|Country|| Great Britain
The Yeomanry was the cavalry component of the British Volunteer Corps, established in the late 18th century amid fears of invasion and insurrection during the French Revolutionary Wars. A yeoman was a person of respectable standing, one social rank below a gentleman, and many counties raised troops of yeomanry, recruited largely from landholders and tenant farmers, and officered by nobility and landed gentry. The first use of the yeomanry was made in support of local authorities to suppress civil unrest, most notably during the food riots of 1795, and its only use in defence of the homeland came in 1797, when the Castlemartin Yeomanry helped defeat a small French invasion in the Battle of Fishguard.
Although the Volunteer Corps was disbanded following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the yeomanry was retained as a politically reliable force that could be deployed in support of the civil authorities. It had already proved its usefulness during the Luddite riots of 1811 and 1812, and continued to be used as mounted police until the middle of the 19th century. Most famously, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were largely responsible for 11 deaths and 400–500 injuries to people at a rally for parliamentary reform in Manchester in 1819, which subsequently became known as the Peterloo Massacre. The yeomanry were also deployed against striking colliers in the 1820s, during the Swing riots of the early 1830s and the Chartist disturbances of the late 1830s and early 1840s. The establishment of civilian police forces and renewed invasion scares in the middle of the 19th century returned the focus of the yeomanry to national defence. Yeomen volunteered for service with the separate, newly established Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa during the Second Boer War, and the lessons learned during the war led to the rebranding of the old yeomanry as the Imperial Yeomanry and a transition from a cavalry to a mounted infantry role.
The nature of combat during the First World War precluded widespread use of mounted forces on the Western Front, but the yeomanry was used extensively, both mounted and dismounted, in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Regiments of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry performed one of the British Army's last cavalry charges at Huj on 8 November 1917. Following the war, the yeomanry became part of the Territorial Force, and only the 14 most senior yeomanry regiments were retained as mounted troops, the rest converting to artillery or armoured cars. The Second World War saw increasing diversification in the yeomanry role, to infantry and armour, and the last horse-mounted action was fought on 10 July 1941 against Vichy French forces in Syria by the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons. The post-war years saw the yeomanry considerably reduced by successive defence spending cuts, and regiments are represented in the modern army by squadrons in four modern yeomanry armoured regiments and by sub-units in supporting arms such as the Royal Engineers and the Royal Corps of Signals.
- 1 Background
- 2 Origins
- 3 Support to the civil power
- 4 Role in national defence
- 5 Recruitment
- 6 Funding, remuneration and terms of service
- 7 Amalgamation and heritage
- 8 See also
- 9 Footnotes
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
Europe experienced explosive population growth from the mid-18th century which, in England, was fed by improved farming methods introduced by the Agricultural Revolution. Around the same time, the Industrial Revolution brought increasing urbanisation, which led to ever greater demands for food. The more intensive cultivation required to meet these demands led to increased costs but left agricultural wages the same, resulting in poverty and starvation in rural communities. Poverty was also a problem in urban centres as increasing use of machinery put skilled labour out of work. Meanwhile, the political system had not kept up with the shifting population. Once prosperous towns that had become de-populated were still able to elect Members of Parliament, the so-called rotten and pocket boroughs, while major new towns such as Birmingham and Manchester were not represented. Poverty and disenfranchisement led to social discontent, giving rise to fears that the French Revolution would provide a model that might be emulated in Britain.
In 1793, the French revolutionary government declared war on Great Britain, adding fear of foreign invasion to that of domestic insurrection and leading to near panic in London. The regular British Army, which had already deployed six brigades alongside the Austrian army in the Netherlands, was not sufficient to defend the country, and the main military reserve, the militia, was considered neither effective nor trustworthy. It had been demobilised at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 and in the intervening decade had been subject to cost-cutting measures that had left it deficient. It was embodied in 1792 as a precautionary measure against insurrection, but a body recruited predominantly from among the working class was itself suspect, to the extent that militia units were not trusted enough to be deployed in their own areas of recruitment until 1795. The government had previously resorted to volunteers to augment its forces, in 1779 amid fears of a Franco-Spanish invasion, though these were short-lived and did not long survive the end of the war in the colonies. Considering that there was not enough time to address the militia's deficiencies, the government turned again to volunteers in 1794 to bolster the nation's defences.
The appeal for volunteers led to the creation of the Volunteer Corps, of which the 'Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry' was the mounted component. By the end of 1794, between 28 and 32 troops of yeomanry, each up to 60 men strong, had been raised. The yeomanry was county based and could be called out ('embodied') by the Lord Lieutenant or Sheriff. Members were paid while embodied and subject to military law in the event of invasion. Initially, troops were liable for service only in their home or adjacent counties, though some troops voted to be liable for service nationwide while others restricted themselves to service only in their home county. Although some troops quickly combined to form county regiments, such as the Wiltshire Yeomanry Cavalry in 1797, many remained independent for years.
A yeoman was a freeholder of respectable standing, one social rank below a gentleman, and the yeomanry was recruited largely from among landholders and tenant farmers. The officers were appointed by royal commission, in the person of the Lord Lieutenant, and generally came from the nobility and landed gentry. Yeomen were expected to provide their own mounts, which represented a high financial barrier to entry and ensured that the yeomanry was an exclusive and prestigious organisation. In addition to farmers, the yeomanry attracted professionals, tradesmen and skilled craftsmen to its ranks, though the strong ties to the farming community meant that yeomanry activities were scheduled with an eye on the agricultural calendar, and harvests in particular informed the training schedule.
