THE VOLUNTEERS OF WALTHAMSTOW
History - EY HistoryMonovian Extracts
Previously published at www . oldmonoviansassociation . org . uk
When Britain declared war on France in 1803, the French massed some 150,000 troops and a large flotilla of barge transports at Boulogne. In England the danger of a French invasion caused many volunteer forces to be raised. Walthamstow followed the national trend with a force of approximately 400 men divided into four companies. The first thirteen officers were commissioned on 19th August, 1803. In 1809 a new 5th Battalion of Essex Yeomanry was formed under the command of Colonel John Hughes, and Walthamstow Half Hundred contributed 117 men. Although originally planned for 984 men, a total force of only 813 was raised.
The Essex volunteer companies were "released from their military engagements" on 24th March, 1813. However, late in 1858 when a supposedly English-planned assassination attempt on the life of Napoleon III had caused the French to react rather violently, the volunteers were needed again. Authorisation for the formation of volunteer corps was sent to the Lords Lieutenant of the Counties by the Secretary of War on 12th May, 1859. The following month a meeting of local residents was held in the Vestry Room (now part of Walthamstow Museum), to discuss the issue of a local volunteer force. At a second meeting on 13th September, 1860 (well after the possible French invasion had ceased to be a reality) the problem of the expense of a volunteer corps was dealt with, and a resolution was passed to establish such a body. A committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Bonamy Dobree was elected to carry out this resolution.
The committee met each Monday in the Vestry Room and by the 5th November, suitable arrangements having been made, the "effective" members mainly those of the committee but eventually totalling sixty in all were enrolled. The first officers were William Cotesworth (Captain); Alfred Wilson (Lieutenant); and Bonamy Dobree (Ensign). The charges proposed at the public meeting in September of one guinea per annum for enrolled members and two guineas for honorary members were approved, but later reduced to 10/6 and 1 guinea respectively.
The expense of being a volunteer was not restricted to the annual subscription. The uniform of coat, trousers, waist-belt, bayonet sheath, cartouche box, cap and knee cap cost £3 13s. (although those who convinced the committee of their inability to produce this sum were "served out" with equipment). Bayonet, rifle and sixty rounds (for class firing) were provided free, but extra ammunition for private practice had to be purchased.
The volunteer had to attend eighteen drills in his first year and nine in each successive year, in order to be classed as an "efficient" and qualify for a Government grant to the corps of £1 per annum.
The Walthamstow Volunteers possessed many recreational facilities including gymnastic, cricket, and football clubs, as well as two musical sections, a brass band and a drum and fife band. On the military side there were regular route marches which took place at weekends (the men sleeping in barns overnight); march-outs (of an evening's length); mock battles on Chingford Plain where the rival forces spent most of their time picking blackberries; and summer (battalion) camps, in early years at Great Yarmouth, and later at Colchester and Worthing.
However, their mounted counterparts, the local members of the 22nd Essex Yeomanry Cavalry, were not so well served. There does not seem to have been even an administrative centre in the area, although the Walthamstow Guardian of 8th July, 1876 (reporting on the annual two weeks' Government drill and inspection at Chelmsford) states that many of the men "reside in this locality". The writer goes on to attack the lack of high standards, describing some of the men as "very inexperienced riders" and "the horses . . . on good authority are very inferior hacks. It is a question for the authorities whether in time of war they really think the men and horses they drill at Chelmsford would be of any service?"
The Walthamstow Volunteers, together with a body of men from Leyton, originally formed "B" Company of the 2nd ( Ilford ) Essex Volunteer Rifle Corps, which was re-designated the 4th Corps in 1880, and changed to "E" Company, the 3rd Administrative Battalion soon afterwards. This was in turn changed to the 1st Volunteer Battalion (Essex Regiment), to which a second ("K") company was added in 1900. In 1907-8 with the creation of the Territorial Army, the 1st Volunteer Battalion became the 4th. In 1909 when the 161st Brigade was formed the 4th became the 7th. The headquarters of the 7th were at Leyton with two companies there, three at Hackney, one at Silvertown, and two (the original "E" and "K") at Walthamstow.
The total strength of the Battalion as recorded on 24th December, 1909, was:
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The headquarters of the 7th were moved to Walthamstow the following year, and remained there until the outbreak of war in 1914.
A. M. Bretman 5M