Girl Soldier

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A female hussar

Being interested in artistic depictions of military history and uniforms, I occasionally come across images of female soldiers. I’m not referring to genuine servicewomen but instead to a certain genre of illustrations which show women in traditional military uniforms. There can be found examples of real women serving in genuine combat roles in western armies during the 18th and 19th century, Private Hannah Snell of the 6th Regiment of Foot and Marines being a good example (see below), but the illustrations I’m referring to are something entirely different.

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Hannah Snell ‘in her regimentals’ demonstrating military drill in a contemporary print.

Military Maids

Awareness of this topic first came to my attention when I bought a cheap set of trade cards many years ago called ‘Military Maids‘. When she saw them, my wife suggested they looked a bit creepy! She has a point; the ‘maids’ in question seem to be an unsettling mixture of the historically accurate and the suspiciously erotic. In these illustrations, one can see such examples as a beautifully drawn and entirely accurate depiction of a British 4th Light Dragoon in 1854; or a French Empress Dragoon of the Guard; or a splendid grenadier of a Swiss Napoleonic regiment.

The attention to accuracy and detail in the drawings is impressive. Tarleton and Mirliton helmets; Bell Shakos and Uhlan Czapkas; Stovepipe and Waterloo Shakos; Tricornes and Bicornes are all carefully reproduced with an expert knowledge. Furthermore, the quality of the illustrations is very high and a natural pose has been created for each soldier.

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British Yeo(wo)manry… c. 1800?

Did I say entirely accurately depicted? Not quite. Look closer and one realises that they all seem to sport exuberant perms crushed underneath their Czapkas, Shakos and helmets! They also wear high heels (a code of military dress I strongly suspect to also be inaccurate)… The neat cut of their uniforms leaves us in no doubt as to their gender, as well.

This wonderful illustration below, for example, depicts a musician from a lancer regiment holding a ‘serpent’. The serpent is one of my favourite military musical instruments, being so utterly bizarre and exotic. There’s a fine example in my local regimental museum.

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Lancer musician playing a serpent.
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A serpent. Leicestershire Regiment collection.

However, once more I can’t quite shake the impression that it has been deliberately placed in the hands of this ‘military maid’ to ‘perform’ on entirely for its salacious connotations! I do like these cards, but the problem is that I’m not sure what the viewer is supposed to admire here. Are we admiring the fine depictions of historical military uniforms, the skilled illustrations, or the charming lasses who are wearing them? All of it?! It’s that combination of sexy pin-ups and historical military art that creates the unease that my wife quickly identified.

The Ellanbee Girl Soldier Series

I also have in my military art collection a few postcards from a series called “Girl Soldier”. So far as I have discovered, the “Ellanbee Girl Soldier Series” of postcards were produced around the early 1900s (pre-WWI) and depict women in various full-dress British army uniforms of that period. Delightfully illustrated by “Ellam”, they share with the Military Maids series a dedication to historical accuracy, as can be seen in this Gordon Highlander below:

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Corporal, Gordon Highlanders

What they don’t share is quite the same lewdness in presentation. These ladies seem altogether a little more natural and military in their bearing. No peering coquettishly over the shoulder. No high heels, heaving bosoms or tumbling perms here; the only concession to femininity appears to be a possible hint of lipstick and their slender waists – suggestive of an Edwardian-era corset perhaps?! There’s a sense that these are images of ‘girls’ who not only appreciate wearing a fine uniform but are also capable of acting with confidence and bravery in them too.

The woman depicted below is of the Royal Horse Guards and wears a fabulously haughty look, entirely suitable for one in such a prestigious regiment.

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Trooper. Royal Horse Guards

And this lady is from the 12th (Prince of Wales) Lancers, holding her bamboo lance with a natural ease.

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Trooper, 12th (Prince of Wales) Lancers

I’m always looking to add to my modest ‘Soldier Girls’ series collection, but they seem very rare and I can scarcely find anything whatsoever on the internet about the series. I’ve previously discovered two thumbnail views of a Life Guard and a Grenadier Guard, so I’m aware that there were at least those regiments also issued. The artist I believe to be a comic postcard illustrator called William Henry Ellam. Though I can find precious little about him, he seemed to also specialise in anthropomorphic humour (animals acting in a human manner).