In 1796, the government sought to increase the strength of the auxiliary cavalry with the Provisional Cavalry Act. This required people to provide a fully equipped horseman to the Provisional Cavalry for every ten riding or carriage horses they owned. The measure was not popular and served more to boost recruitment to the yeomanry, based on the general belief that the legislation would be suspended if enough volunteers came forward. That year, 31 new troops were raised, and by 1799 there were 206 yeomanry troops. Just six regiments of Provisional Cavalry were raised, and by 1800 these had been either disbanded or absorbed into the yeomanry, where they were frequently ostracised because of their lower social status.
The yeomanry was as much an instrument of law and order as it was a military organisation. The widely adopted terms of service stressed defence against both insurrection and invasion as its purpose, exemplified by the North Riding yeomanry, in which a fifth of the force was allocated to the support of the magistrates even in the event of invasion. In fact, the yeomanry was only once called upon to repulse a foreign invasion, in 1797, when the French Légion Noire landed at Fishguard in Wales, and the Castlemartin Yeomanry was part of the force that defeated the invaders in the Battle of Fishguard.[a] The yeomanry was more active as a constabulary; the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers was twice called out in 1794, in anticipation of a riot in August and then during the London Corresponding Society trials, and the yeomanry was frequently deployed during the food riots of 1795.
By 1801, the yeomanry was 21,000 strong, with troops in most English, many Welsh and some Scottish counties. They were based in towns, villages and the estates of the nobility, and varied in quantity from one to more than twenty in any given county. Troops were also raised in Ireland, where they reflected the Protestant Ascendancy. The Peace of Amiens in 1802 resulted in a general reduction across the military, with cuts to the army and navy and the disembodiment of the militia. Legislation was passed to allow the Volunteer Corps to be retained without pay, but the yeomanry establishment nevertheless declined, only to increase again when war resumed in 1803. There were frequent invasion scares – most notably in early 1804 when the beacons were lit in the Scottish lowlands and 3,000 volunteers and yeomanry assembled for what turned out to be a false alarm – and victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 did not fully eradicate the fears of a French landing.
Early 19th century legislation and decline
The threat of invasion occupied much of the British political thinking until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, and in the period 1802–1803 alone there were 21 separate pieces of legislation designed to raise forces either voluntarily or compulsorily for the defence of the nation. The General Defence Act of 1803, popularly known as the 'Levee en Masse Act', mandated training for a large segment of the population based on age and marital status, with the intention of having a trained body ready to reinforce the existing forces if the need arose. The legislation contained a proviso that it would be suspended if, as was the case, sufficient volunteers came forward. The Volunteer Consolidation Act of 1804, which effectively governed the yeomanry until 1901, rationalised the confusion of legislation up until that point, setting levels of remuneration and ranking volunteer officers equally with their counterparts in the militia and army. Both acts served to make voluntary service more attractive, a significant motivation being to avoid the compulsion of service in the unpopular militia. Administrative responsibility for the volunteer forces had already been transferred from the War Office to the Home Office in 1803 after the former, faced with a deluge of volunteers, caused an outcry when it tried to impose a limit on numbers. By the following year, the number of volunteers and yeomanry together exceeded 342,000 men, significantly more than the government could arm in the immediate term, and in 1805 the yeomanry numbered just under 33,000 men.
A change of administration in 1806 brought with it political opposition to the volunteer movement in the person of William Windham, the new Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. He regarded the volunteer force as an expensive solution that escaped central government control and undermined recruitment into the militia and regular army. Windham attempted to resolve these problems with the Training Act of 1806, which reduced volunteer allowances and removed the privilege of volunteer officers ranking equally with those of the militia and army. Although the act reduced the attraction of volunteer service, it failed to improve recruitment into the army or militia, and Lord Castlereagh's Local Militia Acts of 1808 created a new local militia with incentives for volunteers to transfer into it. By 1813, the local militia had supplanted the need for a volunteer force, which already in 1812 numbered just under 69,000. Following the disbandment of many volunteer corps in March 1813, on the pretext that their muskets were required to assist the Prussian uprising at the start of the War of the Sixth Coalition, only a handful remained. The yeomanry, however, being regarded as a politically more reliable armed body that could serve local privilege, was retained beyond the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. It was, nevertheless, reduced in numbers nationwide – figures for 1817 indicate an actual strength of around 18,000 – and in Gloucestershire, for example, of the 13 troops that existed in 1813, only the Gloucester Troop was kept on after 1815, to serve as mounted police.
Support to the civil power
Policing was historically the responsibility of the parish constable and his urban counterpart, the watchman, under the auspices of the magistrates. As urban centres grew, increased crime was dealt with by temporary measures, such as the Special Constabulary. None of these measures, however, were sufficient to deal with large-scale riots. Although the regular army, disciplined and trusted, was used, it was too small and too widely dispersed to offer by itself an effective response, and the militia, while available as a local force, was not trusted. It fell, therefore, to the yeomanry to deal with civil unrest.
The yeomanry had already demonstrated its utility as a constabulary during the Napoleonic Wars, having been called out in response to enclosure protests, food riots, the activities of the Luddites and disaffected, demobilised servicemen. In Ireland, too, the yeomanry had played a part in suppressing the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The period following the defeat of Napoleon saw frequent use of the yeomanry against agitation for constitutional reform by the Radical movement. Most famously, up to 17 people were killed and 650 wounded in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 after the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into a 60,000 strong crowd at a rally for parliamentary reform in Manchester.[b] On 2 April 1820, the Stirlingshire Yeomanry was called out during the Radical War – a week of strikes and unrest in Scotland – and three days later its Kilsyth Troop assisted the regular army's 10th Hussars in the arrest of 18 radicals at the 'Battle of Bonnymuir'.
The yeomanry was active again in 1822 during violent collier strikes. The Monmouth Troop, assisting the Scots Greys, used the flat of its swords to disperse a mob that was damaging coal trains, and the colliers pelted the Chepstow Troop with stones as it escorted coal wagons a few days afterwards. The Staffordshire Yeomanry resorted to musketry, mortally wounding one person, when it was deployed to protect working colliers from their striking brethren. In total, the yeomen of 12 different corps were called out to support the civil authorities on 19 separate occasions in 1822, and four years later, 13 different corps attended to 16 incidents.
Swing riots and political protests
The demand for assistance was not uniform throughout the country, and even at peak usage in 1820, less than 30% of counties had called out their yeomanry. Incidences of civil unrest also declined generally in the 1820s, and in 1827 local magistrates called upon the yeomanry only six times, a 90% decrease compared to 1820. Faced with funding a force that it perceived to be increasingly unnecessary, the government reduced the yeomanry establishment on economic grounds. Of the 62 corps or regiments that then existed, those 24 that had not been called out in aid of the civil power in the preceding ten years, primarily from the southern counties of England, were disbanded. The remaining 38 corps were retained, though 16 of them were allowed to continue only at their own expense. It was however, in the southern counties that the Swing riots erupted in 1830, a largely agrarian protest which resulted in the destruction of machinery in both town and country. As a result, many disbanded corps were resurrected and new ones raised, although it was a slow process, and those corps of yeomanry that had survived the cuts were in much demand. The Wiltshire Yeomanry, for example, served in many neighbouring counties as well as its own, earning it the prefix 'Royal' in recognition of its many services. This regiment was responsible for the one fatality inflicted by the yeomanry during the riots, when its Hindon Troop fought a 500-strong mob of agricultural workers in the 'Battle of Pythouse' on 25 November.
There was further civil unrest the year after the Swing riots, prompted this time by agitation for political reform following the defeat of the Second Reform Bill in the House of Lords. The Glamorgan Yeomanry twice suffered humiliation – and in consequence, disbandment soon after – when miners and steelworkers occupied Merthyr Tydfil; one group of yeomen was ambushed and disarmed as they tried to make their way into town, and on a separate occasion another group was routed. Equally ineffective, though this time through no fault of its own, was a troop of the newly re-raised Gloucestershire Yeomanry. It was sent to Bristol when rioting broke out there in the Autumn, but was ordered to leave shortly after arriving by the commander of the regular forces deployed in the city. A second troop of Gloucestershire yeomanry was subsequently joined by yeomen from Somerset and Wiltshire to help restore order in the aftermath of the rioting.
Although further urban unrest in the 1830s resulted in the deployment of the yeomanry in Montgomeryshire, Kent and Birmingham, the government legislated another round of cuts on cost grounds in 1838, reducing the 18,300-strong force by up to 4,700, though nine corps were allowed to continue without pay. As in 1827, the timing was unfortunate, and the rise of Chartism between 1837 and 1842 resulted in more demands on the yeomanry, to the extent that the commanders of the northern and Midlands military districts were given the ability to summon it directly rather than apply for permission to the Home Office. The greatest pressure came in 1842 – a year which saw six of the nine unpaid corps returned to the establishment and just under 1,000 new yeomen recruited – when civil unrest in 15 English, Welsh and Scottish counties required the deployment of 84 troops from 18 corps, which between them accumulated a total of 338 days' duty.
Despite being heavily committed, the use of force was applied sparingly, and the yeomanry was deployed wherever possible as a reserve in support of other law enforcement agencies rather than as the primary agent itself. In 1838, a troop of the Yorkshire Yeomanry was held back during a serious disturbance on the North Midland Railway out of fear that their presence would only inflame the situation. The following year, Sir Charles Napier, commander of the northern military district, responded to a magistrate request for yeomanry by saying "if the Chartists want a fight, they can be indulged without Yeomen, who are over-zealous for cutting and slashing". There were, neverthelss, occasions when force was used, such as the violent confrontations in the Staffordshire Potteries and North Wales in 1839 between protesters and the yeomen of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Montgomeryshire, with injuries on both sides and at least four deaths among the protesters.
Declining use as a constabulary
Between 1818 and 1855, the peak years of its employment in support of the civil power, the yeomanry was on average called out for approximately 26 days per year. It remained available as a constabulary throughout the 19th century, if for no other reason than it was often the only option available to the magistrates, even though it was recognised that its presence might escalate tensions. Its use in this role, however, declined, and the last known deployment in support of the civil power came in 1885, when the North Somerset Yeomanry was called out to assist police in keeping the peace in Midsommer Norton and Farrington Gurney during the general election. The declining demand was fuelled not only by a decrease in large-scale protest, but also by better law-enforcement options. The development of a national rail network from the mid-19th century enabled rapid deployment of regular forces, and the establishment of police forces in all counties in 1856 gave magistrates a better alternative to use of the yeomanry.
