Formation of the Hampshire Rifle Volunteers and the Administrative Battalions, 1859-1860

The war scare of 1859 brought a sudden realisation to the country that its defences were inadequate, and public opinion was so aroused that the government agreed to the Volunteer Corps, disbanded in 1814, being reformed. A letter sent by the War Office to the Lord Lieutenant on May 12th stated:

‘Her Majesty’s Government having had under consideration the propriety of permitting the formation of Volunteers Corps as well as of Artillery Corps, I have the honour to inform you that I shall be prepared to receive through you and consider any proposal with that object which may emanate from the county under your charge’.

Among the conditions attached to the formation of these Corps were:
‘That a corps be formed under officers bearing the commission of the Lord Lieutenant and that its formation be recommended by him: that its members undertake to provide their own arms and equipment and to defray all expenses attending to the Corps except in the event of it being assembled for actual service

‘The uniform and equipment may be settled by the members, subject to the Lord Lieutenant’s approval, but arms though provided at the expense of members must be furnished under the superintendence of the war Department in order to secure a uniformity of gauge

‘The primary object of Artillery Volunteers will be to aid in the most efficient manner the manning of Batteries erected for the protection of our Coast towns so that the Royal Artillery may be deployable for other services’.

There was little apparent encouragement on such conditions, but public opinion was such that the Mayor of Winchester, Councillor William Hutchinson, convened a meeting on 26th May when it was agreed to form a corps, before the Lord Lieutenant had passed on the War Circular. The Winchester Corps, quickly raised and financed by loyal and enthusiastic citizens, was the first in the county to receive full recognition on September 23rd, Mayors, leaders in public life, and men of influence throughout the county quickly followed in calling meetings and raising funds to form a further 22 Infantry Corps and six Artillery Corps, with a further six infantry Corps in the Isle of Wight, they organised and trained for guerrilla war in very much the same way as the LD Volunteers and Home Guard of the last war.

It as soon found necessary to group the Corps into administrative battalions, the 1st Battalion consisting of 1st (Winchester), 11th (Romsey), 13th (Andover), 15th (Yately), 16th (Alresford), and 18t h(Basingstoke), with Headquarters at Winchester. Later the 24th (King Alfred College) and Winchester College Cadet Corps joined the Battalion, and a corps was later formed in Aldershot. The 2nd Battalion included the 4th (Havant), 5th (Portsmouth), 6th (Gosport), and 23rd (Cosham), with Headquarters at Portsmouth; the 3rd Battalion, the 7th (Fareham), 8th (Bittern and Botley), 12th (Petersfield), 17th (Titchfield), 20th (Wickham), 21st (Alta on), and 22nd (Bishop’s Waltham,) with Headquarters at Fareham. The 2nd (Southampton), 3rd (Lymington), 10th (Christchurch), 14th (Lyndhurst), and 19th (Bournemouth) were in 1864 formed into the 4th Administrative Battalion with Headquarters at Southampton. The 9th (Kingsclere) disbanded soon after its recognition.

In the Isle of Wight, 1st and 3rd Corps were raised at Ryde, 2nd at Newport, 4th at Nunwell, 5th at Ventnor, and 6th at Sandown, and formed the Isle of Wight Administrative Battalion.

Artillery Corps were raised in Portsmouth, Southampton and other coast towns.

Some 20 years later these loosely knit administrative battalions of independent local corps were reorganised as Battalions of the Hampshire Rifle Volunteers, and in 1885 as Volunteer Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment. To a great extent they kept to the territorial grouping of the administrative battalions: the 1st Volunteer, Winchester and North Hampshire; the 2nd, Southampton; the 3rd, Portsmouth and East Hampshire; the 4th, Bournemouth and the New Forest; and the 5th, the Isle of Wight. Similar territorial grouping exists today.

The corps adopted a grey uniform with green facings and black braid, a light grey forage cap (kepi) with straight peak, green band and piping. The badges included the rose surmounted by the crown, appointments of the Sovereign, who traditionally granted Hampshire soldiers the right to wear them before their adoption for the County arms. That the 1st VB had, in addition, the Light Infantry Bugle was probably due to the fact that the first Colonel had recently retired from command of the 13th Foot, now the Somerset Light Infantry, and to the Battalion’s close association with the Rifle Brigade which had just established its headquarters at Winchester, as did the adoption of the officers pouch belt of black Morocco leather with silver lion’s head, whistle and chain, Maltese cross breastplate in the centre and small silver bugle on ten pouch. The 4th VB included the stirrup badge of the New Forest Verderers, the 5th VB, Carisbrooke Castle form the Island’s Arms.

The uniform of the regular army was adopted in 1877, the battalions wearing red with black facings as the Hampshire Militia, and at first glengarries, later cloth helmets with the spike, except for Isle of Wight battalion which had green rifle uniform. The badges changed when the County Regiment was formed and the Volunteers became closely linked with it, the laurel wreath of the 37th (North Hampshire) and the Royal Tiger of the 67th (South Hampshire) being incorporated with the Royal emblems of the Hampshire Militia and Volunteers. The 3rd Volunteer Battalion on the appointment of HRH The Duke of Connaught as Honorary Colonel in 1891, became the Duke of Connaught’s Own and has since worn the badge with the rose surmounted by the Duke’s Coronet. The stirrup is still worn on the uniform of ‘P’ Battery (Royal Hampshire) 256 (Wessex) LAA Regiment.

The infantry volunteers were fortunate, for Hampshire may claim to have been one of the counties in which the Volunteer movement was best supported and most successful. Testimonies and reports of regular inspecting officers shoe the high standard of training and efficiency that was reached and maintained which, together with the great strength of Battalions, each well over 1,000 men, was sufficient to allow some of them to train with and be allotted roles in the field force. Due to the initiative and forethought on the part of active Commanding Officers the County Volunteers were pioneers in Military Cycling and in forming transport and stretcher bearer detachments. The transport corps of the 1st Volunteer Battalion formed at Stockbridge in 1885 was recognised as a Brigade ASC Company in 1901, and may claim to be the first and oldest of the Territorial Army Service Corps units, while the Brigade Bearer Company formed at Sutton Scotney from the 1st VB Bearers was one of the oldest established Bearer units to be converted to Territorial RAMC. The 4th VB formed a most successful company of Scouts mounted on New Forest ponies.

Apart from the 3rd Battalion (Duke of Connaught’s Own), the 5th was also honoured with a Royal title and patronage when it became the Princess Beatrice’s Own and subsequently had Prince Henry of Battenberg and later HRH The Duke of York (King George V) as its Honorary Colonel.
The outbreak of the South African War gave a spurt to the Volunteer Movement. Enough men from the five battalions volunteered for Foreign Service to form a composite unit which sailed for the Cape early in 1900, while the battalion strength rose to unprecedented heights and new detachments were raised in parts of the county hitherto untouched.

1908 brought the formation of the Territorial Force into being and the old volunteers were abolished. The object of this force was to provide a Home Defence army properly organised into field divisions and coast artillery units. The five volunteer battalions were re-named the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment forming the Hampshire Brigade of the Wessex Division, and the 8th still a rifle battalion were allocated to Army Troops. The Cyclist companies were grouped to form the 9th (Cyclist) battalion. The Artillery Corps was renamed The Hampshire Heavy Brigade RA (TA) while the ASC Company became the Headquarters Company of the 43rd Wessex Divisional Train stationed at Andover.