|The Liverpool Rifles|
|Role||Infantry, searchlight, artillery|
|Part of||King's Regiment (Liverpool)|
|Engagements||Western Front (World War I)
|Battle honours||South Africa 1900–01|
The Liverpool Rifles was a unit of the British Territorial Army, formed in Lancashire as a 'Rifle Volunteer Corps' (RVC) in 1859, becoming a battalion of the King's Regiment (Liverpool) in 1881. It saw action on the Western Front in World War I and later became searchlight unit of the Royal Artillery in World War II.
The Liverpool Rifles was raised as the 5th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corpsby Adam Steuart Gladstone (1814–63) in 1859, during a French invasion scare. Gladstone was a wealthy East India merchant and first cousin of William Ewart Gladstone, the future Prime Minister. He convened a meeting at Liverpool Session House on 20 May 1859 that became unruly when Robert John Tilney (founder of the Liverpool stockbroking firm RJ Tilney & Co) and his associates smashed up the ballot-boxes 'by the use of which the founders had hoped to exclude undesirables from membership'. Despite this altercation, when the first commissions to the 5th Lancashire RVC were issued on 19 August that year, Gladstone and Tilney were listed as the captains of its two companies.
Gladstone was a leading figure in the Volunteer Movement at that time, serving on the War Office committee that drew up rules for RVCs in August 1859, and on the founding committee of the National Rifle Association of the United Kingdom in October that year. In 1860 he leased land from Lord Sefton to create the Altcar Rifle Range. Gladstone died in 1863.
As the number of RVCs grew rapidly during 1860, the smaller company-sized units were grouped into Administrative Battalions. The 5th Lancashire RVC was the senior unit included in the Liverpool-based 2nd Administrative Battalion Lancashire Rifle Volunteers when it was formed in May 1860 (dates are of first commissions issued):
- 5th (Liverpool Volunteer Rifle Brigade) Lancashire RVC, 19 August 1859
- 14th (2nd Southport) Lancashire RVC, 16 February 1860 – joined 13th (1st Southport) in 1st Admin Bn in 1862
- 19th (Liverpool Lowland Scottish) Lancashire RVC, 18 January 1860
- 39th (Liverpool Welsh) Lancashire RVC, 9 February 1860 – comprised clerks and book keepers raised under the auspices of the Welsh Literary Society; instituted an instalment plan to help the less well-off members to pay their subscriptions; elected their officers
- 63rd (Toxteth) Lancashire RVC, 9 April 1860
- 64th (Liverpool Irish) Lancashire RVC, 25 April 1860
- 68th (Lyceum Corps) Lancashire RVC, 31 May 1860
- 71st (Liverpool Highlanders) Lancashire RVC, 24 May 1860
- 81st (Withnell) Lancashire RVC, 20 February 1861 – to 8th Admin Bn in 1862
- 86th (Liverpool) Lancashire RVC, 18 May 1861
In March 1862 the 2nd Admin Battalion was consolidated as a single unit under the title of its senior subunit, the 5th (Liverpool Rifle Brigade) RVC. Two new companies joined at this time:
- 32nd (Liverpool) Lancashire RVC, first commissions 28 January 1860
- 79th (Liverpool) Lancashire RVC, 16 February 1861
However, the Liverpool Irish became an independent battalion, while the Liverpool Highlanders also remained independent but disbanded in 1863. The individual character of the companies was lost in the reorganisation, but a new Liverpool Scottish battalion reformed in 1900, and the 46th (Liverpool Welsh) Royal Tank Regiment was formed in 1939.
The 5th Lancashire RVC was designated as the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the King's Regiment (Liverpool) as part of the Childers Reforms in 1881. By that time Robert Tilney was the Commanding Officer with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, when he was awarded a CB. He died in1882. Volunteers served in the Second Boer War, gaining the battalion its first Battle Honour: South Africa 1900–1901.
When the Volunteer Force was subsumed into the new Territorial Force (TF) under the Haldane Reforms in 1908, the 2nd Volunteer Battalion became the 6th Battalion (Rifles) King's Regiment (Liverpool), with its HQ and A to H Companies at Princes Park Barracks, Upper Warwick Street, Liverpool. It formed part of the Liverpool Brigade in the West Lancashire Division of the TF.
World War I
When war broke out in August 1914 the Territorial Force had just begun its annual training camps. The 6th Bn Kings Regiment immediately returned to Prince's Park Barracks to mobilise. However, the West Lancashire Division did not go to war as a single formation: its infantry battalions volunteered for Foreign Service and went to the Western Front separately as reinforcements for the British Expeditionary Force. These were termed First Line battalions, while Home Service men, recruits and the unfit were transferred to Second Line battalions: the 2/6th King's was formed at Liverpool on 10 September 1914. Later the 2/6th King's was brought up to war readiness in the 2nd Liverpool Brigade of 2nd West Lancashire Division and a Third Line battalion (3/6th) was formed as reserve to provide drafts to the 1/6th and 2/6th.
1/6th (Rifle) Battalion
The battalion moved to Canterbury, Kent in the autumn of 1914. In February 1915 it was sent to France, disembarking at Le Havre on 25 February 1915 and joining 15th Brigade in the Regular 5th Division. Soon after the battalion's arrival, 15th Brigade was temporarily transferred to the Regular 28th Division, but returned to the 5th in time for the fighting around Ypres in April 1915.
