Nottingham’s working men that went to war: The story of the Robin Hood Battalion

As the UK falls silent again to remember those who lost their lives fighting in military conflict,¬†Ed Henderson looks back at the history of Nottingham’s Robin Hood Battalion and their vital role at the beginning of the First World War.

Among the local heroes remembered on Armistice Day will be the Notts forces responsible for training soldiers and digging the trenches in the First World War.

Known as the ‘Robin Hood Rifles’ the territorial force formed the 7th battalion of the Sherwood Foresters and fought during WWI as part of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Brigade.

Today, their military service is remembered at a monument within St Mary’s Church.

Military Cap badge of The Robin Hoods from the Boer War

Their story begins on Nottingham Castle Green in the late 1800’s as historian Russ Jones explains: “The Robin Hood Rifles were formed in 1859 by Johnathon White. Amid fears of war with France all local counties decided to create rifle regiments.

“Within a month they had assembled 400 soldiers with the help of families living near the city centre, in fact their growth was so impressive they were sent for guard duty at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth remarking how impressed she was with their service.”

The Robin Hood Battalion marching in formation

The battalion earned their first Battle Honour following involvement in the South African Boer War from 1900 to 1902.

Upon arrival in France in 1915, the Robin Hood Rifles instantly proved to be a vital asset to the British forces.

“They continued to be part of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Brigade and played an important role in helping to build the trenches. Due to their mining experience the Robin Hood’s were actually involved in training other soldiers,” Russ explains.

Volunteers in the Robin Hoods outside the church in Foncquevillers

Russ travels to France to take part in drum parades with Nottinghamshire Army Cadet Force where he is a Sergeant and Bugle Major.

He believes this is an important part of how the battalion can be remembered: “We keep their memory alive, the sacrifice they made for our freedom should never be forgotten.

Russ Jones (pictured left)

“Without their loss we wouldn’t have the luxuries we enjoy today.”

Every year, volunteers in the Robin Hoods visit Foncquevillers, a French village where the battalion was billeted before going over the top for the Battle of the Somme, a conflict that wounded or killed more than a million men.

Ex-serviceman and military historian John Cotterill recalls the battalion’s terrible sacrifice: “On July 1, 1916 they attacked in the first wave at 7.30am as part of a diversionary attack on Gommecourt Wood.

“The Robin Hood Rifles went over the top with 536 men. Of those brave Nottingham volunteers, 391 fell, most of them within ten minutes.

“Many streets in Nottingham, particularly in the old St Ann’s area, had houses with curtains drawn as a mark of respect.

John Cotterill in Iraq

“Their commanding officer was Lt Col Lawrence Hind, a Nottingham solicitor who was shot in the head whilst lying out in no mans land.”

The memorial in St Mary’s Church is a permanent reminder of the contribution the city made to the British War effort.

John elaborates: “The memorial is in St Mary’s Church because it is Nottingham’s own ‘cathedral’ and the Robin Hood Rifles were the city’s own battalion made up entirely of Nottingham men.

“No other unit has ever recruited solely from the City of Nottingham and they weren’t professional soldiers but lace workers, clerks, shopkeepers and teachers.

“They did not want to go to war but volunteered and carried the name of Nottingham into the trenches for three long, bitter and costly years.”

A memorial lies within St Mary’s Church for the Robin Hood Rifles

As the UK once again remembers those who have lost their lives in conflict, John reflects on why this tradition is so important: “They faced terrible conditions, savage fighting and the statistical near certainty of death.

“Duty, patriotism and comradeship. These three virtues, whilst sometimes out of fashion in a world of baser instincts, should always be held up as an example to us all.”

Main battles The Robin Hood Rifles fought in

July 1915 – Ypres Salient, resisting the first German liquid flame attack

October 1915 – The Battle of Loos, the attempt to capture Hohenzollern

geoffrey-vickers-robin-hood-riflesCaptain Geoffrey Vickers of the Robin Hood Rifles was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Battle of Loos

July 1916 – Gommecourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme

Autumn 1917 – The third battle of Ypres

March 1918 – Resisting the Kaiser’s Spring Offensive (on this day they had more men killed than any other British battalion in the line)

September 1918 – The Breaking of the Hindenburg Line during the Advance to Victory

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