A Militiaman’s enthusiasm is rewarded with hard labour of a different kind

Yesterday’s post concerned the antics of two members of the Royal Artillery who apparently used the Police Court to get themselves a free trip back to their barracks in Woolwich. Today’s post also shows the variety in caseloads at these London summary courts and again relates to the military of the Victorian period.

This time, however, it was the civil defence force that predated the Home Guard (immortalised as Dad’s Army on television), the militia.

Perhaps because of the excellent work of my Northampton colleague Matthew McCormack, I have always associated the militia with the eighteenth century, but they existed right up until the early years of the twentieth century. While the eighteenth-century force had been recruited by ballot (and so was something men were compelled or at least obliged to join) by the Victorian period it was an entirely voluntary force.

After 1881 (and the Childers reforms) militia units were reorganized ‘as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions’. After Haldane’s reforms (in 1905) they became the official ‘reserves’.

In the 1880s anyone joining the militia was entitled to a bounty – a one off payment of cash and a uniform and equipment. This was probably an attractive offer given that joining up was relatively risk free in terms of actual fighting. In the 1700s members of the militia risked real engagement with a potential invader (Bonaparte’s French) or being used to quell civil unrest; by the late 1800s the risk of a foreign invasion had long gone and the New Police were well established and able to deal with problems from rioters and other domestic revolutionaries. There had been a brief spell in the late 1850s when the chance of invasion (by a different Napoleon this time) was heightened but this produced a flurry of men signing up for the Volunteer Force not the traditional Militia.

So when Thomas Moore, a labourer from Camberwell, signed on the dotted line to join the Middlesex Militia at the St George’s Street barracks, he must have been confident that he would get his 20s and ‘a free kit’ without much effort.

However, something about Thomas raised suspicions in the mind of Captain Crutchley when he asked him the ‘usual questions’ and the officer called for Sergeant Major Morgan to interrogate him a little more closely outside.

Now it transpired that ‘Thomas Moore’ was actually Martin Headley of Stockwell Street, Old Kent Road and that he had already served in the Surrey Militia and so was not entitled to the money or the ‘kit’. Headley claimed that he had tried to sign up to the ‘regulars’ (the ‘proper’ army) but had been refused. Perhaps he was too old, or not up to scratch, or they simply didn’t need troops in 1887 (although they soon would, as the South African – or Boer War – loomed).

Headley was brought before the Marlborough Street Police magistrate on a day when the reporter noted that the court was at its least busy ‘for thirty years’. The lack of business didn’t help the ex-militiaman, not did his previous history of volunteering; the justice sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 05, 1887]

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