21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Noel Downing enlisted and joined the 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers. In early Oct 1914 he arrived in Ashtead, Surrey where he was billeted. Noel kept a series of postcards that illustrate the new recruits’ arrival and early training and the construction of a vast encampment of huts in Woodcote Park, Epsom.

In Jun 1915 they moved to Clipstone near Mansfield and then to Tidworth, Wiltshire before finally being deployed to France in Nov 1915. The battalion was eventually dismantled in Mar 1916 as most of the men took up commissions in different regiments. Noel Downing became a Second Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards.

There are also numbers of photos, letters and journals which survived from this period.

Postcard Collection

There are about 20 postcards in total. Most of them were used to send short messages back home, a few left blank.

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (A Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (A Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

The card is addressed to Noel’s mother and postmarked 5 Oct 1914.

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (C Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (C Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (C Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (C Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

Also to mother, postmarked 5 Oct 1914.

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (A Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (A Company) Training in Ashtead. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

To mother, postmarked 8 Oct 1914, the message reads:

Thurs.
I shall get to B’ham (Snow Hill) 6 o’clock on Saturday evening, unless I am lucky & get off earlier in which case I will wire.
The weather is better than ever.
Noel

Commanding Officer, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, after Church Parade, Ashtead. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

Commanding Officer, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, after Church Parade, Ashtead. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

We believe the Commanding Officer on the photo is Lieutenant-Colonel John Stuart-Wortley.

Sunday Morning Service, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

Sunday Morning Service, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

Sunday Morning Service, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

Sunday Morning Service, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Building their huts, Woodcote Park. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Building their huts, Woodcote Park. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

Hut building, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Park. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

Hut building, 4th Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Park. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

No 1 Company Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Marching through Ashtead Park Gates. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

No 1 Company Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Marching through Ashtead Park Gates. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

To Noel’s sister Mary, postmarked 27 Oct 1914, the message reads:

Hope you had it fine at the Beacon. Please tell May I have sent the prayer to Kathleen.
Can you spot me here?
I am directly under the lamp. C. Davies in sweater in front of me!
Noel

Inspection by Lord Kitchener of Public Schools Brigade during a snow storm on Epsom Downs 22 Jan 1915. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

Inspection by Lord Kitchener of Public Schools Brigade during a snow storm on Epsom Downs 22 Jan 1915. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

To mother, postmarked 11 Feb 1915.

No 1 Company 21st (Schools) Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson's Ashtead P.O. Series

No 1 Company 21st (Schools) Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Johnson’s Ashtead P.O. Series

To mother, also postmarked 11 Feb 1915, the message reads:

I am in the 4th platoon & can’t be seen here
W.N.D.

Woodcote Park Camp. Wakefield Photo, Epsom. Noel is standing third on the right

Woodcote Park Camp. Wakefield Photo, Epsom. Noel is standing third on the right

To mother, postmarked 15 Mar 1915, the message reads:

Thank you very much indeed for the cake & things from Perrys.
This is a photo of some of the inmates of our hut taken outside.
With love from Noel

Woodcote Park Camp, Epsom

Woodcote Park Camp, Epsom

Woodcote Camp, Epsom. Noel is second on the left

Woodcote Camp, Epsom. Noel is second on the left

General view of Woodcote Park Camp showing Rifle Range & Cinema. Johnson's Camp Shop Series

General view of Woodcote Park Camp showing Rifle Range & Cinema. Johnson’s Camp Shop Series

To mother, postmarked 23 Mar 1915, the message reads:

I believe it is very likely we may get four days leave at Easter or the week after but nothing is certain. I will let you know as soon as we hear anything definite.
Noel

Woodcote Park Camp. Wakefield Photo, Epsom. Noel is sixth from the left in the first rank

Woodcote Park Camp. Wakefield Photo, Epsom. Noel is sixth from the left in the first rank

To mother, postmarked 31 Mar 1915, the message reads:

I shall not be coming home for Easter. Leave has been granted to half of us & last night our hut balloted as to who should have it. I unfortunately drew a blank. I suppose we shall get the same leave at some future time but nothing has been said about it yet.
This was taken after Church Parade.
Noel

Clipstone. Noel is standing fifth on the right

Clipstone. Noel is standing fifth on the right

To Noel’s sister May, postmarked 17 Jun 1915, the message reads:

Here I am on guard last Sunday, It is rather a good job up here.
Hope Glynn is all right.
Yrs Noel

21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Perham Down Camp, Tidworth, 1915. Noel is standing fifth on the left

21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Perham Down Camp, Tidworth, 1915. Noel is standing fifth on the left

Photos

Unfortunately the photos below are not always of the best quality, but are a little more personal and worth sharing.

Unloading furnishings for Woodcote Camp, 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Epsom, 1915

Unloading furnishings for Woodcote Camp, 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Epsom, 1915

Constructing a cinema. 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Camp, Epsom, 1915. Noel on the right

Constructing a cinema. 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Camp, Epsom, 1915. Noel on the right

Digging roads. 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Camp, Epsom, 1915

Digging roads. 21st Battalion (4th Public Schools) Royal Fusiliers, Woodcote Camp, Epsom, 1915