Yeomanry - Encyclopedia

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YEOMANRY, the name given to the volunteer mounted troops of the home defence army of Great Britain, ever since their original formation; it indicated that recruiting, organization and command were upon a county basis, the county gentlemen officering the force, the farmers and yeomen serving in its ranks, and all alike providing their own horses. Although the yeomanry was created in 1761, it was not organized until 1794. Under the stimulus of the French War recruiting was easy, and 5000 men were quickly enrolled. A little later, when more cavalry was needed, the Provisional Cavalry Act was passed, whereby a sort of revived knight-service was established, every owner of ten horses having to find and equip a horseman, and all who owned fewer than ten, grouped by tens of horses, similarly finding one. But an amending act was soon passed, by which yeomanry cavalry could be substituted for provisional cavalry in the county quota. This gave a great stimulus to yeomanry recruiting, as similar enactments had done in the case of the infantry volunteers. But even so the provisional cavalry, which was embodied only in counties that did not supply the quota in yeomanry, was stronger than the yeomanry at the peace of Amiens. At that peace, partly with a view to preserving internal order, partly because of the probable renewal of the war, the yeomanry was retained, although the provisional cavalry was disbanded. There was thus a nucleus for expansion when Napoleon's threatened invasion (1803--5) called out the defensive powers of the country, and as early as December 1803 there were in England, Scotland and Ireland 44,000 yeomen. At the same time the limitations as to place of service (some undertaking to serve in any part of Great Britain, some within a specified military district, most only in their own county) were abolished. The unit of organization was the troop of 80-ioo, but most of the force was grouped in regiments of five or more troops, or in "corps" of three or four troops. Permanent paid adjutants and staff sergeants were allowed to corps and regiments, but no assistance was given in the shape of officers on the active list and serving non-commissioned officers of the army and militia. Equipment, supply and mobilization arrangements were purely regimental, and through all the war years most of the troops and squadrons were ready to take the field, with equipment, food and forage, complete at a day's notice. They were trained as light cavalry, and armed with sabre and pistol. But a few town corps had mounted riflemen, and several corps, both in town and country, had one or more dismounted troops, who were carried on vehicles similar to the "Expedition or Military Fly" pictured by Rowlandson.

From the extinction of Chartism to the South African War the history of the yeomanry is uneventful. The strength of the force gradually sank to 10,000. But when it became apparent that mounted troops would play a decisive part in the war against the Boers, the yeomanry again came to the front. Of its 10,000 serving officers and men, 3000 went to South Africa in newly formed battalions of "Imperial Yeomanry," armed and organized purely as mounted rifles, and to these were added over 32,000 fresh men, for whom the yeomanry organization at home and at the seat of war provided the cadres and training, while the home yeomanry not only filled up its gaps but expanded. In 1901 the yeomanry, now all styled "Imperial," was remodelled; and the strength of regiments was equalized on a four-squadron basis. In the prevailing conditions practically all regiments were able to recruit up to the increased establishment, and the strength of the force was more than trebled. Fresh regiments were formed, some in the towns, others on the nucleus of special corps disbanded at the close of the South African War. In 1907 the yeomanry became part of the new Territorial Force (see UNITED KINGDOM, § Army).

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