Presumably, the idea of these being female and yet dressed like soldiers was intended to be ‘comic’ material for the Edwardian audience, in the same incongruous way that Ellam’s cats dressed in top hats might have been viewed – charming simply for being preposterous. But I find them artistically pleasing in their own right, and it must have been an unusual (if unintentionally) empowering view of womanhood at a time when even universal suffrage had yet to be achieved.

So, if Military Maids was titillating and Soldier Girls was patronising, what does that make me? I’ll dodge the question and simply call myself an incorrigible collector of all types of military artwork!

To end with; below are more images from the Military Maids series and also a card from the Army Careers Information Office circa 1992, featuring (at that time) a more up to date and realistic image of a “girl soldier” in uniform.

Finally, an appeal: any further information on the Soldier Girls series would be gratefully received!

 

British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century: The 3rd Dragoon Guards

A series of regular blog posts displaying images from “British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”; a set of trade cards issued by Badshah Tea Co. of London in 1963. 


#23: The 3rd Dragoon Guards

“The Dragoon Guards originated in 1685 as Cuirassiers and in 1746 they were called the 3rd Regiment of Dragoon Guards. In 1922 they were amalgamated with the 6th Dragoon Guards to form the Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards. This is an officer in mid-Victorian times.”

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Officer, 3rd Dragoon Guards, c.1860.

Sites of interest about the 3rd Dragoon Guards:

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards museum in Edinburgh Castle has exhibits on the 3rd Dragoons Guards (Prince of Wales’ Own).

The National Army Museum’s page on the 3rd Dragoon Guards.

The website of the Cheshire Military Museum covers the 3rd Carabiniers. This regiment was formed in 1922 following the amalgamation of the 3rd Dragoon Guards (Prince of Wales’s) and the 6th Dragoon Guards.

Quick March music of the 3rd Dragoon Guards on YouTube.

Lifeguards on Duty

Tackling painting Zvezda’s Russian Dragoons has certainly been a challenge. In some ways it’s been a simpler task; the uniforms are far less complex than the Hussars I’ve just finished and there’s less of them to paint too (12 rather than 18).

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However, painting them has been more difficult in other respects. The figures are beautifully sculpted but the detail is so very subtle (occasionally almost non-existent on the chest) that applying paint effectively to the right places to pick out the features proves tricky.

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But we like a challenge here at Suburban Militarism, and after some work I think these figures are rather impressive.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve chosen to paint the prestigious Lifeguard Dragoons, rather than one of the many other regiments of the line.

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This figure’s guidon and right arm are still to be glued into place.

There were as many as 36 different Russian dragoon regiments of the line, some having such exotic (to this Englishman at any rate) names as the Starodub, the Taganrog, the Arzamass, the Kazan and the Zhitomir Dragoons. They looked very similar to each other with their plain dark-green jackets but were distinguished by a wide array of different colour facings.

So far as I can tell, the Lifeguard Dragoons, being a part of the Tsar’s elite Guards cavalry, were the only Dragoon regiment to display a red plastron across the front of their jacket. I decided to paint this regiment so that I could make use of this little extra colour.

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Lifeguard Dragoons Officer
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Officer; rear view

The riders are nearly completed (being a much quicker task than those Soum Hussars!). Now for the horses which I have to report come with their own difficulties unique to this particular set; but more of that in my next update!

Shell Shock

As an Easter tradition, my family decorated hard-boiled eggs which we rolled down a nearby grassy hill. My wife and daughter carefully created their colourful egg decorations. No prizes for guessing my design, however…

Presenting the Duke of Omelette’s Own Yolkmanry! Dressed in eggstreamly fine yolk-coloured dolmans, they are commonly seen to parade with other ‘soldiers’.

Oh dear. That’s quite ‘un oeuf’ of all that…

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About to take part in the Charge of the Light Lunch Brigade; the Duke of Omelette’s Own Yolkmanry

“Believe me, nothing egg-cept a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” – The Duke of Wellington.

