The Nutfield Church Lads’ Brigade

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Written by Marion Edwards

The Church Lads’ Brigade was formed in 1891 by Walter M Gee, as a specifically Anglican version of the Boys’ Brigade, founded in 1883. The CLB, with its uniform and focus on military-style training, provided boys who were too old for Sunday School with an ‘interesting, purposeful and recreational social life’. In 1911, the Brigade was recognised by a government as a component of the Territorial Cadet Force, part of the army’s home defence Territorial Force.  A sister organisation, the Church Nursing and Ambulance Brigade for Young Women and Girls, was founded in 1901 by the Reverend Thomas Milner. The two were amalgamated in 1978 and today form the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade. The Brigade’s patron saint is Martin of Tours and a banner depicting St Martin, which was presented by the Brigade in 1921 to honour those members who died in the First World War, is kept at Westminster Abbey.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Field-Marshall Lord Grenfell, Governor of the CLB and an honorary colonel of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, formed the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Rifle Corps exclusively for CLB members, although inevitably many ‘Lads’ had already enlisted, often as members of local ‘Pals’ Battalions.  CLB ‘Lads’ had an advantage over the majority of raw recruits as they were already trained in a variety of necessary disciplines, such as shooting, marching, camping, signalling and first aid, and were veterans of ‘war games’.

The 16th (Service) Battalion, comprising serving and ex-members of the CLB, was to be raised at Denham, Buckinghamshire, and needed at least 1000 members by September 1914.  In the first few days after its formation in August, there were nearly 2000 applicants.  The camp at Denham was not immediately complete and the recruits had to be billeted temporarily in local barns and farm buildings.  St Margaret’s church hall in Uxbridge provided a space for recreation, organised by the Church of England Men’s Society.  The 16th stayed at Denham until March 1915, when they transferred to Rayleigh, Essex, for training in the digging of trenches.  After Rayleigh, the unit went to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and then to Andover, Hampshire, before embarking for France in November 1915.

In France, the 16th was held in reserve until 1916, when it formed part of the second wave on the Somme.  In late 1916, the Brigade launched a ‘Million Shilling Fund’ to raise money for a memorial to all CLB members who had been killed.  Some of the money raised funded the Banner now in Westminster Abbey.  From 1917, the whole of the CLB Cadet Force, numbering nearly 80,000, was taken under the auspices of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.  In 1918, the 16th was in action again at Ypres.

The CLB was (and still is) structured by location, and Nutfield parish was no exception in forming its own Brigade. An album now at Surrey History Centre of photographs of men of the parish of Christ Church, South Nutfield, who had enlisted, kept by the vicar the Rev C F Fison (SHC ref 9859/1) describes in its introduction the enlistment of seven ‘Lads’ from South Nutfield in the King’s Royal Rifles and Army Ordnance Corps, who were ‘representative of about twenty-one members of the Nutfield Church Lads Brigade who joined the army together in 1914’ and who marched ‘from Redhill Station to the recruiting office in company with Mr Fison’.  The six South Nutfield men who enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifles were Riflemen H Monk, F R Moon, O Flint, S J Smith, V Edwards and A Morley; V Luff enlisted in the Army Ordnance Corps.

The South Nutfield contingent of the 16th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (SHC ref 9859/1)

Of the seven men in the group photograph, Frank Moon and Sidney Smith were both killed during the months-long battle of the Somme. The others appear to have all survived the War. The six South Nutfield riflemen also appear in a photograph of the twenty members of the Nutfield CLB who enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifles, taken at their first camp at Denham.

Before the War, the Nutfield parish magazine (SHC ref 2571) regularly included a section dedicated to the CLB, describing summer displays of various drill activities at the communal Shorncliffe camp, with Nutfield members singled out for particular mention; at the outbreak of War in 1914, these sections begin to note the activities of local members in the services, although mentions become increasingly irregular by 1917-1918. The following summaries give a flavour of these reports.

In September 1914, the CLB section hopes that ‘all those who shared in the work [in summer camp] have returned to their homes better fitted and more strongly equipped to take their part in whatever duty the State may call upon them to fulfil throughout the anxious months which lie before them’. In October, the section notes that 5000 ‘officers, warrant officers and elder lads’ have already been dispatched to service by the CLB, and lists those local members and ex-members currently serving – the names include six of those seven pictured in uniform in the group photograph.  November’s magazine includes extracts from letters from ‘Lads’ at the Front, and December names several who have been home on short leave.

Members of the Nutfield Church Lads’ Brigade training at Denham (SHC ref 9858/2)

In January 1915 more recruits are listed and an extract from a letter from Rifleman J Moon (seen in the group of 20) is reproduced, while more letter extracts appear in March, June, July and November. April reports on the annual Battalion Church Parade and records that the Nutfield Company achieved 32nd place in the 1914 ‘King’s Shield’ shooting competition, while August notes that the Nutfield CLB Shooting Team has won the Champney Cup Competition and October that they secured 67th place in the Imperial Challenge Shield.  More CLB recruits are noted in August, October and December, and deaths of former CLB members at the Front in July.  September reports that the 16th (Service) Battalion KRRC is quartered on Salisbury Plain awaiting the order to embark, and December records that they have departed for the Front.

1916 notes CLB enlistments in January, while February includes a piece entitled ‘Our Nutfield Boys – A Lancashire Man’s Appreciation’, which talks in glowing terms of the Nutfield CLB members of the 16th Battalion on Salisbury Plain.  Extracts from letters from serving CLB members appear in March and July, and a report of ‘Christmas [1915] with the 16th KRR’ is included in April, with a lengthy description of action in the trenches in the May issue, which also records deaths in action.

In 1917, there is no particular mention of the CLB or the 16th KRR in the magazines until December, when there is a comment on the report that a former member of the 16th is ‘wounded and missing’.  It is not until May 1918 that members of the 16th KRR are mentioned again, with a list of those Nutfield men killed, wounded or prisoners of war, while June notes the second old member of the CLB to gain the Military Medal.  December notes the ‘triumphant conclusion’ in November of the war.

Sources

Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade website

Nutfield Parish Magazine (SHC ref 2571)

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