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Army Volunteer Force Reforms 1881

Info: 9446 words (38 pages) Dissertation
Published: 16th Dec 2019

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Tagged: HistoryMilitarySocial Policy

With its strong middle class foundation, with a resilient desire to learn and compete, as well as funding from wealthy supporters, the Volunteer Force (VF) was by far the most successful part of the three auxiliary forces when it came to recruitment and its deployment in South Africa. The VF not only helped solve the immediate problem of the lack of manpower but gave young professional men the opportunity to serve Queen and Empire for the very first time. Of course, there were a few issues as result of the inexperience of the men, particularly in the early stages of the deployment, but as the men became more experienced and adapt to the South African conditions, the VF were able to form a formidable fighting force capable of holding its own against its regular counterparts. This chapter intends to look at the Volunteer force from the Army reforms in 1881 which saw many Volunteer units attached to Regular regiments to the close of the war in 1902.

The first area that will be explored in this chapter is the composition and organisation of the Force.  Not only will this cover the pre-war organisation, but more importantly in what form the Force was sent out during the war, from the independent battalion of the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV) to the Service Companies attached to regular battalions. It will examine their military doctrine in the event of war and whether there was any intention for such a force to be sent abroad. The chapter will then explain how the VF was trained, and what type of relationship it developed with the regular army. One thing that will become apparent in this chapter is the variation between the different volunteer battalions.

Focus will then shift towards the war itself, particularly the events of 1900 that saw the largest deployment of Volunteers. Lastly it will consider the guerrilla phase of the war and focus on the small number of Service Companies who carried out guard and blockhouse duties. The amateurish nature of the VF is particularly evident in the early phases of its deployment; yet the Volunteers were quick to adapt to the war and become an efficient fighting force, and in some particular cases even outperformed some of their regular counterparts.

Composition and Organisation

From its formation in 1859, the Volunteer Force had sought to attract middle class volunteers. The middle classes had largely been rejected by the regular army. The Officer Corps, still subject to the purchase system until its abolition in 1871, was dominated by the upper and upper-middle classes, whilst the rank and file soldier was drawn from the lower ends of society. There was good reason why the army needed middle class soldiers. The industrialisation of industry throughout the 19th Century had raised issues about recruiting. With the threat of French invasion in the 1850s, a large war with France would drain working class manpower. Not only were these men used to fill the rank and file but the industrial demands that an increasingly technological warfare required would also drain precious manpower in the factories. It is clear from its initial proposal that the VF was designed to solve this problem. Firstly, men were to ‘provide their own arms and equipment and to defray all expenses attending the corps.’ This would only attract people who had money. Secondly this was done to ‘induce those classes to come forward as Volunteers, who do not, under our present system, enter either Regular Army or the militia.’[1] Again this emphasizes the need for a different class of solider. Although initially created as rifleman, a light horse, mounted infantry, artillery and engineer component were added.  At the Outset the VF was funded independently of the state and chose to adopt its own uniform and regimental customs.

By the outbreak of the war in 1899, the VF had grown in size from 161,239 men in 1861 to 229,628 by 1899.[2] The growth can be attributed to a number of reasons. Firstly some Volunteer corps had reduced membership and uniform fees in order to attract more artisan professions. Secondly the stories of Britain’s imperial ambitions in Africa, particularly around 1884-1885 when General Gordon had made his heroic last stand in Khartoum, encouraged more people to join the military.[3]

From its outset the Volunteers were only intended as a home defence force. The creation of the county regiments in 1881 saw many Volunteer corps become volunteer battalions of those regiments. The integration with the county regiments also put significant financial pressure on the battalions. When the corps were first established, many adopted their own uniforms and traditions. The integration with the regular regiments meant many had to switch to the new uniforms of their county regiment. The First Warwickshire Rifle Volunteers became the First Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in January 1883. The battalion had been struggling financially and quickly fell into £1,800 of debt, most of which was for the new helmets, uniforms and other accoutrements that the battalion was required to adopt.[4] Although a government grant would cover some of this debt, the deficit had to be made up by its members. Annual subscriptions were increased and the battalion soirees were cancelled.[5] Many Volunteer battalions, particularly those of artisan origins, suffered from a lack of funding, causing subscription fees to be increased. But despite the initial financial burden, the affiliations with the county regiments only served to strengthen the bond between the Volunteers and the regulars.

