A record of the Sportsman's Battalions during the First World War, including a database of soldiers who enlisted in - or served with - the 23rd, 24th and 30th Royal Fusiliers, originally raised by Mrs. Emma Cunliffe-Owen in September 1914. If you have any questions or comments, please send to fmsketches@macbrem.com, thanks!

Leaving London for Hornchurch: Perspectives

Hard As Nails
Michael Foley, 2007

Before leaving for Hornchurch, the Battalion was inspected by the commanding officer Viscount Maitland.

They then marched from Hyde Park, opposite Knightsbridge Barracks, where they had been drilling, to the city through streets lined with crowds of cheering people.

The route took them past Buckingham Palace, Wellington Barracks and the Houses of Parliament onto the embankment. They were then addressed by at the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor.

The 23rd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (First Sportsman's)
Fred W. Ward, 1920

All things come to those who wait, however. We were to move to Hornchurch—the first step to active service. We had our uniforms, we even had white gloves, and at last we fell in, by the Hotel Cecil, with a band at our head, and off we went. Funnily enough, some of us felt this break with London more than we felt anything afterwards. It was really our first introduction to "the Great Unknown."

Had the Guards been marching away they could not have had a greater and a more enthusiastic send-off. The streets of the City were packed; it was a struggle to get through. At Liverpool Street we were reduced to a two-deep formation, and even then it became a case of shouldering your way through those who had gathered to wish us "God speed." But we were entrained at last; we detrained at Romford, and we marched to Hornchurch. We were in the camp.

Hornchurch During the Great War
Charles Thomas Perfect, 1920

After a march through London, from Hyde Park to the City, past the Mansion House – where the Lord Mayor (with whom was Mrs. Cunliffe-Owen) delivered an address of welcome to the men – and on to Liverpool Street Station, where they entrained, the Battalion arrived on the afternoon of November 4 at the Camp. Their reception in London was of a most enthusiastic character, crowds of cheering citizens lining the streets, and according them a splendid welcome.

It fell to [the Cottage Homes Band] to lead the Sportsman's Battalion to their Camp at Grey Towers. The band, under the direction of Mr. H.W. Alden (bandmaster), met the battalion on its arrival at Romford Station, with a letter to Col. Lord Maitland, offering the service of the lads, which was gladly accepted. To see those little chaps, whose stride was only half the length of that of the men of the battalion, stepping it out, was distinctly inspiring, although one cannot help feeling that the men found short stepping some what trying.

Hornchurch folk extended a similar greeting to them, as, headed by the Cottage Homes Band, they marched in magnificent order through Grey Towers gates for the first time.

The following verses were written to commemorate the arrival of the Battalion:

November 4th, 1914.

We’ve waited for you – “Hard as Nails” – and now at last you’ve come,
   We saw you march through London Town, we heard the fife and drum,
We heard the tramp of martial feet, we saw the bunting fly,
   We heard the Lord Mayor’s greeting as your ranks went swinging by,
We saw the throng of cheering folk, we heard their mighty shout,
   And then we heard your answering cry : – “We won’t be be bothered about!

And now Our Village welcomes you, yes, every mother’s son,
   From the buck “officially” forty-five to the lad not twenty-one.
We love you, and we’re proud of you, for answering the Call
   Of King and Home and Country – Soldiers and Sportsmen all,
And well we know you’ll play the game when guns and cannon roar,
   And, like true Sportsmen, do your bit to make a winning score.

Fame you have won in times of peace on many a playing field,
   Where mimic battles bravely fought but barren victories yield,
But now a sterner fight is yours, where you will show your grit,
   And prove what manly sport can do to make a nation fit,
And when you make your final stand against the German Huns,
   Just keep your wickets up, lads, while they make all the “runs.”


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