BUCKS RIFLE VOLUNTEER CORPS 1859-1908 Based on Excerpts from THE CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS by Major General J C Swann
During the earlier years of the Napoleonic Wars a considerable number of Volunteer Corps of Infantry were formed in Buckinghamshire under the auspices of a County Committee. At first they existed as independent Corps or Companies bearing the name of the district, town, or village in which they had been raised. By 1802 they had disappeared, but were revived in the following year on a regimental basis, as the 1st Southern Bucks Volunteer Regiment 2nd Middle Bucks Volunteer Regiment, 3rd Northern Bucks Volunteer Regiment.
These, with the three Regiments of Yeomanry, formed the Bucks Brigade. In a return presented to the House of Commons on the 9th December, 1803, the effective strength of the Brigade is shown as Yeomanry, 91 officers, 1,135 other ranks. Infantry, 76 officers, 2,160 other ranks.
In 1808 the “Local Militia” was formed, and Volunteer Corps were invited to transfer to it, and to accept service Militia conditions. In September 1808 the 2nd and in February 1809 the 1st and 3rd, Volunteer Regiments accepted the offer, and Volunteer Regiments, as such, ceased to exist in Buckinghamshire till 1859. The Local Militia had their Headquarters at Aylesbury till after the Battle of Waterloo, when they were merged into the General Militia in 1816.
The attempt on the life of Napoleon III in 1858 was traced to plots devised in London, and the refusal of the surrender of Count Felici Orsini’s accomplices as not being permissible under English Law was resented in Paris. Once again loomed the possibility of war with France, and invasion, for which the country was ill prepared. The Army was small and scattered, the troops available for Home Defence quite insufficient: the Militia was not in numbers, training, or equipment ready for war. An appeal was made for Volunteer Corps to be raised from those classes which do not as a rule join either the Regular Army or the Militia, in the hope apparently that a sufficient force would thus be obtained without any expenditure from Public Funds. Arms, equipment, and uniform had to be provided by the Corps from any source available; targets, ammunition, and percussion caps were issued by Government, but on repayment. The pay of Instructors, and the rents of any buildings required as headquarters or storerooms had to be met from private funds.
As the number of men willing to join and able to meet this expenditure was limited, it was necessary to invite subscriptions from the public, and to divide the Volunteers into three classes: (1) effectives who could afford to clothe and arm themselves; (2) effectives who could not afford to do, so; (3) non-effectives, or honorary members, who paid an entrance fee, generally £5, and a subscription.
It is not therefore surprising that the movement progressed slowly, and towards the end of 1859, when, by the way, the danger of invasion was past, the Government undertook to provide rifles and issue targets and ammunition at cost price and to allow the Staff-Sergeants of-the Militia to act as Instructors at a uniform charge of one shilling a drill and fourpence billet allowance. Small concessions truly, but enough to show that the experience of the past year was leading to the consideration of the problem of Home Defence and the provision of a more permanent organization for a reserve in the case of national emergency.
During the tension with France that led to the formation of Volunteer Corps in 1859, Buckinghamshire was not slow in making a beginning.
The 1st Bucks (Great Marlow) R.V. Corps was raised chiefly by the exertions of Mr. T. 0. Wethered at Marlow, and sworn in on the 8th December, 1859.
The 2nd Bucks (High Wycombe) R.V. Corps was formed in the following February, but its first start was not very successful, and after a period of suspension it was reformed in the autumn of 1861 under the command of Lieut-Colonel W. C. Pratt, then Second-in-Command of the Royal Bucks King’s Own Militia, and made rapid progress.
In February 1860 the 3rd Bucks (Buckingham and Winslow) R.V. Corps was formed. The Hon. Percy Barrington, afterwards Viscount Barrington, commanded the Buckingham, and the Hon. T. F. Fremantle (afterwards Lord Cottesloe) commanded the Winslow Subdivision, succeeding to the command of the company in 1863.
On the 25th March, 1860, the 4th Bucks R.V. Corps was formed at Aylesbury under the command of Captain the Hon. F. C. Irby (afterwards Lord Boston).
About the same time the 5th Bucks (Slough) R.V. Corps was started under Captain R. Bateson-Harvey, afterwards Sir R. Bateson-Harvey, Bart., MP. whose military training with the Bucks Yeomanry was a considerable asset and enabled good progress to be made from the beginning.
A sixth Corps was raised at Newport Pagnell, but had only a brief existence, and an attempt to form a seventh Corps at Princes Risborough, under an enthusiastic cleric, failed owing to the official refusal to recognize the “Church Militant” by the grant of a commission.
