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Royal Garrison Artillery - a novice's guide....

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Some time ago I posted details of my Father-in-Law's Dad who served with the Hants RGA Territorial force (see thread titled "RGA Hants"). My search for details of his service continues as the crucial documents of where he went and when are missing from his service record held at the National Archive and, despite excellent help on here, his movements remain somewhat of a mystery.

I know little about the organisation of things during WW1 and how things proceeded, and therefore I wonder if anyone can enlighten me? Apologies if these questions are obvious. I would like to at least increase my awareness of what his experience MAY have been, as I cannot be sure of exact detail.

He signed up from school on 26/5/15 aged 19. He became a 2nd Lieutenant from 9/6/15, a Lieutenant from 1/6/16 and went to France on 1/8/16. In the Monthly Army lists he is listed with 4 Co Portsmouth. He was injured on 29/5/17 and left from Boulogne on 7/6/17 to return to England. I do not know where he was when injured or what happened, other than that his left foot was "lost" and subsequent infection lead to an above knee amputation later.

What would he have done from signing up to becoming a 2nd Lt? Gunner1 has previously advised that he was in Plymouth prior to sailing for France. How long would he have been in Plymouth and what sort of training/activity would he have done? As a Lt in the RGA I have been told that he would have been responsible for a number of Gunners and a Gun - is that right? - following order of superior officers. I cannot seem to find any detail of him related to a Siege or Heavy Battery to check War diaries - perhaps the info does not/no longer exist, so any information about what he would have needed to do and where and how long etc will help me to understand a bit more. I really have no clue. The fact that a 20 year old from school would have been supporting a team of men and a huge gun seems unreal in these times. 

At least with information about what his experience may have been, I may be able to understand more about the man who seems to have been quite remote from his family and did not talk about anything war-related at all. He kept his medals and his cipher (not sure if that is what it is called) from the King on signing up, and wore his uniform to get married and on special occasions; otherwise there seems no documentary evidence of his experiences.


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In this day and age, as you say, the thought that a 20 year old was 'in charge' of men's lives and thousands of pounds worth of equipment seems almost insane  but, as they say, 'there was a war on'.  Last year I met a man who'd celebrated his 18th birthday [perhaps not officially] on the beaches of Normandy as a Sergeant in command of a 25 pound anti-tank gun and crew of 6.  He stayed in after the War and made Sgt Major in the RCA and met at least one surviving Gunner from his crew, all of whom were older than he was.

In the Great War, education and social class were often seen as indicators of someone who was 'officer material', to the frequent despair of log service troops and NCOs.  A war time commission, 30-90 days training and a trip to the Front were depressingly common.  I say 'depressingly' because, inevitably, at least some of these officers got themselves and others killed through sheer inexperience. 

If you search out the war diary of any RGA unit you will likely be able to get a good sense of how an Gun or Battery spent it's time when not in action by reading the entries describing daily activities and training.  Some of the diaries may be quite detailed in that respect: 'B Battery practice calibration, C Battery worked on repairing gun carriages' or something of the sort for a given day.  

Not a lot of help, I'm afraid, but perhaps a slim thread to follow up.  Have you identified which Battery or Regiment he was with?


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If it's the sense of his life and not specifics about his service and unit histories, there is a lot of general, albeit broad, information about the RGA in WWI on the internet.  Simply use Google and a few standard phrases like "Battery life Royal Garrison Artillery WWI".  You will start to get a multitude of links that often lead you to more detailed information.  You can spend hours with this and is often how I start researching, even when my goal is much more specific information.  You never know where a search result may lead.  For example, you will find there are several books written by RGA gunners about the experience of their units; some examples: "A History of 154 Siege Battery," "With a Siege Battery in France: 303 Siege Battery RGA," and "History of the 135 Siege Battery RGA."  Of course, these won't be specific to your man, but could give you a sense for what his life may have been like in a RGA Battery.  Maybe you'll get lucky and find that someone wrote about his unit.

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