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The aftermath…

‘Star’ Wars: More Zvezda Figures!

Zvezda is a Russian manufacturer of model kits and figures, their brand name meaning ‘star’ in the Russian language, and it certainly is a star of the Napoleonic cavalry figure world in my opinion. Having already contributed the Lifeguard Cossacks, Red Lancers and French Cuirassiers; and now I’ve just finished their Russian Hussars.

All of these have been consistently amongst the very finest of figures in the entire project. I’ve already a couple more kits by Zvezda stored and ready to paint for the project but yesterday I received another one. This is a set over which I’d prevaricated somewhat; Zvezda’s Russian Dragoons 1812-1814.

 

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My young assistant kindly presents my latest purchases.

It seems that Zvezda have in recent years abandoned the traditional 1/72 box of figures and moved into the production of smaller sets of figures for the purpose of their ‘Art of Tactic’ board game rules. The consequence is that an individual Napoleonic cavalry box now features a mere 3 riders and horses!

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Zvezda Napoleonic Russian Dragoon

There must be a market for this new approach, I suppose, but I confess to being a little mystified as to why anyone would prefer to buy 3 Russian Dragoon figures for the eBay price of commonly around £6.00 (@ £2.00 per mounted figure) as opposed to spending – let’s say – £8.99 for a whopping 18 Russian Cuirassiers (@ £0.50 per figure)! The overall price is admittedly lower than for the traditional kit (sometimes selling for as little as £4.00) but generally it makes the price-per-figure far more expensive. Consequently, building a contingent of a dozen or more figures becomes almost prohibitively costly, that is to say nothing of the cost of painting an entire army.

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By the way, this is not my attempt at a diorama – the ‘landscape’ is purely coincidental!

What’s not in doubt, is that Zvezda make decent figures. If I was to be hyper-critical then I’d say that these dragoons and horses appear a little more stiff and less fluidly animated that in other sets. I’m also a little concerned that they mostly snap together as parts rather than being moulded in one piece, which may cause some issues with painting. Yet they still look good enough to be included in the project. Zvezda’s Napoleonic Russian Dragoons are only available in this new mini-set format and so I’ve purchased four boxes in total (x3 standard Dragoons boxes and x1 Command box) to have enough for one regiment of 12 figures.

It is no surprise therefore that I announce that the 23rd regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project will be another Russian regiment; the Lifeguard Dragoons (in Russian Leib-gvardii Dragunskii Polk). Following on from the extremely detailed and ornate Hussars, Dragoon regiments are conversely much more simple uniforms. No complex braiding or fur-lined pelisse with these troops, just a plain green jacket with grey overalls. I reflected that perhaps it was a little too plain and so opted for the Lifeguard Dragoon regiment rather than one from the line, as the guards at least had the addition of a red plastron on their chest.

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Russian Lifeguard Dragoon 1812

Watch this space for developments, until then Suburban Militarism sends best wishes for the Easter break.

Soum Hussars (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #22)

I’ve praised Zvezda figures so many times on Suburban Militarism that there’s no call to do it again. Hopefully, their very well sculpted figures do all the talking. Preparation is key with Zvezda figures, coating them in PVA glue really helps the paint to stay where it should.

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The Soum (or Sumy) Hussars regiment took over a month to complete and I must confess that the length of time required to finish them was not due to any lack of painting hours on my part. Having 18 figures to paint with so much detail (and no military arm does detail quite like Hussars), meant that there was a big investment in time required to get everything painted. Raising a Hussar regiment was supposed to be more costly than with most other cavalry – and I can vouch for that, in time required to paint them at any rate!

All of which sounds like a grumble, which it certainly isn’t. When figures are this good, it is never a chore. Furthermore, I can hardly complain at having a very generous 18 figures to paint; nobody is forcing me to paint them all! I’ll go as far to say that these Russian Hussars are amongst the very best figures to grace the Napoleonic Cavalry Project and, hopefully, I’ve done them enough justice.

