The 1st Lancashire Engineer Volunteer Corps was a volunteer unit of Britain's Royal Engineers, first raised in 1860. It went on to spin off a unit of fortress engineers and provided a signals training centre during World War I.
The enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement following an invasion scare in 1859 saw the creation of many Rifle, Artillery and Engineer Volunteer units composed of part-time soldiers eager to supplement the Regular British Army in time of need. One such unit was the 1st Lancashire Engineer Volunteer Corps (EVC) formed at Liverpool on 1 October 1860. In the early part of 1864 it absorbed the 2nd Lancashire EVC, which had been formed at Liverpool on 29 December 1860 (the 3rd Lancashire EVC at St Helens became the new 2nd). The unit ranked 4th (later 3rd) in the list of precedence of EVCs, and by 1866 it consisted of eight companies, with its headquarters at 44 Mason Street, Edge Hill, Liverpool.
During the 1860s the 1st Lancashire EVC acted as a battalion headquarters, with several smaller EVCs attached to it: 1st Flintshire EVC (1863–97); 1st Cheshire EVC (1864) and 2nd (St Helens) Lancashire EVC (1864–7). The Rossall School Cadet Corps – the oldest school cadet corps in the UK, founded in 1860 – was attached to the 1st Lancashire EVC from 1890 to 1908.
When Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Clarke, Inspector-General of Fortifications 1882–6, did not have enough Regular Royal Engineers (RE) to man the fixed mines being installed to defend British seaports, he utilised the Volunteer Engineers for this task. After successful trials the system was rolled out to ports around the country. In October 1884 the 1st Lancashire EVC formed K Company to cover the Mersey Estuary, and in March 1888 this became independent as the Mersey Division Submarine Miners.
The EVC titles were abandoned in 1888, when the units became 'Engineer Volunteers, Royal Engineers', proclaiming their affiliation to the Regular RE, and then simply 'Royal Engineers (Volunteers)' in 1896.
The unit sent a detachment of volunteers to assist the regular REs during the Second Boer War in 1901.
When the Volunteers were subsumed into the new Territorial Force (TF) in 1908, the original plan was for part of the 1st Lancashire RE (V) to join the Lancashire Fortress Royal Engineers formed by the former Mersey Submarine Miners, and the remainder of the unit would form the West Lancashire Divisional Telegraph Company.
By 1910 this plan had changed: none of the 1st Lancashire transferred to the fortress company, but the telegraph company had been expanded to form the Western Wireless Telegraph, Cable Telegraph and Air-Line Telegraph companies, collectively known as the Western Signal Companies. These were 'Army Troops', forming part of Western Command. By now the HQ was at 38 Mason Street.
The Commanding Officer of the companies from 1912 was Lt-Col F.A.Cortez-Leigh, transferred from a TF battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. In professional life he was chief electrical engineer of the London and North Western Railway.
When war broke out in August 1914 the TF was mobilised and the Western Signal Companies were quickly recruited up to full strength. The unit established a training camp in the public park known as The Mystery at Wavertree. Almost the whole unit volunteered for overseas service, and it was quickly called upon to provide two cable telegraph sections and two air line telegraph sections to join the British Expeditionary Force serving on the Western Front. These sections left Wavertree in October 1914.
In the autumn of 1914 the War Office decided to address the urgent need for trained signallers by using the TF to establish training depots. The Army Troops signal units of the five Home Commands were concentrated in Bedfordshire, and the officers and men were transferred to the Regular RE for the duration of the war.
The Western Signal Companies became the Western Signal Service Centre, RE, based at the empty manor house at Haynes Park in Bedfordshire, with many of the men being billeted in nearby Clophill. The unit had to establish a complete depot in the park, with roads, huts, and electricity and water supplies.
The training centre was later known as the Haynes Park Signal Depot, and remained under the command of Lt-Col Cortez-Leigh, who visited the Western Front in 1915 to see for himself the service conditions for which the men had to be trained. During the war some 2–3000 officers and 20,000 NCOs and men from across the UK, together with thousands of horses and mules, were trained at Haynes Park. Mrs Cortez-Leigh took charge of a detachment of women of Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps at the park, which released men for active service.
When the TF was reconstituted in 1920 as the Territorial Army (TA), the RE signal units became part of the new Royal Corps of Signals. The Western Command units became 2nd Western Corps Signals (Army Troops), based at Liverpool. However, the concept of Army Troops signal companies was soon afterwards abandoned, and the unit had been disbanded by 1927.
The following officers served as Honorary Colonel of the 1st Lancashire EVC and Western Signal Companies:Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne, appointed 29 October 1861.
Lt-Col Christopher O. Ellison, VD, former commanding officer, appointed 30 July 1878.
Col John F. Robinson, VD, appointed 10 January 1906.