In 1888, Secretary State for War Edward Stanhope had tried to introduce the National Defence Act. The terms of the act sought to mobilise the volunteers in line with the militia ‘The militia, on the other hand, can be embodied in case of imminent national danger or great emergency, and are required to serve in any part of the United Kingdom, and when the militia is embodied Parliament is required to meet within ten days after the order for the embodiment’.[6] However due to opposition, Stanhope was forced to drop this clause. The Volunteers (Military Service) Bill  brought in under Campbell-Bannerman in 1895 stated that the Volunteer Force could only be deployed if the British Isles were being invaded only after the Militia had been embodied. The third reading of the bill in July 1895, however, added a slightly more ambiguous reason for the Force be called upon: that of national danger or a great emergency.[7] The views as to whether the VF should be used overseas were mixed. Even as late as September 1899, one month before the start of the war, The Volunteer Service Gazette, the official publication of the Volunteer movement, continued to oppose the deployment of the VF on foreign service.[8]  Even after war had broken out on ? [give date], and despite the continued offers of many VF units to support the war effort, the War Office decided to keep the VF at home on the grounds of expense.[9] It was not until the disastrous events of ‘Black Week’ in early December 1899 – when the British suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the Boers during the battles of Magersfontein, Stromberg and Colenso – that the War Office changed its mind and agreed to send some Volunteers to South Africa.[10]

It was decided that a regiment entirely of Volunteers would be formed in London and known as the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV).  The men of the CIV came from Volunteer corps in London and the surrounding Home Counties, as well as new recruits who had previously no connection to the Volunteer Force.  Men were enlisted for one year, had to be between 20 and 30 years old, physically fit and preferably a bachelor.[11] It consisted of one infantry battalion, two mounted infantry companies and one battery provided by the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC).[12] One of the distinct advantages of the CIV is that it was privately funded through various City and West End firms.[13] This enabled the CIV to be equipped with the best horses and weaponry. The battery was equipped with the latest 12½-pounder guns, while the regular army used the less effective 15-pounders. Whilst the 12½-pounder was more effective, its adoption by the CIV led to an issue over resupply as most of the guns in South Africa used a different calibre of ammunition. This problem, however, was quickly overcome as special provisions and funding was put aside for the transport and supply of the ammunition.[14]  All of this highlights how much of an advantage the CIV with its wealthy sponsors had over the regular army.

Elsewhere in the country the War Office began to raise 66 Service Companies of about 116 men in each. The Service Companies were to be attached to the regular Infantry battalions. Their entry requirements were almost the same as the CIV, but with a slightly higher upper age limit of 35. Given their restricted numbers, almost all the Service Companies were oversubscribed. Of the 1,000 strong Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, for example, 31 officers and 523 Non-commissioned officers and men volunteered to join the Service Company. [15] This was not an unusual occurrence, or even restricted to the larger towns and cities. The whole of Volunteer Battalion of the South Wales Borders volunteered for overseas service.[16] One explanation for the limit of 116 men is that the service companies lacked the financial clout of the CIV, and the government was forced to contribut£9 for each man.[17]

The CIV was sent out in January 1900, with further reinforcements arriving in July before the regiment returned home in December. The Service Companies deployed with their regular sister battalion in the January 1900, with a further call on two more occasions.[18] The exact figure for the total number of Volunteers who served in South Africa – CIV and Service Companies – is disputed, but recent estimates put the figure at around 19,500 men.[19] Many more men from the VF joined the regular army and other auxiliary forces such as the yeomanry.

A second contingent of Service Companies was formed in 1901, but it had far fewer volunteers than predecessor. This was partly because  the second contingent of the Imperial Yeomanry (IY) was also recruiting at the time. The IY offered its lowest ranks five shillings a day, whilst the Service Companies only paid its privates one shilling a day. The IY, as a result, was a far more attractive proposition for new recruits.[20] This left a large number of the second contingent of Service Companies severely under strength, recruiting from between 20 and 50 men.[21]

Overall perhaps the biggest issue with the Volunteer Force, as with the regular Army, was the large number of men turned away as unfit for service. The fitness requirements for both the CIV and Service Companies were in line with the standards of the regular army which states, ‘It is sufficient that the candidate should be free from organic disease or other defect likely to prevent him from doing his work during the duration of the present war.’[22] According to the commission the types of disease men were rejected were ‘Varicocele, debility, varicose veins, dental caries, bronchitis, hernia, heart disease, emphysema, V.D.H., which I believe stands for valvular disease of the heart, tuber of lung, appendicitis, phthisis, dilated heart, and so on’.[23]  The fitness of the army, as well as the general population, became a hot topic after the war and will be assessed in the fourth and final chapter. What can be drawn from the troop numbers is the lack of spaces for men to serve abroad. Whilst London was fortunate to receive its own funding for a volunteer regiment, the other larger cities with big volunteer battalions such as Birmingham and Liverpool could have easily contributed a much larger force if requirements were facilitated to do so.


For the Volunteers deploying to South Africa, training was mixed. For the most part it was conducted at Battalion level and therefore varied in its approach. Many Battalions benefited significantly from larger scale exercises in the 1890s, but training was still focused on the volunteers’ original role for home defence. It was not until it was agreed that the Volunteers would serve abroad that the training was altered for overseas deployment.

