Royal Garrison Artillery

In 1899, the Royal Garrison Artillery became a separate entity within the Royal Artillery (RA).  Its role changed during the First World War, from static defence to a mobile battle force.  It was eventually reintegrated into the RA in 1924.

The Royal Artillery had been scattered worldwide, acting in different environments, where the gunners were skilled accordingly, practising in small groups.  Gun drills were limited to a certain amount of ammunition.  Interaction with other forces was very limited.

Consequently, even pre-war troops had to learn new battle skills before embarking for service in France.  Infantrymen and engineers also had to acquire knowledge of the supporting artillery to be able to contribute in the movement of guns, in contingencies.

The heavy guns, formerly used in static defence, were eventually to become important for their long range firing into the enemy lines, from their position in the rear of the army. Their targets were ammunition dumps, stores, roads and railways. The enemy had their own long distance guns and observation points, to plot the sources of bombardment.  Shells would be mostly high explosive on impact, but could release gas, smoke or shrapnel.

The development of telephone communication, and observations by aeroplanes relayed by telephone to the artillery, made map reading an essential skill for aiming at specific targets, kilometres away behind the enemy’s front line.   As allied reconnaissance revealed the enemy’s positions, so allied positions were plotted likewise by the enemy

The Heavy Artillery was directed by the Corps Command, which, at times, demanded movement of the heavy, and very heavy guns which needed to be dismantled, at a speed which called for supreme physical effort from the artillerymen.  The neighbouring infantry and engineers helped where possible, pulling or laying boards where four-wheel-drive (FWD) motor transport was unavailable.

Only by experiencing the obstacles in battle could officers and men realise the objectives needed in training the new civilian recruits.  Teamwork and leadership were more important in a mobile force under pressure from enemy action.  Guns had to be concealed, in gun pits and camouflaged, to prevent alerting the enemy to the flash, when fired.

The RGA in Bexhill trained as Siege Batteries, using heavy guns.  In the field of war these heavy howitzers fired high shells which landed almost vertically.  There were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, the latter assembled on a platform and dismantled for moving, the others with wheels.

Personnel at Cooden Camp would include permanent staff such as cooks, drivers and a medical unit. One person at Cooden Camp was a RGA gunner, who had served nine years from 1904 to 1913 in a mountain battery in India.  He was recalled in 1914 and served in Salonika, where he was hospitalised.  After a time in a Bristol hospital he came to Bexhill, where he met and married a lady from Little Common in 1917.  Of exemplary character, he was discharged from the army in December 1918, aged 37 years.

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