Thursday, 3 March 2016

Voyage to Egypt

Since September 1914 Cheshire Yeomanry had been stationed in Norfolk on defence duties. They had experienced coastal bombardment and Zeppelin bombing raids and completed much training. In November 1915 the Regiment received their orders to go abroad dismounted. All cavalry equipment had to be handed in and changed for infantry. November orders appear were cancelled and the Yeomanry continued to do dismounted training. Such infantry training included route marches, bayonet exercises, bomb throwing and rifle shooting.

Finally, in February 1916 orders were again received that the Regiment were to go abroad and that they would sail on 3 March 1916.

The last parade of the Regiment in Norfolk took place at 7:30pm on the evening of 2 March before marching to Lowestoft Station. The train finally left Lowestoft at 8:45pm bound for Devonport.

It is at this time that the Cheshire Yeomanry War Diary commences. A War Diary is a daily record of operations, intelligence reports and other events, kept for each battalion by an appointed officer. It is not a personal diary. Specialist units, such as military hospitals, also kept war diaries.

The War Diary of Cheshire Yeomanry for this period is concise, recording just the barest of facts:


Place Date Hour Summary of Events
Lowestoft 1/3/16 Regiment in billets at Lowestoft
2/3/16 8.45pm Regiment entrained at Lowestoft
3/3/16 9.30am Arrived at Devonport & embarked on HMT Haverford
6pm Left Devonport. Strength 25 Officers. Other Ranks 451

HMT Haverford

HMT Haverford was a 12,000 ton troop ship, originally a passenger cargo vessel, built in 1901. Some brief information on the ship can be found on the web site of the Clydebuilt Ships Database, from where the picture above is extracted.

Destination was thought to be Egypt, but due to the threat from submarines the departure was guarded with the utmost security and only the Colonel therefore knew definitely the destination. The Haverford sailed on 3 March and for the most part of the voyage was unescorted. Gibraltar was reached on the evening of 7 March without incident. Here she was challenged by lamp signal to give identity and destination. Lt.-Col. Sir Richard Verdin in his history of the Cheshire Yeomanry takes up the story:
"Incredibly, the ship’s signal light flashed back in ordinary morse stating that she was H.M.T. Haverford from Devonport, proceeding to Alexandria with 1,200 passengers aboard. Those able to read morse knew definitely for the first time where they were going. So, no doubt, would every enemy agent watching from the North African coast to whom the signals would have been clearly visible in the excellent weather condition at the time."
Cheshire Yeomanry, together with Shropshire Yeomanry and Denbighshire Yeomanry, formed the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade. The South Wales Mounted Brigade comprised Pembroke Yeomanry, Montgomery Yeomanry and Glamorganshire Yeomanry.

HMT Haverford
HMT Arcadian

A second ship, HMT Arcadian, would sail from Devonport on 4 March. The 2,500 troops on board included the whole of the South Wales Mounted Brigade and also personnel of the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade for whom there had been insufficient room on the Haverford; this included the Shropshire Yeomanry.

On 10 March the Arcadian overtook the Haverford, and both vessels arrived safely at Alexandria on 14 March 1916.

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