Grove Park ASC
No.1 Mechanical Transport Reserve Depot was formed on 23 September 1914 when Captain CV Holbrooke, ASC took over the Grove Park workhouse. Built by the Greenwich Union in 1899 on a ten acre site in Marvels Lane, Grove Park, SE London, it provided barracks for 800 recruits. On 27 September Lt Col HF Fisher, ASC took over command.
Recruits were sent to Grove Park from recruiting offices around the country, and particularly from the ASC Recruiting Office in Whitehall. Their aptitude for various trades as lorry drivers, mechanics, blacksmiths, etc was assessed and after four days of basic training they were sent to other depots to hone existing or learn new skills.
Personnel deemed suitable for immediate service overseas were despatched to the port of embarkation, usually Southampton. In the first weeks of the war men arriving at Grove Park could find themselves at a port of embarkation within twelve hours of enlisting, such was the urgent need for men in France. Around 4,000 men were passing through Grove Park each week during this period, every one of whom needed to undergo a medical, be clothed and fed.
Congestion resulted at the port as men had no regimental number and had to wait to be allotted to a Unit before being sent overseas. This congestion was resolved by providing regimental numbers to be allocated at Grove Park. The first ASC Company numbers allocated were 79, 82 and 89 Coys, who were to serve with the Indian Cavalry after arriving in France.
Parking was found in the adjacent Grove Park Avenue. Additional barracks under canvas were established both sides of the road, on what is now Mottingham Sports Ground on one side and the City of London Sports Ground, which bordered Grove Park Barracks. This became known as Pennington Camp.
In February 1915, it was decided that a formal testing company was necessary. Subsequently the “Recruits and Testing Coy, Grove Park” was established under command of Capt. WS Oakley, ASC. New recruits were obtained from the Army Trade Test Centre at Charlton Park, under the broad headings of ‘driver’ and ‘tradesman’. Assuming medical examinations were passed they were then ‘vaccinated and sprayed’ before passing on to the trade shops.
The trade shops tested the recruit’s aptitude for all the trades useful for the repair of motor cars and lorries. These included fitters, blacksmiths, wheelers, coppersmiths, vulcanisers and electricians. An important function of the trade shops was to provide each individual recruit the opportunity to show and develop his abilities before allocating him to a particular trade for specialist training.
This initial assessment and training determined which of four groups recruits were placed in for further development: These being,
4) Men who failed utterly at every test,
who were sent to learn driving. Recruit drivers were classified as Heavy
Drivers; Light Car Drivers; Ford Drivers and Steam Drivers.
Only qualified men were received at Grove Park, for allocation to their units, except for trainee Ford Drivers. They received a course of 500 minutes driving and theory lectures, with Grove Park passing out 150 Ford Drivers per week.
Arrangements were made with the London General Omnibus Company to provide driving instructors and other trainers at the Osterley Park Technical School. Catford LGOC garage was taken over as a reception, training and repair depot. Camberwell garage was later turned into a repair depot and the reception depot was transferred to Kempton Park.
The greatest number of men tested was on 31 May 1916 when 749 drivers and 157 tradesmen were tested. By May 1917 141,291 men had successfully passed out of Grove Park as tradesmen and 15,000 had been sent to the infantry as untrainable.