Pillbox, Shako, and Cap/Chapter I

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The militia, volunteers and territorials[edit | edit source]

To give interest this piece follows the military life of Albert Edward Kearey 1889-1971, recruited into the local Volunteers – The Kensingtons, winning the DCM, MID, and clasp [London Gazette, 11 March, 1920] eventually becoming their Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). In WWII he was promoted to Major, 17th London Division, organising the protection of north London.

Britain in the late nineteenth century was defended by a small standing army, and Militia - a body of troops raised from the citizenry, by voluntary enlistment. In ancient times, it was a force raised by the Lord Lieutenant of a county for the sovereign – to be on hand, in times of invasion, rebellion, or similar emergency. The men were to keep themselves available and serve for six years; training was to be for twenty-four days annually… whilst providing their own arms and equipment. Initially, the Lord did this by detailing off one-hundred men from his estates, placed under the command of a captain. This recruitment was achieved by compulsion, but later, the body of men were Volunteers. The final acts of the Militia were in the Crimean War followed a little later by the South African War. Thereafter the Militia was superseded - to become a more professional force of trained Volunteers; this came about in May 1859.

After the Crimea War the government realized that the country had insufficient forces available to defend the state. It was decided to have a Volunteer Force made up of three part-time corps: of infantry, gunners and engineers. It did not take long for this force to be considered an important part of the nation’s defence.

On April 29th 1859, war broke out between France, under Napoleon III, and the Austrian Empire [the Second Italian War of Independence], and there were fears that Britain might be caught up in a wider European conflict. Lord Truro, one of a number of aristocratic county landowners, raised the 4th Middlesex Volunteer Corps [West London Rifles], based at Islington. He maintained command for twenty years. The 1st Middlesex [Victorias] and the 2nd Middlesex [South] were raised by Lord Ranelagh. All three were to prepare for this possible encounter. Two years later many of these isolated bodies of troops were amalgamated into battalion-sized units. By 1862, the government issued a grant: to provide headquarters, drill-halls, transport, uniforms and equipment. Later, the government, appreciating the worthwhileness of the scheme, removed the financing from those of county precepts to a national commitment. To carry out the reorganization of the commission, The Volunteer Act of 1863 was announced, whereby each man was to offer their services to her Majesty through the Lieutenant of a County. An annual inspection process, overseen by an officer from the regular army, was put into place, and the standards set by order in council.

In 1872, The Secretary of State for War, by the Regulation of the Forces Act, ordered the jurisdiction removed from the County Lieutenants. The Childers Reforms of 1881, nominated, ‘that the rifle volunteer corps should be volunteer battalions of the new ‘county’ infantry regiments’. Childers set about ensuring that regiments were henceforth made up of two battalions – one based at home the other overseas. The intention was that there would always be a body of troops capable of responding to an emergency. These changes took a further twenty years to be completed, including adopting a standard dress and designated names and badges. The Volunteers now numbered a quarter of a million men. This reserve force incorporated: the Militia – the country regiments, the Yeomanry – the mounted infantry, and the Volunteers – the urban regiments.

In 1859, the 4th [North] Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps was formed at Islington, and the 2nd [South] Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps formed in Fulham. The West London Rifles became the 2nd. Volunteer Battalion of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1881; four years later they moved to Kensington changing title to the 4th Middlesex Rife Volunteer Corps. A further six years saw its title change yet again to 4th Middlesex [West London Rifles] Volunteer Corps. The stimulus for all these changes was the South African War of 1899-1902. Three-quarters of those that volunteered were declared physically unfit - to fulfil the duties of a soldier. This shocked the Home Office. A call was made to recruitment officers through the Inspector General to find out why so many men were in such poor health. The conclusions: the plight of the poor - their sub-standard housing, and lack of a healthy diet. Both these were considered equal factors. The legislative reforms made by the Liberal government went some way to correct the deficiencies. However, this correction process took another ten years.

In The South African Wars Britain sustained nearly thirty-four thousand casualties for the cost of two hundred million pounds. It was declared, ‘that the war had been a shambles.’ It did however point the finger at national shortcomings. Britain signed an alliance with Japan, in 1902, France by 1904, and Russia in 1907.

The formation of The Boys’ Brigade, by Sir William Smith, and The Boy Scouts, by Baden Powell, was to improve the physique and mental health of young boys, who might in the future become army volunteers. Both these organizations and others like them gave the young, especially children in inner cities of Glasgow and London, something to work for and benefit by.

