I need to talk about Christmas. I know – it’s far too early to do that, but I need to make some preparations, you see? A feature of the season, for Suburban Militarism at least, is the tradition of painting some suitably seasonal soldiers to parade on the mantelpiece among all the tinsel, Christmas cards and decorations.
In previous years, I’ve exclusively painted soldiers from Revell’s Austrian Infantry of the 7 Years War. These troops have been painted purely for decoration in bright colours and the seasonal army so far consists of two infantry regiments. The 1st Noel Regiment of Foot were the first figures I produced some years ago. The Yule Grenadiers followed a couple of years ago. I’ve been quietly adding a handful of men to each of them each Christmas time.
This year, I thought I’d expand the seasonal army with the addition of another arm; the cavalry. Using Revell’s 7 Years War Austrian Dragoons and Prussian Hussars, I am creating the beginnings of two Christmas cavalry regiments;
The Christingle Dragoons
The Carolling Hussars
For the past week, I’ve been working on four figures from the Carolling Hussars using Revell’s Prussian Hussars. The uniform I’ve chosen is based upon a real regiment, the Puttkamer Hussars of the Prussian army. Originally named the White Hussars, they took on the name of their colonel Georg Ludwig von Puttkamer (who was subsequently at the brutal battle of Kunersdorf).
I thought the Puttkamer Hussar’s all-white pelisse looked suitably wintry for my seasonal hussar regiment. For the ‘light blue’ dolman and overalls, I selected the colour turquoise. To add a little festive cheer to that all-black Mirleton headgear, I’ve glued on a little piece of tinsel!
I haven’t painted Revell’s Prussian Hussars of the 7 Years War before now. They are as finely sculpted as other Revell cavalry I’ve painted such as the Napoleonic Life Guards.
Finally, as with all my other Christmas figures, I’ve depicted them riding in snow (…deep and crisp and even)! My 11-year-old daughter has previously designed flags for both the Yule Grenadiers and the 1st Noel Regiment. On seeing my Carolling Hussars, she immediately requested that she design their colours too. To do this, I might need to attempt a conversion of one of the figures (not a skill of mine!), as Prussian hussars didn’t carry colours into battle during the 7 Years War and therefore don’t appear in Revell’s kit.
With Advent looming, I’ve already begun four more figures for the other Christmas cavalry regiment; the Christingle Dragoons. More on those figures soon. Hopefully, they should be ready in time to take their place on the mantelpiece here at Suburban Militarism, alongside hand-picked representatives of the Carolling Hussars, the Yule Grenadiers, and the 1st Noel infantry.
Who once said “Christmas isn’t Christmas without model soldiers”? Well, it might have been me…
The fourth and final group of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. The group are depicted in the hot sands of Kassassin, Egypt in 1882. It was here that the Post Office Rifles (known officially as the Army Post Office Corps or APOC) came under fire from Colonel Urabi’s Egyptian army (see my previous post on this). I know that they took no casualties and am assuming for the purposes of this project that they actually returned fire.
In my little diorama, the men of the Post Office Rifles have formed a firing line, variously loading, firing or assessing their shots under the instruction of an officer.
I’ve added a few arid looking plants to the sand and rocks. Given the hot and dusty conditions, I’ve dry-brushed some of the desert onto their puttees and trousers to make them look suitably campaign-weary.
Ah, those puttees… As mentioned in a previous post, I rashly began painting them with Indian army style puttees rather than selecting figures with leather gaiters, which is what they would have worn. Never mind, putting puttees aside, I still think it gives a nice impression of these men taking part in the 1882 Egyptian campaign.
I took some time playing around with the white foreign service pattern helmets. Too much shading and the white helmet looks unnatural; too little shading and it looks too bright. After some last-minute tinkering, I think they look satisfactory.
That’s all from my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project; for the foreseeable future at least. Next up on the Suburban Militarism “To Do” list are a number of possible figures. The ongoing Napoleonic Cavalry Project has been in hiatus since July and I’m about ready to tackle another regiment.
But creeping quickly up on us all, of course, is Christmas and with that in mind I’ve some more figures under way for what has been something of a seasonal tradition at Suburban Militarism – Christmas Soldiers! More about this soon.
My fourth, and for now last, group in my series of Victorian Rifle Volunteers I can now reveal will be the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, more famously known as “The Post Office Rifles“.
In 1860, the Civil Service Rifles (aka 21st Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps) contained a number of companies consisting exclusively of General Post Office workers. Seven years later, over 1000 of these GPO men volunteered for service as Special Constables in response to terrorist acts by the so-called Fenians (Irish Nationalists). Once the threat had subsided, these men went on to form a new separate corps, the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles), later being renumbered as the 24th. They wore dark grey uniforms with scarlet facings.