The initial integration was mixed and only really benefited the officers. For the officers’ training it was suggested in parliament in 1881 that volunteer officers sit examination in tactics to bring them more in line with their regular counterparts.[24]  The exam was set by regular officers and was only open to officers of captain and above.[25] If the officer passed the exam a distinctive ‘t’ was written beside their names in the army list.[26] For the first examination in June 1882, results were good: 398 officers sat the exam and only 38 failed.[27] But regionally the results were mixed, with a large proportion of officers based in the Midlands failing the exam.[28]  Officers were also required to take part in Regular army exercises to gain experience. In the Autumn of 1898, Officers from the 1st Battalion Warwickshire Regiment were posted to the Northamptonshire Regiment, Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers on Salisbury Plain.[29] The exercise was hugely beneficial as many of the officers had not had the experience of dealing with large scale troop movements and also benefited from the tactical appreciation of their regular counterparts.

For the most part, the ordinary soldier did not benefit from the initial integration with the regular army. Training for the Volunteers was organised by the battalion adjutant, who was a regular captain. Volunteers met weekly, with various aspects of training happening at different times in the evening. For the 18th Volunteer Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, based in Paddington, London, the average weekly training consisted of the following: Recruits would drill four nights a week at 7.45 p.m., whilst the rest of the battalion would practice other military skills such as signalling, musketry and drill. [30] At certain designated weekends,  the 18th Middlesex would also conduct range exercise to hone their marksmanship skills, whilst useful for the Volunteer, there was no set number a Volunteer would have to attend. Other Regiments also regarded public holidays such as Easter the perfect time to practice tactical exercises. The 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment exercised over the Easter of 1885. It was the first time the battalion had conducted anything of this type, planning a 60-mile route march over the 4 days of the Easter weekend. What is particularly interesting is that there were no regular battalions involved in the exercise. The Worcestershire Yeomanry provided the scouting elements to the formation, whilst Volunteers from Shropshire and Worcestershire played the enemy in an effort to try and delay the Warwickshire Volunteers’ advance.[31]

Most of this training was preparation for combat on British soil as the Volunteers were still prevented by previous legislation from serving abroad. For the most part it was carried out locally with other auxiliary units. The National Defence Bill of 1888 had continued with the overarching principle that Volunteers were only to be used for Home Defence in the event of actual invaiosn. However, when Lord Methuen, who would later go on to have a significant role during the war, took command of the Home District between 1892 and 1898. The commander of the Home District oversaw the preperations for thr defence of Britian. Methuen sought to see a greater integration between the regulars and the Volunteers.[32] Stephen M. Miller in his criticism of Methuen during the Boer War describes Methuen’s period in command of the Home District as ‘uneventful’.[33] Miller, who also wrote about the Volunteers during the Boer War, failed to mention that these were very formative years for the Volunteers. A War Office report on the efficiency of the Volunteers had overwhelmingly positive feedback, with the Volunteers being described as ‘equal to the colourrs’, holding their own against their regular counterparts.[34] The increased efficiency could be largely held to the integration with the guards regiments. The guards traditionally pride themselves as being the best infantry soldier, many volunteer corps modeled themselves on the guards.[35] Whilst the focus was still on home defence exercises, the Volunteers found themselves completing much larger scale exercises than they had previously been conducted. During the August Bank Holiday of 1892, brigades of both regular and Volunteers took part in an exercise near Farnborough. This was the first time that the Volunteers had exercised with regular forces; it was also the first time they had exercised on such a large scale, with an estimated total of 34,000 troops taking part.[36] The exercise was on the whole a relatively simple affair:  the much larger force, consisting mainly of volunteers, would attack from the north of the town of Frimley, whilst the defensive force, consisting mainly of regular soldiers,  would build a defensive position to the south. Lord Methuen led the attacking force of 2 divisions, which each division comprised of nine regular battalions and four Volunteer Brigades. As the auxiliaries were in a large majority, the attacking line of the force consisted solely of Volunteers.[37] On the whole the exercise was a success, despite the long hours the Volunteers were subjected to. They benefited hugely from the experience. The Warwickshires in particular formed a close bond with their regular counterparts.

But it was not just the Warwickshires who had formed stronger bonds as a result of the exercise under Methuen. The Artist Rifles had formed a close bond with the 2nd Life Guards after an exercise in 1895.[38] The Hampshire volunteers formed a close bond with the Royal Artillery after an exercise in 1898.[39]  These larger exercises only whetted the appetites of the Volunteers to be utilised more. Whilst overseas deployment was still prohibited, the effort the Volunteers had put into the larger scale exercises was recognized by Government and made the Volunteer force significantly more deployable as the Volunteers (Military Service) Bill in 1895 gave them more ambguous opportunites to deploy.[40]

