1925 REGIMENTAL CHRONICLE MILITIA AND VOLUNTEER BATTALIONS OF THE REGIMENT. By Brig.-General A. J. F. Eden, C.M.G., D.S.O.
4th BATTALION (OXFORD MILITIA)
THE Oxfordshire Militia, from 1881 to 1908 the 4th Battalion of the Regiment, came into existence in 1778. In this year the Lords-Lieutenant of about fifty counties were ordered to "draw out and embody" the Militia. In the County of Oxfordshire the Duke of Marlborough was the person so addressed. Lord Charles Spencer was appointed Colonel and Commanding-Officer. The County was divided into eight divisions, the total number of men available being reckoned at 12,900, Only 560 were required, so that the ballot did not fall very heavy on the men population 1 Twenty-four officers found the establishment as follows: 1 Colonel, 1 Lieut.-Colonel; 1 Major, 5 Captains, 1 Captain-Lieutenant, 8 Lieutenants and 7 Ensigns, The first eight named officers commanded companies, which consisted of one Grenadier and seven battalions. The Captain-Lieutenant was second in command to the Colonel; the Adjutant and Quarter Master were two of the Lieutenants, and the Surgeon an Ensign. All three were posted to companies.
The first station of the Regiment was Reading. It moved the following year to Newbury, and then on to Dover. It is interesting to note how often it was quartered at this last place, as it was there again in 1803-04, 1859-60, and as the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in 1917-19. In 1781-82 various places in the West of England formed their station. The Militia were disembodied in March, 1783, and between then and 1792, the Regiment was called out annually for training. In December, 1792, the whole of the Militia was embodied. The Regiment was quartered at Brighton and other places on the South Coast until 1796, when it was ordered to the East Coast. In 1798 it was transferred to Ireland to assist in suppressing the rebellion there, and was eventually disembodied in 1800. A return dated August, 1799, shows the strength of privates as 966 out of an establishment of 1,130.
A year previous to this, Colonel W. Gore Langton succeeded to the command. In March, 1803, the Regiment was again embodied and proceeded to Dover. Spending a couple of years there, it was moved successively to Colchester, Taunton, Gosport and Brighton. During 1811, it did garrison duty at the Tower of London. After a short stay at Bristol, it found itself in Ireland again in 1813, being quartered in the vicinity of Cork in the forts and on Spike Island, When peace was finally proclaimed, it returned to England, doing garrison duty at Portsmouth for six months before being finally disembodied in February, 1816. A statement laid before the Lieutenancy of the County in 1813 showed an effective strength of 622 ‘private men’ whilst the establishment allowed was only 603.
From 1816, trainings became intermittent up to the year 1831, when the Militia was suspended throughout the kingdom until 1852. In this year it was revived upon an entirely new footing, chiefly at the instance of the Duke of Wellington, who was strongly in favour of its reorganization.
In 1847, Colonel C O. Bowles succeeded Colonel Gore Langton, who had been in command for the past 49 years.
The training, lasting 21 days, of 1852, took place at Woodstock, but the village was not large enough to billet 481 men, so the following year it was in Oxford and under improved conditions.
In December, 1854, the Crimean War having broken out and officers and men having volunteered for service "wherever Her Majesty may be pleased to send them," it was embodied for permanent service and proceeded to Portsmouth. Here, on May 24, 1855, new Colours, worked by the ladies of Oxfordshire, were presented. The old set, which had been carried since its formation,, was deposited in the County Hall at Oxford. Shortly after this, in the same year it was sent to Corfu, where with four other Militia battalions, it remained until disembodied at Oxford on July 15, 1856. Colonel Bowles did not go to Corfu, the Regiment being commanded by Lieut.-Colonel J. W. Fane, who eventually succeeded the former officer in 1862. Several battalions had volunteered their services for garrison duty in the Mediterranean, and the offer of ten was accepted. To mark her sense of these valuable services, H.M. Queen Victoria gave permission for the word "Mediterranean" to be worn on the Colours.
The Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857, and the Militia was once again embodied. The Regiment was one of 18 corps which volunteered for service in India. It assembled at Oxford on September 18, and the following month was sent to Woolwich, being quartered in the Artillery Barracks, It remained here till the following June. Various changes took place at this time. The badges of the flank companies—the grenade and the bugle denoting grenadier and light companies respectively—were abolished. The old fire-locks were superseded by the English rifle. Mess rules were also drawn up. The dress of officers at Mess was laid down, and also that of the Mess servants, who were to appear in regimental livery or in that of their respective masters. An Officers' Tandem Club is recorded as in existence.
