Arming The Volunteers

The British Volunteer Rifle has a keen interest amongst collectors and shooters of historical firearms. One oft repeated observation is that Volunteers had to purchase their own rifle. This can be misleading and is only correct for the earliest months of the establishment of the Volunteer Force in 1859. Through the year there were three War Office circulars offering to equip a Corps to the extent of 25% of its arms, then 50% and in December 1859, 100% on the effective strength of the corps.

The Volunteer Rifle Dilemma

In June 1859 the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, chaired a meeting called for the purpose of raising a Volunteer Rifle Company for the Holkham District of the county. While addressing the meeting he outlined issues associated with the selection of a suitable rifle – these dilemmas must have been echoed throughout the country in the early days of the burgeoning Volunteer Movement. Only .577 calibre (or 25 gauge) rifles which would accept government ammunition and government musket caps were considered as weapons for Volunteer units.

County Precedence

Following the sanctioning by the Government of the formation of Volunteer Corps, on 12 May 1859, there was an immediate rush of volunteering. The date on which the first company in a county was formed determined County precedence.

War Office, Pall Mall, May 12, 1859

On 12 May 1859 the Government issued a circular sanctioning the formation of Volunteer Corps. The date on which the first company of Volunteers was formed within a county determined the county precedence. In 1881 the British Army was reorganised into territorial regiments with regular, militia and volunteer battalians.

Enfield Rifle Team Shooting: Bristol vs Staffordshire

By the mid-1860s the Volunteer Movement in Great Britain was well established and rifle shooting, thanks also to the establishment in 1859 of the National Rifle Association, had become a popular pastime. On 8 April 1865 there was a hugely supported ‘simultaneous Enfield rifle match’ fired. Volunteer Battalions and/or Companies throughout the country had opportunity to compete, shooting on their own ranges and submitting scores.

The British Volunteer System

In its infancy the Volunteer Force was hardly worthy to be called “organisation.” A large number of enthusiastic civilians of all classes enrolled themselves under officers who, for the most part, had little or no military training, and drilled and equipped themselves in isolated companies. Drill went on in every town in England and Scotland. With time, the days passed when the volunteers were alternately inflated by exaggerated praise or depressed by scorn and ridicule. They took their place as auxiliary to the regular army, anxious only to prepare themselves for the duties which would be assigned to them in case of emergency, and desiring to act up to their motto of “Defense, not defiance.”

Volunteer Force, 1859-1908

INDEX. During the late 1850’s there was growing apprehension as to the prospects of French invasion of Great Britain. Newspapers continued to fuel the debate as to the formation of a Volunteer Force for home defence. On 12 May 1859 the Government issued a circular sanctioning the formation of Volunteer Corps.