1st Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers Corps of Drums

A Brief History

 

Scribe - Mike Boxall

A Brief History of the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers,

their Uniforms and Badges

 

In the late 1850s diplomatic relations between Britain and France were at one of their periodic low points. In January 1858 a bomber attempted to assassinate Napoleon III, the French Head of State. Because he had made the bomb in England, there was public outcry in France calling for an invasion of Britain.

 

In response to the mounting tension, newspapers here had been calling for the formation of a Volunteer Force for home defence. In 1859 the Secretary of State for War authorised the formation of Volunteer Rifle Corps throughout the country.

The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers is formed

Many towns at that time had rifle clubs for the sport of target shooting, and they naturally formed the local Rifle Volunteers. The Volunteer Rifle Club in Hastings, established in 1851, became the 1st Corps of Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers under the command of the Hon. George Waldegrave, the local M.P.

 

The Rifle Volunteers’ terms were that they could be called out “in case of actual invasion, or of the appearance of an enemy in force on the coast, or in case of rebellion arising in either of these emergencies.”  Volunteers were classed as ‘effective’ if they had attended eight days drill and exercise in four months, or 24 days in a year. They had to provide their own arms and equipment, and in consequence were permitted to choose the design of their uniforms.

 

Many Rifle Volunteer Corps chose green or grey ‘rifleman’ uniforms to differentiate themselves from the Army and Militia in scarlet. The first uniform worn by the Cinque Ports volunteers was grey with red facings and black braiding. A peaked cap of the same colours had a brass badge of the Cinque Ports shield in a garter inscribed ‘Cinque Ports Volunteers’. Belts and cross-belts were of black leather.  

 

Having to provide their own arms and equipment affected the social make-up of the Volunteer Corps. The cost, and unpaid time, involved was beyond the means of most working men and, in these early years, the Volunteers were very much a middle-class body.

 

The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers maintained their regular shooting practices but now, under a Sergeant Robinson of The Grenadier Guards, added drill to their weekly meetings. The life of a Rifle Volunteer wasn’t all drill and rifle cleaning, though. After the initial patriotic fervour, much of the attraction of joining the Volunteers was the social life. (It’s no coincidence that so many public houses up and down the country are called ‘The Rifleman’ or ‘The Volunteer’.)

The 1860s & 70s – The Corps develops  

One popular military and social event for Volunteers was the annual Volunteers Review where the men demonstrated their skill at drill and skirmishing in front of large crowds. In 1860 the first Review took place with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in attendance. Volunteer Rifle Corps from all over the country marched past the Queen in Hyde Park. The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers had three Companies on parade. The Hastings Company alone comprised 101 all ranks, including Drums and Fifes who are reported as “playing well throughout the day, in the streets of London and in the Park.”

 

By the end of 1860 the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers consisted of eight Companies: No. 1 at Hastings, No. 2 at Ramsgate, No. 3 at Rye, No. 4 at Hythe, No. 5 at Folkestone, No. 6 at Deal, No. 7 at Margate and No. 8 at Dover. It wasn’t only the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers that flourished. By 1862 the Volunteer Force as a whole had a strength of 162,681 and a Grand Review at Brighton attracted 19,000 Rifle Volunteers from London and the Home Counties.

 

In 1863 the Volunteer Corps were regulated by The Volunteer Act. The Act recognised the Cinque Ports, the Isle of Wight and Tower Hamlets as outside the normal county organisation of the Volunteers. In these areas the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Governor of the Isle of Wight and the Constable of the Tower of London commissioned Volunteer Rifles officers in place of the Lord-Lieutenant of the county.

 

In 1872 jurisdiction over the Volunteers was placed under the Secretary of State for War and the Volunteer Rifle Corps became increasingly integrated with the Regular Army.

 

1879 saw the Cinque Ports Corps’ first annual camp, held at Beauport Park near Battle, in what is described as “most inclement weather”. On the Easter Monday a Grand Review at Brighton saw 20,000 Volunteers parade for The Duke of Cambridge, The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers getting a favourable mention from the Royal Duke for the standard of their drill.

The 1880s – Army reforms

In 1880 at the suggestion of the Bandmaster, Edwin Stutely, the Corps adopted as its Regimental March a tune originally called ‘The Carmarthenshire March’ but later re-named ‘Let the Hills Resound’. It had been written by Brinsley Richards, famous for composing ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’.

 

By this time the Cinque Ports uniform had changed somewhat. Still grey, the jackets were now shorter and without braiding for Other Ranks. The peaked cap had been replaced by a shako with blue braids and a blue pom-pom. The cap badge was now a Rifles bugle-horn with ‘Cinque Ports’ on a scroll below it. Accoutrements remained in black leather.

 

In the Army reforms of 1881 regular and militia battalions of the army were amalgamated into territorial regiments with local names and local depots. Thus the old 35th and 107th Regiments became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Royal Sussex Regiment. Affiliated to them were the 1st Volunteer Battalion (Brighton), the 2nd Volunteer Battalion (Worthing) and The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps, which retained its unique title and grey uniform.

 

By 1884 the Corps had a total strength of 19 officers and 363 men in four companies: ‘A’ (Hastings), ‘B’ (Battle), ‘C’ (Ticehurst) and ‘D’ (Lewes). A Mr. A. M. Brookfield, recently retired from the 13th Hussars, was appointed as Lieut.-Colonel to command. A popular man, subsequently becoming a local M.P., he commanded the Corps for the following nine years.