When War eventually did break out and it was decided that the Volunteers were to be mobilised for the War effort, the Volunteers were sent out to three week training camps before they set sail for South Africa, These training camps were varied and some were considered better than others.[41] Due to the hurried nature of mobilizing the Volunteers, many Volunteers struggled to leave their civilians lives and adapt to the military life style. Many Volunteers had business and family affairs to sort out before they went to South Africa causing a significant amount of additional stress.[42] The Artillery of the CIV definitely required additional training. Basil Williams, who served and wrote the account of the artillery battery of the CIV, thought the extra training was vital as the standard training attendance of the volunteers was not sufficient to produce an effective artillery battery. Williams describes the training on the whole as rushed, stressful and by no means enough. A lot of the men lacked riding and driving skills and these could not be developed as the horses would not be delivered until the men were due to leave.[43]  Furthermore it was soon decided that African horses and mules would be used to drive the wagons, adding to the shambles of the three week training.[44] By contrast the Royal Warwickshires’ camp was far more relaxed. The sole focus was on musketry and marksmanship as opposed to the more complex drills the CIV undertook.[45] There were also more opportunities to practice these skills on the three week voyage to South Africa.[46] One further advantage the Warwickshires had over the CIV is that they had benefited hugely from the large scale exercises during the 1890s. They had, as a result, good experience of working in large formations and the tactical awareness that this involved. Therefore, the bulk of the Warwickshires’ training was focused on marksmanship. Some Volunteers did not even attend a training camp and carried out most of the training en route to South Africa. The Mounted Infantry (MI) component of the CIV had decided that they would use African horses and mules as it could take up to a month to prepare British horses after the sea voyage.[47] For their sending off parade the MI borrowed horses form the Westminster and the Inns of Court Yeomanry, and for many this was the first time they had ridden on horseback with a rifle.[48] The relevant campaign training was carried out on board the troop transport to South Africa. The training covered physical drill, musketry drill and mounting and dismounting drills on wooden horses.[49] A competition was added at the end of the voyage to assess the soldiers’ drills. The competition, which took place on board, saw the MI volunteer compete in a number of stands, including firing at an imaginary enemy, mounting and dismounting the wooden horse and knowledge of bugle calls and scouting. Whilst the competeiting added something to do whilst on board ship, it also gave the volunteers more time to prcatice the skills they will be using in South Africa.[50]

For the most part, the pre-war training of the Vounteers was just enough for them to fulfill their role in South Africa. The exercises under Methuen in the 1890s not only improved the Volunteers’ tactical skills but also helped forge a stronger relationship with the Regular army. Whilst the training had never been intended for use in hotter climates, many of the Volunteers arrived in South Africa with the basic skills and drills required to fight the conflict. But, as will be shown later in the chapter, it was not until the Volunteers had tasted combat for the first time that their effectiveness in combat began to show significant signs of improvement.


The contribution the Volunteers made to the fighting efficiency of the British Army in South Africa is quite often downplayed, particularly in contemporary opinion. Yet the Volunteers in both the CIV and the Service Companies saw frontline combat and, in some cases, actually fared rather well in comparison to their regular counterparts. One area of the fighting that the Volunteers really struggled with was the long route marches, particularly towards the end of 1900 when the race was on to capture the Boer leaders as they tried to flee South Africa. Some Service companies saw no action at all and carried out a role similar to the Militia, guarding key strategic areas often behind the frontlines. There is no indication that the Service Companies who carried out these rear echelon roles were selected to do so because commanders thought them unsuitable for a frontline role. It was more of manpower issue, for example the  Sussex Volunteers who served with the Sussex regimnt were able to take part in the battalion attacks as there were a large numer of militia. For other Volunteers like the Green Howards volunteers, the lack of militia meant they were carrying out roles which were fulfilled by the milita in other regiments.