The 1/6th's first major engagement occurred on 5 May, in a German attack on Hill 60 during the Second Battle of Ypres. Control of Hill 60 had briefly fluctuated after its capture in a British attack on 17 April, but fighting ended with the British in possession. Poison gas was used during the preliminary German attack, facilitating the assault against positions held by the 2nd Duke of Wellington's Regiment. After Hill 60 was lost, companies from the Liverpool Rifles were used suuccessively in support of the 1st Cheshires; "C" Company, heavily engaged, suffered 60 casualties. The Liverpool Rifles collectively sustained nearly 100 casualties between the period of 5 May-6 May, 22 of whom were killed. German control of Hill 60 was consolidated by 7 May.
In November the Liverpool Rifles left the 5th Division to become Third Army Troops, By now the Army Council had decided to reform the West Lancashire Territorial Division in France as the 55th (West Lancashire) Division. 1/6th King's rejoined the Liverpool Brigade (now numbered as the 165th (Liverpool) Brigade on 26 January 1916.
1/6th King's served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, participating in the following actions:
- Battle of the Somme
- Third Battle of Ypres
- Battle of Cambrai
- The Tank Attack, 20–21 November
- German Counter-Attacks, 30 November–3 December
- Battle of the Lys
- Battle of Estaires, 9–11 April
- Defence of Givenchy, 9–17 April
- Battle of Hazebrouck, 12–15 April
- Advance to Victory
- Capture of Givenchy Craters, 24 August
- Capture of Cateleux Trench, 17 September (by the Liverpool Brigade)
On 2 October 1918 the Germans started to withdraw on 55 Division's front and the troops pushed forward and occupied La Bassée the same day. They forced the line of the Haute Deule Canal on 14–16 October and captured Ath early on 11 November. When the Armistice with Germany came into force at 11.00 on 11 November, the division had reached a line seven miles east of Ath.
On 15 November the division was ordered to advance into Germany as part of the occupation forces, but this was cancelled on 21 November, and the division was chiefly employed on railway reconstruction and road repair. By 18 December the division had moved to Brussels. Demobilisation proceeded during January 1919 and the division had dwindled to samll numbers by the end of April 1919 as men went home.
2/6th (Rifle) Battalion
The 2nd West Lancashire Division assembled around Canterbury and was numbered 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division in August 1915, the 2/6th King's forming part of 171st (2/1st Liverpool) Brigade. At first the battalion only had .256-in Japanese Ariska rifles with which to train. In late November, they received .303 Le-Enfield rifles; although many of these were in poor condition, the Japanese rifles could now be returned to store. Towards the end of February 1916 the battalion received its Lewis guns.
In July 1916 the 57th Division moved to Aldershot Command for final training, and on 14 February 1917 the 2/6th King's landed in France. 2/6th King's went into the line on 25 February and served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, participating in the following actions:
- Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October–7 November
- Second Battle of Arras
- Battle of the Hindenburg Line
- Final Advance in Artois and Flanders
- Occupation of Lille, 17 October
On 1 November 1918, 57th Division was relieved in the front line and went into billets. It was still resting when hostilities ended on 11 November. After the Armistice, the troops were engaged in collecting and evacuating stores in the Arras area. Demobilisation began in January 1919 and by March the units had been reduced to cadres, the last of which left for England on 25 June.
The 3/6th King's was formed in Liverpool in May 1915. Its role was to train drafts for the 1/6th and 2/6th Bns. In April it became the 6th (Reserve) Bn King's in the West Lancashire Reserve Brigade, and on 1 September 1916 it was absorbed into the 5th (Reserve) Bn.
The 6th (Rifle) Battalion King's Regiment reformed in the Territorial Army after the war. In 1936 the battalion was converted into a searchlight unit of the Royal Engineers (RE) as 38th (The King's Regiment) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE (TA), with HQ, 351 and 352 AA Companies at The Drill Hall, Mather Ave, Liverpool, and 350 and 351 AA Companies at Princes Park Barracks. The unit was assigned to 33rd (Western) AA Group (later Brigade) in 2nd AA Division.
World War II
In August 1940 the RE AA Battalions were transferred to the Royal Artillery (RA), when the battalion was redesignated 38th (The Kings Regiment) Searchlight Regiment, RA (TA). The men continued to wear a 'Liverpool Rifles' shoulder title with red lettering on a Rifle green background. By now the regiment formed part of 50th AA Bde based at Derby, and once more under 2 AA Division.
The regiment served during the Blitz and remained in the United Kingdom until January 1945. By then, 21st Army Group fighting in North West Europe was suffering a severe manpower shortage, particularly among the infantry. At the same time the German Luftwaffe was suffering from such shortages of pilots, aircraft and fuel that serious aerial attacks on the UK could be discounted. In January 1945 the War Office began to reorganise surplus AA units in the UK into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service. 38th Searchlight Regiment was one such unit, becoming 635 (King's Regiment) Infantry Regiment RA, forming part of 303 Brigade.
After infantry training, including a short period attached to 61st Infantry Division, 303 Bde was sent to Norway in June 1945 following the liberation of that country (Operation Doomsday).
On 1 January 1947, 635 Regiment reformed in the Territorial Army as 573 (The King's Regiment) (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (TA), based at Liverpool and attached to 79th Anti-Aircraft Brigade at Woolton. (The term 'Mixed' indicated that members of the Women's Royal Army Corps were integrated into the regiment.) On 10 March 1955, Anti-Aircraft Command was disbanded, and 573 HAA Regiment was merged into 287 (1st West Lancashire) Medium Regiment, RA (TA).
In the 1967 reorganisation of the Territorial Army, B Troop (The Liverpool Rifles) was formed from 287 Regiment in the new West Lancashire Regiment RA, but this in turn was reduced to a cadre in 1969 and absorbed into 103rd (Lancashire Artillery Volunteers) Regiment Royal Artillery. The regiment is currently B Troop, 208 (3rd West Lancs) Battery, 103 Regiment RA.
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