RESEARCH: Following the brave Bantoms

I am searching for surviving relatives of a number of proud old soldiers who I was privileged to interview in 1982.

Working for BBC Radio 4, I recorded the recollections of the men for a documentary I was making about the ‘Bantam’ soldiers of the First World War.

They were among the “wee men” who had to fight their way into the Army before they were allowed to put their lives on the line. They had been rejected at Recruiting Offices because they didn’t measure up to the Army’s requirement of 5ft 3ins in height, and/or expanded chest measurement of 34ins. Eventually, regulations were eased and two ‘Bantam’ Divisions were recruited.

Next year is the centenary of the Bantams’ momentous battle to take Bourlon Hill and village, near Cambrai. The fighting was amongst the fiercest of the war. The objectives were defended by crack German troops, including the feared Prussian Guards. But the “wee men” belied their stature and the Bantams triumphed, but at huge cost.

In 72 hours the 40th Division lost over 4,000 men. So few survived that the division was wiped out and the “wee men” were largely forgotten in regimental and official histories.

There were lengthy sections of the interviews which remained unused and it is my intention to re-tell the story in more depth and detail in book form. I am hoping surviving relatives may have photographs or other memorabilia of these brave old soldiers.

They include Arthur Riddle, 19th Durham Light Infantry, of Morpeth.

If anyone can help, please drop me a line at Kilrush, Belhaven High Street, Dunbar, EH42 1NS, phone 07711 912461 or 01368 862888, or email kitfraser125@btinternet.com

Kit Fraser

Writer and Broadcaster