1902 Encyclopedia > Volunteers


VOLUNTEERS. Although it would be difficult to assign a period when the principle of volunteer organiza-tion for national defence was first adopted in England, it is certain that societies to promote this object existed in various parts of the country in the reign of Henry VIII., who in fact granted a charter in 1537 to the " Fraternity or Guylde of Saint George: Maisters and Rulars of the said Science of Artillary as aforesaid rehearsed for long-bowes Cros-bowes and Hand-Gonnes." This ancient vol-unteer corps is now the Honourable Artillery Company of London, whose muster-rolls have borne the names of many distinguished personages, including John Milton. Al-though the Honourable Artillery Company has always been a distinct volunteer association, it was at one time (notably during the wars of the Commonwealth) a centre of instruc-tion for the City trained bands, whose officers indeed were required by statute to be members also of the company. It is an interesting fact in connexion with this company that there exists at Boston, U.S., a volunteer corps bear-ing, the name of the "Antient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts." This legacy of the pilgrim-fathers was formed in 1638 after its London prototype, and its Puritan origin is still recognized in the " election sermon" which celebrates the anniversary of its formation.
It was not, however, until 1779 that volunteer organiza-

tion became an integral part in national defence. In that year, Ireland being threatened with invasion by France and Spain, a levy of :40,000 Protestants was made by the gentry in the north. The energy and patriotism thus promptly manifested no doubt averted the impending danger, but not without unexpected results, for the volun-teers then enrolled availed themselves of the opportunity to assert claims on their own account for the extension of civil liberty. The close of the 18th and the early part of the present century saw in Great Britain itself a more com-plete development of the national instinct for self-defence, when the aggressive wars of France, following upon the Revolution of 1789, threatened the safety of the United Kingdom. Between 1794 and 1804 successive Acts of Parliament were passed providing for the administration and discipline of the volunteer force, which, in 1805, when invasion by the first Napoleon was imminent, amounted to 429,165 men (70,000 of whom were Irish). When peace, however, was restored, this force was disbanded, with the exception of the yeomanry or volunteer cavalry, which continues to this day.
After an interval of nearly half a century the warlike attitude of France, under Napoleon III., caused the British once more to arm for the protection of their country. This long interval, however, had been used differently by the respective nations. England, from a questionable economy, had allowed both army and navy to decline 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 pos-sibilities of the invasion of England in 1846 within measur-able distance, while a feeling of hostility was fostered and inflamed by her political writers. England at this time was awakened to the gravity of the situation by the publi-cation of a well-known letter from the duke of Wellington, then commander-in-chief, to Sir John Burgoyne, followed by a well-timed pamphlet by General Sir Charles Napier, entitled The Defence of England by Volunteer Corps and Militia. This characteristic sketch of the true principles of defence for a free people became seven years later the basis of the volunteer organization.
In 1857 the French press became more and more menacing. The United States had dismissed the resident British minister, and in consequence reinforcements had to be sent to Canada and New Brunswick. The war going on in China required an army and employed a fleet. The Indian Mutiny taxed the resources of England to the uttermost, while at home (save the actual garrisons) an unsatisfactory reserve of barely 36,000 militia was all that could be counted on. 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 by a popular impulse.
A circular letter, dated 12th May 1859, from the secretary for war to the lord-lieutenants of counties in Great Britain, authorized the formation of volunteer corps. The statute under which the general enrolment took place was the same that had governed the organization of the volunteer force in the beginning of the century. The main provisions of that Act, however, were found inapplicable to the altered conditions under which invasion was now possible (through the application of steam); they failed also to meet the new system entertained of main-taining the volunteer force on a permanent footing in peace. A new Act was therefore passed, the most important provision of which3 was that apprehended invasion should constitute a sufficient reason for the sovereign to call out the volunteers for service, in lieu of the old condition
which required the actual appearance of the enemy upon the coast. To carry this provision into effect, the appre-hension has to be first communicated to parliament, or if parliament is not sitting declared by the queen in council and notified by proclamation. The volunteers are there-upon bound to serve in Great Britain until released by a proclamation declaring the occasion to have passed. When so called out, they receive pay on the army scale.
The force thus brought into existence is composed of corps of light horse, artillery, engineers, mounted rifles, and rifle volunteers. There exist also in connexion with the Admiralty special volunteer corps for the defence of the coast-line, called " Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers." The term " corps" possesses no tactical signification. Any body of persons, great or small, whose offer of service the queen has accepted constitutes a " corps." The property belonging to the corps is vested in the command-ing officer, and is administered by a committee of officers under the rules of the corps. These rules are in the first instance agreed on at a general meeting of officers and men, and, having received the queen's approval, become legal, and may be enforced by a magistrate's order. The commanding officer has power to dismiss a man from the corps, and a volunteer not on actual service may ter-minate his engagement on giving fourteen days' notice.
