“The citizens of LeHavre weren’t prepared for the bizarre sight that greeted them after a British troopship arrived in the harbour in January, 1916, with a fresh contingent of reinforcements for the Western Front... the troops marched down the gangplanks and along the quay as though they were mocking the traditional image of the stalwart soldier. They were about five feet tall, miniature Guardsmen, more like mascots than fighting men...
And so the first battalion of the Bantams, as they were officially called, prepared for battle. They soon proved they were equal in stamina and greater in valor than standard-sized soldiers. By 1918, more than 50,000 Bantams, including 2,000 from Canada, had been in the trenches and their casualties were enormous. Yet the story of the Bantams and their outstanding contribution to the war has been forgotten, overlooked, or deliberately concealed by army historians, who were perhaps embarrassed by the episode and mistakenly feared that such little men, and the army’s need to use them somehow revealed weaknesses in the British character
But thanks to a Toronto military historian, their story is now told for the first time, and it’s enough to make short men stand tall. Sidney Allinson deserves credit for ferreting out the fascinating tale and for preserving it in the face of official indifference and even hostility. He was able to track down 300 surviving Bantams and make good use of unpublished journals and letters. His experience documents again the widespread illogical prejudice against people who happen to be short.”
– William French, The Globe & Mail.
The little men in khaki seemed unbelievably small to be British soldiers. Barely over five feet in height, they swarmed over the decks of the Channel steamer Caesarea, moving briskly to shouted
orders of sergeants, to sling rifles, packs, and kitbags, then file quickly down the ribbed gangplank to the Le Havre quay. Short legs bowed under their heavy loads of equipment, they tramped
ashore — loudly and cheerfully baahing.
The tiny soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment amazed the French onlookers. After two years of war, the local civilians thought themselves blasé to the variety of types of soldiers the British Empire
brought through the port. They had seen black Nigerians, giant Australians, bronzed New Zealanders and Maoris, colourful Rajputs and Sikhs, confident Canadians, splendid Grenadiers, and even blue-uniformed Chinese labourers, but never anything like these almost Lilliputian newcomers. Certainly, no unit ever arrived
with such an irreverent display.
Boots polished to a black sheen, buttons and brasses glinting in the grey early morning, trousers pressed and puttees tight, soft
peaked caps set square on heads, the men were like miniature Guardsmen in their smart military turnout, but the noises they
made were like nothing ever heard at Caterham Barracks.
“Baaaah! Baaaah! Baaaah !”
After being shunted across southern England in crowded trains for over twenty-four hours, packed into a wallowing tub of a ship through a night of miserable Channel weather, denied breakfast,
and kept standing on deck in full marching order for two more weary hours, the short sturdy men saluted their orders to be finally herded ashore by giving tongue to a chorus of prolonged sheeplike
They swung down the gangway onto the docks. Seeing these uniformly small soldiers loaded with the kit of war, struggling gamely under the weight, yet cheerfully voicing their opinion of all set in authority over them, convulsed many French onlookers.
The laughter grew as furious sergeants and Provost Corpsmen barked orders for silence and chivvied the troops into more orderly groups. The mirth spread infectiously to the soldiers themselves,
until the docks were a chaos of hilarity.
A red-faced Rail Transport Officer clattered up on a horse, to take a horrified look at the scene of hundreds of British soldiers