Militia

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Royal Militia

Island of Jersey

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Artillery has always been a major element of the Militia


The history on this page was written by Jersey historian Doug Ford. It has replaced the earlier history, but may still include some information from Norman Wood's website on the Jersey Militia


This picture of a Militia camp was taken in 1906 on the East Glacis outside Fort Regent by the prominent local photographer of the time Albert Smith and reproduced as a postcard, no doubt achieving good sales to members of the Militia who took part, and their families and others who visited during the duration of the camp. It shows militiamen lining up in threes outside their tents, ready for drill practice. And notice what perfectly straight lines those circular tents were arranged in. At that time militia service and attendance at an annual camp was compulsory for all men between the ages of 17 and 35. Only eight years after this picture was taken many militiamen, undoubtely including some of those photographed, would leave the island, some never to return, to fight for their country in the Great War

From early times Jersey must have had some force for repelling invasion. In 1337 at the beginning of the Hundred Years War with France, this was remodelled. Edward III ordered the Wardens to enrol all able bodied men, to divide them into companies, to provide them with arms, and appoint officers. For the next three centuries the organisation was parochial, each parish having its own company.

  • Beaumont Cannon, the story of a St Peter gun and the structure of the Militia in its early days

Frontier posts

Since King John of England lost control of mainland Normandy to King Philippe Auguste of France in the early 1200s the Channel Islands have assumed the role of frontier posts on the very edge of a war-zone for long periods at a time when England, and later the United Kingdom, and France were at war.

Despite the presence of the royal fortresses of Mont Orgueil and Elizabeth Castle the defence of the island lay mainly in the hands of the islanders and their locally raised defence force.

In the late 18th Century a French Intelligence report stated: "They form a militia corps which is well disciplined, has good marksmen and which is in a state, almost alone, to repel any enemy which may descend on it."

Fourth century?

In the early 1900s some historians tried to date the foundation of the militia to the 4th Century when they believed that there was compulsory military service in Jersey. They also believed that in 578 military commanders were appointed to furnish armed men to fight raiders, and it was for this reason that the islanders organised themselves into various sized groups of hundreds and twenties and as a result the Officers become known as Constables, Centeniers and Vingteniers. A very romantic story but unfortunately there is no corroborative evidence for this. [1]

It is from this time that the Frankish tribes were taking over Gaul, and village administration was in the hands of the "hundred man" which could be taken to be the original designation of the Centenier.

The Islanders at this time were like every other small isolated community, in that they had to fend for themselves. If a group of raiders landed it was up to them to protect themselves. Once the political situation in the region stabilised with the appearance of the Duchy of Normandy, the threats to the Islands become a distant memory and the more ordered feudal organisation of the Island started.

When William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and defeated Harold Godwinson and his army at Senlac Hill, just outside Hastings, in 1066, there were very probably some islanders in his army. For the next century or so, islanders were excused military service outside their island unless it was to accompany their Duke in person. In return, islanders were obliged to pay 70 livres. This agreement was adopted by Henry III in 1249, when he was at war with France.

A ceremony in the Royal Square in 1906 for the presentation of medals to the Militia

Levée en masse

The origins of the island defence force probably predate the island's Norman connections and it was, in essence, a levée en masse which was controlled by the local leaders and their subordinate officers.

As late as the 18th century the Constables were responsible for all aspects of defence from the recruitment and training of men, to the provision of equipment. The parish church was used as a convenient place to store the parish cannon and ammunition. The outline of a wide door to facilitate the movement of such cannon can still be seen in St Lawrence Church and the 1551 St Peter's parish cannon can still be seen at the foot of Beaumont Hill.

Originally defence would have been the typical untrained levée en masse, drawn from the property owning classes and their followers. Norman feudalism brought with it its own form of military service, but the need for a more highly trained and more numerous body became more necessary with the loss of the Duchy of Normandy and the consequent war-zone and frontier status of the Channel Islands after the first decade of the 13th century.

