Popular History of Jersey Chapter 29

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Jersey Militia

Service to King

In old feudal days, as everyone must be aware, all lords such as held their fiefs in capite from the King were bound to serve him for certain periods in the field, followed by their vassals or tenants holding under them; upon which principle such inhabitants of Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands as, being tenants on any fief, were liable to personal military service should, according to all ordinary rule and custom in vogue in those days, have appeared in the field as vassals of their over-lord. Such, however, it appears has never been the case with Jerseymen even since the days of the Conquest, their service always having been rendered as owed personally to the King. Hence it may with truth be said that the Militia of Jersey has been in existence ever since the Island's connection with the English Crown.

The first mention of the Militia, however, in any Imperial document, appears to be that contained in an order emanating from King John in the third year of his reign (1202), directing Peter de Pratellis, custos of the Island, in common with Guernsey, Alderney, etc to cause the King to have all the reasonable aid of his men of the Channel Islands. In the following year, too, a Royal letter called upon all such to assist the custos in defending the Island from foreign enemies; whilst on 24 August 1203 John addressed another letter to Peter de Pratellis desiring the lords of each fief "to receive from their men a reasonable contribution that the Islands might be defended against foreign enemies".

Edward III's letter

The most important document published as showing that the Militia as a body were bound to serve the King personally when called upon to do so, was a letter addressed by Edward III (1340), to the Archbishop, bishops, mayors, bailiffs, etc and to all whom it might concern, in which Thomas Ferrars was ordered "to levy and array all the able-bodied men, and to divide them into 1,000's, 100's, and 20's, and to lead them, suitably arrayed and sufficiently provided with suitable arms for safety and defence against the attacks of all enemies whatsoever".

And with regard to such arms it is interesting to recall the fact that in those times they consisted principally of the bow and cross-bow; reminiscences of the use of which still remain in Les Buttes of Trinity and St Mary's parishes; such names evidently having arisen from the fact that such spots were in former times used for archery practice. Frequent records, too, are to be found from about the year 1224 and upwards of the Constable of the Tower of London being ordered to supply the Guardian for the time being with arrows (sometimes in quantities of 600, others of 1,000 at once), besides bows, cross-bows, and in one case eight full suits of mail for the use of "the men of Jersey".

Royal Commission

After the time of Edward III but little information is recorded respecting them, until in 1617 the Royal Commissioners, Conway and Bird, issued a report, which so far as the Militia is concerned, chiefly pointed out their deficiencies both as to arms and discipline. One result of this report was that captains were appointed in each parish to take command of the men in their respective districts; the total number then in the twelve parishes upon the muster being, as it seems, 1,956, leaving nearly 1,000 able and liable to serve, but who had never "turned up".

In or about the year 1620 the title of Colonel was first assumed, whilst in 1642 we find that there were 3,000 able to bear arms, of whom 1,200 were trained and divided into twelve companies, the like number of captains being appointed over them, and the whole body being reduced to three regiments with four companies in each. No other important change appears to have taken place after this until the days of Sir Thomas Morgan, who arrived in Jersey as its Governor, 15 January 1655, and who, amongst other great improvements in the service, obtained from the States, on 10 February 1678, an order for all who had to bear arms "to appear with scarlet uniforms"; the Militia until this time having had no distinctive garb. The Militia Cavalry then existent (and not to be confounded with "The Royal Jersey Troop" established in 1793 by James Henry Craig, Governor, and its Colonel, which was disbanded May 1833) received a like order regarding their uniforms in 1687.

Service until 65

Then, coming to the year 1771, we find new rules and regulations issued, and confirmed by an Order in Council, the most important of which was that all male persons from the ages of 17 to 65 fit for service, excepting only members and officers of the Royal Court, were bound to do duty until the age of 65. Under this same order, too, the Militia were divided into five regiments, the fourth being subdivided into two battalions, those of St Helier and St Lawrence; the Artillery being formed into a separate corps.

The first grant of clothing made to the Militia appears to have been made on the application of Field-Marshal General Conway (Governor) in April 1780, about a year after the Prince of Nassau's futile attempt on the Island. This, however, only included coats, the States ordering that the men should provide themselves with "waistcoats and long white trousers in lieu of the scarlet coat and white stockings formerly provided"; such persons as could not afford the outlay being supplied with the necessary uniform by the officials of their various parishes; whilst in 1788 an isolated grant of 400 livres order money, borrowed from the duties accruing from rum and geneva, was made to defray such expenses".

At the present time, the whole of the accoutrements, with the exception of those of the officers who provide their own uniforms and arms, are provided by the Government. And to complete the tale, it may be added that in 1803 an attempt was made to place them under martial law, which was strongly opposed on all hands. On 6 January 1831, in commemoration of the Jubilee of the Battle of Jersey, the body was constituted a Royal Militia by His Majesty William IV; about the year 1870 a strong effort was made on the part of a few influential inhabitants to arouse public opinion against the compulsory Militia system that prevails on the Island, and to effect its total abolition, which was attended in this respect without result; whilst the last appearance of the Militia under the old regulations, and in the old uniform, was the Centenary of the Battle of Jersey, 1881, since which time a ten=year service, with a subsequent annual roll call, suffices to put each man in the "reserves".

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