The Royal Reserve Regiments and The Royal Garrison Regiment

In researching the essay about my great-great-uncle Moses Neill, I came across reference to the Royal Garrison Regiment, into which he enlisted in 1902. A search for information about the Regiment revealed little and the information that was easily found has proven to be wrong or inaccurate. A number of sources conflate the Royal Garrison Regiment with the earlier Royal Reserve Regiments; while it is true that the men of the latter were recruited for the former, these two organisations were raised at different times and for very different purposes. In the sections below, hyperlinks will lead to a transcription or copy of the relevant Royal Warrant or Army Order.

The Royal Reserve Regiments

Officers of the Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment, 1900

Officers of the Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment, 1900

The Royal Reserve Regiments of cavalry and infantry were authorised by Royal Warrant, dated 17 February 1900 and promulgated by Army Order Army 48, for ‘the defence of the United Kingdom’ during the Boer War. The move to re-enlist former soldiers was one of a number taken to expand the British Army, both regular and volunteer units, for service in South Africa and at home.[1]

In parallel with the issuance of the Royal Warrant, in a letter to the Commander-in-Chief[2] from the Queen’s private secretary written from Osborne House on 17 February,[3] the Queen’s wishes regarding the naming of the new units were made known:[4]

My dear Lord Wolseley,
As so large a proportion of the Army is now in South Africa, the Queen fully realises that necessary measures must be adopted for home defence.
Her Majesty is advised that it would be possible to raise for one year an efficient force from her old soldiers who have already served as officers, non-commissioned officers or privates.
Confident in their loyalty to country and devotion to her Throne, the Queen appeals to them to serve once more in place of those who for a time are absent from these islands and who, side by side with the people of her colonies, are nobly resisting the invasion of her South Africa possessions.
He Majesty has signified her pleasure that these battalions be designated ‘Royal Reserve Battalions’ of her Army.

Subsequent to the original Royal Warrant, an Army Order issued on 7 March 1900 gave more detail about the terms of service, confirmed that the corps into which men were to be attested was the ‘Royal Reserve Regiments’, and gave more organisational details. In particular, the Order laid out the alignment between Line regiments and the new Royal Reserve Regiments; for example, it stated that the Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment would comprise men of the ‘Royal Innsikilling Fusiliers, Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Munster Fusiliers, and Royal Dublin Fusiliers’. It noted that members of the Militia were excluded from enlistment. A later Army Order added to the elements of the Army excluded from re-enlistment or transfer.[5] An Army Order of 5 April confirmed the names of the cavalry regiments and laid out the establishments for both cavalry and infantry: The establishment of each infantry battalion was to be 1,006 all ranks (24 officers, two warrant officers and 980 other ranks), although the two Scottish battalions were authorised an additional nine men—a sergeant piper and eight other pipers. The establishment of the cavalry regiments was 594 all ranks (23 officers, two warrant officers and 269 other ranks), and 417 horses, of which six were draught animals. Army Order 106 of May 1900 allowed for the re-enlistment of some men in the Royal Reserve Regiments for service in South Africa.[6]

Recruiting was enthusiastic but there were delays in fully equipping the new regiments and battalions, which resulted in Parliamentary questions that were widely reported in the press. A total of 24,130 men were enlisted for service with the Royal Reserve Regiments before recruiting was stopped on 10 June 1900.[7]

Four regiments of cavalry, and 18 battalions of infantry in 10 regiments were raised. Two of the cavalry regiments were based in England and two in Ireland. Of the infantry battalions, 13 were in England, two were in Ireland, two in Scotland and one in Wales:

Her Majesty’s Reserve Regiment of Dragoon Guards (Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland)
Her Majesty’s Reserve Regiment of Dragoons (York, Yorkshire, England)
Her Majesty’s Reserve Regiment of Hussars (Hounslow, Middlesex, England)
Her Majesty’s Reserve Regiment of Lancers (Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland)