In the turmoil following 1204, John, believing that he had lost the Channel Islands, sent a mercenary force led by Eustace the Monk to harry the islands. When Eustace arrived again in 1214, this time working for the King of France, he was repulsed by a newly raised and armed local defence force. This could be considered as the origins of the Jersey Militia.

Records from Guernsey state that "the whole manhood of the island" was mustered and required to guard landing places, batteries and strong-points, while the castles were manned by English troops.

As both Islands were in a similar position the situation in Jersey is likely to have been similar, too.

By the 1330s a number of families were exempted from payment of hearth tax on account of services rendered.

When Castle Cornet in Guernsey was seized by the French, a third of the garrison were islanders. It can be surmised from this that a similar situation existed in Mont Orgueil.

An article on Jersey's Militia in the 1898 Navy and Army Illustrated

Thomas de Ferrers

In 1337 Thomas de Ferrers, the Warden of the Isles, was ordered to levy and arm all men of the island capable of bearing arms and to form them into companies of 1000s, 100s, and 20s. He was to lead them well armed and arrayed for the defence of the Island. This is often seen as the origins of the ‘true’ Jersey Militia.

Throughout the 14th century the island was subjected to raids and attacks by the French and their allies.

• 1336 David Bruce, the exiled King of Scots raided the Island • 1338 Nicholas Behuchet, Admiral of France, occupied the Island for six months but failed to capture Mont Orgueil • 1339 Sir Robert Bertrand, Marshal of France, invaded Jersey but again Mont Orgueil Castle could not be taken • 1372 Ifan of Wales raided the Island • 1373 Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France and the Duc du Bourbon invaded the island, captured Grosnez Castle, but failed at Mont Orgueil

Throughout this period the ‘militia’ seems to have operated, but it was not capable of putting up a sustained resistance against an organised attack. This is shown by the events of October 1406, when a combined Spanish/French force, led by Pero Nino and Pierre Hector de Pontbriand, landed on the islet in St Aubin's Bay

The Militia drew up along the facing sand dunes and advanced on the invaders; the battle raged fiercely, with hand-to-hand fighting, until the advancing tide forced the sides apart. Overnight Nino learned of the defences of the Island which, coupled with what he knew of the Militia's capabilities, made him switch his strategy to one of terrorism.

The following day detachments were sent out to pillage and destroy whatever they could find, but to avoid a pitched battle. This they succeeded in doing, apart from a skirmish at the top of Grouville Hill (La Croix de la Bataille).

The new strategy had the desired effect on the Militia. Unwilling to allow this destruction of property and suffering to families to continue, Islanders agreed to pay a ransom of 10,000 gold crowns to the invaders in return for their departure.

War of the Roses

In 1461, during the Wars of the Roses, Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, sold Mont Orgueil to the French. This in effect made the island French. While there may have been some discontent at this, and according to legend the French only controlled the eastern half of the Island, the fact is that there was no popular uprising and the Militia did nothing to evict them.

In 1468 the Yorkist Vice-Admiral, Richard Harliston in conjunction with the Seigneur of St Ouen, Philippe de Carteret, besieged the castle and captured it. The role played by the St Ouennais was so vital to the operation that in recognition of their services they were given the pride of place whenever the Militia was drawn up - the right flank.

In 1545 the Governor of the Island, the Earl of Hertford, ordered each parish to appoint a captain for their Company of Trained Bands. In 1549 the French landed a force at Bouley Bay but they were defeated by the Militia at Jardin d'Olivet. This was the first time that the Militia fought in Brigades, that is the Trained Bands.

At this time each parish had two pieces of field artillery, of which the St Peter cannon and a fragment of the St Saviour cannon survive.

The St Peter field piece was made by Owen brothers of London, who were responsible for making many of the guns on board the Mary Rose. In 1553 the States, which had been created four years earlier, ordered the parish companies to practice every Sunday, weather permitting, the firing of hackbuts, bows and crossbows.

The rest of the century was to all extents and purposes peaceful, with England and France at peace; the latter riven by the Wars of Religion, and as a result the Militia became rather lax. In 1617 a Royal Commission headed by Sir Edward Conway and Sir William Bird investigated the state of the island’s defences and they concluded that the Militia was in a poor state of readiness. As a result of their report the Militia was reorganised by the Governor, Sir John Peyton, the men were re-equipped and trained by professional soldiers and the whole cost of the exercise was covered by the imposition of a wine duty.

1878 helmet

Three regiments

By 1622 the 12 parish trained companies were reformed into three regiments each under its own colonel: the West, which was the senior regiment, the North and the East.

During the English Civil War the majority of Islanders were Parliamentarian at heart, yet the Island was held for the King by the de Carterets, who proved to be more effective leaders for their party than anyone that the Parliamentarians could produce. [2]

Rather than waste their time in futile manoeuvres trying to oust the Royalist garrisons, the Militiamen just returned to their homes and farms and carried on with their everyday tasks. In 1646 all fit men between the ages of 15 and 70 were ordered to parade with their parish companies for the benefit of the Prince of Wales.

The Channel Islands were always a sideshow as far as the Parliamentarian leadership was concerned. When the Parliamentarian forces did direct their attention towards Jersey in 1651, the Militia were unable to prevent a landing by Cromwell’s seasoned troops and so drifted away back to their homes. The Island fell within a fortnight, although Elizabeth Castle held out for seven weeks before surrendering.

In 1666 Sir Thomas Morgan remodelled the island defences and the Militia was reorganised once more into three regiments and given intensified training - much of it under canvas. By the end of the year, Morgan could count on 4,000 infantry and 200 cavalry. In 1678, for the first time, the men were put into uniform, red musketeers' cloaks. The artillery was made a separate corps in blue cloaks lined with scarlet.

In 1685 the Militia was composed of three regiments and a Troop of Horse, as well as the 24 parish field guns. By the end of the century the Militia were issued with red coats and arms and equipment by the British Government.

Five regiments

In 1730 the Militia was made up of six battalions split into five regiments. The 1st (North West) Regiment recruited its men from the parishes of St Ouen, St Mary and St John, the 2nd (North) Regiment took men from the parishes of Trinity and St Martin. The 3rd (East) Regiment drew men from the parishes of St Saviour, Grouville and St Clement. The 4th (South) Regiment covered the most populated part of the island and so was divided into two battalions. The men of Town made up the 1st/4th St Helier Battalion and the men from St Lawrence and the country parts of St Helier made up the 2nd/4th St Lawrence Battalion.

The last militia regiment was the 5th (South West) Regiment which came from St Peter and St Brelade. To complement this arrangement the militia artillery was still housed in the parish churches.

Usually a battalion in the regular army was made up of a colonel, a lieut-colonel, a major, seven captains, eleven lieutenants, four 3nsigns, 1 quartermaster, 48 grenadiers (ncos and men), and 494 infantrymen (NCOs and men), plus 50 artillery NCOs and men.

The Militia battalions were not quite as organised and their size varied

As a result of the Corn Riots of 1769, Colonel Bentinck of the Royal Scots was made Lieut-Governor with the brief of drawing up a Code of Laws. By the Code of 1771 all youths from 15 to 17 were obliged to drill once a week during the summer, and every male from 17 to 65 was bound to serve. Service was unpaid, instruction and equipment was provided by the British Government. Non-attendance was punishable by fines and coastguard duty occurred about one night in every two to three weeks.

The defence of the Island was in the hands of the Militia, which was composed of a Corps of Artillery, a Regiment of Cavalry and six Battalions of Infantry as well as the regular British troops holding the castles. Within a couple of hours the regular forces could be supplemented with nearly 3,000 trained men.

These men were in a better position than the regular British soldier; they had no need of a heavy knapsack to carry spare clothes and food, for these items could be provided, daily, by their wives and families. It also meant that the Militia regiments were not slowed down by large baggage trains.

In 1779 the Prince of Nassau's invasion was repelled by the 78th Regiment of Foot assisted by the Western Militia. The Militia Artillery was led by the Rector of St Ouen, Sire du Parcq, who brought the guns to a favourable position under fire from the hostile fleet. His name was later given to the Du Parcq Battery on the site of what was later to become the Lewis Tower.

A report in the Jersey Independent of 18 August 1855 of the militia review. Click here for a readable version

Battle of Jersey

During the Battle of Jersey in 1781 the Militia played its role. The Western Militia held Mont de la Ville, where Fort Regent now stands, and fired into the Royal Square. The 95th Regiment fought the actual battle there and the 83rd Regiment joined with the Eastern Militia, led by Francois Le Couteur, the Rector of St Martin, to destroy de Rullecourt's base at La Rocque.

During the French Revolutionary Wars from 1793 to 1815, the Militia was on constant alert, with regular troops garrisoning the castles and Militiamen manning the bulwark batteries and strongpoints. It was during this period of emergency that one of the most important threats to the Militia appeared - the growth of Methodism in the Island.

During the 1780s Methodism became an important feature of Island life. Traditionally, Militia drill was held on Sundays after morning service, but this was regarded as an affront to the Jersey Methodists’ religious beliefs and a desecration of the Sabbath. When the Methodists refused to turn up for parade and drill after church, the efficiency of the whole Regiment was affected. The authorities threatened those who missed militia drill with imprisonment and banishment.

In 1796 Francois Jeune was banished for three years for missing three parades in succession and in 1798 his son was imprisoned. The matter was put into the hands of the Privy Council,which agreed that the Methodists should do their drills on weekdays.

In 1806 Lieut-General Don, the newly-appointed Lieut-Governor, ordered the erection of drill sheds to allow the Militia to muster even in the worst weather. The drill shed at St Saviour was erected by the church and across the road a public house was built to take advantage of this regular gathering of thirsty men.

In 1831, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Jersey, the Jersey Militia was created "Royal" and the facings of the uniform were changed to blue from buff. In 1838 the 1st/4th St Helier Battalion of the Militia, in conjunction with the 60th Regiment, suppressed a riot of oyster fishermen at Gorey. This became known as the "Battle of the Oyster Shells". Where were the men of the 2nd and 3rd Regiments? The embarrassing answer is that many of them were oystermen and so they were among the rioters.

In 1844 arsenals were built in each parish and the field pieces were removed from the churches.

In 1869 Sir John Le Couteur assessed that the strength of the militia was 5,325 men.

Reorganisation

In 1877 the militia was once more reorganised. The Royal Jersey Artillery was formed with four batteries, manned by 280 gunners under a Lieut-Colonel. The five infantry Regiments were reduced to three, each consisting of 500 NCOs and men under a Lieut-Colonel.

  • The 1st (West) combined the old 1st (North West) Regiment, the 2nd/4th St Lawrence Battalion, and the 5th (South West) Regiment.
  • The 2nd (East) combined the old 2nd (North) Regiment and the 3rd (East) Regiment.
  • The 3rd (Town) combined the old 1st/4th St Helier Battalion plus those residents of St Helier who had served in the 2nd /4th Battalion.

Each battalion had six companies of about 60 men; and there was a colonel, two majors, six captains, six lieutenants and six second lieutenants. There was in addition to this, a permanent staff of regular officers and NCOs - an adjutant, a sergeant major, a quartermaster sergeant, and three sergeant Instructors.

In 1881 the Militia regiments were allowed the battle honour "Jersey 1781".

In 1889 the artillery was reorganised so that four batteries of Militia artillery, together with a regular battery from the Royal Garrison Artillery, formed a regiment and were responsible for the whole of the Island's southern defences. In addition, two mobile artillery forces were raised as field artillery and were equipped with four 20-pounder guns; these were the West, manned by artillerymen of the six western parishes and the East, manned by the men of the five eastern parishes.

The infantry battalions were armed with the Martini-Henry rifle.

In 1891 parochial rivalry led the St Ouennais Company ‘to mutiny’ when they believed that they were being deprived of their traditional place on the right flank.