In June 1860 the Wycombe, Marlow, and Aylesbury Corps were present at the Review of the newly formed volunteers in Hyde Park by H.M. Queen Victoria.
The result of the Volunteer Act of 1863 which repealed the Volunteer Act of 1804 so far as Volunteers were concerned, but not as regards Yeomanry. Practically no-change was made in the clauses relating to enrolment, discharge, discipline, and the appointment of officers, but two important additions were introduced. Provision was made for the appointment of a Permanent Staff, consisting of an Adjutant and as many Sergeant-Instructors as might be required, and for the grant of an allowance, known as the Capitation Grant, at the rate of 30s per annum for every Volunteer on the rolls who passed as efficient. This grant was generally sufficient to cover the cost of uniform and, with careful administration, to leave a balance towards the other expenses of the Corps, though a considerable amount had still to be provided from private sources.
For the first time it was recognized that, if the services of the Volunteers were to be available in the case of actual or threatened invasion, a retaining fee should be paid by the State to keep the organization going, and to ensure that officers and men should be at least partially trained. Under the Act the Volunteers could only be called up for service in the case of invasion, actual or threatened, and after the need had been communicated to both Houses of Parliament, if sitting, or declared in Council and notified by Proclamation if Parliament were not sitting. Provision was also made for all Corps called up for Military Service being returned to their own counties before being demobilized.
The immediate effect of this Act was to bring a considerable number of men into the ranks from classes hitherto debarred from joining by lack of means, and to enable Corps to be raised in districts which had been unable to find the necessary funds. The great attraction was the rifle shooting, and the influence of the N.R.A. and the Wimbledon Meetings 1860—89, and afterwards Bisley, in maintaining both the numbers and efficiency of the Volunteers, cannot be overstated.
The changes that took place during this period were chiefly in administration. Scattered units were brought together, detachments were formed into Companies,. Companies were grouped for administrative purposes into “Administrative Battalions,” in which the position of the Commanding Officer was that of “guide, philosopher and friend,” except when two or more Companies concentrated. He then could take command and issue orders. At all other times the Company was an independent Command under its own chosen officers. This organization had obvious disadvantages, and eventually the whole force was formed on a Regimental basis. Mobilization schemes began to take notice of the Force in more and more detail, and selected Corps found a place in the Field Army.
In 1862 the appointment of an Adjutant for the scattered Corps in the County turned the attention of members to the advantages that would be gained by organizing the various units as a Battalion command, thus facilitating the holding of regimental camps. A representation to this effect was made to the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Carrington, in November 1863, and in May of the next year the Hon. Percy Barrington, afterwards the 8th Viscount Barrington, was appointed to the command of the Battalion with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel. In June the Battalion took part in a large Review of the Metropolitan and Midland Counties Volunteers in Stowe Park, under their newly-appointed Commanding Officer.
In August of the following year was held the first of the series of successful regimental camps financed by and conducted under the auspices of the Bucks County Rifle Association, which had been formed a year earlier.
In June 1868 Captain R. A. Clement, recently retired from the 68th Regiment, was gazetted to the Adjutancy of the Battalion. The results of the change soon became apparent. The administrative machinery ran more smoothly, the training was more up-to-date, and the general standard of efficiency was higher. In 1870 Colonel Barrington resigned the command owing to ill-health. Ten years later he was appointed Hon. Colonel of the Regiment. He was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Chester, who resigned after two years’ command, and was followed by Lieut.Colonel 0. P. Wethered, who commanded till the 30th December, 1891, when he became Hon. Colonel, a position that he continued to hold till the 13th April, 1908.
In 1867 the Eton College Corps became the 8th Bucks (Eton College) R.V. Corps, but it was not till 1871 that they began to take part in the Regimental training with the other Corps. In 1875 they became the 2nd (Eton College) Bucks Volunteer Battalion. Up to 1872 the Headquarters of the Battalion were officially in Aylesbury, but they were transferred to Marlow, with the sanction of the War Office, when Colonel 0. P. Wethered assumed command.
In 1875 the separate Corps included in the “Administrative”Battalion were consolidated, and the term “administrative” was dropped. The“establishment” was fixed for the Battalion and not for each Corps; a strong Company could therefore make up for the numerical deficiency of weaker ones, so long as the total enrolled strength of the Battalion did not exceed the establishment. Company Commanders lost something of their independence and exclusive control, but the Battalion gained a more elastic organization.
