This article by Major F A L de Gruchy first appeared in two parts in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966. Although the opening section consists more of a potted history of French attacks on Jersey than of the Militia itself, and contains several inaccuracies, it has been retained largely unedited. We refer our readers to our extensive section on Invasions and defences for a much more comprehensive and accurate account of this era of the island’s history.
Duchy of Normandy
The key to the military role of Jersey in history, and to the independence of Jersey under the Crown, lies in the fact that even before 800 AD these Norman Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy. The Normans had arrested from the French Crown, which ceded Armorica to the Normans circa 1202 AD, under Duke John, the French seized the mainland of Normandy.
Now comes a very fine decision, the source of all our liberties.
Albeit these islands lay under the Norman, now the hostile enemy, coast, instead of as formerly the parent country, they repudiated French Normandy and retained their loyalty to their Duke, the King of England.
They thus became a fighting force in every major war of Bristish history. France, Spain, Holland were among the enemies of England against whom the Norman Islands have been in action.
The first military system was the allodial one of the fyd, each free man having to serve. This system appears to have been so ingrained in the spirit of the islanders that, even after the Norman system was introduced with Rollo and the Seigneurs responsible for their military formations, the Islanders retained a far greater degree of liberty than the ground down Saxons on the mainland in England after the Conquest.
This is not surprising as the Normans gave England her aristocracy and English was not allowed to be taught in English schools until 1205 AD. In 850 AD our Norman Duke Rollo overran Armorica, including Normandy. In 912 AD in return for a purely nominal tribute to King Charles the Simple of France, Normandy, our parent country, became effectively an independent kingdom, including the Channel or Norman Islands.
In 1066 AD the Duke of Normandy conquered England: in 1202 AD under King John, Normandy fell to France and these islands took their decision to break away from French Command and to proclaim their allegiance to their Duke John, King of England.
In 1201-02 John raised a military force from the men of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and supplied them with axes. Mont Orgueil Castle, garrisoned by regular British troops, became the first military headquarters of Jersey, as later in 1603 Elizabeth Castle became the second military headquarters and Fort Regent, the third headquarters, held as a strong point in 1802, and completed in 1818.
In 1214 the Jersey Militia defeated Eustache de Mouie, when he invaded Jersey.
In 1337 King Edward III ordered 'all his faithful peoples of the islands' to be levait for war. A militia was already in being, every man bound to serve. Men were arrayed in companies, apparently of 1,000, 100 and 20.
In 1372 a Jersey force attacked and defeated Owen of Wales, when he invaded Guernsey.
During the reign of King Edward III du Guesclin invaded Jersey with a force of regular troops. He pillaged the island, took Grosnez, a mere temporary strong point, in the north-west of the island, but failed before Mont Orgueil, which was never stormed in history, the keep always holding out, occupied only for a short time by the French in the XV century after a treasonable surrender, and by the Germans in 1940.
In 1338 and 1339 two raids were repulsed, one a French force under Admiral Nicholas de Truchet, the other under Sir Robert Bertram. In 1406 Pare de Pontbriand, with the 'Unconquered Knight' Pero Nino, Comte de Buelma, a Spaniard, as Commander, landed 1,000 armed Spanish and French mercenaries. The Jerseymen fought back with 3,000 men. HM Receiver General was killed at St Aubin sands fighting gallantly in command. The Jersey troops withdrew to Castel Sediment, where a truce and composition were arranged with terms resented by Jersey, as they involved an annual tribute of arms.
In the 15th century Margaret of Anjou sold Mont Orgueil to the French and the Lancastrians, French allies against the patriotic Yorkists. For seven years the French held the east while Jerseymen under De Carteret held the west. [This assertion has been proved to be entirely inaccurate – Ed]
When Harleston arrived with ships from England, De Carteret, based on Grosnez, planned with Harleston an amphibious operation. The Militia crossed the island to blockade Mont Orgueil from the land while the fleet appeared at sea off Gorey. A short siege terminated with the French surrender and the St Ouen detachment received the honour of parading evermore on the right of the Militia line. On one occasion failure to accord them their traditional position led to mutiny, due to no spirit of disloyalty but to injured pride.
In 1454 a French raid was repulsed.
A so-called period of neutrality from 1484 to 1689 was a mere composition between England and France, the terms excluding officially, but never actually the Channel Islands as a war theatre. Work as defence in the interest of the Crown always proceeded and more than one French raid was repelled during this period.
12 Parochial bands
1545 sees the germs of the modern Militia, 12 parochial bands, under their Captains. St Ouen under De Carteret, senior detachment on right of the line.
In 1549 a French expedition under Captain Francis Breuil, with a fleet under Leon Strozz, Priory Capua, after attempts on Sark and Guernsey attacked Jersey; landed at Bouley Bay and were defeated in a bloody battle at Jardin d'Olivet. In this battle the Militia fought brigaded. Some 60 French were landed, dead, at St Malo after the battle.
In 1622 three regiments, each under a Colonel. West (Senior), North and East were formed out of the trained bands. During the Civil War Elizabeth Castle and Mont Orgueil both held out for the Crown until Sir George de Carteret won over Jersey to the Royal cause. He kept open the Channel for the Crown and took many Parliamentary prizes. Parliament had to undertake a major operation of war to reduce Jersey. Elizabeth Castle, after three weeks of splendid resistance, surrendered with the full honours of war. Sir George de Carteret at the Restoration received a grant of land in the New World, which he named New Jersey.
During the Civil War, Charles II was under our protection for two months, when Prince of Wales, in Elizabeth Castle in 1646; and when King in exile during the winter 1649-1650.
In 1678 Sir Thomas Morgan remodelled the Militia and repaired all Jersey defences, including Elizabeth Castle, St Aubin's Fort, Mont Orgueil, and the bulwarks and batteries embracing the whole coastline defences.
By 1685 the Militia consisted of three regiments, and a troop of horse. There were 24 field pieces, chiefly 'small bore Robinets'. By the end of the century, the Horse and Foot were wearing red coats, and both islands were receiving arms and equipment from the British Government.
In 1730 there were five regiments with six battalions:—
- 1st — St Ouen, St Mary, St John
- 2nd —Trinity, St Martin
- 3rd — St Saviour, Grouville, St Clement
- 4th - St Helier, St Lawrence
- 5th — St Peter, St Brelade
The Artillery consisted of 25 field pieces, kept in the churches, ready for action. Defence was considered a sacred duty, hence the church was the right place to keep the guns.
By the end of 1771, all youths from 15 to 17 were bound to drill once a week during the summer, and every male from 17 to 35 bound to serve.
There was one artillery regiment, one cavalry and six battalions of infantry. Regular British troops held the castles.
In 1779 the Prince of Nassau was repelled by the Militia, and by the 78th Regiment, the Rector of St Ouen, Sire du Parcq, taking a leading role in bringing up the Jersey artillery under fire to a good gun position to engage the hostile fleet. The most northern battery field wall of St Ouen's Bay bears his name.
Battle of Jersey
Regarding the famous battle of 6 January 1781, the final short fire fight and British victory in the Royal Square was the climax of a series of more or less simultaneous tactical moves carried out, in spite of Corbet's surrender with pistol at his head, by Major Peirson and the Militia colonels and other subordinate commanders.
The Rev Francis Le Couteur, Rector of St Martin, played a role similar to that of Sire du Parcq in the Nassau raid. These moves consisted in the wiping out of De Rullecore's base at La Platte Rocque by the 83rd and Militia, the holding of Elizabeth Castle and repelling there the French attack, the holding of Gallows Hill and Mont de la Ville (site later of Fort Regent), all these moves covering the march on St Helier by Peirson at the head of the 95th Regiment and the No 1 Militia.
It was a first class show, the story in full swelling the splendid role played then by our Militia officers considering the easy tactical surprise effected by the La Rocque landway, the French march on the town, and the inexplicable surrender of Corbet.
