Volunteer units in China

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Volunteer units in China

Post  Admin on Thu 26 Feb 2009, 3:32 pm

I have been fascinated by the small volunteer units that were raised by Europeans in various Chinese cities after the 1900 Boxer Rebellion and into the interwar period. I have found a good deal of information on the Shanghai Volunteer Corps but little else on the other units.
One interesting snippet stated that the Royal Navy was responsible for assisting these corps in their work, but what this assistance was I am unsure. Certainly some were well armed with SMLE rifles and Lewis LMGs.
I attached a copy of a photograph of the Hankow Volunteers in 1925, during one of the many periods of unrest in that area of China.
If you can add detail please do.

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KD Wolesley, jacket with shorts, serge puttees, 1908 equipment. And what appears to be a cart mounted heavy MG


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Re: Volunteer units in China

Post  Mike Blake on Thu 23 Apr 2009, 11:48 pm

Some of the volunteer units existed before the Boxer Uprising, and were actualy involved in the fighting, eg Tientsin VC.

In the spring of 1898 the Tientsin Volunteer Corps was formed from amongst the British residents, some 35 men, under 2 elected officers, Capt CH Ross & Lt J Boyce Kup as Adjutant. In 1900 the strength was c100, officers and Boyce Kup in command, Lt GDB Bidwell Adjutant and Lt RS Buck. A small mounted force was organised for scouting duties.

On the departure of the 1st International [Seymour] Relief Force from Tientsin, barricades were set up at various points in the Concessions, and the Volunteer Corps was called out. For 2 or 3 weeks before the outbreak of hostilities, the TVC was on active service every night doing patrol and other duties, and seeing to their own business affairs during the day.
In the scheme for the defence of the British Concession the SVC were to hold the Bund, from the American Concession (which lay south of and adjoining the British Concession) to the Pumping Station opposite the China Merchants Office. was amended to integrate with arrangements of the allies . The TVC’s HQ was Gordon Hall, the Town Hall, a large 4 towered, castellated building which housed the British Municipal Council, the library and a theatre.

16 June 1900. The siege of Tientsin began. The defenders had the difficult task of defending a front of some 6 miles.

17 June 1900. On the commencement of the bombardment in the afternoon, the Corps had been assembled by Capt Boyce Kup and moved into the line of defence allotted to it. Boyce Kup placed himself under the orders of Capt Bayly, RN, Senior British Officer in Tientsin.
As soon as the Manchu Military School on the opposite side of the river and on the right of the TVC’s position, had been abandoned to the Chinese, the Corps was subjected to a continuous and heavy fire. Great efforts were made to strengthen its position by the erection of barricades, against being rushed. One night the TVC applied for and obtained the support of one of the two 9 pdrs which, with a quick firing gun on the Bund somewhat higher up, were the whole of the British artillery available.
The Corps, besides holding its own line of defence, was called upon several times to send such men for special service elsewhere, eg assisting in the defence of the Woollen Mill, en¬deavouring to take out water and medical stores to meet the return of Admiral Sey¬mour's Column, escorting refugees to Tongku etc.

The Woollen Mill stood in an exposed place on the plain at the extreme Western limit of the besieged area, and was one of the most vulnerable points held by the British troops. When they were hard pressed, a company of TVC volunteers was sent under Lt RS Buck to reinforce the position and help repulse one of the most determined attacks made on the British Lines. The volunteers were congratulated by Maj Luke, RM, who commanded the position, on the services they had rendered and on their ‘excellent shooting’.
When British sailors and the TVC attempted to get supplies to Seymour's Column on its return they were forced to retire to avoid being surrounded by over 2000 Chinese regulars, who were moving upon them in horse-shoe formation. The scouting on this occasion was done by mounted TVC men and but for their alertness the small force escorting the supplies could have been annihilated.
A steam pinnace of the German allies was hit by the Chinese and abandoned near the position held by the TVC, the crew only escaping with the greatest difficulty and many casualties. A detachment of 12 Volunteers under Cpls AS Annand and FA Kennedy and accompanied by 2 sailors retook the pinnace and salvaged its Maxim machine gun. The Corps was allowed to retain the Maxim machinegun.

19 June 1900. TVC Pvt James Watts, escorted by 3 Cossacks, rode to Taku to inform the naval authorities of the desperate plight of the Concessions, after all rail and telegraphic communications had been cut. They rode through Boxer-infested country, arriving in Taku on the following day.

23 June 1900. The Volunteers, from a breastwork on the west bank of the Peiho (North) River, which flows through Tientsin, saw Watts coming up on the other bank, bring¬ing up with him a naval brigade and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the British component of a relief column of 8,000 Allies. Pvt Watts was immediately promoted to Lt in the Corps in recognition of his brave deed.
In the fighting which followed, the Volunteers continued to play a part, including providing interpreters to the Regular forces. AS Annand, now a corporal, was attached to the staff of Gen Dorward as an interpreter, and Capt Boyce Kup later acted in a similar capacity on the staff of Gen Gaselee.

13 July 1900. The siege ended. It was estimated that in the 27 days', more shells fell into the Concessions than into Ladysmith in 4 months. Guns fired from the Chinese city immediately north of the Concessions, and from the East and West Arsenals.
When Tientsin was relieved, the opposite side of the river in front of the position held by the TVC was occupied in force by Russian allies, and the Corps at its own request temporarily stood down.

The casualties sustained by the Corps were few, because most of the fighting, although against great odds, was done from behind barricades and also to the enemy’s high wild firing. Six TVC were wounded, including one, Pvt Jock Grant [a militant member of the London Missionary Society] seriously; and Pvt Moffat die from enteric fever.

Watts received the German Rettungs Madaille an Bande, and was later made a Chevelier of the Order of Leopold by the Belgians. Apparently with some reluctance, Great Britain subsequently conferred the Companionship of the Order of St Michael and St George on him. Two privates in the TVC were offered Commissions in His Majesty's army. The TVC were awarded the Third China War medal with ‘Relief of Peking’ clasp.

The full dress and winter uniform headgera was a black lambskin cap, similar to that of Canadian troops. From the front it appeared conical, ie tapering towards the top, and from the side some¬what like a Hussar’s busby with scarlet busby-bag hanging down the left side. Brass grenade badge on the front, across which a brass chin-chain was looped. Scarlet serge tunic with breast-pockets, pointed cuffs formed by looped white braid, white braid running round the top and bottom of the collar. Brass letters ‘T V C’ on the shoulder-straps. Dark blue trousers with scarlet stripe, worn without puttees or gaiters.

Summer uniform was a white pith helmet or khaki field service cap, khaki tunic, trousers and puttees. The badge on the front of the helmet was star-shaped, changed from the original grenade of 1898. Scarlet patches were worn on the collar, and apparently provided some amusement to regular troops as they were like those of senior staff officers.

A photograph of Volunteers manning a breastwork on the Peiho shows a varied and mixed assortment of summer and winter uniforms. The pith helmet is white with dark puggri. Some Volunteers are wearing civilian clothing. One is in a suit, with a white handkerchief in the jacket's breast pocket; another wears a suit cut Norfolk-style, the trousers tucked into long stocking socks. Both men in suits wear brimmed slouch hats. Considering the temperature in Tientsin in June & July, the sergeant in red serge must have been rather warm.

Weapons & Equipment
The Volunteers were originally armed with the Martini-Henrys, but these were supplementd and evenutally replaced with Lee-Enfields.
A Maxim machinegun was salvaged from the beached German naval pinnace, and placed it on a temporary carriage. It was operated by a gunner, whether naval or army is not made clear, loaned by the military authorities. The gun was ultimately returned to the Germans.
Equipment, worn with both scarlet and khaki orders of dress, was brown leather waist-belt and looped bandolier.

Corrections and additions welcomed.

Mike Blake

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