Photos aplenty and some kind of a regimental biography below:


Biography: Soum Hussars [Russia]

Hussars had existed in some form in the Russian army since the mid-17th century. However, by the time of Catherine the Great they had been disbanded. The Soum Hussars (or “Sumy” Hussars) came into existence in 1765 when the Ukrainian Slobodian Cossacks were disbanded and then re-formed into a number of new Hussar regiments.

At this time, a Russian Hussar regiment consisted of 2 battalions with 5 squadrons in each. A squadron had 150 hussars, a commanding officer (captain or rotmistr), and 2 subaltern officers (a senior lieutenant or poruchyk and a lieutenant — cornet). A regiment’s total strength could reach 1,500 sabres.

On June 13, 1806, by a decree of the Military Collegium, the Grodno Hussar Regiment was formed using as its basis the Soum Hussar Regiment’s own 4th Squadron. Later that year, the Soum Hussars joined the Russian army’s intervention in the Prussians war against the French. They featured in the Battle of Czarnowo on the night of 23–24 December 1806 and in the Battle of Pułtusk two days later under Major General Koschin’s cavalry brigade.  The Soum Hussars were also present at the battle of Friedland in Generalmajor Lourkovski’s brigade alongside the Elizabethgrad Hussars and some Lithuanian Uhlans.

At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the Soum Hussars were in the 1st Hussar Division, together with the Grodno, Elizabethgrad and Izoum regiments. They were subsequently in action in the main theatre of operations during the war of 1812. At the great battle of Borodino, the Soum Hussars were attached to the III Cavalry Corps under Barclay de Tolly, positioned in the centre.

 

In 1813, the Soum Hussars saw action in battles throughout the 1813 campaign and in the great ‘Battle of the Nations’ at Leipzig. This extract from Osprey’s account of Leipzig suggests something of the desperate ebb and flow to the fighting as experienced by the Soum (or Sumy) Hussars during this campaign.

“The French grand battery forced the Sumy Hussars to fall back and the first French cavalry attack started… the Sumy Hussars charged the leading French regiment and forced it back. The second French regiment then threw back the Russian Hussars but its advance was halted by the Prussian Neumark Dragoons who in turn were thrown back by the next French Regiment. In the meantime, the Sumy Hussars had rallied…”

As Napoleon retreated after Leipzig, the hussars followed and entered France in 1814. After encounters fought throughout that campaign they marched triumphantly into Paris with the rest of the Allied forces.

After Napoleon’s defeat, many hussar units were awarded collective decorations in honour of their exploits in the War of 1812: St. George’s trumpets (musical instruments awarded for valour) were awarded to the Soum Hussars regiment. The trumpets bore the inscription: “For Distinguished Service in Defeating and Ousting the Foe from Russia in 1812.”

Notable Battles: Friedland, Borodino, Leipzig.

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Note: There appears to be a small single-room museum located in the city Sumy which is dedicated to the Soum Regiment, information can be found here. Now there’s a location for a Suburban Militarism Day Trip!

Anglo-Sikh Wars Exhibition (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #8)

My local museum is currently housing an exhibition dedicated to the Anglo-Sikh Wars 1845-1849. I’ve been a member of the Victorian Military Society since the age of 14 and so was naturally thrilled when I heard of this exhibition coming to my home city. Having been able to pay a visit to it today, I can say that it was well worth the anticipation.

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Anglo-Sikh Wars Exhibition 2017: Battles, Treaties and Relics.

Leicester has a particularly close relationship with India, both historically and culturally. The Leicestershire Regiment was known as ‘the Tigers’ due to its lengthy service in India, and the city’s successful Rugby team is called the same. Today, the city of Leicester has one of the highest populations in the UK of people from the Indian subcontinent (including Sikhs) and these have contributed greatly to the city’s distinct cultural development into the 21st century. With these ties in mind, it makes Leicester an ideal venue for such an exhibition.

When the Anglo-Sikh Wars began, the Sikh army had been equipped and trained in the style of European armies of the time. A number of Napoleonic war veterans came over from Europe to assist ruler Ranjit Singh in creating a well-trained, well-equipped and well-paid fighting force. They were largely successful, but it still remained a European-Sikh hybrid as some of the army retained Sikh traditional dress, weapons and fighting methods due to cultural and religious resistance to the new ideas.

