Guarding the thousands of prisoners held in Handforth was clearly a massive operation. Yet surprisingly little is known about this aspect of the camp’s history. At its largest extent, there was somewhere between 350-400 soldiers guarding the camp. In 1915, the YMCA provided the guards with a recreation hut, where they could smoke, read, write and entertain.
At first, the guards mainly stemmed from the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment, but were augmented as well with members of the Cheshire Regiment. The men tended to work for a few months in the camp, before being rotated out to other duties. Later – presumably as the demand for soldiers increased – the guards increasingly came from the Royal Defence Corps, whose battalions consisted of older or medically unfit men.
One sad incident occurred in December 1917, when Private James Cleary – a member of the Royal Defence Corps – took his own life in Handforth. Cleary had been guarding the perimeter of the camp with a fellow soldier when he complained of dizziness. The other sentry left to report the matter, but returned to find that Cleary had been fatally shot. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. The 44 year old Cleary, who was a veteran of the Boer War, left behind a wife and children.