The Finsbury Rifles was a volunteer infantry unit of the British Army that was formed in 1860 and saw service in the Second Anglo-Boer War and the First World War. Converted to artillery in 1922, it fought in Persia, North Africa and Italy. It finally lost its identity in 1961.
The Clerkenwell Rifle Corps was formed on 6 April 1860, and was redesignated as the 39th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps as part of the Volunteer Force raised in response to the perceived threat of invasion by France.
Over the next four and a half decades it was redesignated or renumbered on three occasions:
- 39th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps (The Finsbury Rifle Volunteer Corps) (1862-80)
- 21st Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (The Finsbury Rifle Volunteer Corps) (1880-91)
- 21st Middlesex (Finsbury) Volunteer Rifle Corps (1891-1908)
In common with other units of the Volunteer Force, the Finsbury Rifles formed active service companies to provide reinforcements to regular army troops fighting in South Africa. Officially a volunteer battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, which had four regular battalions in the conflict, they were awarded the battle honour "South Africa 1900-'02".
In 1908 reserve forces were completely reorganised. The volunteer force and yeomanry were combined to form a new Territorial Force, administered by county associations. All infantry battalions in the City and County of London became numbered battalions of the London Regiment. The unit became the 11th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles), with headquarters at Pentonville.
First World WarEdit
With the outbreak of war in August 1914 the Territorial Force was mobilised. With the expansion of the army the various units formed duplicate "second line" or "third line" units.
The existing 11th Battalion was redesignated as the 1/11th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles) on the formation of a second line duplicate. The battalion remained in the United Kingdom until July 1915, when it sailed to the Dardenelles. They landed at Suvla Bay on 11 August 1915 as part of the unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign. They were evacuated in December 1915 subsequently serving in Egypt and Palestine.
The 2/11th Battalion was formed in September 1914. In February 1917 they moved to France, serving on the Western Front for the rest of the war.
The 3/11th Battalion was formed in 1915. They did not see any foreign service and were absorbed by the 9th Reserve Battalion in April 1916.
The regiment was awarded the following battle honours for the war:
- Ypres 1917
- Menin Road
- Polygon Wood
- France and Flanders 1917-18
- Landing at Suvla
- Scimitar Hill
- Gallipoli 1915
- Egypt 1915-17
- El Mughar
- Tell 'Asur
- Palestine 1917-18
Following the war the Territorial Force was demobilised. It was reformed as the Territorial Army (TA) in 1920, and the Finsbury Rifles were reformed as 11th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles). In 1922 the various battalions of the London Regiment were reconstituted as separate regiments and so the unit was renamed to the 11th London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles).
In 1935 there was a reorganisation of the TA: it was realised that the main threat to London was from air raids, and many infantry and cavalry units were converted to an anti-aircraft role. Accordingly they became the 61st (Finsbury Rifles) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Royal Artillery based in Finchley and Pentonville. In 1938 the size of the TA was doubled: the Finchley sections continued as the 61st (Middlesex) Anti-Aircraft Brigade while the Pentonville sections became the 12th (Finsbury Rifles) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Second World WarEdit
In May 1942 the regiment moved to Persia as part of the "Persia and Iraq Force" or Paiforce. In May 1943 they moved to North Africa. They joined the Eighth Army in July 1943 and fought in the North African and Italian campaign, ending the war in Italy.
Post war and amalgamationEdit
In 1947 the unit was reformed as the 512th (Finsbury Rifles) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery
In 1955 the size of the Territorial Army was reduced. The Finsbury Rifles was reduced to battery strength as P (Finsbury Rifles) Battery, 512th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. The remaining two batteries of the regiment were formed from the successors to the St Pancras Rifles and the Tower Hamlets Rifles. In 1961 there was a further reduction in the size of the TA, and the 512th was merged with two other anti-aircraft and the Finsbury Rifles lineage was ended.
- Frederick Thomas Penton 1883-1923
- William Bingham Compton, 6th Marquess of Northampton 1923-34
- Major C.F. Penton 1934-61
The Finsbury Rifles War Memorial is on Spa Green, Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, opposite the former offices of the Metropolitan Water Board. Although it is commonly called the Finsbury Rifles Memorial it also commemorates troops of the Honourable Artillery Company, the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps recruited in the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.
It consists of a bronze figure of Victory standing on a globe, on a grey granite pedestal, bearing a palm branch in the right hand and in the left a laurel wreath.
The north side of the pedestal is dedicated to the regiment. It bears a bronze panel depicting the Finsbury Rifles attacking Gaza on 17 April 1917. Below are listed the battle fronts in which the regiment served: Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, France and Belgium.
The sculptor was Thomas Rudge.