1st Battalion, Royal Guards Reserve Regiment (London; Wellington and, from October 1900, the Tower of London, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Home Counties Reserve Regiment (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)
2nd Battalion, Royal Home Counties Reserve Regiment (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Northern Reserve Regiment (Woking, Surrey, England)
2nd Battalion, Royal Northern Reserve Regiment (Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, Wales)
3rd Battalion, Royal Northern Reserve Regiment (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)
4th Battalion, Royal Northern Reserve Regiment (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Rifles Reserve Regiment (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England)
2nd Battalion, Royal Rifles Reserve Regiment (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Southern Reserve Regiment (Portsdown Forts, Hampshire, England)
2nd Battalion, Royal Southern Reserve Regiment (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Lancashire Reserve Regiment (Preston, Lancashire, England)
2nd Battalion, Royal Lancashire Reserve Regiment (Aldershot, Hampshire, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Scottish Reserve Regiment (Fort George, Inverness, Scotland)
2nd Battalion, Royal Scottish Reserve Regiment (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland)

1st Battalion, Royal Eastern Reserve Regiment (Warley, Essex, England)

1st Battalion, Royal Irish Reserve Regiment (Athlone, Westmeath, Ireland)

1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment (Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland)

In a very British way, there was little uniformity of badges and emblems across this new organisation. Officers were to wear uniforms ‘as a general rule similar to that used in the corresponding regiments’ and the men would wear the uniform of regiments ‘serving at home’, eschewing the khaki ‘fad’.[8]

Other Ranks Helmet Plate, Reserve Regiment of Lancers

Other Ranks Helmet Plate, Reserve Regiment of Lancers

Each of the cavalry regiments had a unique badge—common to all were the gothic letters ‘H M R R’, surmounted by St. Edward’s crown and below the letters was a scroll inscribed ‘DRAGOON GUARDS’, DRAGOONS’, ‘HUSSARS’, or ‘LANCERS’; collar badges were smaller and omitted the crown. In addition, each of the cavalry regiments had unique officers’ and other ranks’ helmet plates.

The single battalion of the Royal Guards Reserve Regiment was organised into three ‘divisions’ each wearing the uniform and badges of the three Regiments of Foot Guards—Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards. The Royal Scottish Reserve Regiment wore the uniform of The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) and, on their glengarries, the two battalions wore a thistle badge—it has not been possible to confirm what was used as the cloth background to the badge or if a hackle was used. The Royal Rifles Reserve Regiment wore the uniform of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and had as its badge the light infantry bugle. The other English infantry battalions wore the uniform of the Royal West Surrey Regiment and the badge used (for cap and collar) was the Royal Arms; this badge latter became that of the Royal Garrison Regiment (see below). The Royal Irish Reserve Regiment wore the uniform of the Royal Irish Regiment and its badge was a harp surmounted by a crown, similar to the badge of the Royal Irish Constabulary, with the officers’ full-dress badge being surrounded by a shamrock wreath. The Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment wore the uniform of Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers); its badge was a fired grenade with a shamrock trefoil superimposed on the grenade body.

The men of other arms were organised into units already existing and wore the uniforms and badges of their corps.

The Royal Reserve Regiments were disbanded on 14 May 1901. Men not enlisting into the new Royal Garrison Regiment were sent on furlough until the expiration of their term of service. The issue of the ‘character’ of men that was noted on discharge papers caused some debate. With only one year in the Army, those men who were discharged could only receive a character of ‘very good’. Men whose character had previously been ‘exemplary’ were unable to explain the reason for this variation. The issue resulted in a flurry of letters and commentary in the press.


The Royal Garrison Regiment

Men of the 5th Battalion, Royal Garrison Regiment at Wellington Barracks, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1905

Men of the 5th Battalion, Royal Garrison Regiment at Wellington Barracks, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1905

The Royal Garrison Regiment was a corps of the British Army authorised by Royal Warrant, dated 23 February 1901 and promulgated by Army Order 59, for garrison duty ‘…in the Mediterranean and at certain other non-tropical stations’.[9] Although eight battalions were planned, only five and a depot were raised.[10] Four battalions were raised in 1901—the 1st, 3rd and 4th battalions were sent to Malta, whilst the 2nd was sent to Gibraltar. In 1902, the 5th Battalion was raised for garrison duties in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The establishment of the Battalions was 1,012 all ranks.[11] Initially, recruiting for the new regiment was restricted to men of the infantry battalions of the Royal Reserve Regiment, including those who had been discharged from that regiment within the preceding year. That latter restriction was removed (by Army Order 98 of 1902[12]) and recruitment was widened to include discharged soldiers of the regular Army and of the Royal Marines, Royal Marine Artillery and ex-infantry soldiers of the Militia.[13]

