Rank and File

Chapter 4

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Trench digging

Practice trench digging, summer 1915. Image from ERYC collection

Recruitment - methods and progress

It is clear from local newspaper reports that one initial recruitment method was through public meetings at a number of East Riding towns & villages. Colonel Wenlock, Major Langdale and others were responsible for these events, which took place at any convenient location, often outside in a market square or similar.

Another initial source of recruits was the pre-existing Yorkshire Hussars. The entirety of the Hull squadron transferred over to the new regiment for example and before long it was decided that the Hussars would no longer recruit in the East Riding, thus clearing the way for the ERY.

Recruitment in this early period can sometimes be tracked by reference to newspapers - the Hull Daily Mail, the Beverley & East Riding Recorder and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph amongst others. Handily, these papers provide details of the current & establishment strengths for a variety of Territorial Force units, including the ERY.

On 8th March 1902 the Beverley & ER Recorder stated that the regiment was intended to be 596 strong. We know from other sources that this was to be divided into 4 squadrons and a machine gun section, along with a headquarters element (based in Beverley). The bases of some of these squadrons moved around somewhat over the years, but recruitment wise it is fairly clear that:

  • A Squadron recruited primarily from Hull, where it was based.
  • B Squadron recruited from Beverley & surrounding villages, as well as Holderness.
  • C Squadron being based at Fulford would have primarily recruited from the York area.
  • D Squadron was based in Bridlington and seems to have recruited mainly from the northern part of the East Riding.

By April 1903, the regiment had already reached a strength of 340 men. Of this A Squadron (Hull) had 145 men and C squadron "nearly at full strength" at 111 men (Beverley & East Riding Recorder 11/4/1903).

Camp muster rolls

There is at least one newspaper report of a court case (see Sickness and Unfit) where a recruit was prosecuted for failing to turn up the annual Yeomanry training camp. It is clear that lists of attendees must have existed for a variety of administrative purposes and the regimental HQ staff would ultimately have been responsible for keeping these, perhaps delegated down to a squadron level where necessary. They would be an invaluable snapshot of all (or virtually all) of the men in the ERY at one moment in time. Sadly no such lists have survived for the ERY or at least none have yet been found.

No1 Troop

No.1 troop, A squadron, summer 1917, Palestine. Image by Private George Pickard (private collection).

Seaham Hall

Group of ERY men on the steps of Seaham Hall, County Durham, Sprint 1915. Image from ERYC Museums collection

Wartime recruitment issues / transfers

It is clear from surviving service/pension records that many of the men recruited for the 2/1st and 3/1st Yeomanry (from mid 1915 onwards) were not of the same physical standard as the men who had signed up for overseas service in 1914.

Numerous recruits had clearly been passed as basically fit (at least for home service) while having significant long standing health issues. These included men with tuberculosis, congenital heart conditions, eyesight problems and a wide range of other health issues of varying severity.

See Sickness and Unfit for more information on the sick and the unfit.

This situation is reflected in postcards sent home by Clement Mervyn Rogan, who was an NCO in C Squadron of the 2/1st ERY (private collection). He notes in one message that 'all the best chaps' were being picked out (either to be sent to join the 1/1st ERY in the Middle East or to be transferred to other regiments on the Western front). 'This regiment will [be] compose[d] of recruits & unfit men before w[h]ere finished and there are a lot of them' he adds. Another postcard shows Rogan and fellow recruits in camp. Rogan's remarks written on the back of the card are quite damning: - 'The men on the other side belong to No.4 troop with the exception of two. Ain't they a sample. When they sent the first lot to pass the doctor, he was angry & said he didn't want the scrapings of the regiment. When he saw G. Underwood (marked with an X in the top photo) he asked the Sergeant to close the niches of the tent' (i.e. Underwood looked like something that had been blown in!)

Whilst most of these recruits were perhaps just about passable for basic patrolling and guarding camps, the large number whose service records (or Silver War badge records) indicate an early discharge, does seem to point to some over optimistic judgements by recruiting sergeants or doctors when these men were originally enrolled. Taken together with over aged NCO's who were retained during the war to provide the reserve units with some experienced personnel, the picture of the 2/1st and 3/1st ERY is not a very positive one in terms of physical fitness.

Nonetheless, several groups of replacements from these units, destined for service with the parent regiment in Palestine can be traced in the 1/1st's war diary. With quite a few men going home from Egypt 'time expired' during 1916 or transferring to other regiments, they were much needed.

Rather more 2/1st men ended up being transferred to other regiments for service on the western front. Of these, the most common transfer seems to have been to various battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment, particularly the 8th and 11th, as well as the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, especially the 1/4th battalion. Much smaller numbers were posted to the Royal Engineers and one's or two's to a whole host of other regiments. Casualties amongst men transferred to the western front were proportionately several times higher than those who saw out the war with the ERY (or the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion as it became in May 1918).

For further information on this topic, see Casualties.

A further group departed from Withernsea around 24/12/1916, ultimately bound for the Salonika front, being transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment and others.

