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A Tommy and his oss

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 05, 2014

Pt. William Sidebottom proudly standing by his horse at training school, Wolverhampton in late 1914

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AT the beginning of the First World War there were about 247,432 regular British troops, and as part of the British Expeditionary Force most would have seen action during the first few months of the war.

However the Military Service Act of January 27, 1916, brought conscription into effect for the first time since the outbreak of hostilities. Every British male subject who on August 15, 1915, was ordinarily resident in Great Britain and who had attained the age of 19, but was not yet 41, and on November 2, 1915, was unmarried or a widower without dependent children, unless certain exemptions prevailed, was deemed to have enlisted for general service with the colours and was forthwith transferred to the reserve.

As a consequence more than an extra 2.6 million soldiers joined the army. When statistics were totted-up at the end of the war, of these brave men, 1.6 million were wounded, 662,000 killed and 140,000 recorded missing presumed dead.

Geoff Sidebottom's dad William from Sydney Street, Graisley in Wolverhampton, was one of the 2.8 million British soldiers who fought in the war, as Geoff explains.

"My dad was born on August 13, 1898, and almost 16 years to the day (9 days before his 16th birthday), he, along with thousands of other young lads countrywide, joined one of the many queues that formed outside army recruiting offices, which in his case was Queen Street, Wolverhampton.

"On reaching the recruiting sergeant's desk and in response to a request for his age, my dad said '16 in 9 days time'. The sergeant replied, 'Take a walk round the block son and come back when you're 16'. This my dad duly did, and rejoining the queue he gave his age, this time as 16, and enlisted with the Royal Horse Artillery, taking the King's Shilling in the process.

"The treasured photograph I have of him in uniform was taken during his early days as a soldier when he was training at what was then known as the Riding School in Newhampton Road, Wolverhampton, where he had to learn to ride a horse bareback.

"Like so many First World War veterans you hear about not wanting to tell stories about their experiences, dad was no different. But he did tell me that when he fell off his horse the sergeant would bellow 'Who told you to dismount"? The rest of his training prior to going to France was spent at Catterick army barracks in Yorkshire.

"He saw action at some famous battles including Ypres and Passchendaele, and I can recall him mentioning that while he was at Passchendaele he was sent back from the Front for R&R (Rest and Rehabilitation) to Talbot House (forerunner of TocH), a place established behind the Front Line for soldiers who were not granted home leave due to the seriousness of the situation."

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