A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH - Before, Now & In-Between
A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH - Before, Now & In-Between

The men shown in this First World War Group Photograph are the officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. The photograph was taken in their training camp on Salisbury Plain in May 1915, just a few months before they embarked for the trenches in France.

 

My great-grandfather William Walton was their commanding officer and I have been in touch with relatives of all 46 men in the photograph, and researched their family trees going back 100 years before the War and then through the 100 years to today. The detail is in the book, but at the heart of this research are the men named here.

 

Of all of those in the photograph, only my great-grandfather (their Commanding Officer) was a regular soldier at the outbreak of the war. The rest of them included businessmen, students, and lawyers, as well as a vicar, a teacher, an artist, and a poet and critic. Amongst them were the sons of an explorer, a tobacconists’ traveller, the first Bishop in Persia, a biscuit factory machinist, an egg merchant, a gardener’s labourer, and a physics professor. Each was an individual who had entered the world small and defenceless and had grown into someone with particular feelings, values, and aspirations. Some had travelled from as far afield as Malaya, Belgium, South Africa, Canada, Ceylon, and Argentina. This group was brought together by a shared belief in the cause that they were to fight for. They shared the intense experience of preparing for and going to war. Only 21 of the 46 officers survived to have post-war lives. 
 
Of those that survived, some had their lives shortened as a result of wounds. Others went on to have full lives with their families and occupations (including a GP in Wimbledon,a forester, and a gold mining engineer in India). Some were also involved in military service in the Second World War. The longest surviving member of the group died in 1989, aged 94.
 
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 8th ROYAL BERKSHIRES
 
The Battalion was formed in Reading in September 1914. Before they went to France, they undertook training on Salisbury Plain and in the Reading area.
 
In August 1915, the Battalion embarked for France, and went into action for the first time on 25th September 1915 - the first day of the Battle of Loos. As a result of this, and a second attack on 13th October, the Battalion was almost wiped out (15 men from the photograph were killed, and 8 were wounded). 
 
After a period of rebuilding, the Battalion served throughout the rest of the War, including involvement in:
 

  • the Battle of the Somme (July to September 1916)
  • secret special training for a proposed coastal landing that never took place (July to October 1917)
  • the Third Battle of Ypres (November 1917)
  • attempts to withstand the German Spring Offensive (March to April 1918)
  • the final British Offensive that brought about the end of the War (August to November 1918)

 
In all, 46 officers and 889 other ranks died whilst serving with 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment during the Great War. 
 
NOTE: Not all of the men in the photograph went to France with the 8th Battalion. Some were held in reserve and joined later, and others were posted to other units. By the end of the war, none of the men in the photograph were serving in the field with the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment - they had either been killed, relinquished their commissions (as a result of wounds, or, in one case, in response to an official request for pre-war medical students to return to their studies), or been posted to other units (including the Staff, Training Establishments, and departments of the War Office). 

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© Andrew Tatham