Volunteers, when assembled under arms, whether for actual service or for exercise, are under the command of the commander-in-chief or of general or other field-officers of the regular army appointed to command them, who must be senior in rank to every officer of the volun-teers present. But it is a fundamental law that volunteers are to be led by their own officers. For the purposes of training, a permanent staff of adjutants and sergeant-in-structors is provided from the regular army.
The formation of corps constituted as described was so rapid that in the course of a few months in 1859-60 a force of 119,000 volunteers was created. For adminis-trative purposes, and for instruction, small corps were grouped in their several counties into " administrative battalions." This provisional arrangement has since been abolished (a questionable measure), and the small " corps," deprived of much of the status necessary as nuclei of battalions in time of war, are converted into constituent parts or companies of what had been their administrative battalions. These latter are now not only constituted "corps" in the meaning of the Act, but are called " con-solidated corps," though their constituent parts are widely scattered. Though this arrangement is convenient during peace, confusion would probably result under pressure of apprehended invasion.
On the 7th March 1860 the queen held a levee in London, at which 2500 officers of volunteers were pre-sented. On the 23d June a royal review was held in Hyde Park, when 21,900 volunteers marched past; and at Edinburgh on the 7th August another royal review took place, at which 22,000 volunteers from the northern corps were under arms.
Public confidence was thus restored, but yet more remained to be done. An end had to be put to the ever-recurring panics that paralysed from time to time the. commercial system of the country. The Government, which in the beginning had tolerated rather than en-couraged the movement, now followed the lead of public opinion, and decided on maintaining the volunteer force-as a part of the regular defensive system of the country. The personnel of the volunteer corps (with a few essential 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. A Boyal Commission was therefore appointed in 1862 to inquire into the requirements of the volunteers, as well as to determine the conditions on which the public grant should be given, and a scale of ordinary and special capitation allowances, subject to regu-lation, was fixed on that commission's recommendation.
It was not to be expected that this so-called mushroom army should escape a certain amount of professional ridicule, which the inefficiency of the old volunteers associated with the name. Nor was this tendency unmixed with apprehension in certain quarters that the public grants voted for the force might in some way affect the interests of the regular army. But a generous appreciation and sympathy took the place of adverse criticism, as the earnestness of the volunteers and their devoted loyalty became apparent. Nor were they unsuccessful in their own efforts to keep pace with modern military training, and even to introduce improvements. Lord Elcho, a prominent leader of the volunteer movement, revived in the National Bifle Association the ancient English pastime of practising at the butts. The queen herself fired the first shot (a bull's-eye) at Wimbledon in 1860, and thus inaugurated those great national meetings where many thousands compete annually for prizes, the aggregate value of which has now reached £14,680, with 126,463 entries.
Colonel Harcourt followed Lord Elcho in establishing the National Artillery Association, whose meetings are held annually at the School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness. The volunteers in this arm of the force are more than 40,000 strong, and belong chiefly to the mechanic class. Their aptitude to learn the use of the great modern ordnance which their presence at the School of Gunnery encourages, and their steady discipline when in garrison, have impressed the officers of the Boyal Artillery with their value as a reserve for manning the coast defences, as well as for the equipment of field batteries. Special provision has now been made for the latter, on the condition that the batteries are fully horsed by the volunteers, and that three com-plete detachments of men per gun are maintained in training.
The regular attendance of detachments of colonial volunteers at these great annual national competitions has exercised for some years past a silent and beneficial influence, by fostering the military sympathy of the colonies with the mother country as regards the interests of imperial defence. This feeling found practical expres-sion in the expedition to the Soudan in 1885.
A novel and peculiarly national arm was also introduced in 1860 by Colonel Bower, then master of the Hambledon hounds at Droxford, who trained members of the hunt as a corps of mounted riflemen to occupy ground from point to point across country.
When the number of hunting men in Great Britain is considered, all of whom would be ready to turn out, thus equipped, to harrass the flank of an invader, beyond reach even of his cavalry, some estimate may be formed of the value of this contribution to the plan of defence.
The late Lord Banelagh, another leader of mark among volunteers, initiated the great Easter volunteer field-days at Brighton and elsewhere. His views, at first opposed, are now officially acted on, and the annual Easter assem-blies have developed into manoeuvres, interesting as well as instructive to all engaged. The Easter holidays afford also opportunity to artillery volunteers to go into garrison in forts, as at Sheerness and other coast works, where means of practising are available. Facilities in camp instruction are also extended to volunteers in summer, an arrangement
which enables the small scattered corps to unite for drill. As many as 100,000 volunteers were in camp in 1887.
