2nd Battalion was still in England at the outbreak of World War One and served on the Western Front from August 1914 right up until the Armistice. 1st Battalion hurriedly returned to Britain in 1914 and joined with other returning garrison units to form 29th Division. Originally intended for the Western Front, the division was instead sent to Gallipoli in March 1915.
The following July 1st Battalion was joined in Gallipoli by six of the regiment’s territorial battalions. The regiment raised 18 Territorial and six New Army battalions during the conflict. 1st Battalion moved to the Western Front in March 1916, remaining there for the rest of the conflict.
At the end of the war 2nd Battalion was sent to India, serving as occupation troops in Istanbul en route. In contrast, 1st Battalion served in Ireland for three years during its War of Independence, proving particularly effective in capturing the Irish Republican Army leaders.
The regiment was formed in 1881 by merging the 44th Regiment of Foot and the 56th Regiment of Foot, both of which already had territorial associations with the county.
In Burma at the time of the merger, the 44th Foot became the new regiment’s 1st Battalion.
2nd Battalion then spent three years on Cyprus followed by nine in India and Burma. 1st Battalion spent most of the same period in England and Ireland. Both battalions served in the Boer War (1899-1902), 1st Battalion from 1899 and 2nd Battalion from December 1901.
Its intelligence officer at the time, Arthur Percival, later became notorious for his defeat at Singapore in 1942. 1st Battalion began 14 years in Britain in 1922, briefly broken in 1934 when it was sent to join the International Force overseeing the Saar’s referendum on rejoining Germany.
Eleven Essex Battalions served overseas during the Great War.
The numbers of members of the Essex Regiment who were killed in action, died from wounds or died of diseases during World War One was 8,209.
West Ham Pals Battalion
In December 1914 the Mayor of West Ham successfully applied to the War Office to raise an infantry unit of local men to serve in the British Army, who had by then already suffered heavy losses on the Western Front. Formed as the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment, the West Ham Pals were born.
After landing in France in December 1915, they would go on to fight the whole war alongside the 17th (Service) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, better known as the Footballers’ Battalion.
The West Ham Battalion acquitted themselves very well on the battlefield and fought actions during the Battle of the Somme, at Vimy Ridge and Cambrai. Many Officers were awarded the Military Cross (one twice!) while many men from the ranks won the Military Medal and Distinguished Conduct Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross).
Major Percival in Ireland