Having established the Territorial Force (TF) in 1908 and the all-important Territorial County Associations, Richard Haldane, the then Secretary of State for War, capitalised on the success of the TF by creating three further Reserve Organisations in 1910.
These organisations were to be known as:
The TFR was intended to retain the services of trained Territorials at the conclusion of their engagement in order that they could be recalled for service within their former TF unit, should the need arise. Similarly those leaving the TF or the Regular Army with technical skills could be retained as a reservist in support of the Army in the event of a national emergency situation. The third creation was the Veteran Reserve recruited initially from former regular soldiers and rifle volunteers.
The TFR and the TR proved unpopular from the start and were destined never to reach anything like the numbers envisaged to be viable auxiliary organisations.
The VR (later to be the National Reserve) was successful beyond expectation and in addition to attracting ex-regular soldiers and rifle volunteers, it also proved popular with former Territorials in preference to the TR.
The rapid expansion of the VR came about in spite of the fact that they had no access to uniforms, equipment and accommodation. In addition, there was no training organisation and no commitment on the part of the War Office as to what this reserve of former servicemen should be used for in an emergency.
The Territorial County Associations were made responsible for recruiting through the County Lord-Lieutenants and maintained a county register of volunteers.
In 1910, 1,300 volunteers from Surrey paraded for a review on Horse Guards and in March 1911, Lord Roberts became the VR Colonel-in-Chief.
In August 1911, the organisation's name was changed to the National Reserve (NR) – a much more agreeable title to all. However in spite of this welcome re-branding, the organisation was still little more than a register of names held by the Territorial County Associations. The change in name came with a new set of regulations that indicated some thought being given to the future use of the NR in an emergency situation. Part of the reorganisation involved the NR being divided into 3 categories.
Category 1: Officers under 55 years of age and other ranks under 45 considered fit enough to join a combat unit.
Category 2: Officers between 50 and 60 and men between 50 and 55 considered capable of combat, garrison, guard duties or administration work.
Category 3: Officers and men who did not fit category 1 or 2 but would be retained as influential and community ambassadors for the organisation.
In 1912, there were 36 Battalions of the NR within the County and City of London, totalling around 21,000 volunteers. The National strength at this time was around 76,000 men.
The NR remained without uniform or facilities but the mounting of parades and reviews tended to keep
the NR in the public eye as well as attracting influential patronage and public support. In addition, button hole badges were issued to every National Reservist, stylised by county or borough and usually paid for by wealthy benefactors or public subscription.
Apart from the consistent popularity of the NR, the organisation itself remained unsupported in financial terms and without a special role in a National Emergency.
In 1913, the War Office issued new regulations and instructed the Territorial County Associations to trawl their NR registers in an effort to ascertain a realistic assessment of the capability of the organisation. The survey would involve a further classification, re-identifying NR volunteers as:
Class 1: Officers and other ranks fit enough to serve at home or abroad.
Class 2: Officers and senior NCOs under 55 and men under 50 fit enough for home defence in state positions or administrative work.
Class 3: Here reservists were subdivided into sections – those who declined any obligation but were fit and able enough to qualify for Classes 1 and 2, those who were considered for Classes 1 and 2, and those who were considered not suitable for any military service. Such men were considered as ‘honorary' members permitted to attend drills and social events.
Class 1 and 2 men, although not specifically required to formally take on a military commitment in terms of mobilisation, were in fact asked to sign an ‘Honourable Obligation' in that they would volunteer for active service in time of National Emergency.
On the declaration of War on 4th August 1914, many National Reservists did not wait to be mobilised but instead immediately joined the TF or re-joined the Regular Army or the Royal Navy. Those who reported to the Barracks of their former Regiments were immediately posted to the Special Reserve Battalions and were soon placed in reinforcement drafts on their way to France. The County Territorial Associations were requested by the War Office to encourage ex-senior NCOs who had not yet enlisted to volunteer as instructors for Kitcheners ‘New Army'.
Shortly after the war began, most County Associations could no longer wait for definitive instructions on what to do with the remaining mostly Class 3 men and proceeded to mobilise their NR, in some cases providing them with uniform from TF stocks relying on the War Office to provide weapons and ammunition.
Once mobilised, the NR were employed on guarding key points the length and breadth of the land including railway lines, bridges and factory installations. These groups were known as ‘protection companies'. This was uncomfortable work but it released the Territorial Force to continue training, ready for their eventual deployment overseas. In mid-1915 it was decided to reduce the number of protection companies. Officers and men fit enough to march 10 miles with rifle and 150 rounds and Class 2 reservists still within protection companies were invited to volunteer for service in the new provisional Battalions, soon to become part of the Rifle Brigade. These units were given titles reflecting the area where the protection companies had come from – therefore companies from London became the 18th (London) Battalion The Rifle Brigade.
In March 1915, the remaining protection companies became superumerary companies of the Territorial Force.
In 1916, the War Office placed the superumerary companies of the Territorial Force under central administration of the City of London Territorial Association, who eventually were further tasked with the amalgamation of the companies to form the Royal Defence Corps.
In mid-1916, the War Office instructed the County Associations to close their NR register, heralding the end of the National Reserve.
The NR was an organisation that, in spite of minimum encouragement from the Government, presented a consistently high rate of recruitment. When the call came they were not found wanting, whether it be guarding key points at home to providing immediate support to the hard pressed British Expeditionary Force in the early months of the conflict.
The successors to the NR were the Royal Defence Corps which was not disbanded as a Regiment until 1937, by which time it had become a Regular formation.