Written by David Blackmore
In late August 1914 the Bristol Citizen's Recruiting Committee, chaired by Sir Herbert Ashman, Bart., proposed forming a new battalion following the outbreak of the First World War. It was intended that it would be a special 'Bristol' Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, and a public announcement regarding the establishment of the battalion was made on Friday, 4th September. Following approval of its plan by the War Office, the Recruiting Committee made the following announcement, together with the terms and conditions of enlistment:-
"The new Bristol Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. To the Mercantile and Professional young men of the City of Bristol and neighbourhood."
"Lord Kitchener has sanctioned the enrolment of names of single men of the City of Bristol and neighbourhood between the ages of 19 and 35, who are willing to join the Colours for the duration of the war. The intention is to form a Battalion of Mercantile and Professional young men.
You must be between the ages
of 19 and 35 and single.
You agree to serve for the period the War lasts.
You agree to serve at Home and Abroad as may be required.
Kit to be found and payment made by the Government at the usual rate.
The Battalion is to be an Infantry one, and will constitute a unit of the Regular Army.
Seven days notice of calling up will be given.
If you wish to serve your country in this time of stress, please sign and return the attached Form addressed to:- The Chairman, Bristol Citizen's Recruiting Committee, New Battalion, Colston Hall, Bristol."
The volunteer was required to state that he was willing to join the colours of the 'New Bristol Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment' when called upon, and offer his services on the conditions given above. He was to give his surname, christian name in full, age, present employmen (if any) and previous military service, or any special qualifications. The application forms were available from the Colston Hall, the Stock Exchange, the Commercial Rooms, the Liberal, Constitutional, and Clifton Clubs, and at the various banks and Insurance Offices around the city. The idea of the Battalion caught on immediately - applications flowed in, and within a week one complete company had been medically examined and duly enrolled. In less than a fortnight, 500 recruits - practically half the Battalion - had enlisted. Despite having neither arms nor uniforms drilling began in the Colston Hall - which was used as the unit's temporary headquarters - with the recruits still dressed in civilian clothing, suits, overcoats, raincoats and various forms of headgear.
On September 14th came the announcement that Lieutenant-Colonel W.E.P. Burges had been appointed by the War Office to command the Battalion. Burges had been heavily involved with the Bristol Recruiting Campaign, and his appointment was regarded as a good one, with general opinion being that he would prove to be a capable and popular commander. He gained his first insight into military affairs in 1880 when he joined the South Gloucester Militia but it was his association with the Gloucester Regiment that brought him real recongition, and for five years he commanded the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment, before retiring in October 1913. During this time he won the Distinguished Certificate, Hythe Military Course and passed the tactical and field artillery course for field officers.
Recruiting was so enthusiastic that within a month the battalion was up to full strength but this did not stop the applications from continuing to flood in from eager and patriotic Bristolians, with the details of those disappointed volunteers being placed on a reserve register. Some of the late-comers were either accepted into the battalion to make up new companies, fill the vacancies caused by tansfer to other units, or to make good the shortfall caused by the large numbers of Commissions granted by the War Office to members of 'Bristol's Own'.
On the 19th September 1914, just two weeks after the start of the recruitment drive, news was recieved that the War Office had purchased the old 'Exhibition' buildings at Ashton Gate, and planned to turn them and the site into the headquarters and parade-ground for 'Bristol's Own' Battalion. Contingents of Royal Engineers and the Army Service Corps set about adapting the structures into barracks. A considerable amount of work was needed to be done on the buildings before they were made habitable. Nevertheless they were converted into acceptable sleeping-quarters, canteens, mess-rooms, recreation rooms, officer's quarters, drill hall, dining hall, etc and by the middle of October the Battalion had duly been installed. Although the wooden barracks were apparently rather draughty, they remained in place until the 12th's departure from Bristol in mid-1915. The site was improved with the construction of proper raods and footpaths, and a 'military' touch was added with cannon being mounted in a derelict bandstand; a miniature rifle range was built with running and disappearing targets, and this, combined with a range at the Black Rocks, Hotwells, provided the necessary facilities for rifle practice.
12th Battalion - page 2