For over 350 years since Elizabethan times, the small British Standing Army of Regular soldiers was backed by a reserve of part time soldiers who stood ready to come forward at times of crisis to assist in the defence the home country. They were formed into two groups; the Militia (from the Latin miles = soldier) who were mainly foot soldiers, and the Yeomanry (from the English yeoman = tenant farmer) mainly cavalry. These volunteer, or imposed, amateur soldiers practiced the required military skills of the day on a frequent basis whilst following their normal civilian occupations. They were led by officers primarily drawn from the nobility who usually were also their employers or landowners. On occasion these part-time soldiers were called upon by the administration of the day to deal with public disturbances. One notorious incident was the killing of members of the public by the Yeomanry cavalry at a claimed riotous assembly at Peterloo, Manchester on 16th August 1819.
The Militia and Yeomanry became particularly active during the invasion scare by the French in the 1860's; but by the nature of their terms of commitment these reservists never served abroad.
The weakness in the Reserve system became really apparent during the Second Boer War in 1899-1902 when an urgent need for large numbers of trained men to serve with the army overseas could not met by volunteers from this home-based force.
Post-Boer War reforms.
From 1905 to 1907, R.B. Haldane, the Secretary of State for War in the new Liberal Government, undertook an unprecedented reorganisation of the Regular Army and its Reserve of old soldiers giving it the capability of forming an Expeditionary Force that could be sent abroad on active service at short notice. At the same time Haldane forged some of the various elements of the volunteers into a single unit called the Territorial Force (TF) which was officially formed on the 1st April 1908. Other minor reserve elements were retained but these were mainly comprised of men who were over-aged or unfit and so not eligible and/or suitable for active service anyway.
The intention was that if members of the TF were called up, they would be expected to serve anywhere in the United Kingdom, but not overseas unless they specifically volunteered to do so. At this time, the number of men in the TF cadres totalled around 270,000.
This British military organisation differed from that of the Continental Powers in that the Continentals had built up massive armies of millions of men based on almost universal conscription. Meanwhile, the British considered their huge investment in the Royal Navy, and its overall superiority at sea, provided the necessary counterweight in the international balance of power. And, indeed, had the Royal Navy been unable to maintain ready access across the English Channel during the Great War, the loss of the war by the Allies would have been a distinct possibility.
Two important elements of the Haldane 1908 reorganisation were the establishment of Officer Training Corps (OCT) units at many higher education centres, and the connections that were established with the comparable units in the Regular Army i.e. engineers, signallers and medical staff. Also uniforms were standardised with those of the Regular Army as was, progressively, equipment. Though, as always with the British Army, there were exceptions to the rule e.g. The London Regiment, Cavalry Regiments and others.
Part of the standardisation process involved regular payments to the TF soldiers and routine structured training sessions, including an annual two-week summer camp. This latter activity was a considerable draw for recruitment, particularly for the men from the industrial areas of the UK who largely treated it as their annual holiday. As a bonus these summer camps were usually located in pleasant country surroundings, or on the coast.
The TF, Lord Kitchener and the outbreak of the Great War.
When the Great War broke out in August 1914 the TF consisted of:
- 14 Infantry Divisions = nominally 200,000 men. (207 TF Battalions).
- 14 Cavalry (Yeomanry) Brigades = nominally 50,000 men. (54 TF Regiments).
- 23 Royal Artillery Garrison Batteries.
- 151 Royal Field Artillery Batteries.
- 14 Royal Horse Artillery Batteries.
Plus various support companies such as: engineers, and supply and medical units.Each TF infantry battalion was affiliated to a nominated Regular British Army regiment.
At the outset of the war, all of the TF units were asked to volunteer, as units, for service on what became the Western Front, and by the end of August 1914 nearly 100 had agreed to do so. However, this limited response only served to confirm in the mind of the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, an already deep uncertainty as to the reliability of this source of manpower to fill the gap he foresaw in the resources of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). (In 1910, only 10% of the TF had volunteered for Imperial Service overseas if required to do so). Accordingly, simultaneously, he began an alternative mass recruitment campaign for his New Army of volunteers who would sign-on for the duration of the War; then thought by many (but not Kitchener) to be likely to last only a matter of weeks or, at most, months. Kitchener was also of the view that the 'amateur' part-time soldiers of the TF were likely to be less amenable to training of the type he required, and he felt new young blood could be more readily and speedily trained to his specifications and needs.
To fill the potential gap that would be created in the TF units in the Homeland by the dispatch of the volunteer TF units to the Western Front and elsewhere, a second tier of TF units were raised in each of the UK counties during August and September 1914. To distinguish the new TF battalions from the originals, the original 1st Battalion became the 1/1st and the 2nd (new) Battalion became the 2/1st and so on as other TE battalions were raised. As per the normal British Army system, all the Battalions were grouped into Divisions: the second Divisions being numbered the 45th and 57th to 69th inclusive . Later the 71st to 75th TF Divisions were formed. A total of 692 TF battalions were raised during the Great War.
Deployment of the TF divisions.
The first TF division to go into action on the Western Front was the 46th (North Midland) Division on the 14th April 1915, and whilst most TE divisions were deployed on the Western Front, others were deployed in theatres of war in the Middle East, Indian subcontinent and the Dardanelles. Additional TF units were posted to various British overseas garrisons. These new troops helped to relieve Regular Army men at these overseas postings for service on the Western Front.
Once conscription was authorised in the UK in 1916, the make up-up of the TF units was changed as increasing numbers of conscripts (and New Army volunteers) diluted the TF component by replacing Regular Army casualties and rotated soldiers.
The human cost.
As the war on the Western Front progressed, and the demand for troops, boosted by the horrific casualty rolls, increased incrementally, the ever-growing demand for the transfer of TF troops from the Homeland to the Western Front proceeded apace.
The numbers of officers and men who served in the TF in the Great War totalled around 50,000 and 1 million respectively. Approximately 110,000 (10.5%) were killed; a figure which closely matches that of the toll by suffered the rest of the British Army and was not that inferior to the predominantly front-line troops of the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian Armies.