavy Battery in 1916. They had trained with 11th (Northern) Division, but left the Division in June 1915 to join 30th Division. In February 1916 they transferred to 38th Brigade RGA and were deployed in the East African Campaign, arriving at Kilindini on the 16th of March 1916. In a largely forgotten campaign in a forgotten theatre, the 11th Hull Heavy Battery arrived at Kondoa Irangi in German East Africa to support General J. L. Van DeVenter’s South African 2nd Division who had become beleaguered there. The 11th Hull Heavy Battery were led by Captain Orde Brown to relieve Van Deventer’s forces at Kondoa.
Today we remember the lads from Hull in their epic traverse of the Massai Steppe from Himo Bridge Camp, ridden with disease and weakened by hardship taking 17 days to trek the 200 miles from Himo to Kondoa. They took up position on Battery Hill at Kondoa on the night of 3rd June 1916. Their timely arrival opposed the German East African forces led by General Von Lettow Vorbeck.
The battery returned to England aboard RMS Durham Castle, landing at Plymouth on 31 January 1918. On 1 March at Aldershot was re-designated 545th Siege Battery, RGA, under the command of Captain (now Major) Floyd, who set out to get back as many veterans of the 1st Hull Bty as he could from other RGA units where they had been posted from convalescence hospitals. The battery was joined by newly trained signallers from Catterick Camp, and on 2 April it moved to Lydd for training. 545th Siege Battery had arrived on the Western Front in time for the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. The success of the Battle of Amiens caused the Germans to withdraw from the Lys Salient and the battery had to move forward to new positions. It came into action at Doulieu on 20 September, at once coming under heavy Counter-battery fire. The following day it was pulled out and moved south to join Fourth Army, with which it served for the rest of the war.
St Quentin Canal
At Peronne the battery joined 47th Brigade RGA, assigned to III Corps. The gunners were unable to find suitable positions during the night of 24/25 September, and left their gun platforms beside the road under guard. During the night one of the platforms received a direct hit from enemy fire. The guns were positioned the following night, and from 27 September took part in the preparatory bombardment for the assault on the Hindenburg Line (the Battle of St Quentin Canal) by III Corps and II US Corps. On 27 November it carried out counter-battery fire in support of the Americans’ preliminary attack on ‘The Knoll’, continuing the following day as calls for support came in from the infantry. For the main attack on 29 September, the battery fired a large number of tasks on roads and bridges, as well as enemy batteries.
- Fourth Army stormed across the St Quentin Canal, in large part because (in Sir Douglas Haig’s words), ‘The intensity of our fire drove the enemy’s garrisons to take refuge in their deep dugouts and tunnels, and made it impossible for his carrying parties to bring food and ammunition’.
- The modern historian of II US Corps concurs: ‘Much of the success of the American 30th Division came from the work the British artillery began the day before the attack and continued until the jump-off. With trench bombardment, counter-battery fire, and a barrage that cut the wire, the artillery caught the Germans in their dugouts and caused numerous casualties among their units. German prisoners captured by units of the 30th Division substantiated this fact by telling their interrogators that the barrage caused heavy casualties’
The firing continued on 1 October, as III Corps was relieved by XIII Corps to continue the offensive. The battery targeted Usigny Dump, a German stores depot masked in a dip in the ground some 6 miles (9.7 km) away. It also fired on strong points at Villers Farm, Élincourt and Serain, and roads around Villers-Outréaux and Malincourt. The battery then moved up to Ronssoy to join the howitzers of 47th Bde to support XIII and Australian Corps‘ attack on the Hindenburg Support Line (the Beaurevoir Line) on 3–5 October.
Getting the artillery forward following these victories proved difficult, but 545th Siege Bty’s Right Section was attached to ‘Roberts Brigade’, an ad hoc formation organised for the pursuit, and continued its bombardment on 10 October from Maurois railway station. Left Section suffered from a German air raid on the night of 9/10 October, without casualties. While Right Section followed the advance, Left Section manned a brigade ammunition dump at Maretz.
The pursuit ended at the River Selle. For its assault crossing of the river on 17 October (the Battle of the Selle), XIII Corps had its 6-inch guns, including 545th Siege Bty (now in 73rd Army Brigade, RGA), sited well forward so that they could hit the crossings over the Sambre Canal, which carried the German lines of supply (and retreat). The assault went in behind a massive bombardment, the attacking infantry crossing the Selle by means of duckboard bridges. By the end of the day Fourth Army had forced its way across the Selle and broken into the German Hermann Stellung I defences. Over succeeding days it closed up to the Sambre Canal.
545th Siege Battery’s guns had now fired so many rounds that their barrels required re-lining, and were sent to the Ordnance Deppot at Amiens on 27 October, thereby missing the Battle of the Sambre. Meanwhile, the personnel and the ammunition column moved forward to Le Cateau. During the night of 27/28 October their position came under heavy fire from German artillery, and ammunition lorries were set alight. Serjeant Goodwin (ASC) and Lance Bombardier, Frank Dickens (545th Bty) were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for their gallantry in throwing shells from a burning lorry. In the confused pursuit, one of the ammunition lorries was accidentally driven into No Man’s Land and had to be abandoned until the enemy retreated.
On 5 November, 1918, all heavy artillery batteries in XIII Corps’ area were stood down and the men billeted in Le Cateau. The Armistice with Germany came into effect on 11 November. 545th Siege Bty handed over three of its re-lined Mk XIX guns to 189th Siege Bty, which went forward as part of the Army of Occupation, receiving older Mk VII 6-inch guns in exchange. The battery moved to Saulzoir in December, where it carried out salvage duties. Demobilisation began at New Year, and the men were progressively sent to Clipstone Camp in Nottinghamshire, where the last group of men from the original 1st Hull Battery were demobilised on 31 July 1919.
In addition, Hull recruited 3 Heavy Batteries of Artillery. These were
The East Riding Royal Garrison Artillery, formed by Lt Col, Robert Hall to defend the City and Humber Estuary. It was based at Spurn Point.
The East Riding Fortress Engineers, formed and commanded by Lt Col E M Newell.
The 2nd Northumbrian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, led by Lt Col, J B Moss, DSO. It was formed in Hull in April 1916. In August 1917 it was converted into 8th Battalion of Royal Defence Corps.
Hull also formed its own 32nd Divisional Ammunition Column, from members of the City Police Force and Tramways. This was commanded by Lt Col, James Walker. The original artillery of the 32nd Division moved to France to join the 31st Division on 8 December 1915.
For more information please see links –
First part of six sections of a recording of a long interview with L.J. Ounsworth, Royal Artillery (interviewer unknown). Length 30 mins approx, includes: training at Hedon Race Course, Hull after joining up as a signaller. They completed two years of peace time cavalry training within six months. Continues directly into the second part.