Of the Militia the French officer planning the 1781 invasion had written :’L'habitude de braver les dangers de la mer rend les habitants tres braves. Its forment au corps de milice tres discipline, bons trieurs, et qui seraient en etat presque seuls de repousser l'ennemi'.
During the 1793-1818 wars of the French Revolution and of the Empire the Militia 'stood to' throughout, the armed castles and batteries giving the Island a first-class system of all-round defence. Elizabeth Castle had 66 guns and St Aubin's Fort 14, thus giving a complete system of cross-and-covering fire backed by supports and reserves of infantry and cavalry. In principle the regular troops of the garrison held the castles while the Militia occupied the strong points and bulwarks.
General Hilgrove Turner
On 17 November 1814, during the interval between the first defeat of Napoleon and his return from Elba and the Hundred Days and Waterloo, Lieut-General Sir Hilgrove Turner, on inspection, addressed the Militia in an Order of the Day as follows:
- ’Considers it a dereliction of his duty, not to express his approbation to the Colonels, Officers, NCOs and men of the several regiments, of their manly and soldier-like appearance, their expertness in the handling of their arms, the facility and precision of their movements and their general efficiency in the defence of the Island. He has the satisfaction to observe that their labours have been highly beneficial and he attributes to them the full value they may justly claim for their services. The Lieut-General looks to them with reliance for the further continuance of their necessary duties.
- 'He desires to call their attention to the fact that this state of efficiency was only brought to its present perfection by a long period of constant military exercise and application. He feels most anxious to
impress deeply upon the minds of all Jerseymen that they may suddenly be called upon to defend their wives, children and houses at a moment when, after a period of peace, the enemy might hope to find them unprepared. Whenever a difference may arise between the French and the British an attempt upon the Island will probably be the first act of aggression.'
The truth of this warning was seen the following year when Napoleon returned to his Waterloo.
During the period 1793-1815, as in the Civil War, the sea role of the Islands was splendid. An historian of the time remarked that, on one occasion, there were more enemy prizes in St Helier Harbour than ships in St Malo. Mont Orgueil, under Admiral Philippe d'Auvergne, was the Headquarters of the intelligence service which operated most efficiently between the Island and the France of Napoleon.
In 1831 the Jersey Militia became 'Royal' on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the defeat of de Rullecourt and 'Jersey' was inscribed on the Militia colours, the first militia to bear such a distinction. In 1832 the Militia put down a riot and in 1844 arsenals were built and the guns which had previously been stored in the churches were henceforth kept at the arsenals. A further reorganisation took place in 1877 when the Royal Jersey Artillery was formed with four batteries manned by 280 gunners under a Lieut-Colonel. The three Infantry Regiments each consisted of 500 NCOs and men under a Lieut-Colonel. The 1st, or West Regiment, included men living in St Lawrence; the 2nd (East) included the old North Regiment and the old East Regiment and the 3rd (South) included the St Helier Battalion plus residents in St Helier who had previously served in the St Lawrence Battalion.
The battle honour 'Jersey 1781' was awarded by Queen Victoria to each of the new regiments.
In 1889 the artillery organisation consisted of the four Militia Batteries, which together with a regular battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery formed one regiment and covered the Southern defences — Noirmont, St Aubin's Fort, Elizabeth Castle and St Aubin's Bay.
Two mobile forces were raised as field artillery, each with four 20-pounder guns; these were formed into two batteries, the West manned by artillerymen of the six western parishes and the East by the five Eastern parishes. Thus heavy batteries defended the south coast and field defences, supported by three Militia Regiments to which were attached two field-batteries. The gunboat, based at Gorey, took part in all field manoeuvres.
In 1871, in view of possible trouble with Napoleon III, the Jersey National Association was founded and similar organisations followed, the aim being to improve Militia shooting. Today these form the Jersey Rifle Club and the Jersey Rifle Association.
