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Author Topic: The Royal West Kent Regiment Between the Wars - The Territorials.  (Read 3164 times)

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Offline peterchall

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The Royal West Kent Regiment Between the Wars - The Territorials.
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2011, 13:09:26 »
The pre-war ‘Territorial Force’ was re-formed as the Territorial Army (TA) in February 1920. The RWK 4th and 5th Battalions were the same but the pre-war 20th (County of London) Battalion was called the 20th London Regiment (The Queen’s Own). 4th Battalion HQ was at Tonbridge with companies at Maidstone (plus detachment at Snodland), St. Mary Cray (detachment at Sevenoaks), Westerham (detachment at Edenbridge), and Tunbridge Wells. 5th Battalion HQ and one company was at Bromley, with other companies at Chatham, Dartford, and Penge (detachment at Beckenham). All of 20th London Regiment was at Blackheath.

Every officer and man was required to attend 20 drills per year (40 in 1st year) and an annual Weapons Firing Course, usually on the Milton Ranges at Gravesend. Additional voluntary training could be carried out at Easter and Whitsun weekends on attachment to the Depot or the ‘home’ battalion. Tactical Exercises Without Troops (TEWTs) were carried out by officers on other weekends. But the big occasion was the annual 15 day camp held at places such as Seaford, Arundel, Beaulieu, Worthing, Aldershot, Falmer, and Shoreham.

Permanent staff of a battalion was the Adjutant, the RSM, and an instructor for each company, seconded from the Depot.

Due to lack of finance there was no annual camp in 1927, and no bounty. In 1932 there was again no bounty and recruitment was curtailed. Purse strings were loosened in 1933 and by 1934 there was a waiting list of potential recruits.

After some chopping-and-changing since their formation, the battalions finished-up brigaded into 132nd (Kent and Sussex) Brigade of 44th (Home Counties) Division. The Brigadier i/c the brigade, and his Brigade Major, were both ex-RWK men. The 20th London was part of the 47th (London) Division.

The big event of 1935 was the conversion of the 20th London to a searchlight regiment of the Royal Engineers. The resulting consternation was eventually allayed when it was agreed that the Colours, the ‘Invicta’ cap-badge, and the regimental march would be retained and the unit title would be “34th (Queen’s Own Royal West Kent) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers”. So again that opinion that the regiment was the “Queen’s Own” took priority.

In 1937, as well as the annual bounty, a payment of 1/- for each drill attended was introduced.

Like the regulars, 4th and 5th Battalions were re-organised in 1938 as 4 Rifle Companies instead of 3 Rifle Companies and a Machine-gun Company, handing in their Vickers-guns after training on them at annual camp! It was some compensation when each battalion was issued with ONE Bren-gun, out of an establishment of about 40! (That is not to say they didn’t have any light MGs – they still had the WW1 vintage Lewis-guns).

It was announced in March 1939 that the TA was to double its strength, a feat achieved by the RWK by the end of May, but at the expense of having extra instructors seconded from the regular battalions and over-crowding of the drill halls. On 13th August the 5th Battalion was split to give birth to the 7th Battalion. Mobilisation began on 1st September and by the time war was declared the units were assembled at their drill halls and billeted in their areas. The 6th Battalion was not formed from the 4th until 7th September.

While not strictly ‘between the wars’, but to round off the tale, here is a brief account of their early war activities:
4th Battalion moved to Dorset with 44th Division in October for training. 5th Battalion moved to south-east London in preparation for the expected disorder caused by bombing; when this did not happen it moved to Dorset to rejoin 44th Division. Both 4th and 5th Battalions went to France in April 1940 where, after a re-shuffle, the 1st, 4th, and 5th Battalions were put together in the first ever 'Queen's Own' Brigade, the 132nd (Queen’s Own). (Emphasis on that name again!).

In October 1939 the 6th and 7th Battalions were brigaded into 36th Brigade with the 5th Battalion, 'The Buffs'. Because 4th and 5th  had doubled in size in only a few months it meant that about 50% of their personnel were inexperienced, and  it can be imagined which ones got the ‘rookies’ when 6th and 7th were hived-off from them; so, while up to strength, they were woefully short of soldierly ‘know-how’. They were scattered in small packets to guard vulnerable points as far apart as Sheppey, Rye, and Woolwich. While each man had a rifle, there was a shortage of Bren-guns and anti-tank rifles, and no mortars, carriers, or radios, and transport was in hired civilian vehicles. 36th Brigade was sent to France in April as Line-of-Communication troops (see Glossary topic), where it was hoped they would be able to get some training and receive their full quota of equipment.

However, the Germans started their offensive in the west and the RWK’s ‘real’ war began on 10th May 1940….

Main source: ‘Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, 1920-1950’ by Lt. Col. H.D. Chaplin.

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