A Rifle Brigade Cap Badge
Recently found in a garden on the western edge of the village, was this cap badge of the Rifle Brigade. The 8th Battalion of the Rifles was billeted in Grayshott from November 1914 to March 1915 and this well preserved badge must surely have been lost during those few months.
Formed in 1800 as the ‘Experimental Corps of Riflemen’, they were soon renamed the ‘Rifle Corps’ and then in 1803 became the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). Under this name they fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. Selected and trained as marksmen, they were an elite unit equipped with the Baker Rifle rather than muskets. Fans of Bernard Cornwell will recognise the 95th as the unit of his fictional hero Richard Sharpe. They became the Rifle Brigade in 1816.
During the Great War the Rifle’s four regular battalions were augmented by several war-service battalions. The 8th was one such, formed on 21st August 1914 at Winchester as part of Kitchener’s First New Army. Its members were all volunteers, men who came forward to serve during the first rush of patriotism following the outbreak of hostilities. After basic training at Aldershot they were moved to Grayshott, where they continued their training on manoeuvres around the heaths and woods.
In Grayshott, our small country village found itself with 800 soldiers to accommodate. Most other ranks and the majority of officers were billeted at Grayshott Hall, which became the battalion HQ. The remaining other ranks were put up in the newly built Village Hall. The owner of our cap badge and how he lost it must remain unknown, but it was found just over the road from Grayshott Hall, a few inches under the soil amidst a layer of ash and small household debris. Perhaps this area, in a corner of a field, was some sort of campsite or hutment which suffered an accidental fire?
In March 1915 the 8th returned to Aldershot , from whence in May they departed for Bologne-sur-Mer. They marched towards the front, heading into the Second Battle of Ypres. They were held as a reserve force for a while, behind the lines but under shellfire, then moved to the front line for trench duties. By late July A and B Companies were at the ramparts, C and D Companies in dugouts.
A strategic point at this time was the area around Hooge Chateau. The British decided to take it by a mining operation, a huge explosive charge placed at the end of a tunnel under the enemy lines. At 7pm on 15th July the mine was blown, making a crater 120 feet across. On Thursday 29th the 8th was called to defend the crater, marching into position under cover of darkness beneath a waning moon and being in place by 2am. At 3:15 am, just hours after the 8th’s arrival, the Germans attacked, with the first use of flamethrowers during the war. At the same time there was a massive bombardment upon the communication trenches behind.
A Lieutenant describes the attack:
‘About half-an-hour before dawn there was a sudden hissing sound and a bright crimson glare over the crater turned the whole scene red. I saw three or four distinct jets of flame, like a line of powerful fire-hoses spraying fire instead of water, shoot across my fire trench. Then every noise under Heaven broke out, trench mortars and bombs, machine guns firing, shrapnel falling and high explosive shells….Those who had faced the flame attack were never seen again.’
Most of the 8th was overrun and the survivors retreated to the support line. Of the 8th’s 24 officers and 745 other ranks, within 24 hours 19 officers and 469 other ranks were killed, wounded and missing.
Another officer wrote that the worst casualties were in A Company, which had been billeted at the Village Hall, and C Company, formerly billeted at Grayshott Hall. These were right on the front line and C Company was described in the battalion’s war diary as non-existent.
The 8th was kept close to the line, billeted under shellfire and regularly digging and repairing trenches. Men were sickening with fatigue but gradually drafts of replacements arrived. Within a couple of weeks the battalion was back in the front line.
Later in the war the 8th fought in the Battle of the Somme at Delville Wood, and at inverness Copse during the Battle of Arras. It returned to England in June 1918.
Whether the owner of our cap badge survived these horrors is unknown. The odds are against him. The crater at Hooge was filled in after the war, still containing hundreds of bodies.
A Cast Iron Grave Marker From St Luke’s
We have been shown this object, which we believe to be a grave or row marker from St Luke’s churchyard. It is 15 inches long, made of cast iron, and carries the number 25. Probably, it dates from when the churchyard was first laid out and when many people couldn’t afford a headstone. How it came to be separated from its rightful place is a mystery.