The Inns and outs of Devil’s Own regiment


Self control, self reliance and action – these are the three main principles required for a 20th century officer to attain his status within the ranks, as outlined in Col F Errington’s Inns of Court Training Corps during the Great War.

They were qualities that, although some 130,000 applicants believed they had, only 13,800 would ever achieve by the end of that war.

From its origins, and well into the 19th century, the regiment was recruited and officered almost exclusively from the legal profession practising in the area of the Inns of Court, made up of the Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn).

Arguably the regiment’s most important assignment took place during the First World War when it formed a highly successful Officer Training Corps (OTC) based in Berkhamsted.

The company moved to its new base on September 28, 1914 at the beginning of the First World War, which at that point was estimated to last only six weeks.

The corps establishment of August 1, 1914 consisted of one squadron of cavalry and three companies of infantry, in all 424 officers and men. The corps was officially inaugurated in 1909 during peacetime, but once the war had finished, the corps had processed a total of more than 13,000 men with more than 11,000 gaining battlefield commissions.

Colonel Errington gives details of the suitability of being based in Berkhamsted: “The situation of our camp at Berkhamsted was ideal, pitched in the field on the north side of the station and sloping gently up to Berkhamsted Place.

“The Squadron, both men and horses, were in the Brewery. Lord Brownlow placed at our disposal his private waiting room at the station and also a covered-in shelter, both of which were used for the quartermaster’s office and stores.

“The proximity of the station did away with all transport difficulties. On the west side, we had ample room for expansion, and on the east side another large field, subsequently given the name of Kitchener’s Field, made an admirable drill ground. 

“The surrounding country was the best imaginable for training, being so varied. To the north lay the big common, later intersected by some 13,000 yards of trenches, then Ashridge Park, undulating and beautifully timbered, placed entirely at our disposal by Lord Brownlow, and so away to the open downland of the Chiltern Hills.

“To the south, hilly and enclosed land leading to Hawridge and Cholesbury Commons. To the east, farms and enclosures admirably adapted for night operations; to the west the private grounds of Rossway and Champneys, always open to us, with woods, farms and enclosures to and beyond Tring.

“We went where we liked, and did what we liked. The big landowner, the small landowner, and the farmer were all equally ready to help.”

Company training was conducted in accordance with the principles laid down in the official manuals, but always with the view that the men were to be officers, which differentiated the training from that given to ordinary battalions.

Every man entered the corps as a private, and learned recruit, squad and company drill. Drill was undertaken in Kitchener’s Field.

The castle grounds were used as a school of musketry and later for a machine gun school. Berkhamsted Common and Ashridge Park, where Lord Brownlow placed no restrictions, were ideal for field work.

Haresfoot Park was a convenient training ground for night operations and offered surprising facilities on a dark night for losing companies.

Other places used were Aldbury, Cholesbury, Hawridge, Hudnall and Ivinghoe Downs. Bombing and gas training were added later in the war.

Lectures formed an important part of the training. In good weather, they were given outdoors. In inclement weather, as the corps possessed no rooms, the halls of the non-conformist churches were used as well as the YMCA.

Later, out of the profits from the canteen, the corps was able to buy four huts, one for each company. Each hut held 400 men and the huts were used for lectures and recreation. Number 5 company was the depot recruit company at Lincoln’s Inn.

Meals were taken in Key’s timberyard, the greater part of which had been taken over for the troops. The courthouse became an orderly room. Two huge marquees were erected in the castle grounds for a musketry school.

Local ladies organised a hospital, first in Barncroft and then at the Beeches in Kings Road. Out of the corps’ savings, five company huts, each holding 400 men, were purchased and erected for lectures and recreation.

Night operations were a frequent part of training and the men, on the whole, were able to find their way even on the darkest night, although one squad was discovered when it had strayed and fallen into the pond at Marlin Chapel Farm; thus breaking the normally strictly observed silence.

They had a rush to get their uniforms presentable for battalion parade the next morning!

Although bombing instructions were given, live grenades were not available, so many weird objects of the jam-tin nature were thrown.

Anti-gas instruction was given in the last two years and every man passed through a gas-chamber that was situated on the Common.