The East Bergholt V.T.C.
Formed in early 1915, the East Bergholt Volunteer Training Corps (VTC) was made up of volunteers who were either too old to serve in the Armed Forces, or who were excluded for other reasons, but who were still anxious to “do their bit” to protect the country.
- The Great War forerunner of "Dad's Army"
- 51.978531, 1.00527
What was the Volunteer Training Corps?
In the early months of the Great War a number of groups sprang up throughout Britain made up of enthusiastic volunteers who were either too old to serve in the regular Armed Forces, or who were excluded for other reasons, but who were still anxious to “do their bit” to protect the country from a possible German invasion.
Initially the government wanted little to do with them, and at one point had publicly vetoed proposals for a Volunteer Force. However, such was the public clamour for such a group that the War Office were reluctantly ordered to authorise “lessons in drilling and musketry” for men who were over age or unfit to serve otherwise. In order to have some form of control over them each group was required by the government to affiliate to the Central Organisation of the Voluntary Training Corps (VTC).
The volunteers were not permitted to attest involving an oath and were encouraged to drill and learn musketry several nights each week. Military discipline was expected during training. Much of the training was provided by ex-soldiers.
To start with, the VTC were completely separate from the Armed Forces. Each local group had to finance and equip themselves – there was no funding from central government, not even for weapons. The Corps were not permitted to wear a wool or khaki uniform but wore a red armband with the letters “GR” on it.
Gradually as the War progressed, the Army came to recognise the usefulness of having a ready force of men able to undertake some of the home defence duties and thus free up trained soldiers to serve overseas. Members of the Corps were often used as guards for munitions factories, bridges or junctions on the rail network and also for coastal defence.
As a result, in April 1916, the VTC were at last officially recognised. They were taken over by the War Office and their Battalions legally became Volunteer Battalions of the Volunteer Force. Later that year, a Volunteer Act was passed which obliged the volunteers to remain in the Corps until the end of the war – until that point, they could leave with just two weeks’ notice.
With this recognition, came central funding – the men were at last supplied with equipment and official uniforms.
In July 1918, the War Office permitted each Volunteer Battalion became a numbered Volunteer Battalion of their local Regiment.
Shortly after the Armistice, the Volunteer Training Corps was suspended and then – in 1920 – officially disbanded.
The Volunteer Training Corps in East Bergholt
The Suffolk Volunteer Training Corps started during the Winter of 1914-15 and received enthusiastic support. Meetings held and men were enrolled all over the County. The numbers of the volunteers in the County appears to have fluctuated somewhat during the course of the War, from an estimate of approximately 6,000 to 7,000 volunteers in 1915, down to 4,390 in 1916 but then back up to 5,800 in 1918.
The Suffolk Corps were grouped into six battalion, roughly aligned with the parliamentary constituencies at that time. As a result, the East Bergholt VTC – which had been formed at the start of 1915 – became part of the 4th Battalion (which was made up of Corps from the Woodbridge Constituency). The Battalion Commandant was Lord Rendlesham.
Following the reorganisation in July 1918, the surviving evidence indicates that the East Bergholt volunteers made up many of those in No. 13 Platoon, D Company, of the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
None of the men of the VTC are commemorated on the East Bergholt Roll of Honour, which contains the names of 342 “East Bergholt Men Who Served in the Great War 1914 – 1919”. This is no doubt due to the fact that even after July 1918, they were never recognised as a part of the Regular Armed Forces.
However, Edward Tweed – one of the East Bergholt men who was in the VTC – is commemorated on the village Memorial to those who Died in the Great War, even though he is not officially recognised as one of the War Dead. 1 As a member of the Volunteer Training Corps, Edward is not officially classed as one of the war dead, and is therefore not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is also the only man commemorated on the Memorial to Those Who Died in the Great War who is not also remembered on the Roll of Honour to the East Bergholt Men Who Served.
The following reports appeared in local newspapers at the time, regarding the East Bergholt Volunteer Training Corps:
From “The Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury”, Friday, January 15, 1915:
“A public meeting convened for the purpose of discussing the advisability of inaugurating a Volunteer Training Corps was held at the Lambe School, East Bergholt, on Thursday week. There was a large and enthusiastic attendance. Mr. C.C. Eley presided, and there were present, the Rev. T.F. Paterson (rector), General Sir Robert Jennings, K.C.B., Sir Collingwood Hughes, Bart., Mr. E.R. Wood, Mr. H. Harwood, Mr. I. Robertson, Mr. H.E. Chorley, and many others. Mr. Eley, in opening the proceedings, explained fully the Volunteer Training Corps movement, and after having answered several questions, Sir Robert Jennings proposed, seconded by Sir Collingwood Hughes, that an East Bergholt Volunteer Training Corps be formed.”
