Transcript of article in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham Observer, May 6th, 1905.
THE VOLUNTEER DRILL HALL
OPENING BY LORD METHUEN
The new drill hall of the 4th Vol. Batt. (Q.O.) Royal West Kent Regiment, at Fort Pitt, was opened on Saturday afternoon by Lieut.-General Lord Methuen. His Lordship was met at Chatham (Mainline) Station by General Sir Reginald Hart, Colonel Barter, C.S.O.A.A.G., Colonel Savage, C.R.E., the Earl of Darnley (Honorary Colonel), and Colonel Satterthwaite (Brigadier). A guard of honour was formed of seven picked men of each company, under Capt. W. T. Boucher, and Lieut. Leavey.
Lord Methuen, who was accompanied by Lieut. the Hon. J. Trefusis, A.D.C., was met at the entrance to the hall by Lieut. Colonel R. J. Passby, (commanding officer), Capt. Pearson (adjutant), and other officers of the Battalion. After the usual introductions, Lord Methuen was conducted to the platform in the hall, and the opening ceremony performed, the proceedings being brief and to the point. Seats were reserved in front and at the sides of the platform for the friends of the officers, and behind these the Volunteers were drawn up in file. The remainder of the hall was open to the general public, who had secured invitations from members of the Battalion. The building was profusely decorated with bunting, and the platform was adorned with palms and ferns. The arrival of the General was watched by a large concourse of people from the Victoria Gardens and the road leading to Fort Pitt.
Lieut.-Col. Passby presided, and amongst those on the platform were Lord Methuen, General Sir Reginald Hart, Admiral R. W. Craigie, the Earl of Darnley; Col. Barter, Col. Savage, Col. Satterthwaite, Col. Smith-Rewse (Assistant Commandant), R.E., Col. Leitch, P.M.O., Col. Hayward, 2nd Batt. (Q.O.) R.W.K. Regt., Col. E.Haymen, 1st K.A.V. the Mayors of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham, Mr. C. Tuff, M.P., Dean Lane, Canon H.C. Pollock (chaplain) and the Rev. O. A. W. O’Neill.
Among the other guests were – Lady Hart, Mrs Lane, Mrs Craigie, Mrs Savage, Mr and Mrs F. C. Boucher, Capt. and Mrs Winch, Lieut. Col. and Mrs Paul, ..............................Mr Lee, Mr and Mrs Freer.
Prayers were read by the Dean.
THE HISTORY OF THE CORPS
Lieut.-Colonel Passby said this was a happy day for the Volunteers throughout the country, Lord Methuen, General Commander-in-chief of the South Eastern District, having honoured the force and this Battalion in particular by coming there today to perform the ceremony of opening their new drill hall. Lord Methuen he had no doubt, would be pleased to put the finishing touch to the work commenced by so renowned a general not only In this country but throughout the world as the then Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, Lord Roberts. Most of them knew there had been a considerable amount of adverse criticism as to the existence of the Volunteer Force at the present time by experts in high quarters, but they in this district intended to continue all the time they were allowed to, to do what little work they could for the good of their country while they had the sympathy and assistance of such gentlemen as they had had in the past. (Applause.) They had noticed in the papers lately that they had a good friend in the Prince of Wales who was next month to open a drill hall similar to theirs for the comfort and training of the Volunteers. They also had the sympathy of Lord Roberts, expressed by his coming to Chatham to lay the foundation-stone of their hall, and they knew to-day that they had the sympathy of Lord Methuen. (Applause.) Admiral Craigie had been of great assistance to the Battalion during the time he had been in Chatham. Whenever it had been possible for him to grant facilities to the men in the Dockyard for parades or duties he had always done his best and most willingly to help them. Sir Reginald Hart had also given them what assistance lay in his power. The Battalion was also very much indebted to the Marines. When they started they drew from the Marines their instructors and they had assisted very much to build the Battalion up to its present state of efficiency. Not only had they had the help of gentlemen he had named, but they had the good feeling of the Mayors and citizens of the district. The Mayors of Rochester, Chatham, and Gillingham had given them facilities not only in regard to the men, but in getting contributions to keep up their estate. With regard to the Battalion, it was started at a time when the country was under a certain cloud, when Lord Methuen and many valiant generals were fighting for their country in South Africa, and certain Continental nations were not looking upon us in a very friendly spirit. That was the time when this Battalion was instituted. He believed the enormous rush to the Volunteer Forces and the general patriotism showed by the nation kept those Continental Powers in check and saved the situation at the time. So far as numbers were concerned, the Battalion had been very successful. In the first year the membership was 641, and at the present time it was 813. They had been four times to camp,and each camp ha been more successful than the preceding one. This they learnt from the Brigadier, and others who had seen them in camp. Although the youngest Battalion in the Brigade they had won a place in the Brigade and they meant, coming as they did from a district full of soldiers and sailors, to keep the place they had won and to be quite as smart as any Battalion in the Brigade. (Applause.) He would like to say too how fortunate they had been with regard to their adjutants First they had Capt. Parsons, a most clever, organizing and smart and efficient officer. He pulled them through the worst time of their career. Following Capt. Parsons they had Chichester as adjutant. He could only say that he was a most