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Remembered Today:

The Second Line Battalions of The Territorial Force

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Polar Bear

(Firstly I think this is the right place for this but I'm not a 100% sure)


That said, since investigating the service of a man in the 2/4th KOYLI I have become increasingly interested in the 2nd Line Battalions of The Territorial Force. In other words those men who do not agree to serve overseas and the more I look the more questions I find about these units. Ones that in many cases seem to be comprised of the forgotten and indeed to some degree despised men. Indeed at times these battalions almost seem to be their respective regiment's 'disgrace' with questions appearing in the House of Commons questioning the continued existence of these units of shirkers and malingerers. There also seems to have been significant discussion about what to do with them and there are a lot of them. 205 individual 'battalions' by my reckoning... though to call them that seems questionable.


Not only does it not look their parent unit was up to full strength at the start of the war (though some units don't seem to have been far off) the second line battalion seems to have (from an admittedly limited data set and I would love more information on this) received maybe 20-25% of that strength (which was quite a lot higher than I was expecting given the general surge in patriotism that is the general perception of what happened at the start of the war). In other words they start from a baseline of 200-250 men. There also seems to have been quite some discouragement of these units doing active recruiting (this lasts well in to 1915 and in some cases in to 1916) to avoid taking men who could be assigned to a 'proper' unit. There also seems to be quite some confusion about what these units are to do and they appear to be shuffled around considerably and in some cases it almost looks like pass the parcel as individual commands try and get shot of them).


Now, as I stated at the start these men have signed up for Home Service only... and 84 (of 205) do spend their entire war in England, Wales or Scotland albeit frequently with a myriad of name changes, mergers and more. Furthermore at least seven of these see large transfers of men in to units that serve overseas while many more are broken up in early 1918 and I imagine many of the men end up in battalions already at the front.


Another 30 first go to Ireland (either in April 1916 or January 1917 with one outlier of May 1918) and again I guess this is Home Service though for about half this is a temporary stop with France and Flanders being their ultimate destination.


Now I come to my first real question. What in September was the definition of 'Home Service only'? I would have thought it meant just that. Except...


11 battalions go out to India with some arriving in India in December of 1914. The rest are arriving in or February of 1915. That's very quick...


4 battalions of The London Regiment are sent to initially garrison Malta in February 1915. At the same time a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment is sent to Gibraltar (before heading for Gallipoli). Three more battalions are then sent directly to Gallipoli in July of 1915


The 2 battalions from the DLI then go out to Salonika in October and November of 1915.


Another battalion goes out to Bermuda in late 1916.


The rest (apart from two that go to Russia in late 1918) head for France and Flanders from May 1916 (though most land in January of 1917).


Now I am aware that after conscription is introduced their Home Service only status goes away but some of the above can hardly be called Home Service Only prior to that. How can this be? Also does anyone have any good sources on these units. I have read what I can but would love to read more (of course). I would also welcome hard numbers and better statistics than the one's I have.


Yours respectfully,



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5 hours ago, Polar Bear said:

Now I come to my first real question. What in September was the definition of 'Home Service only'? I would have thought it meant just that. Except...

There is a copy of the Imperial Obligation on the LLT, it states, '...to accept liability, in the event of a national emergency, to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom".


Home was therefore the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.


by September 1913 18,878 officers and men had signed the obligation, 7% of the entire, under establishment and compromised strength of the original force.  Haldane had optimistically considered between a sixth and a quarter may have done so from that perspective, disappointing.  

The TF was formed for the defence of Great Britain, and it was considered after six months training  the soldiers would be able to provide reinforcements for the Regular Army.  Whilst they were training that role would to a certain extent be found from the Special Reserve.


Apart from  the perceived, and to a certain extent justified inefficiency of the TF there was political opposition to the force from those who favoured conscription.  In 1913 ten TF County Associations came out in favour of the National Service League.  In July 1914 the strength of the TF was 268,777 officers and men of whom just 18,683 had taken the Imperial Obligation, the 1908 establishment was 302,199 men. 

Already, on embodiment at the beginning of August the 'first line' was 40,000 men below establishment.  Whatever expectation in war had been envisaged for the TF  were swept aside by Kitchener who created his first 'New Army' on the 5th August 1914.  Kitchener's distrust of the 'Town Clerk's Army' has been discussed  and analysed in great depth by historians, however what is in no doubt is that on the 13th August the Army Council agreed that where men had volunteered complete units could be sent abroad.  Initially the vast majority of these, as detailed in the original post were posted to garrison duty across the Empire to relieve regular army units.


