WW I Blast From the Past: Why did young recruits have to wear cardboard badges?

Blast From the Past: a cardboard badge worn by recruits from university and public schools

Blast From the Past: a cardboard badge worn by recruits from university and public schools

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This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

For a taste of what visitors can expect from Bourne Hall’s comprehensive exhibition exploring Epsom and Ewell during World War One, the museum’s curator, Jeremy Harte, has given the Epsom Guardian an insight into some of the interesting items on display.  

This week, he explains the story behind the cardboard badges worn by recruits fresh from university and public schools... 

"In the early months of World War One, recruiting authorities were overwhelmed by the rush of volunteers. 

"Ordinarily, men with a private education would have been made officers, but several were unable to obtain commissions, so they enlisted together to form the University and Public Schools Brigade. 

"There were 5,000 men, drawn up in four battalions which were allotted to the Royal Fusiliers. 

"The military authorities sent them to be billeted at Epsom, Ashtead and Leatherhead, where they contributed an unexpected £3,500 a week to local landladies. 

"Because their units had been formed in such a hurry, the men did not wear uniforms - all they had was a small cardboard badge with the letters UPS held on to their coats by a pin and ribbon. 

"These are now rare and the one on display is only one of two now known to have survived.  

"Within a fortnight of their arrival, the young men found themselves building a camp at Woodcote Park, in the grounds of the Royal Automobile Club.  This was finished in February 1915. 

"The War Office, having at last issued them with rifles and uniforms, arranged for proper military training at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire, to which they were sent in May."

Bourne Hall’s exhibition, Epsom and Ewell in the Great War, will be on display at the museum, in Spring Street, Ewell, until December 31.

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