In 1892, the Brownlow Committee, set up to investigate the financial and military position of the yeomanry, recommended that its constitution should be specially adapted for home defence, and in 1907 the yeomanry was formally relieved of any role in aid of the civil power. A select committee report in 1908, Employment of Military in Cases of Disturbances, encouraged a civil response to civil disorder. It recognised, however, the value of mounted forces, and recommended that police chiefs should maintain the ability to temporarily recruit men with "knowledge of cavalry and Yeomanry duties", casting yeomen thus enlisted as ordinary citizens subject to common law. The development of law enforcement can be seen in the government responses to the Tonypandy riots and the Liverpool general transport strike of 1910 and 1911, in which the yeomanry played no part when the regular army was deployed to restore order, supported in the former case by 500 Metropolitan police.
Role in national defence
In 1850, Henry FitzHardinge Berkeley derided the yeomanry in Parliament as "maintained at vast expense; In peace a charge—in war a weak defence". As its constabulary duties subsided, the yeomanry was left without any real role between the 1860s and 1892. Militarily weak and few in number, its effectiveness and value as a national defence force was increasingly questioned. It was regarded, not least among the members themselves, as light or auxiliary cavalry, and the yeomanry regiments adopted the titles of Hussars, Dragoons and Lancers. Their training – in which they practised regular cavalry drills, initially at the halt, though proficiency improved over the years – emphasised the use of the sword. It was wedded to the idea of a cavalry role, despite increasing efforts by the government to encourage proficiency in the use of firearms, and there was some consternation within the yeomanry when the sword was finally replaced with rifle and bayonet as its primary weapon in 1901.
The yeomanry was left untouched by the Volunteer Act of 1863 which governed the new Volunteer Force, leaving it still subject to legislation passed in 1804. A series of committees attempted to assess the state and role of the yeomanry, and although the first in 1861 achieved nothing, some changes to the organisation were made in 1870 by Edward Cardwell, Secretary of State for War. Independent troops and corps with less than four troops were abolished and the established strength set at 36 regiments, basic training and drill requirements were laid down and the yeomanry came under the command of newly re-organised military districts. There is also evidence that Cardwell hoped to transform the yeomanry from cavalry to mounted rifles, though this came to nothing. A second committee's report in 1875 included recommendations for disbanding regiments that returned an effective strength of less than 200 men for two consecutive years and for the training of the yeomanry leadership. Although the latter was implemented, the former was ignored.
In 1874, authority for the yeomanry was transferred from the Lords Lieutenant to the War Office, and the National Defence Act of 1888 made the yeomanry liable to serve anywhere in the country. Training in the latter half of the 19th century focussed more on mounted reconnaissance, flank protection and pickets, roles regarded by traditional cavalrymen as beneath their dignity, but it was rarely realistic, and the yeomanry proved resistant to the introduction of musketry standards. The Brownlow Committee of 1892 sought to define a more professional role for the yeomanry by incorporating it into the nation's mobilisation scheme. As a result, in 1893, regiments were organised by squadron rather than troop, and understrength regiments were brigaded. In another attempt to encourage the use of firearms, allowances were increased for those who achieved a certain level of proficiency in musketry, but those who failed to do so in two consecutive years would be expelled. Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal Party then in opposition, warned that this was the yeomanry's last chance to justify its existence.
By 1899, the yeomanry was at its lowest point. It was a small force, left largely untouched by developments since its founding in 1794, of increasingly questionable value and unclear benefit. It took major failures in the regular forces during the Second Boer War to restore the yeomanry to relevance. Already, in October and November 1899, Lieutenant-Colonel A. G. Lucas, the yeomanry's representative in the War Office and a member of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, had suggested the yeomanry as a source of reinforcement in South Africa. His proposal was initially declined, but the disastrous events of Black Week in December, in which the British Army suffered three defeats in quick succession, prompted a rethink, and on 2 January 1900 the Imperial Yeomanry was created. It was a separate body from the domestic yeomanry, free of the home force's restriction on serving overseas, and was organised by companies and battalions rather than squadrons and regiments, betraying its role as mounted infantry rather than cavalry. By the end of the war some 34,000 volunteers had served in the Imperial Yeomanry, although little more than 12% of that number had been recruited from the domestic yeomanry.
The experience in South Africa convinced the authorities of the utility of a mounted force and influenced the Militia and Yeomanry Act of 1901, the first significant legislation to affect the yeomanry since the Volunteer Consolidation Act of 1804. The law transformed the yeomanry, which it renamed en bloc to "Imperial Yeomanry", from cavalry into mounted infantry, replacing the sword with rifle and bayonet as the yeoman's primary weapon. It introduced khaki uniforms, mandated a standard four-squadron organisation and added a machine-gun section to each regiment. The yeomanry resisted the retirement of the sword, prompted largely by its continued reluctance to abandon its association with the cavalry and reflecting the continued debate about its role.[c] Although training materials issued in 1902 warned the yeomanry not to aspire to a cavalry role and made no distinction between yeomen and mounted infantry, instructions issued in 1905 merely proscribed the traditional cavalry tactic of shock action while otherwise aligning the yeomanry with the cavalry, giving it in effect the role of dismounted cavalry. The change of heart is explained by plans then being discussed, though later abandoned, to establish within the existing yeomanry additional classes of yeomen who would be willing to serve abroad as divisional cavalry, part of a wider debate about how the auxiliary forces in general could best support the regular forces in times of need. The eventual legislation, the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907, resulted in the yeomanry relinquishing the Imperial Yeomanry name and combining with the Volunteer Force to become the mounted component of the Territorial Force, established on 1 April 1908.[d]
In the first half of the 19th century, the number of corps and overall strength rose and fell in line with the incidence of civil disturbance, reflecting the government's reliance on the yeomanry as a response to civil disorder and its willingness to finance it. Peterloo may have sullied the yeomanry's reputation in many quarters, but it also resulted in a surge in recruitment, reversing the reductions implemented after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Indeed, by 1820 the yeomanry establishment had been restored to its Napoleonic peak of some 36,000 men, although its effective strength was actually some 6,000 short of that number. The same cycle was repeated in the late 1820s when, after 10 years of political stability the government reduced the yeomanry to between 8,350 and 10,700 men,[e] only to increase it again in the 1830s following the outbreak of the Swing riots. Yeomanry strength peaked on this cycle in 1835 at an effective strength of 19,365. Further government cuts in 1838 were once again quickly reversed after the outbreak of the Chartist disturbances, peaking this time in 1845 at 15,249 men. The yeomanry was subsequently allowed to decline again, and although its numbers were bolstered by invasion scares in the middle of the 19th century, a general decline set in as it relinquished its role in support of the civil power in the second half of the 19th century. By 1900, amid questions about its expense and utility, the yeomanry establishment stood at just over 12,000, and its actual strength was some 2,000 short of that figure. A wave of enthusiasm during the Second Boer War doubled the size of the yeomanry, and the Militia and Yeomanry Act of 1901 set an establishment of 35,000, though effective strength was only around 25,000. To achieve these numbers, 18 new regiments were raised, 12 of them resurrected from disbanded 19th century corps.
