History of Lathom Remount Depot

Below are three cap badges related to units that would have served at Lathom Depot as permanent staff.

Left. The Kings Crown cap badge of the Army Veterinary Corps  AVC. Did not achieve the title ‘Royal’ until 1920 when that recognition was bestowed upon it by King George for services in the Great War.

Right. The Kings Crown Cap badge of the Army Service Corps, like the AVC ‘Royal’ recognition was hard earned, being granted that imperial title in 1920.

Bottom.  The Imperial Crown badge of The Remount Services prior to The Great War following the reforms of the British Army by Lord Haldane in 1908 the ‘Remounts’ retained its independence until 1910 after which the Remount Service became part of the ASC. With a staff sufficient to provide a peacetime army with horses.

By the start of 1914 very few ‘remount’ soldiers were left, then confirmed as a command within a larger Corps. It is the ‘norm’ for old soldiers to retain the badge of the regiment they enlisted in. It is therefore reasonable that men serving at the remount depot would have been privileged and proud to be wearing their original badge of The Remount Service. The badge shown is that with the Imperial Crown as opposed to the Kings Crown of King George V.

The entrance is little different today as it was in the photo but the iron arch is absent, the gates are still the same. To the right of the gates now stands the War Memorial to the men the Park who attended The Lathom Chapel situated within the grounds of the park. This location is Hall Lane, Lathom.

Lathom Park Gates 1914... Photo Mrs Gerrard. Houghton archive

 

 

Prior to the end of The Great War no British Army had ever gone to war without the horse. No one in the summer of 1914 could have foreseen the scale on which the British Army was to become reliant upon an animal that surely epitomises all the characters connected with the bravest of men, courage, steadfastness, determination, strength, above all loyalty. It is often said of soldiers ” they did it for the man at his side” that sentiment often associated with the immortal words he ‘there is no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life for ones friend’ that is true also of the relationship between man and horse, given the duration of the Great War, the amount of resource combined with endless amounts of supplies and munitions this war was surely the defining testimony of man and his reliance on the horse.

Copy right Tatler/Sphere Houghton archive.

Above : The well publicised ‘ Goodbye, Old Man’ depicts artillery driver & horse. This publication was first printed in Tatler & Sphere during the Great War, often renamed ‘Menin Road’ The artist F Matania captured public imagination well with this emotive painting.

Early Months 1914.

The ‘small’ British Army of 1914 was ill prepared for war, but its courage combined with training of soldiery values however was not in doubt. Small it may have been, but it was the best trained army in the world, the ‘regulars’ rapid fire of 15 accurate rounds per minute would soon prove to be the death of many, at Mons, Le Cateau then later ‘First’ Ypres. However some home based preparation for the impending war had obviously been concluded, one aspect being the choice of ports for the importation of horses & mules. Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton were the chosen main locations.

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Lord Lathom

Lord Lathom offered his ancestral home of Lathom Park was some fifteen miles from Liverpool, his trustees offered with his consent, the Hall & Parklands free of charge to the War Department should no other suitable location be forthcoming nearer to that city. That offer was to be accepted, thus Canada Dock Liverpool along with the ‘landing stage’ became the focal point for importation of horses and mules in the North of England. Later to be followed by Bristol with the Avonmouth Depot and in 1915 Southampton with the depot located at Romsey. Horses from Canada initially, America, Ireland, Argentina were aquired by remount agents of the British Government. Transported by cargo ship across the Atlantic hoping to evade the German U Boat threat, this was indeed a perilous journey packed into the holds of ships unaware when U Boat torpedo would strike. It is an unfortunate fact that many horses and ships crews perished with there valuable cargo’s Horses were transported by rail from Liverpool into Ormskirk Station goods yard. After unloading they were ‘drove on the hoof’ down Derby Street and through the country lanes of Lathom exiting out of Cranes Lane into Lathom Park. Below is a common scene of the times at Ormskirk Station circa 1915 of horses being unloaded. Note the distant local landmark of the Wesleyan Church in Derby Street centre picture. 

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Photograph is copyright of The National Railway Museum, York. Houghton archive.  The other access for horses into ‘the park’ was also by rail. From Wigan Station ran a line to Skelmersdale cutting across what is now the large roundabout at the end of Ormskirk Road into the fields of Lathom heading towards Westhead Halt, from which a narrow gauge railway was constructed directly leading into the parklands of Lathom Hall. The Hall was to become ‘home’ for officers & HQ Staff and visiting army officers and staffs.

