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Despatch Riders - RE Signals


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#1 Harvey

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 12:11 PM

My name is Harvey Harnett.
I wonder if anyone can help me with an intriguing question.
I have always known that my Father was a Despatch Rider in WW!, indeed he owned a Motor Cycle before the War.

My Dad ws No. 73977 Corporal H.J.Harnett RE Signals. I have a photo of him astride an Army Motor Cycle - a Douglas - Regn. No. A1-3265.

This my question. Dad joined the Army on 16.1915. His Attestation Form is signed 27.10.1915 at the RE Signal Depot at Fenney Stratford. In less than two months he was a full Corporal and arrived in France on 21.12.1915 (indeed he qualified for the 1914-15 Star - just ! and which I hold) He was invalided-out on 17.7.1916

Could it be that the Army was desperately short of qualified MC Riders and my Dad was 'fast-tracked' to fill a shortage ?

Any help would be gratefully appreciated.

Harvey Harnett

#2 Terry_Reeves

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 05:04 PM

Harvey

Many DRs were quickly promoted to Corporal because it was a very responsible post. It required skillful riding , resilience, courage and a great deal of initiative to get messages through.

TR

#3 munster

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 05:58 PM

I can not find anything on him except his silver war badge entry below.Giving him a bit of rank gave authority to help get his job done a corporal would have a bit of weight to apply if it needed it.john
http://search.ancest...=&rank=1&pgoff=

#4 centurion

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:50 PM

Possibly he went through the Special Enlistment process (the RE used this a lot) which was a way of getting men with special in demand skills (and sometimes getting round things like age and height standards). Such men seem to have by passed much of basic training and been fast tracked for promotion to NCO. If your man was able to ride and field maintain a motorcycle (especially if it was a Douglas) then they could start using him almost as soon as he enlisted and he wouldn't be expected to know that much about things like SMLEs (you point the end with the hole in it towards the enemy) as he was unlikely to be stuck in a trench or advancing over the top.

#5 mike n

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 07:44 PM

In the book about the 5th Division dispatch rider. He was I think a university graduate enlisted was made a corporal told to buy his motor bike he then went straight over to Ireland so as to embark with the division for France. There appears to have been a group of them altogether

#6 Ian Riley

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 09:20 PM

In the book about the 5th Division dispatch rider. He was I think a university graduate enlisted was made a corporal told to buy his motor bike he then went straight over to Ireland so as to embark with the division for France. There appears to have been a group of them altogether



Adventures of a Despatch Rider by WHL Watson published William Blackwood and Sons, 1915, Edinburgh and London. Watson certainly didn't lose any time in getting into print. I had forgotten that he went via Ireland

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#7 mike n

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 09:25 PM

I enjoyed the read, Its a shame he did continue with the story. I believe he was promoted to captain Mike

#8 nickshelley

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 01:12 AM

I'm researching the despatch riders recruited early in the war (concentrating on those sent overseas in August and September 1914) but I've gleaned a lot of other useful information.

Specifically all DRs were promoted to Corporal on day one (I've seen it on attestation forms). The logic was that soldiers below the rank of Corporal were not allowed to address officers directly, and since the whole point of despatch riders was to send messages from HQ to officers in other formations, it was essential for DRs to be Corporals. It was clearly experienced as an anomaly but in reality many of the men so promoted actually applied for commissions not long after arriving in France.

#9 RobL

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 01:01 PM

Didn't they have to acquire their own motorcycles too? I know someone in Belgium with a 1915 Douglas, it's WW1 rider was given it by the person who ran the motorcycle shop he worked in so he could be a despatch rider

I enjoyed the read, Its a shame he did continue with the story. I believe he was promoted to captain Mike


Be continued his story when he joined the Tanks, although of course that leaves a sizeable gap

#10 Scalyback

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 02:45 PM

I'm researching the despatch riders recruited early in the war (concentrating on those sent overseas in August and September 1914) but I've gleaned a lot of other useful information.