The summer of 1858 was spent under canvas in a brigade camp at Aldershot, followed by a winter in lines in the South Camp till August, 1859, The Queen and the Prince Consort were often at the Royal Pavilion and one day after a field-day, visited the Oxfordshire camp and made a very close inspection of many portions of it. Her Majesty expressed to the Colonel great approval of what she had seen. Once again the Regiment found itself at Dover, where it remained till disembodiment was ordered early in 1860. This took place at Oxford on February 28, a great dinner being held at the Mitre Hotel, when a presentation of plate was made to Captain Cuming, the Adjutant, During these two-and-a-half years, many men had volunteered for service in the Regular Army and especially in the Guards.
The first annual training after this took place in May, 1862, and in this and the four following years was at Oxford. During these years the training period was for 27 days commencing about the middle of April, and the Regiment was billeted in the City. From 1867 till 1875, accept in 1869, when it was at Oxford, the annual training took place at Aldershot. Previous to 1871, accommodation was provided in huts in lines in the North Camp, after this it was usually a camp under canvas in Rushmoor Bottom.
During 1870, a great deal was seen of the 12th Lancers, which culminated in their band playing the Regiment to the station on its departure. At most camps the Royal Bucks Militia were also nearby. Queen Victoria's birthday fell generally during the training period, when, as a rule, the Militia Battalions were present with the regular garrisons at the big parade. In 1872 the Regiment gained the high approval of the Duke of Cambridge, who was present at Aldershot this year, and who expressed a wish that the whole of the men in the Regiment should be granted an exemption from duty for the remainder of the day.
In 1874, the training lasted six weeks, so as to allow of participation with the Regular Army in the annual manoeuvres near Aldershot. In 1876 the United Kingdom was organised into eight Army Corps. The Headquarters of the 5th was at Salisbury under the command of General Almeric Spencer, who had served in the 43rd Light Infantry from 1825-1843, and was Colonel of the 43rd from June, 1869, until his death in August, 1893. In this corps were three Divisions: the 3rd, under General Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, consisted of two Militia brigades, in one of which were the two Gloucestershire Battalions, and the Oxfordshire, and in the other, the Royal Berkshire Militia and two battalions of the Tower Hamlets, whilst the Royal Bucks Militia and two companies of the 38th Regiment were allocated as Divisional troops. Though supposed to be mobilized, there was no transport, so that the Division at its training during July at Minchinhampton near Stroud, spent a quiet time! The Regiment was only 450 strong, as the recruits had done their "preliminary" drill in the spring, and were presumably not called up again. This year was also notable for the opening of Cowley Barracks, where on June 7, the depots of the 52nd and 85th took possession, being played up from the station by the band of the Militia Battalion. Captain Richard Pulteney, late Adjutant of the 52nd, succeeded Captain Sparke in the Adjutancy.
With the exception of the years 1877 and 1879, when the training took place at Cowley, the battalion went to Aldershot again every year until 1896.
Both in 1878 and 1880 the 52nd were quartered at Aldershot, and there was great interchange of hospitality between them and the Oxford and Royal Bucks Militia.
In 1880, Captain Pulteney having resigned, he was succeeded by Captain C L. Boyle, whilst Lieutenant Somers Cocks of the find acted as Musketry Instructor during this training. Changes in dress and equipment took place from time to time. In 1873, red serge jackets were introduced for officers. They were most comfortable, and serviceable, but were not a popular article of dress. After 1874, they were rarely seen until 1889, when they were reintroduced. In 1874, the old circular blocked forage-cap and the tunic were discarded and the men were given loose frocks and glengarries. The old forage cap scroll "Oxfordshire," which in 1858 had superseded the number "51" (the order of precedence of the battalion) was now abolished. In its place the officers adopted a braided badge, whilst for the men's glengarries a metal badge was introduced representing an ox in a ford. This year also for the first time, the bandsmen appeared in red frocks and glengarries, in place of the white tunics and rose-coloured caps, which they had worn hitherto. In 1876 the old cross-belts were abolished, and the rank and file were provided with two glengarries in lieu of one glengarry and a shako, the latter entirely disappearing. The facings of the Battalion, hitherto yellow, were this year changed to buff. In 1878 a spiked helmet was issued to officers and staff-sergeants, but it was not till 1895 that the remainder of the Battalion were so equipped.
