Constitution of the Military Forces of the British Crown

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This is a transcript of pages 194-7 of the Manual of Military Law (HMSO, 1914), giving the official legal definition of the British Army and colonial forces. The text has been formatted with wiki markup and some abbreviations are silently expanded, but original spelling and punctuation are mostly retained. The text is in the Public Domain as it was published in 1914 under Crown Copyright which has now expired. The whole book can be viewed at the Hathi Trust. Each page number below links to the relevant page image.


[ page 194 ]

1. The military forces of the Crown consist of—

  • British forces;
  • Indian forces;
  • Colonial forces.

Indian forces

2. The Indian forces consist of regiments permanently stationed in India, and formed almost entirely from natives of India. The officers and men of these forces, who are natives of India, are subject to the Indian Army Act, 1911, or previous Acts which it has superseded, wherever they are serving, and are only to a limited extent subject to the Army Act [1]. Besides the natives of India there are Europeans serving as officers, and persons of certain degrees of European descent serving as non-commissioned officers, hospital apprentices, or otherwise, who, though forming part of the Indian forces, are subject to British and not to Indian military law. The enlistment of Europeans for these forces, except for medical or other special service, is prohibited [2]. Commissions on the unattached list for appointment to the Indian Army may be given to cadets who have passed through Sandhurst. If it is required to supplement this direct supply, officers of British units serving in India are transferred permanently to the Indian Army if qualified according to the regulations for the time being in force. Officers are employed, according as the Government of India may direct, in any military or civil employment, irrespective of their ranks in the Indian Army. Such officers, while holding civil employments, cannot assume a military command, but continue to receive promotion in military rank in the ordinary course; and on accepting any military appointment they are entitled to take military command [3].

Colonial forces

3. The Colonial forces are of two classes, namely, the forces raised by the government of a colony, and the forces raised in a colony by direct order of His Majesty to serve as auxiliary to, and in fact to form part for the time being of, the regular forces. The first class of Colonial forces—those raised by the government of a colony—are only subject to the Army Act when so provided by the law of the colony and when serving with part of His [ page 195 ] Majesty's regular forces, and then only so far as the colonial law has not provided for their government and discipline, and subject to the exceptions specified in the general orders of the general officer commanding the forces with which they are serving. The Army Act, however (s. 177), provides that the colonial law may extend to the forces, although beyond the limits of the colony where they are raised.

The second class of Colonial forces—of which the West India regiment, the Royal Malta Artillery, the West African regiment, the non-Europeans of the Fortress Companies, Royal Engineers, at Hong Kong and Sierra Leone, and the Hong Kong Singapore battalion Royal Garrison Artillery, are examples—is referred to by ss. 175 (4) and 176 (3) of the Army Act. Their pay and maintenance are voted annually by the Imperial Parliament, and they are in fact Imperial forces although serving in a colony. The Royal Malta Artillery (before 1889 styled the Malta Fencible Artillery) are declared by the Army Act to be part of the regular forces, while the others are included in the regular forces by the Royal Warrant defining "Corps": but see s. 176 and note. The men composing the Hong Kong Singapore battalion Royal Garrison Artillery, the West India regiment and the West African Regiment are in fact enlisted to serve in any part of the world. A man enlists in the Royal Malta Artillery for service in Malta and its dependencies alone.

British Forces

4. The British forces require a longer notice. They consist—

  • (1) Of the Army commonly so-called, including the Reserves;
  • (2) Of the Marines.

6. The Army commonly so-called consists of—

  • (1) Cavalry, composed of four corps for the purpose of enlistment [4], and divided into thirty-one regiments; there are also fifty-four regiments of Yeomanry of the Territorial Force and the Territorial Force Reserve.
  • (2) The Royal Regiment of Artillery, of which the mounted and dismounted branches are divided into two corps, named respectively :—
    • (i) The Royal Horse Artillery and the Royal Field Artillery, to which is affiliated the Royal Field Reserve Artillery and the units of Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery of the Territorial Force (including two Horse Artillery Batteries of the Honourable Artillery Company) and the Territorial Force Reserve;
    • (ii) the Royal Garrison Artillery (which includes Mountain artillery and the Royal Artillery Clerks' section), to which are affiliated the Antrim and the Cork Royal Garrison Artillery Special Reserve, and the units of the Royal Garrison Artillery Territorial Force and its reserve.
  • (3) The corps of Royal Engineers, divided into squadrons, troops and companies [5].
  • (4) The Royal Flying Corps (Military wing) [6] with its reserve.
  • (5) Infantry, composed of four regiments of foot-guards and 69 territorial regiments. Each territorial regiment includes two or more line battalions, one or more [ page 196 ] battalions of the Special Reserve, and of the Territorial Force and the Territorial Force Reserve, [7] There are also certain infantry and cyclist battalions of the Territorial Force (including the half battalion of infantry included in the Honourable Artillery Company) not included in any regular regiment.
  • (6) The Army Service Corps, which is sub-divided into the Transport, Supply, Remount, and Mechanical Transport sections, affiliated to which are the Army Service Corps Special Reserve and the units of the Army Service Corps Territorial Force and its Reserve.
  • (7) The Royal Army Medical Corps, to which are affiliated the Royal Army Medical Corps Special Reserve, and the units of the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Force and its Reserve.
  • (8) The Army Veterinary Corps, to which are affiliated the Army Veterinary Corps Special Reserve, and the Army Veterinary Corps Territorial Force and its Reserve.

6. In addition there are the general reserve of officers, the special reserve of officers, and, finally, certain departmental corps [8], namely, the Army Ordnance Corps, Army Pay Corps, Band of the Royal Military College, Corps of the School of Musketry, Corps of Army School-masters, Corps of Military Police (Mounted and Foot), and Military Provost Staff Corps. The duties of these departmental corps are sufficiently indicated by their names. Each of them is a corps for the purposes of the Army Act, though the appointment, enlistment, and transfer of officers and men is not regulated quite in the same way as in the case of the territorial regiments; and in connection with some of the above corps civilians are employed who are not subject to military law.

7. Further, it is necessary to mention various departments connected with the army, which are not corps within the meaning of the Army Act. These are the Army Pay Department, Army Chaplains' Department, Staff for Royal Engineer Services, Army Ordnance Department, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service. They are not technically corps within the meaning of the Army Act, inasmuch as they are not declared to be so by Royal Warrant. If, however, any soldiers subject to military law were added to the above departments, they would be a "portion of His Majesty's regular forces employed on some service," and therefore be a corps within the meaning of the Army Act [9].

8. Supplementary to the army, but without definite liability for service unless otherwise undertaken, are—

  • The Royal Military College
  • the Royal Military Academy
  • the Duke of York's Royal Military School
  • the Royal Hibernian Military School
  • the Queen Victoria School
  • The Officers Training Corps
  • The National Reserve
  • Such categories of the Technical Reserve as are sanctioned by, and are raised under, the authority of the Army Council
  • Officially recognised Cadet units.

[ page 197 ]

9. For the purposes of enlistment and service, the unit in the army (in the Army Act referred to by the common name of "corps") is one of the above regiments or corps. A soldier, on his enlistment, is appointed to a corps, and is bound to serve in any part of it; and may belong for the whole of his military life to the corps to which he is first appointed. The officers are also appointed to these corps, but are all alike officers of His Majesty's land forces, and have army rank as such, which may or may not be the same as their regimental rank, that is to say, the rank in the above unit. They are consequently legally liable to serve with any portion of the army, if so ordered, and not merely with the unit to which they may be appointed; though in practice they are not required to do so. An officer has no right to resign his commission at all times and in any circumstances whenever he pleases. This was decided long ago in the case of officers serving the East India Company, and more recently in the case of a naval officer who, having been refused leave to resign, sent in his resignation, and quitted the service while abroad in order to take up a civil appointment at home [10]. Exactly the same principles are applicable to commissions in the army.

10. The unit for purposes of discipline and some purposes of administration is not necessarily the same as the above unit. In the case of infantry, for instance, the unit for purposes of discipline is prima facie one battalion. If, however, part of the battalion is serving detached from the rest, that part becomes the unit for purposes of discipline, while for many purposes of administration it remains part of the battalion; at the same time all men in a battalion are liable to be ordered to serve in any other part of the corps, whereas they cannot be transferred to any other corps without their consent or except as a punishment for certain offences, or in special cases provided for by the Army Act [11].

11. Throughout the Army Act the "commanding officer" is referred to for many purposes, and particularly for the purposes of investigating charges and awarding summary and minor punishments. The Act does not define the term "commanding officer." The Rules of Procedure contain a definition, for the purposes of all the rules and also for the purpose of the sections of the Act relating to "Courts-martial," to the "Execution of sentences," and to the "Power of Commanding Officer" [12]. In cases to which this definition does not apply, it must depend on the custom of the service and the King's Regulations, as to who is, in any given circumstances,

the commanding officer for a particular purpose.
  1. (a) Army Act 180. The expression "Natives of India," for the purposes of the Army Act and of this chapter, means all persons belonging to His Majesty's Indian Army, who are triable by Indian and not English military law.
  2. (b) 23 & 24 Vict. c. 100; Army Act 180 (2) (h) and note.
  3. (c) Royal Warrant of 16 January 1868, as amended.
  4. (a) The corps of Household Cavalry, and the corps of Dragoons, Lancers and Hussars of the line.
  5. (b) The units of the Royal Engineer Special Reserve, and of the Territorial Force, and its reserve, also form part of the corps of Royal Engineers.
  6. (c) Formed under the Royal Warrant of 13th April, 1912. (S.A.O. of 15.4.12)
  7. (a) Two regiments of Foot guards have three battalions each, one regiment has two battalions, and one has one battalion; and each of five other regiments – the Royal Fusiliers, the Worcestershire Regiment, the Middlesex Regiment, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and the Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade – contains four battalions of regulars. Each of those regiments not particularly referred to have two battalions of regulars. Each of the above regiments, and each branch of the Royal Artillery, and also the Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps, and Royal Army Medical Corps, is a separate corps for the purposes of enlistment and other purposes of the Army Act.
  8. (b) Royal Warrant, 31st March, 1908. As to precedence, King's Regulations, 1765.
  9. (c) Army Act, 190 (15) (A) (iv).
  10. (a) Parker v. Lord Clive, 4 Burr. 2419; Vertue v. Lord Clive, 4 Burr. 2472; and R. v. Cuming, E. p. Hall, L.R. 19 Q.B.D. 13, Hearson v. Churchill, L.R. [1892] 9 Q.B. 144. See also the dictum of Cockburn, C.J., in Ex parte Trenchard, L.R. 9 Q.B. 406. Clode, Mil Forces, ii, p. 96. Command formerly depended on the commission, but is now the subject of regulation. Army Act 71, see King's Regulations 217-237.
  11. (b) See Chapter X, paras. 14-17, and Army Act, 83.
  12. (c) See R.P. 129 and King's Regulations 456.