What was a bantam, or a bantam unit?

The bantam is a fighting cock; small but hardy and aggressive.

The formation of the bantams

In 1914 the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, Alfred Bigland, pressed the War Office for permission to form a battalion of men who were under regulation size but otherwise fit for service. A few days later, some 3,000 men had volunteered, many of whom had previously been rejected as being under height.

The original men were formed into the 1st and 2nd Birkenhead Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment (later redesignated the 15th and 16th Bns). Other regiments began to recruit similarly: the Lancashire Fusiliers, West Yorkshires, Royal Scots, and Highland Light Infantry most notably. Many of the recruits were miners. Eventually these units were formed into the 35th Division.

Another Division, the 40th, had a mixture of bantam and regulation units, although it is generally recognised as a bantam formation.

The bantams were very popular at home and were often featured in the press. However, by the end of 1916, it was found that the general fitness and condition of men volunteering as bantams was no longer up to the standard required. Brigades were informed that no more undersized men would be accepted, and the Divisions lost their bantam status as replacements diluted the number of small men in the mix.