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British Auxiliary Forces During the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902

British Auxiliary Forces during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902: Composition, Purpose and Performance


When Britain suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the Boers – a setback known as ‘Black Week’ –  in December 1899, something unexpected happened. For the first time Britain sent civilians in the form of part-time soldiers to fight along side her regular army after it was clear that considerably more manpower was needed. Known collectively as the auxiliary forces, these forces come in three parts: The Militia, the Yeomanry and the Volunteer Force. This study intends to look at the composition, purpose and performance of all three auxiliary forces in the British Army during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

Whilst all three forces have a unique history and a different approach to military service, what connected them is that all their members were voluntary and served on a part-time basis. By far the oldest organisation was the Militia which could trace its origins back to the Anglo-Saxon military system but received its first formal statute in 1558.[1]  Traditionally raised by the lord lieutenants of each county, the Militia’s primary role was civil and home defence. For most of its history its soldiers were all infantrymen; but towards the end of the nineteenth century it also established artillery and engineer detachments. The Yeomanry had similar origins to the Militia. Based on the same traditions, the Yeomanry were simply a mounted version of the militia. During the late Victorian period, the Yeomanry was rarely called upon as its chief role of assisting the civil power to quell disturbances had been taken over by the new county constabularies.[2] The Yeomanry also attracted wealthier members and was seen as means of progressing in county society.[3] The Volunteer Force (VF) by contrast had a much later conception. Founded in 1859, the VF was a response to French invasion threats and an effort was made to recruit a more middle-class volunteer rifleman. It was feared that using the Militia would cause disruption to the industrial and agricultural work force by using working class men.[4] Although initially embodied as rifleman, further units of light horse, mounted infantry, artillery and engineers were soon added.[5] Initially the Volunteer Corps were funded independently of the state and chose to adopt their own uniform and regimental customs.[6] Each man had to provide his own uniform and rifle.[7]

The late Victorian period is seen as a reforming period for the British Army.[8] Whilst the Yeomanry were largely untouched, the Militia and Volunteer Force were absorbed into the Army’s new county regimental system in 1881. The former regular Regiments of Foot were denoted the 1st and 2nd Battalions, whilst the Militia became the 3rd and 4th Battalions.[9] The VF, meanwhile, created its own Volunteer Battalions. Not all Volunteer Corps joined their county regiments; some decided to remain independent. But those that did adopted the uniforms of their regular counterparts.[10] Further reforms in 1908 resulted in all three auxiliary forces being amalgamated into the Territorial Force.

The auxiliaries had a distinguished war record during the Boer War. The Militia carried out its normal wartime role of taking up the home duties that the regulars would have carried out, as well as feeding men into regular service.[11] However for the first time some militiamen were sent out to South Africa as Militia in support of the regular battalions after it was realised there was a significant shortage of manpower[12]. Each Yeomanry regiment provided a company to serve in the newly created Imperial Yeomanry (IY).[13] The IY was sent out in three contingents throughout the course of the war.[14] The VF saw service in two ways: the volunteers from London and the surrounding Home Counties created the City of London Imperial Volunteers (CIV), whilst the remaining county volunteers formed service companies to support their regular sister battalions.


Research Questions to be addressed

The primary question to be addressed in this dissertation is – ‘What role did British auxiliary forces play during the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902?’  It will seek to assess, therefore, the composition, use and performance of the three separate components of the auxiliary forces – the Militia, Yeomanry and VF – in South Africa during the war. Although the main focus is on the war itself, attention will also be given to the periods before and after the war. Therefore, a natural starting point will be the Army reforms of 1881, as they resulted in the integration of the Militia and the VF with the Regular Army for the first time. The end point for the dissertation will be the army reforms that amalgamated the auxiliary forces into the Territorial Force (TF) in 1908.

The secondary research questions will consider the auxiliary forces before, during and after the war. They are:

(1) Pre-War

What was the condition of the auxiliary forces before the war and how did they prepare, if at all, for a potential conflict? What was the anticipated role of the auxiliary forces during a war? How were they trained? Was their training relevant to a potential foreign conflict? What was their relationship like with the regular army? Were there opportunities to train with the regulars? How did the regulars regard the auxiliaries and vice-versa?

(2) War

How were the auxiliaries used? How did they work alongside the regular army and how did they fare in comparison? Where did they fit into the order of battle? What engagements did they take part in? Did their training prepare them for the war? What were the commanders’ attitudes to the auxiliaries? Were the auxiliaries successful at what they were tasked to do? How did they react in battle? How did the auxiliaries’ role change as the war progressed?

(3) Post-War

Was the use of the auxiliaries in South Africa perceived to have been a success? What improvements were recommended? Were the auxiliaries expected to fight in future conflicts? Did their training change after the war? Did their relationship with the regular army change after the war? Why was it felt necessary to create the Territorial Force?

It is important to note that whilst these questions refer to the auxiliaries, the word can be interchanged with the Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteer Force.



