The Hallamshire Battalion

The York & Lancaster Regiment (TA)

A meeting took place in Sheffield Town Hall on 24 May 1859 at which it was agreed to form an infantry volunteer unit and by 27 June the Hallamshire Rifle Volunteeras were raised, being named after the Saxon manor of Hallam. Headquarters were established in Eyre Street, with Mr Wilson Overend DL being elected Major-Commandant. Drills were carried out at the Collegiate School and Bramall Lane cricket ground.

Approval for formation was received 30 September and shortly after the title of 2nd Yorkshire West Riding (Hallamshire) Rifle volunteer Corps was officially granted. Among others to enlist was John Brown, proprietor of Atlas Steel Works from where he raised two companies. At this time, John Brown was building Endcliffe Hall, the future home of the Hallamshires. In 1862, the Hallamshire Rifles were presented with Colours in the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield, before a crowd of 12,500 spectators, the Unit now commanded by the Earl of Wharncliffe.

Following the Cardwell reforms of the regular regiments of infantry in 1881, the 65th and 84th Regiments of Foot became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment. On 1 February 1883, the War Office re-titled the Hallamshire Rifles as 1st (Hallamshire) Volunteer Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment. Later that year the Hallamshires moved to Hyde Park barracks where they were to remain until 1914. Annual Camp had mostly been held locally but in 1883 it was held in Blackpool.

Boer War
In common with most Volunteer Battalions, the Hallamshires raised two "Active service Battalions" for service with regular forces in the Boer War for which they were granted their first battle honour SOUTH AFRICA 1900 - 1902. In1900 a new rifle range was opened at Totley on land that was purchased by officers of the battalion.

In 1908, on the reorganisation of the volunteers into the Territorial Force, the Hallamshires were re-designated 4th (Hallamshire) Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment TF. New Colours were presented at Windsor by King Edward VII on 19 June 1909 and the old Colours were laid up on 3 April 1910 in Sheffield Parish Church which, four years later, became Sheffield Cathedral. the Colours still hang in the York and Lancaster Regimental Chapel of Saint George.

World War I
The battalion was ordered home after only a week of annual camp at Whitby in July 1914 to prepare for war. It was to be April 1915 before the battalion moved to France and first saw action in the Ypres salient two months later where they were to remain, in and out of the trenches, for six months, losing 94 killed and 401 injured.

After a period of rest in the Calais area, the battalion moved to the Somme where, on 1 July 1916, they were in the follow-up assault wave. In the three months they were engaged in this battle, the battalion sustained 27 officers and 750 soldiers killed and wounded.

What is described as "wearying routine of six days in the line followed by six days in reserve" saw the battalion at Nieuport where they had the dubious honour of being subjected to the first use of mustard gas sustaining some 288 casualties in the last two weeks of July 1917. From here, it was back to the Ypres salient where they suffered further heavy casualties in the German spring offensive of 1918. In the final Allied Advance to Victory, the Hallamshires were ordered on 13 October to reach the line of the river Selle which was supposedly undefended on the western bank. They advanced across open ground without artillery support to find strongly defended enemy positions. They achieved their objective but with only 4 officers and 240 men present of the 20 and 600 who had started the advance.

Their last action of the war was 28 October 1918 when Commanding Officer, Lieutenant colonel D S Branson was severely wounded. His father was Commanding Officer when Douglas Branson joined the Hallamshires in 1910.He commanded the battalion from 1917 to 1925, became Honorary Colonel in 1940 (succeeding his father), and continued until 1965 by which time he had been knighted for his service to the Territorial Army, been ADC to four monarchs and won the MC and three DSO's in ten months in the First World War.

The battalion returned to its new Headquarters at Endcliffe Hall in November 1919. In 1924, in recognition of their war service, King George V decreed that the "4th" be dropped from the title and henceforth they should be known as The Hallamshire Battalion.

World War II
Training between the wars saw many changes. It was 1938 before the battalion said goodbye to its horses and the Vickers and Lewis machine guns were withdrawn. Bren light machine guns and Boyes anti-tank rifles appeared followed by tracked Bren Gun Carriers. In 1939 the battalion went to camp in the Isle of Man, only to be mobilised on their return.

After moving to Thirsk racecourse, the battalion took part in the ill-fated Norwegian campaign where they were ashore for all of twelve days. Although they saw limited action, the only casualties were on the way home when one of the ships in the convoy was sunk by German aircraft killing thirteen and wounding eleven.

The battalion spent the next two years "defending" Iceland before returning to Scotland for garrison duties and to prepare for the invasion of North West Europe. The Hallamshires landed in France on 9 June 1944 and moved into the front line four days later. twelve days later the Hallamshires were involved in the attack on Fontnay-le-Pesnil against the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. the attack was successful but at the expense of 123 members of the battalion killed or wounded. To this day, former members of the battalion at that time still celebrate the victory as the Fontenay Club.

The battalion was involved in the capture of the docks at Le Havre before the Germans could destroy the vitalinstalations. Here they captured 1,005 prisoners, three Dornier flying boats and a submarine! In September, the Hallamshires crossed the Antwerp-Turnhout canal and for his part in a subsequent action, Corporal JW Harper was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. During the winter months, the battalion served in the Nijmegan salient and participated in the attack on Arnhem in April 1945, their final action in World War II. Eleven months had seen the battalion suffer 158 killed and 689 wounded.

The battalion came home in 1946 where it reformed in 1947. In 1950, the role was changed to a Motor Battalion equipped with armoured half-tracks. Each company was attached to an armoured regiment. National servicemen arrived the same year and for five years the Hallamshires trained in their armoured infantry role before reverting to traditional infantry.

1959 saw the Hallamshires celebrate their centenary in style with a parade in Sheffield, a service in the Cathedral and hospitality being offered by the Officers and Sergeants at Endcliffe Hall and by the City to the battalion in the Town Hall. In 1964 the Hallamshires paraded in Norfolk Park to be presented with new Colours by the Earl of Scarborough. the old Colours, in service since 1909, were laid up in St John's Church, Ranmoor.

The final chapter
1967 saw the beginning of the last chapter in the Hallamshires' service with the formation of the Yorkshire Volunteers, to which the Hallamshires provided acompany, and the reduction of the role of the battalion which was finally reduced to a cadre of eight men in 1969. this cadre expanded in 1970 to form a company in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Volunteers.

Subsequent changes to the Territorial Army saw the demise of the Yorkshire Volunteers and the loss of the Hallamshire companies. The last colours of the Hallamshires are now in the ballroom at Endcliffe Hall alongside a mural depicting the capture of Fontenay.

A period of military history has been completed.

Acknowledgements and many thanks are due to Colonel I G Norton TD JP DL for this history of the Hallamshire Battalion.

The museum of the York & Lancaster Regiment is in Rotherham, South Yorkshire

 

Copyright © 1998
last update:24th October 1999