The Shropshire Rifle Volunteers : outline history
Apart from the Militia, which has existed in some form since Anglo-Saxon times, Volunteer units were also raised in the county to serve in times of national emergency.
Early Volunteer Units
The Shrewsbury Volunteers, 1803.
One of the many Volunteer regiments formed in Shropshire during the Napoleonic Wars. Raised in 1803.
During the long French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815 Shropshire raised a wide range of different Volunteer regiments -cavalry, infantry and artillery.
They were essentially regarded as a form of "home guard" and were not expected to serve beyond their own area, let alone overseas on war service.
Regiments were raised in and around the main towns like Shrewsbury, Wenlock, Newport, Whitchurch etc. Examples are the Loyal Ludlow Infantry, the Oswestry Volunteer Infantry (converted to artillery in 1804), the Morfe and Royal Oak Infantry, the Wellington Fencibles and the Brimstree Loyal Legion.
These units were all disbanded by the end of the wars in 1815 and some had been stood down long before that.
The Volunteer Revival, 1859 - 60
Recruiting into the new Rifle Volunteers :
a poster of 1859 offering men service in the Shrewsbury Company.
A growing crisis with France between 1856-59 (largely over Britain's support for Italian unification) led to a real fear of French invasion.
As a result, Volunteer Rifle Companies were formed throughout the country. Their aim, as before, would be the defence of their own locality - not overseas service.
In Shropshire, no fewer than 18 companies were formed in 1859-60. One of these, the 9th (Shrewsbury) was converted to artillery in March 1860 and another, the 16th (Munslow) was disbanded in 1863.
That left 16 companies in the county, made up of approx. 100 - 120 men each, drawn from local trades and businesses. They were part-time soldiers, required to do a number of days training each year (usually at their newly-built local Drill Hall on a Saturday) and attended a fortnight's camp every year.
The Shropshire Volunteer Rifle Corps, 1860-88
The Whitchurch Rifle Volunteer Company - shown here outside the Egerton Hall c. 1900 - were part of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, whose companies wore the distinctive grey uniform shown here. This was an early attempt at camouflage.
The sixteen Shropshire companies were divided up for organisational, training and pay reasons into two "Administrative Battalions".
1st Administrative Battalion comprised :
1st (Shrewsbury) Company
4th (Bridgnorth) Company
5th (Condover) Company
6th (Ironbridge) Company
10th (Ludlow) Company
11th (Cleobury Mortimer) Company
14th (Shifnal) Company
17th (Shrewsbury) Company
2nd Administrative Battalion comprised :
2nd (Market Drayton) Company
3rd (Whitchurch) Company
7th (Wellington) Company
8th (Hodnet) Company
12th (Wem) Company
13th (Ellesmere) Company (disbanded 1879; reformed 1885)
15th (Oswestry) Company
18th (Newport) Company.
In 1880, the two "Administrative Battalions" became the 1st and 2nd Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps and in 1888, they were re-named as the 1st and 2nd Volunteer Battalions, King's Shropshire Light Infantry.
First "Active Service", South Africa 1900-02
A spirited if naive painting of the 1st Volunteer Service Company in action in South Africa : an attack on a defended farmhouse. The Boers treacherously wave the white flag!
During the South African War (or Boer War) of 1899-1902, such was the British army's need for manpower that for the first time the Volunteer companies were given the opportunity for campaign service overseas - not their original function.
The two Shropshire Volunteer Battalions formed two "Volunteer Service Companies" of approx. 120 men each. As Volunteers, they were only allowed to serve "in a theatre of war" for one year.
The 1st VSC was in South Africa in 1900-1901 and the 2nd VSC in 1901-02. They generally served alongside the 2nd (Regular) Battalion, KSLI, which served throughout the Boer War.
This war service earned the Volunteers their first Battle Honour - South Africa 1900-1902.
The Formation of the "Territorial Force" 1908
4th KSLI Honour Guard during a Royal Visit to Wellington, 1909.
The sweeping army reforms initiated by Lord Haldane as Secretary for War led to the complete reorganisation of the country's Volunteer force.
The "Territorial Force" was established from the Volunteers in 1908 and, in general, the old Volunteer Battalions became the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of their county regiment.
In this case, the 1st and 2nd Volunteer Battalions, KSLI, were re-designated as the 4th (Territorial Battalion) KSLI. Having learned a lesson from the Boer War, the government allowed that men of the TF could opt for overseas war service if they wished. Most did - but some did not.
The 4th KSLI was mobilised for war in August 1914 and went on to serve in the Far East, 1914-17 and on the Western front 1917-18.