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section of the 7th Volunteer Battalion, Royal Scots

The Military System In East Lothian 1846–1914

In the second half of the nineteenth century military activity in East Lothian followed three separate routes: Yeomanry, Militia, and Volunteers. Terms of service, training and deployments differed for all three but, in essence, all relied on the enthusiasm and motivation of their volunteer troops. Each arm was augmented by a cadre of professional soldiers, mostly senior NCOs, for training purposes and for whom accomodation had to be found.

The Yeomanry

The Musical Ride Troop of the Lothians and Berwickshire Imperial YeomanryThe Yeomanry was re-embodied in 1846 and trained annually. Army reforms of 1888 altered its name, organisation, equipment and uniform, but otherwise passed it by. The regiment deployed on ceremonial state occasions, becoming known for its mounted musical ride, but the races held at Hedderwick in association with the regiment’s annual camp became a county fixture.

Unveiling the Yeomanry Memorial at Dunbar, 28 July 1902During the Boer War 1900-1902 volunteers served overseas as the 19th company of the 6th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry (prompting another name change for the parent unit). Eleven fatalities from this campaign are recorded on a memorial outside the precincts of Dunbar Parish Church.

The Militia

In March 1855, Lieutenant Colonel William Hay took command of a newly embodied force, the Haddington, Berwickshire, Linlithgow and Peebles Militia Artillery. In contrast to previous militias, this force was provided with a bounty of £6 for an agreed five year service and other inducements. Lauderdale House, the New Inn and Castle Park in Dunbar were purchased as accommodation. So began a new chapter in the county’s military history.

Artillery Militia Sports at Castle Park, DunbarMilitia Artillery units (from all over Scotland) deployed to Dunbar every summer for annual training on guns mounted in Castle Park and soon became a fixture in the town, a feature, if not an attraction, for the burgh’s holiday visitors.

Under the Territorial Army Reforms the Militia were subsumed into the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The Volunteers

A brass belt buckle depicting Haddington's grazing goatA surge of martial enthusiasm in 1859 swept the country. In East Lothian companies and sections of Rifle Volunteers were embodied in most towns. For training purposes these were soon grouped into a battalion structure; under the 1888 army reforms this administrative unit became part of the Royal Scots, as the 7th Volunteer Battalion. Finally, in 1908 the 8th (Territorial) Battalion Royal Scots was formed from the 6th and 7th Volunteer Battalions; they trained in coast defence. As the battalion trained as companies and even smaller detachments, drill halls and rifle ranges of this period are to be found all over the county.

section of the 7th Volunteer Battalion, Royal ScotsThe increasing professionalism of the county’s volunteers forces, their social activities, triumphs and activities can be followed in the pages of the local press throughout this period; in addition, the museum collections hold a number of artefacts and images from this period.

4 thoughts on “The Military System In East Lothian 1846–1914”

  1. Cammas says:

    Good evening from France

    One of my great grandfathers also spent some time in 1867 in the Haddington Militia before subsequently enlisting in the RHA in Dunbar. He remained a gunner all though his army career.

    I would very much like ANY information available concerning this Militia, it’s role and interface with the regular army, how it recruited (recruiting requirements particularly concerning age, how it was linked to the RHA etc. etc.

    I know that is a very tall order, but every little helps build up a picture of his life.
    If anyone has any drawings/photos they would be very welcome.

    Thanks in anticipation

    1. David says:

      Hello Cammas

      The Haddingtonshire Artillery Militia were formed after the Crimean Period as the third arm of what was essentially a territorial reserve in the county of East Lothian. The units of cavalry, infantry and artillery were intended to serve in home defence freeing up the regular army to serve overseas in time of war. They also had a subsidiary role of providing trained recruits for the regular army.

      Enlistees had to commit for a set period – I think 5 years – received a bounty, and other support that depended on the local county committee of the ‘great and the good’ that interfaced between the units and the War Office. The latter’s input was to provide training via deployment of a professional training and administration cadre for each unit – usually superannuated NCOs and an Adjutant (at the rank of captain or major). Over time the units became more formally associated with their regular analogues. In the case of the Artillery Militia this was the Royal Garrison Artillery, whose role was coast defence. The militia training for several units was at Dunbar, where guns for practice purposes were mounted on a headland.

      Recruiting into the regular army was by choice, but would be facilitated by the regular cadre of the militia: it wasn’t until after World War One that a regular army artillery unit was stationed at Dunbar.

      Details of militia recruitment and operations are sparse. It might be worth interrogating the online search at the National Archives. Locally, Miller’s History of Dunbar (page 183) outlines the origins and enlistment terms of the force. Other notices occur in the Haddingtonshire Courier, and we have a small archive of images online at SCRAN (subscription required for large images and captions).

      I hope this helps,


  2. Alistair Nisbet says:

    Good evening

    I am seeking images of Volunteers who might have taken part in the August 1881 Royal Review at Holyrood – The Wet Review.

    I have produced an article for the historical magazine Backtrack which mostly concerns the railway arrangements by means of which the thousands of Volunteers were taken to and from Edinburgh and feel it would be useful to include one or two images of what typical Volunteers of the day looked like.

    I wonder therefore whether you might hold any images (sketches, paintings, photographs) which could be useful in this context and of which I could have a copy please.

    1. David says:

      Hello Alistair

      An interesting project. I’ve had a look through the East Lothian Courier, which details East Lothian’s contribution to the review. The units involved were the 1st Haddingtonshire Rifle Volunteers (later the 7th Bn Royal Scots) and the 1st Haddingtonshire Artillery Volunteers. We have photographs of both, although they are not securely dated and changes in uniform were instituted around the time of the review. However, some of the photographs have been digitised and are presently available on SCRAN. I’ve messaged you directly with details.

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