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One of the first exhibits to catch my eye was this ‘foul weather’ czapka below from an officer of the 16th Lancers. The ‘foul weather’ aspect being presumably the black weather-proofing covering the headdress in favour of any other adornment or colour. The chain chinstrap could be unclipped from the back and then reapplied under the chin to a fixing on the side whenever necessary. The 16th Lancers won fame due to repeated charges made at the battle of Aliwal in the First Anglo-Sikh War. Here they successfully charged and broke the Sikh infantry squares which had been arrayed to receive cavalry in the European manner.

The next item of note was another example of military headdress. This wonderfully ornate cloth headpiece was ‘worn by officers at the battle of Aliwal’. Presumably, the curatorial staff are referring to the Sikh officers here, but it doesn’t specify which particular arm of the Sikh (or Khalsa) army. It might be a cavalry officer’s headpiece. Sikh cavalry consisted of a regular force trained in the European style of warfare, and a more irregular force known as the Gorchurra who were made up of the nobility and gentry of the Sikh kingdom. The Gorchurra resisted the European style military dress so I’m guessing that this fancy piece might be a feature of the Gorchurra?

One of the artefacts on display was already familiar to me as I’d seen it last year in Worcester during another Day Trip, it being on loan for this exhibition from the Mercian Regiment Museum there. A Sikh prince, or other high-ranking officer may well have worn this coat (below left and centre). The extremely detailed braiding at the back of the jacket could now be seen by me thanks to it’s relocation. It’s a terrific item and looks like it could easily be from the British army; albeit as a vastly more elaborate version than the peculiarly plain example worn by an officer of the 53rd regiment on the right.

Some battlefield relics I found particularly interesting, such as the piece of red cloth “cut from the sleeve of a Colour-sergeant of the 53rd Regiment mortally wounded on the battlefield of Sobraon Feb 10th 1846 and given at his request to Major Thomas Mowbray“. The scarlet still remains vivid against his sergeant’s stripe even to this day.

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This Sikh artilleryman’s sword was another battlefield relic, the inscription on the blade records how it was found lying close the body of a cornet in the 16th Lancers after the battle of Aliwal, 1846.Anglo sikh wars exhibition (22)

Not all battlefield relics were of a military nature, though. A British officer’s bible taken into the battle of Chillianwallah was on display as was this Sikh manuscript was found at the battle of Ferozeshah. The item contained compositions by Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib. Lying below it can be seen two sharp circular Sikh Chakkars (war quoits) and deadly-looking Tulwars (swords) taken during the wars.

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Below can be seen two British army swords, the larger being an infantry officers sword. The smaller is an 1821 pattern Light Cavalry Sabre as used by a Sergeant in the 16th Lancers. The exhibition included reports of how inferior the blunt British cavalry sabres were when compared to the razor-sharp Sikh versions.
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There were a number examples of hand-drawn maps on display, these were sketches of battlefield and siege dispositions. I was also pleased to see reproductions of contemporary paintings on the war a number of which were by the artist Henry Martens depicting actions at the battles of Ramnuggur, Sobraon, Mudki and Aliwal. The artist Henry Martens could even possibly be a source for a later post, I think.

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“The 62nd Regt on the 2nd Day of Ferozeshah” by Henry Martens

Congratulations are to go to the Sikh Museum Initiative, The Newarke Houses Museum and the many others involved in making this exhibition happen. It remains on until the 4th July 2017 and comes very well recommended by Suburban Militarism!

British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century: The 4th Queen’s Own Dragoons

A series of regular blog posts displaying images from “British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”; a set of trade cards issued by Badshah Tea Co. of London in 1963. 


#22: The 4th Queens Own Dragoons

“The regiment was raised in 1685 and numbered the 4th in 1742. In 1788 it became the 4th Queen’s Own Dragoons and was then converted to Hussars in 1861. The uniform of the regiment as it was about 1808 is shown here.”

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Trooper, 4th Queen’s Own Dragoons, c.1808.

