Chapter 11


The previous chapters have tried to give a picture of how the East Riding Yeomanry was recruited and its social composition. We have also looked at casualties and sickness, the medals awarded for gallant behaviour in combat and on the reverse side of the coin, the evidence for misbehaviour in and out of uniform.

We have seen that the regiment (at least up to mid 1915) was primarily locally recruited and had many strong geographical, family, social and professional bonds. It is likely that these well-established links helped to mould the 1/1st ERY into an effective fighting force when it left for the Middle East in the summer of 1915.

What though can our sources tell us about the personal relationships between the officers, non-commissioned officers and men? This is more difficult to answer. Service records and other such sources tend to record the best and worst of human behaviour, along with purely factual information needed for administrative purposes. Memoirs from serving ERY soldiers can give us some additonal insights in this area, albeit they are personal opinions.

So, how did the rank and file feel about their officers for example? Leonard May in his memoirs states that 'the officers in B [squadron] were a grand lot.' His troop officer, Ullyott, was 'a decent chap'. Captain Bradley (veterinary officer) was 'another likeable officer.' Sergeant Frank Wood who was in the machine gun section pre-war noted one officer who was completely unable to understand how the Maxim machine guns worked, so he asked to be replaced - the incoming officer gets a more favourable review in Wood's memoirs. There must have been some ERY officers who were absolute sticklers for regulations, hence some of the very minor offences that we see men being punished for in the service records, but on the whole, the picture seems to be a positive one. Probably it helped that many officers came from the same geographical area as their men.

In private, officers might be critical of one another too - Frank Wood states that 'B Squadron had been very much neglected under Major Bardwell' before he moved on to the Imperial Camel Corps in 1916.

It will be noted that many of these comments are from men of NCO rank and from post war recollections. In his 1917 diary, written (covertly) in the field, Private George Lancaster makes almost no personal comments on individuals; he is entirely concerned with his own hardships and the daily routines.

How did the officers view the men under their charge? Perhaps with a paternalistic view, the men being somewhat like grown up children who had to be chivvied and directed into good behaviour? In Leonard May's memoirs he notes the story of an attempted 'mutiny' when having been re-trained as infantry in summer 1915, the regiment was suddenly given its horses back. Some men found this difficult to handle and petitioned their officers. A furious Colonel Wilson said he would resign and the regiment would be split up - 'We idolised the Colonel' May writes, so the 'rebels' meekly backed down. The gulf in social class would have made open informal chat between ranks difficult if not impossible. But we do catch in diaries some hints of genuine concern. Lt. Robert Stephenson notes on 13th November 1917 'I got Wigglesworth killed' i.e. he was a man in Stephenson's troop killed in action that day. Elsewhere Stephenson notes other NCO's and privates killed or wounded.

Non-commissioned officers, because they were in more regular contact with the enlisted men, might have left very negative impressions for some men. Leonard May writes of a Sergeant Major at the Walton Street barracks when he was being trained to ride as being 'a big, cruel, uncouth pig.' The NCO would wave his sword about and engage in foul abuse. However, May also writes that it made good riders of them. Another Sergeant Major was 'a devil on parade, but in the mess he was the life and soul of the party.'

Post war, many officers went on to glittering careers, earning numerous honours inside and outside the forces. Some of the middle ranks found distinctions in their own trades or industries. But many of the rank and file resumed their old jobs, having quietly and uncomplainingly done their duty. Perhaps the best illustration of the ERY's regimental bond, forged in the desert heat, was the endurance of its Old Comrades Association. Founded shortly after the end of the war, it offered the ex ERY soldiers the opportunity to come together for annual dinners and other occasions and to mix regardless of rank or class, recalling the experiences of the past. These gatherings continued for decades until the last of the old veterans finally passed away in their 80's and 90's. Here perhaps we catch the true spirit of the regiment.