Arthur Allwood. Shropshire RHA and KSLI 1912 – 1919
Arthur Allwood enlisted in the Territorial Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery on 3rd February 1912, shortly after his 18th birthday. He died in March 1993 aged 99 years. A former Wem Grammar School pupil [1905–08], he served in both World Wars and wrote many booklets and articles on military history and his family life. He farmed in Shropshire and Australia and he also wrote poetry about the Shropshire he knew and loved.
The Shropshire RHA was formed in 1908 from the First Shropshire Artillery Volunteers and comprised a Battery with sections at Shrewsbury and Wellington. The Ammunition Column was stationed at Shrewsbury and Church Stretton. The RHA together with the Ammunition Column were then units of the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade. At that time men reported for duty at the new Riding School near the Coleham Drill Hall, Shrewsbury – which was officially opened in 1913. Arthur remembered that ‘Horses were hired for each training camp and Messrs Cave, a firm of Birmingham auctioneers were contracted to supply them. Bank Farm, about a mile from the Drill Hall at Coleham was used by the Shrewsbury section.’
‘Early in 1912 the Territorial Association purchased 12 horses for use in Shrewsbury. When not used in training they were loaned to tradesmen in the town. Engine cleaners, firemen, bricklayers, printers, clerks and townsmen were all trained at nightly sessions to become first class military horsemen.’
Mounted sports took place at the camps and included mounted wrestling and mounted tug of war. However, no camps took place prior to mobilisation in 1914 – the annual training had been delayed for the battery to take part in army manoeuvres in the autumn. ‘The esprit de corps was excellent, the gunners good, the driving good – but the horsemanship was questionable. Sergeant Major Powley – one of the finest horsemen in the RHA, and one with the happy knack of imparting his knowledge to others’ – entered the teams for competition – competing on occasion at the Shropshire and West Midland Show. On the second day of the Show, the Gunners – ‘including Cpl Bishop [a brawny six-footer and a blacksmith from Woolstaston], Bombardier Walter Rogers [another raw-boned lad from Upton Magna], Bombardier Jack Rawlings [a tough village boy from Dorrington] and Gunner Arthur Allwood [a sturdy farmer’s son from Cantlop] defeated the Shropshire Yeomanry’.
In June 1914 King George V visited the Royal Agricultural Showground at Monkmoor. Arthur writes ‘together with the Shropshire Yeomanry and 4th KSLI we lined the main streets’ of the route from the Railway Station to Monkmoor. His unit was situated on Wyle Cop and his section was opposite the Lion Hotel. ‘At the time there was a scare about suffragettes so we had strict orders that no one should break through our ranks’
Arthur received his call up papers on 5th August 1914 and was promoted to Bombardier in the RHA. With mobilisation began a campaign of commandeering horses from farms in Shropshire. ‘Over 200 horses were commandeered from farmers and tradesmen. Most of the officers’ chargers came from the stud of Mr Frank Bibby of Hardwick Hall’. Later Mr Bibby provided beer and refreshments as the troops travelled towards Eccleston Park in Chester, where they joined other regiments.
Arthur wrote ‘On an occasion when the Battery marched on to the home of Frank Bibby at Hardwick – when we reached Ditherington [Shrewsbury], Captain Jones sent me back with the two lead horses and their drivers from each of the four wagon teams to help the Ammunition Column over the hump of the old English Bridge’ [It was later rebuilt with a lower gradient in 1927].
As men were mobilised and horses commandeered ‘the road between Coleham and the Bank Farm quickly became the training ground and, instead of the present day motor cars and lorries, the streets were occupied by prancing horses, guns and wagons….In a few days, stabling at The Castle, The Unicorn and the Lion and Pheasant [Wyle Cop] became inadequate, so the horse were moved to a field near Sutton Mill where they were tied on picket lines’. Arthur recalls ‘My horse was among those taken to picket lines in a field on the banks of the Rea Brook at Sutton. I was billeted at my own home, on a farm at Cantlop’.
