The Home Service Force
Also referred to as a “Trial”
In 1982, four pilot companies were raised ,
entitled, in turn, as Numbers 1,2,3 & 4 HSF Companies,
…to test the concept of a home defence force comprising ex-regular, ex-territorial and ex-uniformed service personnel and the results proved to be much better than anticipated.
The recruitment of ex-servicemen with a minimum of two years experience enabled units to come up to operational readiness very quickly.
On completion of the successful trial period authorisation was given by parliament for the HSF to be formally embedded.
A national recruiting campaign was then launched towards the end of 1984 with a view to enlistment commencing on 1st April 1985. Each HSF unit was placed with either a Regular Army or Territorial Army regiment or battalion for administrative purposes and given the that formation’s title, cap badge. HSF batteries, squadrons and companies became part of that formation’s organisation.
The Officers Commanding these four Companies were initially granted the rank of Lieutenant, but in 1984, the expansion of the HSF imminent, they were promoted to Captain and then Major. Major is the normal rank for a command of this size.
The total strength of the companies varied, and initially included all successful applicants, under “trial” conditions, however records indicate that the permitted strength was 95 – 125 all ranks, depending upon whether it had three or four platoons. This included, in addition to the Officer Commanding, a Platoon Commander for each Platoon at the rank of Lieutenant.
It seems that Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), especially Senior NCOs and a Company Sergeant Major (CSM), were selected by the Officer Commanding from within the ranks of his Company. This was not straightforward, as many recruits had held rank and senior rank in previous service. Some ex-regulars found the Territorial Army vastly different to their previous experience, and of course, the work was in the infantry style. This meant outdoor work in all weathers, with a bias towards self-reliance. Management methods using the “carrot” method were much more successful to “the stick” method and some experienced SNCOs found this difficult. Others found that the services had moved on and all ranks mixed more. Former Sailors, Royal Marines and Airmen/women also had to adjust a little to jargon and methods, but they did well. Some former SNCOs preferred to “muck in” as Private Soldiers, having retired from the pressures of command.
The Officers soon became acquainted with their soldiers and quickly knew who could do what.
The interesting and novel factor that emerged from all HSF formations that were raised was that nearly everybody has remarked how much they learned from each other. In regular service and reserve service, there is a preference for formal training. In regular service this meant attending a centrally held course preplanned for weeks. TA training was less well planned but it depended upon the availability of qualified instructors who were able to attend for the dates announced. In the HSF, training happened when needed and it took the form of watch and listen and included all the things “they don’t tell you on the course”. Boathandling skills were taught by Sailors and Sappers. Airfield and aircraft secrets were revealed by RAF and ROC people. ACC chefs and former Quartermasters lead on cooking and ration accounting; RAOC and infantry clerks handled paperwork and also the Company Headquarters where interpretation of information and remaining “cool” was as important as the resulting action; Royal Marine and Infantry skills were taught to the rest (particularly in patrolling and in dealing with suspects and prisoners), RCT and other skilled drivers managed allocated vehicles with skill and responsibility, REME skills were taught and also handled (meaning stopping people “fiddling” with engines); and Royal Signals experts and Regimental Signallers stepped straight into company communications in the field. Many soldiers had experience of a Northern Ireland posting or tour and shared their tips and tricks in dealing with intelligence and troops acting as enemy.
Personnel were so keen in the pilot companies, that anybody pretending to be something he/she wasn’t, were soon found out by their comrades. Esprit de corps and morale was very high and teamwork was efficient.
This “Pilot” established the principle of recruiting experienced servicemen/women was not only possible at minimum cost, but also beneficial to cohesiveness and quicker reaction. It was always known that HSF personnel were “older” and so the normal Territorial Army standards of fitness, skill-at-arms and other issues, were toned down a little, but many HSF personnel volunteered for such tests and often beat their younger TA comrades. A march and shoot competition was sometimes difficult to win, but the Falling Plate shooting competition held annually by most TA Regiments or Battalions was always dominated by the HSF because they knew how to prepare, act and react on a range, as well as shoot, they knew all the rules backwards and also knew how to register a challenge to decisions.
Many HSF formations spent many an exercise acting as “Enemy”; defending, ambushing and patrolling. They were often difficult to outwit and overcome.
Numbers 1, 2,3 & 4 HSF Companies were:
- Z (HSF) Company 1st Battalion The 51st Highland Volunteers, based in Perth, Kirkaldy & Dundee. It is believed the troops of this Company wore the cap badge of the 51st Highland Volunteers with the red hackle of the Black Watch, on parade. The service of this company forms part of the history of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
- E (HSF) Company 2nd Battalion The Wessex Regiment (Volunteers), based at Reading, Maidenhead, Portsmouth, Devizes and Exeter. Those troops based in Berkshire and Wiltshire wore the red cloth inverted back-triangle of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, becoming RGBW in July 1994.
- The service of this company forms part of the history of The Rifles, although its Portsmouth Platoon forms part of the history of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, and its successor, The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment. Personnel of The Portsmouth Platoon did not wear the red cloth inverted back-triangle behind their cap badge.
- This Company gave birth to many others in the region in 1985.
- The Wessex Regiment was a Volunteer (TA) regiment of one, then two battalions, formed from the administrative Wessex Brigade, under which the personnel of infantry regiments from the region all wore the Wessex cap badge.
- E (HSF) Company 6th Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, based in Bedford, Cambridge and Norwich. This Company expanded, in 1985, to form five HSF Companies with the Regiment.
- The Royal Anglian Regiment recruits from a very large area including the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge (& Huntingdonshire), Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire (& Rutland) and Lincolnshire.
No4 HSF Company:
- F (HSF) Company 2nd Battalion The Mercian Volunteers, based in Worcester, Kidderminster and Hereford.
- No 4 Company raised two platoons at Worcester, but retained only one, and raised a second Platoon at Kidderminster, within the Mercian Volunteers.
- The Mercian Volunteers were recruited from the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and also from the conurbation of The West Midlands. The Regiment, initially of one battalion and then two, was disbanded in 1988. The Mercian Regiment (a new Regiment) was formed in 2007 from an amalgamation of County Regiments from the same recruiting areas. The Mercian Regiment cap badge is also that of a double-headed eagle, but is slightly different in design from that above.
- The Hereford Platoon wore the Light Infantry cap badge but reported to its Mercian (Worcester) Company Headquarters until 1985, when it gained independence, transferring to The 5th Battalion The Light Infantry. After that it remained the only HSF Platoon to be administered by a Territorial Army Company HQ and not an HSF Company. The service of the Hereford HSF Platoon forms part of the history of The Rifles.
Feedback is welcomed on, firstly, the numbering of the three companies not numbered, and , secondly, of accounts of events and personalities during that “pilot” experience. Not all such information need be publicised here.
There is informal evidence that most, if not all, of these four “pilot” companies were heavily subscribed and their attendance was also high, unlike expected TA attendance which had to be matched with work and family commitments. As a result, in 1984/85 when the HSF went “official”, new Squadrons and Companies were formed in adjacent counties, with recruiting based upon those who were serving with the Pilot Companies.