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The Volunteers

The Volunteers were the largest section of the Auxiliary Forces. The origin of the force is remarkable, it was raised in 1859 when the nation was alarmed by threats of invasion by the French under Napoleon the Third. It was recognized that the Fleet was insufficient and ill-equipped, and that the British Army compared with that of France was a negligible quantity. The country was thoroughly alarmed, a number of patriotic and energetic men appealed to the manhood of the nation to "volunteer" for military service to resist the threatened invasion. The Government approved and endorsed the appeal. There was an immediate and adequate response; corps were formed throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain, and the force thus created has continued to attract the interest and command the confidence of the public.

Service in the Volunteers is voluntary; a specified number of drills must be performed by each man 30 drills in his first year, 10 in subsequent years. A large proportion of the force attend camp for a week or a fortnight each year. Important changes have taken place in its character and organization. On the whole the changes have been in the direction of increased efficiency. The Volunteer Force undoubtedly contained some of the best military material in the United Kingdom. It suffered somewhat from the lack of trained officers, and from the absence of any precise function in time of war. That if the task of organizing the armed forces of the United Kingdom in the most effective manner were to be undertaken for the first time the Volunteers would exist in their present form is not probable. But having been created in the absence of any directing policy, they nevertheless formed an integral part of the national forces, too important to be disregarded and of too great potential value to be omitted from any scheme of organization for war upon which the military authorities may decide, and of which Parliament may approve.

The Volunteers served in separate regiments or sections, and received no pay. Like the Yeomanry Cavalry they existed only in England and Scotland. Formation and strength of the different sections depended on local circumstances, and there was little uniformity in the proportion of their numbers to the population, as well as in the composition of the several units. For every man, who had been present at a certain number of drills, his corps received a fixed yearly sum to defray the costs of uniforms, accoutrements, &c.

The recruits of the Volunteers must be British subjects, between 17 and 50 years of age; they must have a height of at least 5 ft. 3 in., and chestmeasurement of not less than 32 in. For gunners of the artillery the minimum dimensions are: height 5 ft. 6 in., chest-measurement 33 in. No volunteer was allowed to serve beyond his 50th year. There was no fixed time of service, and, in time of peace, every Volunteer may resign after having given a fortnight's notice of his intention to do so. Commonly, however, Volunteers were required to engage to remain in the force till they earned from government the cost of their uniform and accoutrements. In the 1st and 2d year they have to attend at least 30 drills of one hour's duration, and have to go through a course of target practice; in subsequent years they are required to attend only nine drills of one hour each, and pass through a course of target practice.

Moreover, every Volunteer was bound to be present at the inspection of his corps, or, if he obtained leave to absent himself from the inspection, he must make good the loss by attending two extra drills. In case of an invasion the Volunteers may be called out for permanent service in Great Britain, but not in Ireland. In time of peace these forces cannot be employed in support of the Civil power. During drill or target practice, and in permanent service, the Volunteers were under Military Law.

The infantry battalions of the Volunteers of a territorial regimental district are numbered inter se, e. g. 1st Volunteer battalion "The Hampshire Regiment" (the number of battalions of each regiment is given in chapter II). In all there are 215 battalions, being 1 corps of 3 battalions (The Queen's Rifle Volunteers, Royal Scots), and 212 unattached battalions. These battalions are of various strength, depending on local circumstances, and on the population.

By 1899 the uniforms of the Volunteer infantry were still as various as they ever had been. When these troops were first raised in 1859, the uniforms selected were mostly green or gray. But orders had been issued, that the Volunteer infantry should wear the uniform of their territorial regiment, the rank and file having black braiding on the facings, and white buttons, as well as the name of the regiment, the number of the battalion, and the letter V on the shoulder-straps; the Officers to wear silver buttons and laces. The battalions of the rifle regiments wear bright green piping on the facings. These regulations are being carried out as fast as means will allow; by the year 1899 a total of 133 battalions wore red, 52 green, and 30 gray uniforms. The equipment was identical with that of the regular infantry. The arms are as in the regular infantry.

It may be mentioned that many battalions of Volunteers included a number of mounted men. One battalion of 3 companies the 26th Middlesex, consisted exclusively of cyclists. In every battalion at least two men in each company are trained as ambulance men, and are supplied with stretchers, flasks, and all necessary materials. The Volunteer Artillery consists of 65 battalions of various strength. The battalions are named after the counties, in which they have been raised, and if there is more than one battalion in a county they are numbered consecutively. The Volunteer engineers consist of 20 battalions of sappers, 7 submarine mining-sections, the corps of electrical engineers, and a corps of officers, who are railway officials.

The Reserve Forces Act, 1882, established the reserve for the regular forces and the militia. The main object of the Reserve Forces Act at the date of its enactment was to aid the civil power in the preservation of the public peace. But by the Reserve Forces and Militia Act, 1898, any man belonging to the first class of the army reserve whose character on transfer to the army reserve was good shall, if he so agreed in writing, be liable for the first twelve months of his service in that reserve to be called out on permanent service without being called out by proclamation or without the meeting of Parliament; and in case there was a state of war between His Majesty and any foreign power, the service of a reserve man may be prolonged for a further period not exceeding twelve months, or his services may be dispensed with by the competent military authority. By the Reserve Forces Act, 1899, if serving out of the United Kingdom, he may at his own request be transferred to the reserve without being required to return to the United Kingdom. Volunteers were a voluntary service, but in case of actual or apprehended invasion of any part of the United Kingdom they may be called out for actual service (Volunteers Act, 1863). They were subject to military law when on actual military service, when being trained or exercised with any portion of the regulars, or with any portion of the militia when subject to military law. But any volunteer may (since 1895) offer himself for active military service whenever an order for the embodiment of the militia is in force.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 18:34:07 ZULU