The CIV were the first Volunteers to leave for South Africa on 13, 20 and 29 January 1900.[51]  The Service Companies started sailing about two week after that, with five of the sixty-six Companies departing on 11 February.[52] The voyage to Cape Town lasted approximately a month with the Volunteers carrying out last minute training in the form of rifle practice.[53] They then travelled across South Africa to join their respective units in the Cape Colony and Natal. The first Volunteers to see action were the Mounted Infantry of the CIV (CIVMI) who took part in the Battle of Jacobsdal on 15 February 1900. Jacobsdal was a small town to the south of the city of Kimberley in the northern Cape which had been besieged since the beginning of the war. The boer General Cronje had dug a series of defensive positions near Jacobsdal consisiting of a force between 500 to 600 Boers. Roberts using a force predominatly of infantry to cut off Cronje from Bloemfontein and ultimately relieve the seige at  Kimberly.[54] The Mounted Infantry were tasked with protecting the baggage train of the Highland Brigade, part of the the 9th Division, one of Roberts three infantyr divisions. The baggage train was ambushed on 14 February, resulting in a brief exchange of fire between the CIVMI and the Boers. The CIVMI only sustained one casualty but the ambush was costly as 180 of the baggage train’s wagons were either abandoned or burnt.[55] The next day the CIVMI were engaged in their first offensive movement as they were ordered to scout ahead of the 15th brigade who were to secure Jacobsdal. As the CIVMI approached the town the Boers opened fire and the Mounted Infantry advanced closer to the town in order to draw the fire and locate the Boers.[56] This resulted in the Mounted Infantry coming under heavy fire and having to dismount and take cover.[57] The Volunteers inexperience whilst underfire was highlighted, as many of the men were baffled when the order came through  to advance towards the Boers firing positions.[58] Secondly, their commander Lieutenant Colonel Cholmondeley showed his inexperience by ordering the CIVMI to withdraw far too early. The men, who by this point were dismounted and taking cover, were still receive a heavy weight of fire when Cholmondeley ordered his men to mount and withdraw. Fortunately, this order was not carried out. It could be that the order was not heard during the confusion of the battle, or that the men simply chose to ignore the order due to the pressure of their first engagement. Some who had carried out the order to mount were immediately hit, others found that their horses would not move or had been shot.[59] The men remained in cover until artillery and the attacking formation had eliminated the Boer threat.[60] The CIV had sustained three casualties during this engagement and many more horses were lost. [61] Although, on the face of it, the encagemnet can be seen as a bit shambolic, as orders were not carried out and the men were largely confused during the battle, the engagement received a lot of positive attention. Roberts was quick to congratulate the CIV for the success and the British public promptly learnt about the victory when it was published in The Times two days later.[62]

The Mounted Infantry was also involved in the Battle of Paadeberg three days later. It was one of the costliest battles of the war. On the first day alone, the British suffered 1,262 casualties, approximately eight per cent of the army in the field.[63] Fortunately the Mounted Infantry of the CIV did not take part in the fighting, and instead maintained night pickets throughout the battle.[64] Nonetheless, Roberts had grown quite fond of the CIVMI and was known to give them special duties. One of the most important duties was to escort Cronje and his wife to captivity.[65] Despite this prestigious role many men were disappointed by it as it meant that they would not be partaking in any fighting. [66]

Whilst the CIVMI were busy at Paardeberg, the remainder of the Volunteers were still arriving in South Africa. As the nature of the war was shifting and the Boers were being pushed back to the Boer Republics, the Volunteers were no longer fighting battles but were either on the march or holding key positions on quiet fronts. For the troops on the march the fitness of the Volunteers was called into question. For the infantry battalion of the CIV, the first three day route march from Cape town to the Orange Free State was a shambles. By the end of the march the Volunteers were in complete disarray and clearly showing their lack of fitness.[67] The CIV highlighted their lack of fitness further on 7 March when the Boers ambushed the CIV near Britstown. The Boers were able to cut off and pick off the withdrawing Volunteers as they tried to extract out of the ambush. The slow withdrawal resulted in the CIV suffering seven casualties and losing six men to the Boers.[68] Despite this Roberts maintained his confidence in the CIV, having become their Honorary Colonel the day before.[69] Elsewhere the Service Companies took much longer to reach their full potential. For the service companies, the lack of fitness of the Volunteers was not as significant issue as the service companies could afford to be more selective. For the most part they were either restricted to Cape Town or were tasked with minor escorting duties.[70] Although not the first to arrive in the country, the Volunteer Service Company of the Green Howards was the first to join up with its regular battalion on 14 April 1900. In order to do so the Green Howards Volunteers marched a total of 25 miles in one day. Although the conditions were still testing, they fared batter in the march then their CIV counterparts had.[71]

The initial deployment of the Volunteers was problematic: the Service Companies were not utilised to their full potential as many were made to wait a few months before joining the regular battalions, and the lack of fitness and inexperience of the CIV was hugely apparent. Which owes to the fact that the training they received in Britain did not adequately prepare the Volunteers for war. Until January the CIV had been civilians who on the whole had sedentary jobs. Physical fitness was not really a priority to these men. Although most had come from Volunteer Corps, physical training was barely covered. Instead they focused more on marksmanship and foot drill. The Service companies could afford to be more selective, since they were to take only 116 men and often had a much larger number of volunteers to choose from. The men were tested on a number of criteria, but they were largely chosen because of their physical fitness. This was not the case in the CIV. If a man had passed the basic requirements , , he was taken on and sent to South Africa.