Ironically, given they were a mounted regiment, a high proportion of then ERY's casualties actually resulted from two disasters at sea. These were the sinking of the HMT Arcadian off Greece on 15th April 1917 and much closer to home, the loss of the Royal Mail ship Leinster in the Irish Sea on 10th October 1918. ERY losses in these sinking's were 19 men from the Arcadian and 7 men from the Leinster. In the former case, this was a draft of men destined to join the 1/1st ERY near Gaza. 23 men out of a draft of 42 survived to join the regiment. The Arcadian losses were mainly quite young, recent recruits, but included some "old hands" who for whatever reason were now being despatched for active service.

In good company

One interesting area to consider is whether groups of men may have joined the ERY from the same business or company. We might expect a certain amount of "peer pressure" to operate, particularly in wartime. Company names are occasionally mentioned in service/pension records, and also in newspaper articles dealing with army recruits. More useful are the surviving rolls of honour (ROH) for particular firms. The Wilson shipping line ROH is one such. The Hull-based company was a major employer in the city at the start of the 20th century. We can trace at least 20 Wilson line men who joined the ERY, not including the company's band, which doubled as the ERY's band in the pre-war period.

Wilson Line employees in the ERY

Name Dates Profession Joined ERY
Sydney Bonewell 1889-1919 Plumber Late August 1914?
J. Booth ? ? ?
E. Bradley ? ? ?
Walter Brocklesby (bandmaster) 1856-1928 Saddler May 1909
Wilfred Brocklesby (bandmaster) 1882 - 1972 Musician ?
R. N. Bruce ? [Son of a carpenter] ?
Walter Maxwell Eckles 1886-1962 Shipping Office Boy ?
Harld Lorentz Friis 1882-1952 Clerk/traveller 1903-1912
C. Gibbins ? ? ?
H. Green ? ? Pre-war?
Arthur Percy Jeffrey 1885-1961 ? ?
Sydney Joys 1891-1979 Clerk 31 August 1914?
Louis Kennedy 1883-? Law clerk 1 September 1914
J. King* ? ? Late August 1915
Leonard Leach 1893-1951 Clerk 31 October 1911
T. Major** ? ? ?
C. Seekings ? ? ?
Robert Stanley Thompson 1892-? Clerk Oct/Nov 1911
George Robert Tuffs 1888-1982 Plumber 3 May 1909
J. H. Wilson ? ? ?

*Possibly Joseph H. King. A. J. King of the 2/1st ERY was court martialled at Driffield on 12/2/1916.

**Possibly Tom William Major, 1897-1979.

Quite a few of these Wilson line men joined the ERY pre-war and although there are several entering the service in 1914, it is not a very large number. Clearly whilst the ERY were a local regiment, other units were attracting the bulk of new recruits amongst Wilson line employees in the wartime situation. Perhaps it was perceived that other regiments were more likely to see active service and the ERY might be left at home (as of course proved to be the case until September 1915).

Another possibly work-related group are clerks working for oil manufacturers. At least four men with this profession have been identified so far - Cyril Vellenoweth Pippet, William 'Wass' Reader, Stanley Leaf and Harold Dean Slater. All four of them lived in Hull. Slater enlisted on the 31st August 1914 and Stanley Leaf on 1st September 1914, so there is at least a possibility that they knew one another.

See the Database and Professions for more analysis of professions.


A pre-war signalling practice. Image from ERYC collection.

Masters and servants

We also see instances of ERY soldiers who were domestic servants of officers in their civilian life. In the pre-war training camps officers were allowed to take a servant along to maintain their kit, bring them their meals etc. (generally only one servant per officer except by prior agreement). Some of these servants subsequently stayed with the regiment when it went to war. Corporal Charles Bailey had been Clive Wilson's butler before the war. He later served with the KOYLI and was wounded in action in November 1917. Private John Akney worked as a groom on the estate of Lt. Scholfield, before becoming his batman in the ERY. He too was wounded. Private Ernest Rose had been valet to Lt. K.G. Menzies before the war.

Was the ERY a locally recruited regiment?

Taking 'local' to mean men born in or living in Hull and the East Riding, this would be an overwhelming 'yes' for the initial recruiting period from 1902 up to the outbreak of war. In August / September 1914, as well as large numbers of existing ERY men who took the Imperial Service oath and thereby agreed to serve overseas, there were numerous instances of men who had left the regiment returning for war service.

Probably well into 1915, the majority of recruits were still from the region. This does seem to be less the case from late 1915 onwards and certainly once conscription was introduced, more and more ERY men came from other parts of the country.

Ration group

Ration distribution, Palestine, spring 1917. Image by Private George Pickard (private collection).

To date, we have birthplace data for about 1432 individuals (of all ranks) out of the roughly 2500 ERY men identified during this project. See pie chart on the accompanying database.

