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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.