April was largely an uneventful month. he Service companies continued to trickle into the country and the CIV saw this as the perfect opportunity to train and acclimatize to the South African climate. It is clear that Roberts had a vested interest in the CIV and oversaw their development over the month of April. [72] The CIV conducted rifle shooting completions’, played football against the local towns and conduct field firing exercises, all essential to improve the CIV effectiveness.[73] By May, when Roberts began his push forward towards Pretoria, the Volunteers in the Service Companies had joined their regular battalions and the CIV were far fitter and better trained. The Volunteers on the march were quick to experience combat. The Service Company of the 1st Battalion Sussex Regiment received artillery fire from the Boers but were unfazed by it.[74] The CIV too came under enemy fire on 1 May at Kaalfontein, but it was clear that their fitness levels had improved considerably. The CIV was able to deal with Boers by forcing them to withdraw as well as continuing with the march for a further 18 miles, a feat which two months previously could not have been achieved. For the men of the CIV this was an important moment as they began to feel part of the army. One trooper wrote that the success of Kaalfontein made the CIV ‘feel like amateurs no longer’. [75]

As Roberts marched closer to Pretoria in May, the Volunteers were treated like any other British troops. The CIV were treated like any other regular battalion and the majority of the Service Companies were treated like any Regular company. There were of course a few exceptions: the Service Company of the Green Howards had the comfortable role of guarding the Simmer and Jack mine.[76]  They had access to tea and coffee whilst not on sentry and were granted full use of the billiards and reading rooms by the mines manager.[77] During the final stages of the conventional war, the Volunteers took part in the last two large battles: the Battle of Doornkop on 27-29 May 1900,  and the Battle of Diamond Hill on 11-12 June 1900. At the Battle for Doornkop, the CIV were given the task of spearheading the attack alongside the Gordon Highlanders.  The Gordons also had a Service Company attached to them. What makes this battle particularly interesting are the respective tactics the Gordons and the CIV employed to capture the kopje at Doornkop. The Gordons chose a frontal assault up the hill whilst the CIV employed the more sophisticated tactic of fire and movement.[78] As a result, the Gordons sustained 100 casualties in the space of ten minutes (including 17 fatalities), whereas the CIV only had 12 casualties and no fatalities.[79] The CIV had been taught the tactic of fire and movement by their regular Adjutant Captain Bailey, originally from the Grenadier Guards.[80] However this tactic was not commonplace at the time and not regarded by observers as heroic as the Gordon Highlanders charge up the kopje. The future Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, who was accompanying Hamilton’s army as a war correspondent, wrote fondly of the heroism of the Gordon Highlanders and barely covered the CIV.[81] From a modern perspective, the CIV accomplishment seems far more impressive. They were able achieve their objective whilst keeping casualties down. The commander of the CIV, Mackinnon, was particularly pleased that the casualties were so low despite when the whole battalion had been under fire for over two hours.[82] Senior officers were also impressed. Smith-Dorian felt that the Volunteers had proved their worth and were just as good as regular soldiers.[83]

There were also a number of service companies involved. The Service Company of the Gordon Highlanders charged up the Kopje with the rest of the battalion and in doing so took a number of casualties. In all the Gordons Volunteers lost three men killed and ten wounded.[84] another regiment which took a significate role in the battle was the Sussex Regiment with their service company. The Sussex were supporting the CIV from the flanks, for the volunteers in the service company, they were further away from the fighting providing support to the regular companies. One volunteer was wounded and later died of his wounds.[85] Although the Service Companies were not as well covered as the CIV during the Battle of Doornkop, they still proved their worth. The Sussex Volunteers, despite not having the same background as the regular companies, were treated like any other and performed the role as a regular company would. The same goes for the Gordons Volunteers, who clearly showed bravery and kept up with the regular troops as they charged up the kopje with a hail of fire and casualties falling around them.

The Sussex also went on to fight at the battle of Diamond hill over two days on 11th and 12th June 1900. On the first day the battalion, with its Volunteer Company, was the leading battalion with the CIV in support. The Volunteer Company was in support of G and F Companies who were leading the attacks. The fighting went well for the Sussex who were quickly able to force the Boers into a retreat. The Volunteer Company, who had yet to be involved in the fighting, moved up to a wooded kopje in support of G and F companies. Rather than move to the left, towards the friendly forces. The volunteer Company moved off to the right heading towards the direction of a range of hill where the Boers had retreated to.[86] It is unclear why the Volunteers moved off in this direction. The lack of clear communication and the confusion of battle must have some part to play but could also highlight the lack of raw combat experience the volunteers and their commander possessed. As the Volunteer Company approached the Hills, the Boers opened up with an overwhelming rate of fire. despite this, it is evident that the Volunteers were able to effectively remain calm under fire and successful withdraw, taking only two casualties.[87] Whilst it is clear that the Volunteers lacked the greater understanding of battle with the simple mistake of moving in the wrong direction, the way in which the volunteers, like the CIV at Doornkop, reacted exceptionally well under fire.