This year saw the resuscitation, under Lieutenant Alfred Gilbey, of the Wycombe Company, which had been in abeyance for more than three years. This officer afterwards succeeded Lord Addington in command of the Battalion on the 7th February, 1900, and came back to raise and to command the Third Bucks (Reserve) Battalion in 1915.
In what was essentially an agricultural county this made the 1st Bucks Rifle Volunteers, as the battalion became on consolidation in 1875, dependent upon two principal sources. The first was the chairmakers of High Wycombe; a company was reformed there in 1875, after the original corps was disbanded four years earlier. The second was the employees at the carriage works of the London and North Western Railway at Wolverton, where a company was formed in October 1877. In 1897 the battalion was actually redistributed, to take account of the concentration of potential recruits at these two centres and when, in 1903, the battalion was offered a place in the so-called Field Army, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Gilbey sought the prior permission of the Chairman of the LNWR before acceptance.1
Under the Localisation of Forces Act of 1871, the Bucks Volunteers had been included in the 42nd Sub-District Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with the Brigade depot at Oxford, which included the 52nd and 85th Foot, Royal Bucks Militia, Oxford Militia, 1st and 2nd Oxford Volunteers, and 1st and 2nd Bucks Volunteers, but owing to difficulties raised by the University authorities, who disliked, the idea of the invasion of the quiet groves of Academe by soldiery, and to delays incidental to the acquisition of building sites, it was not till five years later that the depot was able to function.
In 1877 the Volunteers met for the first time in Oxford for a day of combined training, but it was not altogether a success, and further attempts in 1878, 1879 and 1880 showed little improvement. The concentration at Oxford was therefore given up and the Brigade drill in succeeding years was carried out at the Bucks Regimental camp, the Oxfords at first coming over for the day, and in later years joining in the camp.
When the Brigade Depot was formed at Oxford, the War Office expressed a desire that the Bucks Volunteers should discard the dark grey Rifle uniform that they had worn since they were raised in favour of scarlet, and become the 3rd Volunteer Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry, dropping the county title and their status as a Rifle Corps at the same time. This they declined to do, and after some delay the War Office agreed to allow matters to stand as they were.
A similar attempt to number the Regiment as the 5th Battalion 0. and B.L.I. was made in 1908 and repeated during the reorganization after the (First World)War, but on both occasions it was successfully resisted.
The uniform of the Bucks Battalion remained the same as it was at the start of the Volunteers, except for the introduction of field service dress, and for the changes in head-dress from shako to helmet, and from helmet to busby, and the introduction of the pouch on the cross belt instead of the binocular case, relegated to field service dress.
On the reorganization of 1882 and the formation of Volunteer Infantry Brigades, the Bucks Volunteers were assigned to the Home Counties Brigade which had its headquarters at Reading, and was composed of: 1st, 2nd 3rd Volunteer Battalions Bedfordshire Regiment. 2nd Volunteer Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry. 1st Bucks Volunteer Rifle Corps. 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. Supply Detachment. Bearer Column.
The formation of these Brigades marks a definite advance in the recognition of the value of the Volunteers, and an effort to organize in advance for their employment in the event of national emergency. Certain Corps, the Bucks among them, were assigned a place in the Field Army during the time that Mr. St. John Brodrick was at the War Office, but much water was to flow under the bridge before the idea of a Brigade, still less a Division, of Volunteer Corps under their own officers taking its place in the front line was to be even considered, much less accepted as possible by the military advisers of the Secretary of State for War.
Large numbers of volunteers fought in the Boer War, but not in their own units.
The Bucks Volunteers provided a strong Company under Lieutenants L. C. Hawkins and C. A. Barron, which served with the 1st Battalion Oxfordshire L.I. from March 1900 till the conclusion of hostilities with credit to themselves and to the Corps to which they belonged.
The passing of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 marked a new era in the history of the Citizen Soldiers. The role of the Volunteers in case of invasion had remained in the opinion of the War Office much the same as it had been for a century; and, as defined in a War Office letter of the 25th May, 1859, Volunteer Corps were “to attach themselves to the flanks and lines of communication of the enemy and to hinder him as much as possible.” In the meantime the main Army, composed of Regulars and Militia, would be massed to inflict a crushing blow. Their training, therefore, was directed chiefly to making them good rifle shots and efficient skirmishers. This was now to be changed: and they were to take their place in line with the Regulars— and their training was to be the same.
The Buckinghamshire Rifle Volunteers became the Buckinghamshire Battalion (Territorial Force), The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 1st April 1908.
1. Call To Arms , Buckinghamshires Citizen Soldiers by ian Becket