Volunteer Training Corps (World War I)

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Volunteer Training Corps
VolunteerTrainingCorps Proficiency.jpg
Proficiency Badge of the Volunteer Training Corps, depicting the war goddess Bellona
Active September 1914 – December 1918
Country United Kingdom
Role Defence from invasion
Disbanded January 1920

The Volunteer Training Corps was a voluntary home defence militia in the United Kingdom during World War I.

Early development[edit]

After war had been declared in August 1914, there was an immediate demand for a means of service for those men who were over military age or engaged in important occupations. Combined with the perceived risk of a German invasion, this resulted in the spontaneous formation of illegal "town guards" and volunteer defence associations around the country, often organised by former Regular Army or Volunteer Force officers. By September 1914, a central committee had been formed and on 19 November 1914, a renamed Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps was recognised by the War Office.[1] Lord Desborough became the President of the Association and General Sir O'Moore Creagh VC was appointed the Military Advisor.[2]

Official recognition[edit]

Although the Central Association had been officially recognized, the new Volunteer Training Battalions were not. Units had to be financially self-supporting and members had to provide their own uniforms, which could not be khaki; the Association recommended Lovat green. All members were required to wear a red brassard or arm band, bearing the letters "GR" for Georgius Rex.[3] No weapons or equipment were provided, although local Territorial Army Associations were asked to supply a few "DP" rifles, which were dummy weapons intended for "Drill Purposes".[4] Membership of the Corps was only open to those who had "genuine reasons" for not enlisting in the regular armed forces.

In October 1915, the Marquess of Lincolnshire attempted to give the Volunteers legal status by means of a private member's bill in the House of Lords. but it ran out of parliamentary time. However, MPs discovered that the Volunteer Act 1863 had never been repealed and the VTC Battalions legally became Volunteer Regiments in July 1915. In August 1916, the War Office decided to include the VTC Battalions into the County Infantry Regiment system, and they became numbered "Volunteer" battalions of their local regiment.[5] With the introduction of conscription in 1916, came the power of the Military Service Tribunals to order men to join the VTC; however, the clause in the 1863 act which allowed resignation after fourteen days' notice made it unenforceable, so a Volunteer Act 1916 was passed which obliged members to remain in the Corps until the end of the war. By February 1918, there were 285,000 Volunteers, 101,000 of whom had been directed to the Corps by the Tribunals.[6]

Equipment, training and role[edit]

The Approved Volunteer Training Corps uniforms, published in February 1915

During 1917, P.14 Enfield Rifles began to be issued, followed by Hotchkiss Mk I machine guns.[7] The Corps trained in drill and, if the equipment was available, use of the rifle. In case of a German invasion, battalions were tasked with roles such as line of communication defence and forming the garrison of major towns; 42 battalions were to defend London. Volunteers undertook a wide range of other tasks including; guarding vulnerable points, munitions handling, digging anti-invasion defence lines, assisting with harvesting, fire fighting and transport for wounded soldiers. In 1918, when there was an acute shortage of manpower because of the German spring offensive, 13,000 Volunteers undertook three-month coast defence duties in East Anglia. The force was sometimes ridiculed by the public; there were jokes that the "GR" on their armbands stood for "George's Wrecks", "Grandpa's Regiment", "Genuine Relics",[8] "Gorgeous Wrecks" or "Government Rejects".[9]

The Easter Rising in Dublin[edit]

The only time that Volunteer Training Corps men were engaged in actual combat, was in the Easter Rising in Dublin starting on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916. Some 120 members of the 1st (Dublin) Battalion, Associated Volunteer Training Corps were returning from field exercises at Ticknock, when they heard news of the uprising. The commanding officer, Major Harris, decided to march to Beggars Bush Barracks. They carried rifles but were without ammunition or bayonets. They were fired on by a party of Irish Volunteers from a railway bridge. Part of the VTC force entered the barracks by the front gate, others made their way to the rear and scaled the wall. About 40 men at the rear of the column were pinned down by fire from surrounding houses and four were killed, including the first-class cricketer, Francis Browning, who had been second-in-command. The VTC men then assisted the small garrison of regular soldiers to hold the barracks for eight days.[10] In total, five members of the battalion were killed and seven wounded.[11]

Disbandment[edit]

The Volunteer Training Corps was suspended in December 1918, and officially disbanded in January 1920, with the exception of the Volunteer Motor Corps which was retained until April 1921 in case of civil disorder.[12]

References[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]