In March 1910, two years after the formation of the Territorial Force (TF), R.B.Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, announced the creation of the Territorial Force Reserve (TFR).

Richard Burdon Haldane, Viscount Haldane (C) National Portrait Gallery

The reserve was to have three elements: a reserve for the TF itself; a Technical Reserve (TR), and the Veteran Reserve (VR). The reserve for the TF was to prove something of an abject failure and at the outbreak of war was of little consequence. The VR, which became the National Reserve (NR) in 1911, grew quickly but met with only lukewarm support from the War Office. During the war many of its members joined or rejoined the TF; others guarded vulnerable points in supernumerary companies and later joined the Royal Defence Corps. From the outset the third element, the TR, was beset with difficulties as to what it should actually be, and the extent to which the War Office should support it financially.

'Territorial Force, Army Service Corps, County of Kent', 1910 (National Army Museum, Out of Copyright)

The best known element of the TR was the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). Disagreements about recruitment and over which existing aid organizations should or wanted to register caused a difficult launch. Later, of course, the VAD performed vital work and care for the sick and wounded. The second element was a register of men who were specialists in particular technical fields. Haldane appeared to have had only a vague idea of how he might secure the services of vets, doctors, civil and electrical engineers, railway, telephone, and telegraph personnel for the new reserve. Neither was there any apparent sense of how the army would in an emergency organize, mobilize or operate any who did register. In effect, all this element amounted to was a list of men “who would be invaluable in time of war, but who would be very difficult to get unless we had them carefully selected in the intervals of peace.”[1] Provided these first two elements of the TR did not incur any costs, the War Office, although hardly enthusiastic about the two components, assumed they might be of some fairly limited use.

The Old War Office Building, Whitehall, London (1902, 1920 and present day images)

To several senior officers in the War Office, the third element of the TR, a Corps of Guides, seemed to offer no benefits. As a consequence the nascent organization suffered a fitful and uncertain birth.[2]

The original idea for such a corps had been outlined in a memorandum sent to the War Office by the Surrey TF County Association in February 1910.[3] The memo, which acknowledged the influence of a lecture delivered in 1903 entitled A System for Local Guides for Home Defence, asked the authorities to consider sanctioning the creation of a new organization whose members would be capable of providing specialist local knowledge to commanders of the anti-invasion forces. The association explained that a body of guides could be raised from hunters, farmers, game keepers, and the like. It was envisaged members would probably be over military age and would not need to have had any previous military experience. Guides would work under the supervision of a county Chief Guide. He would coordinate with his counter-parts over county boundaries and be answerable to his local TF association. To comply with the terms of the Hague Convention the men should be supplied with a badge and hat. In an attempt to forestall the anticipated opposition from the War Office, the Surrey proposal emphasized that such a corps would entail no expense to the state. 

As expected, the initial Whitehall response was not encouraging. The Director of Military Training (DMT) suggested that as the yeomanry and the TF cyclist battalions were supposed to be familiar with potential invasion sites, the proposed corps would be an unnecessary duplication. Reasonable as this assumption might have seemed, it ignored the fact that some yeomanry squadrons might well have deployed overseas soon after any declaration of war. The DMT did not, however, entirely dismiss the idea and suggested that if the scheme were to be given a chance, Essex and Sussex could be used as trial areas. Another minute from inside the War Office pointed out that as many of the guides were already likely to be members of the VR, the corps should be incorporated within that element of the TFR. When a delegation from the Surrey Association met Haldane its members countered this suggestion by arguing that because potential guides should not be limited to men with previous military service, the corps should come under the auspices of the TR rather than the VR. Both Haldane and the Adjutant General, Sir Ian Hamilton, who was generally a supporter of volunteer auxiliaries, were reasonably positive in their responses. The War Office was instructed to examine the scheme in detail.

Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton, GCB, GCMG, DSO, TD (16 January 1853 – 12 October 1947)

The machinery of the War Office worked slowly and it was not until March 1911 that the inquiry’s findings were published. The DMT again concluded that such a corps was unnecessary. As a possible viable alternative, and also one which would involve no additional costs, he suggested that every cyclist battalion in Eastern Command should attach 10 or 20 “intelligent” men as guides to the HQ of the various mobile anti-invasion forces.[4] The Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and the Director of Staff Duties (DSD) concurred with the DMT’s suggestion because, they argued, a group of untrained civilians was more likely to “hamper rather than assist the military forces.”[5] Brigadier General Lancelot Kiggell, the DSD, went further and noted it was “unsound military policy to persuade individuals to undertake a measure of service which, while useless for military purposes, may be claimed by the giver as fulfilment of their responsibility to the state.”[6]

Lieutenant General Sir Launcelot Edward Kiggell KCB KCMG (2 October 1862 – 23 February 1954)

The discussions within the War Office and the reluctance to embrace the scheme resulted in a disappointing reply to the Surrey Association. The authorities did, however, attempt to appease the association by explaining that, “having regard to the amount of work County Associations are being called upon to carry out [it would be] inadvisable at present to proceed with the scheme.”[7] Although frustrated by the War Office’s lack of enthusiasm, the corps’ proponents took solace in the implication that the scheme had not been irrevocably rejected. Letters requesting the proposal be granted further consideration were despatched regularly to Whitehall and it was known that Haldane remained sympathetic. He continued to envisage such a corps becoming part of the TR and had even included a draft outline of the scheme in the circular memorandum announcing the formation of the TFR despatched to all associations in May 1910. The War Office may not yet have sanctioned the formation of a corps but Haldane made it clear he had no objection to associations compiling a preliminary register of guides.[8]

By 1912, other organizations had joined with the Surrey Association in advocating the formation of a corps. In March, the London Committee of the Legion of Scouts and Guides submitted an application for admission to the TR, and a letter from one Northumberland village offering the services of a group of cyclist scouts and guides landed on the desk of the Deputy General of the Territorial Force (DGTF). The War Office was also sent a copy of an address by Major Kitson-Clark of 7/West Yorkshire (TF) to members of the Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club. The speech claimed that a corps of guides drawn from ramblers possessing specialist local knowledge not always apparent on Ordnance Survey sheets could offer invaluable assistance to forces marching from Leeds against an invasion force debouching from York.[9]

The passage of time and the War Office’s continued reluctance to grant official permission exhausted the patience of the Surrey Association. Its formerly polite letters were replaced by one in February 1912 which demanded to know whether its proposed scheme had been formally dropped. The War Office decided not to reply immediately but convened a meeting of the Army Council (AC) to discuss the issue. Having once more studied Surrey’s proposal, the AC finally agreed that provided no public expense was incurred a corps of guides could become part of the TR. It decided to invite associations to “volunteer” to form corps, thereby ensuring they “would not be able to complain that it is an extra burden.”[10] However, as the National Reserve was already in receipt of central grants, privately the War Office expressed concern that if the movement were adopted with any great enthusiasm it would be unable to maintain the principle of no financial assistance. A minute by J.E.B.Seely, the recently appointed Secretary of State for War, acknowledged the delicacy of the position and warned that it might be difficult to prevent the county associations from using their existing grants to fund the corps.[11]

Caricature of Seely by Leslie Ward, 1905

In October 1912, and despite the reservation, the 1910 circular which supported the scheme and which was based largely on Surrey’s original submission, was again sent to associations. It carried the warning that as no grants would be available for organizing or maintaining the corps, any decision to form such a body lay entirely at the door of individual associations. While insisting that local knowledge was an integral part of all TF units’ training, the AC acknowledged that a supplementary list of guides might prove useful. Any registered guides, it suggested, should be able to provide details of paths, fords, blacksmith and wheelwrights’ shops, and anything else which might prove useful to military commanders. Unless they were existing members of the armed forces, guides would not carry weapons, and would wear a badge and a felt hat rather than a uniform.[12]

How the senior officers who had originally opposed the formation reacted to the corps’ creation is unrecorded. Seely’s approval was probably given on the ground of political expediency. He needed the support of the county associations in his attempts to keep the TF at reasonable strength and also in administering the NR. In view of the increasing growth in pro-conscription sentiment within the associations, Seely could not afford to alienate them further by loading yet more work onto these voluntary bodies. By insisting that the creation of the Corps of Guides was purely optional, he aimed to prevent an open breach. But Seely’s rejection of compulsion had to be balanced against the corps’ potential utility. Like the NR, a viable TR could relieve some of the burden on the under strength and increasingly youthful territorials. Its greatest attraction to the War Office was, however, that it involved only a minimal financial commitment.[13]

Authorization to create a local corps did not initiate a stampede of counties eager to establish their own. References confirm that almost two dozen counties, and not always those most likely to experience invasion or raids, discussed the issue and at least set up some preliminary apparatus. Shropshire’s claim in February 1914 that it was the only association with an organized corps in operation was certainly unjustified[14] because several Scottish and English associations are known to have launched their corps in 1912. From the outset, Northumberland Association wanted to liaise closely with the police and local authorities. There was some subsequent difficulty in appointing a Chief Guide (the committee’s favoured candidate was ineligible as he was on the Reserve List) but by January 1914, District Guides were in situ for all but one of the county’s Petty Sessional Divisions areas. It was not, however, until early 1914 that a Chief Guide was appointed and financial authorization granted for the issue of notebooks to District Guides.[15]

The East Riding Association appointed a Chief Guide in 1912 and, in December 1913, Essex announced it had recruited 300 guides. The association’s rules stipulated that all guides had to be men who were ineligible for the TF but who had served in the forces.[16] The Sussex Association refused to allow anyone under 35 years to act as a guide and wanted assurance that the corps would not have a detrimental effect on TF recruiting.[17] Like Sussex, Essex decided to group its five districts according to the county’s five principal fox-hunting packs but, when in May 1914 Eastern Command queried whether Sussex’s scheme was up and running, the association complained that only one Master of Hounds had bothered to reply to its original letter. In response to the same inquiry Kent stated that its committee had declined to undertake any provision as there was already “as much work as we can usefully perform with the National Reserve, Cadets and VAD.” Carmarthen decided the lack of funding made raising a corps “impracticable,”[18] and Wiltshire sought in vain for a Chief Guide. When the Middlesex Recruitment Committee was asked to discuss the issue of appointing a Chief Guide it declared such a corps was “scarcely applicable” to the county. The General Purposes Committee declined to accept the decision and handed it back for further consideration. In a lengthier ruling the Recruiting Committee predicted the corps would draw men away from the TF and, as the county was “exceptionally” well provided for by Boy Scouts who could do the job just as well, the scheme was unnecessary.[19] Hampshire also believed the tasks could be left to the Boy Scouts but clinched the argument for doing nothing by insisting that as guides would be used for the benefit of Regular Army units, the Regulars themselves should provide them.[20] Perthshire rejected the idea purely on grounds of cost. The City of Aberdeen resolved to delay any launch until a “suitable opportunity offered,” and Glasgow, like Middlesex, considered the scheme was inapplicable to a city.[21] Warwickshire took the unusual step of making branches of its NR responsible for raising the guides and several other counties appear to have simply invited a country gentleman to become Chief Guide and then let him get on with the organization. It took the outbreak of war to prompt the West Riding Association to begin organizing its corps.[22] Perhaps not surprisingly, Surrey had nominated a Chief Guide some 16 months before the War Office had even sanctioned the corps’ formation.

There appears to be no extant evidence to show whether the corps, where it existed, was ever actually mobilized. There may have been some liaison and coordination during the so-called “precautionary period” when sections of some cyclist and infantry units deployed early to their war stations. It is not inconceivable that COs may have enquired of their county association as to whether any corps members in their deployment areas were available to offer local advice. It is likely, however, that most TF unit commanders were reasonably familiar with their war station areas from personal pre-war reconnaissance and staff rides, and from the so-called War Book. This contained an encyclopaedic amount of geographical, social, economic, commercial, and agricultural detail about the towns, villages, and areas which fell under their unit’s protection. If there were any members of the corps available, and particularly if they were former members of the armed forces, there may well have been some official or unofficial cooperation. The absence of direct references to such liaison does not mean it did not happen. It is possible, however, that when, after all the effort that had gone into raising the corps, and at a time when they may have been of some practical use, the men in green felt hats were never asked.[23]

Article by Bill Mitchinson


[1] TNA.WO32.6585, Minutes 18, 19, and 19B, dated 27, 28, 29 Jul.1909

[2] In the pre-war period there was a long-established regiment of the Indian Army known as the Corps of Guides. A similarly named  intelligence gathering unit also existed in the Non-Permanent Active Militia of Canada.

