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Remembered Today:

Were members of the Yeomanry yeomen?


Moonraker
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I'm looking at something that I typed more than twenty years ago in which I refer to members of the Royal Wiltshire Imperial Yeomanry as "yeomen" - which does rather conjure up an image (perhaps erroneous) of men in leather jerkins wielding crossbows or warders at the Tower of London.

 

I can't recall seeing (m)any similar references in the context of the Great War period. Is it more usual to refer to  "yeomanry troopers"?

 

Thoughts, please.

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Well, officially they were Privates, not Troopers. That aside, whilst many may have been farm workers or staff on the feudal estate (even in the Second World War it was common for the local lord of the manor to take men from his estate off with him - To War With Whitaker, I think details this), many will have been townsmen who liked the uniform or the thought of working with horses. I have a feeling that units such as the Westminster Dragoons or City of London Yeomanry might have been lacking too many yeomen..

 

Out of interest. Mrs Broomfield had an uncle (whom I never met) who is alleged to have joined up in 1914 on the basis that his boss, the local Lord (capital L) of the manor told some of his staff that thy were staying to look after the estate while others (Uncle Brice included) were coming with him.

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   The basic thrust of "yeoman" in the Oxford English Dictionary is of someone below the rank of gentleman but above labourer- that is, someone who works the land but is not landless.

 

image.png.4b0be74a1a52faa80f9d44323fa22324.png

(OED always gives quotes for usages of a term- mostly medieval and Middle English in this case)

 

But then to take it into the military sphere:

 

image.png.c0748fcb55a2be12ee3060599750f3a5.png

 

    It does stand at odds with the experience of the Great War-where the territorial link was broken...or was it?   I suspect that working-class men from the shires were more likely to end up in a county regiment (maybe not their own), rather than city dwellers where there was no such "landed" affinity and they went to what my old next door neighbour (ex-Grenadier Guards)  cheerfully called "the fish and chip regiments".

 

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1 hour ago, Moonraker said:

I refer to members of the Royal Wiltshire Imperial Yeomanry as "yeomen" - which does rather conjure up an image (perhaps erroneous) of men in leather jerkins wielding crossbows or warders at the Tower of London.

I can't recall seeing (m)any similar references in the context of the Great War period.

One similar ref which I have - a copy of S F Hatton's book 'The Yarn of a Yeoman', so I imagine that Mr Hatton thought of himself as a Yeoman.

The copy is inscribed “To Yeoman AB 1914-1918 From Yeoman CD 1939-1945” so there are another couple of chaps who must have thought of themselves as Yeomen.

Writing in his Foreword to the book FM Lord Allenby also refers to “the Yeomen”

Hatton himself dedicates his book to “The Yeomen of England” [as well as to their brothers in arms, The Light Horsemen of Australia] and in his Preface he thanks “all Yeomen”.

Edited by michaeldr
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There are a number of pubs that use the term Yeoman rather than Yeomanry in their names eg. Bedfordshire Yeoman, Wiltshire Yeoman and Sussex Yeoman .

 

There was also 'The Yeoman' magazine:

 

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1506001684

 

 

Dave

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My understanding is that yeomen was certainly a preferred term and how the regiment’s preferred to see / think of themselves pre-war.  I cannot find the reference just now, but recall that originally to join the Yeomanry a man had to either own land and own his own mount, or be the retainer of such a man.  This apparently led to a general mixture in the regiments’ of petty aristocrats, squires, farmers (and their acolytes), and small homesteaders, and that this broadly reflected the rank structure that inevitably emerged.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Those requirements had lapsed by the dawn of the century, Frog.   Many of the lads in the Dudley Troop of the Worcs. Yeomanry were decidedly working class; they couldn't even ride.  The Earl of Dudley forked out to build a riding school and staffed it with regulars bought-out of the Cavalry to serve as instructors.

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20 hours ago, Steven Broomfield said:

Well, officially they were Privates, not Troopers...

Apologies to Steven, whom I can visualise tut-tutting in disapproval. Thanks to him and those who confirmed that my use of "yeomen" is acceptable.

 

(Looking through my postcard collection, I sometimes wince at the captions I typed 20 years and more ago - and some far more recently than that - in my early days of collecting and researching "military Wiltshire" cards.)

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On 05/04/2021 at 13:52, John(txic) said:

Those requirements had lapsed by the dawn of the century, Frog.   Many of the lads in the Dudley Troop of the Worcs. Yeomanry were decidedly working class; they couldn't even ride.  The Earl of Dudley forked out to build a riding school and staffed it with regulars bought-out of the Cavalry to serve as instructors.

Yes, I realise that by the outset of the 2nd Anglo/Boer War those social origins were in reality long gone, my point was that the regiment’s themselves liked to propogate that aspect of their origins in their internal regimental culture.  They might have had to teach their working class men how to use a knife and fork properly, but they saw no contradiction in doing so.  In the Oxford book of military anecdotes there is an interesting account of this pointing out how the privates and NCOs were in one particular regiment all members of the gentry, and the embarkation officer recounted with incredulity that when loading their troopship to embark for France, the regiment made a fuss about including their fox hunting gear.  Of course the degree of this assumed gentility varied between regiments, but that it existed there is no doubt.  They most definitely thought of themselves collectively as yeomen and a breed apart from ‘those ruffianly regulars’.  One might say it was British snobbery writ large.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Reading contemporary newspapers from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the use of yeoman and the collective yeomen for volunteer cavalryman is fairly common but seems to decline markedly after the Haldane Reforms. This appears to be true even for those units who did not embrace the title Yeomanry such as those units of Hussars, Dragoons and Carabineers etc recruited in urban areas of London and the north of England.

 

I suspect that any notion of volunteer units made up of stout hearted yeoman riding their second best nag was anachronistic by the end of the 19th Century Likewise the idea of the gentry and land owning classes exercising a paternalistic almost semi-feudal role in leading a levee of their agricultural workers equally fanciful. Certainly the research that I have seen and admittedly there isn’t a vast amount of it, tends to suggest that it was the artisan and middle classes who made up much of the Yeomanry’s rank and file. Even after the Haldane Reforms when participation became more affordable evidence seems to indicate that working class involvement was not significantly increased.

 

To my mind the big question about the Yeomanry in 1914 is what use was it? Training in complex cavalry tactics was difficult during short annual camps and any expectation of acting as mounted infantry apparently resisted by individual regiments. Many units had difficulty in obtaining mounts and often seem to have resorted to hiring unsuitable horses. Perhaps it was the existence of large numbers of Yeomanry members in both houses of Parliament that helped it to survive.

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