Secondary Literature

Whilst all three auxiliary forces saw active service during the Second Anglo-Boer War, there has been very little written on what their roles were and how they actually performed. Instead the focus on this period is largely on the regular army. Alan Ramsay Skelly ‘s The Victorian Army at Home (1977) and Edward Speirs’ The Late Victorian Army (1992) are examples of how historians have shown little regard for the auxiliaries. In terms of the auxiliaries, what there is can be broken down into three main categories. The first is the histories of the three auxiliary forces. These can be books on each of the forces or a combined history of all three. They typically range from 1558 to the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908. The second category is regimental histories: these sources vary from regiment to regiment. The reorganisation of the Militia and Volunteer Force in 1881 means that County regimental histories are extremely useful as they provide many of the relevant details for their Militia and Volunteer Battalions. The same can be said for the Yeomanry as, although the Yeomanry regiments were amalgamated into the Imperial Yeomanry, the individual regiments still were organised on the county system in South Africa. The third category is sources on the Second Anglo-Boer War: this category is by far the largest with the most variation; it can vary from specific battles to multi-volume narratives of the British campaign. It is possible to add a fourth miscellaneous category, focusing on elements such as the history of the British Army and social history.

Auxiliary Forces History

In terms of the more recent literature on the auxiliary forces as a whole, there is not a significant amount to go on. There is, for example, very little published on the history of the Militia as a whole; the focus tends to be on the individual counties. There is however one book that covers the history of the Militia and its role in the Boer War. Colonel George Jackson’s The Epitomized History of the Militia (1905)highlights the history of the Militia from Roman times to 1905. What this source covers is very basic and only partially answers the research question of how the Militia was used in the war. Firstly, it lists the number of Militiamen involved in the Second Anglo-Boer War: 14,000 men were sent to South Africa as Militia to support the regular battalions.[15]  Secondly, Jackson alludes to the primary role of the Militia which was to occupy the blockhouses that were used to restrict the Boers’ movement during the guerrilla phase of the war.[16]  After detailing the history of the Militia, Jackson lists all the Militias by battalion and county that existed in 1905. The value of the source is to highlight the Militia’s involvement in the war, particularly the performance of static guard duties.[17] But Jackson does not assess how effectively the Militia performed during the war. Another work which also covers history of auxiliaries is the The Development of the British Army 1899-1914 (1938) by Colonel John Dunlop. Whilst this book does cover aspects of the Boer War, its natural focus is on the Haldane Reforms. Focusing on the army as a whole, this book offers little consideration into tactical and post- Boer war doctrine. It does have reference to auxiliaries but this is predominantly on the creation of the territorial force.

Works on the Yeomanry are equally as sparse, and again the main focus is on the individual county regiments. One of the earliest works published after his time with the Yeomanry in South Africa, Yeomanry Cavalry or Mounted Infantry? (1901) by Lancelot Rolleston, adds to the debate about the future use of the yeomanry. One aspect is to be used in the traditional cavalry sense, focusing on the charge. Whilst the other side is the mounted infantry role which was playing more of a role throughout the Boer War. Whilst not specifically on the Yeomanry, Lord Anglesey’s eight-volume The History of the British Cavalry 1815 – 1919 (1983-1997details the history of British mounted troops. Although particular focus is on the regular cavalry regiments, Anglesey describes the formation and service of the Imperial Yeomanry in his fourth volume which covers the years from 1899 to 1913. Anglesey does offer a good, but brief, analysis of the IY, particularly the stark difference in quality and training between the first and second contingents. Anglesey shows that the first contingent was significantly better than the second.[18]  Anglesey does highlight some flaws: particularly officers serving a very short time in South Africa before finding an excuse to return home.[19] His analysis on the  second contingent is a lot more scathing as a lot of the new recruits were sent straight out to South Africa and trained on the job, producing a very poor quality soldier.[20] Whilst this analysis does answer some of the first set of research questions, Anglesey falls short on the remaining two sets.[21]  He does, however, go on to mention that the Imperial Yeomanry were intended to be used as mounted infantry rather than cavalry, as well the apparent inefficiencies of doing so as the Boers were likely to capture them.[22] Anglesey provides little relevant detail concerning the actual conflict, listing only notable engagements but not what happened. This, therefore, is an area that requires further research. Continuing with a broad perspective of British mounted troops, Stephen Badsey’s Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 – 1918 (2008) offers an academic perspective on the tactical employment of the Yeomanry. Although Badsey focuses on the regular cavalry, Badsey puts particular focus on the Yeomanry reforms after the war. Whilst fleeting mentions are made of the Yeomanry, before and during the war, it is the subsequent debate and reforms which attract most of Badsey’s attention.

Books on the Volunteer Force are also few in number, though there is more material than there is for the Yeomanry and Militia. But many of these works tend to concentrate on the themes of politics and society, and there is little detail on the military application of the Volunteer Force. They tend to focus on the social composition of the Volunteer Force, and the significant reforms throughout its history, rather than how it was actually used in battle.

Like the rest of the auxiliary forces, the Volunteer Force is neglected until the 1970s. The Volunteer ForceA Social and Political History (1975)by Hugh Cunningham is the first of what could be termed the more recent publications surrounding the VF. As the title suggests, Cunningham focuses more on the political and social aspects of the VF’s history. The fighting aspects of the VF, on the other hand, are barely covered. In fact, the topic of the Second Anglo-Boer War is only mentioned in a couple of pages and is used to highlight the reforms of the VF after 1902. Cunningham alludes to the fact that there were mixed opinions about the efficiency of the Volunteers, but reforms were introduced to show they were being ‘understood by the War Office’.[23]  Cunningham mentions that although these reforms were by no means effective, they pave the way for the creation of the Territorial Force.[24] Whilst this provides useful context, Cunningham says little about the VF’s role during the war. He goes into good detail about the formation, social composition and reforms of the force but doesn’t really offer anything further than that. Again, as with the works on the Militia and Yeomanry, Cunningham’s work reveals significant gaps in the history of the auxiliary forces during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

After Cunningham, one of the most prolific writers on the subject of the VF is Ian F.W. Beckett. Beckett’s first book was Rifleman FormA Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908 (1982), a comprehensive study of the whole lifetime of the VF. Despite its slightly misleading title, Rifleman Form not only looks at the Rifle and Infantry aspects of the VF, but the VF as a whole, including the Mounted Infantry, Artillery and Engineers. Beckett concentrates on the same themes as Cunningham, putting the majority of the focus on the political and social aspects of the VF by looking chiefly at the composition and political application of the Force. Whilst this is similar to Cunningham, Beckett covers these themes in much greater detail. He also includes a brief chapter on the VF during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Like the rest of the book, Beckett approaches this from a political and social standpoint, focusing more on the raising of the Volunteer units, such as the CIV, service companies, engineering volunteers and medical volunteers.[25] Although Beckett briefly mentions some of the engagements the VF took part in, he offers little consideration of the actual combat role of the VF: either in theory or in practice. He opines that the ‘contribution of Volunteers to the actual conflict of operation could not be said to have been decisive’.[26] However he does not explain what the Volunteers did, and instead offers contemporary opinions which on the whole seem quite favourable towards the Volunteers.[27]  One example is a quote from Major-General Smith-Dorrien on the CIV: ‘no regiment in the Army of South Africa has done more splendid work’. [28] This certainly leaves a huge research gap as the tactical applications of the VF are not covered, a gap this study intends to fill.

Beckett has also written about the history of the auxiliaries in Britain’s Part Time Soldiers: The Amateur Military Tradition 1558-1945 (1991). This book tracks the history of all three forces from the first Militia statute until in 1558 until the end of the Second World War. It does feature a chapter on the creation of the Volunteer Force, however this does not add anything to his earlier works. There is also a chapter on reform in the early twentieth century, which does not go into much detail about the Boer War but shows how it affected subsequent reforms, particularly the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908.[29] This does go some way to answering the post war research questions but Beckett is brief and puts more emphasis post-1908 and the challenges faced by the Territorial Force.

There has been some focus on the auxiliaries during the Boer War. William Bennet’s Absent Minded Beggars: Volunteers in the Boer War (1999) and Stephen M. Miller’s Volunteers on the Veld (2007) both tackle the subject of Volunteers during the Boer War. Bennet is unique as he is one of the first to analyse auxiliaries during the Boer War. Whilst Bennet’s book covers some of the same ground as this study, it has some serious limitations. For a start Bennet offers a broad analysis of the conflict, focusing largely in the raising of these volunteers. The majority of the focus is on the larger contingents of the auxiliaries: the yeomanry receive the most attention followed by the CIV. The Volunteer Service Company and the Militia are completely overlooked. Finally, Bennett fails to mention the auxiliaries’ relationship with the regular army and does not offer a comparison with its part-time counterparts. This aspect is a key component of this study.  By contrast Miller focuses on the volunteers from a grass-roots perspective, focusing chiefly on the individuals that joined and fought with the VF. Whilst there is of course some explanation as to why the volunteers were in South Africa, Miller puts the focus on the men themselves by looking at their personal experiences during and after the conflict. Miller seems to have relied heavily on Beckett’s research, and touches on many of the same themes. Miller does not analyse the volunteers’ achievements: only a small portion of the book focuses on the war itself. Instead he confines himself to a discussion of how individuals reacted to the changing battlefield as the war progressed from conventional to guerrilla war. There is little reference to the collective experience of whole regiments, and only a brief mention of their intended function and how they were actually deployed. When examining the conventional phase of the war in 1900, he puts more emphasis on the Volunteers’ experiences on the march and in camp than in actual combat.[30] When Miller does refers to combat, it is chiefly from the perspective of individual soldiers who, for example, come under fire for the first time and struggle to see the enemy.[31] Of course the individual’s perspective is important and Miller does cover some gaps left by previous historians. Yet by focusing on individual soldiers, Miller fails to ask many of the key questions that this research paper will hope to answer: in particular, how the individual regiments were used and whether they did their job well.