Ferhaps the most important organization of all, alike for the service of the army and the auxiliary forces, is that known as the " Engineer and Bailway Transport Corps," formed by the patriotic exertions of the late Charles Manby, civil engineer, and a lieutenant-colonel in the corps. The term "corps" presents in this case a council of officers composed of the following elements :—(1) eminent civil engineers; (2) the general managers of the main lines of railway ; (3) the chief employers of labour. These officers have the rank of lieutenant-colonel. There are also other officers of the same classes, subordinate to the above, and not belonging to the council. The functions of the corps include (a) the arrangement and the carrying into effect of any sudden and general concentration of troops to oppose invasion, and (b) the rapid execution of works upon the railways and lines of defence by the means at the disposal of the great contractors directed by the civil engineers. The ready labour power of this useful corps is estimated at from 12,000 to 20,000 navvies, with tools, barrows, and commissariat complete. It has already performed important service in tabulating, and printing at great private cost, complete time-tables and special reports for six general concentrations against possible invasion. A special return was also prepared by the corps (the first of its kind) of the entire rolling stock of all the railways in Great Britain. This important work—which is corrected and republished annually—shows where the requisite numbers of carriages of every description can be obtained for the composition of troop trains.
The opinion of military judges has been that the main weakness of the whole volunteer system rests with the officers. But this judgment has undoubtedly been modified of late years by the eagerness displayed by the officers of all ranks to become capable leaders of their men. While advantage is taken of the facilities provided by the Government—such as schools of instruction, temporary attachment to regular and militia regiments, and half-yearly examinations in tactics—officers of volunteers are making progress among themselves by initiating societies in various parts of the country for the study and discussion of military subjects, war games, &c. Individually, some officers have already taken a prominent position as students in the art of war. One of these, Colonel Macdonald, C.B., commanding the Edinburgh Bifle Volunteers, has originated important improvements in the system of infantry drill, and his modifications have been approved in principle by the adj utant-general. An ambulance service has been organized, and a scheme for battalion transport brought out.
The foregoing organization has not exhausted the resources of volunteer national defence. Science and commercial wealth combined are now creating an outer line,— the former for the defence of the Humber, Tees, Tyne, Mersey, &c, by means of volunteer marine mining corps, and the latter by the institution of the Naval Volunteer Defence Association, having for its object the protection of merchant ships, by fitting out in British ports a number of merchant vessels to serve in time of war as a cordon around the coasts of the kingdom, within which the ship-ping may pass in security.
There is yet another weak point, of equal importance, in the personal equipment of the volunteers, which, as a rule, is deficient for field service. But now that the jurisdiction has been transferred from the lord-lieutenants of counties to the crown, the whole subject of equipment for the field is entrusted to direct and responsible military authority.
The still graver question arises as to the issue of war-like stores in general in the time of national danger Notwithstanding that such stores are already partially in

possession of the services, the issue to the levée en masse (or augmentation of the volunteer force) alone will be a matter of extreme difficulty for one arsenal to manage. This difficulty will be best understood by the following statement. The volunteer force in Great Britain at the beginning of the century numbered 359,165. Since then, however, the population has nearly doubled. Therefore, supposing all other conditions to be equal, the number that would now come forward to defend the country would be about 700,000, or 481,800 more than the present peace footing of the volunteer force. One arsenal is not sufficient to sustain the strain that would then be put upon it. Strategically considered also, the situation of that at Woolwich is not such as to justify the accumulation there of all the warlike material the nation would have to depend on. A central arsenal, if not a northern one as well, appears to be a national necessity.
The existence of the volunteer force averts conscription j
for the country's defence, and it forms, as the first Lord
Brougham characterized it, a "national insurance." The
cost to the country is trifling compared with the magni-
tude of the issues, being in 1885 £767,400 for 218,000
"efficient" volunteers entitled to the public grant, that
is £3, 8s. 6d. per volunteer, or barely 6d. per head of the
population to be defended. The value of the volunteer
force is not, however, to be estimated by the numbers
actually enrolled. It is in fact, in its present form, a
great training school of citizen soldiers, through which
thousands pass annually into a reserve ready to join in
case of need. And every year of its valuable service con-
firms the wisdom of Sir Charles Napier's last words of
advice to his countrymen, viz., " Militia and volunteers
are the proper forces to prepare for danger in time of
peace." (M. M'M.)


Life and Letters of Field-Marshal Sir John Burgoyne.
Life and Letters of Field-Marshal Sir John Burgoyne.
44 Geo. III. cap. 54. 3 Volunteer Act, 1863, s. 17.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries