Rifle Volunteers

Great Britain is only a small country and our standing army has never been large enough to defend all our coastline even if it was stationed in this country, this means that at times when invasion was feared volunteers were needed.

There were Volunteer forces raised along the south coast at various time in history. The Exeter and South Devon Rifle Battalion was formed in April 1852 and it was expected that there would be a large number of men wanting to join as membership exempted them from being conscripted into one of the Militia regiments. The duties required of Militiamen were much more onerous than those of Volunteers.

In June 1852 a meeting was held proposing that Sidmouth raise a Company to be part of the Exeter and South Devon force. In the event this Company did not become a Rifle Company as was proposed but instead became the 2nd Devon Artillery with a battery placed on Fort field at the western end of the Esplanade. An Artillery Company was considered the better bet as it was felt that steam-power had shifted the balance of power from defenders to attackers as far as invasion was concerned. It was 70 men strong in 1860.

This Volunteer Artillery Battalion was continued during the 1860s but it faded away as the threat of invasion passed and officers could not be found. Being a Volunteer Officer could be quite an expensive business as you had to pay for your own uniform and much of your kit.

In the early 1880s the threat of invasion was again present, there was much sabre rattling on the continent. As a response to this the gentry of Sidmouth pledged themselves as officers and set about recruiting the common ranks. This report of a speech by Sir John Kennaway in 1883 provides a moving picture of the sentiments at the time.

The result of this patriotic fervour was the 3rd Volunteer Rifle Battalion

1908 saw the formation of the Territorial Army and the 3rd Volunteer Battalion became the 4th Territorial Force Battalion. This change is useful when trying to date images as the name over the Drill Hall door changed. More about this, and other Volunteer history, can be found on the website of The Keep Military Museum. The section concerning WW1 explains the change from 3rd to 4th Battalion. They served in India in the First World War.

More information can be found in a book by Major William Hardinge Hastings, Estate Manager for the Balfours of Sidmouth Manor, snappily entitled
A Short History of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of Devonshire Regiment 1859 to 1908: and some fragmentary information concerning the East Devon Volunteers of 1794