The County Regiments
By Colonel Sir Lancelot Rolleston, K.C.B., D.S.O., D.L., T.D.
THE motto adopted by the volunteers of last century, "For Defence, not Defiance," was the keynote of the ancient system which persisted in this country from Saxon times, and it was the Fyrd or Militia raised in each wapontake or Hundred of the Shires which, under the able leadership of King Alfred, rid England of the Danish invaders.
It is comforting to think that the spirit which led to each county being responsible for the defence of its borders in time of trouble has persisted in full measure to our own time, and that the threat of invasion or molestation can still call forth a ready response.
Though it is fair to believe that the Militia system operated side by side with feudal service after the Norman Conquest, it is not until 1138 that there is specific record of the Nottinghamshire troops taking the field, but in that year they fought under William Peveril, at Northallerton, sharing in the famous "Battle of the Standard." The credit of this victory has been given to the long-bow wielded by the English Yeomen.
This weapon, in which every man was expected to be proficient, was to play a decisive part in later battles, such as Crecy, Poictiers and Agincourt.
The Fyrd or National Militia, however, like that of our own time, could not be ordered abroad, but no doubt the training they received was a valuable asset.
That they were a force to be reckoned with was proved repeatedly—Sir John Markham led the Notts. Militia at Stoke Field; the Earl of Shrewsbury called them out against the "Pilgrimage of Grace" (1536-7).
The development of the use of gunpowder and the subsequent change of the Militia arms from bow and lance to arquebuses and matchlocks—in 1558—had far reaching effect, for the supply of powder and ball necessitated organised supply trains whenever troops armed with firearms took the field.
In James I's time we thus get the trained bands in place of the Militia, though the older system by no means died out; indeed, in the succeeding reign the question of the control of the Territorial troops played a great part in the dispute between King and Parliament. When things came to a head the County Militia remained for the most part loyal to the Monarch, assembling under Sir Gervase Clifton, Robert Sutton and Sir John Byron, who raised new horse Militia in the south of the county. On the other hand, we find commissions being issued by the Parliament for the raising of County Troops on their behalf.
More or less personal units too were raised, such as the Earl of Newcastle's White Coats, Staunton's Troop, and numerous others. Indeed this habit of naming regiments after their commanding officer long persisted.
We must bear in mind that the idea of personal service and loyalty to the individual leader ran parallel with the Militia organisation and was the means whereby expeditionary and special troops were brought together.
This internecine struggle, which developed the "Ironsides of Cromwell," was also responsible for the foundation of our standing army. The idea of having any permanently embodied units in existence was looked upon with deep suspicion by Parliament after the Restoration of the Monarchy, but in spite of resolutions against there being any other than the Militia organisation, our growing responsibilities abroad, constant friction in Europe, and repeated attempts to overthrow the Government at home made it inevitable that some other troops should be available. The hiring of levies who had no interest other than the pay and loot which might fall to their lot, and whose concern was merely with the longest purse, was an evil principle. On the other hand, the system of hastily raising regiments of men untrained to arms and pushed into the field without sufficient preparation was both unwise and expensive, equally as regards man power and accomplishment. The zeal for a cause might do a great deal when it came to hand-to-hand work, but in the earlier stages of manoeuvring and tactics, the advantage on the side of experience was overwhelming.
Growth of the Regular units, however, did not impair the continuance of the purely defensive force. The mid-eighteenth century saw the Militia ballot revived and with it began the "42nd, or Nottinghamshire Regiment of Militia."
Supplementary local units at Nottingham, Southwell, Retford and Newark came into being at the height of the Napoleonic wars, when the cloud of threatened invasion constantly hung over the country and the County Militia were taking their place in the general schemes of national defence. To the latter fell the honour, in 1813, of taking duty in place of the Foot Guards and as an acknowledgment of their efficient service they were granted the title of "Royal Sherwood Foresters" or Nottinghamshire Regiment of Militia, their motto, "Loyalte," being most aptly chosen.
