England’s Last Hope: The Territorial Force 1908-14

Author: K.W. Mitchinson
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (2008)
ISBN-10: 78-0230574540

Probably most people who read about the history of the Territorial Army skip the sections on the county associations and hurry on to more interesting aspects. K.W.Mitchinson, however, has studied the associations and, largely from their surviving records, has written England's Last Hope: The Territorial Force, 1908-14. Dr K.W.(Bill) Mitchinson, a former student of Professor Ian Beckett, is a member of the Centre for First World War Studies at Birmingham University and a ‘prolific author' whose publications include Defending Albion: Britain's Home Army, 1908-1919 (2005), also published by Palgrave Macmillan.

England's Last Hope, a title taken from a 1913 music-hall turn, is an academic monograph with a full scholarly apparatus - one chapter has 143 endnotes - and 32 monochrome illustrations, mostly photographs. It is both a history of the county associations and a wider history of the Territorial Force, largely through them. It includes their composition and role, recruiting, camping, transport, musketry, clothing, equipment, finance, war-planning, the invasion and compulsory-service controversies, and, in the final two chapters, the T.F. in the Great War. Haldane initially intended that the associations should be widely representative and relatively democratic, but his proposals were modified to ensure a permanent official and military majority; moreover socialists, the Co-operative movement, and some trade unionists refused to participate. One ‘trades and labour council' wrote that whilst the country was ‘owned by the capitalist class and ... armed forces are used to assist them ... we can take no part in trying to recruit any of the forces'. The associations comprised T.F. officers, landowners, businessmen, and representatives of local government, and they were far from subservient to the War Office. The latter was responsible for command and training, while the associations were responsible for T.F. administration, buildings, uniforms, equipment, recruiting, bands, and much else.

Haldane initially intended that the associations should be widely representative and relatively democratic, but his proposals were modified to ensure a permanent official and military majority...

The book contains some dreary, if worthy, sections on administration, recurrent friction with the War Office, and such issues as boot procurement. Yet there is also much of interest, including on recruiting methods, official and unofficial - a Twickenham man offered a pair of kid gloves to ladies who persuaded a man to join - camps, horses, the London to Brighton march competition, war planning, T.F. faults and limitations, and the National Service League, which latterly gained much support within the associations. They were responsible for the purchase from contractors of uniforms and equipment. Webbing was problematic, with the 1908 pattern available so soon after the 1903 equipment, long before the latter was worn out. Some associations kept the 1903 equipment, some bought the full 1908 equipment, and some bought a cheaper ‘commercial' version with fewer pouches. There are some unanswered questions: why, for example, were Yeomanry units nearer establishment than most others? The book includes the recurrent criticism of the T.F., and concludes that it was in reality much better than its many detractors alleged.

K.W.Mitchinson's England's Last Hope complements the books by Dunlop, Spiers, Beckett and Dennis, and is a ‘must-read' for all serious students of the Territorial Army and of the Edwardian military.

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