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Work commenced at Lathom in September 1914 under the guidance of Sir John Jackson. Set out originally as a civilian establishment, with an ‘army’ emphasis on the lay out. Dividing the park into ‘squadrons’ of 500 horses, each with its own superintendent, two assistant superintendents, six foremen, one hundred & fifty grooms & rough riders. Each ‘squadron’ was then sub divided into ‘troops’ of 100 horses, one foreman, twenty five men in accommodation and stabling for the horses allocated to them. To support this, each squadron had it’s own headquarters of shoeing smiths, a foreman plus twenty five experienced rough riders for horses that needed exceptional handling. The depot had an Army Regimental Headquarters Staff formed from Army Service Corps troops.

  The first commanding officer was Col Lloyd ex Royal Artillery former secretary to the Duke of Westminster, he broke down in health soon after taking command, to be succeded by Lt Col Henry Fock RFA 5th Baron de Roebeck ex Master of Hounds to the Kildare Hunt. Followed by Col Westlake late Indian Army He in turn was replaced by Lt Col Robson ( below) ex 12th Lancers whom commanded until April 1919 who was then replaced by Lt Col  G H Watson until closure in 1919

 

                                 

 

 

 

The local newspaper The Ormskirk Advertiser was as patriotic as any, headed by an ardent editor Mr Hutton it was always eager to pomote local men or those serving in the vicinity.  Below are some scrapbook captions taken ny the author many years ago.

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                                       The Ormskirk Advertiser 1st Nov 1914.   Houghton archive.

  In January 1915 the civilian personnel at the ‘depot’ became militarised, with most men enlisting in either the ASC ( Army Service Corps) or AVC (Army Veterinary Corps)Much more economical to pay a soldier than a sub contact groom or farrier, albeit the same man. All the foremen became NCO’s  (Non Commissioned Officers) within a few weeks much of the civilian existance disappeared and a military esablishment much larger than its predecessor resulted. This change was to play an very important part in the war effort as one will see whilst having social and economic impact upon the nearby town of Ormskirk together with the surrounding villages of Lathom, Burscough, Skelmersdale, Newburgh. The public houses of those four villages would be well frequented by troops whilst Ormskirk and its business environment would be far richer for the army on its doorstep.  It would be erroneous to claim that no civilian employment existed after January 1915, local maids were employed in ‘The Hall’ as servants, ‘domestics’ employed in the camp laundry, men in excess of the current enlistment ages were retained as labour, indeed men continued to be ‘contract employed’ all through the war that fact can never be eroded, one would be hard pressed not to find any ‘garrison’ without a significant civilian establishment doing menial tasks.

 

John T Protheroe’s medal card shows entitlement to British war & victory medals. He Saw service in Italy 1917-18 later returning to his home in the

 

South Wales coalfields to  work as a miner. He previously was employed as a policeman before the war.

 

The peacetime establishment of the British Army on the 4th August 1914 was circa 26,000 horses, within little over two weeks that had increased 140,000 by impressment alone, that is commandeering of horses from farmers, businesses, livery yards and private owners. This ‘act’ instituted in time of national emergency ‘war’ was not confined to our nation alone all the allies employed the same enforcement and indeed the enemy.  That number was to prove small when compared to the number that was evidently needed to prosecute the coming war to end all wars. The War Office statistics obtained from the PRO / TNA archives indicate that between September 1914 and November 1917 215,000 horses and mules passed through Lathom Park. Given that the war ran for another year 300,000 is not an excessive estimation for the total number., and that you must remember is but one of three major depot’s. Horses mules landing at Canada Dock or Liverpool Riverside Landing Stage were done so under veterinary supervision of the AVC. Animals landing unfit were dispatched to the Liverpool Veterinary Hospital whilst the remainder was transported the 15 miles or so to Lathom Park by the means as described earlier via Ormskirk station. At Lathom they were allocated into the squadrons as described. A daily routine of inspection and conditioning was undertaken under the supervision of the AVC & ASC farriers stationed at the park. Sick animals were quarantined until they could be sent to the nearby AVC establishment at Scarisbrick Hall some five miles distant. Within a month of arrival they had recovered from the traumatic sea journey, hooves trimmed, digestion problems eradicated and rested. From this point they were either brought into harness to be used as ‘a team of horses’ be it four or six in order to prepare them for the the task of hauling guns, wagons or sent forth to reserve cavalry regiments, ASC or RFA units located throught the United Kingdom whereby they were given the appropriate training as required. The emphasis of horses within a team environment was the ‘breaking’ focus at Lathom as opposed to breaking horses for riding mounts, which was normally confined to cavalry units. Four weeks to get horse rested, cleaned, and in reasonable condition plus mounted & conditioned to the saddle is unlikely.