Having become in 1881, the 5th Battalion of the Regiment, the battalion at the following year's training turned out dressed as a regular battalion, and Martini-Henri rifles replaced the Snider. The drum and fife band had also been abolished.
In 1883, at Aldershot as-usual, the Battalion was attached to the 3rd Brigade, at this time under the command of Major-General H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. During this month the Duchess presented new colours to the Battalion on the Queen's Parade. The old set was eventually deposited in the County Hall at Oxford. This year also saw a coffee-bar, together with a reading-room and recreation tent, provided for the first time.
The following year, after thirteen consecutive trainings under canvas, the men were quartered in new brick barracks, and the officers in the old wooden huts. The Battalion was very weak, eight companies of twenty-four file only could be paraded.
In 1855, Major H. A. Adair, formerly of the 52nd, succeeded, as Adjutant, Captain Boyle, who now became a regimental Captain.
The great event of the 1887 training (still at Aldershot) was the big "Jubilee" review before Queen Victoria on July 9, in the Long Valley, The force was divided into two Army Corps, the first consisting of Regulars and Militia formed in eight brigades, the second of Volunteers in fifteen brigades. The total under arms was nearly 60,000 men. The next four years were uneventful.
After the training of 1891, Colonel the Hon. A. S. A. Annesley retired under the age regulations. He served for 43 years in the Battalion, the last 19 in command, and was subsequently appointed Honorary Colonel. He was succeeded by Colonel C Rivers Bulkeley,
At the Queen's birthday parade of 1892 at Aldershot, the Battalion was the only Militia one which attended, the others declining on the ground of not being sufficiently advanced in their drills. It was complimented by Lieut-General Sir Evelyn Wood (now in command at Aldershot) on the manner in which it had marched past. This year, for the first time, the men messed in two large marquees instead of in their own small tents.
In 1894, Captain E. A. Lethbridge succeeded Major Adair as Adjutant, this being the first under the new system of four-year appointments by Regular serving officers.
At the annual training, the Battalion formed part of a Militia Brigade under Colonel W. Livesay (Commanding the Depot) at Aldershot. Lee-Metford rifles were issued for the first time. In the following year, by order of the Duke of Connaught, white sword knots were given up in favour of black ones.
In 1896 the training lasted five weeks, the last two being spent at manoeuvres with Regular troops. It did not commence till July 28, instead of May—June as ordinarily.
Captain R. G. H. Hughes had succeeded Captain Lethbridge before the next year's training commenced at Churn. The Royal Bucks and Royal Berkshire Battalions completed the Brigade under Colonel Howard Kingscote (commanding the Regimental Depot). The Battalion was very weak—23 officers and 497 other ranks. In 1898 the camp was pitched in Headington Park, whilst the year following it was at Perham Down in the month of August. The training proper was followed by ten days’ manoeuvres with Regular troops.
As the strength of the Battalion amounted now to only 353 other ranks, its establishment was reduced to that of six companies only.
The South African War broke out towards the end of 1899 and all the Subalterns who belonged to the Regiment had left to join the Army before the end of the year, but in spite of this clean sweep, the numbers were again complete before May, 1900, when the Regiment was embodied,
On embodiment the Regiment proceeded to Gosport where it was camped on Grange Field, which is now the Naval Aerodrome. It was Brigaded with the 4th Royal Munster Fusiliers and the 3rd Royal Dublin Fusiliers under the Command of Colonel Davies, late commanding the Militia of the Queens. The Dublin City Artillery were also camped on the same place.
Soon after arrival in camp, the last portion of the Militia Reserve left for South Africa.
The summer was passed on the same camp without very much incident. Various detachments had to be found. A company at Tipnor Magazine and another party at Southampton Docks to furnish working parties. This latter was a popular job, at any rate with the officers, who were very comfortable in the South Western Hotel.