Beyond the obvious need to provide a horse, a commission in the yeomanry's officer corps entailed additional expenses which, for a troop captain in 1892, was reported to be on average £60 (equivalent to £5,988 in 2016) per year in excess of allowances received. These costs effectively imposed a financial qualification on appointments and made such positions the preserve of the elite. While a proportion of the yeomanry's leadership, between 8% and 15% over the course of its existence, came from the nobility, the main demographic from which officers were recruited was the landed gentry. The coincidence of wealth and position in society was reflected in the leadership of the yeomanry. In 1850, for example, the 828 yeomanry officers then serving boasted 5 Lords Lieutenant, 111 Deputy Lieutenants, 255 Justices of the Peace, 65 Members of Parliament and 93 officers with previous military experience; in percentage terms, 31% of the officer corps were magistrates and a further 14% held even greater authority as a Lord or Deputy Lieutenant.
Although there is evidence to suggest that social status was in some cases a prerequisite for commissions, personal wealth was the predominant factor. With its access to the county elite and appetite for wealth, the yeomanry officer corps was an avenue for 'new money' to gain social status and position. This was evident even in the early days – the Staffordshire Yeomanry contained a number of newly rich officers from industry and business before 1820 – and increasing numbers were able to elevate their social position via commissions in the yeomanry throughout the 19th century. Another theme in officer recruitment, at least in some regiments, was family tradition. The Churchill family, for example, was involved in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars between 1818 and 1914, the last being Winston Churchill, who commanded a squadron even while Home Secretary and later First Lord of the Admiralty. Members of the Beaufort family served with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars for over 150 years from its formation in 1834, providing the regiment's colonel or honorary colonel for all but 13 of them.
With qualification based largely on wealth and to a certain extent on status, the pool of officer candidates was limited, and the yeomanry consistently struggled to find enough officers. Those that were found were sometimes of questionable value. Officers weren't always able to attend to their yeomanry duties, either because they lived too far away or, as in the case of Winston Churchill, had more pressing demands on their time. In 1875, an inspecting officer complained about inefficiency in troop leadership, but the introduction of mandatory formal training for yeomanry officers that year does not appear to have helped. Lord Chesham, Inspector General of the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa during the Second Boer War, spoke in 1904 of the poor quality of yeomanry officers during that conflict. Promotions were more an indication of an officer's precedence, in both society and regiment, and his ability to spend time and money on the latter, than of his merit for the role. There was, nevertheless, some element of professionalism, if for no other reason than a proportion of the officer corps comprised ex-regular army officers; 23% in 1876, and 14% in 1914. Furthermore, within each corps, training and administration was controlled by a permanent staff led by an adjutant of at least four years regular military experience.[f] Even then, social status was often a factor in the selection of adjutants and, with applications being made directly to the colonel of a regiment, a measure of county influence was required for appointment.
Rank and file
At its inception the yeomanry was predominantly rural and commanded by the county elite, and even as late as 1889 one MP described it as "a survival from the days when tenants followed their landlords to the field". There is evidence that some of the rank and file were required to serve in the yeomanry as a condition of their tenancy, in one case as late as 1893. On the whole, however, landlords did not have the ability, or at least the will, to coerce their tenantry, who served, or indeed refused to serve, of their own free will. If the county elite commanded any influence in this matter, it was generally, in the class-driven society of 19th-century Britain, on terms of deference rather than subservience.[g]
Although farmers represented the largest single demographic in the rank and file, the available statistics show that between 1817 and 1915 just under half of yeomen were recruited from outside of the farming community. Other demographics were merchants (4.9%), professionals (5.6%), small businessmen (14.9%), artisans (13.5%) and skilled or unskilled labourers (4.9%).[h] In some cases the ratio of farmers within the same corps varied over time, an example being the Ayrshire Yeomanry, which comprised over 81% farmers and their sons in 1831, a number which dropped to just over 60% by 1880. The 1st Devon Yeomanry, on the other hand, shows largely unchanged ratios for the years 1834 (44.7%) and 1915 (40.2%). The ratios also varied between corps; for example, over 76% of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry (Upper Ward) between 1822 and 1826 were farmers, but the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry of 1819 contained none.
