THE QUEEN’S OWN OXFORDSHIRE HUSSARS’ AND PRIVATE MOTOR CARS
The following excerpts, researched and compiled by Harry Staff, were all taken from The Oxfordshire Hussars in the Great War by Adrian Keith-Falconer (KF), and touch on the way private motorcars were brought over to France and used by officers for much of the war. KF was an officer who served with the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars/Oxfordshire Yeomanry during the First World War; he sailed with them to France on 20th Sep 1914 as a 2nd Lieutenant and was promoted to Captain by 1917.
EMBARKING - ON THE BELLEROPHON
'The men were on one large lower deck in the stern, while the horses were all packed together in the fore part of the ship. In addition there were no less than eight three-ton motor-lorries, attached to the Regiment by Admiralty orders; four or five private motor-cars belonging to officers and taken on board in the absence of any orders to the contrary'
'Probably no regiment ever went to France accompanied by such a fleet of motor transport. This we owed to the generous provision of the Admiralty, whose large ideas on the subject we found sadly lacking in the War Officer and G.H.Q., France, when later on we came under their command'
(KF Pages 30-31)
EARLY DAYS IN FRANCE
'We still had our private motor-cars, and a few officers went for what they called “joy-rides” up to the front. One of least of these joy-rides nearly ended in disaster. The party was driving gaily down the Menin road, in search of some particular unit of the front line, when they came on a few British infantrymen busily digging themselves in.
Stopping to ask how far it was to the front line, they received the startling answer that this was the front line. A moment later came the order for the infantry to retire. Another few hundred yards and three of our best officers would have spent the rest of the war looking through barbed wire'
(KF Page 48)
ST. OMER TO NEUVE EGLISE
'Last of all came the transport, somewhat reduced since our first landing at Dunkirk, but still considerably in excess of regulations and still including two lorries and four or five private cars. The lorries were to be taken from us in a day or two, but the officers’ motor-cars still had a long and useful career in front of them, until in April 1915 a ruthless Quartermaster-General finally banished them from the area of the British army'
(KF Page 53)
WULVERGHEM AND MESSINES
'There was a large sort of attic which accommodated most of the men. One junior officer undressed completely and slept in pyjamas, but, on being suddenly roused at 4 in the morning, found himself totally unable to get into the polo boots which he habitually wore. When after a terrific struggle, he at last succeeded, the Regiment had already gone, but fortunately his private car was there for him to overtake them.
The car was a godsend to the squadron in the first winter of the war. It always turned up when most required; it carried an immense quantity of unauthorised kit, food, and wine; and when in billets it took people on leave, fetched provisions from the neighbouring towns, and did many other useful jobs'
(KF Pages 68-69)
'Just as the first three weeks of fighting was an experience unique and sharply differentiated from all the rest of the war, so also was the first leave was a pleasure never to be quite so intensely enjoyed again. Later leaves, though always delightful, long awaited, and quickly passed, gradually grew longer and came at rarer intervals, but never again quite the thrill of the first. Moreover, in those days we went on leave in comfort, travelling to Boulogne in our own motor-cars, unharassed by officious R.T.O.S'
(KF Page 97)
'Meanwhile a party of officers returning from leave had arrived at Noote Boom at midnight on the 13th, to find the Regiment vanished and the billets deserted. Nothing disturbed, they made themselves comfortable in their old billets, fully expecting one of the Regiment’s five cars would be sent to fetch them next day. However, morning came and nothing happened, so they resolved to remain where they were. Fortunately they had with them a stock of pheasants and other luxuries which they had brough out from England for the mess. They paid a visit to “E” Battery R.H.A., which was still in the neighbourhood, but could get no certain news of where the Regiment had gone. The battery commander was gravely shocked by the irregularity of their proceeding in calmly waiting for a car to fetch them, and suggested that they should report to the nearest R.T.O. But officers of the Q.O.O.H. were not accustomed to travel in slow-moving supply trains and lorries in those spacious days, and they decided to await events a little longer. But when the second morning came, and still no sign of a car, it was felt that something must be done. Besides , supplies were running out. At last, after a day spent in fruitless enquiries, a car appeared at 5 o’clock in the evening and took them off to Roquetoire'
(KF Pages 102-103)
“Our transport was now reduced to one wagon per squadron, and kits cut down accordingly. A more serious loss was that of all our motor-cars, the last of which was taken on a final joy-ride to Dunkirk, and stored there”
(KF Page 116)