The Royal Field Artillery in Sutton Mandeville – preparing for the Somme

Maps from the First World War indicate that the camps at Sutton Mandeville were used by the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). Units of the RFA were based at Sutton Mandeville between August 1915 and January 1916. At this time, Fovant hosted the 31st Division, including the artillery attached to this division. The divisional artillery was made up of several RFA brigades, namely:

  • 155 Brigade (CLV Brigade), RFA
  • 161 Brigade (CLXI Brigade), RFA
  • 164 (Howitzer) Brigade (CLXIV Brigade), RFA
  • 168 Brigade (CLXVIII Brigade), RFA

These RFA brigades were based in camps in both Sutton Mandeville and in Fovant, probably each one to a specific camp – but we don’t know which brigade was in each camp. However, it seems likely that 164 (Howitzer) Brigade was in one of the Sutton Mandeville camps because the grave of Richard Thomas Perks of 164 Brigade is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Sutton Mandeville. He died in November 1915, presumably while his unit was based here.

The 31st Division, to which these four RFA brigades were attached, was made up of battalions from Yorkshire and Lancashire. Similarly, the RFA brigades were drawn from the north too. 155 Brigade had been formed in Leeds by the West Yorkshire Coal Owner’s Association and was known as the  ‘Coal Owners Own’. 161 Brigade was known as 161 Yorkshire Brigade; one of its batteries (C/161) was the Scarborough Pals Battery. 168 Brigade was the Rotherham Brigade. 164 (Howitzer) Brigade may also have been drawn from Yorkshire – Richard Thomas Perks was from Sheffield.

In January 1916, these four brigades were transferred to the 32nd Division in France. A sense of the scale of each brigade can be gauged from an account of 155 Brigade when it arrived at Le Havre at the end of January, when it comprised the following:

  • 24 Officers
  • 728 Other Ranks
  • 729 Horses
  • 16 Guns
  • 56 Limber Wagons
  • 9 General Service Wagons
  • 11 Carts

The four batteries were carrying 2,816 shrapnel rounds for their 18-pounder field guns plus 27,110 rounds of small arms ammunition, whilst the Brigade Ammunition Column carried a further 1,216 shrapnel rounds and 424,000 rounds of small arms ammunition.

Still with the 32nd Division, the four brigades deployed to the Somme: the Battle of the Somme starting on 1st July 1916 was to be their first major engagement, with their specific objective being the village of Thiepval. Hence the RFA units that trained at Sutton Mandeville became directly involved in one of the most deadly battles of the First World War.

For further details, please see Wiltshire and the Great War by TS Crawford and the Long, Long Trail and Wetherby War Memorial websites.