At one point Arthur served at Copthorne Barracks where ‘I was in charge of one of the ammunition wagons, drawn by 6 horses and ridden by 3 drivers, sent to load up with ammunition for our 15 pounder guns. These guns had been used by the regular RHA in the Boer War.
Later, with the 1/1 Shropshire RHA, they were billeted at Beccles, Suffolk. Arthur recalls ‘Our spare wagons were stored in the local cattle sale yard and a tall sentry box stood in the middle. I was visiting my sentry when he greeted me with ‘Arthur, there’s a naked bloke messing about over there’. ‘Rubbish’, says I, ‘You’ve got nerves’. Then to my astonishment, I too saw the naked man. I went forward, rifle at the ready, to be greeted by a grunt. A large pig had been left overnight in the sale yard after the auction’.
In December 1916 Shropshire RHA men, Gunner Tom Finch of Rushbury, Gunner Gerald Davies of Dawley and Corporal Arthur Allwood, lined up in the Medium Trench Mortar Brigade Y58th Battery. ‘The crossing was made from Southampton to Le Havre early in January 1917, where the TMBs were immediately sent to the Trench Mortar School.’ The main work of the TMBs was to cut, methodically, a road through the enemy’s barbed wire, preparatory to the Infantry attack…. When circumstances permitted they took over the working of forward Ammunition Dumps from the Divisional Ammunition Column. On other occasions they would be rushed up to aid Field Batteries in distress. The Mortar Emplacements of the Medium Batteries were usually only a few yards in the rear of the Infantry front line trenches.
Arthur remembers the exploits of Gunner Tom Finch of Rushbury on two occasions. He states that on one occasion [early in 1917] ‘Our section were occupying a deep dug out immediately behind the Infantry front line trenches. Owing to enemy action it became very difficult to get our rations through. One man, Gunner Tom Finch volunteered to go through to HQ for them…. Sometime after he had gone, the Germans put up a heavy bombardment on our trenches… I began to fear for Finch’s safety… Suddenly Finch, calmly smoking his pipe, crawled into the dug out, rations and all – ‘I see’d a few owd wagons go up in the air and I had to crawl over the rubble where the trenches were blown in, but I knowed he could ‘na get me’. He was the bravest man I ever knew.
Another time ‘Gunners Gerald Davies and Tom Finch were the two men at the Mortar…. Jerry gave us everything he had, his whole bag of tricks. The Infantry front line trench began to crumble. [However] I could see our bombs in flight and bursting with great accuracy on the target. When two ammunition carriers reported that they could not get through and [that] our emplacement [had gone] up in the air, I ordered that no more ammunition was to be sent up and everyone was to take cover in our dug-out about 200 yards back. I then tried to find out what had happened [and] I crawled on my knees in the direction of the Mortar – when… the Mortar began to fire again. Then I discerned, amidst the smoke and debris, a man on his hands and knees coming towards me. It was Finch. ‘Eh, Corp, what about some more ammo, we’ve run out’, he said.. He then explained that the delay in firing had been while they were clearing the debris from their emplacement – they had nearly been buried alive. I told them that they must both come out of it – but before I could say any more he returned to Davies, still very much exposed to enemy small arms fire. Then they both came to me and were quite annoyed when I told them they must come out of it at once. However, at that moment Jerry settled it with a direct hit on our emplacement! Everything went up. We found out afterwards that a magnificent job had been done on the enemy’s wire’.
Soon after this the following appeared in Brigade orders: Gunner Davis, G. Shropshire RHA, attached Y58th TMB. Gunner Finch,T. Shropshire RHA attached Y58th TMB. Awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry.
