Militia (United Kingdom)

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The Militia of the United Kingdom were the military reserve forces of the United Kingdom after the Union in 1801 of the former Kingdom of Great Britain and Kingdom of Ireland.

The militia was transformed into the Special Reserve by the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907.

For the period before the creation of the United Kingdom, in the home countries and their colonies, see Militia (Great Britain).

Nineteenth century[edit]

A separate voluntary Local Militia was created in 1808 before being disbanded in 1816[1]

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[edit]

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.[2]

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 Militiamen[edit]

John Lucas Matthews (1918-1992) in Militia Walking Out Uniform 1939.

The term militiaman was briefly revived in 1939. In the aftermath of the Munich Crisis Leslie Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War, wished to introduce a limited form of conscription, an unheard of concept 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 aged 20-22 were to be conscripted (given a free suit of civilian clothes as well as a uniform), and after six months full-time training would be discharged into the reserve. The first intake was called up, but the Second World War was declared soon afterwards, and the militiamen lost their identity in the rapidly expanding army.

Modern survivals[edit]

Two units still maintain their militia designation in the British Army, in the Army Reserve. These are the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (formed in 1539) and the Jersey Field Squadron (The Royal Militia Island of Jersey) (formed in 1337).

County Militias[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ p.23 Spencer, William Records of the Militia & Volunteer Forces 1757-1945 PRO Publications 1997
  2. ^ 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