One final source which is worth mentioning is K. W. Mitchenson ‘s England’s Last Hope (2008). Whilst not strictly about the Militia, Yeomanry or Volunteer Force, Mitchenson focuses on the history of the Territorial Force between 1908 and 1914. As a result, it does glance at the need for reform of the auxiliary organisations that existed before the creation of the Territorial Force, as result coverage is limited as Mitchenson ’s main focus is on a period after the intended period of study for this theses.


Regimental Histories

A number of regimental histories cover the period in question. The majority of these histories start with the creation of the VF around 1859.  Whilst on their own they only cover one specific regiment, they do answer some of the research questions. Colonel Charles Hart’s The History of the 1st Volunteer Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and its Predecessors (1905)and G.Goold-Walker’s A History of the Honourable Artillery Company 1537-1987 (1987not only cover the complete history of these organisations but go into specific details on the Second Anglo-Boer War. Goold-Walker, however, paraphrases Basil Williams’ The HAC in South Africa (1908)to cover their involvement in South Africa in significantly more detail. What both sources do well is cover the organisation, training and notable actions of both regiments. The Warwickshires were attached to their regular sister battalions as a service company whilst the HAC provided men to the CIV in both an infantry and artillery capacity. Both sources show the differences in training and the attitudes of the volunteers before setting off. As well as notable engagements with the enemy, particularly the Battle of Diamond Hill.

Regular regimental histories can also be very useful as they often describe the history of both Militia and Volunteer Battalions. A Short History of the Black Watch 1725-1907 (1908)by A. G, Wauchope is a good example. On the whole Wauchope has a negative opinion of the Militia battalion, describing its men as unfit, though they did improve by the end of the war.[32] His opinion of the Volunteers, on the other hand, was highly favourable, describing them as ‘men as willing as intelligent, and of excellent spirit.[33] L.E. du Moulin’s Years on Trek: Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa (1907)and M. L. Ferrer’s With the Green Howards in South Africa, 1899- 1902 (1904) on the other hand focus solely on the regiment in South Africa. They provide answers to some of the second set of research questions, particularly how the auxiliaries worked alongside their regular counterparts; but they also highlight the variation in how they were used. According to du Moulin, the Sussex Regiment sent more Militia out to South Africa than any other regiment.[34] They were formed into a mounted infantry battalion for local defence.[35] The Sussex Volunteer company, on the other hand, was able to perform a combat role and was treated like a regular company. Ferrer details how the Green Howards’ Service company had a relaxed time guarding a mine and was treated well by the mine’s owner.[36]

Boer War Histories

When it comes to looking at general works on the Second Anglo-Boer War, the auxiliaries are quite often neglected. The focus is generally on the battles and campaigns, particularly with regard to the performance of senior commanders or the failures and controversial actions of the British Army during the course of the war. That said, the auxiliaries do receive some mention in a few sources. Some of the earlier histories, published during and immediately after the war, include works by the acclaimed author Arthur Conan Doyle and The Times history. These earlier sources tend to be critical towards the British approach to the war.  Conan Doyle wrote two books on the conflict: The Great Boer War (1902)which he revised throughout the war; and The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Consequences (1902)whichfocuses more on the way the war was fought. For the purposes of this study, his first book is particularly relevant. When looking at the role of the auxiliaries, Conan-Doyle offers some insight to their involvement in the war. Conan-Doyle mentions the government’s need to raise and send eleven Militia battalions, a strong Volunteer contingent and a mounted force of Yeomanry.[37] He also refers to their role. He says the Militia, for example, were restricted to guarding the lines of communications.[38] However, as the war progressed into the guerrilla phase and the Boers became more mobile, the Militia were the victims of the Boers’ ‘hit and run’ tactics and did not fair well. Conan-Doyle uses the example of the Militiamen from the Derbyshire Regiment who were attacked in camp by the Boers and suffered 140 casualties before they surrendered.[39] The Yeomanry, on the other hand, were regarded by Conan-Doyle as a better alternative to regular cavalry because they could dismount and fight on foot as was shown on a number of occasions.[40] However it was the Volunteer Force that receive most of Conan-Doyle’s praise. Of the CIV’s first taste of combat in February 1900, he writes they ‘bore themselves with the gallantry of the old train-bands whose descendants they are’.[41]

