On 30th March 1920 the 1st Hampshire sailed for Constantinople to join the Army of the Black Sea. Most of the officers and senior NCOs were veterans of the war, including one VC (Lieutenant MSS Moore), eight MCs and two DCMs. Most of the troops, however, were unseasoned, short-service men, but they were gradually moulded into effective troops.
The Army of the Black Sea faced a thankless task. The Turks under Mustapha Kemel had risen in revolt against the peace treaty which had given Greece large swathes of Turkish territory and the presence of Bolshevik Russia to the north merely served to further complicate the situation. The Army of the Black Sea’s mission was to keep the peace and support the treaty, but the swirling political cross-currents and orders and counter-orders from the political experts made this impossible.
1st Hampshire spent 23 months in Turkey. The work included patrolling, enforcing curfews and rounding up wanted men. However, the extremes of climate and the scourge of malaria meant it was an unsatisfactory kind of soldiering.
In June 1920, they moved from Halidji-Oglu on the Golden Horn to the Gulf of Izmid where they were to protect the Istanbul-Baghdad railway from Mustapha Kemel’s forces. The battalion was strung out along the line in company detachments and a huge number of sentry posts had to be manned. Malaria took a heavy toll, but fortunately the local population were extremely friendly and showered the CO with gifts of flowers, fish and fruit.
In the autumn, the Hampshire went back to Istanbul and took up quarters at Yildiz barracks overlooking the Bosphorous. The battalion’s task was to provide a special guard over the Sultan whose palace lay close by, but the stay at Yildiz also provided the first real opportunity to start any training.
They also witnessed the arrival in the Bosphorous of the remnants of General Pyotr Wrangel’s Russian White Army which had been facing defeat at the hands of Bolshevik forces in the Crimea. Along with Wrangel’s troops on the flotilla of vessels were hundreds of starving refugees and the Hampshire men voluntarily gave up a day’s pay and rations to help them. On 28th June 1921, the Battalion assisted the Allied police in the arrest of a number of Bolshevik spies, including women, who had smuggled themselves into Constantinople disguised as refugees.
Just before the Hampshire embarked for Egypt at the end of 1921 it was inspected by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Black Sea, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Harrington, who praised the battalion for the help it had given the Russian refugees: ‘I have been 30 years in the Army and I have known a more humane act of kindness and self-sacrifice than that made by the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment.’
1st Hampshire then sailed for Egypt on 16th December 1921. One Company disembarked at Cyprus where it remained on detachment for two years while the remainder of the battalion continued to Alexandria and entrained for Sidi Bishr, a nearby desert station. The Hampshire formed part of the Alexandria Mobile Column which was to be used in the event of disturbances in Egypt. Although there was a serious threat of civil unrest in the country at the time (Ireland having set the example), the column was not called upon in the five months the 1st Battalion was at Sidi Bishr.
In May 1922, the Hampshire moved into barracks in Alexandria and then in November 1923 to Cairo. Besides providing guards of honour on important official occasions, the battalion officers also began a new form of training – aeroplane reconnaissance. In one tactical exercise the Warrant Officers and NCOs commanded the men under the guidance of the CO and Adjutant while all the other officers viewed the operations from the air in Vickers Vimy bombers.
In November 1924, the Hampshire made a series of demonstration marches through the streets of Cairo with fixed bayonets following the assassination by a fanatic of Major-General Sir Lee Stack, the leading British administrator in Egypt. These displays of military prowess effectively forestalled any outbreak of civil unrest.
On 17th January 1925, the 1st Battalion left Cairo for Suez, being played out of the Citadel by the pipers of the 2nd Highland Light Infantry and the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. As the 24 officers, 827 other ranks and 39 soldiers’ families sailed for Bombay, they did so in the knowledge that the battalion was in excellent condition and had brought itself up as far as possible to the pre-war standards.