Sites of interest about the 4th Queen’s Own Dragoons:

The International Churchill society have this detailed history on Winston Churchill and his time in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars.

The Wikipedia page on the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars.

A good summary of the regiment’s history here on “The British Empire” website.

The museum of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Musings on the Napoleonic Cavalry Project

As work continues steadily on the horses and men of the Soum Hussars, my 22nd regiment in the Nappy Cavalry Project, I’ve been thinking about possible future regiments to tackle also. There are plenty of other 1/72 scale plastic Napoleonic cavalry kits still out there, but they are of varying quality and style.

HaT are wonderfully prolific in their coverage of Napoleonic subjects, and their excellent range of figures are of a consistent standard. Whilst decent sculpting, I confess that they seldom excite me enough to include them in the project. I certainly can’t disparage them – they’re fine – but neither can I say they demand inclusion. They are somewhat lacking for me in some manner and are more suited to creating an overall wargaming spectacle, rather than my emphasis on detail painting.

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Nice enough – but not quite Nappy Cavalry Project material: HaT chasseurs a cheval

Strelets are another manufacturer who are prolific in their Napoleonic range. Now, I do love Strelets figures, indeed I have ‘far too many’ of their sets in their Crimean War and Russo-Turkish 1877 War ranges. Yet, I’ve not included any of their Napoleonic cavalry in my project and neither am I likely to.

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More ‘corpulent carthorse’ than ‘elegant equine’: a Strelets horse

The reason is that first of all, Strelets’ style is perhaps just a little too unique to fit easily into the project. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, while their riding figures can be good, their horses are relatively disappointing. I’m not sure I could comfortably ‘stable’ their stocky equines with some of the more finely sculpted horses as provided by the likes of Zvezda, Revell, Italeri or Waterloo 1815.

Yet despite a number of other cavalry sets in my possession awaiting attention, one new set came through the post only yesterday:

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Mars Austrian Uhlans (1805-1815)

Mars is a manufacturer that I’ve never painted before, so this should be interesting. Furthermore, Austria is a nation not yet included in the project either. It’s a little eccentric this set; there are three figures standing and holding a rearing horse which has not been specifically provided (presumably the other horses might suffice if one were to ditch some mounted riders instead).

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A Uhlan struggling to lead an invisible horse…

Despite being lancers, there’s only one figure shown holding a lance while the lances themselves are swamped in flash and lack any pennants. Indeed, flash is something of a problem with this set. It seems that the quality of Mars output is a little varied, but this one slipped under my radar a little and on close analysis I still like the sculpting and think they are worthy of inclusion.

Like their riders, the horses are certainly in dramatic poses. They are also afflicted by some flash which I will have to carefully remove, but anatomically I think they look pretty good.

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Plastic surgery required: Mars’ horses look good despite some flash on their faces.

Despite some reservations then, I think there are still enough good sets out there to provide me with possibly another 6 or 7 regiments. There are also a number of figures that I’ve previously tackled which I’d love to revisit and paint up as an alternative regiment (more Prussian Hussars or some Polish Lancers, anyone?). All of which means that there could be up to a dozen more regiments in the project to come in the future.

Well, you have been warned…

British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century: The 14th Light Dragoons

A series of regular blog posts displaying images from “British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”; a set of trade cards issued by Badshah Tea Co. of London in 1963. 


#21: The 14th Light Dragoons

“The regiment was raised as Dragoons in 1715, converted to Light Dragoons in 1776, to Hussars in 1861 and in 1922 was amalgamated with the 20th Hussars. This is an officer of the regiment at the beginning of the 19th Century.”

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Officer, 14th Light Dragoons, c.1800.

Sites of interest about the 14th Light Dragoons:

The Museum of Lancashire in Preston houses a gallery dedicated to the 14th/20th King’s Hussars and it’s precedents including the 14th Light Dragoons.

In 2016, I painted Warwickshire Yeomanry Cavalry using 28mm Perry Miniatures Light Dragoons in this same guise (wearing the Tarleton helmet, etc) albeit with different colours.

A good summary of the regiment’s history here on “The British Empire” website.