The early appearance of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry demonstrates an urban theme in yeomanry recruitment that became more marked as the 19th century progressed, influenced to some extent by an agricultural downturn in the late-19th century. In contrast to Lanarkshire's Upper Ward regiment, its Glasgow and Lower Ward regiment, raised in 1848 and later to become the Queen's Own Royal Glasgow Yeomanry, was recruited from the city's middle classes. In the 1860s, the Leicestershire Yeomanry and the South Salopian Yeomanry (Shropshire) were both recruiting from towns in their territories, and by 1892 all but one troop of the Middlesex Yeomanry was recruited in London. The urban element was not without its own issues of class. The Edinburgh Troop of the 1830s comprised a rank and file mainly of gentlemen who were charged £12 (equivalent to £986 in 2016) to join, and the Middlesex Yeomanry's B Troop was known as the "gentlemen's troop"; its commander believed there would class friction if it were forced by the new squadron system of 1893 to join a more humble troop.
The increasing use of hired mounts, particularly after the turn of the century, also indicates a dilution of the rural contingent in the rank and file. The percentage of horses that were hired increased dramatically, from between 12% to 14% in the last quarter of the 19th century, to around 50% in the period 1905–1907. Although this was a predictable trend in the case of, for example, the largely London-based Middlesex Yeomanry, the East Kent Yeomanry experienced a progressive decline in the ownership of horses, from 76% in 1880 to 66% in 1884 and a little over a half in 1894.
Funding, remuneration and terms of service
Yeomen had to provide their own horses, but saddlery and uniforms were paid for, either by the officers or by subscriptions in the counties in which the troops were raised. Their weapons – swords, pistols and a proportion of carbines per troop – were funded by the government. Other than when called out for duty, when it would be paid as regular cavalry, the yeomanry received no remuneration until 1803, when the first allowances were granted. The confused legislation of the early 19th century meant that different corps, and even different troops within the same corps, operated under different terms and conditions until the Volunteer Consolidation Act of 1804 introduced some uniformity. It restricted pay to a maximum of 24 days per annum, set 12 days of training as the qualification for exemption from conscription into other auxiliary arms, offered bounties for active service and gave yeomen the right to resign on 14 days notice. It did not, however, amend the different areas of liability, military district or nationwide, set by previous legislation.
In 1816, the annual training requirement was reduced to eight days, inclusive of two days travelling, and the next year an annual grant of £1 10s (equivalent to £106 in 2016) per yeoman was awarded to help with uniform and equipment costs. Government funding, however, fell far short of actual requirements, and subsidisation of the yeomanry by its members, particularly the officers, was common practice throughout its existence, particularly during those periods when corps were maintained at their own expense. Lord Plymouth paid £6,200 (equivalent to £596,922 in 2016) to equip a troop of Worcestershire Yeomanry in 1832, and the Earl of Dudley was reputed to have spent £4,000 (approximately equivalent to £400,000 in 2016) per year out of his own pocket on the same corps between 1854 and 1871. The second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was said to have been bankrupted in 1848 in part by the massive contribution he made to his regiment, which received no government funding between 1827 and 1830.
In 1882, it was calculated that officers paid an average of £20 each (equivalent to £1,849 in 2016) and the men up to £5 each (equivalent to £462 in 2016) towards the cost of their regiments, giving a total subsidy of £61,500 (equivalent to £5,684,523 in 2016) in a year when the government voted a £69,000 budget (equivalent to £7,103,584 in 2016) for the yeomanry. Twenty years later the annual cost of being a yeomanry officer was estimated to be £100 (equivalent to £9,963 in 2016) more than the pay and allowances received by the officer. The value of the yeomanry was, however, not immediately obvious, and a comparison between yeomen and volunteer riflemen costs per man in 1882 revealed the former, at £6 7s 5d (equivalent to £656 in 2016), to be significantly more expensive than the latter, at £1 13s 7d (equivalent to £173 in 2016).
Amalgamation and heritage
As part of a general reorganisation of all auxiliary forces, the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907 amalgamated the volunteer and yeomanry forces to form the Territorial Force (TF) on 1 April 1908, in which 55 regiments of yeomanry, reunited with their swords, comprised 14 cavalry brigades. The new organisation was permanently subject to military law and liable for service anywhere in the UK. The legislation also separated command of the Territorial Force, now vested in the War Office, from the raising, administration and supply of its regiments, which was transferred from the commanders to newly created County Territorial Associations, chaired by Lords Lieutenant. As well as defence against foreign invasion, the force was intended to reinforce the regular army overseas after six months training on mobilisation. This, however, relied entirely on members volunteering to do so, and Richard Haldane, the Secretary of State for War who introduced the reforms, hoped that between a sixth and a quarter of territorials would. The process by which members could volunteer was formalised in 1910 as the Imperial Service Obligation. By September 1913, barely seven percent of all territorials had accepted the obligation, and just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, only five complete territorial units had done so.
First World War
On the outbreak of war, the remaining territorial units were invited to volunteer for overseas service. The threshold for unit acceptance was initially set at 80% of its establishment, though this was soon reduced to a more realistic 60%. The men of those units sent overseas who declined the obligation formed the nucleus of a second-line formation for that unit, and different battalions in each regiment were identified with a numeric nomenclature of 1/1st, 2/1st and, when third-line units began to be raised, 3/1st.[i] The first yeomanry regiment to be deployed, the 1/1st Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, was sent to France on 22 September 1914, where it acted as lines of communication troops. It was followed by the 1/1st Northumberland Hussars, which arrived at Zeebrugge as the divisional cavalry for the 7th Infantry Division on 7 October 1914. By December 1914, seven yeomanry regiments had joined the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. The cavalry regiments, both regular and yeomanry, spent a great deal of time in reserve, waiting for opportunities to exploit breakthroughs that never came, and mounted actions were few and far between. One notable use of the yeomanry occurred in August 1918 at Morlancourt, when the Northumberland Hussars crossed a valley at the gallop in support of advancing infantry. The leading squadron was halted by machine-guns and wire, but the Hussars distracted the enemy and allowed the infantry to make some gains.