One problem was that 40,000 men were under the age of nineteen and whilst some 'flexibility' was adopted could not be sent overseas.  In February 1915 an Army Order required the handful of units who had been deployed to the BEF, intended as line of communication troops, should recall all those soldiers who were under age.


On the 15th August 1914 the County Associations were authorised to raise new units to replace those who had volunteered for overseas service, successive orders were issued and consolidated at the end of September.  A second reserve unit was authorised in November.  Originally designated, 'Imperial Service', ' 1st Reserve' and '2nd Reserve', the units were designated 1/1, 2/1,3/1 in January 1915, becoming 'first line', 'second line' and 'third line' in Febuary. Many further reorganisations as you have noted were to follow.  The formation of the 2nd line coincided with the idea and formation of the "Pas', or locally raised battalions.  There was a great deal of civic pride attached to the latter formations and as a consequence direct competition for recruitment to the 2nd Line TF.  Nevertheless nearly half the recruiting districts enlisted more men to the TF than the New Army or Special Reserve.


From the 31st August 1914 the second line could be formed where 60% (initially it was 80% but that proved impractical) of the first line had volunteered.  Recruits to the second line could therefore bring the first line up to strength for deployment outside the United Kingdom.  There was little consistency over the numbers who volunteered to serve overseas, in one instance for example the CO stated 75% of men had volunteered, only for the numbers to fall significantly when each man was obliged to make a personal declaration; other units had 80 to 90 % volunteer immediately, this caused further problems as other units they were brigaded with fell well short, there were even different levels within Companies.   Another issue was physical fitness, it was reported the 42nd Division on embodiment was at full strength and was indeed sent to Egypt in September, on arrival the GOC reported, '100 men were blind, 1,500 swarming with lice, one many dying from disease  and hundreds so badly vaccinated they could hardly move,' it was estimated 200 were returned home immediately.


The formation of the reserve units also meant it was possible to volunteer for Home Service until March 1915, an attractive option for many.  The units which were deployed overseas in 1915 were inevitably the first line TF Divisions, named as such in May 1915.  Those that did deploy to France found it difficult to make up the losses due to battle casualties and sickness.  In March 1915 the responsiblity for providing drafts to the active service first line fell to the third line unit, but the numbers were simply not there.


After 11 December 1915 no more direct recruitment into the TF was permitted.  Men were recruited for 'General Service' and the terms and conditions under which men had been recruited to the TF were gradually eroded.  In this period 725,842 men had enlisted in the TF, or around half the number who had enlisted in Kitchener's 'New Army'.




Suggested reading list and sources for the numbers above:-

Beckett and Simpson ' A Nation in Arms'  has an essya on the TF

Mitchinson's trilogy covers th ground well

'Englands Last Hope The TF 1908-14

The Territorials at War

In addition there are a few online thesis that concentrate on recruitment and specific units recommended is Andrew Thornton's

The Territorial Force in Staffordshire 1908 -1915 can be downloaded from the University of Birmingham and unlike Mitchinson's expensive tomes  - free

Defending Albion England's Home Army 1908 -1919



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Polar Bear
Posted (edited)

Thank you very much for the reply especially the figures. Also the suggested Bibliography for while I have done some reading on the topic I had not yet found any of those. (Mostly my reading on this topic has been on an individual Regimental or Battalion basis as that is what I have already available along with a couple of more general works).


I would however like to look at this section especially the bit in bold:

29 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

The formation of the reserve units also meant it was possible to volunteer for Home Service until March 1915, an attractive option for many.  The units which were deployed overseas in 1915 were inevitably the first line TF Divisions, named as such in May 1915.  Those that did deploy to France found it difficult to make up the losses due to battle casualties and sickness.  In March 1915 the responsiblity for providing drafts to the active service first line fell to the third line unit, but the numbers were simply not there.

On a divisional basis I wholeheartedly agree but some of the first Territorial Force battalions (likely way understrength???) sent overseas (India) in December of 1914 were actually 2nd Line (3 battalions of the Hampshires, the only Dorsetshire Second Line battalion, the only Wiltshire Second Line battalion, 2 battalions of the Devonshires, a battalion of the DOCLI and a battalion of the SLI with more following in February and March of 1915 albeit mostly to Gibraltar and Malta) and this is what confuses me. How can they be sent to India when supposedly these men haven't signed the Imperial obligation? Has the definition of Home Service somehow been stretched? Is India now a Home Service station? It's not the frontline in France & Flanders for sure but am I missing something? (that's certainly possible!).


Similarly Second Line formations (not many but some) end up fighting at Gallipoli. I wouldn't have thought this possible...


I look forward to any thoughts you might have for I don't understand these troop movements.


Yours respectfully,




EDIT I now realize you answered my question above but I still wonder how these units end up in India

Edited by Polar Bear
Because i am an idiot
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As described the TF was formed for Home Defence, and a reserve/reinforcement for the regular Army after a period of training.  When embodied on the outbreak of war the TF was deployed to pre-determined war stations.


The Wessex Division’s deployment in Southern Command was essentially as a reserve unit.  It was thought unlikely to be called upon as a large scale invasion was not expected.  There were about fifty regular infantry battalions in India as well as cavalry, artillery and other units.  They were desperately needed in France and Flanders.  India agreed to send 43 British and Indian units in return for the partially trained Territorials.  Therefore the War Office decided to deploy the Wessex Division to India, together with the 1st Line Home Counties Division.  The Battalions were reduced in establishment to 800 and embarked in October.  Those who were unable or unwilling to serve overseas formed the nucleus of the 2nd line or reserve Battalion of the Wessex Division.  No explicit justification, or order for their selection has been found, the Home Counties Division had a very low record of men who had agreed to overseas service.



Meanwhile the 2nd Line, and ultimately 3rd Line Reserve units were being formed.  There was a surge in recruitment in September 1914 and the majority of those enlisting in the TF In this period, but not all, signed the Imperial Obligation on enlistment.


The 2nd Wessex Division (later the 45th Division) mirrored the 1st line and was therefore similarly redundant in terms of Home Defence.  Their deployment, partially trained to India was to further boost the numbers.  They completed their training, such as it was, in India which was not a theatre of war, the Division was broken up and men battalions sent to strengthen Indian Army units.  Although many of the Battalions that embarked in December 1914 were eventually deployed to Mesopotamia this was not until 1917. 


Mitchinson notes the 1/6 Devons were originally warned for France in September as Army Rroops as they were not brigaded.  This may have been the same for the later disposition of units to other garrison postings.  He also asserts intitial enthusiasm soon turned to bitterness and resentment at their lot.  The 1st Line had been promised they would only be in India for a year or so.


The 2nd and 3rd Line we’re always under resourced and poorly equipped, for example most were issued with Japanese rifles.  It is a misrepresentation they were ‘shirkers’ most 2nd line Divisions when deployed to France were brave and determined and in many cases suffered great loss, especially in the German Spring Offensive.  The Wessex Divisions were  outliers deployed due to the exigencies of war.  A recent book by Professor Peter Stanley, ‘The Terriers In India’ has received positive reviews.  I’ve yet to read it.


As for deployment of 2nd Line Divisions to theatres of war, individual units may have found themselves deployed earlier than 1917, or the Military Service Act but these were exceptions. The men would have signed the Imperial Obligation, those who did not moving either to the 3rd Line, or rarely  (it was  a ‘condition of service’ they would remain with their original unit) moving elsewhere. There remained, from memory, 80,000 men in the Home Army.  It's probably quite difficult to pin down a universal experience for the TF, save the renumbering, there was , for example wide disparity in the take up of the Imperial Obligation from unit to unit and County to County, and in their subsequent postings.  The County Associations effectively lost their authority after conscription, though some had actually raised New Army battalions.

Probably, rather than generalisation worth looking at the surviving service records of individuals joining the unit of interest; some records of the Associations are retained in County Record Offices.




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I think with regard to the deployment of 2nd line battalions overseas you need to look at the formation of Provisional Battalions.  I believe in the case of the Hampshire Regt the 84th Provisional Battalion took men from the 2nd line battalions who could not be deployed overseas. The 2nd line battalions were made up to strength with recruits and shipped out to India, many of them untrained or poorly trained. The role of holding men who refused to serve overseas, and they were entitled to so refuse, passed from the 2nd line battalions to the Provisional Battalions

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