On the second day of Diamond Hill, it was the CIV who lead the advance. Under the watchful eye of the whole division, intrigued to see how the Volunteers would fare in a leading role, the CIV pushed on to Diamond Hill and occupied the position without any resistance.[88] The Boers, who had set up another position approximately a mile away, began firing at the occupiers of the hill with rifle, pom-pom (automatic cannon) and artillery fire. For the remainder of the day the CIV were subject to this fire and casualties began to mount. Lieutenant Brian Alt, an undergraduate at Oxford, was shot in the head and killed, one of two fatalities among the 15 casualties.[89]

As with previous battles, the CIV again showed exceptional bravery in their reaction to enemy fire. The men continued with their drills and on the whole remained calm despite trying circumstances.

The Battle of Diamond Hill marks the transition from the conventional phase of the war to the guerrilla phase. The toll of the war was beginning to be felt by the CIV, with one officer and 33 men dead,  the majority because of illness, and three officers and 77 men invalided home by July. Thereafter, with the exception of one or two minor engagements, the CIV saw little action. During July and August they were involved in garrison and escorting duties. The battalion were involved in the pursuit of the Boer General De Wet nothing came about and the battalion was returned to Pretoria.  On 25 September, General Roberts allowed the CIV to return home.[90] Their time in South Africa was over and many viewed it as a success. The Service Companies, however, remained in South Africa. For them the novelty of war and battle had completely worn off, and they were restricted to escort and guard duties. Most were eventually ordered home in mid-October. But some were not so lucky: the Green Howards’ Service Company had its return home cancelled and carried out blockhouse duties until mid-May 1901.[91]

For the men of the second contingent of the Service Companies, their war was very different. Most were consigned to to blockhouse duties or guarding the lines of communication. For these men their greatest threat was not from Boers, but from disease and exposure in these isolated positions.[92]  Life in the blockhouse was bleak. They were made of corrugated iron and earth, and had enough emergency supplies to last seven days.[93] The men would go through a daily rotation: some were on guard; others rested. Quite often during the night, men would think they could see and hear the Boers trying to come through the wire and stand the rest of the company to. It would then transpire that nothing was there and the men were needlessly awaiting the Boers who never came.[94] The volunteers of the second contingent fared well in the trying circumstances. They certainly did not return back to Britain with the hero’s welcome given to the first contingent, but their role was just as essential. The blockhouse system was put in place to hamper the movement of the Boer commandos. Without the additional manpower that the Service Companies provided, the network would not have been as extensive and may have caused the war to last longer.

Overall the Volunteer Force fared the best of all the auxiliary forces. Whilst public opinion and the immediate aftermath will be dealt with in a later chapter, it is evident that the Volunteers were able to adapt quickly to the war and fared well in the conflict despite the lack of any overseas training and experience. Particular not should be given to the CIV as by the end of their time in South Africa fared just as well, if not better than their regular counterparts. The same could be said for the Volunteer Service Companies who also able to keep up with the regular soldiers. Of course there was some major flaws to the volunteers, the lack of any regular training meant that it took a while before they could reach up to speed. However once this was achieved, their tactics, which had yet to be adopted by the regular army, were far more effective, as had been displayed at Doornkop. It shows how a thinking soldier, with a strong desire to learn and improve, can quickly pick up essential fighting skills. One of the greater advantages that the Volunteers had over the rest of the Army was the considerable amount of funding they had. Not only did it allow them to have the best equipment that money could buy but also made the standard of living slightly better. The men could focus on the important war fighting skills, without having to worry about basic administration due to the lack of resources that some in the regular army had to face.

[1] Charles M. Clode, The Military Forces of the Crown; Their Administration and Government, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1869), I, p. 333.

[2] Ian F. W. Beckett, Riflemen Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2007), p. 104.

[3] Hugh Cunningham, The Volunteer Force: A Social and Political History, 1859-1908 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1975),p. 105.

[4] Charles J. Hart, The History of the 1st Volunteer Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Birmingham: Midland Counties Herald, 1906), p. 213.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hansard HC Deb. 03 May 1888, vol. 325 cc1250-1.

[7] Hansard, HL Deb. 28 June 1895, vol. 35 cc38-9.

[8] Volunteer Service Gazette, 23 September 1899.

[9] Arthur M. Brookfield, Annals of a Chequered Life (London : J. Murray, 1930),p .248. Volunteer on veld)

[10] The National Archives WO 32/6385/1, ‘Employment of Military Forces’, 1900

[11] LMA, CLA/051/01/001/010, ‘Reports on the raising, organising, equipping and dispatching of the City of London Imperial Volunteers to South Africa, by Corporation of London’, 1900

[12] ibid.

[13] Beckett, Rifleman Form, p.212

[14] The H.A.C. in South Africa: A Record of the Services Rendered in the South African War by Members of The Honourable Artillery Company, ed. by Basil Williams and Erskine Childers (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1908). p. 9.

[15] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p. 229.

[16] Stephen M. Miller, Volunteers on the Veld: Britains Citizen-Soldiers and the South African War, 1899-1902 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007),,p.60.

