The Territorial Force

What was the Territorial Force?

The Territorial Force (TF) was created as part of the reforms of the British Army carried out by Secretary of State Richard Burdon Haldane. It came into existence on 1 April 1908 under the authorisation of the Territorial and Reserves Forces Act, 1907. The Act created a number of County Associations which were responsible for funding, housing and equipping the units created for the TF. In the period up 1914 the TF faced considerable political opposition: there was a strong movement that wished to introduce compulsory national service rather than relay a locally-organised voluntary service; and there were working-class fears that the TF would be used against any industrial action. The War Office proved to be miserly in funding the TF, with the effect being that when war came in August 1914 it was greatly under-manned and under-trained, struggled to find sufficient horses, transport and other equipment to effectively mobilise, and was generally regarded as being barely fit for purpose.

Britain had a tradition of organising local part-time military units known as the Militia and the Volunteers. These had often been created during times of national crisis but with the exception of service during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) had generally remained at home as part-time, local defence, units. The 1908 army reforms essentially did away with these old units and replaced them with the Territorial Force. It remained a part-time form of soldiering (hence the nickname “Saturday Night Soldiers”).

With the exception of the Guards, the Irish regiments, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and Rifle Brigade, the infantry regiments all formed units of the TF, as did the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the other Corps. Some regiments were exclusively TF and had no regular units at all: chief among these was the London Regiment. These units were structured into fourteen Divisions.

The mounted forces of the TF were the 54 regiments of the Yeomanry. These were organised into brigades.

The TF also included all necessary support and ancillary units, including a number of hospitals that would be established at home in an emergency.

The recruitment of men into TF units was very localised and remained so well into 1916.

The purpose of the TF

The concept of the TF was for it to ensure home defence while a large part of the British regular army was deployed to Europe as an Expeditionary Force. On mobilisation in the event of war the units would form a central mobile striking force and coastal defence formations. The TF was mobilised for full-time war service immediately war was declared. This was known as being “embodied”.

Men enlisting into the TF were not obliged by their terms to serve overseas, although they could agree to do so.

Imperial Service

When TF troops agreed to overseas service, they signed the “Imperial Service Obligation”. Here is an example: Andrew Yuille, who had been serving for some time and was already a Sergeant, signed on 18 September 1914.

Imperial Service Obligation

They were then issued with a special badge, known as the “Imperial Service Brooch”, to be worn on their right breast. If you have a photo of a soldier wearing this badge, he is definitely a Territorial.

Imperial Service brooch

Distinctive TF badges and insignia

Many TF units also issued distinctive insignia, notably the “Shoulder title”, a brass badge carrying the name of the unit worn on the shoulder. Here is an example. The badge of the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, a Territorial infantry unit. The T and the general arrangement of this title is typical.


The “First Line” or “Foreign Service” TF units and formations

When war was declared, all TF troops received orders to mobilise. Many of them had just gone onto the annual fortnight’s training camp and were hurriedly recalled to the home base. Most TF units had a pre-arranged war station and the units moved quickly to take up their allotted places. Some were sent to garrison duties at various points around the Empire, replacing the regular units that were required for service in France.

On 15 August 1914 orders were issued to separate the “home service” men from those who had undertaken to serve overseas, with the intention of forming reserves made up of those who had not so volunteered. Those men that did not agree were separated out into “Home Service” or “Second Line” units. Their places in the “Foreign Service” or “First Line” units were taken by new recruits who had agreed to serve overseas. These terms are often seen on TF men’s service records.

In 1915 the “First Line” and “Second Line” units were given new a new title; for example the 1/5th and 2/5th South Staffordshires were what had been the first and second line formed by the original 5th Battalion.

