Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum: Day Trip #10

“For our homes and for our hearths” – Staffordshire Yeomanry motto

I finally made a trip out to a military museum that I’d been intending to visit for some time. The Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum is housed in the Ancient High House in Stafford and I had made plans for a visit last year. Unfortunately, problems with my train meant that I abandoned the attempt. I am glad that I’ve finally completed the trip as the collection was certainly well worth a visit.

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Staffordshire Yeomanry Cavalry by Richard Simkin, c.1890.

A little regimental history:

The Staffordshire Yeomanry were formed on the 4th July 1794 to counter the threat of invasion posed by revolutionary France. Known as The Staffordshire Regiment of Gentlemen and Yeomanry, they initially wore a red coat with yellow facings, a white waistcoat, white leather breeches and a Tarleton helmet. In 1808 they changed to a blue hussar style jacket, thereby adopting a colour which they would retain into the 20th century.

 

It was soon called out to assist the authorities put down a riot. Indeed, the keeping of domestic order became an all-too-regular occupation right up to the 1860s. It is said that they were called out to maintain civic order on more occasions than any other yeomanry regiment! The Staffordshire Yeomanry variously consisted of up to 12 troops based in towns across the county such as Lichfield, Stafford, Wolverhampton and Uttoxeter, numbering at its peak anything up to just under 1000 men in total.

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Sheet music of Staffordshire Yeomanry ‘cavalry quadrilles’

In 1838, in honour of their work in maintaining order, the new Queen bestowed upon them the title “Royal” and thenceforth the regiment became known as the “Queen’s Own Royal Regiment”. At the end of the century, they supplied men for service with the Imperial Yeomanry serving in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, securing the regiment’s first battle honour in the process, and went on to fight with great distinction in the two World Wars.

The exhibits:

Suburban Militarism (mostly) concerns itself with military history prior to the 20th century, so I’ll review some exhibits from that era. That said, the regiment’s 20th century guidon below was a fine example.

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The regiment’s guidon, displaying battle honours and the iconic ‘Staffordshire knot’ in the centre

Just prior to entering the collection which was housed on the top floor of the ancient building, I was delighted to notice a number of terrific artworks on the regiment. Much of these were by some of my favourite military artists. There were some very fine paintings of the Staffordshire Yeomanry by both Richard Simkin and Orlando Norie, none of which I’d seen anywhere before.

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Watercolours of the Staffordshire Yeomanry by Orlando Norie (Top) and Richard Simkin (Bottom).

Both artists painted the regiment appearing in force, as well as also small studies of individual yeoman as a demonstration of evolving uniforms through the ages. A photograph on display was attributed to Richard Simkin, apparently being used by him as a basis for painting a yeoman in a uniform formerly worn decades earlier.

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The Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of Staffordshire Yeomanry by Richard Simkin

There was also up on the wall a painting of which I was familiar. It is unclear who the artist is (although I’d heard a previous suggestion of it being Norie), but learnt through my visit that it might well be by Henry Martens, whose artworks I’d last seen in the Anglo-Sikh Wars exhibition earlier this year.

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Officers of the Staffordshire Yeomanry Cavalry, c.1853

Of a number of great portraits depicting yeoman within the museum, two particularly caught my attention. John Stratford (below) served with the 14th Light Dragoons in the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Persia and in the Indian Mutiny, prior to joining the Staffordshire Yeomanry as a sergeant instructor. This remarkable veteran eventually died in 1932 at the ripe old age of 102!

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John Stratford in his Staffordshire Yeomanry uniform. He can be seen wearing his Indian General Service, Indian Mutiny, Punjab and (I believe) Army Long Service & Good Conduct medals.

Below, taken from the back of my purchased book, is an oil painting of Trooper David Riley, sometime builder and joiner turned farmer, wearing his uniform of 1852. He holds an Albert Pattern dragoon helmet with a black plume. The painting is notable for depicting a humble trooper rather than a more senior rank.

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David Riley portrait taken from the book on The Staffordshire Yeomanry by David German and Chris Coogan.

The Staffordshire Yeomanry of the middle of the 19th century had one of the smartest uniforms of any yeomanry regiment, in my humble opinion. The beautiful Albert Pattern helmet with its striking black japanning and ornate silver plate was adopted in 1850. It originally had a black plume surmounted with an acorn decoration but this was changed in 1859 to a white plume with a rosette top. This headdress changeover for all ranks apparently took up to a decade. One sergeant of the Himley Troop observed how he felt the black plume “…somehow or other puts one in mind of a funeral…“; an attitude which may explain the eventual changeover to white!