 

The Ormskirk Advertiser  March 1915.   Houghton archive.

Of the 215,000 horses deemed to have passed through to November 1917 over 210,000 were actually issued to service units. Of the number that failed to meet the grade, many were sold to farmers, hauliers and private individuals for hacks, who being in the position to have the time with resource to allow slow improving horses to regain a fitness that was not within the economies or limited timescale of improvement sought by a demanding army operating under severe constraints. One also to accept for whatever reason if a horse was unfit for purpose it would be dispatched humanely, the era or the imposition of war allowed for no sentiment.

War Office archives inform us that not only horses but men in large numbers passed through Lathom Park some 5,600 men had passed through ‘The Park’ to November 1917. The War Dept statement reads  “5,600 men have passed out of this depot” it goes on to affirm “that there have been significant shortages of personnel owing to; (A) To the dispatch of squadrons and reinforcing drafts overseas. (B) To the drafting of ‘A’ category men to combatant units. The statistic cited is i believe ambiguous for the following reason ‘passing out’ normally defines enlistment in a specific unit, completion of training, then the subsequent ‘passing out’ as a trained soldier, it is highly unlikely that 5,600 men would have actually enlisted and trained at Lathom Park. Given the number of regiments employed in recruiting within South West Lancashire, add to that the location of many recruiting places, it is highly unlikely that Lathom Park would have lent itself too that large a number, when it had an equally important and more strategic focus. What i believe the WO  papers reveal is as follows. That a number ‘actually passed through circa 5,600’ as opposed to ‘passing out’ a significant difference of interpretation indeed. Many men came to Lathom Park on courses in particular those of The ASC AOC & RFA RGA disciplines in order to learn to ‘drive’ horses as would be expected in a ‘horse team’ situation. A ‘driver’ is a common rank in all corps services, not all men had horse experience when they enlisted, they would have had to be taught to work and handle horses, as such ‘remounts’ was as much about ‘conditioning’ a soldier as much as the horse. In support I offer the following archive of soldiers enlisting at Lathom Park that were re allocated to combat units, who subsequently fell in battle or died from whatever cause. The total number is twenty four  note erroneous spelling of Latham in first archive. The likelyhood of a mere 24 men dying out of a number in excess of 5,600 quoted enlistments and not inclusive of 1918 is unlikely, i reiterate that the figure cited is men whom hath passed through the Park for one reason or another, but highly improbable to have actually enlisted at that location. If one looks at the birth or residence locations on archive below, you will see how varied and broad spread they are. That is an idication that men came to Lathom for employment as opposed to enlisting, whilst in employment they were either persuaded to enlist, or attaining the age of consent (18) reached the age whereby conscription caught them in the ‘net’ from April 1916 onwards, or impressed by the men they were working alongside joined out of ‘duty’ Note the number of former  ASC or RASC men (the ASC did not gain the title Royal until 1920 granted the word ‘Royal’ by King Gorge V for its services in The Great War) this is an indication of ‘retrained’ men for the infantry ‘a soldier is but always a trained soldier’ two years of not holding a rifle can be resolved in matter of weeks. For after 1916 following the drastic loss of life on The Somme, all the ‘corps services’ were scoured for suplus men, these men were then sent to Infantry Base units in France such as Rouen or Etaples for retraining as infantrymen, then sent onto ‘needing’ units at the front, often sent many to regiments not associated with the county or even country of their origin within the UK.

 

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  The grave of Farrier S/Sjt T/S 9054 John Westhead  Kia 21/10/1916. Buried Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery, Somme. Aged 44 when killed. He closed his shop in Newburgh at the outbreak of war and went to work as a civilian farrier at the Remount Depot, enlisting later in the army.  Aged 42 he did so out of sense of duty. A married man with a young family.

 

A memorial service was held at Christ Church, Newburgh.  Held in high esteem by all who knew him, not least by his Commanding Officer. MIC, Pic, Obits please apply to secretarylbmhs@gmail.com If one individual epitomises what the aim of this website is about, it is surely John Westhead. Local man of Newburgh village, held in high regard by all, for contiunace of employment he chose to work for the army at The Remount Depot. Probably taken on army strength in January 1915, given NCO rank, he went to France in 1916 as his medal card confirms, so he rose rapidly to rank of Staff Sjt at the time of his death. At his age in 1915 circa 42 he had no need other than sense of duty to enlist, he could easily have opted out, in 1917 when conscription was introduced he would have been 45, he need never have enlisted, as he would never have been conscripted anyway. For God King or Country or the man at his side, the Newburgh Blacksmith gave his life.