brilliant, efficient, dashing and extremely clever officer, and he believed every officer and man had sincere regard for him. Now they had Capt. Pearson, who had just been appointed, and they believed he would prove a worthy successor to Capt. Chichester and Capt. Parsons. As to the finance, they had heard in this district lately of immense sums of money being spent on the Navy and immense sums being spent on the Army for the better housing, better feeding, better clothing, and for the better pay of the Navy and Army. As they knew, the Volunteers did not get any pay, and this was their little effort to house themselves so that they might make their men more comfortable in their little pleasures, and utilise the fine hall in which they were assembled for the purposes of drill and for making themselves more efficient. The drill hall cost altogether some £8,358; £1,194 was promised in subscriptions some 18 months ago, and he was pleased to say the whole amount had been paid. Now they would have to come to their good friends the public again, and he believed they would come forward and help them pay off their debt. The Government advanced £5,300 towards the cost of the hall, and they now had a deficiency to meet of about £1,200. That was not a large amount, seeing the valuable asset they possessed. They were not like some of the schools, churches, chapels and different clubs in the district that wanted subscriptions; they had all shades of politics and men of all denominations in their ranks, therefore he thought the whole of the district would subscribe and help them out of their difficulty. He had much pleasure in asking Lord Methuen to address them, and declare the hall open. (Applause.)
A FRIEND OF VOLUNTEERS
Lord Methuen said this was the second time he had had to open a hall for the Volunteers since he had taken over his new command. For over thirty years he did not suppose anyone held more friendly relations than himself with the Volunteers of the Home District, and he could assure them as one got older one felt the loss perhaps greater than ever of old friends and felt it still more difficult to make new friendships. He did think that the Volunteers outside the Home District had always felt that in him they had a true and candid friend. (Applause.) He had never made use of those occasions to speak in flattering terms of the Volunteers; he had always thought that no Greater harm could be done to the Force than saying things that the speaker believed would be acceptable to the Force. He had always found on the contrary, that is why the Volunteers and he had been true friends was that sometimes they had not agreed in the views that they held regarding the Force, and they respected him for saying what he always felt to be the truth. (Applause.) To him these controversial questions regarding the Volunteers and Militia had no weight. He as their general had nothing to do with them. He had but one thing to do, and they had but one thing to do, and that was to do what they were told, and to do their duty to their country. His first duty in commanding any body of his his Majesty's troops whether it be a company or a large command, was to see that those who were serving under him were brought up to that high state of efficiency which was required by modern warfare. He had never been enamoured of those large Battalions which appeared on the inspection day, and he was dolefully informed that although not very efficient they would be of use when the time of reckoning came. On the contrary he preferred to see the Battalion – and he thought he saw it before him - not too strong in numbers but eager to go into camp realising what practical work in camp meant, realizing a fortnight in camp was infinitely more valuable than one week, and realizing that 800 good men were better than 1,200 who were only partly efficient. Civilians as well as soldiers should realize that it was of no use spending money on either Militia or Volunteers unless they made up their minds, and he believed that they had made up their minds, that the money spent on those Forces must be spent on Forces that were thoroughly efficient If that was not to be their aim then he said boldly that money was far better spent on a small body in the Regular Forces. He had not touched upon any controversial questions. He had spoken to them plainly as a soldier, as one who had served his King and country, and as one who had to induce them to do the same, his wish was that everyone serving under him should look straight to the front - never to the right nor to the left to critics who were often unable to give true criticism- and realize that their sole aim must be to render themselves efficient, and feel that when the country called upon them to do their duty they would be able to respond to the call. (Applause.) They were short of officers and that was a great difficulty in a Volunteer Force. He thought that it was to the county gentlemen such as Lord Darnley they must look for help. It was the country people who must strive all they could to induce their sons to go into cadet battalions at school and afterwards join the Volunteer forces. In that way they would be doing a good work for England, and helping the younger generation to realize their duty to their country. To the working classes he would say - he spoke now as the Commandant of the Church Lads' Brigade – they could not do better than persuade their lads to join the Church Lads' Brigade, which was an institution throughout the kingdom. By so doing they taught them they had two duties to perform, one to their God and one to their country, and those two duties were better learnt in youth than in older age. He declared the hall open, the foundation stone of which was laid by an officer whose name would go down to history as a perfect type of an English soldier and a perfect type of an English Gentleman. (Applause.)