 

I always enjoying seeing artefacts connected with regimental musicians and bands, so it was good to see the kettledrum banner with its prominent Staffordshire knot under the crown. The silver trumpets on either side in the display were presented to the regiment in 1845, having been funded by public subscription.

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QORR Staffordshire Yeomanry drum banner and silver trumpets.
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Cigarette card by Players

The regiment eventually became hussars and adopted a busby with a red bag and white horsehair plume. Notice the difference between the officer’s busby (left & centre), with a brighter, more extravagant white plume and silver cord, and contrast with the Other Rank’s plainer plume with white cord on the right hand photograph.

 

Uniforms on display demonstrated developments in the tunic and also provided some examples of late 19th / early 20th century mess dress. ‘Pill box’ forage caps had beautiful silver banding and intricate scrolls on the top, which increased in intricacy for the senior ranks. Note the all-red field service cap nestling by the sleeve in the photo top-right. This replaced the pill box style for a time. A long plume holder can also be seen just visible to the right rear of the cabinet in top left photo.

 

And finally, below can be seen some of the accoutrements that took my attention. The officer’s black pouchbelt is adorned with ‘prickers’ for spiking enemy guns, and the trooper’s white pouchbelt and pouch is just below it. The very fine epaulettes on display had gilt Staffordshire knots. One pair of these provided an example of how the officers stored them to maintain good condition (a metal case).

 

Having enjoyed free entry to the museum, I thought it only correct to make a special donation to the Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum and also I purchased a book on the regiment on sale in the shop. The museum comes highly recommended for a visit by Suburban Militarism.

Painting the 19th Hussars: an update

It’s been a sad weekend for me. Receiving the news that my beloved 1-year-old cat Morris had been sadly hit and killed by a car, was a real blow. We shared a close bond, he and I, and I’ll sorely miss the little chap. I loved his comical ways, even when as a kitten he mounted a surprise sortie and captured and ran off with some of my plastic soldiers!

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Morris

At such times, I find my hobby can be a welcome distraction and a consolation. Indeed, through these sad circumstances, I’ve nonetheless managed to carry on and progress with my 19th Hussars. I also managed to find some more depictions of the regiment rooting about my cigarette card collection, including (left) this fine illustration of the regiment’s Kettle Drummer issued by Gallaher in 1898 and (right) a corporal of the 19th Hussars from a collection called “Soldiers of the King” issued by Ogden’s in 1909.

 

 

On the 1898 card it can be seen that the 19th were known as Princess of Wales’s Own, yet by the time of the Ogden’s cigarette card issues they had become the Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal Hussars, following her husband King Edward VII’s accession to the throne after the death of Queen Victoria.

Back to the figures – below are a few photos to show the results of my progress. It’s difficult to see clearly on my photographs but I’ve tried to recreate the key dress features particular to this regiment, such as the yellow lines on the white bag on each busby. There are no plumes on these fellows who appear sculpted more ready for battle than parade!

The horses are now primed and awaiting the first lick of paint. An update of their development to follow…

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One of my troopers representing the 19th Hussars

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The 19th (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own) Hussars

The 19th Hussars began life as the 1st Bengal European Light Cavalry in 1858, having been raised by the East India Company in response to the Indian Mutiny.

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Very soon after, they were absorbed into the British army and became a regiment of the crown. Now designated as the 19th Hussars, they became the acknowledged successor regiment to the original 19th Light Dragoons which had been disbanded back in 1821. During the 1880s, the 18th Hussars fought in campaigns in Egypt and the Sudan, including the battles of Tel-el-Kebir, Abu Klea and El Teb.

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The 19th Hussars in the desert, capturing enemy supplies by Richard Caton Woodville

The 19th later found themselves fighting in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, most notably at the Siege of Ladysmith.

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19th Prince of Wales’ Hussars in 1885 by Orlando Norie

At the conclusion of their service in the Boer War, the regiment formally became known as the 19th (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own) Hussars (after the wife of Prince Edward).

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A fine watercolour of a hussar of the 19th. Artist unknown to me.

So, why the history lesson? Because my next figures will represent this regiment. Having a lifelong interest in the Victorian army, it is in this re-formed Victorian-era guise that I’m intending to paint the 19th Hussars. In a return to 28mm scale, I’m using Perry Miniatures British Hussars from their excellent “British Intervention Force” series set in the 1860s.