In mid 1917 Arthur was ordered from the British Expeditionary Force to England to train for a commission. Following commission on 31/5/18 as 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th KSLI Land Forces – Infantry, ‘I was posted to the 3rd Battery at Fermoy, Southern Ireland and was eventually sent to the 7th Battn with the BEF in France’. The Battalion HQ was an old German dug-out, not far behind what was then a very confused front line. Shortly after his arrival at the Battalion HQ as a commissioned officer, and on reporting to South African, Major Deneys Reitz, the Major sent for the Battalion Runner to provide Arthur with a meal. ‘The Runner proved to be none other than Private Jarvis of Shrewsbury, whom I had known quite well in civilian life. He had been a drover and porter with a Shrewsbury firm of auctioneers and I had met him when buying and selling cows at the market’…. ‘The Major was very much upset about recent losses. Major Reitz impressed me as a kindly and efficient senior officer’.
‘The British offensive started on August 8th 1918 and the TMBs were in action at Epehy. Several German Minenwerfers were captured, complete with ammunition [the German Minenwerfer was the enemy’s opposite number to the TMBs] The TMBs manned the Minenwerfers and turned them on the enemy with great success and satisfaction. Then the Infantry advanced and the TMBs were left high and dry miles behind the lines’.
‘We mopped up the village of Escarmain, where we were surprised to be greeted by jubilant civilians with cups of hot coffee. Then after mid-day, the 7th KSLI formed up outside the village waiting for zero hour…. Then came the barrage – over we went, at walking pace…. Then a runner came over from No.3 Platoon to tell me that young Owen had been hit. I went to him, but left him with his servant and the stretcher bearers. Poor Owen died in hospital 2 days later’.
Shortly before the Armistice was signed, officers and men were lost from shell fire and heavy concentration of gas. Included among these casualties was ‘Sergeant Tom Davies of Bayston Hill, who was wounded when out in the street. I had been talking to him only a few minutes earlier… A little later we lost our Company Commander, who was gassed… It was a terrible sight to see the agony caused by gas’.
On 11th November at one of our hourly halts on a march towards Maubeuge ‘Col. Burne read a despatch to us ‘Corps wire AAA Hostilities will cease at 1100 hours today 11th November… Col. Burne told us to break the news to the men as quietly as possible. I went back to ‘A’ Company and simply said ‘It is all over boys’. They looked at me as if stunned. Their first reaction was to ask how soon they could write to people at home to let them know they had survived’.
In Shropshire Gunners in the Trenches, Arthur writes: ‘These men [from the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery] had gone a long way since they mobilised on 5th Aug 1914 at Coleham Riding School. They:
- Fought side by side with the Infantry in the front line trenches
- Manned dangerous forward ammunition dumps
- Assisted the Divisional Field Batteries in action [18 pounders and 4-5 Howitzers]
- Acted as stretcher bearers at the Battle of Vimy Ridge – on temporary attachment to 51st Highland Division, Easter Monday April 1917
- Driven the mule teams of the DAC in the last great advance’
Arthur was demobbed on 12th Feb 1919 at Prees Heath, Salop.
He writes ‘I have been privileged to serve in a fine English Regiment and to have had the honour to command such splendid soldiers from my own County, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction and pride to recall also, that I served with, if only briefly, those two gallant South Africans, [Major] Reitz and [Col.] Burne’.
Arthur later went on to serve in WW2 in The Loyals [North Lancashire Regiment] and the Shropshire Home Guard. His medals and badges and records of service and photos are held at the Shropshire Regimental Museum at Shrewsbury Castle.
Regretfully the names of other officers and comrades, who were remembered by Arthur, have been omitted in this condensed version of the material from several of his autobiographical booklets. The booklets, however, are available for further research at Shropshire Archives.
6005/SHYHA/0228 1913 – 1985 – War Diaries and personal accounts
6005/SHYHA/0245 – album of photos and personal records
Includes article from ‘Gunner’ magazine
XLS 11754 & XLS 25806 – The Lighter Side of War
XLS 25810 & XLS 3067 Under Two Great South Africans or Cambrai to the Rhine
XLS 25812 – Shropshire Gunners in the Trenches
By Delaine Haynes