This article is about the Essex Yeomanry and will provide you with an overview of the Regiment’s activities during the First World War. In addition, it will help you to research a soldier who served with the Regiment. I have also written a series of guides to research British soldiers who served in the war:
The Essex Yeomanry in the First World War
The Essex Yeomanry was a British cavalry regiment which was part of the Territorial Force, the forerunner of the Territorial Army. Those who joined the Regiment prior to the outbreak of the First World War, trained on a part-time basis and attended an annual summer camp. The Essex Yeomanry had its headquarters at 17 Sir Isaac’s Walk, Colchester and pre-war, recruited its soldiers from the following areas:
- A Squadron: Colchester, Clacton-on-Sea, Harwich, Walton-on-the Naze, Great Bentley and Ardleigh
- B Squadron: Braintree, Halstead, Chelmsford and Tiptree
- C Squadron: Waltham Abbey, Epping, Loughton, Bishop’s Stortford, Newport and Dunmow
- D Squadron: Southend-on-Sea, Brentwood, Grays, Stratford and Orsett
In August 1914, the Essex Yeomanry was part of the Eastern Mounted Brigade in the Mounted Division. After Britain declared war on German on 4 August, the Regiment was embodied, the Territorial Force term for mobilized and moved to Ipswich. In September 1914, the Essex Yeomanry formed a second-line unit, the 2/1st Essex Yeomanry at Colchester, with the original unit becoming the 1/1st Essex Yeomanry. Though, the 1/1st Essex Yeomanry was usually referred to as the Essex Yeomanry. The 2/1st and 3/1st Essex Yeomanry are discussed below. Remaining in Britain during the opening months, the Regiment landed at Le Havre, France on 1 December 1914 and served on the Western Front for the duration of the war. On 12 December 1914, the Regiment joined the 8th Cavalry Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry Division in which it remained until it was split up in April 1918.
By the time the Essex Yeomanry arrived in France, a series of trenches had been dug from Switzerland to the Belgium coast. This meant that the Essex Yeomanry couldn’t be used in their traditional mounted role for most of the war and there were long periods where very little happened. Despite being a cavalry regiment, the Essex Yeomanry spent periods dismounted in the front line. On the 13 May 1915, the Regiment took part in the Battle for Frezenberg Ridge which was part of the Second Battle of Ypres. There is a good description of the fighting in the regimental history and by the end of the day, the Essex Yeomanry had suffered 161 casualties.
One of the casualties on the 13 May 1915 was the Regiment’s commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Deacon. There’s very little to report for the next two years until the Battle of Monchy Le Preux on the opening day of the Battle of Arras on 11 April 1917. During the day, the Essex Yeomanry suffered 135 casualties. After Arras, very little of interest occurred until the opening of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918. There had been a plan to convert the Essex Yeomanry to either Cyclist Companies or a Machine Gun Battalion but this was scuppered after the German Spring Offensive. In April 1918, the Essex Yeomanry was broken up and its squadrons redistributed as follows:
- A Squadron to the 5th Dragoon Guards
- B Squadron to the 2nd Dragoon Guards
- C Squadron to the 11th Hussars
If you know which squadron a man was serving in, then you’ll need to turn to the war diary of the cavalry regiment’s above. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission recorded 141 dead for the Essex Yeomanry between 8 January 1915 and 27 October 1918.
The 2/1st Essex Yeomanry
The 2/1st Essex Yeomanry was formed at Colchester in September 1914 as a second-line unit. Those unable or unwilling to serve abroad with the 1/1st Essex Yeomanry were sent to this unit which also trained recruits and was used for home defence. In 1917, the 2/1st Essex Yeomanry was converted to a cyclist and was moved to Ireland in January 1918.
The 3/1st Essex Yeomanry
The 3/1st Essex Yeomanry was formed in early 1915 as a training unit. During the summer, the unit was affiliated with a cavalry regiment. This may have been the 2nd Reserve Cavalry Regiment in which it was serving in 1916. In early 1917, the 3/1st Essex Yeomanry was absorbed into the 4th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Aldershot.
Researching a Soldier who Served in the Essex Yeomanry
There are a lot of resources available for the Essex Yeomanry and you can usually find out a lot of information on those who served with the Regiment. My generic guides to researching First World War soldiers will be of use, especially those concerning medal and service records. For information regarding the Regiment, I’d recommend combining the regimental history The 10th (P.W.O) Royal Hussars and The Essex Yeomanry, during the European War, 1914-1918 with the Essex Yeomanry’s war diary. Both of which are discussed below. The regimental history contains a complete casualty list while the Essex Yeomanry’s website contains a list showing which units the soldiers were attached to when the Essex Yeomanry was broken up in April 1918.
