Home > Family History > Social History – Alfred Thomas King in August 1914

Social History – Alfred Thomas King in August 1914

The BEF during August 1914: In at the start

My Grandmother, Ethel J. Kerry lost her first husband, Alfred Thomas King during the Great War. He was 32. Alfred deployed with the BEF at the outbreak of the Great War, leaving for France from Southampton on 22nd August 1914. He was a Driver in the Royal Field Artillery, 32 Brigade RFA, 4th Division Ammunition Column. This comprised originally numbers 27, 134 and 135 Batteries RFA.

The Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) was responsible for transporting munitions from the divisional parks to the brigade dumps. The Brigade Ammunition Column (BAC) then moved the ammunition forward to the horse lines and gun batteries.  The DAC and the BAC were amalgamated in May 1916.

The Ammunition Column (w/c, gouache & chalk on paper)

In 1914 the Regular British Army was made up of six Divisions and one Cavalry Division. Four were sent to France in early August along with the cavalry but two divisions (including the 4th) were kept back on the southern coast of Britain for fear of an invasion.

The 4th Division eventually sailed to France between 21 and 25 August and joined the BEF at Fontaine-au-Pire. It came under the III Corps on 31st August. It fought at Le Cateau but without the DAC and other support units which were still en route from England.

The 4th Division sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on the SS Rowanmore, a steam transport cargo ship built in 1900 on the Clyde.  This ship was eventually torpedoed 128 miles off the west coast of Ireland on 26th October 1916 by the German U-boat U57.

The SS Rowanmore is also mentioned in Sydney Giffard’s, ‘Guns, Kites and Horses’, a book of three war diaries mirroring much of Alfred King’s experiences in the Royal Field Artillery, in particular the retreat from Mons in some detail (p 44-49).

Guns, Kites and Horses

 

Extracts from War Diaries 1914

4th Divisional Ammunition Column

Source: National Archives WO 95 / 1468 – Closed until 1965

This is the official army record of these events, copied from the hand-written DAC WW1 War Diaries, now housed in the National Archive at Kew, London. I read the diary of the actual day the 4th Division (including the Ammunition Column) left for France from their barracks in London. The numbers of involved are staggering – note how many horses they took with them to the western front.

All place names were printed in capitals. The diaries were all written in pencil by an officer.

DAC War Diary 22 Aug 1914

Saturday 22 August 1914

Strength: 15 Officers, 557 other ranks, 728 horses, 110 four wheel vehicles, 8 two wheel vehicles and 6 bicycles

Between 5.45pm and 3.45am on 23rd August

Eight trains conveyed IV Div. Am. from Park Royal Station to SOUTHAMPTON – last train arriving 0.50am

Sunday 23 August

HQ + 4th Sect (Heavy portion) embarked on S.S. Rowanmore

9pm sailed for HAVRE – delayed by fog off ISLE OF WIGHT

Monday 24 August

5am Left ISLE OF WIGHT

12 noon Arrived HAVRE – Infantry kit unloaded all day

12 midnight Personnel and horses disembarked and remained on wharf – unloading of vehicles commenced

Tuesday 25 August

2am Vehicles unloaded on wharf

4am Entraining commenced. Very heavy work, manning vehicles up ramps from the level of the rails and then cross lifting them on the trucks. No assistance from railway staff. Took four hours to entrain HQ + 4th Sect (heavy portion)

8.30am Train left HAVRE

12.45pm Arrived ROUEN. Watered horses. Coffee provided for men.

6.30pm Arrived AMIENS

11pm Arrived ST QUENTIN and detrained

Wednesday 26 August

4am Marched through ST QUENTIN to bivouac at the Couvent de la Croix Rouge, in a stubble field

7am Orders received to move onto the ROUTE NATIONALE 44. Moved there and formed up vehicles on both sides of the road under the trees, picketing horses between them. Here the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th (How) sections all joined up.

3.30pm Marched for HAM

9pm Arrived HAM. Bivouacked on road south of railway station. Damp night.

Thursday 27 August

6am Marched for NOYON. Heavy thunderstorms on the road. Got into communication with the 4th Div. Am Park.

3pm Marched through NOYON to SEMPIGNY, bivouacking there in a field

8pm HQ of 3rd Div Am Col arrived

Friday 28 August

9am Marched for COMPIEGNE, bivouacking on the road south of the town, near the new barracks on the RUE DE PARIS. A comfortable bivouac for men and horses. Water in the village

Saturday 29 August

10am Went into GHQ at COMPIEGNE and motored out to BEAURAINS getting in touch with the 4th Division.

Major Smith posted to 14th Brigade RFA via England, killed

Sunday 30 August

11am Received orders from the 4th Division to move at once to EMEVILLE

12 noon Marched via ST JEAN AUX BOIS. No water on the way.

6pm When a mile short of EMEVILLE, received orders to go onto PIERREFONDS.

Marched via TAILLEFONTAINE and (10pm) bivouacked on road south of PIERREFONDS.

Horses exhausted. Heavy portion of 4th Sect got detached and went to EMEVILLE

Monday 31 August

10.15am Marched with the 4th Division via ST JEAN AUX BOIS and ST SAUVEUR up on the high ground south of that town and (9pm) bivouacked in the field.  Water at LAPERRINE.

Retreat from Mons 1914

 

BEF Retreat 1914 Map

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  1. February 19, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    my name is Chris Dunham and I am the historian for my RA regt that was originally known as 32 Brigade RFA. I would love to chat to you about what you have on your blog. I have 2 sets of War Diaries for the Brigade. I also have a web site that I can provide links for you.
    I can be contacted on chridunham@aol.com.
    I go on holiday tomorrow morning for 2 weeks back on the 7th March but if you email me tonight with your phone number I could call you.

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