The cap badge of the Regiment was the Royal Arms in brass, with a smaller version worn on the collar; the shoulder title comprised the letters ‘R G R’, also in brass.[14]

3rd Battalion Memorial, St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valetta, Malta

3rd Battalion Memorial, St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valetta, Malta

This was a regiment of the regular British Army and, notwithstanding some differences in terms of service, some men of the regiments were accompanied by their families to their duty stations in the Mediterranean and Canada and separation allowance was paid to those whose families remained at home. When the 3rd Battalion left for Malta, for example, it was accompanied by 38 wives and 54 children.[15] This proved to be a considerable expense; the age of the men in the Battalions of the Regiment meant that many more were married than would be found in a battalion of a Line regiment.[16]

In 1903, a new Royal Warrant, dated 28 February 1903 and promulgated by Army Order 35, superseded the original Royal Warrant. It laid out amended terms of service, the principle changes being that the length of service was increased from two to three years and that the Regiment ‘may in the future be required to serve in the South Africa Command…’[17] The four battalions in the Mediterranean were duly sent to South Africa to undertake garrison duties in 1904.

Recruitment tailed off after the initial effort in 1901: 4,052 men were recruited that year, 2,250 in 1902, 1,121 in the first nine months of 1903, and a further 561 men before recruiting ended in 1904; a total of 7,984 all ranks.[18], [19] The decision to abolish the Royal Garrison Regiment had been taken prior to their departure for South Africa and recruiting for the Regiment stopped on 14 April 1904.[20]

In 1905, three battalions (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th) returned from South Africa and the 5th Battalion, with its families, returned from Canada; all were then disbanded. The 1st Battalion remained at Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg, Natal throughout 1906, where it reduced in size as men came to the end of their engagements.[21] The Regiment was finally disbanded on 1 September 1908 during the period of the Haldane Reforms.[22]

Five battalions of infantry and a regimental depot were raised:

Regimental Depot.

  • Established at Warley Barracks, Essex on 10 May 1901.
  • February 1903, the Regimental Depot relocated to Fort Widley, one of the defensive forts on Portsdown Hill near Cosham in Hampshire.
  • 24 February 1906, all men with more than 12 months’ unexpired service embarked for South Africa to join the 1st Battalion.[23]
  • 15 April 1906, the Regimental Depot at Fort Widley was closed[24] and the maintenance of the Regiment’s records fell to the Records Office, Winchester.
  • Commanding Officers:
    • Captain Frank Bevan, The Northumberland Fusiliers, June 1901-January 1902.
    • Major Almeric Edmund Frederic Rich (formely The Lincolnshire Regiment), January 1902-November 1903.
    • Lieutenant Colonel Harrison Midwood (formerly The Highland Light Infantry and Second-in-Command of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Garrison Regiment), November 1903-April 1906.

1st Battalion.[25]

  • Raised at Aldershot, Hampshire on 10 April 1901, at Salamaca Barracks.
  • 23 May 1901, embarked on SS Formosa at Southampton for Malta, arriving on 31 May, where it relieved 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment).
  • Garrison duties at Fort Verdala, Cospicua, on the eastern side of the Grand Habour until 1903, when it moved to Fort St. Elmo in Valetta. In early 1904 the Battalion moved to Gozo.
  • 29 April 1904, embarked on SS Sicilia for Durban, South Africa, arriving on 26 May 1904.
  • Took over garrison duties at Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg, Natal.[26]
  • The Battalion remained in Pietermaritzburg until its remnants returned to the United Kingdom in 1906, after which the Battalion was disbanded.
  • Commanding Officers:
    • Lieutenant Colonel Frederick John Evelegh (formerly The Oxfordshire Light Infantry), April 1901-mid-1906.
    • Major Christopher Montagu Blackett (formerly The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own)), 1906.

2nd Battalion.

