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Territorial Army Centenary 1908-2008
Lancaster’s Territorial Soldiers
1st April 2008 marked the Centenary of the creation of the Territorial Army and the formation, in Lancaster, of the 5th Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
Volunteer soldiering in Lancaster has origins in 1797 when, through fear of French invasion, the ‘Loyal Lancaster Volunteers’ were formed to support the regular army and county militia forces. The volunteers were disbanded in 1815 following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, although re-appeared in the 1850s with further threat from France. In the 1880s the Lancashire Rifle Volunteers were absorbed into the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment which had just moved into to purpose built barracks at Bowerham, now the Lancaster campus of the University of Cumbria.
In 1905 the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane, set about reforming the Army and in 1908 all volunteer forces were brought together under the new ‘Territorial Force’. This force would be ready to serve within 6 months of mobilisation with soldiers attending weekly training sessions and week long camps. The 5th Battalion of the King’s Own was divided into eight ‘Companies’, four of which based in Lancaster, one each in Morecambe and Carnforth and two in Fleetwood. Additional drill stations were located at Arnside, Silverdale, Caton, Poulton, Garstang, Blackpool, Preesall and Thornton.
The Territorial Force offered many men an alternative to their daily working routine. It provided travel – may be not abroad – but annual camps held in places like Kirkby Lonsdale, Appleby and Denbigh in North Wales did provide a change of scenery, and a paid ‘holiday’ of sorts. Good daily rates of pay also offered additional income to households when work was may be not as plentiful as would be desired.
On 3rd August 1914 the 5th Battalion was recalled from it’s Annual Camp at Kirkby Lonsdale so that it could be mobilised. The Territorials could not be ordered overseas but many soldiers quickly volunteered for ‘Imperial Service’ and joined the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. Very few of the soldiers who arrived in France on 14th February 1915 were still serving when the battalion returned to a Mayor reception in Lancaster in 1919. Four years of hard fighting during all the major battles of the Western Front from Ypres to the Somme had taken its toll.
Lancaster’s battalion was reformed in 1920 with the new ‘Territorial Army’ name, which is still in use today. Recruiting in the post-war world was slow, the horrors of the war were too recent for many and it was not until the 1930’s that the Morecambe Company was reformed. The Government saw the TA as important and invested in new drill halls at Carnforth (1930) and Morecambe (1937) and mechanised transport was introduced in 1937.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the 5th Battalion was mobilised and quickly departed Lancaster and in May 1940 were part of the force in Belgium facing the German advance. The rapid German advance made it evident that the only option was to fall back to the coast and retreat through Dunkirk. The 5th Battalion played and important roll in the protection of the Dunkirk perimeter before they were evacuated across the Channel. Once home they were employed on home defence and anti-invasion duties in the North East of England. Warfare was changing and it was not long before the battalion found a new role as an armoured unit and with Churchill tanks battalion became the 107th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (The King’s Own). The 107th Regiment arrived in France in July 1944, one month after D Day, and took part in major actions through France, Belgium and Holland ending up on the Rhine on 8th May 1945 when the war in Europe was over.
Following the end of the Second World War the TA was reduced in size and these reductions continued until the 1960s and the volunteers of the King’s Own were reduced to a cadre status of only a handful of men. The cuts were too savage and the 1970s saw the cadre of the 4/5 King’s Own re-activated and in 1975 the new 4th (Territorial Army) Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment was created, with headquarters in Lancaster but with personnel from North Lancashire and Cumbria. New investment saw the 1990 opening of Alexandra Barracks on Caton Road and the departure from the Drill Hall on Phoenix Street, which had been used by the Volunteers for nearly a century.
Further change came in 1999 when the Lancaster and Preston based TA battalions were merged and formed the short lived ‘Lancastrian and Cumbrian Volunteers’ which in 2006 became the 4th Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. This single battalion is the TA infantry unit for North West England and has soldiers serving alongside the regular army in Iraq, Afghanistan and almost every other location where the British Army can be found.
© 2008 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum