Eighteenth century and the Acts of Union
In 1707, the Acts of Union united the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland. The Scottish navy was incorporated into the Royal Navy. The Scottish military (as opposed to naval) forces merged with the English, with pre-existing regular Scottish regiments maintaining their identities, though command of the new British Army was from England. The threat of Ireland's belligerent (Protestant) militia to copy the American colonists if Irish demands for free trade were not met (and Britain's inability, after years of war overseas, to easily stop them), would be the cause of the Kingdom of Ireland being admitted into the United Kingdom in 1801.
The Militia Act of 1757 created a more professional force. Better records were kept, and the men were selected by ballot to serve for longer periods. Proper uniforms and better weapons were provided, and the force was 'embodied' from time to time for training sessions. The militia was widely embodied at various times during the French and Napoleonic Wars. It served at several vulnerable locations, and was particularly stationed on the South Coast and in Ireland. A number of camps were held at Brighton, where the militia regiments were reviewed by the Prince Regent. (This is the origin of the song "Brighton Camp".)The militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but it was seen as a training reserve for the army, as bounties were offered to men who opted to 'exchange' from the militia to the regular army.
The Parliament of Ireland passed an act in 1715 raising regiments of militia in each county and county corporate. Membership was restricted to Protestants between the ages of 16 and 60. In 1793, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Irish militia were reorganized to form thirty-seven county and city regiments. While officers of the reorganized force were Protestant, membership of the other ranks was now made available to members of all denominations.
In the late Seventeenth century came calls for the resurrection of militia in Scotland that had the understated aim of protecting the rights of Scots from English oppression.
The 1757 Militia Act did not apply in Scotland. The old traditional system continued, so that militia regiments only existed in some places. This was resented by some and the Militia Club, soon to become the Poker Club, was formed to promote the raising of a Scottish militia. This and several other Edinburgh clubs became the crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Militia Act of 1797 empowered Scottish Lord Lieutenants to raise and command militia regiments in each of the "Counties, Stewartries, Cities, and Places" under their jurisdiction.
Although muster rolls were prepared as late as 1820, the element of compulsion was abandoned, and the militia was transformed into a volunteer force. It was intended to be seen as an alternative to the army. Men would volunteer and undertake basic training for several months at an army depot. Thereafter, they would return to civilian life, but report for regular periods of military training (usually on the weapons ranges) and an annual two week training camp. In return, they would receive military pay and a financial retainer, a useful addition to their civilian wage. Of course, many saw the annual camp as the equivalent of a paid holiday. The militia thus appealed to agricultural labourers, colliers and the like, men in casual occupations, who could leave their civilian job and pick it up again. Until 1861 the militia were an entirely infantry force, but in that year a number of county regiments were converted to artillery. In 1877 the militia of Anglesey and Monmouthshire were converted to engineers.
Under the reforms introduced by Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers in 1881, the remaining militia infantry regiments were redesignated as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions. Typically, an English, Welsh or Scottish regiment would have two militia battalions (the 3rd and 4th) and Irish regiments three (numbered 3rd - 5th).
The militia must not be confused with the volunteer units created in a wave of enthusiasm in the second half of the nineteenth century. In contrast with the Volunteer Force, and the similar Yeomanry Cavalry, they were considered rather plebeian.
The Special Reserve
The militia was transformed into the Special Reserve by the military reforms of Haldane in the reforming post 1906 Liberal government. In 1908 the militia infantry battalions were redesignated as "reserve" and a number were amalgamated or disbanded. Numbered Territorial Force battalions, ranking after the Special Reserve, were formed from the volunteer units at the same time. Altogether, 101 infantry battalions, 33 artillery regiments and two engineer regiments of special reservists were formed. Upon mobilisation, the special reserve units would be formed at the depot and continue training while guarding vulnerable points in Britain. The special reserve units remained in Britain throughout the First World War, but their rank and file did not, since the object of the special reserve was to supply drafts of replacements for the overseas units of the regiment. The original militiamen soon disappeared, and the battalions became training units pure and simple.
The Special Reserve reverted to its militia designation in 1921, then to Supplementary Reserve in 1924, though the units were effectively placed in "suspended animation" until disbanded in 1953.
The name was briefly revived in 1939, in the aftermath of the Munich Crisis. Leslie Hore-Belisha, the then Minister of War, wished to introduce a limited form of conscription, an unheard of thing in peacetime. It was thought that calling the conscripts 'militiamen' would make this more acceptable, as it would render them distinct from the rest of the army. Only single men of a certain age group were conscripted (they were given a free suit of civilian clothes as well as a uniform), and after serving for about a year, would be discharged into the reserve. Although the first intake were called up, the war broke out soon after, and the militiamen lost their identity in the rapidly expanding army.
Three units still maintain their militia designation in the British Army, two in the Territorial Army and one in the Army Cadet Force. These are the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (formed in 1539), the Jersey Field Squadron (The Royal Militia Island of Jersey) (formed in 1337), and the Royal Alderney Militia (created in the 13th century and reformed in 1984). Additionally, the Atholl Highlanders are a (ceremonial) private army maintained by the Duke of Atholl — they are the only legal private "army" in the United Kingdom.
England had raised militia forces in its settled colonies in the New World immediately upon establishing its Trans-Atlantic Empire in the first decade of the Seventeenth century. Whereas militias in England remained little used during the following century, those in North America would play major roles. In numerous actions fought with hostile Native nations, the militia were the primary English force in the field, as professional help was far from hand. Even when the English Empire became the British Empire, and regular forces began to become available for garrison duty, Militias were still a vital part of Britain's military power in the Americas, and British victory over Spain and France, and its resulting hegemony in North America, could not have been realised without the colonial militias (and the aid of Native allies). It was the presence of this Militia that allowed thirteen American colonies to launch the secessionist American War of Independence. In Bermuda, with no native population, the Militia followed a tracectory more like that in Britain, finally becoming moribund after the American War of 1812, by when the build-up of regular forces had removed the demand for the militia. Nonetheless, in first century of settlement, Bermuda's militia had maintained the colonies sole defence, manning numerous fortifications and coastal batteries even in times of peace, and calling up all available manpower in times of war.
- A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias, Andrew Fletcher (1698) ISBN 0521439949
- Units of the Militia to be transferred to the Special Reserve, published as schedule to order in council made April 9, 1908, The London Gazette, April 10, 1908
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