The Old and the Bold

The First Reinforcement Draft

The first draft of reinforcements to be sent out to the Battalion in East Africa was composed predominantly of men who, with a few exceptions, had enlisted voluntarily under the Derby Scheme in either November or December 1915 and after attesting had then been sent back to their civilian life to await call up. Whilst these men were on Army Reserve, in March 1916, under instructions from the War Office, the Legion of Frontiersmen was asked to recruit a further 250 to 300 men to act as a reinforcement draft for the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers then serving abroad.  Able to accept both attested and unattested men for this draft the Legion of Frontiersmen began actively recruiting through its various Commands and by the middle of May had achieved the required numbers.  The majority of those recruited were previously attested Derby Scheme men who, once accepted by the Legion of Frontiersmen for the draft, then proceeded to the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers’ Reserve Company at Hounslow Heath to complete their mobilization.

The draft embarked at Devonport aboard the s.s. “Suffolk” on 14th July 1916. The “Suffolk” was a 7,083 ton ship registered to Potter, Trinder & Gwynn of London and operated as part of the Federal Steam Navigation Company fleet before being requisitioned for war service.

The increased German U-boat presence in the Mediterranean meant that the reinforcement draft travelled, not through the Suez Canal as did the original battalion, but via the safer west coast of Africa and South Africa route.  On 12th August the draft transshipped at Durban, South Africa onto the s.s. “Comrie Castle”, a 5,167 ton ship of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company to complete the last leg of the journey to British East Africa, disembarking there at Kilindini Harbour (Mombasa) on 20th August 1916.

s.s. “Suffolk”

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s.s. “Comrie Castle”

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The embarkation return(1) for the first reinforcement draft bound for the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in East Africa shows that they proceeded overseas on 14th July 1916 with an establishment of 257 men under the command of Lieutenant C. E. Norton and Second Lieutenants A. Popkiss and J. D. S. Scott.  In addition to the Royal Fusiliers’ draft there were Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps details on the “Suffolk” also bound for East Africa.

(1) National Archives Reference WO 25/3546

    Embarkation Returns, At Home for Abroad - Jul. to Sep. 1916.

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