The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War

Today I remember the men of the Royal Fusiliers who were killed in the Great War, in particular those of my grandad Charles Reuben Clements’s Battalion, the  24th (2nd  Sportsmen’s) …

The Royal Fusiliers (the City of London Regiment)

The Royal Fusiliers – the City of London Regiment – was founded as long ago  as  1685, in the aftermath of the failed Monmouth Rebellion, from two companies of guards from the Tower of London.  It went  on to see service in, among others, the American War of Independence,  the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, the Crimean War, the “Indian Mutiny”, the Second Afghan War, the Boer War, the Great War, the   Second World War, and the Korean War, before being   incorporated into the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968. 

The Fusilier Museum in the Regimental Headquarters in the Tower of London. image:
The Association Room in the Regimental Headquarters. Note the Battalion colours. Image:

There is a  fine Fusilier Museum in  the Regimental Headquarters in the Tower of London, which houses  an extensive archive together with a range of artefacts, including the colours of the 24th Battalion. 

The Royal Fusiliers War Memorial, Holborn, City of London

There is also  a regimental   war memorial, dedicated  “to the glorious memory of the 22 000 Royal Fusiliers who fell in the Great War” at  Holborn Bars at the western entrance to  the City of London.  The memorial, designed by Alfred Toft, features the figure of a fusilier  on a parapet, “encircled by the vast radius of air that extends from head to bayonet tip to trailing foot”, with  “this framing circle … [rendering] … the sculpture …  both more powerful and more vulnerable, …  fixing our attention, as if through a sniper’s sights, on the soldier at its dead centre”. 

The Royal Fusiliers Memorial Chapel in the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, City of London. Note the Roll of Honour in the foreground, the Battalion colours in the middle ground, and the stained-glass window in the background.
Detail of the stained-glass window in the Royal Fusiliers Memorial Chapel. Note the Royal Fusilier in full dress uniform in front of the Tower of London. Note also the ornamental border recording the Regiment’s Great War battle honours, including the Somme, Arras, Cambrai, and the Hindenburg Line.

And,  in the city church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate (Holy Sepulchre London), on Newgate Street, a few minutes walk east of  the war memorial, there is a Royal Fusiliers  Memorial Chapel, and a Garden of Remembrance, dedicated in 1950.  

The 24th (2nd Sportsmen’s) Battalion

The 24th (2nd Sportsmen’s)  Battalion was  a “Service” Battalion, a part of Lord Kitchener’s “New Army”, raised in 1914,  in the Hotel Cecil on the Strand in London, part of which served for a while as a Drill Hall. 

Mrs Emma Pauline Cunliffe-Owen, the founder of the Sportsmen’s Battalions. Mrs Cunliffe-Owen had been an active sportswoman in her youth, but later in life came to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and often had to resort to travelling in a wheelchair. Also in this picture of her are, to her left, her husband, Mr Edward Cunliffe-Owen, and, to her right, her son, Lt Alexander Rober tCunliffe-Owen, of the 24th Battalion. Image:

It  was raised by a remarkable woman named Emma Pauline Cunliffe-Owen.  Emma was born in 1863, to an English father, Sir Francis Philip Cunliffe-Owen, the Director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert), and a German mother,  Jenny von Reitzenstein, whose father, a Baron, had been an  aide-de-camp to Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia.  She married her cousin, Edward Cunliffe-Owen, a barrister, in 1882, and the couple settled in London, and had four children together, before becoming estranged.  The story goes that in 1914, on the outbreak of war, Mrs Cunliffe-Owen chanced to meet two big-game hunters of her acquaintance while walking down Bond Street, and,  half-jokingly, asked them why they had not yet enlisted in the Army.  They in turn,  and in similar vein,  asked her why she had not yet raised her  own battalion.  And so she did.  She and her husband, with the sought approval of the Secretary-of-State for War, Lord Kitchener, advertised in The Times for “Sportsmen, aged 19 to 45, upper and middle class only”, to sign up at the Hotel Cecil “at once”, to constitute  a Sportsmen’s Battalion around fifteen hundred strong.   In  the event, the response was such that two Sportsmen’s Battalions were constituted, the 23rd (1st Sportsmen’s), the Royal Fusiliers, on September 25th, 1914, and the 24th (2nd Sportsmen’s), on November 20th

The memorial marking the site of the former entrance to Hare Hall Camp, Romford. The “Artists’ Rifles” Officers’ Training Corps was based at the camp  from 1915-1919.  The other faces of the memorial feature poems by Wilfred  Owen and Edward Thomas, and a painting by John  Nash, all of whom served with the “Artists’ Rifles”.  Both Owen and Thomas were killed in action.

Before it began its  basic training at Hare Hall Camp in Romford, the 24th Battalion was  marched through London for inspection, in the presence of Mrs Cunliffe-Owen, at  Horse Guards’ Parade.    After its basic training, the 24th Battalion  deployed to the Western Front, and received its “first taste of the trenches”, in November, 1915.  It went on to fight  in the Battles of the Somme  in 1916, in  the Battles  of Arras and Cambrai in 1917, and finally in the   First and Second Battles of the Somme, 1918, the   Battles of the Hindenburg Line, and the Final Advance in Picardy, in 1918. 

Grave of Private John Robert Warriner, 24th Battalion, Lowrie Cemetery, Havrincourt. On the far side of the embankment lies the Canal Du Nord, which effectively formed part of the HIndenburg Line. My grandad was wounded on or near this spot during the Battle of Havrincourt, the first of the Battles of the HIndenburg Line, on September 12th, 1918.
Bac-du-Sud Cemetery, Baiileulval. This cemetery stands on the site of No. 46 Casualty Clearing Station, where my grandfather was treated for his wounds before being sent to a hospital further to the rear, and
– eventually – home.

The 24th Battalion sustained 1 853   casualties over the course of the war, including 557  fatalities.  It is believed that only six men from the 1914 cohort served with it throughout the Great War. 

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