On the outbreak of war, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was made up of:
• Two ‘regular’ battalions of full-time professional soldiers
• Two territorial battalions of part-time soldiers
• One battalion of reserves – ex-soldiers to be called up in times of war.
After war was declared, full-time professional soldiers from 2nd Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. stationed in Ireland were the first to be moved to France. They formed part of the 90,000 strong British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). Alongside the 254,000 men of the Fifth French Army, the B.E.F. faced the 320,000 men of the German First Army at Mons in Belgium.
This small professional British force was greatly outnumbered by the German force, and much smaller than the French. However, between August and December 1914, the K.O.Y.L.I. recruited seven volunteer battalions (known as ‘Kitchener’ battalions, after the Secretary of State for War who issued the call for volunteers). It also recruited two new territorial battalions.
The introduction of volunteers, with limited training, was a point of concern for some regular soldiers:
The people of England call the regular army a lot of loafers, idle good for nothings, but if it was not for us what good would we be against the Germans? Kitchener’s untrained men would be no good and they get all the praise whilst the poor regular Tommy does all the work… one regular is as good as five of Kitchener’s.
Private J. E. Walker in a letter to his mother November – December 1914
Local industry played an important part in supporting the recruitment drive for new soldiers. The Mayor of Doncaster, along with Captain F. B. Brewis, was asked to raise a company of 250 men from the Doncaster area for the 6th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. Just four days later, on 28 August 1914, the battalion was complete.
The Great Northern Railway’s Doncaster Works (the ‘Plant’) was a key employer in the area. Many Plant workers enlisted into the 6th K.O.Y.L.I. during this recruitment drive. These four GNR men, Charles Torr, Bernard Colin Watson, Ernest Rouse and Stewart Donald Adam worked together, enlisted together and were killed together in July 1915 while trying to deliver supplies to the front line.