An official Militia photograph on Grouville Common during the First World War

Army Act

In 1905 the Militia was once more reorganised when it was placed under the Army Act. It was made up of a regiment of artillery, divided into two field batteries and two garrison companies, a company of engineers, a medical company, and three battalions of infantry. Training was modernised. The cost to the States was estimated at £5,000 per year.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 the regular garrison troops were withdrawn and the Militia was mobilised to take over responsibility for the defence of the Island. In 1917 when the threat of invasion had waned the Militia was demobilised. The Militia as such was not sent to France but many of its members joined a volunteer Overseas Contingent, which was incorporated into the Royal Irish Rifles.

In 1921 a new Militia Law reduced the militia to a single regiment. The old colours were laid up in the churches of St Helier, St Martin and St Mary and the new colours were presented to the new regiment of the Royal Jersey Militia. Service at this stage was still compulsory, it was not until 1929 that service was made purely voluntary and the strength was reduced to 260 men with all costs being met by the States.

The Militia was composed of 250 men, a headquarters, a rifle company and a machine gun company enrolled for Island defence only.

On the outbreak of the Second World War the Militia was mobilised and with the demilitarisation of the Island in June 1940, 11 officers and 193 men left on the ss Hoder for England where they formed the nucleus of the 11th (Royal Militia Island of Jersey) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment.

After the war in 1946, the War Office ordered the disbanding of the Militia, and this was done. The colours were laid up in the Parish Church of St Helier in January 1954.

Territorial field squadron

In 1986 the British Government requested that Jersey should contribute towards the Defence Budget of the United Kingdom and the Field Squadron Royal Engineers (Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey) Territorial Army was formed in October 1988. The role of the Squadron was later changed from a Field Squadron to a RAF Harrier Force Support Squadron. In 1995 on the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Jersey the Squadron was granted the 'Privilege' by the States of Jersey this is the equivalent to granting the freedom of the city. The Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey Association meet regularly throughout the year and is supplemented by members of the Field Squadron ensuring that the Association will continue for many years to come. Thus, the Royal Jersey Militia in its various forms has had a long and varied history.

1972 Jersey stamp issue

Further articles

Picture gallery

With the exception of this photograph, one of our all-time favourites in Jerripedia, we have moved our gallery of photographs of the Royal Militia Island of Jersey to a separate page;

We chose this image as our Picture of the year for 2015, the best of many thousand photographs added to the site over the previous 12 months. It shows three pretty young ladies wielding rifles? What on earth was going on? The answer lies in the ropes attached to stakes between their legs. This photograph was undoubtedly taken in front of a tent at a Militia camp, probably in the first decade of the 20th century. It was standard practice for each camp to stage an open day when wives and other family members were invited to visit and see what their menfolk were doing at their annual camp. The quality of the outfits these young ladies were wearing leads us to suspect that they were the daughters of officers and they were clearly delighted to pose with their fathers' rifles, or those borrowed from other soldiers. The quality of the picture suggests that it was not a family snapshot but was taken by one of the professional photographers who made good money out of taking commemorative pictures at these camps, which were held either on the slopes outside Fort Regent at Les Quennevais in the west of the island, or Grouville Common in the east


Militia infantrymen

It's sad that so many old photographs never had the names of the people in them written on the back. It's a perennial problem for family historians, and also for Jerripedia editors, who come across fabulous images such as this one taken at a Royal Militia Island of Jersey summer camp, probably in the first decade of the 20th century, and probably at Fort Regent. We do know that the men photographed were part of the 3rd Battalion (Light Infantry) but we know nothing more
At least we know the names of these four gentlemen, members of a Militia unit relaxing during a period of duty at Greve de Lecq Barracks. They were P Mallet (possibly Philippe (1833- ), son of Philippe and Rachel Lesbirel of St Lawrence); P Luce (possibly Philippe (1835- ) son of Elie and Marie, of St Lawrence); J Le Maistre (not identified further); and C F Le Feuvre (probably Charles Francois (1839- ) son of Jean and Anne Helleur of St Lawrence). The picture was taken between 1866 and 1876.

Notes and references

  1. The earliest mention in official documents for Constables and Vingteniers dates from 1462 and Centeniers, from 1502
  2. This is a considerable simplification of the situation in Jersey during the Civil War – Editor
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