In the early years of the 20th Century the then Secretary of State for War, Sir Richard Haldane, introduced reforms of the Army. These were based on the difficulties experienced during the Boer Wars. The main element of the reforms was to create the ability for the Regular Army to form an expeditionary force capability in the event of a major war. The volunteer forces were reformed into a Territorial Force (TF) which had its own organisation and was tasked with the defence of the UK homeland. The TF was organised into divisions that were structured in the same way as the Regular Army, but which were based on geographical regions and soldiers were committed only to home service, that is, were not required to serve overseas except by voluntarily agreeing to do so.

The Bristol Gunners became the 1st (South Midland) Brigade of the 48th (South Midland) Infantry Division. As part of this they also transferred from the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) to become part of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). In these new circumstances the Bristol Gunners took to their new role and equipment with enthusiasm and energy. Six years training brought them to the peak of performance and when the First World War erupted in August 1914 they were ready, able, and willing to do their bit.

The call to mobilise came on 4th August 1914, and in three days they had come to full establishment of equipment, men and supplies, and left Bristol by train, to travel to their war station at Plymouth, where their role was in defence of the Naval facilities there. After a few weeks it was realised at the War Office that the TF Divisions would be needed for service on the Continent. All ranks had to agree to sign up for 'Imperial Service' (IS), that is, agree to service overseas. Most agreed and signed up, by many did not. The 48th Division was to concentrate in Essex before being shipped to war. Further re-equipping and reinforcement took place before they were ready. On 29th March 1915 the division went to Southampton by train, and that night sailed for Le Havre in France. After journeying through France by train they arrived at the Front near the Belgian town of Neuve Eglise (now called Nieuwkirke). By 4th April 1915 they had taken over from the 4th Infantry Division and were in the front line.

Over the next four years the 48th Division, and the Bristol Gunners as part of the division, fought in Belgium, on the Somme in France, including throughout the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during the retreat of the German Army to the Hindenburg Line in 1917, in the Battle of Passchendaele also in 1917, and, following this battle, they were sent by rail to north eastern Italy to assist the Italian Army following the Battle of Caporetto. They spent over twelve months in Italy, fought well during the Battle of the Solstice in 1918 when the Austrians and Germans made a last attempt to break the Italian line. They were among the troops that pushed the Austrians off the Asiago plateau, and were among the first British troops in the war to enter enemy territory when they crossed the border into Austria on 3rd November 1918.

During the last weeks of 1918 and the first weeks of 1919 the British forces in Italy demobilised gradually. The last draft of Bristol Gunners returned to the city in late April 1919.

During the war, referred to at the time as 'The Kaiser's War', 253 Bristol Gunners died from around 5,000 who served. Most of these died in action or from wounds, however, as in other parts of the armed forces, a substantial number also died from disease, most notably from Spanish Influenza in 1918 and 1919. During the war many parts of the British Army experienced reorganisations and other changes as the army tried to learn from the experience of modern war. During the war the Bristol Gunners changed their organisation a number of times, and their title within the 48th Division changed from 1st (South Midland) Brigade RFA (T) to 240 Brigade RFA (T). The 'T' in brackets refers to 'Territorial.'

During the Great War the Bristol Gunners won a reputation as a reliable and effective artillery unit, and received many commendations and congratulations from senior generals and the infantry units that they supported. They were the equal of any Regular Army artillery brigade, and were better than many.

240 Brigade Officer roll.pdf 240 Brigade Officer roll.pdf
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Extract from Brigade War Diary.pdf Extract from Brigade War Diary.pdf
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Captain F S Gedye war diary.pdf Captain F S Gedye war diary.pdf
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Harold Essex Lewis Biog.pdf Harold Essex Lewis Biog.pdf
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