The yeomanry 2nd Mounted Division fought dismounted in the Gallipoli Campaign and, after suffering 30% casualties in the Battle of Scimitar Hill on 21 August 1915, was relieved by three Scottish and three English/Welsh yeomanry brigades. By January 1916 the campaign had failed and Gallipoli was evacuated. Most of the yeomanry went to Egypt, where the 2nd Mounted Division returned to the cavalry role and the remainder were converted to infantry, eventually forming the 74th (Yeomanry) Division in 1917, the so-called Broken Spur Division. Some yeomanry regiments, mounted and dismounted, were transferred to the British Salonika Army.
The Sinai and Palestine Campaign began in 1915 as a defence of the Suez Canal against a German-Ottoman invasion and ended in 1918 with the capture of Damascus and Aleppo in modern-day Syria. The British and Commonwealth forces made extensive use of mounted forces, and the yeomanry fought both mounted and dismounted. In the summer of 1917, nine yeomanry regiments were concentrated into the Yeomanry Mounted Division, comprising the 6th, 8th and 22nd Mounted Brigades. The 5th Mounted Brigade, comprising three yeomanry regiments, was attached to the Australian Mounted Division, and the 7th Mounted Brigade, also of three yeomanry regiments, became corps troops. Two infantry corps received yeomanry regiments as corps cavalry. The campaign witnessed one of the British Army's last large-scale cavalry charges when the 1/1st Warwickshire Yeomanry and 1/1st Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars captured 11 field guns in a charge at Huj on 8 November 1917. Five days later, in the Battle of Mughar Ridge, the 1/1st Royal Bucks Hussars carried their objective with the sword on horseback while the 1/1st Dorset Yeomanry dismounted and charged with rifle and bayonet. In the Spring of 1918, the 74th Division and some yeomanry regiments were transferred to France, the latter joining the Machine Gun Corps.
The Territorial Force was disembodied after the war and reconstituted by the Territorial Army and Militia Act of 1921 as the Territorial Army. The act repealed the legislation of 1901 and resolved the problem of the imperial obligation by making all territorials under the age of 35 liable for service overseas on mobilisation of the army reserve and the passage of legislation authorising their actual deployment. Some 90,000 yeomen had served in the First World War, though half that number had fought dismounted, and the decreasing usefulness of mounted troops in modern warfare resulted in some fundamental changes to the 56 yeomanry regiments active immediately after the war. Only the 14 most senior regiments in the yeomanry order of precedence were retained in the mounted role. Of the remainder, 16 were disbanded and the rest re-purposed; most of them converted to units of the Royal Field Artillery on the grounds that this as yet unmechanised arm would allow them to keep their horses, while eight of them downsized to armoured car companies of the Tank Corps. The role of the yeomanry was further diversified in the inter-war years when some yeomanry field artillery units were converted to the anti-aircraft artillery role.
Second World War
On the eve of the Second World War in 1939, the Territorial Army was doubled in size, each regiment forming a second-line unit. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF), deployed to France in 1939 and 1940, included nine yeomanry regiments, three of them armoured, four artillery, one anti-aircraft and one anti-tank, and they departed France, like most of the BEF, depleted and in disarray via Dunkirk. Seven Yeomanry regiments returned to France four years later via Normandy on D-Day, among them the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and the Staffordshire Yeomanry mounted on Sherman tanks, and the Essex Yeomanry firing their self-propelled guns from landing craft as they approached the beach. More yeomanry units arrived in June, and the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry fought without break and lost most of its tanks in the fighting around Caen during Operation Goodwood. Early in 1945, the Staffordshire Yeomanry swam the Rhine in Sherman DD tanks in support of the 51st (Highland) Division during Operation Plunder. Following the war, many yeomanry regiments remained as part of the occupation forces.
Eight yeomanry regiments were deployed in their traditional cavalry role to Palestine in the early months of the war as part of the 1st Cavalry Division. By 1941, only three of them still retained their horses, and the last action by British cavalry on horseback was fought on 10 July against Vichy French forces in Syria by the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons, which also had the distinction of being the last regiment on active service in the British Army to give up its horses. The yeomanry continued without its traditional mounts. Both the Wiltshire and Warwickshire Yeomanry fought as lorried infantry in Iraq and Syria, and in the Western Desert Campaign the 22nd Armoured Brigade – comprising the 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and two regiments of the County of London Yeomanry – helped to carve out with their tanks the first British success against German ground troops, albeit at high cost, during Operation Crusader. The Yorkshire Dragoons, now lorried infantry, was one of 13 yeomanry regiments that fought in the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. The others were the Wiltshire and Warwickshire Yeomanry, both converted to armour in time for the battle; the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the Sherwood Rangers of the 9th Armoured Brigade; the 4th County of London Yeomanry in tanks and the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry in armoured cars, both part of the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats); and six yeomanry artillery regiments.