Perry Miniatures

Inspiration for a choice of regiment to paint originally came from some examples of Richard Simkin’s depiction of the regiment found in my collection.

I’ve just the three hussars to paint as a toe in the water. If I’m pleased enough with the end result, I may expand the regiment. Updates on painting progress to follow…

Militia, Volunteers and Kettledrums (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9 Part 3)

To your (no doubt) relief, this is my final instalment on my visit to the Somerset Military Museum. In the first two posts, I showcased exhibits relating to the regular infantry (Somersetshire Light Infantry) and also to the mounted volunteer forces of the county (North Somerset and West Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry). In this third post, I’m taking a look at the county’s Rifle Volunteers and Militia, and also focusing on that mainstay of any military band – drums!

Firstly, below is a tunic featuring a cross-belt from the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry from the period 1881-1902. This was a period when Britain’s Rifle Volunteers were first reorganised to be formally attached to their associated county’s line infantry regiments.

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Major’s tunic, 2nd Somersetshire LI. c.1881-1902

Rifle volunteers were a creation with origins going back to 1859, at a time when Britain was alarmed by the growing threat of Napoleon III’s France. These Rifle Volunteer regiments commonly adopted muted uniform colours such as dark green or grey, in the fashion of other rifle specialists (such as Britain’s own Rifle Brigade or King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Following the Childers Reforms of 1881, these Rifle Volunteers became formally attached to line regiments as numbered volunteer battalions. Hence the original Somerset Rifle Volunteer Corps (formed in 1859) became the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Somersetshire Light Infantry in 1881. They retained their distinctive grey uniform for some years to come, it seems. It has been said of the reforms that many in the regular army were pleased when such ‘amateurs’ didn’t readily adopt scarlet, confirming them as being distinct from the ‘proper’ professionals!

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  • Above: Officer’s coatee, North Somerset Local Militia Light Company c.1808-16.

The genesis of the formation of the militia was Anglo-Saxon and it existed in various forms throughout the centuries. In response to the Napoleonic emergency, seven Somerset local militia regiments were raised early in the 19th century from pre-existing volunteer units, eventually culminating in the establishment of the 1st Somerset Militia. Militia were generally dressed in a manner similar to other regular infantry line regiments.

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The Prince Albert’s (Somersetshire Light Infantry) c.1908 by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927)

In 1908, the Haldane Reforms saw existing reserve forces, such as the militia and yeomanry, reorganised once more. The yeomanry and rifle volunteers became part of the new “Territorial Force”, whilst the militia were formed into the “Special Reserve”. Great military artist Richard Caton Woodville, himself a member of the Berkshire Yeomanry, was commissioned in 1908 to produce a series of portraits depicting this new Territorial Force, including his painting of the above Somersetshire Light Infantry battalion.

Lots of splendid examples of volunteer and militia headdress were on show in the museum, including some examples below:

  • Below Left – Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry officer’s forage cap c.1883-1901
  • Below Right – 2nd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Home Service pattern helmet, c. 1876-1901.

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Also below;

  • Below Left – 3rd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Pill-box forage cap, c.1860-80
  • Below Right – 13th (Frome) Rifle Volunteer Corps, Shako, c. 1860-70. Note the green colours.

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And there were also some militia headdress demonstrating various changing styles of shako worn throughout the 19th Century;

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Various headdress of the Somersetshire Militia.

Finally, concluding the report of the Somerset Military museum, I’d like to showcase some war drums! My photographs below exhibit some of their fine drums on display which included (clockwise from left);

  • Firstly, a drum formerly used on campaign by the 1st Battalion Somerset LI in the 1st Anglo-Afghan War, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and in South Africa! It’s condition can be compared with the more pristine East Somerset militia’s drum. The 1st battalion’s drum can perhaps, given its astonishing history, be readily forgiven for being a little more faded and worn.
  • An East Somerset Local Militia drum, c.1808. Inscribed with the name of the regiment and a George III cypher.
  • A West Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1854. A beautiful object, its worn and fading paintwork tells of how it was presented to the WSYC by the Hon. Col. Portman.
  • A North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1889. Bearing the crest of this yeomanry regiment, it would have been one of a pair carried over the sides of a strong horse.

Regarding that North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum in the photo above (bottom right), my copy of Barlow and Smith’s “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the North Somerset Yeomanry reveals an 1889 photograph of a kettledrummer with his  two instruments atop a large grey drum horse.

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North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrums and drum horse, c.1889.

