Young Citizen Volunteers (1912)

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YCV emblem shown on a contemporary flag

The Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) was an officially Ireland-wide, although in fact Belfast-based, militia group established in 1912. Initially adopted an officially politically neutral stance it quickly became associated with Unionism and opposition to the Irish Home Rule Movement. During the First World War it became closely linked to the Ulster Volunteers before ultimately being subsumed by that group. Its name would later be resurrected by the YCV youth movement attached to the 1966 Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Although there is no direct continuity between the two groups they share the same emblem of a shamrock surmounted by a Red Hand of Ulster.[1]


The YCV had its origins in the Belfast Citizens Association, a conservative ratepayers group.[2] The YCV had its first meeting just prior to the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant (Ulster), opposing Home Rule, in Belfast City Hall on September 10, 1912.[3] The group was inaugurated by Robert James McMordie in his role as Lord Mayor of Belfast and was led by Frederick Crawford.[4] Other leading figures in the group's foundation included Councillor Frank Workman and foundry owner James Mackie.[2] The group initially struggled to attract a Commanding Officer before eventually appointing Colonel R Spencer Chichster, a strongly right-wing Unionist who favoured purchasing guns for the YCV.[5] Although officially called the YCV of Ireland it had no members beyond Belfast.[6]

Each member was to pay 2s.6d (12.5 p) on joining the YCV and a further 6d (2.5p) each month as well as instalments on a £1.10s fee for purchase of their grey uniform.[7] he was to attend weekly drills to learn "modified military and police drill, single stick, rifle and baton exercises, signalling, knot-tying and other such exercises".[citation needed] If possible he was also to gain some knowledge of "life-saving and ambulance work".[citation needed]

The constitution of the YCV insisted that members should not take part in any political meeting or demonstration.[citation needed] They were stated as being "non-sectarian and non-political"[3] and their objectives were considered to be:

"..... to develop the spirit of responsible citizenship and municipal patriotism by means of lectures and discussions on civic matters.... to cultivate, by means of modified military and police drill, a manly physique, with habits of self control, self-respect and assist as an organization, when called upon, the civil power in the maintenance of peace".[4]

Membership was open to anyone aged between eighteen and thirty-five who was over five feet in height and could present "credentials of good character".[citation needed] Some Roman Catholics did join the YCV, though it was overwhelmingly Protestant in numbers.[8] Made up mainly of middle class members, the YCV was patterned after the Scout movement, albeit for young men who were too old for that group,[3] as well as the Boys' Brigade and Church Lads' and Church Girls' Brigade.[9] The group was formed in part because the Territorial Force had not been extended to Ireland and members wanted a substitute.[10]

The foundation of the YCV was hailed by the Northern Whig, a Unionist daily paper, although the Irish News, a nationalist paper, was less enthusiastic, speculating that the YCV had been set up as an organised strike-breaking force, with memories of the 1907 Belfast Dock strike still fresh.[11]


From soon after its inception the YCV faced financial problems as it tried and failed to solicit donations from major local businesses.[7] By early 1914 the situation had become so dire that Frank Workman, a wealthy industrialist who was a partner in Workman & Clark ship builders, was paying for the upkeep of the group out of his own pocket.[5] Despite Chichester's attempts to fully militarise the group the British government refused to offer financial assistance to the YCV, in return for placing themselves at the government's disposal.[3]

As a result in 1914 with the YCV applied for membership of the Ulster Volunteer Force and became a battalion of its Belfast regiment.[4] Plans for the merger were passed at a meeting of the YCV's council on 2 April 1914 although some opponents of the plan continued to meet in defiance until May when the YCV was effectively dissolved.[12] At the time of the merger the YCV had around 400 Catholic members who drifted from the movement rather than switch to the UVF.[13]

First World War[edit]

The Ulster Volunteers were most closely associated with the 36th (Ulster) Division during the First World War and the YCV as a unit formed the 14th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, which was part of the 36th.[14] The Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Chichester, who addressed the soldiers as "young citizens", and wore the grey uniform of the YCV although in fact the group's 750 members were augmented by more troops from mainland Britain (who made up 25% of the 14th) and the rest of Ireland (17%).[15] A large group of English conscripts in the Battalion were nicknamed the "Gawd Blimey Brigade" by the original Belfast members, many of whom came from middle and upper-class families and so looked down on the more rough and ready English soldiers.[16] The more well off origins of the YCV members saw the Battalion itself acquire the nickname "Young Chocolate Soldiers".[17]

The group mutinied twice in 1915, first in June when soldiers drilling at Shane's Castle near Randalstown refused to march back to barracks, insisting that a train be sent to carry them instead. Chichester acceded to this demand.[18] This was followed in September when the group mutinied over the cancellation of leave as part of a wider mutiny within the 36th. The mutiny in the 14th was defused however by a "Major B" who convinced the soldiers to abandon their plans.[19] Soon after this they were attached to the 12th Brigade following a reorganisation of the Ulster forces.[20]

The 14th was generally seen as one of the poorer combat units of the Ulster Division.[21] A letter by Major General Oliver Nugent to the Adjutant General in December 1917 described them as "totally wanting in any military spirit" and stated that "the Brigadier says he cannot trust them and I know that he is right [as] they are poor stuff either as workers or fighters and have been a constant source of anxiety during the past three weeks".[22] The group was disbanded in early 1918 as part of a wider reduction in size for the 36th (Ulster) Division.[23]


Plans were made in 1919 to revive the YCV under the patronage of James Johnston, the serving Mayor of Belfast. Edward Carson however reacted to the proposal with little enthusiasm and suggested they contact the British authorities at Dublin Castle for their opinion. When this line of contact was ignored the plan was abandoned and the YCV did not return.[24] The name was revived in 1972 for a separate group with no direct connection to the original.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Adrian Forty, Susanne Küchle, The Art of Forgetting, Berg 2001, p. 181
  2. ^ a b Timothy Bowman, Carson's Army: The Ulster Volunteer Force, 1910-22, Manchester University Press, 2007, p. 25
  3. ^ a b c d Thomas Bartlett & Keith Jeffery, A Military History of Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 383
  4. ^ a b c Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald, UVF, Poolbeg, 1997, p. 49
  5. ^ a b Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 29
  6. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 24
  7. ^ a b Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 28
  8. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 65
  9. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 26
  10. ^ Andrew Totten, The Tenth: A Century of Scouting at the 10th Belfast, 10th Belfast Scout Group, 2009, p. 13
  11. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, pp. 26-27
  12. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, pp. 30-31
  13. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 31
  14. ^ Totten, The Tenth, p. 16
  15. ^ Timothy Bowman, Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline And Morale, Manchester University Press, 2006, p. 65
  16. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 143
  17. ^ Andrew Totten, Straight & ready: a history of the 10th Belfast Scout Group 1908-1988, 10th Belfast Scout Group, 1989, p. 14
  18. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 85
  19. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, pp. 85-86
  20. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 114
  21. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 204
  22. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 146
  23. ^ Bowman, Irish Regiments, p. 145
  24. ^ Bowman, Carson's Army, p. 183