L. S. Amery’s The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 offers a much more comprehensive and highly critical account of the war than Conan-Doyle, and the auxiliaries are referenced throughout.In Volume Two, Amery offers an assessment of the British Army before the war and focuses on the relationship between the auxiliaries and the Regular Army. This, if anything, is too critical focusing on the 1881 reforms and the move to decentralise county regiments.[42] Amery’s  Volume Three concentrates on the reaction at home to the changing nature of the war after the series of British losses during Black Week in December 1899. Amery is quick to criticise the War Office for not having plans to use the Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteers for foreign service. ‘A trained staff… would have known,’ he writes, ‘…what value to put upon auxiliary forces, and have remembered that there are occasion when, in default of highly trained troops, great things can be done with untrained material if its physical and moral quality is good.’[43] This study, on the other hand, will underline the largely positive contribution the auxiliaries made to the war effort. By contrast Fredrick Maurice’s History of the War in South Africa 1899 -1902 (1906) offers a far less politicised account of the events. The auxiliaries are mentioned throughout and Maurice offers detailed accounts of the battles of conventional phase of the war. One of the biggest weaknesses of Maurice account of the war is that the guerrilla phase is not covered in much detail, the first three volumes cover the first year of the war in its conventional phase, whilst the fourth and final volume covers the rest.

More recent scholarship has tried to break away from the harsh criticisms of the earlier texts. Specific references to auxiliaries in these sources, however, are rare. Bryon Farwell’s The Great Boer War (1977) and Thomas Pakenham’s The Boer War (1979) are examples of this. Pakenham does refer to the auxiliaries slightly more than Farwell, but Pakenham’s account is rather confusing when it comes to the VF. He mentions that civilians ‘volunteer’, but there is no reference to the Volunteer Force, apart from some fleeting references to the CIV.[44] He does however offer a very good comparison of the tactics used by the CIV and a regular battalion of the Gordon Highlanders at the Battle of Doornkop on 26 May 1900. Both the Gordon’s and CIV took the hill; but the Gordon’s suffered far more casualties because they used the unsophisticated battle tactic of a headlong charge.[45]

Furthermore, a vast majority of the scholarship in the past couple of decades has moved away from the fighting towards the social repercussions of the war. Bill Nessson’s The South African War, 1899-1902 (1999) puts emphasis on the effects of the war on South African Society. Whilst The South African War Reappraised (2000), edited by Donal Lowry, focuses more on race. Some notable exceptions to the recent trend is The Boer War: Army, Nation and Empire (2000) By Peter Dennis & Jeffrey Grey (eds) which is a collection of academic essays on the military aspects of the Boer War. However, the auxiliaries are completely overlooked barely receiving a mention. Dennis Judd and Keith Surridge’s The Boer War: A History (2003), which does offer a more detailed account of the auxiliaries’ role, in particular the raising of the Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteers (including the CIV and the Volunteer companies attached to their regular regiments). One interesting area which is not mentioned in other sources is the lack of support the auxiliaries received from the War Office, particularly with regard to equipment. This was, however, not such an issue for the Yeomanry as the money it had raised through wealthy investors could be used to buy better equipment and horses than the army would have provided.[46] Despite this, the overall coverage of the auxiliaries is lacking  as it offers a much broader approach to the war.

Finally, Spencer Jones Boer War to World War (2013) also offers an insight in the conduct and lessons learnt from the Boer War. The auxiliaries are not really covered instead focusing on the British Army as a whole. It is important to mention this in relation to this study as its focus on the regular army addresses a couple of the secondary research questions.

Gaps in the Secondary Literature

Overall there has been little attempt by historians to assess the combat performance of the auxiliaries during the war, or even to explain their intended roles in any detail.  Not one source, for example, offers an in-depth analysis of the performance of the auxiliaries during the war. The CIV and Imperial Yeomanry are referred to in a number of books about the war, but very little consideration is given to their composition, training and actual battle performance. The Volunteer Service Companies and Militia barely get a mention in the more recent sources; and this despite the fact that this is a unique period in British military history in that it was the first time ‘civilian’ volunteers were used to fight a foreign war. One potential reason for this omission is that the Second Anglo-Boer War would soon be completely overshadowed by both World Wars, with former civilians doing the brunt of the fighting. This dissertation intends to fill these research gaps and analyse the performance of the auxiliary forces. Whilst some sources have touched on the auxiliaries, one aspect that is overlooked is the relationship with the regular army. As the auxiliaries were mobilised to support the regular army, it will be important to analyse how volunteers differ in their approach to warfare.

Primary Sources

The obvious starting point for the unpublished primary source research for this subject is The National Archives (TNA)The relevant records of the auxiliary forces are held in WO 14. Whilst some of these files have been used in previous histories, the vast majority have not: there is, therefore, much new material to access. Although TNA is moving towards digitising its records, the majority of these files are still in paper form. Of all the archives, TNA is the most varied in terms of its available documents. They can range from private personal files such as Roberts private papers found in WO105 to the draft proclamations for the mobilisation of the auxiliaries

Another useful archive is the National Army Museum. However due to current renovations at the museum, which are not due to be completed until the end of the year, access to the archives is difficult. Current advice suggests that documents can be ordered to their reading rooms in Stevenage but the service is halted in July.  The archive features a variety of documents but mainly private papers.  including high ranking commanders, such as Field Marshal Lord Roberts, and the papers of volunteer soldiers such as the Elphinstone brothers who served with the IY, and Thomas Cadell who served with the Queens City of Edinburgh Rifle Volunteers.