Kettledrums were often carried with a regimental banner placed over them. However, in the photograph no drum banners are shown and the authors can find no evidence that they were ever carried by the regiment, though certainly it seems that the West Somerset Yeomanry did, as can be seen shown in the cigarette card below issued by Players.

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Another photograph in the book shows the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band posed together with their instruments, including the two kettledrums, and dated 1908. Presumably, the kettledrum in the museum is one of these depicted here. The band would have been dressed similarly to the rest of the regiment; blue forage cap with white band, blue serge coats, white collars and blue overalls with double white stripes.

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The kettledrums on display with the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band, c.1908,

And with all that history now ‘drummed’ into you, I’ll sign off until next time!

Marvin.

Somerset Soldiers (Day Trip #9, Part II)

Continuing my report on the Somerset Military Museum, I’d like to showcase next some of the splendid yeomanry uniforms on display. Mounted volunteers were often amongst the most attractively dressed forces in the British army, being less subject to the more practical uniform concerns brought about by foreign campaigning. Examples of Somerset Yeomanry dress on display included;

  • (Left) North Somerset Yeomanry cavalry, officer’s coatee, c.1843.
  • (Right) West Somerset Yeomanry cavalry, officer’s coatee, c.1812.

The coatee featuring a red plastron belonged to The North Somerset Yeomanry. This force was first raised in Frome in 1798, merging with The East Mendip Corps in 1804, and designated the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry in 1814. By the 1880s, the regiment was designated as a dragoon regiment.

The West Somerset Yeomanry was first raised in June 1794 as an independent troop at Bridgwater. In 1812, they were wearing this Light Dragoon style jacket intricately laced with gold braid. Their headdress at the time would have been Tarleton helmets. By the end of the century, they would have been converted to Hussars.

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Mudford Independent Yeomanry Cavalry helmet, c 1831.

One of my very favourite items of headdress was the dragoon-style helmet worn by the Mudford Independent Yeomanry Cavalry a Taunton troop that was disbanded in 1838. Of a steel and brass construction it had a black crest and a Royal Coat of Arms on a sunburst plate. This troop of yeomanry was involved in suppressing the Reform Riot of 1831 then taking place in the town of Yeovil.

“The Mudford Troop of Yeomanry, under the command of Captain George Harbin of Newton Surmaville, assembled the following morning. The rioters were threatening to sack the town and pelted the Yeomanry with stones and other missiles. However the Yeomanry arrested two of the mob and took them to the Mermaid Inn where the magistrates were assembled. The Mermaid Inn was attacked, windows broken, and the rioters attempted to rescue those that had been arrested. Consequently the Yeomanry were instructed to fire “four in the air, and two at the rioters”. One of the rioters was wounded and the crowd dispersed although the Yeomanry had to provide constant patrols to keep the streets clear and maintain order….

Such were the occasionally unglamorous duties of Yeomanry during the 1830s. Being a volunteer force, their lack of experience might be seen to have contributed to an unfortunate incident during the riot where it was noted that;

One of the Yeomanry, a Trooper named Charles Cattle, accidentally shot himself in the leg.

The two scarlet coatees below are examples from the Mudford Troop of Yeomanry. The one on the right is a Sergeant-Major’s coat and the example on the left belonged to Captain Harbin who originally raised the troop.

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The display of Yeomanry equipment was comprehensive enough to include artefacts relating to their horses too. The museum has this 1873 painting by John Alfred Wheeler of ‘May Queen’, a very fine steed belonging to the Bath Troop of the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry.

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‘May Queen’, Bath Troop, North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry by
John Alfred Wheeler – 1873

Items of horse furniture in the above painting could be compared to some real ones on display. In the bottom photo below can be seen an example of the white throat plume.

  • (top left) An officer’s white gauntlet gloves, spurs, pouch (with George V cypher) and shoulder belt,
  • (top right) North Somerset Yeomanry sabretache
  • (bottom) Yeomanry horse tack including decorative ear and bit bosses, a brown leather bridle with white throat plume, also a ‘bit’ with curb chain.

That doughty chronicler of the late-Victorian era British army, Richard Simkin, depicted the Somerset Yeomanry regiments at the turn of the century (then combined into the ‘4th Yeomanry Brigade’) thus;

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West Somerset and North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry by Richard Simkin (1840-1926)

Simkin’s painting shows clearly the different styles of headdress adopted by the two Yeomanry regiments; the West Somerset were dressed as hussars, and the North Somerset dressed as dragoons. Both styles of headdress were also on display in the museum (see below).

