Please hover over photo to read caption.
Bantam Regiment- The 17th Battalion was formed in 1915 by Lord Rosebery and a local Committee in Edinburgh as a Bantam Battalion. This was for men who did not reach the regulation minimum height of 5ft 3 in (160cms) for enlisting.
They joined the 106th Brigade of the 35th Division. On 1.2.1916 they were mobilised for war and landed at Havre and engaged in various actions on the Western
What was a Bantam, or a Bantam unit?
'The bantam is a fighting cock; small but hardy and aggressive'.
The formation of the Bantams
In 1914 the MP for Birkenhead, Alfred Bigland, heard of a group of miners who, rejected from every recruiting office, had made their way to the town. One man, a Durham miner, was stopped from joining up as he was only 5ft 2in. By the time he reached Birkenhead he was so infuriated that he threatened to fight any man who said that the missing inch mattered.
Bantam applicants were men used to physical hard work, and Bigland was so incensed at what he saw as the needless rejection of spirited healthy men, he wrote to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, for permission to form a battalion of men who were under regulation size but otherwise fit for service. When the permission was granted, news spread across the country and men previously denied the chance to fight, made their way to Birkenhead, 3,000 successful recruits many of whom had previously been rejected as being under height were accepted for service into two new "Bantam battalions" in November 1914. The new requirement for their height was between 4 ft 10in (147 cm) and 5 ft 3in (160 cm) with an expanded chest of 34in, one inch (2.5 cm) more than the army standard.
The original men were formed into the 1st and 2nd Birkenhead Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment (later redesignated the 15th and 16th Bns). Other regiments began to recruit similarly: the Lancashire Fusiliers, West Yorkshires, Royal Scots, and Highland Light Infantry most notably. Many of the recruits were miners. Eventually these units were formed into the 35th Division.
The idea quickly spread to other parts of the country. By the end of the war, 29 Bantam battalions had been created across three divisions - two British and one Canadian. Assuming roughly 1,000 men in each battalion, and allowing for casualties and replacements, more than 30,000 Bantam soldiers enlisted.
It was a dramatic turnaround. In the early phase of the war the army had used height restrictions to control numbers. In September 1914 the height requirement was raised from 5ft 3in (160cm) to 5ft 6in (167cm) because the authorities couldn't cope with the flood of recruits, In the first two months of war, three-quarters of a million men volunteered to fight, leading to overcrowding at recruiting offices.
When the rate of joining slowed, the height minimum was lowered to 5ft 4in in October, and in November to 5ft 3in. The following July, with the Western Front stuck in stalemate, the minimum dropped to 5ft 2in. Average height for men in 1914 would have been about 170cm (5ft 6in).
It is noted that Officers in Bantam Battalions were "normal" size.
By the end of 1916, it was found that the general fitness and condition of men volunteering as bantams was no longer up to the standard required. Brigades were informed that no more undersized men would be accepted, and the Divisions lost their bantam status as replacements diluted the number of small men in the mix.
© Queensferry History Group 2015