Friday, 29 July 2011

The Volunteer Force (3) - the Dover Review

Over the Easter holiday of 1867 there was a Grand Review of the recently formed Volunteer Force, which as well as providing a great spectacle performed two important functions. Firstly, of course, it was experience for the Volunteers of large scale manoeuvres, and a chance to practice their skills. But secondly it also sent a message to any foreign powers contemplating action against the British Isles (ie. France). Just to make the message absolutely clear, the review was held at Dover, the closest point to France and traditionally the Gateway to England.
Over 25,000 troops, 24,000 of them Volunteers, were concentrated there in just 2 days thanks to extensive use of the railway system, as used so successfully by the Prussians just the previous year.

The Volunteers Review was covered extensively in the Illustrated London News, so over to them....

The lounge on Admiralty Pier

The grand review and field day of the metropolitan volunteer corps at Dover on Easter Monday was the most interesting and successful that has yet been held. ... it exhibited several features of great novelty and importance, with regard both to the special branches of the volunteer force and their cooperation with the land and sea services of the Crown. “

Easter Sunday 1867

Volunteers marching to the review ground

In Waterloo crescent the London Scottish, who mustered very strongly under Captain Lumsden, were drawn up and at once wheeled into the rear of the Civil Service corps. These two splendid corps proceeded along the Marine Parade and passed thence through Bench street into the market square where another large body of volunteers awaited their arrival. The Queens Westminster, the 1st City of London, brigade and the Cinque Ports artillery corps were extremely well represented and when formed together formed a very formidable appearance. Without delay the united body marched to the castle heights by way of Castle street. Once at the parade ground ... they received the Litany and lessons. In returning the place of honour was given to the London Scottish, headed by two of their bagpipers. Soon after reaching the Marine Parade the volunteers were dismissed and were at liberty to enjoy themselves as they pleased.”

Easter Monday

Volunteers arriving in Dover by train

On Monday morning the sun shone brightly, though the wind was rather cold. By a quarter past 10 twenty "specials" with some 10,000 men had reached the South Eastern terminus, and 16 had bought between 8,000 and 9,000 troops into that of the London Chatham and Dover line. Assistant inspectors of volunteers were waiting in in both stations to direct the men to the spots were they were to halt until the time of the general muster. Every ship in the harbour had her masts bedizened with flags and as the troops passed along the seamen stood on the decks waving their hats. Two or 3 volunteer bands were playing, staff officers galloped here and there and everywhere and the inhabitants were loud in the expression of their pleasure."

The "invasion" of Dover

The march past having concluded, the first and second divisions of infantry, the field batteries of the Royal Artillery, and the 1st brigade of Volunteer field batteries, which forces represented the invading army, moved off to the East, and facing around as if marching from Deal, took up a positions North East of the castle. Right before them was Castle Hill fort - an outwork of fortifications close to the spot at which the troops saluted. A little to the right of Castle Hill fort, and in front of it, was the main body of the defending force, consisting of the 3rd and 4th divisions of infantry, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th brigades of artillery and about 200 cavalry. All these troops were supposed to have marched out from Dover to drive back the invaders. Such were the positions before battle commenced, a farm called "Broad Leas Farm" lying between them.”

Map of the battle

The invading force was commanded by Major General the Hon J Lindsay and the disposition of his army was made in this manner. The 1st division was deployed, skirmishers being thrown out; the 2nd division acting in support formed a continuous line of battalion columns, such intervals being allowed between the brigades as would bring the brigades of the 2nd division in rear of the centre of the corresponding brigades of the 1st division. The 2 field batteries of the Royal Artillery were formed in line on the right, and the 1st brigade of Volunteer field batteries in line on the left of the 1st division."

"The defending force was commanded by Major General Lord George Paget CB, whose disposition of forces was this; the 4th brigade of field batteries was in line with its right on the Deal road. Further to the right the 3rd division of infantry was deployed, having skirmishers thrown out. the third brigade of field batteries in line was on its right. The 4th division of infantry, acting in support, had its brigades in line of continuous columns, and the cavalry was in reserve. The 1st Sussex Artillery and the Cinque Ports artillery proceeded to the forts within the castle to work the batteries on the fortifications. Colonel Childs RA, who had the command of all the troops in the castle, had made arrangements for bringing about 70 guns into action, and having the Volunteers to work them."

"The signal for the commencement of the action, precisely at 1.40 pm, was the firing of a gun from the old keep of the castle. The defenders gave the the enemy battle by making a direct attack with the 3rd division on the invading force, this movement being covered by the force of field artillery and by that of four 42 pounders on the Bell battery of the castle. This battery faces to the North East of the castle and its guns played with great effect on the invaders who, in the face of a tremendous fire, were seen steadily advancing, supported by their own field guns."

A view of the battle

"The action had lasted about a quarter of an hour and the invading party was getting the worst of it, when the vessels of war which had gone round to Deal in the morning were observed approaching from that direction, The Terrible, under full steam, heading the naval squadron, with the Virago, the Lizard and one of the gun boats. Every sail was closely furled, and the yards were all squared and the 4 war steamers approached the town. In covering this operation they exchanged shots with a coast guard station and afterwards, when the battle was at it's height, they engaged the batteries both of the castle and the western forts. The manoeuvring of these vessels of war was quite as interesting as that of the troops in the field. Steaming along the lines of fortifications, now in one direction, now in another, they fired the starboard and then port broadsides and their fire was promptly responded to by the guns of the Guildford, the Shoulder of Mutton, and other batteries on the Western heights, the guns of which were served by Volunteer artillery men, with the assistance of members of the regular forces."

The naval squadron off Dover

Despite naval intervention the invading forces were driven back, and contact with the sea was broken.....

they made an obstinate stand and for some time both lines were completely engaged. Ultimately however, the attacking forces were overpowered, and , continuing the retreat they fell back on a position in the rear of a hollow or valley close to the village of Guston, and looking towards the sea. The defending force came up and attempted several times by assault to dislodge the enemy from his position” but eventually “the signal was made to put an end to the battle and all the Volunteers moved off the field, proceeding at once to the railway stations on their return to London.”

Units taking part

London Scottish Rifle Volunteers
Raised, as the name suggests, from Scots living in London under the command of Lt Col Lord Elcho. They wore Highland dress, but to avoid interclan rivalry it was in Hodden Grey, not one of the traditional tartans.

Cinque Port Artillery Volunteers
The original Cinque Ports were a federation of towns along the English south coast who banded together for common defence in medieval times. By this time the Cinque Ports had a purely ceremonial role, but when Volunteer units were formed in Dover, and later other towns along the coast, they used the name.
A sergeant in the Cinque Ports Artillery Volunteers 1865

1st Sussex Volunteer Artillery
Based in Brighton, they normally formed part of the garrison of Shoreham Fort.

HMS Terrible
a paddle steamer of 19 guns on two decks, she had already served in the Mediterranean and the Crimean war

HMS Virago
a 6 gun paddle sloop, last seen in these blogs at the siege of Petropavlovsk

HMS Lizard
an iron paddle gunboat, with 3 guns.

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