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A second salute

We saluted the Territorial Army on its 100th anniversary in April.


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".

On 1 April 2008, the Territorial Army celebrated 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. It is scarcely remembered that Britain was under threat of invasion from the continent more than a dozen times.

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. But the TA is often treated like the relative we forget until we desperately need his help, as we did in World War II.

On Saturday HRH the Prince of Wales and General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, and one thousand Territorial Army soldiers celebrated their 100th anniversary at Horseguards Parade in a "colourful and dramatic pageant". The TA was praised for its contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 15,000 members having been deployed in those two countries since 2003.

But the deaths last week of four soldiers in Afghanistan – three of them members of the TA – gave the occasion a sharp, poignant theme.