[3] Detail for the following discussion come from TNA.WO32.4744, Scheme for Local Guides for the County in the Event of Invasion (Surrey). The file contains draft regulations, correspondence, etc., and a synopsis of the replies to the draft regulations from the county associations. Sections within the War Office added their comments and minutes.

[4] Ibid. DMT to CIGS, 15 Mar.1911

[5] Ibid. DSD to CIGS, 18 Sep.1911

[6] Ibid. DSD to CIGS, 18 Sep.1911

[7] Ibid. There are several drafts of this letter, dating from May to August 1911. It was finally sent in October and gave official authorization for the corps to be raised.

[8] Ibid. Letter 9/Surrey/201 (AG5), May 1910

[9] Ibid. Letters, and an abstract of an address given on 23 Jan.1912

[10] Ibid. Minute 30A, 18 Jun.1912

[11] Ibid. Minute 30, 22 Jun.1912

[12] When the issue of the corps had been aired in parliament, various suggestions were made as to what its members should wear. They ranged from a service uniform to brassards, badges, and a green felt hat.

[13] Cost remained paramount in all of Seely’s calculations. A War Office letter emphasized that the guides would not be awarded service pay even if mobilized. The CO of the troops to whom a guide was attached was empowered to remunerate the man in accordance with the nature and value of his service. The East Riding Association predicted difficulty in forming a corps if this unsympathetic attitude was maintained. The Council of County Territorial Associations, which had been created to oversee the work of associations, declined to take up the East Riding’s observation with the Army Council. Council minutes, 14 Mar.1913

[14] Shropshire Record Office (RO) 1988/34, 7 Feb.1914. Devonshire appointed a Chief Guide in December 1912 but then appears to have done nothing more to develop a county-wide system. Devon RO, 1715C/TA2, 11 Dec.1912. Gloucestershire discussed the issue, twice postponed a decision on both occasions, and then completely abandoned the idea. Gloucs RO, D2388/1/2, 17 Mar.1913

[15] Northumberland RO, NRO408/44, 8 Oct.1912, 5 Jul.1913, 26 Feb.1914

[16] East Riding RO, TAF/2, 9 Oct.1912; Essex RO, 6E17D/2, 2 Dec.1912

[17] East Sussex RO, TER 7/4, 14 May 1913, and 7/3, 4 Dec.1912

[18] Kent RO, MD/TA 1/2, 24 Jul.1914; Carmarthenshire RO, TA/1/8, 9 Jan.1913. Leicestershire also formed its corps around the county’s fox-hunting packs.

[19] Wiltshire RO, L1/101/2, 6 Jan.1913; London Metro Archives, 994/2, 28 Oct.1912, 25 Nov.1912

[20] Hants RO, 37/M69/3, 15 Nov.1912

[21] National Archive of Scotland, MD3/4, 14 Nov,1912; MD7/36, 2 Dec.1912; MD4/1, 28 Oct.1912; MD10/5, 7 Oct.1912

[22] Warwickshire RO. CR1141/4, 1 Oct.1912; West Yorks RO, WR Co.Association, Book 2, 15 Sep.1914; TNA.WO32.4744

[23] It is also possible, although seemingly unrecorded, that men who had registered as guides may well have become involved in the County Emergency Committees. These were created to effect the evacuation and organization of areas most vulnerable to a German incursion. TNA.CAB 3/2/80A, Instructions to Local Authorities in the Event of Belligerent Operations in the UK, 6 Oct.1914