We have seen in a former chapter how the Ulster Volunteer Force originated. It was never formally established by the act of any recognised authority, but rather grew spontaneously from the zeal of the Unionist Clubs and the Orange Lodges to present an effective and formidable appearance at the demonstrations which marked the progress of the movement after the meeting at Craigavon in 1911. By the following summer it had attained considerable numbers and respectable efficiency, and was becoming organised, without violation of the law, on a territorial basis under local officers, many of whom had served in the Army. Early in 1913 the Standing Committee resolved that these units should be combined into a single force, to be called The Ulster Volunteer Force, which was to be raised and limited to a strength of 100,000 men, all of whom should be men who had signed the Covenant. When this organisation took place it became obvious that a serious defect was the want of a Commander-in-Chief of the whole force, to give it unity and cohesion. This defect was pressed on the attention of the leaders of the movement, who then began to look about for a suitable officer of rank and military experience to take command of the U.V.F. Among English Members of the House of Commons there was no firmer friend of Ulster than Colonel Thomas Hickman, C.B., D.S.O., who has been mentioned as one of those who consented to serve in the Provisional Government. Hickman had seen a lot of active service, having served with great distinction in Egypt and the Soudan under Kitchener, and in the South African War. It was natural to take him into confidence in the search for a general; and, when he was approached, it was decided that he should consult Lord Roberts, whose warm sympathy with the Ulster cause was well known to the leaders of the movement, and whose knowledge of army officers of high rank was, of course, unequalled. Moreover, the illustrious Field-Marshal had dropped hints which led those concerned to conjecture that in the last resort he might not himself be unwilling to lend his matchless prestige and genius to the loyalist cause in Ireland. The contingency which might bring about such an accession had not, however, yet arisen, and might never arise; in the meantime, Lord Roberts gave a ready ear to Hickman’s application, which, after some weeks of delay, he answered in the following letter, which was at once communicated to Carson and those in his immediate confidence:
“ENGLEMERE, ASCOT, BERKS.
“4th June, 1913.
“I have been a long time finding a Senior Officer to help in the Ulster business, but I think I have got one now. His name is Lieut.-General Sir George Richardson, K.C.B., c/o Messrs. Henry S. King & Co., Pall Mall, S.W. He is a retired Indian officer, active and in good health. He is not an Irishman, but has settled in Ireland.... Richardson will be in London for about a month, and is ready to meet you at any time.
“I am sorry to read about the capture of rifles.