In 1882, a group of over 100 men of the GPO serving with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers volunteered for active service in Egypt with General Wolseley’s army. The intention was that the army could make use of their postal and telegraph expertise in the course of communication duties. They were duly formed as the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) by Queen Victoria’s Royal Warrant on the 22nd July 1882.
During their service in Egypt, they became notable for being the first men of the rifle volunteer movement to see action and win a battle honour (Egypt 1882). They came under fire during the action at Kassassin, taking no casualties. This battle was a skirmish prior to the main action at Tel-el-Kebir where the Egyptian army under Col. Urabi was defeated by Wolseley. I found a contemporary poem on the skirmish at Kassassin, from which this extract below gives a sense of the hardships experienced by these volunteers.
RAINED on all day by the sun,
Beating through helmet and head,
Through to the brain.
Inactive, no water, no bread,
We had stood on the desolate plain
Till evening shades drew on amain;
And we thought that our day’s work was done,
When, lo! it had only begun.
Extract from the poem “At Kassassin” by Arthur Clark Kennedy, 1891.
After the war, their service was considered a great success, General Wolseley stating that
“The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful… I have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt …Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion…”
The Gordon Relief Expedition in 1885 saw the next active service of the corps and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 being the subsequent venture. But it is the Kassassin incident during the Egyptian campaign which I intend my figures to depict.
Now I come to admit to what can only be described as something of a figure modelling gaffe! Let me explain…
So far as I can tell, the PO Rifles should be depicting wearing leather gaiters on their lower legs. I have figures a plenty I could have used for these but, inexplicably, the Perry Miniatures figures that (for some reason) I chose to begin painting wear puttees instead. Below left shows the figures with gaiters and right with puttees.
Puttees were in use at this time by some British forces but almost certainly not by the PO Rifles. After some consideration however, I’m ploughing on with them regardless rather than abandoning them for figures with gaiters. Ultimately, I just really like these figures and poses, so Post Office Rifles with puttees it is. Who knows, maybe they did actually wear them?
And anyway; as I always say, ‘my figures – my rules‘!!!
The figures are already approaching completion so expect an update on progress soon.
The third vignette of groups of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. It took a little longer than planned thanks in no small part to the unwelcome appearance of a gastric virus which has laid me low for a few days. Feeling a little better today, I charged for the finishing line by finishing the basing and popping on the plaque. I feel pretty satisfied with these figures, although the blue shading on their puttees hasn’t really come out on the photographs as I’d hope.
At the last moment, I decided to dispose of the usual distance marker and so just have them all blazing away on a local range.
One of the things that I do like about these Perry Miniatures figures is the ability to create one’s own poses by twisting a limb or positioning some figures to suggest a narrative.
I particularly like these two figures below, depicting a sergeant and a private deep in conversation while their officer issues some instructions behind them to the group.
Likewise,although I was initially unsure whether a figure (2nd from right below) would work, but now appreciate how he appears to be gazing off down the rifle range after the target, assessing his shot.
These figures came with backpacks which I chose to retain, seeing as the group on the cover of the book “Riflemen, Form!” which inspired my choice of corps could also be seen wearing their full kit. Also, their facings are described as being buff coloured, not yellow, and so I repainted the collars. Their cuffs are shown on the colourised photograph as being black or navy blue, not buff, and I’ve retained this simply to match the photo as much as possible. Oh – and, ah, …I’ve just realised that I need to finish the shoulder straps!
So far in my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project I’ve depicted three corps:
My Victorian Rifle Volunteers Project has at least one more group to come before the end of this year. And this next group I intend to depict as being in action against a real enemy rather than shooting defenceless targets out on the rifle range! Students of Victorian military history may therefore be able to guess the rifle volunteer corps I have in mind – others will have to wait to a forthcoming post!
We are not armed to carry war To near or distant land To steep the smiling globe with gore Or prowl with hostile band. But we are trained with trust above To guard our native coast, Our Queen, our fame – our home we love, And those we love the most.
Alfred Richards, “Our Volunteers”, 1860.
As I indicated in recent post, my third subject for my Victorian Rifle Volunteer project is the 3rd City of London RVC, a small group of whom featured on the cover of a book on the topic of the Rifle Volunteers that I’d been reading; Ian Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form!” My figures are nearing completion, yet there’s still plenty to do including much of their equipment, and of course their base (being another rifle range on a wooden plinth).