The First Line units had, since 1908, been formed into 14 Divisions: They were:

East Lancashire Division, later titled 42nd (East Lancashire) Division
Wessex Division, later titled 43rd (Wessex) Division
Home Counties Division, later titled 44th (Home Counties) Division
North Midland Division, later titled 46th (North Midland) Division
2nd London Division, later titled 47th (2nd London) Division
South Midland Division, later titled 48th (South Midland) Division
West Riding Division, later titled 49th (West Riding) Division
Northumbrian Division, later titled 50th (Northumbrian) Division
Highland Division, later titled 51st (Highland) Division
Lowland Division, later titled 52nd (Lowland) Division
Welsh Division, later titled 53rd (Welsh) Division
East Anglian Division, later titled 54th (East Anglian) Division
West Lancashire Division, later titled 55th (West Lancashire) Division
London Division, later titled 56th (1st London) Division

The “Second Line” or (initially) “Home Service” TF units and formations

On 31 August, authority was given to establish a Second Line Division for each of the First Line where more than
60% of the men had volunteered. These Divisions were formed from late 1914, although the permissible strength of a Second Line unit was initially only half of the normal establishment. This was raised to full establishment early in 1915, after which many of them were sent overseas, with some playing important parts in the fighting. When the Military Service Act was introduced in 1916, all men were deemed to have agreed to overseas service and thus all Second Line became available to be sent overseas. The Second Line Divisions were

2nd East Lancashire Division, later titled 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division
2nd Wessex Division, later titled 45th (2nd Wessex) Division
2nd Home Counties Division, later titled 67th (Home Counties) Division
2nd North Midland Division, later titled 59th (2nd North Midland) Division
2/2nd London Division, later titled 60th (2/2nd London) Division
2nd South Midland Division, later titled 61st (2nd South Midland) Division
2nd West Riding Division, later titled 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division
2nd Northumbrian Division, later titled 63rd (2nd Northumbrian) Division
2nd Highland Division, later titled 64th (2nd Highland) Division
2nd Lowland Division, later titled 65th (2nd Lowland) Division
2nd Welsh Division, later titled 68th (2nd Welsh) Division
2nd East Anglian Division, later titled 69th (East Anglian) Division
2nd West Lancashire Division, later titled 57th (West Lancashire) Division
2/1st London Division, later titled 58th (2/1st London) Division

The “Third Line” TF units

On 24 November 1914 it was decided to replace each “foreign service” unit which proceeded abroad with its reserve unit (that is, the Second Line now became available for home defence purposes); and directly this happened, a second reserve unit, or Third Line, would be formed. Most TF units formed a Third Line; in our example above this was the 3/5th South Staffordshire. They remained at home, providing drafts for other units, and many were merged or disbanded from 1916 onward.

Provisional Brigades and Battalions

A development of the TF in 1915. See Provisional Brigades and Battalions

More TF Divisions are formed

Two Divisions were formed in Egypt in 1918, largely from dismounted units of the yeomanry. They were considered as First Line Divisions:

74th (Yeomanry) Division, and
75th Division.

The terms of engagement of a TF soldier

Until the introduction of the Military Service Act (MSA) in 1916, most TF recruits were engaged for four years. This could be extended in blocks of four years. Thus a man enlisting in 1908 would “time expire” in 1912. This had an interesting effect on men during war time: for example, a man enlisting in 1911 would time expire in 1915. His service was considered finished and he could go home. Unfortunately as long as he met the MSA criteria, he could be re-enlisted by being conscripted. This applied from 2 March 1916 for single men and 25 May 1916 for married men. Any man time expiring after these dates could also be re-enlisted and usually was. The MSA terms required the man for the duration of the war.

Is the TF the same as the Territorial Army?

The TA did not exist until 1920, when it replaced the TF.

Clues for research

1917 renumbering

In early 1917 all men then serving with TF units were given new numbers. Prior to that most TF men would have had three or four digit numbers; most TF units began their numbering starting from 1 on 1 April 1908. Just having a four digit number is of itself not enough to tell that a man served with a TF unit, as many of the New Army units did the same thing when they were established in 1914. But if your soldier has such a number that was replaced by a six digit number, you can be reasonably confident that he was a Territorial.

TF renumbering




TF Depots

Order of Battle of Divisions