 

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During summer months horses / mules were disposed in paddocks for free grazing.

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Pte John Roycroft above / below served Lathom Park before going to France.

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One cant ignore the direct impact war had on Lathom Park in regard to Lord Lathom, his family or his employees, here we look at some events that directly had a personal attachment to His Lordship or Lathom Hall.

2/ Lt Rupert Edward Gascoyne-Cecil 1st Bedfordshire Regt  kia. Times obituary.

Buried Railway Dugouts Cemetery, Ypres.

By kind permission of his brothers daughter Mary Ann Gascoyne-Cecil see below.

Followed by his brothers;

Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil Royal Horse Artillery kia 1.12.17 at Cambrai.

Photo below.

He has no grave and is commemorated upon the Cambrai Memorial.

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X Battery TMB 29th Infantry Division circa April 1917.

Lt. R. W. Gascoyne-Cecil O.C Battery seated centre (behind middle man seated floor)

The story of his death is slowly unfolding and it is hoped that a full concise understanding may one day be possible.

The four sons of the Bishop of Exeter & Lady Florence as children.

Photos by.

By kind permission of Mary Ann Gascoyne-Cecil his Daughter.

John Arthur Gascoyne-Cecil M.C. 75th Bde Royal Field Artillery kia 27th August 1918.

Buried Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux.

Sons of Rt Rev Lord William Gascoyne-Cecil Bishop of Exeter & Lady Florence.

Second daughter of the First Earl of Lathom, formerly Lady Florence Wilbraham.

The Lord Bishop lost three sons with another wounded four times.

Above the award of the Military Cross to John A Gascoyne-Cecil

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Lt. Francis Seymour husband of Lady Barbara Bootle-Wilbraham Kia 30th July 1915.

Served with 7th Bn Kings Royal Rifles Corps (60th Regt)

Actual name was Baldwin W Peel not W B Peel.

Advertiser rept above & below…….Or does he ? He sought or was offered a commission at his ‘home depot’ which it seems he accepted without approval from his masters.  Men of his connections or status would have been offered suitable appointments in the army as many historians will concur. On the other hand he may have felt a sense of duty to enlist, his status would have allowed him to seek a commission. Authors note being competent to command men, is not the same as being in charge of men !

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His Lordships views on recruitment were patriotic as one would have expected.

Below is a letter from Knowsley Hall prior to deployment to Canterbury 1914.

Lathom Park was as we have seen was a place of employment for many a man in a civilian capacity during 1914/15 many of whom eventually enlisted in HM services primarily the Army. Here we see two local accounts; one of an employee of His Lordship, together with that of a local Ormskirk craftsman.

Pte Alfred Lea 4th Kings (Liverpool) Regt.

31292 Pte Alfred Lea kia 18th August 1916. Buried Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme. Aged 37 when he was killed. To France 7th December 1915, entitled to 15 Star, BWM, Victory medal or 14/15 trio.  Medal card below.

He was a cabinet maker in civilian life, lent his skilled trade to the construction of government contracts, firstly at Lathom Hall then on Salisbury Plain. In both cases he was employed in the construction of army accommodation firstly for the Remount Depot secondly for likely service battalions of the New Armies. Yet another indication of a local man finding employment from the aspect of war, then serving his country voluntarily.

Medal Card of Alfred Lea.

Pte Alfred Lea

Photo above.  

Pte 50591 Wm H Birchall 19th (3rd Pals)Bn Liverpool Regt Kia 20th Sept 17.      

Houghton archive.

William Henry Birchall  tenant farmer of Lord Derby from Bickerstaffe.

Resided at Holly Farm, Bickerstaffe ( now the Sandpiper Inn) prior to the war he relocated to 348 Crow Lane, Newton le Willows, Lancashire, not the best farming land Derby owned by any means as the area is more accustomed to mining than farming. But he was a very good horseman it is said. Given his skills he chose to seek regular income & employment as a ‘rough rider’ at the remount depot leaving his wife to tend the farm at Newton. As war progressed he enlisted into the ASC in November 1914 as Pte T3/029861. His skill with horses was to become  ‘a back handing earner’ for him, often sought out by officers to ‘break’ them a suitable horse for which it is said he earned 10/- bob or ‘shillings’ to those unfamiliar with pre decimal money.

