Territorial Army ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2014

Men sign up to join the Territorial Army (Credit: Getty Images)

Photo: Getty Images

Part-time soldiers have always provided an invaluable reserve to the Regular Army, more recently as the Territorial Army. Phil Tomaselli explains how to track down a “Terrier” in your family.

The Territorial Force (TF) was created in 1908, as part of a modernisation of the army, incorporating dozens of part-time volunteer units created in the 19th century. TF Battalions were formed on a county basis, linked to the Regular Army’s county regiments. They were organised into TF Divisions, with their own artillery and engineer units, each Division representing a region of the country. They also incorporated volunteer cavalry units, the County Yeomanry.

Men were expected to do basic training at their local Drill Hall, usually one or two nights a week, for which they received small expenses, and to attend an annual camp, when they were paid as full time soldiers. They also received a Bounty for regular attendance.

The TF was created for home defence but were asked to volunteer to serve abroad. Battalions garrisoned Malta and Gibraltar in September 1914 and the East Lancashire Division went to Egypt.

The first TF infantry sent to France were 14th battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish), who fought at Messines on 31st October 1914. The TF had their own port and base camp at Rouen and other units were gradually transferred to bolster the Expeditionary Force. TF Divisions fought on many fronts during the war.

After WW1 the TF was disbanded as the army reorganised on a peacetime basis, but in 1920 was reconstituted as The Territorial Army. In a long period of defence cuts the TA was an easy target and suffered from lack of money.

They continued to recruit and maintain a basic strength, holding their annual camps (which continued to be a draw for many men, promising a fortnight’s full army pay, good army food and the adventure of military training in the open). To aid recruiting some units added bars, billiard and reading rooms to their Drill Halls.

As WW2 loomed the Bounty and travelling expenses were increased and more allowances paid. By the summer of 1938, buoyed by new recruits, the TA was bigger than at any time after 1920. They were even beginning to see new equipment though, as ever, the Regulars took priority.

Most Yeomanry units replaced their horses with armoured cars. Other units retrained as searchlight and anti-aircraft units. The Munich Crisis of September 1938 saw 58,000 Territorials called up to man anti-aircraft guns around London and thousands more men were recruited. TA units trained alongside Regular Army units at their summer camps in 1938 and 1939.

On the outbreak of WW2 the Government formally incorporated the TA into the British Army. By early 1940 three former Territorial Divisions were in France, the 48th (South Midland), 50th (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland). At Dunkirk 50th Division fought until their ammunition ran out to allow the maximum number of men to evacuate.

In the 1941 Syrian campaign the Cheshire Yeomanry became the last British unit to go into battle on horseback, crossing the frontier with swords, cap badges and stirrup irons blackened. Other TA units retrained as tank battalions and former TA units fought in the desert, in Italy, at D-Day and on into Germany.

The TA was reconstituted (again) in 1947 and has been renamed and reorganised several times since, as defence needs (and defence cuts) dictate. In 1968 the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve (as it was then known) was reorganised on a regional rather than a county basis. Renamed the Territorial Army in 1979 it continues to assist the Regular Army, supplying specialist help in conflict zones. TA soldiers have died in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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