  • Below Left: North Somerset Yeomanry officer’s full-dress dragoon helmet, 1851-1914. (Also visible – an officer’s pill-box forage cap 1880 -1904 can be seen behind and to the right. This style of cap can be seen in Simkin’s painting too.).
  • Below Right: West Somerset Yeomanry full-dress hussar pattern busby, c.1881-1900 (also visible – a North Somerset Yeomanry officers staff pattern forage cap 1956-67.)

And that concludes the part II of the report, leaving a measly one more to go! In the final part will be reviewed the Somerset volunteer infantry forces and also a number of drums…

Somerset Military Museum (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9)

Happily, while on my way back home from holiday I managed to detour and visit the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton. The gallery is a part of the wider Museum of Somerset and contains a collection which covers the following regiments:

· The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s)
· The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry
· The West Somerset Yeomanry
· The North Somerset Yeomanry
· The Somerset Militia, Rifle Volunteers and Territorials
· The Light Infantry and its successor regiment, The Rifles

You will note the above mention of militia, rifles, volunteer and yeomanry, which is something of a particular interest of mine and I wasn’t to be disappointed. I was particularly impressed by the museum’s emphasis on letting the exhibits take centre stage and the whole gallery was very well stocked with uniforms – so I was a particularly happy boy!

Painting of the Sortie from Jellalbad by Daniel Cunliffe
The Sortie from Jellalabad, a painting by Daniel Cunliffe (1801-1871)

Near the entrance to the gallery is the above painting by Daniel Cunliffe which depicts the Siege of Jellalabad, First Afghan War (1838-1842). In it, the 13th Light Infantry are depicted capturing sheep and cattle as part of a successful sortie from Jellalabad in which they were besieged. I was already familiar with some other paintings by Cunliffe, so was pleased to see this one. Another painting that would have been wonderful to view but was unfortunately absent on the day (I think away on loan) was Lady Butler’s “Remnant’s of an Army”. This was the great artist’s iconic depiction of William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jellalabad as the last survivor from the 1842 retreat from Kabul.

The city of Jellalabad in Afghanistan played an important part in the history of the 13th Regiment, the name eventually featuring on their cap badge in recognition of their valour in the conflict. The museum displayed a marvellous uniform worn by Captain George Talbot (below left) of the 13th Light Infantry which he would have been seen wearing on parade in Jellalabad. Also displayed (below right) was a fearsome Afghan dagger taken at the fall of Ghuznee in 1839 and a fabric skullcap worn by the 13th’s Captain George Mein during his captivity.

Taken captive by Afghan leader Mohammad Akbar Khan during the retreat from Kabul, Captain Mein was held for 9 months alongside other British survivors (men, women and children) which included Lady Florentia Sale, the incredibly brave and defiant wife of the regiment’s colonel, Sir Robert. Quite a bit of history seen by that little cloth cap! Large portraits of General and Lady Sale were on display, depicted by the artist George Clint (1770-1854).

The 13th Regiment fought all over the world including the Crimea, Burma, India and South Africa (latterly in both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars). During the Zulu campaign, Major Knox-Leet of the 13th won a Victoria Cross during the disastrous battle of Hlobane and the following day his regiment fought hand to hand with Zulus in the desperate battle of Khambula. The regiment’s band led the British army advance (in square formation) at the concluding battle of Ulundi . The museum had artefacts from the Zulu campaign on display including a Martini-Henry rifle, some Zulu weaponry (see below) and King Cetshwayo kaMpande’s pipe!

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Heavy Zulu iwisa (knobkerries) with a isihlangu (ox-hide shield) taken during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.
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Bust of Lt John Chard of Rorke’s Drift fame. He was not of the 13th Regiment, being a Royal Engineer, but was a local Somerset man.

Anglo-Boer War exhibits included a Boer carving, a century old chocolate box given to troops (with the chocolate still in it) and this helmet below belonging to Corporal Mabey wounded at the battle of Tugela Heights in 1900. Note the hunting horn symbol on his rather campaign-weary pith helmet; an iconic symbol of light infantry troops.

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As I’ve mentioned, the museum was particularly blessed with uniforms such as this sergeant’s from the late 19th / early 20th century. Surrounding it were khaki uniforms and examples of NCOs and officer’s mess uniforms.

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On the right in the photo below can be seen an officer’s sword and scabbard which was carried during the 1st Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), 1st Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) and the Crimean War of 1854, possibly even present during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Few soldier’s swords can claim to have been quite so well-travelled! The sword with the white handle belonged to Lt-General Snow, a former colonel of the regiment.

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You may spy in the above photograph a 1930s Gramophone record which featured the Somerset Light Infantry’s suitably jaunty regimental march called “Prince Albert’s”, performed on record by their band. I believe this march featured in the 1968 film “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Coming up in Part 2 of this post; drums, headdresses and lots of colourful volunteer uniforms abound…

Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #25)

Italeri have produced a number of very impressive Napoleonic cavalry kits and I’m pleased to have finally tackled their Mamelukes set; possibly one of their best.

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It has involved painting a lot of detail in a large range of colours, which in turn has meant a much larger investment in time to produce them. Was it worth it? I like to think so, they are unique in my collection and looks pleasingly colourful.

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Whilst it’s taken quite a while to get them painted, but the sheer exotic value of their turbans, scimitars, etc, etc, has kept me going.

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The Mamelukes made up a very small force in Napoleon’s cavalry, but the impact of their fame gave them an importance far beyond their limited numbers, and it’s no surprise that Italeri and HaT (amongst other manufacturers) have featured them in their range.

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Well, I can now place these figures into the cabinet with the other Nappy Cavalry Project regiments. And that means I can finally get on with packing for my much-needed summer holiday! Until I return, I send my very best wishes to all readers of this humble blog and leave you with the usual regimental biography and photos!

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Now, I wonder if there are any regimental museums where I’m going…


Biography: Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard [France]

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The word “Mameluke” is an Arabic term meaning ‘property’, indicating the status of Mamelukes as being slaves. Since the 9th Century, the Mamelukes were an influential military caste of slaves which rose to become a power in Egypt eventually ruling as the independent Mameluke Sultanate until 1517, and thereafter ruling as vassals of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his French ‘Army of the Orient’ to invade Egypt to both protect French trade and threaten Britain’s own. The most formidable force in the Egyptian army was undoubtedly the Mameluke cavalry. Equipped in an almost medieval fashion, sometimes including chain mail and iron helmets, they were expert horsemen and swordsmen. Armed with curved sabres of very high quality, they could out-fence most conventional cavalry and were observed to have actually sliced through French muskets.

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Napoleon soundly defeated the Mameluke army at the Battle of the Pyramids where he repelled their massed cavalry attacks. The formidable Mameluke cavalry had impressed him, however, as the only effective arm of the Egyptian army. Consequently, on the 14th September 1799, French General Kléber established a mounted company of Mameluke auxiliaries which were soon reorganised into 3 companies of 100 men each known as the “Mamluks de la République”. In 1803, they were again organised into a single company attached to the Chasseurs-à-Cheval of the Imperial Guard.

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Whilst the officers were occasionally French, the rest of the force were at various times made up of Greeks, Egyptians, Circassians, Albanians, Maltese, Hungarians, Georgians and Turks (amongst others. All were armed with a brace of pistols; a long dagger tucked into their waist sash; a mace; and later even a battle-axe.

The Mamelukes served in Poland, Spain and in Russia, fighting at the Battle of Wagram and most notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 where the regiment was granted an eagle and its roster increased to accommodate a standard-bearer and a trumpeter. Service in Spain led to a famous painting by Francisco Goya depicting their charge against the uprising of the citizens of Madrid on 2 May 1808, a massacre which in part led up to the Peninsular War.

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El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid By Francisco de Goya

In 1813, losses accrued over many campaigns meant that the Mamelukes were inevitably reinforced with Frenchmen who were designated as ‘2nd Mamelukes’. Of the 2 companies of Mamelukes, the 1st was ranked as Old Guard and the 2nd as Young Guard.

CHARGE MAMELUKS AUSTERLITZ

On his return to power in 1815, Napoleon issued a decree stating that the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard would include a squadron of Mamelukes. It is not known whether they formed a complete squadron at Waterloo, or simply attached themselves as individuals to various units; Mamelukes were almost undoubtedly present, however.

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Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, there were widespread reprisals against individuals or groups identified with the defeated Napoleonic regime. These included the small number of Mamelukes who were still in the army. Eighteen of them were massacred in Marseilles by vengeful Royalists while awaiting transportation back to Egypt.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.
Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

The brightly coloured Oriental dress and exotic weaponry of the Mamelukes gave them an influence far beyond the small size of their regiment; an influence felt beyond the battlefield into fashionable society! The Mamelukes loyalty to Napoleon was never questioned and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with him and his empire.

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Notable Battles: Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo.

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