From “The Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury”, Friday, March 26, 1915:
“The East Bergholt Volunteers made their first public appearance on Sunday afternoon, when their swinging step, fine physique, and military bearing made quite an impression, reflecting great credit upon the Commandant (Col. H.H. Peel) and their instructors.”
From “The Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury”, Friday, April 30, 1915:
There was a good muster at the parade ground of the East Bergholt Volunteer Corps on Sunday afternoon, including the Commandant, General Sir Robert Jennings, K.C.B., Company-Commanders Sir Collingwood Hughes and Mr. E.R. Wood, and instructors Sergt. J. Cracknell and V. Case, on the occasion of a general inspection by Capt. Brittain, organising secretary of the Suffolk Volunteer Training Corps. After inspecting the lines and witnessing company drill, Capt. Brittain spoke in the highest terms of what he had seen, complimenting the corps instructors and officers. On Saturday there was a shooting match among the members of the Volunteer Corps at East Bergholt, upon the capital outdoor rifle range, fixed up by Company-Commander Sir Collingwood Hughes, Bart., adjoining the Lodge. The teams were chosen by Sir Collingwood Hughes and Sergt. J. Cracknell. There was some excellent shooting, Sir Collingwood’s team winning by the small margin of nine points, the scores being: Sir Collingwood Hughes’ team 133, Sergt. J. Cracknell’s 129.”
From “The Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury”, Friday, May 21, 1915:
“The East Bergholt Volunteer Training Corps held a shooting match at the butts, kindly provided for by Sir Collingwood Hughes, teams being picked of eight a-side, to fire ten rounds each. Mr. Bedwell’s team scored 227 and Mr. Robertson’s 202. The highest score for Mr Bedwell’s team was made by Mr. C. Moss, 41; for Mr. Robertson’s side Mr. Turnbull made 35.
From “The East Anglian Daily Times”, Tuesday, July 4, 1916:
A meeting was held at East Bergholt Schools on Sunday afternoon to enable men of the local V.T.C. to attest.
Sir Collingwood Hughes, in introducing Lord Rendlesham mentioned that over 170 men had joined Lord Kitchener’s Army from the parish, apart from Lord Derby’s scheme.
Lord Rendlesham who was received with applause, said that Lord French had recently stated that the Volunteers were really needed – even more wanted if there was no fear of invasion, as in that case they would be able to release practically all the Regulars needed to guard the East Coast. After pointing out the duty of every patriotic Englishman to do his duty in this, the greatest crisis that has ever occurred in British history, his Lordship showed that even from a selfish point of view it was to every man’s advantage personally to belong to a military unit. Some objected to join on the ground of wishing to keep their businesses going – in case of invasion there would be no business. A good start was being made in East Bergholt by the offer of five rifles by the Sub-Commandant (Sir Collingwood Hughes) and twelve rifles by twelve ladies of East Bergholt. He (Lord Rendlesham) would give £5 towards their equipment. (Loud applause.)
Mr. Godolphin Millbank, in a rousing speech, calling on the men to join, said that he had heard the best news that day he had heard in his life – first, that the English Army was winning, and secondly, that his battalion, in which he had taken so much interest, was to be equipped.
A large number of attestations were then taken.”
From “The East Anglian Daily Times”, Wednesday, November 13, 1918:
At Samford Sessions on Tuesday, before Capt. Mileson Edgar and other Magistrates, Albert James Bedwell, postman, East Bergholt, a private in D Company, 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, was summoned to pay fines incurred by him as a member of the Battalion, for not attending drill 2s. 6d., and for disobeying orders 5s..
Defendant put in a statement, which the Clerk read to the Bench, to the effect that he was suffering from an affection of the knee, and his post duty was so arduous as to preclude him from attending the drills.
The Bench ordered the defendant to pay the half-crown, but remitted the 5s. fine. Defendant was ordered to pay 2s. 6d. towards the costs.”
- The Great War forerunner of "Dad's Army"
- 51.978531, 1.00527
- 1As a member of the Volunteer Training Corps, Edward is not officially classed as one of the war dead, and is therefore not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is also the only man commemorated on the Memorial to Those Who Died in the Great War who is not also remembered on the Roll of Honour to the East Bergholt Men Who Served.