Once the formation of the original battalion was completed and had sailed for East Africa with an establishment 120 men in excess of the recognized 1021 for an infantry battalion, this number presumably containing an initial reinforcement as permitted in Field Regulations, nothing further was immediately put in place to supply the battalion overseas with any other reinforcement.
The defensive situation on arrival in British East Africa had seen the battalion’s strength on paper remain constant but its fighting strength had been immediately reduced as men were temporarily detached to strengthen, or form, other units to cover the shortfalls in manpower elsewhere. This was an acceptable approach whilst the East African force remained on a defensive footing but in early 1916 this situation changed. It was decided that the British force in East Africa was no longer going to maintain a defensive attitude but was instead to launch an offensive into German East Africa. Lieut.-General Jan C. Smuts arrived in theatre on 19th February to take command of these operations into German East Africa.
These offensive operations commenced on 5th March and the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, now part of the 1st East African Division, moved out as part of this force mustering a fighting strength of only 450 rifles, sickness and detachments having significantly reduced their numbers. The commencement of the March offensive had focused the War Office’s attention onto the relative battalion strengths in that theatre once more and it had soon become apparent that a reinforcement draft would be necessary to strengthen the 25th Royal Fusiliers as conditions in East Africa continued to take their toll on the battalion. Accordingly, under instructions from the War Office, the Legion of Frontiersmen was requested to recruit upwards of 300 men to act as this reinforcement for the battalion overseas.
War Office instructions to the Legion of Frontiersmen stated that for this reinforcement draft, in addition to previously unattested men, they were also able to accept men who had already attested under the Derby Scheme and returned to their civilian life to await call up. To this end the Legion began actively recruiting through its various Commands and, with immediate effect, adverts began to be placed in local newspapers for men of good physique, aged between 19 and 45, for immediate active service with the 25th Service Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) then serving abroad in East Africa.
In mid-March it was reported by the Middlesex Chronicle that another battalion was being started “To meet the in-rush from the Derby Groups into the Royal Fusiliers, another regular unit of the old corps was started during the week under the title 25th Batt. Royal Fusiliers (Reserve Companies). The new Batt. is stationed on the Heath.”. In reality this was the commencement of forming a reserve company for the battalion as men started arriving at the hutted camp on Hounslow Heath to join the unit, now under the command of Captain Charles Norman Jervelund of the Yorkshire Regiment. Indeed Captain C. N. Jervelund, of Hounslow Barracks, was recorded as having visited the Legion of Frontiersmen Headquarters at 6 Adam Street, London, W.C.2 on 20th March 1916, presumably in order to discuss the recruitment process and numbers required for the company.
The recruitment process for this initial reinforcement draft appears to have been performed solely by the Legion of Frontiersmen with the majority of those men recruited having been previously attested under the Derby Scheme. These men were initially accepted by the various Legion Commands and given an authorization which was only valid if countersigned by Lieut.-Colonel E. R. Johnson, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Legion in Lieut.-Colonel Driscoll’s absence, at Legion Headquarters.
By mid-May notifications were sent out to the various Legion Commands from Headquarters that “no further applications for the draft for the 25th Service Battalion Frontiersmen, Royal Fusiliers, can now be entertained.” as the number of recruits accepted was now significantly more than originally requested. Available monthly return figures show that, at its peak, the Reserve Company mustered a total of 610 effectives.
According to the same monthly return figures, after recruitment ceased, the Reserve Company was then reduced in strength in June 1916 by some 252 men but, at the moment, I am unsure exactly what happened to these. It is known that a small draft of 22 men, a handful of these new recruits plus men from the original battalion who had been invalided back to the UK but who had now recovered and been posted to the Reserve Company, were sent to East Africa aboard the “Trafford Hall” on 25th May 1916 and I have assumed that these are included in the 252 reduction. Even then that still leaves in the order of 230 men unaccounted for at present. The returns show the correct reduction in numbers for, what I firmly believe to be, the first reinforcement draft from the Reserve Company which embarked for East Africa on 16th July 1916 aboard the “Suffolk” with an establishment 257 strong, a number which is borne out in both the monthly returns and embarkation rolls so the whereabouts and fate of these 230 or so men remains a mystery at present.
With the posting of a reinforcement draft to the 25th Royal Fusiliers the requirement to maintain the Reserve Company was no longer a necessity and the Company was wound down. Those remaining men not selected for the first draft were eventually posted to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Fusiliers at Dover during the first couple of weeks of August 1916 with a considerable number of these subsequently being posted to the 25th Battalion in East Africa as part of the second reinforcement draft aboard the “Ajana” on 16th October 1916.
General Monthly Return of the Regimental Strength of the British Army, April to August 1916.
Newcastle Daily Journal, 14 March 1916.
Middlesex Chronicle, 18 March 1916.
Yorkshire Evening Post, 19 April 1916.
Sunderland Daily Echo, 17 May 1916.
The Frontiersman, No.57, War Number, 1918.
Rank & File
1st April 1916
1st May 1916
1st June 1916
1st July 1916
1st August 1916
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Res. Co. 25th Bn. (Frontiersmen)
Station or Headquarters: Hounslow Heath
Date of Arrival at Present Station: March 1916
This authorization stated that the man had enlisted specifically for service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) and was to report to the officer commanding the Royal Fusiliers depot at Hounslow within 14 days of having been accepted.
Each of the authorizations recorded an “LF” prefixed number for each applicant, the highest found to date being LF570 which was issued on 18 May 1916 towards the end of the recruitment process. This number was purely for administrative purposes and bore no relation to the Legion of Frontiersmen’s own numbering scheme for recruits into that organization which was still being maintained. Indeed, a good number of the men bound for the reinforcement draft were also enlisted into the Legion of Frontiersmen as part of the process. Once this process was concluded and the countersigned authorization was complete then the men proceeded to Hounslow and enlisted into the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers’ Reserve Company.
Men of the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) Reserve Company at Hounslow Heath
Image Courtesy of Nikki Colley-Priest