Specifically all DRs were promoted to Corporal on day one (I've seen it on attestation forms). The logic was that soldiers below the rank of Corporal were not allowed to address officers directly, and since the whole point of despatch riders was to send messages from HQ to officers in other formations, it was essential for DRs to be Corporals. It was clearly experienced as an anomaly but in reality many of the men so promoted actually applied for commissions not long after arriving in France.



There is flaws in all that logic. Officers do not give message to the rider and the rider then seeks out the other officer. The message will go between RE signal units, then passed to correct officer. The entire reason for the birth of RE signal units and then the Royal Signals. They may on occasion be given a message, parcel or other job to do direct to an officer going somewhere. No doubt in that but they would be a Cpl for the reasons given be MR C. Also the rank of Cpl helps you move about easier without hinderance but not a power overkill by ranking them Sgt.

Despatch riders, brave lads but given to hint of romantic twist I fear.


EDIT. Also to finish. Runners in infantry Battalions. Private or L/cpl rank. Done the same job as a despatch rider at a lower level. Selected for speed and ability to think on the ground. No one promoted them CPL just to speak to officers!

#11 GRUMPY

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 02:51 PM

I'm researching the despatch riders recruited early in the war (concentrating on those sent overseas in August and September 1914) but I've gleaned a lot of other useful information.

Specifically all DRs were promoted to Corporal on day one (I've seen it on attestation forms). The logic was that soldiers below the rank of Corporal were not allowed to address officers directly, and since the whole point of despatch riders was to send messages from HQ to officers in other formations, it was essential for DRs to be Corporals. It was clearly experienced as an anomaly but in reality many of the men so promoted actually applied for commissions not long after arriving in France.


I just don't buy the "logic" bit, who dreamed that up?

#12 Scalyback

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 09:06 PM

Grumpy any KRs for privates or L/Cpls speaking to the officer class. On parade I can see reason for(quiet in the ranks!).

#13 GRUMPY

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 09:38 AM

I 0wn every QVR KR and QR between c. 1850 to 1975 and am struggling to find a suitable heading in Index.

Can you just envisage a combat situation when a junior rank hazards his post/ section, unit even, for lack of an intermediary?

I think the onus is on you to provided relevant chapter and verse.

#14 kevrow

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 01:37 PM

Nickshelley,

I applaud your interest in researching what seems to be an anomaly in why a man should be made up to Corporal nearly straight away and your reasoning may, or may not, be true; it is just as plausible as any other reason given in this thread. I know it can take some time to find the exact location for such orders and may mean looking at any number of official publications. KRs, as far as I can see, doesn't even mention DRs, or signallers for that matter, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. Signaller, in the RA and perhaps the RE, became an appointment later in the war in their own right. If it is of any use, and you do not already have the list, I will post the AOs that I think may be relevant to the RE DR. I have no idea whether these will explain the reasoning behind this, but they are the ones that I would be looking at first. The man mentioned in post 1 enlisted under one of them. Some are obviously later additions but if you can get one then you might as well get them all, at least up to 1917. These can be seen at the National Archives at Kew, and perhaps other places depending on where you live. They are;

Cyclists, Motor
Clothing and necessaries. Scale AO 17 of 1915
Despatch Riders, RE. Pay, &c and Qualifications for Engr. Pay AO 225 and 337 of 1917
S.R and T.F Pay and Engineer Pay AO 91 of 1915
S.R Organisation, Pay, &c AO 189 and 412 of 1913 (AO 189 was quoted for enlistment in post 1) AO 107 of 1914, AO 427 of 1915, AO 106 of 1916, In abeyance AO 255 of 1917
T.F. Conditions of Enlistment, &c AO 230, 301 and 413 of 1913
T.F. Sect. RE Pay AO 69 and 91 of 1915
T.F. Yeo. and Inf. proficiency Qualification AO 69 of 1915

Whether they are of any use I have no idea, but if any one has the 1913 and 1914 ones then I am sure they will be posted fairly quickly if they do not explain the reason.

Good luck.

Kevin

#15 Gardenerbill

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 01:45 PM

My Grandfather was a despatch rider in Salonika and he wasn't promoted to Corporal until December 1918.