The Earl of Darnley said, on behalf of the Battalion, he wished to tender their most grateful thanks to Lord Methuen for coming there that day. They took it as a very high compliment that a general of such high and distinguished command should among all the endless calls upon his time and his numberless engagements find time to honour them by coming there to open their drill hall. Since that building had been an accomplished fact he thought the Battalion had good reason to be proud of its new headquarters, and he could assure them that it was proud that the foundation stone should have been laid and the opening ceremony performed by two such distinguished soldiers as Lord Roberts and Lord Methuen (Applause)
The proceedings terminated with the National Anthem.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BUILDING
The administrative portion of the building is entered from Albany-road. An entrance hall 10ft. wide is provided, on the left being the Adjutant’s room 11ft. by 18ft. and an orderly-room of like size. On the right is the Colonel’s room 11ft. by 18ft., and an Officers’ dressing room 11ft. by 18ft., which is entered from a lobby leading off the staircase hall. On the left of the officers’ stair-case, hall is the Financial Secretary’s office, and in the centre of hall are folding doors into a wide corridor, on the left being a passage termed men’s entrance, and on the right a similar passage termed sergeants and caretaker’s entrance. On the right of the latter passage is the armoury 16ft. by 11ft.; also the caretaker's staircase to the first floor and stairs to the basement.
The Sergeants’ room 40ft. by 22ft., fitted with a private bar and a lavatory annexe, is entered from the corridor. On the opposite side is the men's recreation and reading room, 40ft. by 22ft.and 19ft. by 11ft. 4in., with private bar and a lavatory annexe.
From the end of the corridor the drill hall 70ft. by 120ft. is entered. It has also three external doors. It is a spacious and airy hall with an open timber roof.
The officers’ staircase leads to a spacious landing on the first floor from which is entered the billiard room 20ft. by 31ft. 4in. which is separated by a folding swivel partition from the mess room 35ft. 4in. by 18ft.
On this floor are the caretaker’s quarters, consisting of a living-room, two bedrooms and a bathroom, etc.; also the kitchen, pantry, and wine store, the two latter rooms having hatches to the billiard-room. A room is also provided for mess stores. From the end of the corridor folding doors open onto the drill hall gallery 70ft. by 8ft. wide.
In the basement is provided a band room, Quartermaster’s store, coal cellar, ammunition store, machine gun and ambulance room; also a beer, wine and spirit cellar which has a lift to bar in men’s room and to mess kitchen, first floor.
The whole building has been erected on the “Hennebique system of ferro-concrete construction” which consists in combining Portland cement concrete and steel in such a manner as to form a beam in which each of these two materials shall develop the maximum of its inherent properties, the concrete, of course, acting in compression and the steel in tension. It will thus be seen that the whole of the walls are in reality beams, and as the floors and roofs are formed with the walls, should any unequal settlement occur in the ground, the structure would in no way be jeopardised.
The contractors for the ferro-concrete structure were Messrs Wm. Cubitt and Co., 258, Gray's Inn-road, and the contractors for the finishing and fitting up, Messrs West Bros., Cuxton-road, Strood, who are to be congratulated on the manner in which they overcame the difficulties which presented themselves owing to the form of construction of the shell. The complete building (which on the score of the expense has been kept exceptionally plain) was erected from the designs and under the personal supervision of the architect; Mr George H. Wells, 19, New-road, Rochester.
Reproduced by permission of
Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre.