The Volunteer Service Companies, raised by various regiments during the Boer War, were really the forerunners of Kitchener’s Army in the First World War. They were a patriotic response to a national emergency. There was great eagerness to enlist for the service company, among the men of the 1st Volunteer battalion Leicestershire Regiment. Many were bitterly disapointed to be turned down on grounds of age or medical condition. For many years members of the Volunteer Force had felt that the Regular Army looked down upon them as mere ‘pot hunters’ interested only in target shooting competitions. Here at last was a chance to show their true mettle.
The members of the Volunteer Company were led by Captain W.A.Harrison, with lieutenants W.A.Rowlatt and C.H.Jones. The senior NCO was Sergeant-Instructor James Bell, a Regular soldier, seconded to the Volunteer battalion for duty. The men of the Volunteer Company left England in March 1900 aboard the SS Guelph, travelling south via the Canary Islands to reach South Africa. They found the 1st battalion recovering on the banks of the Tugela River, gaunt and emaciated after the Siege of Ladysmith.
The Volunteer Company fought alongside the regulars for the next year, taking the war into the Transvaal and fighting battles at Laing’s Nek, Bergendaal (known to the British as Belfast) and Lydenburg. Four of its original members died on active service. Many members went on to join the Regular Army, having acquired a taste for soldiering. Others remained with the Volunteer Force, which eventually became the Territorial Force. Captain Harrison, as Lieutenant Colonel Harrison, took the 1st/4th Leicesters to France in 1915. Likewise, Lieutenant Jones rose to command the 1st/5th battalion, and took that unit to France at the same time.