The Royal Horse Artillery - Wentworth Battery
[This month’s Leading Article has been written by Matthew Wiles to coincide with the centenary of the commencement of WWI and to remember those Wentworth and surrounding areas who took part in the conflict]
As August 4th marked the centenary of the start of World War One, and I thought of the British Legion’s ‘Lights Out’ commemorative event, it seemed appropriate that we should remember and be reminded of the efforts given by those at Wentworth and the surrounding areas.
The Wentworth Battery initially formed in 1908 when Lord Haldane (Secretary of State for War) devised the Territorial Army. Under this, most towns and villages were encouraged to create a second battalion under the local regiment, however, landowners such as Earl Fitzwilliam, were encouraged to raise their own mounted units.
Regardless of being a member of the light infantry in Oxford, the idea of raising his own unit appealed to Earl Fitzwilliam due to his family interest in hunting and horses; A letter from the Northern Headquarters in York suggested Earl Fitzwilliam use his own hunting horses for the battery as the budget for mounts was slightly over £200 (in today’s rates that is the equivalent of approximately £11,600).
For the Wentworth, this would have more than likely appeared to be a great display, especially on parades through the village. These started at the church and ended in the Gun Park; uniforms of red, blue and gold would have been quite a prominent combination.
On one occasion in 1909, the battery camped within the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse along with another division of the Royal Horse Artillery – 200 men, 100 horses and four 15lb field guns.
When war broke out in 1914, the territorial armies were intended to stay as home defence, however, many individuals were encouraged to volunteer their service overseas. Certainly, for those who did and returned, Earl Fitzwilliam ensured there was always employment for them on the estate or in the collieries.
As the war effort grew in Britain, more and more men were required, however the Wentworth Battery did not fight in Flanders – they were sent to Egypt and Palestine to fight against the Turkish. A second, later Wentworth Battery (formed in 1914) were however sent to the Western Front to fight in France.
During the war, a Special Constabulary Police force was also formed in Wentworth and managed by the village undertaker, Mr Tradewell, this was because the current Police Constable Mr Lovock had been called into service at the front. This special force was probably a later adaptation of the ‘Wentworth Association for the Prosecution of Felons’ which initially formed in the 18th Century.
Later in the War, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reports that in September 1915 Lady Fitzwilliam hosted a “Charity Fete [to] aid officers’ families”. The fund was used to help widows and dependants of those who had given their lives to the war effort.
The report states that it was “early morning when the crowds started to appear” Wentworth Woodhouse and roads leading to it were gridlocked “with traps, chars-a-banes and a little later motor cars”. Guests were met by Lady Fitzwilliam (assisted by Ladies Joan, Elfrida and Donatia) at the doors to the Marble Saloon where “at three thirty, a concert took place led by Mr Danare’s Orchestra from London”. The concert opened and closed with the national anthem, where members of the audience were invited to join in. This must have been quite a spectacle.
Those with half-crown tickets were allowed to explore the Japanese, Blue and Rose gardens whilst others were also directed to the “Picture gallery and state rooms … the younger generations enjoyed the maze and the gloomy bear pit”. The elderly generation where quite contented basking on the lawns and listening the “admirable music programme” which was provided by the Sheffield Volunteer Defence Corps brass band.
Later in the evening “an auction of two billy goats” took place at 6pm and “caused much laughter”.
It would appear that the event was very successful attracting masses of people; very much an open house and grounds with entertainment and afternoon tea. The weather report from the same newspaper shows that it was glorious day with plenty sunshine, which would have probably been an asset in drawing in the audience!
The report concludes that there is no doubt that the event will have been a great benefit the fund and that the people who attended will have not only enjoyed themselves and had “a delightful afternoon” but were also are that they were they were supporting one of the “most meritorious funds to support officers families.”
Although the First World War ended in 1918, the Wentworth Battery was revived in world war two to defend the Humber, however were not provided with any form of weapons. Later in that war, they were posted to Sheffield during the blitz. There were no casualties or loss of life.
Later, when the air attacks had lessened, the battery was posted to Africa, (and incidentally they lost their weapons again when the ship carrying them was sunk!) Following this they were posted to Italy as an Anti-Aircraft unit and to protect the captured towns and cities. However as the British an Americans achieved an advantage in airspace, the need for the Anti-Aircraft unit lessened. The battery finally disbanded in 1944 near Bari in Italy and the members were scattered elsewhere; what had started thirty-six years earlier as a small territorial army finally come to an end.
A memorial plaque in the New Church shows those from both batteries who gave their lives to the war effort; Lest we forget
Staff Sgt. Hague
God our ruler and our guide,
In whose hands are the destinies of this and every nation,
We give you thanks for the freedoms we enjoy today,
And for those who served to defend them:
We pray that we gratefully remember their courage and their sacrifice
And that we may have the grace to live in a spirit of justice, of generosity, and of peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen (Anon)