[17] NationalArmy Museuam, ‘Scrapbook and loose documents, 1898-1900; compiled by Capt H F Kingdon, Victoria and St George’s Rifle Volunteers, 1st Middlesex Rifles,’ 1972-03-13. [more detail required.

[18] Beckett, Rifleman Form, p .213.

[19] ibid.

[20] Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 2 vols (London: H.M.S.O., 1903), I, p. 231. Evidence 5473.

[21] p. 184 volunteers on the veld

[22] Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 2 vols (London: H.M.S.O., 1903), I, p. 223. Evidence 5397.

[23] Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 2 vols (London: H.M.S.O., 1903), I, p. 289. Evidence 6756.

[24] Hansard, HC Deb. 19 July 1881,  vol .263 c.1251.

[25]  Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.169.

[26] ibid.

[27] Volunteer Service Gazette  8 September.1882, p. 753

[28] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.169.

[29] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.226.

[30] TNA, ‘18th Middlesex Reserve Volunteer Battalion Order Book 1894-1901’, WO70/14.

[31] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.169.

[32] Celebrities of the Army, ed. by Charles N. Robinson (London: G. Newnes, 1902), p. 10.

[33] Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1999), p. 55.

[34] TNA ‘Reports on the efficiency of men of the Army Reserve, 1895’ WO 33/57

[35] Celebrities of the Army, ed. by Charles N. Robinson (London: G. Newnes, 1902), p. 10.

[36] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.253

[37] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.204.

[38] H. A. R. May, Memories of the Artist Rifles 1882-1921 (London: Howlett & Son, 1929), p.56.

[39] T. Sturmey Cave, History of the First Battalion Hampshire Regiment 1859 to 1889, with Appendix containing Notes and Illustrations in reference to the Corps from 1890 to 1903 (London : Simpkin & Co., 1905),  p.434.

[40] Hansard, HL Deb. 28 June 1895, vol. 35 cc38-9.

[41] Williams, The H.A.C. in South Africa, p.2

[42] ibid., p.24.

[43] ibid., p.25.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.240

[46] ibid.

[47] The Record of the Mounted Infantry of the City Imperial Volunteers, ed. by Guy H. Gullum Scott and Geoffrey L. McDonell (London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1902).p.5.

[48] ibid p.5

[49] ibid p.9

[50] ibid p. 15

[51] W. H. Mackinnon, The Journal of the CIV in South Africa (London: John Murray, 1901) pp.4-10.

[52] W Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.239

[53] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV, p.22

[54] Arthur Conan Doyle, The Great Boer War (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1900), p. 319.

[55] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV, p.28

[56] NAM ‘Manuscript book containing copies of forty-two letters written by Lt Edward A Manisty, City Imperial Volunteers, to his mother 18 Dec1899 – 20 Oct 1900; associated with the Capture of Pretoria, Boer War (1899-1902)’(1900), 1980-05-22

[57] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV p.28

[58] NAM 1980-05-22

[59] NAM ‘Manuscript book containing copies of forty-two letters written by Lt Edward A Manisty, City Imperial Volunteers, to his mother 18 Dec1899 – 20 Oct 1900; associated with the Capture of Pretoria, Boer War (1899-1902)’(1900), 1980-05-22

[60] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV p,36

[61] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV, p.36

[62] The Times 17/02/1900

[63] The Times Official History of The War in South Africa, ed. by L. S. Amery, 7 vols (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company , 1900 -1909), IV(1906) p. 445.

[64] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV  p.36

[65] McDonnell and Scott, Record of the MI of the CIV p.47

[66] NAM 1980-05-22

[67] Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 2 vols (London: H.M.S.O., 1903), I, p. 289 7542

[68] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p38

[69] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p.36

[70] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.

[71] M. L. Ferrar, With The Green Howards in South Africa 1899 -1902 (London, 1904) p52

[72] RC 10312

[73] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p.50-51

[74] L. E. du Moulin, Two Years On Trek: Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa (London, 1907) P.19

[75] Lloyd p.154

[76] M. L. Ferrar, With The Green Howards in South Africa 1899 -1902 (London, 1904) p. 52

[77] ibid.

[78] T. Pakenham, The Boer War (London, 2007) p425

[79] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p.79

[80] ibid.

[81] W. S. Churchill, Ian Hamilton’s March (London, 1900) p.162

[82] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p.79

[83] WO105/8 Smith Dorrien dispatch

[84] J. M. Grierson, Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force 1859-1908 (Edinburgh, 1909) p.295

[85] L. E. du Moulin, Two Years On Trek: Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa (London, 1907).

[86] Sussex p.83

[87] ibid.

[88] Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV p.98

[89] ibid. p.100

[90]Mackinnon, Journal of the CIV, p.201.

[91] With the Green Howards

[92] Hart, 1st VB R. Warwickshire, p.298

[93] ibid

[94] ibid.

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