During 1916/17 he was to become one of the many retrained infantrymen, in his case he may have felt lucky, local man finding himself in one of Derbys Liverpool Pals (3rd City Bn) He was renumbered in accord with army regulations Pte 50591. He was to fall in battle at ‘Third Ypres’ oft referred to as  Passchendaele he hath no grave and is commemorated on the magnificant memorial at Tyne Cot. He left behind Martha his wife and four chidren.

Photos / information from the late Ronnie Taylor author of ‘Bickerstaffe Remembers’

It was one of my many pleasures talking to Ronnie Taylor in his farmhouse in Bickerstaffe. His passion and his depth of local knowledge for history was without equal, in particular for those who served during the two world wars, he was to become my inspiration. He had the advantage of knowing surviving relatives of many of the Bickerstaffe fallen, to obtain archive or insight in such a way is euphoria for any historian. RIP Ronnie.

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Below is what may be termed as archive passed down through a generation, the original source is a Mrs Blackledge of Skelmersdale, Lancashire. This lady’s husband Rendall saw service in The Loyal North Lancashire Regt during The Great War, her brother in law James serving with the Manchesters was killed in 1918. She is survived by two daughters now Mrs Gerrard & Mrs Leach conversations with both have been illuminating. They recall accounts passed on by mother of officers and ranks ‘riding out’ into Skelmersdale from the Remount Depot in order to do whatever soldiers many miles from home do….. They left behind some lasting impressions in a autograph book so far as Mrs Blackledge is concerned, these remain in the proud ownership of the family, here are the obvious ones signed by soldiers from Lathom Depot.

 

Poetry often abscribes to humour of war and life as the above scribes show, alas not all relate humour, below is a touching narrative that places the emphasis firmly of the horrors and lasting effects.

If that were the work of Sassoon or Owen it would have been descibed a masterpiece,  none the less excellant.

The poem above written by John Scot then later written to Mrs Blackledge’s 1920 by an officer named Capt Wiggans of Bury.

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The benefits from the proximity of the Remount Depot to Ormskirk with the four surrounding villages would have been enormous both financially and socially. The Remount necessitated the employment of civilian labour for its duration 1914 to 1920, it may have become militarised in 1915 however that did not absolve by any means the need for outside labour from maids & domestics to civilian staff for working with horses. Who removed the manure ? why a man with the vision of ‘where there is muck there is money’ started with horse and cart and a few men, selling horse manure to local farmers, still thriving in the same business today. The amount of input from local business would have been immense, local traders would surely have noticed the loss when the Remount closed the gates for the last time.

On a social front the girls with the abundance of public houses that existed within the locality would have held their own pleasures for soldiers on a ‘cushy number’. One can imagine a Lathom springtime of 1915 with all its blossoming glory for an Army Service Corp’s soldier pure heaven ! Possibly no finer place on earth, more so if he had left behind the slums of some deprived city. That would have been a far cry from his ASC counterpart in what was once the green and pleasant land around Festubert northern France, which in the same spring was torn to pieces and smothered in poison gas at the Second Battle of Ypres. Or should he wish for an early summer in the Mediterranean circa 25th April a similar rank / unit may have found himself on a ‘nice’ sandy warm beach now named Lancashire Landing at Gallipoli. Such was the luck of the draw for many a soldier, he had to make the best of his time when he could. The thought of impending deployment to foreign lands would have brought more than fearful thought to any man.

Some soldiers including officers would have been fortunate enough to have remained at Lathom for duration of the war possibly by good fortune be that due to being ‘looked after’ or suitablity for the post, better the man you know ! Old ‘dug out’ or even recently commissioned officers would have relished the social possibilities of sophisticated living in the hall, garden parties in summer, pheasant shooting on some of the best estates in South Lancashire. Whilst enjoying ‘riding out’ on well groomed mounts, in all their glory of rank, whilst if appropiate proudly displaying well earned ribbons of past campaigns.  One only has to look at Col Hobson to see the image of a soldier, he is every inch the regular cavalry officer proud, distinguished man, he would have graced any social gathering should he be invited, indeed I am sure he was.

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Pte 632593 L Haynes  was Kia serving 2/20th London Regt 30.4.1918 at Jerusalem.

 We  may have been at war, but a more serious matter erupted at home !

Manure.. and the removal of same in a ‘fairer’ way was subject of much discussion.

It seems that the farmers within the vicinity of Lathom Park were ‘hogging’ all the horse manure and not sharing same with their bretheren father afield !!

Leave it to your own views as to how to appraise such a drastic matter. I personally wonder how they coped for manure before 1914 ?

Be more on manure at later date  says much for farmers..

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Society Press Cutting on Lathom Site

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