He used to tell me stories about the Douglas and Triumph motorcycles relative merits, he preferred the Douglas and on at least one occasion abandoned a Triumph at the side of a road and proceeded on foot.

#16 Charles Fair

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 09:29 PM

My great uncle, Reggie Secretan, was a DR with First Army Signals and remained a private between his enlistment in December 1914 and going to an OCB in August 1914. There is no indication on his service record or any photos that he ever attained L/Cpl.

#17 kevrow

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 09:54 PM

Just for those that may be interested in the future about the RE DRs was your great uncle in the REs? I personally have no real interest in them, but the thread is about the Royal Engineers, not the ASC or the RA.

Kevin

#18 WhiteStarLine

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Posted 26 November 2012 - 11:37 PM

Kevin, if these men were despatch riders then they would have been Royal Engineer (Signal Service) or part of the Royal Engineer Postal Section who handled letters and parcels rather than signals. Ergo, they were RE. Despatch Riders were added to the signal service establishment in 1911 and went to France with the 1914 Expeditionary Force. Post 22 is not quite right when it states that they became an appointment in their own right later in the war. What did happen in 1916 is that artillery communications down to the level of brigade headquarters became the responsibility of the signal service, so I assume that despatch riders were on this establishment also.

Incidentally, I too would like a reference cited to Post 8. I have read the free download, the invaluable Work of the R.E. in th European War 1914 - 1919 The Signal Service (France) and it covers the recruitment of despatch riders and the fact that a substantial draft was made available to the signal service from the University Officers' Training Corps, most requiring no training and in fact many being commissioned not long after. This is a more likely explanation than the yet-to-be-substantiated one from post #8. If officers could not be addressed by soldiers, it would have made the job of the sappers who manned the switchboards, wireless sets, signal offices, etc etc a rather interesting one.

#19 kevrow

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Posted 27 November 2012 - 11:04 AM

Quote, "Kevin, if these men were despatch riders then they would have been Royal Engineer (Signal Service) or part of the Royal Engineer Postal Section who handled letters and parcels rather than signals. Ergo, they were RE."

There is a Reginald Herbert Secretan's service records that one can view. He was with the ASC until being sent to the Herts Regt. for a commission in Sept. 1916. Of course he may not be the Reggie Secretan that was Charles Fair's great uncle which is why I asked the question.

Quote, " Post 22 is not quite right when it states that they became an appointment in their own right later in the war."

I cannot see in any post that anyone has suggested that they were. I did say in post 14 that Signallers in the RA later became an appointment, and for all I know perhaps in the RE as well; I haven't looked. It was an illustration that I cannot find those positions, signallers and DRs, in KRs in 1914.

I just find it interesting that on the face of it there were a number of men who enlisted into the RE and were almost immediately made Corporals. Just because they may, or may not be, officer material I am not convinced that it gave them the automatic right for such a promotion. One would think that there must be some order/authority somewhere that gives this right.

Harvey's fathers records are available, if they interested.

Kevin

#20 kevrow

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 03:42 PM

I thought I may get round to reading the "The Signal Service in the European War of 1914-1918" one day.

Quote, "345
(4) The general reform in the direction of economy was also seen
in the enlistment of Sapper and Pioneer motor cyclists and the
consequent disappearance of the bevies of motor cyclist corporals
which were an anomaly of the earlier signal establishments. "

Perhaps one day someone will do some research on these DRs and explain this anomaly.

Kevin

#21 rob elliott

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 11:59 PM

Harvey/Nick

Godfrey Geoffrey Boyton was an Ulster Volunteer Force Signal and Despatch Corps motorcycle rider in 1914, raced Isle of Man senior TT 1913 & 14.

Joined up early August and was posted to France 30/9/1914 as a corporal, later commissioned.

Some UVF write ups say he won the TT. He did not, he came 30th in 1913 and 5th in 1914.

Came from middle class family in County Donegal.