Of these 1432 men, 354 were born in Hull (approx. 25%), 317 in the East Riding (22%), 320 in other parts of Yorkshire or in Lincolnshire (22%), 426 elsewhere in the UK (30%) and just 15 were born overseas (1%). This is taken across the whole period 1903-1918. More detailed analysis of the data is still in progress, but it does appear (based on known enlistment dates) that if you were to separate out those men who joined the ERY prior to 1915, then the proportion that came from Hull/East Yorkshire would be even higher. As it is, we can say that where we know the place of origin of an ERY soldier, almost 70% were from Yorkshire or Lincolnshire. During the war, there was some dilution, but it was still a very regionally based recruiting pattern on the whole.


Private Maurice Hawkins on camel, 1916-17. Image in private collection.

Brothers in arms

Another notable feature of the ERY's early recruitment, linked to their predominantly Hull/East Riding catchment area, was the large number of fathers and sons or brothers who joined up. The best example of this was the Oldfield family from Beverley, with no fewer than five family members in the ERY - father George Oldfield was a Sergeant and he was joined by sons Arthur, Edgar, Frank and Harold at various times.

Gordon, John Francis and Leonard Gresham (from Bridlington) were another instance of more than two brothers joining the Yeomanry. Sadly all three of them died during the war.

In all, at least fifty instances have been identified where close relatives were in the ERY together (not to mention several other instances of cousins joining up). This was not confined to the ranks; there are also instances of NCO's and officers who served with relatives - see The Officers and The NCOs. Where service numbers can be analysed, it is frequently the case that brothers joined up together or only a short time apart. The ERY database lists where fathers and sons and brothers have been identified (see the Other information column).

Taken together with the strong geographical links between many of the early recruits, this can only have increased the bond that the regiment naturally sought to create as part of the training process. The ERY really was an extension of the family!

Once conscription began in 1916, local recruitment was seemingly less prevalent and there are very few new instances of brothers serving in the ERY.

Of the roughly 2500 men listed in the East Riding Yeomanry database, around 1750 never advanced beyond the rank of private (with another 19 being of uncertain rank). They were very much the bedrock on which the regiment depended.

We conclude in the associated chapter with a few individual stories - further details on the many fascinating life stories of ERY soldiers may be found in the accompanying Database.

Some individual stories

We conclude the rank and file chapter with a few individual stories: further details on the many fascinating life stories of ERY soldiers may be found in the accompanying Database.

Christian Agerskow
Christian Agerskow (1896-1969) was from Hull, apprenticed to an apothecary and later to the Neptune Fishing Company. Absconding from the latter apprenticeship, he enlisted at Fulford barracks, York in September 1915. When challenged, the Army declined to release him, instead making a financial settlement with his former employers. Agerskow was wounded during the Middle East campaign (possibly at the 3rd Battle of Gaza in autumn 1917). After the war he worked on Arctic fishing trawlers. His rather unusual surname seems to be of Danish origin. His parents, Emil & Lilian Agerskow lived at 153 Norwood, Beverley.
Leslie Hinson
Leslie Hinson (1898-1916) was from Hessle and probably joined the ERY in late May 1915. He was the son of Arthur Edward & Emily Hinson. Leslie Hinson had a very short army career, being killed in a zeppelin raid on York on 2nd May 1915. He was the ERY's first war casualty. Hinson is recorded on Hessle war memorial.
Frederick William Jones
Frederick William Jones (1888-?) was born in Doncaster and must have had a tough upbringing as he was in the local workhouse in 1901 as a pauper inmate. Jones worked as a groom and a chauffeur before the war. He signed up in late September 1914 and went to the Middle East with the ERY. In November 1917 he reported sick whilst the regiment was in the Judean hills, complaining of a dry throat and aching joints. Placed in isolation, even by February 1918 he was still being assisted to walk, being partially paralysed. His service record mentions both diphtheria and influenza. Transferred to the 1st Reserve Cavalry in Ireland, he was discharged in March 1919.
George Lancaster
George Lancaster was born in York and lived at the Bay Horse Inn on Gillygate. He may be the George Lancaster working as a horseman on a farm in Upper Poppleton near York in 1911. However family information is that he worked as an auctioneer with the firm of Richardson & Trotter, based at Lendal, York. Post war Lancaster ran his own auctioneer / estate agency business. During his service in the Middle East, he kept a diary of his experiences (see elsewhere on the ERYC Museums website for a transcript). Lancaster transferred to the Royal air Force in March 1918.
Abraham Wolff Rosenston
Abraham Wolff Rosenston (1899-?) is variously named as Wilfred and Aby in our sources. In 1911 the family were at Anlaby Road, Hull. Abraham's father Hyman was a tailor, said to be either Polish or Russian (it is possible the family were Jewish and had originally fled pogroms within what was then the Russian empire). Abraham worked as an apprentice in the furnishing trade and did not enlist until June 1916. Initially with the 2/1st ERY, Rosenston served with the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment on the western front. In October 1918 he received 'dangerous' i.e. life-threatening gun-shot wounds and was still judged 50% disabled when discharged in January 1919.

Private George Lancaster. Image in private collection