January 13, 2022
THE GIBRALTAR VOLUNTEER CORPS PART 1
Oblivious to the unsavoury machinations of the War Committee, a group of Gibraltarians, members of the Calpe Rowing Club, showed their loyalty to the British crown and the war effort by establishing an unofficial group of volunteers ready to defend the Rock if necessity so demanded.
The club’s committee and members met regularly to discuss how to bring the willingness of the Gibraltarians to help the war effort to the attention of the colonial authorities. Their aim was to establish an officially recognised Corps of Gibraltarian Volunteers.
Soon after the formation of the unofficial volunteer corps, a great deal of interest arose in Gibraltar, and the Calpe Rowing Club committee opened the volunteer membership to all British subjects resident in Gibraltar.
Mr. Hayward, a retired regimental sergeant, organised military drills four times a month for all members. Notwithstanding the unofficial status of the unit, all enlisted personnel were required to undertake a variety of drills, such as drilling as a platoon and company, squad and rifle drill, route marches, and notions of attack and force.
The Boys Brigade provided wooden rifles, due to lack of resources and facilities at the time (early 1915), and the Boy Scouts handed their premises at Orange Bastion to the corps for training. Subsequently, the volunteer corps were assigned the ground floor of the Legislative Council Building (today’s Parliament), and soon after that, they were finally allocated Wellington Front as their permanent base.
To help discipline the men, the committee introduced a variety of fines in line with the British Army fining system. The introduction of fines had a great impact on discipline, something that had been somewhat lacking due to the non-remuneration of participating members.
Examples of fines were 10 shillings if found to be drunk at a rifle meeting or any other assembly of members or on parade. Furthermore, there was a maximum fine of £50 or six-month’s imprisonment for non-attendance when called up for active service.
Aside from the Naval Dockyard and the Commercial Harbour, Gibraltar was not in the UK’s list of priorities during the First World War. This hindered the war capabilities of the corps. The willingness of the officers and men was, in some cases, cancelled out by the short supply of equipment, this created apathy and interest in the corps began to wane.
An account by Captain Albert Gonzalez, the officer in command of A Company and founding member of the Gibraltar Volunteer Corps, highlights the difficult situation: “…caps can be had, but no khakis in stock at present. Some boots can be spared. Officers can be supplied with uniform. Not known whether this will be a grant or whether they will be supplied free of charge.”
By then, (April 1915), the unofficial GVC had established its own code of conduct via its newly formed council responsible for the interests of the corps. Working effectively towards highlighting the value of the volunteers to the British war effort, the council of the unofficial GVC lobbied tirelessly for official recognition.
Stating reasons why the corps should receive official recognition, the council, on numerous occasions, corresponded with the Colonial Secretary. Addressing concerns, the council argued: “…as the war progresses, the ever-increasing enthusiasm of locals to join the corps has significantly increased enlistments numbers.”
However, the council was unanimous in the opinion that a fundamental problem existed, the lack of equipment. A direct result of the corps’ unofficial status was the lack of military resources. Especially so during wartime, military resources are essential to the progress of any army. Nonetheless, the lack of resources did not dampen the loyal enthusiasm and patriotism of the Gibraltarians pursuant to homeland defence and to the British war effort in general. Locally, just like in Britain and many other countries around the world, a selfless driven willingness to make any contributions required, be it at home or anywhere abroad existed.
Some locals, however, were hesitant to join due to the non-reimbursement of wages or salaries. To address these issues, more importantly so to deploy a new strategy towards achieving official recognition under the pretext of non-remuneration, the council came to agreement and drafted a conditional military request report for the Colonial Secretary’s consideration.
The report referred to the high standard attained, and strength accrued by the volunteers as they stood. Therefore, the imperative for official recognition.
Requests from the unofficial GVC Council:
• Rations to be provided throughout camp periods.
• Complete uniform to be provided to the men as soon as possible. This included boots, khaki drill shorts, shirts, caps, helmets, and belts.
• Introduction of pay and allowances when on active service, similar to that of a Territorial or Volunteer Corps in England when called for active service.
• For those in non-active service, a reimbursement of salary or wages loss when attending camp.
• The introduction of the ranking of officers and non-commissioned officers.
On the 14 June 1915, the Colonial Secretary, replied covering all the points raised by the GVC council. The letter confirmed that uniforms would be issued and that rations, together with necessary equipment, would be provided when on active service.
Regarding the payment, the Colonial Secretary did not approve the scale of pay and allowances to be awarded to the GVC be based on that of Territorial Soldiers in England. The reason given was that overseas posting dictated the rate of pay. Therefore, the GVC, locally raised and deployed did not qualify for the overseas rate of pay.
Nevertheless, agreement was reached regarding pay and allowances. This was to follow the British Army regulations, which, in other words, meant that any member of the GVC who was accepted for service would be paid under the same term as a Territorial soldier.
Having outlined the basic rules, the official formation of the corps was initiated by the Colonial Secretary and on 3 July 1915, the official Gibraltar Volunteer Corps came into existence.
A ceremonial march was held on Saturday 3rd July 1915 on the upper emplacement at Wellington Front. His Excellency the Governor Lieutenant General Miles and Lady Miles, his staff, as well as a large contingent of the Gibraltarian public attended. His Excellency the Governor congratulated the GVC for their, “…patriotic fervour and their love and respect for the Crown.”
The GVC march has gone down in history as one of Gibraltar’s most memorable events.
(To be continued.)