25th County of London Cyclist Battalion
The London Regiment

The Territorial Army & the London 25th.
'A Town Clerk's Army'  -  'Banished to India'


The 25th County of London were a County Territorial Association. These were local organisations, subject to local conditions and community support. They were volunteers, and there was a division of control between the War Office & the County Territorial Associations which both helped and hindered the Territorials.

The true purpose of the Territorial Army was to provide reinforcements in complete units for the Regular divisions of the Expeditionary Force. However they could not be forced to serve overseas, and an inability to impose a foreign service liability on pre-war Territorials, was a powerful handicap to their acceptance by the country as an essential part of the defence forces.

In any case the turn of events in August 1914 brought to the War Office a man who had nothing but contempt for the entire concept of the Territorial Force. Asquith relinquished the War Office and appointed Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum as Secretary of State for War. A national hero to much of the British public, Kitchener brought to the War Office the drive and determination that the gravity of the crisis demanded. But he was also woefully ignorant of Britain's military forces and the changes that had taken place.  

In particular he distrusted the Territorial Force. He disliked the County Associations because they were dominated by civilians (the Territorials, he remarked, were administered by mayors in their parlours1), and because he saw in them a source of unwelcome pressure for military patronage. He dismissed the training that the Territorials had in peacetime as being of no account, and insisted that well-meaning amateurs (a Town Clerk's Army, he once called them2) could never replace fully-trained soldiers.

Kitchener's initial inclination to bypass the Territorials entirely did not long survive and he decided that he would accept the offer of any Territorial unit that volunteered for overseas service. Overall, 318 Territorial battalions undertook foreign service during the war, compared with 404 battalions of New Armies. Not all Territorial units served in France and Belgium . Many, including whole units that had volunteered for service overseas, were kept at home, either as defence against the invasion that never came, or to train new Territorial units. Others, were sent to India at the beginning of the war and later, so that Regular units on garrison duty there could be relieved and sent directly into action in France

Of all the grievances that the Territorials had during and after the war, none were greater than those of the Territorials in India . Their services there were forgotten, and they were denied any of the honours and medals that would have been their due, and which they were specifically promised. Although they had also fought in Mesopotamia and the Near East , they later faced accusations that they had 'saved their skins'. Despite being some of the first volunteers for overseas service, they were among the last to return to England, in some cases more than four years after leaving. They were treated shabbily, but in many ways not very differently from the majority of Territorials. Taken for granted, looked upon with contempt or amused indifference, bypassed in favour of Kitchener's New Armies.


The Territorials who served in India felt that they had been positively discriminated against.  

As one Territorial put it:

I cannot help feeling that the fact that I am a 'territorial' instead of a 'Kitchener' makes it much more difficult to get a decent job - it was the same in India. They select a few Territorial Peers and MPs for good appointments for eye wash for the world at large, but there is not a Territorial Officer living, who does not feel that the Territorials have been badly treated all through.3

Even worse was in store at the end of the war (see The Boozy Londoner's). Despite the War Office's promise that when demobilization began every consideration would be given to those who had volunteered for duty first, that undertaking was also scrapped on the grounds of economic and political expediency. Rather than apply the principle of 'first in, first out', the Government announced that it would release men on an industrial and commercial scale of priorities. The result was that some Territorials were still in India almost a year after the war had ended. It was hardly enough to be told that a shortage of shipping prevented their earlier return, especially since, when they did return, they were denied the public honours and welcomes that other troops, often conscripts, had received.  

The Territorials who had been 'banished to India', as one of their supporters put it to Scarbrough,4 had every reason to feel let down and abused. One wrote plaintively: 'It's no good moaning'. We Territorials are here in India. Nobody knows anything about us in England, and nobody seems to care about us. We were fools in the start and now must stand the racket.'5 The Surrey Association unanimously passed a resolution condemning the 'shabby' treatment that the Territorials in India had received at the hands of the War Office, but it made no difference. By 1919 the problems of demobilization and the wish to get back to a peacetime routine pushed aside the claims of the Territorials in India, and indeed of the Territorials as a whole, as making an invidious distinction between different sorts of volunteers, and between volunteers and conscripts.  

1 David French, British Economic and Strategic Planning 1905- 1915 ( Lon­don , 1982), p. 126.

2 Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Twenty-five Years, 1892 - 1916 ( London , 1925), II, p. 68.

3 Quoted in a letter from the Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Scarbrough, 24 April 1919, Scarbrough Papers.

4 Lieutenant-General Sir Reginald Carew to Scarbrough, 19 January 1919, Scarbrough Papers. Carew was Unionist MP for Bodmin Division, Cornwall , 1910 -16, and Inspector-General of the Territorial Force in 1914. Carew felt a special concern for the Territorials in India, for, as he explained to Scarbrough, 'I regret to say that I helped K[itchener] by telling the poor Terriers ... who were inclined to trust me, that they must go, and that they could trust K . . .. I suppose you will be able to get the Terriers home some day . . ..'

5 Quoted by Carew to Scarbrough, 19 January 1919. 33 Surrey , 7 April 1919, Minutes, vol. 2.


Source :- 'The Territorial Army 1906-1940' by Peter Dennis, The Royal Historical Society, 1987.

Further reading :-