In 1890 the Militia consisted of two field artillery companies, four garrison artillery companies and three infantry battalions, West, East and South. Each battalion had six Captains, six Lieutenants and six 2nd Lieutenants plus a permanent staff of Regular Officers and NCOs, consisting of an Adjutant, a Sergeant-Major, a Quartermaster-Sergeant and three Sergeant-Instructors. The field batteries were each armed with four rifled muzzle-loading guns firing a nine pound shell.
The Militia was a school for the Regular Army and proved, for many, an easier channel of entry than Sandhurst.
In 1905 the Militia was placed under the Army Act and was reorganised as a regiment of Artillery, in two field-batteries and two garrison companies, a company of engineers, a medical company and three battalions of infantry. The field batteries had 15-pounder guns, one garrison company manned 4.7 quick firing weapons on travelling carriages was modernised, the cost to the States being £5,000 per annum.
The Militia was mobilised in 1914 and manned posts all round the Island. On 2 March 1915 the Jersey Overseas Contingent under Captain (later Major) W A Stocker left the Island to be incorporated in the Royal Irish Rifles. In 1917 the danger of invasion being considered over, the Militia was disbanded and the Military Service Act made applicable to Island.
Under this most of the fit men were drafted to various units of the British Army and the role of the Militia was taken over by the Royal Jersey Garrison Battalion which consisted of two companies, one stationed at Fort Regent and the other at St Peter's Barracks with a detachment at the prisoner of war camp at Blanches Banques. The Battalion consisted of men who were not immediately medically suitable for active service, but gradually as men became fit, or the standard was reduced, more local men were drafted to British units and replaced by unfit men from the various theatres of war who were fit for garrison-duty. The Battalion was disbanded in 1919 or 1920. In all, between 1914-18, 6,292 men served overseas, 808 died in action or of wounds and disease and 212 decorations were won.
After World War I the policy of Jersey was made to coincide with the disarmament policy of the United Kingdom and on 24 December 1921 a new law reduced the Militia strength to one regiment of infantry and a battery of artillery. In 1925 new colours were presented and the old ones laid up in the parish churches of St Mary and St Martin.
In 1929 another law made Militia service voluntary and the strength was reduced to 260 infantrymen. The States had to bear all the costs. The establishment was a headquarters company, a rifle company and a machine gun company, all volunteers enrolled for Home Defence only.
The Militia was mobilized on 1 September 1939 with headquarters at Fort Regent and posts such as the Airport and other vital points were manned. Alter the evacuation from France, on June 18/19, orders were received for the demilitarisation of the island and Lieut-Col H M Vatcher sought the permission of the Lieut-Governor, Major General I M Harrison, to take his force to England. On 20 June he embarked with 11 officers and 193 other ranks in the ss Hodder, a potato steamer.
Next day they disembarked at Southampton and were stationed, for a time, in the Isle of Wight, where they experienced their baptism of fire in an air raid. Eventually the Militia became the nucleus of the 11th Royal Militia, Island of Jersey Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment and did excellent work in England until 1941 when the policy was adopted of drafting the personnel into other regiments.
There remained with the Hampshires a small cadre of warrant and Ncos of the Militia, these being the backbone of the Battalion. Losses of the Militia in World War II were eight killed in action, 60 wounded and 4 taken prisoner. Of the original 195 other ranks who left Jersey in 1940, 15 obtained commissions and 70 were promoted to higher rank.
The Militia colours were laid up in 1942 in the Bishop's Chapel at Wolversey Castle.
After the war, on 14 February 14, the War Office wrote to the Lieut-Governor, Sir Edward Grassett, recommending that the Militia be disbanded, the letter containing the following sentence:
- ’The battalion has given splendid service in whatever role it has been called upon to perform.'
Thus ended the story of the Royal Militia, Island of Jersey — for a resolution for its reinstitution was defeated in the States on 6 April 1954. On 10 January of that year the Militia colours were finally laid up in St Helier's Parish Church.