As with Secondary works, regimental archives will be extremely important. Since most counties still have regimental museums, these will be a rich resource. Due to the amalgamation of regiments and their regimental museums for the majority of counties, the infantry and yeomanry elements are now combined into one regiment which for the purposes of this study is very useful. This will provide a number of details on the Militia, Yeomanry and service combines, as well as archives on their regular counterparts. The National Archives of Scotland as well as the Edinburgh City Archives, both in Edinburgh, feature a variety of documents that relate to various Scottish auxiliaries. The Keep, in Dorchester, holds records for the Devon and Dorset volunteers.

The one exception is the City of London Imperial Volunteers which does not have a central archive as it only existed for the duration of the war. Papers relating to this regiment can be found in a number of places. Firstly, regiments which contributed men to the CIV have some relevant documents, as do the London Metropolitan Archives and the National Army Museum.

The Corps museums of the royal Artillery and Royal Engineers will also be useful, though both archives shut in July. However, as the Artillery and Engineer volunteers were raised by county, archives still exist locally. A notable example is the archives of the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers which can be found at the Monmouth Castle.

Another wealth of material can be found in contemporary publications. The Volunteer Service Gazette first published in 1859 quickly became the official publication of the Volunteer movement. It ran until 1908 and covered many newspaper and journal articles about the volunteers. It also featured contemporary debate about volunteers. The United Service Magazine and the RUSI Journal feature a number of debates surrounding the auxiliaries throughout the period of study.  Another publication which also features a few articles on the auxiliaries is The Nineteenth Century.

There are also a few political documents that can be consulted. Hansard features every date that happened in both the House of Commons and House of Lords. There a fair few debates surrounding the auxiliaries and the Boer War. The Elgin Commission is also a highly valuable source for this study. Published after the Boer War, the auxiliaries did feature extensively in the commission.

Dissertation Plan

The dissertation will consist of an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion. The introduction will firstly define the period of study (1881-1907) as well as the three components that made up the auxiliary forces of that period. It will then set out the research questions and survey the existing literature, thus establishing that the thesis is both justified and necessary.

The next three chapters will all follow a similar format. Chapter 1 will focus on the Militia, Chapter 2 on the Yeomanry and Chapter 3 on the Volunteer Force. All three chapters will focus on the same themes, particularly those referred to in the first two sets of research questions. It would be possible to add an additional chapter that analyses the three auxiliary forces before the war; however, after some deliberation, I feel this is better placed in the individual chapters due to the variation and different time scales across the forces. Each Chapter will therefore start around 1881 and will end at the end of the war.

The first area that will be explored in these chapters is the composition and purpose of each of the forces. This will cover the first set of research questions. Not only will this cover the pre-war organisation of each of the forces but more importantly it will also look at how they were being trained and prepared for war. It will examine their military doctrine in the event of war and whether there was any intention for such a force to be sent abroad. It will also examine the auxiliaries’ relationship with the regular army, compare their training methods and their opinions of each other.

Focus will then shift towards the war itself. The natural starting point is ‘Black Week’ in December 1899, because these defeats were the trigger to mobilising the auxiliaries. Since this period also saw a significant recruitment drive, the background and nature of that process will be covered. As the chief omission of the existing secondary literature is any detailed assessment of the use and effectiveness of the auxiliaries, this theme will dominate this section of the chapter. It will provide the answer to the second set of secondary research questions, and in particular will assess the contribution that whole units, rather than individuals, made to the British war effort.

The fourth chapter will focus on the aftermath of the war and the third set of secondary questions. The Second Anglo-Boer War highlighted significant weaknesses in the regular army, and this chapter will decide if the auxiliaries displayed similar or different weaknesses, or indeed separate strengths. It will consider if there were any lessons to be learnt for the auxiliary forces and why, just a few years later, it was thought necessary to amalgamate them into the Territorial Force.

The Conclusion will attempt to answer the main research question: ‘What role did British auxiliary forces play during the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902?’  By considering the composition, use and performance of the three separate components of the auxiliary forces – the Militia, Yeomanry and VF – it will hope to conclude that the contribution they made to the British war effort was much greater than previous historians have given them credit for.