  • Raised at Aldershot, Hampshire on 10 April 1901, at Talabera Barracks.
  • 15 May 1901, embarked on SS Dilwara at Southampton for Gibraltar, arriving on 20 May, where it relieved 1st Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment).
  • 11 April 1904, embarked on SS Dunera for Durban, South Africa, arriving on 4 May.
  • Took over garrison duties at Standerton in the Transvaal.
  • 11 July 1905, embarked on SS Dunera at Durban for Southampton, arriving on 4 August.
  • The 2nd Battalion was disbanded on 15 September 1905.
  • Commanding Officer: Lieutenant Colonel Charles Owen Hore CMG (formerly The South Staffordshire Regiment), April 1901-September 1905.

3rd Battalion.

  • Raised at Warley, Essex on 20 June 1901.
  • 20 September 1901, embarked on SS Assaye at Southampton for Malta, arriving on 28 September.
  • Garrison duties at Fort Verdala, Cospicua and Lower St. Elmo Barracks, Valletta. In late 1902 the Battalion moved to Mtarfa Barracks.
  • 20 April 1904, embarked on SS Plassy for Capetown, South Africa, arriving on 13 May.
  • Took over garrison duties at Tempe Barracks, Bloemfontein in Orange River Colony.
  • 9 September 1905, embarked on SS Dilwara at Capetown for Southampton, arriving on 2 October.
  • The 3rd Battalion was disbanded on 30 November 1905.
  • Commanding Officer: Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Stringer (formerly The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and Royal Home Counties Reserve Regiment), May 1901-May 1905.

4th Battalion.

  • Raised at Warley, Essex on 1 September 1901.
  • 12 September 1901, moved to Aldershot.
  • 7 December 1901, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ Companies embarked on SS Assysia at Birkenhead for Malta, arriving on 18 December.
  • 12 May 1902, Battalion Headquarters and the remainder of the Battalion embarked on SS Borneo at Royal Albert Dock, London for Malta, arriving on 21 May.
  • Garrison duties at Fort Verdala, Cospicua.
  • 29 June 1904, embarked on SS Dunera for Durban, South Africa, arriving on 25 July.
  • Took over garrison duties at King’s Hill, Harrismith, in Orange River Colony.
  • 4 July 1905, embarked on SS Dilwara at Durban for Southampton, arriving on 29 July.
  • The 4th Battalion was disbanded on 30 September 1905.
  • Commanding Officer: Lieutenant Colonel Wilfred Heaton (formerly The South Wales Borderers and Royal Irish Fusiliers Reserve Regiment), September 1901-September 1905.

5th Battalion.

  • Raised at Aldershot on 1 March 1902.
  • 20 September 1902, embarked on SS Aurania for Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving on 30 September.
  • Garrison duties at Wellington Barracks, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • 14 November 1905, embarked on SS Canada at Halifax for Liverpool, arriving on 24 November.
  • The 5th Battalion was disbanded on 31 December 1905.
  • Commanding Officer: Lieutenant Colonel Henry Melville Hatchell DSO (formerly The Royal Irish Regiment), August 1902-December 1905.

Acknowledgement:
Cultman Collectables for the use of their photographs.