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#22 nickshelley

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 07:29 PM

As I said earlier, I've been researching men who landed in France in 1914 as motorcycle despatch riders. To clear up one issue, at that date the Royal Engineers were responsible for the Army's signallers, thus, for example, they supplied the "1st Signals Company" to the 1st Division, and in addition they attached two Field Companies (generally to build and blow bridges, etc) which happened to be 23rd and 26th Field Companies. My expertise is confined to the 1914 BEF, but I'm aware that the entire Royal Engineers' signalling capacity was devolved into the newly created Royal Signals Regiment in 1920.

I've found this to be an interesting discussion about why the army promoting these recruits to full corporal. I didn't expect to see such substantial research on King's Regulations! If there's a definitive answer I'd be very pleased to see it. However, I'm firmly of the opinion that all the men who landed in France in 1914 as motorcycle DRs were Corporals. On the other hand, I'm aware of a few men recruited as DRs in 1914 who stayed in England, and it's true to say that not all of these were immediately promoted corporal.

I confess I can't cite the relevant King's Regulation but I came across the following explanation in the book 'Daredevil of the Army' by A P Corcoran (1918) which reads as follows:
The duty of a despatch rider, as every one knows, is to carry confidential messages of urgent importance from one staff officer to another. They may be from a general to a general; they may be merely from a colonel to a captain. Always they are from one commissioned man to another. Which is the reason why he wears a corporal's stripes. According to the regulations of the British Army, no man in the ranks may approach such an officer of his own accord, unless accompanied by a non-com. And non-coms are, naturally, of too much importance to be spared as permanent escorts. Were it not for this detail of army etiquette, the despatch rider would be no more than a mere private. As to the method of performing his duty, there is no definite rule. When we received our instructions in London, they were practically summed up in the following sentence:"Deliver your despatch as quickly as you can,and then return to your own section." The how and the when, we were informed, would be matters for our own discretion, and much discretion we needed at times."

Now I would be the first to accept that there are problems about AP Corcoran. The early part of the book, which is effectively a contemporary account, is a convincing first-person description of life as a motorcycle DR, and the text refers to at least two men (28066 Hodder and 28204 Edmund Louis Brown) who I can authenticate as Corporal DRs. However, I have been unable to establish who AP Corcoran was, and I'm led to the conclusion that the book is not entirely an authentic first-person account.

While there are difficulties about the book, and there are slight risks of circularity in my argument, however I am convinced that the immediate promotion to Corporal in August 1914 is one of the markers by which to assess whether a man was a motorcycle despatch rider. All the medal rolls index cards show the rank of Corporal in the first line (many later promoted to Sergeant if they weren't commissioned) and I've also collected a number of service records which show men who joined the Motor Cyclist Section were immediately promoted. Eg, 28062 Richard Vere Brew was attested on 7 August 1914 and the Statement of Services shows that he was promoted Corporal the same day.

Nick

#23 old_timer

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Posted 15 September 2013 - 03:04 PM

I am currently recearching motorcyles of WW1 and discovered that prior to the war volunteer motorcycle riders were encouraged to join up via the ACU and Motor Cycle Magazine. An officer wrote:

 

"I would point out that a motor cyclist enlisting into the Special Reserve is granted the rank of corporal in the Royal Engineers, and becomes a member of the sergeants' mess from the first day of joining"

 

It would seem that this may have been due to a shortage, maybe because the pay was seen to be too low to cover maintanance wear and tear etc. 



#24 kevrow

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Posted 16 September 2013 - 07:54 PM

I still think the AOs of 1913, as posted earlier, would shed some light on exactly when and how these enlistments were handled. Would corporals become members of the sergeants mess on enlistment? Find that hard to believe somehow, but they were different times.

 

Nevertheless you may find the following of interest, even if this mans enlistment was after he was supposed to supply his own motor bike.

 

Having trouble attaching files for some reason. Will try later. Basically it shows the application on joining, and what he is supposed to carry.

 

Kevin



#25 kevrow

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Posted 17 September 2013 - 12:06 PM

This is what I was trying to attach last night. May interest those to see what rules they were supposed to follow, and what they were supposed to carry.

 

Kevin

 

Attached File  RE DR Enlistment S:R.jpg   244.07KB   3 downloads