The bantam is a fighting cock; small but hardy and aggressive.
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, the 40th, had a mixture of bantam and regulation units, although it is generally recognised as a bantam Division. 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.http://www.roll-of-honour.com/books2006-11.html
During the First World War, the British Army raised battalions 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 mining areas where short stature was no sign of weakness.
The first bantam battalions were "raised" in Birkenhead, 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, and six men were eventually called upon to remove him. These were men used to physicality and hard work, and Bigland, incensed at what he saw as the needless rejection of healthy men, petitioned the war office for permission to establish an undersized fighting unit.
When granted, News
spread across the country and men previously denied the chance to fight made their way to Birkenhead, 3,000 in all being divided into two battalions in November 1914. The requirement for their 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 with enamel badges - "BBB" - Bigland's Birkenhead Bantams. Soon renamed the 15th and 16th Cheshires, they undertook gruelling training and served in some of the most hard fought battles of the war. Eventually two whole divisions, the 35th and the 40th, were formed from 'Bantam' men, but conscription saw standards drop and they were finally consumed into the normal army.