The Army Service Corps, is the same as the RASC: it received the Royal prefix in late 1918.
The officers and men of the ASC – sometimes referred to in a joking, disparaging way as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry – were the unsung heroes of the British Army in the Great War. Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition. They can not move without horses or vehicles. It was the ASC’s job to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won. At peak, the ASC numbered an incredible 10,547 officers and 315,334 men.
The Organisation of the ASC
The ASC was organised into units known as Companies, each fulfilling a specific role. In most cases the Company also had a sub-title name describing its role.
Some of the Companies were under orders of the Divisions of the army; the rest were under direct orders of the higher formations of the Corps, Army or General Headquarters of the army in each theatre of war. They were known as part of the Lines of Communication. Many men of the ASC were not, however, with ASC Companies, for many were attached to other types of unit in the army – for example, as vehicle drivers.
The largest element of the ASC was the Horse Transport section.
Most Horse Transport Companies were under orders of Divisions, with four normally being grouped into a Divisional Train. Others were part of the Lines of Communication where they were variously known by subtitles as Auxiliary Supply Companies or Reserve Parks.
Soldiers who served in the Horse Transport usually had the letter T as a prefix to their number.
All Mechanical Transport Companies were part of the Lines of Communication and were not under orders of a Division, although some (unusually known as Divisional Supply Columns and Divisional Ammunition Parks) were in effect attached to a given Division and worked closely with it. Those in the Lines of Communication operated in wide variety of roles, such as being attached to the heavy artillery as Ammunition Columns or Parks, being Omnibus Companies, Motor Ambulance Convoys, or Bridging and Pontoon units. Soldiers who served in the Mechanical Transport usually had the letter M as a prefix to their number.
The ASC Remounts Service was responsible for the provisioning of horses and mules to all other army units. The units of the Remounts were always part of the Lines of Communication and were never under direct orders of a Division. Soldiers who served in the Remounts usually had the letter R as a prefix to their number.
ASC Labour Companies
In France and Flanders it was soon discovered in 1914 that the local authorities could not supply civilian men for labouring duties, such as helping the BEF disembark its stores and equipment from ships. The War Office arranged to send 300 labourers for these duties. More followed, and by the end of December 1914 they had been formed into five Labour Companies of the ASC. They were numbered 1 to 5. Many more Companies were formed in 1914 and 1915, but none are well documented.
Each Company consisted of 6 officers and 530 other ranks. Numbers 1 and 2 Labour Companies were officially formed at Aldershot on 24-25 August 1914. A number of Foremen and Gangers were recruited in the early weeks, to act as NCOs. Approximately 21,000 skilled labourers and dock workers had joined by the end of 1915. However, the Companies were not destined to remain for long: 28 of them were absorbed into the newly-created Labour Corps between February and June 1917; 8 other Companies were disbanded between January 1915 and June 1917, with personnel from 3 of these Companies being transferred to the Royal Marines.
The first specialised ASC Railway Labour Company was formed in January 1915, doubling to two in October 1915. They eventually took the numbers 33 and 34 Railway Labour Companies. Detachments were based at Le Havre, Bailleul, Steenwerck, Caestre and Strazeele.
The Supply section, Field Bakeries and Butcheries
The ASC provided an important service in the production of bread and meat for the troops in the field. Details to be added shortly.
Reserve Supply Personnel depots (RSP) were located at Aldershot, Bath, Hastings and Prees Heath.
The Base Depots established in the various theatres of war were the primary locations. They were used as main stores; for organisation of men and units going to and from the units in the field; and for administration.