One of the key instigators of the early Victorian rifle volunteer movement was a journalist, playwright and poet called Alfred Bate Richards who personally enlisted 1000 men to form the ‘Workmen’s Volunteer Brigade’.
This brigade later became formally known as the 3rd City of London Rifle Volunteer Corps, the same depicted by my figures. Its uniform was scarlet with buff yellow facings and brass buttons. In January 1862, Richards came in for some ridicule when he proposed changing his men’s original kepis and shakos headdress to a bearskin and a red plume, despite the financial difficulties experienced by his corps. Eventually, they adopted the Home Service pattern spiked helmet seen worn by these figures.
Richards was also active in raising money to send a force of volunteers, the ‘British Legion’, to assist the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi in his campaign of liberation. Many of the ‘Garibaldi Excursionists’, as the Legion was known, were members of the new Rifle Volunteer Corps, perhaps some even from his own 3rd London RVC. This attracted controversy, particularly when the politically neutral government sought to discourage moves for the 3rd London RVC to personally entertain Garibaldi on a visit.
The men were generally less well-off than some other London RVCs recruited from the professions and middle classes, although some financial support was received from the City of London and the Livery Companies.
Without its own drill hall, its parades were held variously at central London locations such as Regent’s Park, the Ditch of the Tower of London and at Gray’s Inn Square. Formal inspections and award ceremonies were held in London’s Guildhall, whilst their annual inspection was carried out at Horse Guards Parade (very prestigious!). Church parades were held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street and the corps headquarters were at various locations within the square mile of the City of London.
Alfred Richards recruited his friend, Major General Beatson of the Bengal Army, to be the 3rd London RVC’s honorary colonel for a period. Being a corps made up of generally less wealthy men than many other London corps, it was in need of a patron with money and Richards eventually persuaded a baronet to become its corps commandant and replacement Honorary Colonel, with Richards acting in the capacity as major and second in command.
Having a poet as their founder it was appropriate that their motto was a quote from the Roman poet Virgil; “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work conquers everything). Another poet who was a vocal supporter of the Rifle Volunteer movement was the poet laureate, Lord Tennyson. He wrote to Richards congratulating him on having been a key instigator of the movement and added, “I hope you will not rest from your labours until it is the law of the land that every man-child born in it shall be trained to the use of arms.’ Quite a surprising aim, perhaps, for men of the ‘pen’ to be striving for widespread use of the ‘sword’!
Next update will hopefully include the based figures themselves, though with a couple of other projects on the go it may take a couple of weeks to finally get there. Oh well, “Labor Omnia Vincit”, to quote Virgil!
Finding myself in Norfolk for a couple of day’s holiday, I took the opportunity to visit the Muckleburgh Collection near Weybourne. Situated right on the north Norfolk coastline, it is the site of a former military camp dedicated to training anti-aircraft personnel. This privately owned museum today houses many impressive exhibits of 20th century artillery, armoured vehicles, heavy tanks and missiles, etc.
But it also contains the largest collection of exhibits from the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry and, eschewing much of the modern military hardware on display, it was this collection that (unsurprisingly) attracted Suburban Militarism for a brief visit.
In preparation for the visit, I referred to two books in my possession; Volume 12 of the “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the Norfolk Yeomanry, and the excellently written 2012 book “The Loyal Suffolk Hussars” by Margaret Thomas and Nick Sign.
The gallery was a wealth of information and exhibits. It was unfortunate, however, that many of them were grouped behind a large glass partition in a separate area. The lighting was good however and one had to admire at a slightly greater distance than this military history nerd would have liked.
The Norfolk Yeomanry had an intermittent history, coming in and out of existence a number of times since its establishment. Forming and reforming thereafter in various guises until finally disbanding in 1867. It was not until after the Boer War in 1902 that the Norfolk Yeomanry was again re-raised as the King’s Own Royal Regiment. This was thanks in no small part to the keen interest and patronage of His Majesty King Edward the VII, the regiment’s own honorary colonel.
Such influence enabled it to resist the encroachment of khaki and also saw it involved in a number of prestigious royal escort duties. This re-raised KORR had a unique and attractive full dress uniform which included this glorious black-japanned helmet with a warm yellow falling plume, an ordinary ranks helmet that I found on display. Within the partitioned area, I later spied an officer’s version of this helmet with a central star inside the laurel wreath. To the left of the photo below can just be seen some yellow cord aiguilettes, possibly used by a bandsmen of A Troop.
The distinctive yellow facings could be seen on displayed mess jackets and also on an unusual lancer-style coat with this stark yellow plastron with Full Dress pouch (left). This unusual Levee Order tunic featured laced facings was worn between 1903-1914. The mess jacket on the right partially conceals an intricately ornamented cream mess vest underneath.
