William Rennie’s 1880 letter to a customer.
colonels of existing yeomanry regiments in Britain to provide forces for
deployment in South Africa, some at no cost to the British government,
but all had been firmly refused.
The yeomanry was a volunteer organisation that, by 1900, had
been in existence for over 100 years. A decision was taken by the War
Office on Wednesday, 13 December 1899, to allow a contingent of
volunteer forces, based on the existing yeomanry regiments, to be
deployed in South Africa. The birth of the Imperial Yeomanry was
through a Royal Warrant, dated Sunday, 24 December 1899. The
new Imperial Yeomanry was to be raised on a county basis, with the
core of the men drawn from existing volunteer units, the remainder
being recruited from individuals who met the criteria for admission. A
company normally consisted of 120 men, but often their ranks swelled
to much greater numbers: a battalion, including a machine-gun
section, totalled 526 men.
‘Her Majesty’s Government have decided to raise for active service in
South Africa a mounted infantry force, to be named ‘The Imperial
The force will be recruited from the Yeomanry, but volunteers and
civilians who possess the requisite qualifications will be specially enlisted
in the Yeomanry for this purpose.
The force will be organised in companies of one hundred and
fifteen rank and file, one captain and four subalterns to each company,
preferably Yeomanry officers.
The term of enlistment for officers and men will be for one year, or
not less than the period of the war.
Officers and men will bring their own horses, clothing and saddlery.
Arms, ammunition, camp equipment and transport will be provided by
the government. The men to be dressed in Norfolk jackets, of woollen
material of neutral colour, breeches and gaiters, lace boots, and felt hats.
Strict uniformity of patterns will not be insisted upon.
Pay to be at Cavalry rates, with a capitation grant for horses, clothing
etc. Applications for enrolment should be addressed to the colonels
commanding Yeomanry regiments, or to general officers commanding
districts, to whom all instructions will be issued.
Qualifications are: Candidates to be from twenty to thirty-five years
of age, and of good character. Volunteers or civilian candidates must
satisfy the Colonel of the regiment through which they enlist that they
are good riders and marksmen, according to the Yeomanry standard.’
His attestation took place straightaway in Belfast, where he was
living at the time. His residence was recorded as 32 Wellesley
Avenue, Belfast. The street still exists with many of the original
buildings still standing, including number 32. As his service papers
record his next of kin as his mother, living at this address, and not
his father, it is likely that his father had died by then.
His profession was recorded as veterinary surgeon. He lied
about his age: he was actually still only 19 years old at the time
and this was obviously done so that he would meet the criteria
to join the Imperial Yeomanry. He stated that he had been an
apprentice for one year to a Mr James Marks Newry, no doubt
On the same day of his attestation, he was medically examined
and pronounced fit for service in South Africa. James is recorded as
being six feet and a half-inch tall and weighing 153 pounds, with
Copies of James Rennie’s service papers from 1900.
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The Royal Warrant read as follows: