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Territorial Army celebrates 100th birthday


Soldier in the Territorial Army disposing of a bomb. Image: TA

For many years the Territorial Army was regarded as the "‘Reserve of last resort’, a force to be called on only when Britain's back was against the wall. Today, it is the ‘Reserve of first choice’, an integral part of Britain’s land forces, using much of the same equipment, operating to the same standards, and providing indispensable support to the Regular Army".

Today, 1 April 2008, the Territorial Army celebrates the 100th anniversary of its formation. But the TA's history really goes back to King Alfred, for volunteers have formed a vital part of Britain's defensive ground forces for more than a thousand years. Raised during times of crisis, early volunteers were yeomen - farmers and tenants, mounted and on foot. The militia was the oldest reserve force, and was organised in county regiments.

In 1907 Parliament passed legislation which saw the consolidation of the yeomanry and volunteers into the Territorial Force. The first units were stood up on 1st April 1908. The Territorial Force was mobilised in August 1914, and its soldiers fought alongside the Regular Army.

The result, as is sometimes forgotten when World War I is discussed, was the ending of the Kaiser's militaristic mayhem and the liberation of many peoples. The independent countries of Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and the Republic of Turkey were born.

As war once again loomed over Europe, in the early months of 1939, the Government authorized doubling the size of the TA. On the outbreak of hostilities in September, the Territorial Army was mobilized and its units absorbed into the British Army. We owe our lives and freedoms to the Army and the TA, but no words can ever really describe what they gave us and what it cost them.

The TA is often treated like the relative we forget until we desperately need his help. "The final years of the 1990s and the turn of the Millennium saw the Territorial Army assume a more high-profile role. As the Regular Army became increasingly engaged in overseas operations, the TA moved from being a ‘force of last resort’ to become the ‘reserve of first choice’ in supporting the Regulars. Some 6900 personnel were mobilised for Operation TELIC, the invasion of Iraq, and the TA continues to provide around 1,200 troops each year to support the Regular Army in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans".

The picture says what words can't quite convey.