Scheme of Work

July– August – Write dissertation

September- Hand in Dissertation


  1. Primary Sources Unpublished

The Edinburgh City Archives

Edinburgh records of Volunteer Regiments

The Essex Regiment and Essex Yeomanry Museum

Regimental Archives of the Essex Regiment

Regimental Archives of the Essex Yeomanry

The Honourable Artillery Company Museum

Regimental Archives of The Honourable Artillery Company

The Keep Military Museum 

Regimental Archives of the Devonshire Regiment

Regimental Archives of the Dorsetshire Regiment

Liddell Hart Collection, Kings Collage, The University of London

Hamilton Papers

London Metropolitan Archives

Regimental Archives of the City of London Imperial Volunteers

The London Scottish Regiment Museum

Regimental Archives of the The London Scottish Regiment

National Archives

Auxiliary Forces Papers

Cabinet Papers

Imperial Yeomanry Papers

Lord Roberts Papers

South African War Correspondence and Papers

War Office Papers

The National Archives of Scotland

Campbell Papers

Gordon papers

Lanark Rifles Papers

Mid Lothian Volunteers Papers

Robertson Papers

The National Army Museum

Awdry Papers

Cadell Papers

Elphinstone Papers

Maurice Papers

Peterson Papers

Roberts Papers

Stephenson Papers

Ward papers

The Royal Engineers Museum

Regimental Archives of the Royal Engineers Museum

The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) Museum

Regimental Archive of The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) Archives

  1. Primary Sources Published


Act to Amend Reserve Forces Act of 1882

1900 (276) iv, 313.

Bill to amend calling out of the Volunteer Force.

1900 (67).

Strength of Volunteer Service Companies and Drafts for South Africa from those embarked in 1900

1902 (224) LVII 705.

Contemporary works

Callwell, C. E., Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (London, 1906)

Childers, E., In the Ranks of the CIV (London, 1901)

Clode, C. M., The Military Forces of the CrownTheir Administration and Government (London, 1869)

Corner, W., The Story of the 34th Company (Middlesex) Imperial Yeomanry from the Point of View of Private No.6243 (London, 1903)

Crum, F. M., With The Mounted Infantry in South Africa; Being Side-lights on the Boer Campaign 1899-1902 (London, 1903)

Dewar, T. F., With the Scottish Yeomanry (Arbroath, 1901)


Report of His Majesty’ s Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Military Preparations and Other Matters Connected with the War in South Africa, 4 Volumes including Report, Command No. 1789 – 1792 (London, 1903)

Ross, P.T., A Yeoman’s Letters (London, 1901)

  1. Secondary Sources

Unpublished Theses

Beckett, I. F. W, The English Rifle Volunteer Movement, 1859-1908 (Unpub. Ph.D. London 1974)


Amery, L. S., Times History of the War in South Africa, 7 vols (London, 1900-09)

Anglesey, Marquis of, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume IV 1899-1913 (London,1998)

Badsey, S., Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 – 1918 (Birmingham, 2008)

Beckett, I., ‘The Amateur Military Tradition’in The Oxford History of the British Army, ed. David Chandler (Oxford, 2003)

Beckett, I., Britain’s Part-Time Soldiers: The Amateur Military Tradition 1558-1945 (Manchester, 1991)

Beckett, I., Rifleman Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908 (Barnsley, 2007)

Beckett, I., The Victorians at War (London, 2003)

Bennet, W., Absent Minded Beggars: Volunteers in the Boer War (1999)

Cairnes, W., Social Life in the British Army (London, 1899)

Carver, Field Marshal Lord, The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War (London, 1999)

Cunningham, H., The Volunteer Force: A Social and Political History (Hamden, 1975)

Peter Dennis, P. and Grey, J., (eds) The Boer War: Army, Nation and Empire (Canberra, 2000)

Doyle, A. C., The War in South Africa: It’s Cause and Conduct (London, 1902)

Doyle, A. C., The Great Boer War, (New York, 1902)

du Moulin, L. E., Two Years On Trek: Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa (London, 1907)

Dunlop, J., The Development of the British Army 1899-1914 (London, 1938)

Durand, M., The Life of Field Marshall Sir George White VC: Volume II (London, 1915)

Farwells, B., The Great Boer War (1977)

Ferrer, M. L., With the Green Howards in South Africa, 1899- 1902 (London, 1904)

Forrest, G., The life of Lord Roberts, K.G., V.C (London, 1914)

Goold-Walker, G., A History of the Honourable Artillery Company 1537-1987 (London, 1987)

Grew, E., Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener: His Life and Work For The Empire: Volume II (London, 1916)

Hart, Colonel Charles, The History of the 1st Volunteer Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and its Predecessors (Birmingham, 1905)

Howe, C., The Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals in the Boer War 1900-1902, 3 vols (London, 1902)

Jackson Hay, G., An Epitomized History of The Militia (London, 1905)

Jackson, M., The Record of a Regiment of the Line Being a Regimental History of the 1st Battalion the Devonshire Regiment during the Boer War 1899-1902 (London, 1908)

Jones, S., From Boer War to World War (London, 2013)

Judd, D. and Surridge. K., The Boer War: A History (London 2013)

Keegan, J. and Holmes, R., SoldiersA History of Men in Battle (London, 1985)

Lowry, D., The South African War Reappraised (2000)

