Machine Gun Training Centre is a term that may refer to two separate establishments, both raised during wartime but with no continuous history, as during peacetime, the training of Machine Gunners was carried out within the Machine Gun Platoons and Machine Gun Companies of the Infantry Battalions.
The Machine Gun Training Centre of the Great War was the overarching establishment formed for the training of Machine Gunners of the Machine Gun Corps, with the exception of the Motor Machine Gun Corps. This was established at Belton Park, Grantham, and incorporated the Machine Gun School.
During the Second World War, Machine Gunner Training was established by concentrating the Depots of the converted Divisional Machine Gun Battalions into a single facility, known as No. 24 Machine Gun Training Centres. This was formed in September, 1941, at The Dale (the Depot of the Cheshire Regiment. With continued expansion of the Army, there was a need to form a further MGTC, No. 26, in October, 1943, following the disbandment of No. 1 Primary Training Centre and No. 1 Reserve Battalion (Support Units). The Depots of the Cheshire Regiment and Manchester Regiment formed No. 24 Machine Gun Training Centre at The Dale, Chester, and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment were transferred to form No. 26 Machine Gun Training Centre at Saighton Camp, then Blacon Camp, Chester.
The intention of the Centres was to take Infantry recruits from the Primary Training Centres around the country and train them in the specialisms required of Machine Gun and Support Battalions. As well as Machine Gunner training and mortarman training, it also taught range-taking and other driver-operator/mechanic courses necessary for operating the Universal Carriers that equipped the Machine Gun Platoons.
The 24th Machine Gun Training Centre
In September, 1941, the [Cheshire Regiment] Depot was tranformed into the 24th M.G.T.C. This involved our absorbing the Depots of the other Machine Gun Regiments, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the Middlesex Regiment and the Manchester Regiment. Each Regiment maintained a "Depot" party at their original Regimental Headquarters.
The Colonel of The [Cheshire] Regiment invited the other three Colonels to meet him at The Dale to discuss and decide the policy to be adopted regarding Regimental customs and activities. An amicable and frank discussion ended in the production of a harmonious and satisfactory plan.
This amalgamation called for considerable tact and forbearance from all concerned, because it raised the question of Regimental pride in an acute form. With "the best Regiment in the Service" quadrupled in one barracks, there was a standing excuse for controversy and argument. But, under the sympathetic guidance of Lieutenant-Colonel B.Y. Hayes-Newington, the transitional period of strees soon gave place to one in which loyalty to the 24th M.G.T.C. was found to be compatible with Pride of Regiment.
The work of the Training Centre was to provide Corps training for recruits who, upon being called up, spent six weeks at a Primary Training Centre and were then posted to one of the four Machine Gun Regiments. These men were given 13 weeks training on the gun at the 24th M.G.T.C. before being posted to a battalion of their own Regiment. Later in the war all men on completion of their machine gun training were posted to the 5th Battalion at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey, where they underwent Continuation Training until they were posted overseas.
A subsidiary camp, run by The Dale, was maintained at Sealand Ranges, under Corporal Jump, where many thousands of Regular and Home Guard units fired their Courses.
Change of Command
In December, 1941, Lieutenant-Colonel P.J. McKevitt, M.C., of The Manchester Regiment, took over command and remained till early in 1945, when he was relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Kewish, who, after relinquishing command of the 4th Battalion in April 1944, had for some months been Second-in-Command. He succeeded in reintroducing at The Dale the traditional family atmosphere of a Depot, in which he was able to embrace the officers and men of both remaining Regiments.
Between 1941 and the cessation of hostilities in 1945, there were changes affecting the role of The [Cheshire] Regiment which had their repercussions at The Dale. In 1942, for instance, battalions of the other three Machine Gun Regiments were converted from infantry (machine gun) battalions to infantry (support) battalions, and were equipped with 4.2 inch mortars and 20 millimetre anti-aircraft guns, whilst The Cheshire Regiment remained entirely machine gun.
In June, 1942, No. 78 Primary Training Wing was formed at The Dale, accommodated in the Sandhurst Block and staffed largely by Officers and Non-commissioned officers of The Cheshire Regiment. Men called up for service reported directly to this Unit and received their initial training there. The Officer Commanding Wing was Major W.E. Rowland.
This sub-unit was disbanded in December 1942, but by this time, the 24th M.G.T.C. had outgrown the available accommodation, there having been at one time no less than 2,000 men on the strength of the combined Depot Company alone. Accordingly, in 1943, a new M.G.T.C. was formed at Blacon Camp and the Depots of the Northumberland Fusiliers and Middlesex Regiments were transferred there, together with all men of these Regiments who were under training.
At the end of 1943, The [Cheshire] Regiment received somewhat belated orders to convert to "Support" weapons, and the appropriate changes were made in the Corps Training of recruits at The Dale, although the name 24th M.G.T.C. was retained. This change necessitated the use of larger Field Firing Areas and increased facilities for the training of Carrier Drivers in cross-country work. These could only be obtained in Wales and therefore in 1944 a small hutted Camp was taken over at Llantysilio, near Llangollen, and the following year a much larger Camp and a mansion in the same area were acquired. Both these Camps were staffed and administered by the 24th M.G.T.C. and the additional facilities did much to improve the standard of training.
No. 26 MGTC was organised as shown below.
With the disbandment of the Divisional MG Battalions at the end of the War, the Machine Gun Training Centres were gradually scaled down and eventually closed in 1946, with the Depots returning to their respective Regimental homes.