The Hampstead Heavies
138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
During 1915 it became increasingly clear that the numbers volunteering for service with the British Army were inadequate to meet the demands of a war which now seemed likely to last for years rather than weeks or months. Yet, opposition to conscription remained strong both in sections of the Government and the country, and recruitment continued on a voluntary basis throughout the year.
It was in this context that Alderman E.A. O'Bryen, JP, then Mayor of Hampstead (north west London), saw the need in July 1915 to raise a Battery of Heavy Artillery to supplement the Brigade of Royal Field Artillery already recruited from the Borough. Recruitment to the new Battery, soon to be known informally as The Hampstead Heavies, was voluntary and lasted from July until end-September 1915. Most of the recruits were local men from north west London, living in the vicinity of the Edgware and Finchley Roads.
Training commenced in October 1915 and from then until the following March took place on Hampstead Heath, the Hampstead cricket ground, and some vacant land next to the Corporation Yard in Lymington Road, Hampstead. Most of the men, being local, were billeted in their own homes, the remainder finding accommodation in private houses close by.
Early in training, horses were drawn from various parts of London and driven by the inexperienced recruits to stables in the Corporation Yard at Hampstead. Thereafter, battery sub-sections were soon determined, Observation Party members selected, drivers allotted to horses, and gunners to the four guns which initially made up the Battery. During training the use of real guns was out of the question, so much ingenuity was used in mounting pieces of piping on wheels to provide the means for gun drill.
Training at Hampstead finished on 1 March 1916 when the Battery was ordered to proceed by road to Charlton Park, Woolwich, where it remained for about 8 days completing its establishment and drawing horses and equipment. Orders were then received to proceed by road to Larkhill on Salisbury Plain for the purpose of passing firing tests. The march to Larkhill took 5 days, with stops overnight at Wimbledon, Guildford, Basingstoke and Andover. At Larkhill, the Battery had to cope with a sea of mud as well as the attentions of senior officers concerned at maintaining standards of gunnery and horsemanship. Despite these problems the Battery, using live ammunition for the first time, passed the firing test with credit and shortly moved on by road to Bordon where innoculations and vaccinations were received.
The Battery entrained at Bordon on the morning of 13 April 1916 to start the journey to France via Southampton.