Berkhamsted – Home to the Devil’s Own

In a special edition of the Chronicle to mark the centenary of the start of World War One, Norman Groves sets the scene: “When war shattered Europe in 1914, the Chilterns town of Berkhamsted was a much smaller and sleepier settlement than now. Within months it swelled to a bustling garrison, with up to 2,500 soldiers (adding about 30% to the town’s population), as it became the wartime home of the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps, for five years from 1914 to 1919.”

The Inns of Court regiment, with an illustrious history since the Spanish Armada to today, proudly carry the nickname “The Devil’s Own”. It was George III who, after many spats with the legal profession, and having asked the origin of the troops he was inspecting, exclaimed “What? ALL LAWYERS? Call them the Devil’s Own!!”

Entertainment in the form of revues and theatricals were provided at Christmas and Jenny Sherwood reports that a regular magazine The Hades Herald was produced, price 6d. This was described as the organ of the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps. All profits resulting from the sale of this publication were to be given to the British Prisoners of War Fund and the R.S.P.C.A. Fund for Wounded Horses.

Hades Herald

At Christmas 1915 a revue was performed by the Officers of the Inns of Court, O.T.C., Look Level or Not a Move. The first scene depicts a week in the life of trainee officers and ends with the chorus:

On Monday you will walk out with a shovel,
On Tuesday you will get your soft feet hard;
On Wednesday you’re out simply learning to shout;
On Thursday you’re on guard
On Friday you’ll do some gentle night ops;
On Saturday you’ll be coming to;
And on Sunday there’s inspection
And a sermon and collection
Till they make a dinkie sub of each of you.

A little book called The Devil’s Own Time by Rell & Abel (purportedly written in the 1930s, but possibly in the 1960s) was donated by someone who trained at Berkhamsted with pencilled notes commenting on some of the references to people and places, giving us further insight on soldiers and how their presence affected Berkhamsted.

Of the nearly 12,000 officers trained by the Inns of Court OTC, up to 7,000 were killed or mutilated.  Nearly 2,200 died – for them, Berkhamsted was their last “home” in England. Their War Memorial is on the Common.

Norman Groves and Jenny Sherwood, Chronicle v.XI, pp.10-25