Albert Kearey joined the 6th London Company, Boys’ Brigade in 1900, at the age of eleven. The first company was set up by Sir William Smith seventeen years before, on 4th October 1883. The organization quickly caught on in Glasgow, and the first company in London started soon after. The Brigade’s uniform aped that of the army – white haversack, brown belt and Pill Box hat [The bands of the pill box hat were pipe-clayed and the buckles of the belt and haversack polished brass]. The lads conventional school uniform, plus lapel badge and everyday black shoes, formed the basic uniform… Dummy rifles were issued to provide the necessary equipment for drill and parade purposes. All the drill commands and actions followed those of the Army Manual, of the 1880s. In effect, The Boys Brigade, taking boys from the age of eleven to seventeen, was a valued recruiting arm of the country’s military establishment. Sir William introduced camping to continue the boys association with each other during the school’s summer holiday. The Edwardian economy, business structure and social attitudes rested in part on the philosophy of Imperialism, and that was about benevolent exploitation and economic advantage. However, what marks the period was the direct intervention by a number of well-meaning individuals to improve the social and economic opportunities for all.

Britain’s population in 1901 was 42 million and growing fast. Railway goods traffic grew by one thousand per cent and the first of many steam tractors were now used to tow pantechnicons. The numbers of carmen, carters and carriers grew in London to over a quarter of a million and the delivery of coal and heavy equipment soared. In 1903, Joseph Chamberlain used the Imperialistic mood in the country to suggest a series of tariff reforms. Over six million frozen rabbits were imported from Australia. This and the import of wheat just two of the items which undermined British goods. The tariffs were meant to protect the country from the dumping of foreign goods and gather taxes to help promote new social measures. This hint of protectionism undermined the idealistic concept of free trade weakening the country’s great imperial dream the concept of Imperialism never really recovered. 1904 was the year the Entente Cordiale was signed. This was a treaty which gave France a free hand in Morocco allowing Great Britain to take over the ‘governorship’ of Egypt. Germany saw this as aggressive… any move by Britain was a stab in the back to the Kaiser, who was paranoid about Britain’s grand designs – he saw this as an attempt to corral his ambitions of expansion… This was the start of Britain and France becoming allied against Germany and the creation of the British Expeditionary Force by Haldane at the War Office.

The General Election of 1906 brought a Liberal Government, under Campbell-Bannerman, to power. Richard Haldane was appointed Secretary of State for War. The Liberal Party’s manifesto centred upon social reform. They intended to do something about the poor health of the working class and the amount of unemployment – ‘greater equality and equal opportunities for all’, was the cry. The Liberals were determined to push through all their schemes related to social reform even if it created a quarrel between the two Houses of Parliament. Poor Campbell-Bannerman did not live long enough to see the fight for he died two years later. The only bill he did see become law was, ‘that medical inspection was to be introduced into state schools’. This laid the foundation of the modern system of school clinics. His other great works involved his Resolution, ‘that within the limits of a single parliament the final decision of the Commons should prevail’. This broke the power of the House of Lords.

Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary of the minority Liberal Government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, appointed Richard Haldane to the post of Secretary of State for War. Grey had committed The British Army to go to the assistance of France, if attacked, needed a strong pair of hands to ensure the army was up to the task. After much studied thought Haldane concluded that an Expeditionary Force was needed – settled on six infantry units. These six units required back-up to cater for leave, sickness, casualties and deaths by a home-defence force. Haldane further supported his suggestions by having drawn up two Field Service manuals implemented by the new Director of Staff Duties Douglas Haig. The supply of officers was filled by volunteers from universities and public schools trained by Cadet Corps and university Rife Corps.

It was realised by Chancellor St. John Broderick, that the army was not capable of fighting a protracted war without the support of additional troops. Volunteers had to be brought in to fight in the war… afterwards reform was necessary to change the system… the Liberal Secretary for War Haldane set about forming the Territorial Force. These Volunteers were mainly local business people, craftsmen and professional, lower and middle-class men training at weekends and at the summer annual camp numbering two hundred and thirteen rifle corps.

Viscount Haldane engaged Colonel Ellison as a member of his staff. A year later the reorganization of the army was complete. The National Army was to consist of a Field Force and a Territorial Force. The Field Force organized to be ready for mobilization in the event of war. The Territorial Force would be there to train – to support and effect the expansion, a new force of fourteen divisions. was created by Richard Haldane in 1908, [Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907] becoming the new reserve volunteer force, made out of the previously civilian-administered Volunteer Force: this made up of the Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteers – the Militia being mainly those officers and men from the counties, the Yeomanry the mounted rifles and the Volunteers, men from the towns and cities. The new volunteers, with an overall strength of just over a quarter of a million men, were part-time soldiers paid the same rate as the regulars whilst engaged on military activities.