1. (Back) For the measures taken in 1900 see: ‘General Observations on the Regular Army.’ (9 April 1901). Annual Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting for the Year 1900. Part 1. pp 3-4. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
2. (Back) Field Marshal the Right Honourable Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, KP, GCB, GCMG (later made OM).
3. (Back) Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arthur Bigge KCB, CMG; later Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Bigge, 1st  Baron Stamfordham GCB, GCIE, GCVO, KCSI, KCMG, ISO, PC.
4. (Back) ‘Court Circular. The War in South Africa’. (21 February 1900). The Times. p 9.
5. (Back) These included ‘…men now serving with the Regular forces or in the Imperial Yeomanry, City Imperial Volunteers, or Volunteer companies formed for service in South Africa…’.
6. (Back) Army Order 106 laid down that the men had to be under 37 years of age and to have completed 12 years of service in the Army. On re-enlistment they would be retained until age 41 or until they had completed 21 years’ of service, if that occurred before they reached the age limit. These men remained eligible for the second bounty (£10) on the anniversary of their enlistment into the Royal Reserve Regiment. Army Order 62 of 1901 ended re-enlistment of men of the Foot Guards or Infantry of the Line under these arrangements, citing the issuance of Army Order 59 of 1901, which established the Royal Garrison Regiment. Men of the Reserve Regiments of cavalry could continue to re-enlist, however, and Army Order 62 laid out the regiments to which they were to be allocated.
7. (Back) ‘General Observations on the Regular Army.’ (9 April 1901). Annual Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting for the Year 1900. Part 1. p 4. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
8. (Back) Commentary on the uniforms and badges of the Royal Reserve Regiments appears in numerous regional newspapers in early April 1900. See, for example: ‘Uniform of the Royal Reserve Regiments’. (3 April 1900). The Times. p 2.
9. (Back) ‘AO 59—Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (8 March 1901). The Monthly Army List for March, 1901. pp 1417-1418. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
10. (Back) A saving of £530,000. See: ‘Comparison with Estimates for 1903-04.’ (1904). Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War relating to the Army Estimates for 1904-05. p 2. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
11. (Back) ‘Royal Garrison Regiments.’ (6 May 1901). Hansard. HC Deb. Vol 93 c737.
12. (Back) ‘AO 98—Royal Garrison Regiment—Enlistment of Ex-Royal Reservists.’ (30 April 1902). The Monthly Army List for May, 1902. p 1410. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
13. (Back) ‘Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (20 February 1902). Annual Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting for the Year 1901. Part 1—General Observations on the Regular Army. p 6. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
14. (Back) The cap badge has been worn by various military corps over the years including some of the Royal Reserve Regiments, the Labour Corps in the First World War (until late-1918), and the General Service Corps. It is most often seen in modern use by soldiers under training in the first phase at Army Training Regiments. The principle difference is the crown used in the era of different monarchies.
15. (Back) ‘Troops for Malta.’ (24 September 1901). Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette. p 8.
16. (Back) It was estimated that a battalion of the Royal Garrison Regiment would cost about £20,000 (about 30%) more than a Line battalion undertaking the same duties. See, for example: ‘The Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (8 October 1906). The Times. p 3.
17. (Back) ‘AO 35—Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (9 March 1903). The Monthly Army List for March, 1903. p 1405. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
18. (Back) ‘Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (28 January 1905). Annual Report of the Director of Recruiting and Organization for the Year Ended 30th September 1904. Part 1—General Observations and Recruiting for the Regular Army. p 8. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
19. (Back) ‘Annual Report of Recruiting for the Year Ended 30th September, 1907.’ (1907). General Annual Report on the British Army for the Year Ending 30th September, 1907. Section 1. p 4. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
20. (Back) ‘Royal Garrison Regiment.’ (28 January 1905). Op. Cit.
21. (Back) Various sources show it as being less than 200 men strong at the beginning of 1906. See, for example: ‘Imperial Troops in Natal.’ (4 April 1906). Hansard. HC Deb. Vol 152 c1288. The Army List for July 1908 (published on 30 June 1908) shows the Battalion as being at Pietermaritzburg (for Pretoria), commanded by Captain Francis William Lawson (formerly The Connaught Rangers, Reserve of Officers).
22. (Back) ‘War Office.’ (1 September 1908). London Gazette. Issue 28173, p 6371. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
23. (Back) ‘Significant Army Order.’ (10 February 1906) Belfast Telegraph. p 5.
24. (Back) ‘The Army.’ (2 April 1906). Portsmouth Evening News. p 5.,
25. (Back) The movements of all five Battalions are taken from: The National Archives (TNA). Public Record Office (PRO). (1901-1920). Stations of Regiments. WO 379/15.
26. (Back) Garrison locations for all four battalions in South Africa are taken from the Army List.

2 thoughts on “The Royal Reserve Regiments and The Royal Garrison Regiment

  1. Ron Macuistean

    I tried your site to find information about the Scottish Reserve Regiment and was interested to see that the cap badge shown has two leaves either side of the thistle flower. Is this correct as the original cap badge of The London Scottish Regiment had two leaves either side of the thistle flower. I have seen badges that have been reported as the Scottish Reserve Regiment with only one leaf either side of the thistle flower. Can you add any information? Thank you

    Reply
    1. Nick Metcalfe Post author

      Thank you for getting in touch. This error is entirely mine; I loaded the wrong photograph. You are quite right the that London Scottish badge has two leaves either side of the thistle flower and the Royal Scottish Reserve Regiment has one. I have changed the photograph.

      Reply

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