First World War Centenary

AA patrols made up two companies in the Essex Regiment

As the AA marked the First World War Centenary on Monday 4 August, it also paid tribute to the AA patrols that fought in the conflict.

We will never forget the sacrifices and courage of those AA patrols and their families in the First World War. It's been humbling reading about the units that they formed and their dedication to serving their country during what must have been a very uncertain time.

 

Chris Jansen, AA chief executive

8th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Essex Regiment

AA patrols training near Colchester, Oct 1914

Patrols supporting The Great War Centenary Parade

In all, some 450 AA staff saw service on the Western Front, with at least 20 being killed in action. Patrols of military age were encouraged to enlist, and as many were former soldiers they returned to their old regiments.

AA personnel also made up two companies of the 8th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Essex Regiment, after the AA's founding secretary, Stenson Cooke – recognising the benefit of their training – gained the authority from the War Office. Initially, 107 'road scouts' enlisted with Cooke and were based in Colchester.1 Each cyclist battalion was responsible for the defence of part of the low-lying Essex coast, and they were especially important in reporting the approach of enemy aircraft towards London; at this time the bicycle was perhaps the most efficient means of passing information to the nearest telephone or telegraph.2

Meanwhile, AA offices opened 24 hours to support the war effort, and AA members provided donor vehicles for ambulance conversions.

You can see AA archive images from the First World War on Flickr.

8th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Essex Regiment

Captain Stenson Cooke and AA patrols, Nov 1914

Chris Jansen, AA chief executive, says: "We will never forget the sacrifices and courage of those AA patrols and their families in the First World War. It's been humbling reading about the units that they formed and their dedication to serving their country during what must have been a very uncertain time.

"We are very proud of our long ties to the military and the important ongoing contribution made by our own Reservists."

On Monday 4 August, AA patrols supported The Great War Centenary Parade in central London. The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain took Chelsea Pensioners, officials and dignitaries in around 40 First World War-period cars on a special route from the Royal Hospital Chelsea to the Imperial War Museum.

Cars waiting for the Great War Centenary Parade

Cars waiting for the Great War Centenary Parade

Chelsea Pensioners ready for the Centenary Parade

Chelsea Pensioners ready for the Centenary Parade

The AA and the military

The AA's long relationship with the military dates back to its formation in 1905. Its founding secretary, Stenson Cooke, had been a Lieutenant of the 1st London Rifle Volunteer Brigade, and for many years most of the AA patrols were ex-regular or national service soldiers. They wore a khaki, military-style uniform, gave members the famous AA salute, and the association was organised along regimental lines.

In 1909 the fledgling AA transported a battalion of soldiers from London to Hastings to test the viability of moving troops by motor transport, which is now commemorated annually.

During the Second World War a Supplementary Reserve to the Corps of Military Police was recruited entirely from AA patrols, whose chief duty was traffic control, and they served in virtually every theatre.

Many patrols joined the reserves in the post-war period, and close ties continue with the AA being one of the first 50 signatories to the government's armed forces corporate covenant.3 It also works with SaBRE (Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers) to promote the benefits of the reserves among its employees; The Poppy Factory charity; and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) to place injured soldiers in work.


1 Burrows, JW, 1932. Essex Units in the War 1914–1919, Vol V, 372.

2 Burrows, JW, 1932. Essex Units in the War 1914–1919, Vol V, 367.

3 AA armed forces corporate covenant

The AA was among the first 50 companies in the UK to commit its support to the military through the new armed forces corporate covenant.

The covenant is a voluntary pledge of support from businesses and charities to the armed forces community – regulars, reserves, families and veterans.

The company conducted an extensive review of the support it provides, and its wide-ranging covenant includes: introducing new working practices to better support its reservists; armed forces discounts off AA membership; and ongoing work to place former service personnel in civilian employment.

30 July 2014 (updated 5 August)


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