General Sir Ian Hamilton, 1853 – 1947, was told by Haldane, on the 27th July 1914, that he was to command the Home Army – previously he had been Inspector General of all forces – Home and Overseas. His immediate duties were to defend the nation and mobilize the Territorial Force - who were at summer camp. This he accomplished rapidly, forming battalions, brigades and whole divisions, ready to replace regulars in overseas garrisons and fill up depleted ranks after the initial fight in late summer, early autumn. Hamilton considered the 1st London Division Territorial Force to be of ‘exceptional value’. By the end of October 1914, the Allied Force was dug in from Switzerland to the North Sea – in deadlock.

Britain’s isolationist stance came to an end when she agreed a treaty with Japan in 1902 and then again with the entente cordiale in 1904… It was on the cards that Germany would force an issue with France. That moment came when The Kaiser sent his troops through neutral Belgium to attack France… That momentous event however was not on the minds of these bunch lads about to join the Volunteers…

In 1906, soon after his seventeenth birthday Albert turned up at the Kensington Volunteer Rifle Corps Headquarters by appointment, to fill in the necessary forms and take part in the medical. If these were accepted the recruit had to swear allegiance to The Queen. It had been a bit of a wrench leaving the Boy’s Brigade, for he had been a keen member – it had been eight dedicated years - taking part in all the drill competitions, and playing the piano for the Sunday bible readings. He left at the same time a number of friends did having discussed joining the Territorial’s. It was an auspicious time, not that Albert and his friends realised the significance. After the attestation the lads were lead to the Quartermasters Stores to receive their uniforms. This to them was the most exciting part as they all fancied walking down High Street, Kensington, in their new uniforms. The colour of the cloth was field-grey with shaped cuffs. The buttons tarnished - just waiting for all the hard work to turn them into sparkling brass. The helmet, grey too, looked very similar to a policeman’s helmet, plus a spike on the top. All the fittings: spike, badge and chin strap, came separately, also needing much cleaning. The recruits were each handed a kit-bag to carry the boots, socks, shirt and vests, plus the belt, scabbard and bayonet. It was not going to be easy to carry this lot home.

The Kensington Rifles, was now adopted by the Royal Borough of Kensington, and granted permission to take the Borough’s Coat of Arms, mounted centrally within an eight pointed star, as a cap badge. Colonel A J Hopkins VD was the commanding officer for a further year. The Kensingtons moved to a purpose built Headquarters at Adam and Eve Mews, Iverna Gardens, Kensington in 1908, now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel A Sutherland-Harris.The 4th Middlesex [North] Volunteer Rifle Corps [VRC] [Kensington Rifles], under the reorganization of the Secretary of War, amalgamated with the 2nd. [South] Middlesex VRC, representing the London Boroughs of Kensington and Fulham. This amalgamation joined north and south Middlesex under one Battalion, to be called the London Regiment, Territorial Force Association. The 13th [County of London] Battalion, The London Regiment [Kensington] transferred to a Territorial Force, with its Headquarters and A-H Companies, at Iverna Gardens, Kensington.

In January 1909 the Army Council declared the Battalion should become a ‘line’ regiment bearing colours, relieving the battalion of its ‘Rifle’ designation. Brigaded with the Queen’s Westminster’s [16th London], Civil Service Rifles [15th London], and the London Scottish [14th London] in the 4th London Infantry Brigade. Lord Truro and Lord Ranelagh decided on a grey uniform with red facings, a shako with a glazed peak. The belts were to be black and the uniform trimmings were of buff laces with silver appointments. To contain an assortment of necessary items a starched white haversack completed the uniform. They became known as the ‘Grey Brigade’ mobilized for home defence at the start of the war although the uniform had been regularized to khaki some years previously.

The Regiments Headquarters was positioned close to the home of Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. King Edward VII was approached by The Regiment to ask if Princess Louise would associate her name with the regiment – he was to give his consent she took an interest in The Regiment organizing the design and production of the regiment’s colours. The colour were duly consecrated and presented to the Regiment by King Edward VII at Windsor on the 19th June 1909. Thereafter the Regiment was referred to as the 13th London Regiment. The Princess Louise, four years later, consented to give her name to the Regiment.

In 1914, the 1st Battalion were billeted in the White city stadium were there waiting to go to France - with The Expeditionary Force. The 2nd Battalion were at Abbots Langley, near Watford – there training at summer camp, for ‘Home Service’; the 3rd Battalion was recruited much later.

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