Mahan, A. T., The Story of the War in South Africa 1899-1900 (London, 1901)

Maurice, F., History of the War in South Africa 1899 – 1902, 4 vols (London, 1906-10)

Mileham, P., The Yeomanry Regiments; 200 Years of Tradition (Edinburgh, 1994)

Miller, S., Volunteers on the Veld: Britain’s Citizen-Soldiers and the South African War 1899-1902 (Oklahoma, 2007)

Mitchenson, K. W., England’s Last Hope (London, 2008)

Nessson, B., The South African War, 1899-1902 (1999)

Pakenham, T., The Boer War (London, 2007)

Robinson, Commander C. N., Celebrities of the Army (London, 1900)

Rolleston, L., Yeomanry Cavalry or Mounted Infantry? (London, 1901)

Skelly, A. R., The Victorian Army at Home (1977)

Speirs, E., The Late Victorian Army (Manchester, 1992)

Speirs, E. M., The Victorian Soldier in Africa (Manchester, 2004)

Stevens, F. T., The Complete History of the South African War in 1899-1902 (London, 1902)

Wauchope, A. G., A Short History of The Black Watch (Edinburgh, 1908)

Westlake, R., Tracing the Rifle Volunteers (Barnsley, 2010)

Wilkinson, S., Lessons of the War (London, 1900)

Williams, B., The HAC in South Africa (London, 1908)

Journal Articles

Bond, B., ‘Recruiting the Victorian Army, 1870-92’, Victorian Studies, 5 (1962), 331-338

Miller, S., ‘Slogging across the Veld: British Volunteers and the Guerrilla Phase of the South African War’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 84 (2006), 158-178

Newspapers and Magazines

The London Gazette

Manchester Guardian

 Nineteenth Century

RUSI Journal

The Times

United Service Magazine

Volunteer Service Gazette

[1] I. Beckett, ‘The Amateur Military Tradition’in The Oxford History of the British Army, ed. by David Chandler (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2003), p. 388.

[2]  Ibid, p. 392.

[3] I. Beckett, The Victorians at War (London, 2003)p. 204.

[4] I. Beckett Rifleman Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908 (Barnsley, 2007), p. 20.

[5]  R. Westlake, Tracing the Rifle Volunteers (Barnsley, 2010) p. 2.

[6] H. Cunningham The Volunteer Force: A Social and Political History (Hamden, 1975) p. 22.

[7]  Ibid.

[8] E. Speirs., The Late Victorian Army (Manchester, 1992) p. 2.

[9] R. Westlake, Tracing the Rifle Volunteers, p. 4.

[10]  Ibid.

[11] I. Beckett, The Victorians at War (London, 2003), p. 204.

[12] Ibid.

[13] P. Mileham, The Yeomanry Regiments; 200 Years of Tradition (Edinburgh, 1994), p. 27.

[14] Ibid.

[15] G. Jackson Hay, An Epitomized History of The Militia (London, 1905), p. 8.

[16] Ibid., p. 185.

[17] Ibid., p. 305.

[18] Ibid., p. 92.

[19] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume IV 1899-1913 (London, 1998), p. 92.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., pp. 100-101.

[23] Cunningham, The Volunteer Force, p. 129.

[24] Ibid., p.140.

[25] Beckett, Rifleman Form, p. 213.

[26] Ibid., p. 216.

[27] Ibid., p. 217.(Lonodn 2013) A History  ar in South Africa: Volume III (losnoiment in South Africa (lonf its physical eers for foreign seervice(Lonodn 2013) A History  ar in South Africa: Volume III (losnoiment in South Africa (lonf its physical eers for foreign seervice

[28] Ibid.

[29] I. Beckett, The Amateur Military Tradition, p. 217.

[30] S. Miller, Volunteers on the Veld: Britain’s Citizen-Soldiers and the South African War 1899-1902 (Oklahoma, 2007), p. 101.

[31] Ibid., p. 109.

[32] A. G. Wauchope, A Short History of The Black Watch (Edinburgh, 1908) pp. 213-214.

[33]Ibid., p. 214.

[34] L. E. du Moulin, Two Years On Trek: Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa (London, 1907), p. 320.

[35] Ibid.

[36] M. L. Ferrer, With the Green Howards in South Africa, 1899- 1902 (London, 1904)p. 52.

[37] A. Conan-Doyle, The Great Boer War (New York, 1902) p. 114.

[38] Ibid., p.226.

[39] Ibid., p.269.

[40] Ibid., p.224.

[41] Ibid., p.186.

[42] Ibid., pp.14-15. (Lonodn 2013) A History  ar in South Africa: Volume III (losnoiment in South Africa (lonf its physical eers for foreign seervice

[43] L. S. Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa: Volume III (London, 1905), p. 13.

[44] T. Pakenham, The Boer War (London, 2007), p. 253.

[45] Ibid., p. 426.

[46] D. Judd and K. Surridge, The Boer War: A History (London, 2013),p. 72.

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