 

In 1885 the Volunteers’ grey Shako was replaced for a time by a dark green Glengarry until, in 1887, a Home Service helmet in grey was issued. The helmet plate featured a Maltese cross with crown, the centre being a bugle-horn and a number ‘1’ with the title ‘Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers’ around it.

 

By 1897 the Corps was at the height of its strength. Increasing leisure time for working men at this time, which resulted in the development of Association Football and cycling, among other pastimes, also benefited the Volunteer movement.

 

The Corps now consisted of eight Companies with 32 Officers and 760 Other Ranks. This included a 25-man Cyclist section whose displays became a popular part of local fetes and shows. Also on the strength was a stretcher-bearer detachment with three Medical Officers who wore cocked hats with black feathers. The annual camp at Battle Abbey in 1887 saw 449 officers and men attending, including 55 in the Band with Drums and Fifes from Rye.  

 

The C.O. noted at this time that “I had eight well-equipped Companies, mainly composed of young men of good character and intelligence, who had a physique very superior to that of the average line-battalion.”

1899 – The end of the ‘Greys’

1899 was a momentous year for the Corps as it finally lost its traditional grey uniform and adopted the scarlet jacket and blue tweeds of its parent Regiment, The Royal Sussex. Some Cinque Ports distinctions remained. Facings were of a lighter blue than for Royal Regiments and Officers and NCOs wore brown leather shoulder belts and accoutrements. An officer’s belt buckle of the time shows the Cinque Ports shield surrounded by the motto ‘Pro Aris et Focis’ (for God and Country). A new collar dog design featured a Cinque Ports shield on a Maltese cross backed by a Roussillon plume.

 

A book published in 1899 on the role, organisation, equipment, tactics, training and administration of the British Army noted that, of the 215 Volunteer Battalions, 133 wore red tunics and 52 green, while 30 still retained their old grey uniforms. The book also notes the Volunteer Battalions’ permanent cadre – regular soldiers from the parent Regiment posted to help maintain Army standards of organisation, drill and training. For an 8 Company Volunteer Battalion like the Cinque Ports, the cadre consisted of an Adjutant (Captain), a Sergeant Major and 8 Drill Sergeants.

The Boer War

For the Cinque Ports Battalion, like many others, the permanent cadre’s work was

soon to be tested in the heat of the Boer War.  The British Army's early reverses in the field, and the sheer size of the country, lead to demands for extra manpower. Volunteer Companies were formed for service overseas with their parent Regiments. The Royal Sussex Regiment’s Active Service Company, which included 49 Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers, landed in South Africa on 31st March 1900.

 

They joined Lord Roberts’ Army for the march on Pretoria and, in the firing line with A Company, The Royal Sussex, were soon engaged with the enemy at the Battles of Zand River, Doornkop and Diamond Hill. At the Battle of Retief’s Nek in July 1900 the Volunteers, ordered to extend the left of the line which had come under heavy enemy fire, were seen “firing with great coolness and steadiness”.

 

When the conflict finally ended, 1 Officer and 128 men from the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps had served in South Africa, earning the Corps the Battle Honour ‘South Africa 1900-1902’.

 

The South African War also left its mark on the Corps in another distinctive way. After the war many units adopted the slouch hat as their head-dress, but The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps did so with a difference – their slouch hats were blue, with a blue plume. Lord Roberts, inspecting them at Aldershot, remarked “I like the little shaving brush stuck at the side of the hat!”

1900s – The last years of the Corps

The last remnants of the old ‘rifleman’ uniform, the brown leather shoulder belts and accoutrements, were discarded in 1904 with Officers and NCOs now wearing scarlet sashes like the Regular Infantry. All ranks were also issued the ‘Broderick’ cap for undress wear. This peakless cap, long associated with the German Army, was not popular.

 

In 1906 The Prince of Wales became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Hon. Colonel of the Corps. To mark this, the Band now concluded its performances with the Regimental March ‘Let the Hills Resound’, then ‘God Bless The Prince of Wales’ before ending with The National Anthem.

 

At a national level, the civilian administration of the Rifle Volunteer movement was on the brink of insolvency by 1907. However, the Volunteer Force had become indispensable to British defence planning as it enabled the Regular Army to draw its own forces away from home defence stations. To save the situation the government passed The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907. This merged the Volunteer Force with the Yeomanry to form the government-funded Territorial Force.

 

In line with the re-organisation that followed the Act, on 1st April 1908 the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps became a Territorial infantry battalion - the 5th (Cinque Ports) Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment.

 

This brief history is confined to the Corps’ days as Rifle Volunteers, so ends here. The 5th (Cinque Ports) Bn. went on to serve with distinction in both World Wars only to be finally disbanded in 1967.

 

Sources

 

‘Cinque Ports Battalion – The Story of the 5th (Cinque Ports) Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment (T.A.)’ by The late Colonel E.A.C. Fazan, M.C., T.D., D.L.

 

‘The Volunteer Force – A Social and Political History 1859-1908’ by Hugh Cunningham.

 

‘Scarlet into Khaki - The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War’ by Lt.-Col. James Moncreiff Grierson with a preface to the new edition by Col. Peter Walton.

 

 

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