The title of "Sherwood Foresters," which to-day designates the whole of our County infantry battalions, both Regular and Territorial, has been proudly borne by Nottinghamshire men now for many centuries, and the mounted unit which the Duke of Kingston raised as the Nottinghamshire regiment at the time of the '45 Rebellion—Kingston's Light Horse—was also known as the "Royal Foresters."
In 1833 Colonel Lancelot Rolleston took over command of the County Militia and about twenty years later came the re-organisation under a system of voluntary enlistment, with the payment of a bounty, only the necessary quota to complete strength being left for the ballot, while renumbering made the Royal Sherwood Foresters the 59th Regiment of Militia. Another step on the way to more recent developments was the transfer of the force from the control of the Home Office to the War Office, permitting of a more closely knit military scheme.
Further re-organisation, in 1872, tied these knots still more closely, and under the comprehensive scheme introduced by Lord Haldane, in 1908, the Militia became known as the "Special Reserve," a channel through which our Regular Battalions can be maintained and expanded should necessity again arise.
It is well to remember that long before the present system of recruitment came into operation, the County Militiamen could always be relied upon when the call came to fill up the ranks of the line regiment, and they provided the majority of the necessary personnel when, in 1779, at the request of the gentlemen of the shire, the 45th marched into Nottingham on recruiting service and in due course (1782) took the title of "Nottinghamshire Regiment," a territorial designation which was most reluctantly relinquished when they became the 1st Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) in 1881. But the proud association with the county has not been lost—rather has it been expanded by the incorporation, in 1902, of the county name in the title "The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment)."
For nearly half a century before the 45th became the Nottinghamshire Regiment, they were busily engaged in engraving their name on the scroll of military honour. Nova Scotia saw them in 1750; they were with Lord Amherst at the capture of Louisberg; under Wolfe they gained merit for their conduct at the capture of Quebec; and were again to the fore in Newfoundland at the re-taking of St. John's, and it was after another period of service in America that they formed their County association.
As the 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment they had much service in the West Indies, and a humiliating experience fell to the lot of a small detachment on their return voyage, when, as a skeleton guard on "The Windsor" they were overpowered by the 150 French prisoners in their charge and, as captives in their turn, were sailed off to Boston.
After the formation of the 2nd Battalion at Mansfield in 1804, the Nottinghamshire men formed part of the River Plate expedition—bore themselves well at the taking of Monte Video, and displayed fine qualities of cool endurance throughout the disastrous attack on Buenos Ayres.
The honours borne upon the Regimental Colours might be described as an index to the battles of the Peninsular War where, as part of Picton's Division, they did so much to earn for it the title of the "Fighting Third."
It was in South Africa that the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Sir Harry Smith, addressed the first battalion as "Soldiers of Her Majesty's Fighting Forty-fifth," shortly before their return to England in 1859.
Indeed they have done their full share of the fighting entailed by the protection and policing of our Empire:— Ceylon, India, Burmah, South Africa, Abyssinia, China, Egypt, have taken their toll of the County Regiment and wherever duty has taken them they have maintained the same high reputation for courage and good conduct which has been the hall-mark of the "Sherwood Foresters," calling forth that eulogy of General Foch which has been recorded in letters of bronze to serve on a memorial of their valour in the great European struggle of 1914-18.
So far as the Cavalry arm of the Service is concerned, independent troops of "Yeomanry" came into existence in 1794 when, under Pitt's scheme for the defence of the realm, among other measures advocated was the raising of local Cavalry of gentlemen, yeomen, farmers and substantial tradesmen to serve locally for home defence and to keep down disorders. Troops were organised at Retford, Mansfield, Newark, and Nottingham while, later, independent troops were formed in the Holme Pierrepont and Bingham area and at Bunny (Sir Thomas Parkin's Troop).
The late Commander Benson Freeman dealt so exhaustively with the history of the South Nottinghamshire Hussars Yeomanry in his compilation of the Regimental Records that I would recommend all who are desirous of going more deeply into the matter to delve into the volume which, unhappily, he did not live to see emerge from the press.
Nottinghamshire Military History, however, would be most incomplete without due reference to the above-mentioned independent troops which, in 1826, united to form "The Southern Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry" (The South Notts. Hussars) and, in 1828, "The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry Cavalry," the former being the amalgamation of the Holme, Watnall, Nottingham, Bingham and Wollaton Troops—the latter bringing together those of Clumber, Newark and Mansfield.
The Chartist risings of 1839 and 1848 called the Yeomanry out in service and from time to time they exercised a beneficent influence in the maintaining of law and order.
In 1874, with the Militia and Volunteers, they passed from the direct control of the Lord Lieutenant to that of the War Office, the South Notts, and Sherwood Rangers being allotted to the 2nd Division of the 6th Army Corps as Divisional Troops under the 1876 Mobilisation Scheme.
The patriotism of the units was immediately exemplified when in 1899 a call was made for volunteers to form an Imperial Yeomanry contingent to go out to South Africa. Within twenty-four hours 160 men had been enrolled from the South Notts., five officers and 116 other ranks eventually being selected and forming, with contingents from the Yorkshire Hussars, Sherwood Rangers and Yorkshire Dragoons, the 3rd Regiment of the Imperial Yeomanry, under the command of Colonel G. Younghusband of the Guides.
1908 saw a great change in organisation when the Territorial scheme came into operation, and both mounted and infantry units were made part of an organisation of Brigades and Divisions capable of taking the field as effective forces, armed in all branches and not merely as auxiliaries.
Control of expenditure and other responsibilities went into the hands of the newly formed Territorial Force Association with the Lord Lieutenant as our first chairman; new units were raised and under the command of the Colonel of the South Notts. Hussars, the Notts, and Derby Mounted Brigade was formed, consisting of the South Notts. Hussars, the Sherwood Rangers, the Derbyshire Yeomanry, the Notts. Royal Horse Artillery, the Notts, and Derby Mounted Brigade Supply and Transport Company, and the Notts, and Derby Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance.
The new organisation was not long in existence before it was put to the severest possible test—and with the outbreak of the war in August, 1914, its obvious advantages, at any rate, were rapidly proved in the way which the machinery for its mobilisation brought the whole force immediately on to a field basis.
The varied experiences and actions of the units through those strenuous years cannot be touched upon here, but one deep regret I have as a result of post war conditions is to know that that splendid body, the South Notts. Hussars, has ceased to exist save in name, although the traditions of loyalty and military efficiency built up through past years have been passed on to the 107th (The South Nottinghamshire Hussars Yeomanry) Field Brigade, Royal Artillery (Army Troop) which has taken their place.
Much which affected the development of the County mounted units had an equal bearing on the Infantry Volunteers.
The French wars brought into being the Nottingham Volunteer Infantry, which did not persist long after the cessation of hostilities.
The Robin Hood Rifles was formed in 1859, and was not long in calling forth the praise of those in authority who saw them at such gatherings as the Hyde Park Reviews and elsewhere, while on the ranges many members of the Battalion won national honours.
The South African War called men from the ranks of the Robin Hoods and of the County Volunteer Infantry as it did from the mounted branch, as is evidenced by that list of names appearing on the Obelisk which Lord Methuen unveiled in 1903.
In 1908 our Infantry Battalions became respectively the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Notts, and Derbyshire Regiment (the Sherwood Foresters), the 7th retaining its sub-title (Robin Hoods) and its distinctive green full dress uniform. Army Service Corp and Royal Army Medical Corp Units were raised, and Field Artillery Batteries organised in the neighbouring counties. Thus, when the war cloud broke, men of Nottinghamshire became closely knit with those of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire, to form the 46th North Midland Division and to prove that the fine military tradition born way back among our ancestors in the ancient days of the Fyrd could still stir our manhood to take up arms in defence of right and the Empire.
The expansion of the various units by the creation of reserve and auxiliary Battalions and Regiments is a story of its own. Since 1918, the labours of those strenuous days being ended, most of them have handed over their colours to safe keeping and ceased to exist. But their experience has been handed on and in the organisation which exists to-day we should have one that is as efficient as our needs demand. With an Air Squadron added to our County Units we are, at any rate, prepared for most eventualities.