Grantham Journal reader letter: Belton House had a long history before the Machine Gun Corps

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Each week in the Journal much has been made of the connection Grantham and Belton House has with the Machine Gun Corps but no mention has been made of the fact that even prior to the MGC being formed, Belton Camp was in fact home to battalions from the north-west of England belonging to the regiments formed by the cities of Manchester and Liverpool.

Although I have lived in Grantham since 1984, having served with the Armed Forces until my recent retirement, I have a very personal connection with one of the battalions from Manchester as my maternal grandfather served with the 21st (Service) (6th City) Battalion, one of Kitchener’s New Army Battalions, better known as a ‘Pals’ Battalion because the soldiers who joined were all from the same area, working in the same

factories and warehouses and often living in the same streets.

My grandfather left a diary of his service during the First World War, from joining with his friends to being invalided back to England in 1918. The battalion moved to Belton from a training camp at Morecambe, with my grandfather arriving in Grantham on 11th May 1915, and the extract from the diary relating to this period is as follows:

“I have nothing to relate of any special interest as regards my training at Morecambe except that I thought it was more of a holiday as we had finished parades every day by four o’clock and then we were free to do as we liked. Of course we had night operations at times, but these did not average one night a week.

“Anyway we were wishing that the war would go on for ever until on May 10th 1915, we were informed that we would be off to Grantham and then we began to realise what soldiering was. It was not a nice change from a nice warm bed and comfortable billet to a cold and draughty hut with three blankets and a palias for a bed, but we soon got used to this.

“Discontent was soon prominent amongst us for on arrival at Grantham the people commenced hooting at us and throwing dirty water. The reason for this being that previous to our arrival the 3rd Manchester’s had been here and got themselves very much disliked through their heavy drinking habits. Of course this was a regular battalion and the majority were old soldiers, and the Grantham people seeing more Manchester’s coming thought we were just as bad, but we had not been there long when they changed their opinions and when the time came for us to go on to Salisbury we left more sad hearts than glad ones behind us.

“Another incident that occurred at Grantham was on the day after our arrival, May 12th, when we went into the dining hall for dinner. When the dinner was served out which composed of 1 potato, 1 piece of meat and a little gravy we thought someone was having a joke, but I had a look round and every plate contained the same quantity.

“The Orderly Officer was sent for and we told him that this was not enough food for a meal. He replied that he would do his best for us but could not get us any more food just then and we would have to manage on what we had got, and then the music started.

“Several windows were broken, also some forms and tables. The Orderly Officer turned out the guard and told us we were all under arrest for insubordination. These words were answered by anything the boys could lay their hands on.

“At this point in walks two of the company commanders and called for silence, which they got at once as they were both well liked and respected, and after everything was explained they soon had plenty of food for us from the canteens and stores.

“Then came Sept 11th. On this date we left Grantham for Salisbury, experiencing an air raid while passing through London, but nothing happened of any interest worth writing except that we arrived safe at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain.”

In total, eight Service or Pals battalions from the Manchester Regiment were based at Belton as part of the 30th Division prior to moving to France and the Western Front and as many thousands of soldiers other than those of the MGC were based here in Grantham, and many of the photographs of Belton show not the MGC lines, but those of the Manchester and Liverpool battalions as their battalion lines were each side of what is now known as Five Gates Lane, from Londonthorpe Lane down to the avenue of trees leading to Belmount Tower.

It would be very much appreciated if these other occupants of Belton camp could be recognised and some mention made in the Journal of the contribution they made during the war.

Mr J. McCloskey, Bedford Close, Grantham