The Norfolk Yeomanry for a short time (1901-1904) switched to this Colonial Pattern helmet with a brass spike. Ordinary ranks had a plain drab pagri wrapped around the helmet, while officers were distinguished by a blue version as seen in the helmet I discovered below.
Unlike their northern brethren, the Suffolk Yeomanry managed to more or less maintain a constant presence since its inception, in part relying on recruiting additional troops from neighbouring counties whose yeomanry had disbanded, such as Norfolk. By 1855, the title of “The Loyal Suffolk Yeomanry” was in use, with the adopted uniform being of a rifle green hussar style uniform to match (see below). This later became navy blue with red facings, a colour which would also appear on their caps.
Examples of their busbies (red bags and white plumes) were displayed, together with officer’s epaulettes and undress headgear such as the red coloured pillbox and field service caps. The yellow cap seen below with the GviiR cypher is of the Norfolk Yeomanry.
Some of the most interesting helmets on display were the behind glass partition. These included a Tarleton in fine condition from the green-coated Norfolk Rangers (c.1789), a helmet of the Swaffam Troop missing its crest and badge (c.1798), an officer’s imposing bicorne hat, and three fine Suffolk Yeomanry Cavalry helmets from around 1815 (centre left photo).
Always a pleasure to discover interesting artworks and images on the walls of a collection, aside from the large canvas already mentioned, some others that caught my eye included these below.
Left: An oil painting of the Suffolk Artillery Brigade Militia parading with their artillery pieces just visible lined up in the background.
Right: A fine watercolour of the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry) in camp around the turn of the last century.
Also, these interesting images of:
Norfolk Volunteer Artillery mounted on a limber, photographed on Mousehold heath, 1895.
A very old pencil sketch of the ‘favourite charger of Major Edgar’ (Colonel of the Suffolk Yeomanry), found in a local market.
A number of accoutrements caught my eye including a fine brass pouch belt buckle of Norfolk’s Clackclose Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry (1796). Some of the exhibit labels confused me though; the labels for the Norfolk Yeomanry and the 3rd Norfolk Rifle Volunteer Corps belt buckles below appear to have been mixed up!
A visit to a yeomanry collection is incomplete without seeing some ornate sabretaches and this collection had plenty to view. The red Loyal Suffolk Hussars sabretache developed to include a reference to being the Duke of York’s Own. Other examples included the Suffolk Borderers (bottom left) and the Norfolk Light Horse (centre bottom) which were a mounted corps developed out of the Rifle Volunteer movement in 1860 and which lasted until 1867.
Finally, a particular interest of mine of late is the colourful and decorative yeomanry bands and it was pleasing to see the Norfolk Yeomanry’s own represented in the form of yellow cord aiguilettes, two drum banners and a pair of gilt embossed kettledrums. Note the portrait of an Norfolk Yeomanry officer wearing that Levee Order dress uniform mentioned earlier (left).
On a very final note, your reporter was delighted to find in the collection a whole separate room of model soldiers, more on this perhaps in another post…
Just a quick update on my painting exploits here at Suburban Militarism. The past couple of months has seen my latest project (Victorian rifle volunteers) take shape with mini dioramas of the Cheshire Greys and the Robin Hood Rifles. I can announce that the third instalment has finally begun.
These figures arms and heads have been glued and the whole thing primed. Indeed, the first lick of paint has been applied and, after the grey Cheshires and green Notts rifle volunteers, you will notice they are being painted scarlet – a more familiar colour for a British soldier at this time. The majority of Rifle Volunteer Corps initially had red tunics and later the government stipulated that any change of colour to existing RVC uniforms had to be red.
Another thing that is slightly different about these figures are the puttees around the calves rather than the leather leggings worn by my previous two corps. Essentially, my idea is to recreate the men depicted in a colourised photograph on the front of “Riflemen, Form!”, a book studying the Victorian rifle volunteer movement which I read recently.
The group in the 1896 photograph of the 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps (11th Volunteer Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps), posing nonchalantly with a Gatling Gun. They are wearing red tunics with yellow facings, white leather equipment, spiked Home Service helmets, and white trousers with dark blue puttees.
To enable me to replicate this dress, I’ve purchased some loose sprues of Perry Miniatures Afghanistan War British Infantry figures which feature the puttees seen in the photograph. This set, however, doesn’t come with the home service helmets so I’ve used those which came with Perry’s Zulu War kit.
I’ll be back with more pics once I’ve progressed this group a little further!