Structure of the British Army

So many of our forebears served, especially during the two World Wars. Here's how the men were organised

The War and Remembrance feature in Your Family Tree issue 18 made for an interesting read. Would it not help many people if you compiled an article giving British Army hierarchy? For example: brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, etc, with approximate numbers contained, and along with dates of important changes. Chris Hopkins via email

On the outbreak of World War I the British Army consisted of more than 80 regiments. Each regiment was normally made up of two regular army battalions, one reserve battalion, and two or more territorial battalions. A battalion at full War Establishment was comprised of 1,107 officers and men. Commanded by a lieutenant colonel, it had a headquarters, machine gun section and four companies. The machine gun section had two Maxim Guns and was commanded by a subaltern. He had one sergeant and 16 men under his command.

The infantry company was normally lettered from A to D (in some regiments this was W-Z), and was commanded by a major or captain. In total there were 227 officers and men in a company. The company was then split into four platoons, each one commanded by a subaltern. His platoon was made up of four sections of 12 men, each commanded by a non-commission officer (NCO) - usually a corporal.

Few battalions were up to strength when

RANK AND FILE: A World War I platoon was made up of 48 men, in four sections

the War broke out in August 1914, even in the Regular Army. For example the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers was comprised of only 20 officers and 580 men on 4 August 1914. In the Territorials it was often even worse, with many battalions well below 500 officers and men. These deficiencies were made up, however, with the huge number of wartime volunteers. As the war progressed the strength of a battalion varied greatly as men became casualties, went sick or were transferred. Heavy losses throughout the war meant that by the time of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, the average infantry battalion was around 450 officers and men; less than half its pre-war establishment.

Individual soldiers would have always identified with their battalion before anything else, but above this level they were also part of a brigade and a division. A brigade was comprised of four infantry battalions, and three brigades, plus support units totalling more than 18,000 men at full strength, made up a a division.

A good online source of information on World War I and the men who fought in it is the British Regiments section at www. battlefields1418.50megs.com. PR

IN THE WORKHOUSE: An aged women's dayroom with matron, 1880s

REFUGE OF THE POOR, REFUGE OF THE SICK

I According to the 1871 Census my great-grandmother was an inmate of an institution in the St Andrew the Less area of Cambridge. What was the name and function of this institution? Mal Tyson via email

□ The two most likely possibilities are that your grandmother was resident at the workhouse or the female refuge. The workhouse (now 8 and 9 Staffordshire Gardens) was built in Mill Road in the 1830s. The 1891 Census for St Andrew the Less shows people from all over the country staying there on census night, which makes it difficult for family historians.

There was also a female refuge in St Andrew the Less, its location marked by a plaque at the Grafton Centre. The surviving minute books of the Refuge show that inmates worked at laundry and sewing, and details of the rates are given in the Minute books. It was a registered charity, which provided for about 20 girls who had to meet the most stringent entry requirements. It closed in the 1920s. For further information you should contact the Cambridgeshire Archives Service, County Record Office, Shire Hall, Castle Hill, Cambridge, CB3 OAP. J'ON

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