In 1859, following various scares on the international scene, a nation-wide military volunteer movement sprung up in the British Isles. Camberwell was well to the fore. A few of its inhabitants formed what became the 1st Surrey Rifles. John Boucher, formerly of the 5th Dragoon Guards, was appointed Captain Commanding on 14th June 1859; it is from this date that the Corps was officially recognised for seniority. Surrey, of which Camberwell formed part at that time, was the fourth county in order of seniority in the Rifle Volunteers; there were later over twenty Rifle Volunteer Corps in the county.
The 1st Surrey Rifles orginally had their Drill Ground at Hanover Park, Peckham. The uniform was green with scarlet facings. They were armed (and at their own expense) with a short rifle grooved on Captain Boucher's plan; Boucher was a man much interested in rifles, and had been Secretary of a club called the Hanover Park Rifle Club which was basically an athletic club for young men. It was largely from the membership of this club that rather naturally the original volunteers came in 1859.
In 1863 a new branch of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway was being plotted, and its route ran right through the Drill Ground at Hanover Park. After some trouble a site in Brunswick Road (since the 1870s called Flodden Road) was secured. The Foundation Stone of the new Head Quarters was laid on 27 December 1864, and the opening took place on 1 July 1865 by the Lord Lieutenant of the county, the Earl of Lovelace. These buildings, which still stand, were designed by a serving officer, Ensign John Thomas Lepard.
There have been a number of changes in title through the years. In 1882 the Corps, then called the 1st (South London) Corps, Surrey Rifle Volunteers, was linked with a Regular Regiment of the Line - as indeed were all Rifle Volunteer Corps throughout the Kingdom. The Corps became then in 1882 the 1st volunteer Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, although in fact it was never called this but remained the 1st (South London) Corps, the East Surrey Regiment. In 1888 it was officially retitled the 1st Surrey (South London) Corps, East Surrey Regiment.
After the enormous enthusiasm of the first few years, the Volunteers settled down in the 1870s, 80s and 90s to a routine the same year by year. There is no doubt that the greatest Volunteer enthusiasm (after that which brought it forth in 1859) was during the South African war of 1899-1900. The 1st Surreys not only sent three Volunteer detachments in 1900, 1901 and 1902 to swerve with the Regular 2nd Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, but about 16 men served with the C.I.V. (City of London Imperial Volunteers); others also served with the Imperial Yeomanry and in Loch's Horse.
On the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908, through the reorganisation of the Army by Mr Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, the 1st Surreys became the 21st (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles). It now formed part of the 6th London Infantry Brigade.
During the Great War, the First Surrey Rifles fought with great gallantry and distinction, and also with tragic loss. Within weeks of the outbreak of war, a second line Battalion was formed; and later a third line as well. the 1/21st served continuously on the Western Front from March 1915 to the end of the war. At the battle of High Wood on the Somme in September 1916, the Battalion was all but annihilated, and only some 60 men came out unscathed.
The 2/21st embarked from France in June 1916 and after service on the Western Front until November of that year, it went onto Macedonia and Salonika. It then went to Egypt and Palestine, and took part in Allenby's campaign, and was present at Gaza, Jericho, Jerusalem, and in the Jordan Valley.
The 3/21st was a Home Service Battalion, and never served overseas, but trained reinforcements for the 1/21st and 2/21st.
Reformed after the war, the Battalion became the simpler titled 21st London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles) in 1922 following the formation of the Territorial Army in 1921 from the Territorial Force.
In 1935 the F.S.R. were converted from Rifles, and became the 35th (F.S.R.) A.A. Battalion, Royal Engineers (T.A.); in this role they became a Searchlight unit for the air defence of the U.K. Subsequently during the World War they became a L.A.A. Regiment under the title 129 L.A.A. Regiment, R.A. (F.S.R.). The Regiment served throughout the World War in England.
On the reconstitution of the T.A. in 1947, the F.S.R. were formed as 570 [750?] L.A.A./S.L. Regiment, R.A. (F.S.R.) (T.A.). In the disbandment of A.A. Commend in 1955, the Regiment was reduced to P and Q (F.S.R.) Batteries of 570 L.A.A. Regiment, R.A. (T.A.); in the further reorganisation of the T.A. in 1961 it became R (Surrey) Battery of 265 Light Air Defence Regiment, R.A. (T.A.). In this role it served at Flodden Road until the close of 1966 when it left its own Drill Hall, and moved to Grove Park and Bromley in a further reorganisation of the Reserve Forces.
During the days just before the World War, the F.S.R. gained a new Drill Hall when the T.A. was 'doubled-up'. This was opened at Lordship Lane, Dulwich, and was given the name High Wood Barracks. The Foundation Stone was laid on 21 Match 1938. The F.S.R. served here and at Flodden Road until 1961 when the High Wood Barracks was taken over by another unit.
In a summary as short as this, much must be omitted. But mention ought to be made of some other prominent features of the F.S.R. The very long connection with the Parish Church of St Giles, Camberwell, where, both outside and inside, the F.S.R Memorials are located. The equally long connections with Dulwich College Cadet Corps and Alleyn's School Cadet Corps.
The very fine sporting record of the Regiment for many years; as also its many marksmen and shooting record.
In its ranks have served men of distinction in later years, amongst whom was Sir Polydore De Keyser, Lord Mayor of London 1887-88; as a token of appreciation of his happy service, he presented the Regiment with a large silver rose bowl. In this connection, it may be remarked that in 1966 when the further reorganisation of the T.A. was taking place, R (Surrey) Battery had some 60 pieces of F.S.R. Silver. Some of this is now on long loan to both the Town Halls of Lambeth and Southwark. Most of the records of the F.S.R. (which in fact belonged to the F.S.R. Association), have been presented to the Minet Library in Knatchbull Road, SE5. There is a great deal of real value and interest in these records. Those who served know it was a great Regiment; let others see for themselves from these records.