1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Volunteers

VOLUNTEERS, a general term for soldiers who are not professionals nor permanently embodied under arms in peace. Although it would be difficult to say when the principle of volunteer organization for national defence was first adopted in England, it is certain that voluntary military societies existed in various parts of the country in the reign of Henry WIL, who in fact granted a charter in 1537 to the “Fraternity or Guylde of Saint George: Waisters and Rulars of the said Science of Artillary as aforesaid rehearsed for long-bowes Cros-bowes and Hand-Gonnes.” This ancient corps is now the Honourable Artillery Company of London. Although the Honourable Artillery Company has always been a distinct association, it was at one time (notably during the Great Rebellion) a centre of instruction for the City-trained bands, and in later times the H.A.C., divided into artillery and infantry units, has been assimilated as regards training and obligations to the Volunteer or Territorial Forces. Charters of a similar kind were granted to a Colchester society in 1619 and to one at Bury St Edmunds in 1628. In the 16th and 17th centuries also various temporary corps outside the militia or trained-band organization were called volunteers. At Boston, Massachusetts, there is established a corps- bearing the name of the “Antient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.” This company was formed in 1638 after its London prototype.

The notion of a large organized Volunteer Force, however, seems to have originated in England at the time of the Militia Bill of 1757, which was amended in 1758 so as to allow the militia captains to accept volunteers instead of the ordinary militiamen who were compulsorily furnished pro rata by each parish. In 1778 the volunteers were still voluntary substitutes for militiamen, though formed in separate companies of the militia unit, but volunteer corps soon began to form themselves independently of the militia. In the meantime a large volunteer force had sprung up in Ireland. In 1779, Ireland being threatened with foreign invasion, a levy of 20,000 Protestants was made by the gentry in the north. The 20,000 Protestants had grown in 1782 to 100,000 of all arms and both creeds, and they used their strength effectively for political purposes. After the establishment of the parliament at Dublin, and the general peace of 1783, attempts were made to use this army for party purposes, and the moderate men in parliament therefore hastened to disband it. But this military coup d’etat was not forgotten in England. Ireland indeed supplied 70,000 volunteers during the Napoleonic wars, practically in place of her militia quota. But the rebellion of 1798 kept alive the memory of 1782, and about 1S04 the government disarmed and disbanded them.

The English and Scottish volunteers, disbanded in 1783, were promptly revived when the French Revolutionary Wars produced a new and more formidable enemy. Volunteer corps, some dependent as companies upon the militia, others independent units, were raised in 1794, volunteer service counting as militia service for the purposes of raising the county, town or parish quota. This was followed in 179S by the formation, for purely local defence, of the Armed Associations, the equivalent of the modern “rifle clubs.” At the peace of Amiens the 340,000 volunteers then serving were nearly all disbanded, but one or two crops passed into the regular army as entire regiments, and some others managed to avoid disbandment until the renewal of the war revived the whole force. The danger of invasion was then at its height, and in a few months the force numbered 380,000 men, or 32% of a population which already kept up a regular army and a militia. But the training of this mass was very unequal;. the numbers fell off as the likelihood of invasion decreased, and in the reaction from the first enthusiasm it began to be questioned whether the volunteers could be of much value under the easy conditions of service prevailing. In iSoS, therefore, the Local Militia was formed, in which the terms of enlistment and training abilities were both stricter and better defined. The greater part of the volunteers transferred themselves to the Local Militia, which by 1812 (aided by the ballot) had reached a strength of 215,000 as against the 70,000 of the remaining volunteers. With the general peace of 1S14 all these forces except the H.A.C. and the Yeomanry (q.v.) disappeared.

After an interval of nearly half a century the warlike attitude of France caused British citizens once more to arm for the protection of their country. The British army and navy had declined in strength and efficiency; France, on the other hand, by the energetic development of her military .and naval power and the early application of steam to ships of war, brought the possibilities of the invasion of England in 1846 within measurable distance. England at this time was awakened to the gravity of the situation by the publication of a letter from Wellington to Sir John Burgoyne,[1] followed by a well timed pamphlet by Sir Charles Napier, entitled The Defence of England by Volunteer Corps and Militia. The French danger, in abeyance during the Crimean War, was revived in 1857, when the tone of the French press became more and more menacing. The war in China, the Indian Mutiny and difficulties with the United States taxed the regular army to the utmost; while at home, besides the actual garrisons, there were barely 36,000 militia. This threatening condition of affairs tended to aggravate, if not to produce, a serious commercial panic. It was then that the volunteer movement began, and the Orsini episode and the openly expressed threats of French officers were all that was necessary to free the pent-up enthusiasm.

A few rifle clubs were already in existence, and two of these, working as military bodies from the outset (1852–53), became the two senior volunteer battalions—1st V.B. (now 4th Bn.) Devonshire Regt., and Victoria Rifles (now 9th Bn. London Regt.). But it was not until the situation became acute that the War Office took the step of raising the “Volunteer Force.” A circular letter, dated 12th May 1859, from the secretary for war to the lords-lieutenant of counties in Great Britain authorized the formation of volunteer corps. The general enrolment took place at first unSer the old statute (44 Geo. III.). The main provisions of that act, however, were found inapplicable to the altered conditions under which invasion was now possible, and they failed also to provide for the maintenance of the volunteer force on a permanent footing in peace. A new act (Volunteer Act 1863) was therefore passed, the most important provision of which was that apprehended invasion should constitute a sufficient reason for the sovereign to call out the volunteers, in lieu of the old condition which required the actual appearance of the enemy. The volunteers were, when called out, bound to serve in Great Britain until released by a proclamation declaring the occasion to have passed. This was modified in 1900 during the South African War, a new enactment allowing the authorities to call them out at times of “imminent national danger and great emergency.” In 1871 the volunteers were removed from the control of the lords-lieutenant and placed under the War Office. In 1881 the infantry battalions were affiliated to the various line regiments.

The force thus brought into existence was composed of corps of light horse, mounted rifles, garrison and heavy artillery, engineers and rifle volunteers.[2] Later there existed also in connexion with the admiralty a corps of “Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers” for the coast defences.

The terms of service and training liabilities underwent no alteration of principle during the forty-eight years of the force's existence.

The property belonging to the corps

was vested in the commanding officer and administered by a committee of officers under the rules of the corps. These rules were in the first instance agreed on at a general meeting of officers and men, and, having received the queen's approval, became legal, and could be enforced. The commanding officer could dismiss a man from the corps, and a volunteer not on actual service could terminate his engagement at fourteen days' notice. But, as it became the almost universal practice for the government or the regimental commander to issue clothing and equipment free, the volunteers contracted in return to serve for three, four or five years, and, if they exercised their statutory rights, were obliged to refund part of the cost. Further, when capitation grants were given for the maintenance of the corps, the volunteer had either to earn this by continued service or repay the sum lost to the corps by his resignation.

These conditions materially modified the statute law in practice, and in fact the term of four years exacted from the Territorial to-day differs in little more than name from the requirements 'of the former " corps rules."

Military law was applicable to officers and men when training with regulars.

The formation of volunteer corps was so rapid that in the course of a few months in 1859-60 a force of 1 19,000 was created. More, however, remained to be done to put an end to the ever recurring commercial panics.

The government, which in the beginning had tolerated rather than encouraged the movement, and had required the volunteer to ser'e and to equip himself entirely at his own expense, now followed the lead of public opinion, and decided on maintaining the volunteer force as a part of the regular defensive system. The personnel of the volunteer corps (with a few exceptions) thereupon underwent a change. The wealthy and professional classes, who had at first joined the ranks in anticipation of war, cared no longer to bear arms. Their places were taken by the artisan class, which added materially to the number and permanence of the force. But, as contributions and subscriptions now flagged, it became evident that public grants would have to be voted for its maintenance, and a scale of capitation allowances, subject to regulation, was fixed, on the recommendation of a Royal Commission. This capitation allowance per efficient volunteer was thenceforward the basis of all regimental finance and administration. The turning-point in the history of the volunteers was the South African War. In January 1900, and on several subsequent occasions, the volunteers were invited to supply service companies for South Africa, to be incorporated in the regular battalions to which the volunteer battalions were affiliated. About one-third of the whole force volunteered for service in South Africa, and some 20,000 served in the volunteer companies with the line and in the “City Imperial Volunteers,” besides a great number of volunteers whom the higher pay, easier conditions and better prospects of active employment in the mounted guerrilla warfare tempted into the ranks of the yeomanry. The return of these companies Infused into the force a leaven of officers and men who had been through an experience of constant small skirmishes and prolonged marching and bivouacking. Meantime the force as a whole had been subjected to a more earnest and vigorous training than it had ever had before.

The establishment was greatly increased, and 24 battalions were selected for special training and included with the regular home army in the field force. Various partial

reorganizations followed in 1902-5, and at last, in 1007-8, the whole force was re-cast, re-enlisted upon somewhat different terms, and organized along with the yeomanry into the new Territorial Force (see United Kingdom: Army).

Strength of the Volunteer Force

(From the Territorial Year Book 1909).

 Year.   Establishment.   Strength.   Classed as 
  1861 . 211,961 161,239 140,100
  1870 . 244,966 193,893 170,671
  1880 . 243,546 206,537 196,938
  1885. . 250,967 224,012 218,207
  1890. . 260,310 221,048 212,293
  1895. . 260,968 231,704 224,962
  1899. . 263,416 229,854 223,921
  1900. . 339,511 277,628 270,369
  1901. . 342,003 288,476 281,062
  1902 . 345,547 268,550 256,451
  1903. . 346,171 253,281 242,104
  1904 343,246 253,909 244,537
  1905. . 341,283 249,611 241,549
  1906. . 338,452 255,854 246,654
  1907. . 335,849 252,791 244,212

  1. See Life and Letters of Field-Marshal Sir John Burgoyne.
  2. The light horse and mounted rifles disappeared in the end, or else were converted into yeomanry. The “rifles” title was maintained even after the infantry had been assimilated in drill, uniform and other respects to the line battalions. For this reason even scarlet-clothed battalions had no colours, pouch-belts instead of sashes, &c.