Officers: A service record is the most important document to research an officer but not all have survived. If it has, it will either be held by the National Archives or if the officer served past April 1922, then the service record should still be with the Ministry of Defence. The service records of over seventy officers who served with the Essex Yeomanry are held by the National Archives. Many won’t be listed as serving with the Essex Yeomanry but another regiment as they were transferred during the war. Ordering a service record from the Ministry of Defence is a straightforward process and I’ve written a guide to ordering them on my Second World War website. Officers are frequently mentioned in the Regiment’s war diary and regimental history. The London Gazette and Hart’s Army List can be used to track the date they were commissioned and subsequent promotions.
Other ranks: A service record is the key document to research a soldier who served in the ranks but many were destroyed in the Blitz during 1940. If a service record has survived, it will either be available to view online via Ancestry or Findmypast or still held by the Ministry of Defence if they served past January 1921. I’d recommend searching the UK, Military Discharge Indexes, 1920-1971 on Ancestry if you suspect post-war service. I’ve written a guide to ordering the service records on my Second World War website, Researching WW2. If no service record has survived, then providing a soldier served outside of Britain and Ireland there will be a medal index card and corresponding medal roll to consult. If a soldier qualified for the 1914/15 Star, there will be two medal rolls. Often, these medal records will be the only available documents to research a soldier who served in the Essex Yeomanry during the war. There may also be a record for the territorial force efficiency medal.
Other ranks are frequently mentioned in the war diary by name but a regimental number wasn’t always recorded. There is a list of at least sixty soldiers recorded who displayed bravery at Monchy-Le-Preux in 1918 which includes their regimental number and squadron. There is also a list of those men commended for the Battle for Frezenberg Ridge in the regimental history.
War Diary of the Essex Yeomanry
A war diary was written by an officer of a unit and recorded its location and activities. They often contain appendices in the form of orders, battle reports and maps. There is only one war diary for the Essex Yeomanry which has been digitized by the National Archives. To download the war diary for a small fee click on the blue link below. The war diary has also been transcribed on the Essex Yeomanry’s website. I have transcribed the war diary for December 1914 at the bottom of the page to show the type of information it contains.
- Date: 29 November 1914 – 31 March 1918
- 8th Cavalry Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division
- Reference: WO 95/1156/5
- Notes: A good war diary, with detailed entries when the Regiment was in action. The early months do mention the names of the other rank casualties, though most have no regimental numbers. There are three citations for the 3rd Class Medal of St. George for 174 William C. Howard, 1064 Geoffry Wear, and 1236 Albert Howard. There is a “Detail Plan of Monchy-Le-Preux” and a list of soldiers, over sixty, with their regimental number who displayed “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Monchy”.
Further Sources for the Essex Yeomanry
There is a regimental history which also incorporates the 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own Royal) Hussars: The 10th (P.W.O) Royal Hussars and The Essex Yeomanry, during the European War, 1914-1918 by Lieutenant-Colonel F. H. D. C. Whitmore. This book is available to view and download online for free from archive.org. The regimental history has also been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press. Another source of information is the war diary of the 8th Cavalry Brigade Headquarters which has also been digitized and are available to download from the National Archives for a small fee. Its catalogue reference is WO 95/1156/1 and it will contain information on all units of the 8th Cavalry Brigade. The Regiment published a journal, The Essex Imperial Yeomanry Magazine with some issues available at the British Library. However, I’m not sure when the journal stopped being published or which issues are available at the library.
Extracts from the War Diary of the Essex Yeomanry
29 November 1914 – 31 March 1918, 8th Cavalry Brigade, WO95/1156/5
29 November 1914: Melton, Suffolk: 3 am: C Squadron entrained at Woodbridge station for Southampton. 5 am: B Squadron entrained at Woodbridge station for Southampton. 7 am
A Squadron entrained at Woodbridge station for Southampton. 7.30 pm: Southampton: Regiment sailed in SS Anglo-Candian. Strength: 25 officers, 468 rank and file, 513 horses, 4 wheeled vehicles 16, 2 wheeled vehicles 2, motorcycles 7, cycles 8.
1 December 1914: 9:30 am: Le Havre: Regiment disembarked and marched to No.1 Camp.
2 December 1914: Le Havre: Drew new harness to replace unserviceable and exchanged 22 horses. 4 interpreters and 4 horses joined.