Following allied success in the North Africa Campaign, yeomanry regiments fought in many of the famous engagements during the invasions of Sicily and Italy, among them Salerno, Anzio, Monte Cassino and the breakthrough of the Gothic Line. Yeomanry artillery regiments also fought in the Far East. Three of them, from the Lanarkshire Yeomanry, the Bedfordshire Yeomanry and the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, were captured by Japanese forces on the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, and regiments of the Essex Yeomanry and Buckinghamshire yeomanry fought during the Japanese conquest of Burma the same year.
Having been absorbed into the regular army for the duration of the war, the Territorial Army was reconstituted as a separate entity in 1947, at which time there were 26 yeomanry regiments in the territorial component of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) and 24 yeomanry regiments in the territorial component of the Royal Artillery (RA). The RAC regiments were one of: armoured and mounted on the main battle tanks of the time; divisional and equipped for reconnaissance and anti-tank duties; or armoured car units. The Territorial Army underwent frequent reorganisations in the 1950s and 1960s until, in 1967, it became the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve (TA&VR). Some yeomanry regiments were disbanded, and six were reduced to squadron size and amalgamated to form the Royal Yeomanry, an armoured reconnaissance regiment. The remaining regiments lived on as cadres manned by a handful of officers and men until they too were restored in 1971 to squadron size and amalgamated to form three new yeomanry infantry regiments: the Wessex Yeomanry; the Queen's Own Mercian Yeomanry; and the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry.
By the turn of the century, the four yeomanry regiments, now named the Royal Yeomanry, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry and the Queen's Own Yeomanry, were all homed in the RAC. Their roles were to provide replacement tank crews to the regular army's tank regiments, a nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance and deconcamination capability, and home defence reconnaissance. The yeomanry also provided two artillery regiments and an artillery troop, two regiments and six squadrons of signallers, a troop of engineers, three companies of infantry and a transport squadron. Further restructuring in the 21st century resulted in the disbandment of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry and the raising of the new Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry.
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- List of Yeomanry Regiments 1908
- List of British Army Yeomanry Regiments converted to Royal Artillery
- List of current yeomanry units of the British Army
- The Castlemartin Yeomanry's successor, the Pembroke Yeomanry, was awarded the battle honour "Fishguard" in 1853. It is the only unit in the British Army to have been so recognised for battle on British soil.
- The casualties at Peterloo vary according to source. Beckett reports "some 400" injured, and Mileham "over 500", with both saying 11 killed. Hay's sources give figures of 17 killed and 650 injured.
- Three regiments petitioned the king to be allowed to retain the sword on parade, and all but one of the 35 commanding officers petitioned the army for its retention in 1902. Colonel Lancelot Rolleston, commander of the South Nottinghamshire Imperial Yeomanry, went further, and refused to surrender the regiment's swords on the grounds that the regulations permitted their use until the equipment was worn out, and even introduced the lance to the regiment in 1904. With some string-pulling, the regiment secured for itself a place in the Northern Command review in 1903, in which it drilled alongside the regular forces as cavalry and paraded without rifles. The desire to retain the sword was not unanimous, and at an Army Council meeting in 1904 in which use of the sword was revisited, 21 of the now 55 yeomanry commanding officers were in favour of the bayonet. Demonstrating that the debate about the yeomanry role went on even within the yeomanry, their reasoning was that the force might be useful as mounted infantry or rifles, but it could never hope to become efficient cavalry.
- As well as defence against foreign invasion, the Territorial Force was intended to reinforce the regular army overseas after six months training on mobilisation. The force was, however, subject to the same restrictions on overseas service as its predecessors, and deployment abroad therefore relied entirely on members volunteering to do so. Richard Haldane, the Secretary of State for War who introduced the reforms, hoped that between a sixth and a quarter of territorials would. The process by which members could volunteer was formalised in 1910 as the Imperial Service Obligation.
- Sources do not agree on the exact scale of cuts made to the yeomanry in 1827. Beckett reports that the established strength fell from 24,288 to 10,705, while Hay reports that the yeomanry was reduced "by around" 21,332 to 8351 "in the ranks", without specifying whether he is referring to established or effective strength. Hay does add in a footnote that the values are approximate because in the period 1821 and 1830 figures are available only for 1829.
- Two notable men who served as yeomanry adjutants were the future Chief of the General Staff, John French, who served with the Northumberland Hussars between 1881 and 1884, and Adrian Carton de Wiart, who was appointed adjutant to the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars in 1910.
- A small number of known estate clauses, dating largely from the first half of the 19th century, has given rise to a stereotype of a yeomanry rank and file forced to serve by landlords. More likely, it was a "softer paternalism" that motivated voluntary service by a deferential tenantry seeking to curry favour with landlords.
- Merchants sold or produced goods on a large scale, examples being grain merchants, warehousemen and manufacturers. Examples of professionals include lawyers, physicians, bankers, accountants, and also clerks. Small businessmen were innkeepers, hoteliers, butchers, grocers and tailors. Artisans provided a highly skilled service, examples being farriers, carpenters, masons and builders. Skilled labour included bricklayers, apprentices and machine operators, and unskilled labourers included agricultural, construction, mine and shop workers.
- The legal difficulty posed by the imperial obligation on recruitment via the Territorial Force was eventually eliminated by the Military Service Act of 1916. As well as introducing conscription, the act forced all territorials under 41 years old either to accept the imperial obligation or resign and be conscripted. With one exception, the second-line yeomanry units remained in the UK and trained replacements for the first-line units. Most were converted to cyclist units in 1916. Third-line units were also raised as training regiments, though they were disbanded in February 1917.
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