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Scovell, Major G. [Archive] Correspondence Files from Headquarters Northern CMD.

Scovell, Major G. [Archive] Correspondence Files from Headquarters Northern CMD.

York, 1915-1916.

Seven private correspondence files from the office of Major G. Scovell of HQ Northern Cmd, York, during 1915 and 1916 providing a detailed insight into the pressures and conflicts brought to bear upon the command as a result of the massive and sudden expansion of the British military before and after the battle of The Somme. Upwards of 300 pages of correspondence, telegrams and attendant documentation relating to the struggle to provide efficient training for young officers on the eve of being sent off to war ill-prepared and supplied and with, apparently, little idea of how to lead their men. Special attention is given to the need for training in the “new” weaponry; Mills Bombs and Stokes Guns and the all important and horrifying need for adequate protections against poisonous gas. Letters cover the establishment of the Bombing School near Leeds and its profesional conflicts with its southern counterpart in Clapham. The schoolchildren of Leeds were “enlisted” to produce thousands of dummy hand grenades for use in training at the Otley camp. The correspondence shows a military that at least on a training level is in an uneasy state of flux. The establishing of various young officer schools, cadet battalions and training companies is discussed almost in the same breath as their dissolution. Reports from the front regarding the quality and experience of officers are referenced in detailed correspondence with Major A.D. Legard of Horse Guards and Lt. Col. R.S. Gwynn of Number 1 Command School: “Not able to care for and supervise their men...”; “Neither physically fit nor mentally very bright...” and discussions of units sent off to Gallipoli with “no proper musketry training...”; “What is anyone to do except warn General Hamilton?”

There are discussions of discipline and policy with Captain The Viscount Acheson of the War Office, regarding officers who abscond from training and how Officer Schools should be ignored and men only from the Cadet battalions should be considered for commissions “if they don’t pass...back they go to the trenches which will help discipline.” Discipline in this context apparently meaning pushing them back out into a traumatising pit of hell where they will either die, collapse or learn the hard way. One of the most notable sections of correspondence is that which takes place ith Professor Arthur Smithells FRS, of Leeds University, who was the military advisor on poison gas, setting up a gas school at Farnley Park, Otley with “tube helmets and goggles” for 500 new officers and 800 NCO’s per month in the early days of 1916. A confidential memo is present outlining instructions for Home Forces in their defence against gas attacks, with the unstated suggestion that casualty rates need to be reduced from an apparent current 80%, which is pretty horrifying. Professor Smithells went on to become GHQ, Horse Guards gas advisor and was given military rank. The overall picture is one of a group of officers terribly worried that they are sending ill-prepared men off to war with weary references to the conveyor belt process of men going out ill-prepared, being immediately wounded and then being processed back out as if they had actual experience rather having thrown one live grenade in training. The fear (undoubtedly based in experience) is that such men, through no real fault of their own can find themselves commanding entire companies with very little idea of how to manage. An additional problem, whilst we’re on the subject of lions led by donkeys is the War Office placing pressure on training schools to not only produce unprecedented numbers of trained officers, but also to release their training staff for duties at the front, which seems a little contradictory: “...a devil of a storm brewing up at the London end. If you do not do this with the utmost despatch you are perfectly certain to become a Second Lieutenant instead f a Lieutenant Colonel...”

An untouched archive of official, private and frequently outspoken correspondence of a Home Command officer attempting to reconcile the difficulties, contradictions and issues arising from the mammoth efforts to provide a previously unprecedented number of officers for the war effort. A more detailed description is available on request.

[Ref: 497]

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