HSF Pilot Companies

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:




51st Highland Vols


The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)

  • 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.
Wx Regt on DERR Triangle
  • 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.

The HSF Association Lapel Badge – much sought after



6 thoughts on “HSF Pilot Companies

  1. I was a member of 18 plt. Light infantry under the light infantry in hereford, from start to finish, great times, ex RAF regiment, others ex pay corpse paras etc, but great comradeship, and very professional, our moto was ‘ old age and treachery will. Prevail over youth and skill’, and we did, many times. We had the SLR, the widow maker,

  2. Hello Ted. Yes. 18 Platoon 5LI was a Platoon-strength HSF formation, which was unusual. It was raised in 1982, under “The Pilot” under command of No 4 HSF Company at Worcester whose majority cap badge was The Mercian Volunteers. Until 1984/5, your Platoon was a detachment of what became F Coy 2 Mercian Volunteers (later 4WFR). In 1985 (or thereabouts), 18 Platoon separated from Worcester and was administered from HQ 5LI, which was not an HSF formation. Your memory of this will depend on when you joined.
    We are in touch with representatives of 18 Platoon’s HSF veterans. I can put you in contact with them, but you might already be in touch.
    The Rifles (the modern regiment) has a strong HSF history, amongst its antecedent regiments, including D&D, R Wx Regt (associated with DERR/RGBW), RGJ (W.London & Aldershot), and LI (Bath & Bristol, Cornwall & County Durham). The current Inns of Court & City Yeomanry HSF veterans group (City of London) also has close ties with The RGJ Assn.
    Many riflemen joined other HSF companies or squadrons, and we also had a battery in Liverpool, and they must have had some.
    Your previous service with The RAF Regiment was also well represented within the HSF. A year or two ago we lost former Sgt Pyatt, from Kidderminster, who was a “Regiment Gunner” before joining the HSF. Many HSF veterans have gone, I am afraid, so true stories are becoming harder to find.
    Your good memories are extremely valuable, so if you have any documents, photos or thoughts you wish to share with the HSF Association, before it disbands, please shout. This website will continue, as will our determination to hold and maintain all the memories sent in since the Association began. It has not been lost, and will, hopefully, inform some sort of pamphflet, booklet, or book. Quite a lot of it is suitable for posting on this website, but that has not been possible recently. Hopefully during the summer of 2015, more progress will be achieved.
    I am familiar with your Platoon motto.

  3. Hello Dave. Good to hear from you. Your question has revealed your email address to me (only) and I will be in touch.
    The cost of the badge(s) will depend upon whether you served in the HSF, or not, and also how many badges you require. Normally I will send it/them in the post, unless you are a short car ride away.
    If you DID serve with the HSF, perhaps you might like to share your experiences? Your contact details will not be shared with other veterans unless you give permission.
    I am therefore also prepared to sell badges to collectors, family members and/or Regimental/Corps representatives. As the HSF Association is now disbanded, all profits from badges will go directly to The HSF Grove upkeep, at The NMA.

  4. Was in Zulu Coy. of 51st Highland Volunteers (Black Watch) the first HSF unit to be formed as I am led to believe that Major Sandeman father of Mary Sandeman or Aneka famed for her hit in the pop music scene`Japanese Boy`and his connection to Sandeman port wine started of the whole idea of a defence force of ex regular servicemen to keep the Spetnatz from giving us a hard time ??? I`m ex Z Coy piper and what a great time I had !!!!!

  5. Charles, Z Coy 1/51st Highland Volunteers, was the continuation of No1 HSF (pilot) Company formed in 1982, along with sister Companies in Reading (R.Berkshire), Bedford and Worcester. Each had Platoons which were extremely well manned, and attended, and in 1985, when the HSF “went live” some of those Platoons were permitted to expand into Companies themselves.
    Information we have comes mostly from veterans and not from official sources, and so we have a soldier’s-eye view of things, which is helpful in one way. Unfortunately many veterans were “old” when they joined the HSF and (like you) had changed cap badge, or Service) to do so, and didn’t always grasp the complicated Battalion organisation and deployment that operated in the Territorial Army of the day. Many can remember their Platoon number, slightly fewer can remember their Company Letter or Number (Some had a Company/Squadron/Battery name), and some cannot remember much now. Tucked away, however, there are people who have all their memories hidden in a tin in the loft, or garage, and that material cannot be allowed to go to the tip.
    In 1984, when planning things, the “powers-that-be” wanted HSF troops based near to Key Points, but this was rarely possible because you needed a town’s worth of population in order to produce a Platoon’s worth of suitable volunteers for HSF service. If you take out those who needed too much supervision, those who wanted to retain their previous ranks, and those who found TA administration too difficult to work with (and many dropped out for those reasons), then you might get a truck full? Add that to the calibre of the Platoon leadership and their ability to get support from the Parent Unit, and you might have something to work with. In most case, it worked. It has been difficult, in recent years, trying to piece together the jig-saw of where all the Platoons were based (some “Troops” of course), so if you can remember, please let me know.
    Also the locations of the KPs (where possible).
    Any copies of photos, documents, sketches or stories/cartoons/poetry would be most welcome.
    I am aware of the Sandeman Port name, and will try to make some enquiries if I can.
    The idea that this chap was somehow instrumental in starting the concept of the HSF is also very interesting. He must have had good contacts?

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