The Regiment was the first of the four to leave Grange Field which it did early in September. The other three remaining till the end of that month and completing their six months on the same ground. The Regiment moved into Cambridge Barracks, Portsmouth, which they had to share with the newly formed battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. The officers messed at the George Hotel and lodged where best they could. They remained there for about a month, when they moved into Victoria Barracks, which they shared with half a battalion of the 3rd Lincolns, the other half of which was in the Channel Islands.
Victoria Barracks was a very comfortable place, and the Regiment remained there till disembodiment the following July, The Lincoln officers messed with the officers and the two regiments were very good friends. There was very little for the officers to do during the winter, and they got a good deal of leave. Portsmouth had not got a great number of troops at the time, and there were a great number of working parties and fatigues to find. The men were earning quite a lot of extra money working in the gun wharf and on other jobs.
The death of Queen Victoria at Osborne early in 1901 and the resulting coming and going of many distinguished personages, made everyone at Portsmouth busy. When the funeral took place, the Regiment was sent by sea to Cowes where it lined the streets on the first day and got back to Barracks at about 6 pm, after having been out about 12 hours. Soon after midnight the same night it turned out again and was sent up to London in the early hours. After a rather scanty breakfast, it was sent off to the Marble Arch, where it remained, just inside the Park. It was round an ambulance for some time, but was moved up shortly before the procession arrived and got a very good view of it. The moment the procession was over, it moved off and was back in Portsmouth soon after 6 p.m., after having been away for some 17 hours.
The next public function was the proclamation of King Edward at the Town Hall, at which a Guard of Honour under Captain Lord Aberdour formed the military Guard with a Naval Guard opposite and a Volunteer Guard on the third side,
Between this and the beginning of July there is little to record. There was but very little training work except for musketry for which parties were sent up to Fort Gomer. This and working parties used up pretty well the whole strength of the Battalion,
With the end of the embodiment ended the command of Colonel C Rivers Bulkeley which had lasted for ten years. He was only the sixth commanding officer that the Regiment had had in 123 years. Colonel Bulkeley joined in 1858, and so had served 45 years. He was succeeded by Colonel F. Willan. In December this year, Captain C Parr took over the Adjutancy from Captain Hughes. After the embodiment the Oxfordshire Militia did not train in 1902, but their recruits were attached to the Royal Bucks for musketry. They trained at Cowshot that year as their embodiment had ended in 1900,
In 1903 the Regiment trained at Cowshot Camp under Colonel Willan. This year was chiefly remarkable as being the first year since the embodiment when polo was started. Most of the officers were very much learners and there were not a great many ponies but there were many amusing games on the Stony Castle Camping Ground, which was obtained for this purpose.
In 1904 the training was at Browndown on a camp on the side of the ranges which was occupied several subsequent trainings and which suited very well. A polo ground was made here, near Privett station, which was later taken over by the Gosport Club. There was a great deal of polo and the ponies did a great deal of work. Two officers had yachts lying off Browndown. Colonel Strachan took the annual inspection,
The year 1906 found the Regiment at Browndown again, and it was an especially pleasant training. Very much polo. Twenty ponies out and 13 officers playing. Very wet for the first part of the training. On one occasion, when the Regiment was taken by sea to its mobilization scheme places, it rained 2.35 inches in the 24 hours, and all got a good soaking.
1906.—Again at Browndown. Lots of polo. The 52nd sent a team (Clayton, Weatherby, Ballard and Ponsonby) to play. The 4th Battalion, 60th, were at Gosport and some of them and Ramsay of the Middlesex Regiment, used often to come and play, which helped to make good games. In September, Captain R H. Stapleton succeeded Captain Parr as adjutant.
In 1907 training was at Perham Down. The recruit party had a rough time beforehand, all their big tents being blown away, but after this the training was one of the best in memory. The 52nd was at Tidworth, We made a polo ground at Ludgershall, and several of the 52nd joined us on several occasions, There were also several nights that will be long remembered. It was a very convivial training.
The year 1908 saw the Regiment back at Browndown, but this time it had changed its number to 3rd instead of 4th Battalion, the old Royal Bucks having been done away with. It received a number of officers and men from the Royal Bucks and came out some 600 men with 20 officers. This was a great deal stronger than it had been any time since the beginning of the South African War.
I am indebted to A History of the Oxfordsbire Regment of Militia, by Lieut-Colonel Frank Willan, for much of the information in this article; also to Captain Philip Godsal, who has supplied me with the details of the Regiment s history since 1900. A J.F.E.