, in British army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...
usage, was a soldier of below the British Army's minimum regulation height of 5ft. 3ins.
During the First World War, the British Army raised battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...
s in which the normal minimum height requirement for recruits was reduced from 5'3" to 5'. This enabled otherwise healthy young men to enlist.
Bantam units were drawn from industrial and coal mining areas where short stature was no sign of weakness. The name derives from the former town of Bantam
Bantam in Banten province near the western end of Java was a strategically important site and formerly a major trading city, with a secure harbor on the Sunda Strait through which all ocean-going traffic passed, at the mouth of Banten River that provided a navigable passage for light craft into...
in Indonesia, from which a breed of small domestic fowl
A bantam is a small variety of poultry, especially chickens. Etymologically, the name bantam is derived from the city of Bantam - currently known as "Banten Province" or previously "Banten Residency" - once a major seaport, in Indonesia...
is thought to have originated. Bantamweight
Bantamweight is usually a class in boxing for boxers who weigh above 115 pounds and up to 118 pounds . However, in Mixed Martial Arts it is 134-136 pounds . Wrestling also has similar weight classes including bantamweight...
was a weight category in boxing that had originated in the 1880s and produced many notable boxers.
The first bantam battalions were recruited in Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...
, Cheshire, after Alfred Bigland, MP, heard of a group of miners who, rejected from every recruiting office, had made their way to the town. One of the miners, rejected on account of his size, offered to fight any man there as proof of his suitability as a soldier, and six men were eventually called upon to remove him. Bantam applicants were men used to physical hard work, and Bigland was so incensed at what he saw as the needless rejection of spirited healthy men, he petitioned the War Office for permission to establish an undersized fighting unit.
When the permission was granted, news spread across the country and men previously denied the chance to fight made their way to Birkenhead, 3,000 successful recruits being accepted for service into two new "Bantam battalions" in November 1914. The requirement for their height was between 4ft. 10 ins - 5ft. 3 ins., -- chest size was one inch more than the army standard.
The men became local heroes, with the local newspaper, The Birkenhead News, honouring the men of the 1st and 2nd Birkenhead Battalions of the Cheshires
The Cheshire Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division.The regiment was created in 1881 as part of the Childers reforms by the linking of the 22nd Regiment of Foot and the militia and rifle volunteers of Cheshire...
with enamel badges - "BBB" - Bigland's Birkenhead Bantams. Soon renamed the 15th and 16th Battalions, Cheshire Regiment, they undertook gruelling training and served in some of the most hard fought battles of the war, such as the Battle of Arras
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British, Canadian, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Australian troops attacked German trenches near the French city of Arras on the Western Front....
in 1917. Eventually two whole divisions, the 35th and the 40th, were formed from 'Bantam' men, who were virtually annihilated during the Battle of Bourlon. Heavy casualties, transfers to specialized Army tunneling companies and tank regiments, the introduction of conscription, and replacements by taller men, eventually led to Bantam units becoming indistinguishable from other British divisions. A thorough study is published in "THE BANTAMS: The untold story of World War One," by Sidney Allinson.
- BBC website feature on Bantam soldiers