3 December 1914: Le Havre: A Squadron and Headquarters entrained at Havre. B Squadron interpreter killed by train. 1 pm: B Squadron and Machine Gun [Section] entrained at Havre. Squadron Sergeant-Major Bidie PS transferred to base at Rouen. 3 pm: C Squadron entrained at Havre
4 December 1914: Saint-Omer: 2 pm: A Squadron and HQ arrived and marched to billets at Wardrecques. 3 pm: B Squadron and Machine guns arrived and marched to billets at Wardrecques. 5 pm: C Squadron arrived and marched to billets at Wardrecques. Weather very bad, much rain and sleet.
5 December 1914: Wardrecques: Very wet and the day was spent in settling into billets. Visited by General Arlington Augustus Chichester General Officer Commanding Army and Reserve Troops. Visited by Brigadier-General Charles Bulkeley-Johnson General Officer Commanding 8th Cavalry Brigade.
6 December 1914: Wardrecques: 2nd-in-command, 2nd-in-command of Squadrons, 1 Sergeant per Squadron, 2 motorcyclists, 4 dispatch riders, Major Buxton and 9 officers servants left to be attached to 8th Cavalry Brigade at Hazebrouck. Private Hermant arrived as interpreter to take the place of Corporal Hannin.
7 December 1914: Wardrecques: Trench digging by Squadrons at Mt D’Hiver. Weather very wet.
8 December 1914: Wardrecques: Musketry by Squadrons at 200-yard range Saint-Omer, very bad range.
9 December 1914: Wardrecques: Inspection by General Officer Commanding 3rd Cavalry Brigade.
10 December 1914: Wardrecques: Regimental field firing 15 rounds per man near billets. Received orders by phone from Brigade Major, A and R Troops to march to Hazebrouck. 2 horses and 1 man to sick lines at Saint-Omer.
11 December 1914: Wardrecques: Marched via Hazebrouck to new billets at Grand Sec Bois, arrived 3 pm, rejoined by the 5 officers, 3 sergeants and servants.
12 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Inspected by General Officer Commanding 8th Cavalry Brigade. 3 waggons, 6 horses and 3 Army Service Corps Drivers arrived and taken on the strength.
13 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Church parade 10 am. Received orders to march to new billets near Bailleul next day early.
14 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: 7 am: Parade at 7 am with head of the column at level crossing south of east of Pradelles, marched with Royal Horse Guards and 10th Hussars via Bailleul to about 1 mile west of Dranoutre arriving there 10:30 am, stayed there with remainder of 3rd Cavalry Division until 2:45 pm, within sight of artillery duel and then marched to billets at Saint-Jans-Cappel, where B Echelon had already arrived. Very dirty and bad billets.
15 December 1914: Saint-Jans-Cappel: Stood-to all day till 7 pm, horses saddled up and wagons packed.
16 December 1914: Saint-Jans-Cappel: Parade at 9 am marched via Meteren and Strazeele to former billets at Grand Sec Bois. Private Lloyd proceeded to England on receiving a commission in North Lancashire Regiment.
17 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: 9:15 am: Dismounted attack by squadrons near Hazebrouck under direction of the Brigadier.
18 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Exercise in trench digging under direction of Engineer officer. Very wet all day.
19 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work. Lecture by Brigadier on patrols at 11:30 to all officers, trench digging in afternoon.
20 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Voluntary church parade 10 am. Court of Enquiry held on death of Interpreter Hermain, proceedings forwarded to Adjutant General General Headquarters.
21 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work in morning. Bayonet practise in afternoon. Very wet and cold. 2 horses died.
22 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Dismounted attack in Bois O’Aual under direction of Brigadier. Interpreter Feildal left. 1 horse destroyed.
23 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Regimental reconnaissance scheme round the big woods. 20 chargers, 1 riding [horse] have arrived.
24 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Regimental reconnaissance scheme stopped by march of 1st Corps. 3 officers, 4 non-commissioned officers, 12 men go on leave. Privates Rust and Deal to hospital. A.S.S. Fieldhouse joined.
25 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: 10 am Church parade.
26 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Trench digging in morning. Exercise in afternoon. Private Morleysent to hospital Hazebrouck.
27 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Voluntary church parade at 10 am.
28 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work, reconnaissance and patrols, also blocking roads, improving billets in afternoon. Major Gold and 12 men proceeded on leave.
29 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work, reconnaissance and patrol work, improving billets in afternoon.
30 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work. Reconnaissance and patrols. Captain Steele and Lieutenant Hine proceeded on leave.
31 December 1914: Grand Sec Bois: Squadron work, riding drills. Rest of the day spent in improving billets.