Ballymena 1914 - ‘The Old Sweats’

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From research, it is obvious that a great many men from the Ballymena area were not ‘political’ to any great degree at all.

Among many of these young men there must have been a yearning for adventure and travel. Not for them the red-bricked terraces, their horizon was in far-off lands many a universe away from loom and forge, tailors shop or hayfield. One of the most surprising discoveries has been the large numbers of ‘regulars and reservists’ in Ballymena and District. Many had served in India, Arabia and in the bushveldt of Southern Africa.

There was even one venerable recruit who had fought in the Afghan War in 1879!

All were to find that modern industrial warfare was a far cry from the deeds of daring so often described in the ‘Boys’ Own’ tales of that period. Many of the pre-war regulars and reservists from the Ballymena area fought in battles around the Belgian mining town of Mons or in last ditch stands at obscure map references such as Le Cateau in the opening weeks of the war.

Those reservists who had been hastily called back to the colours were particularly tested in these days. It was not the violence of the fighting which plagued them as much as their poor, blistered feet.

Men who had been fitted with rock hard new army boots only days before were asked to march up to 20 miles a day in scorching heat with a rampant German army hot on their heels.

It is no wonder that many troops would plead with their officers: “For Gawd’s Sake .. let us stand and fight!”

British army dsicipline carried the day and thanks to a number of stout rearguard actions, the ‘Contemptible Little Army’ was able to out-march the enemy, re-group and go back on the counter-offensive during the epic ‘Battle of the Marne’.

But the early set-piece battles and many unheard of skirmishes proved costly for the original BEF. Unlike continental armies it was a volunteer formation, which although highly trained and motivated, lacked the strength’ in depth’ to play in the European super-league of war and civilisation.