Belgium’s Carabinier Bicyclists

“The reasons of the success of the soldier-cyclist are not far to seek. In the first place it must be realised that his mount, unlike that of the cavalryman, is silent in progress. This gives him an enormous advantage over his noisy foe… But silence is by no means the cyclist’s sole advantage. He has a good turn of speed, which is a factor useful alike in attack and retreat.

“… the ability to take cover often spells the difference between victory and defeat, and here the cyclist scores distinctly. He has but to lay his mount down flat upon the ground and it is practically invisible.” Cycling Weekly Magazine, October 1914.

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Cycling and Soldiering

Cycling and soldiering may at first appear to some to seem almost mutually exclusive. Cycling, particularly of the sort from over a century ago, may suggest a rather quaint pursuit. It may bring to mind scenes of gently wayfaring Edwardian ladies riding prettily through leafy English lanes, or middle class gentlemen with their tweed suits and flat caps. Yet, as the mass industrialised slaughter of the Great War began, cyclist battalions were a common feature in many armies. Indeed, the very first British army casualty of the Great War was to be a cyclist.

On August 21, 1914, in southern Belgium, a 17-year old British soldier named John Henry Parr was sent on a mission with another reconnaissance cyclist to obtain information on the German army’s position. While offering covering fire for his comrade, who escaped on his bike, Parr was shot and killed, thus becoming the first British soldier to die in the Great War. The Bicycle Times, “From the Archives – World War I: Cycling Into Battle”, 27 Dec 2016.

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Germany, USA, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, France, Belgium and others all had their own cycling forces too. Great Britain had 14,000 cyclist troops in 1914. In the French and Belgian forces during WWI, an estimated 150,000 troops had made use of the army bicycle at various times. The practice was by no means exclusive to WWI, either. In fact, I painted some metal WWII Dutch army cyclists by Early War Miniatures for a Benno’s Figures Forum Group Build a couple of years ago. Surprisingly perhaps, the practice continues right up to the present day with some troops adopting the cycle for patrols even when deployed in global hotspots.

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German army cyclists, c.1910

The use of the bicycle in warfare first began to be initially explored in the British army by militia and volunteers, not in the more conservative regulars. Cyclist manoeuvres involving volunteer units was first held in 1880 and repeatedly thereafter gathering support amongst those who could see in their use great tactical advantage, speed of movement, and affordability. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even argued the case for the Yeomanry switching from horse to cycles. Bicycles, it was argued, were silent and swift, increasing mobility on the battlefield for troops. They enabled soldiers to carry more equipment and were far easier to replace when compared to horses or vehicles and required minimal maintenance.

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The Anglo-Boer War gave the first significant opportunity for the British army to explore the bicycle in warfare. It was used by both the British and the Boers, although it met with some opposition by disdainful cavalry commanders at the time. It also came in for criticism as some general staff questioned its ultimate value on the rugged terrain of the ‘trackless veldt’.

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Caption reads: “A man of the “Handy Corps” –
“Handy afoot, handy awheel swift as a bolt from the blue,
Ready to ride and ready to tramp, seeing the business through;
Always there in the nick of time, always right up to the fore,
Eager to take their share in this fight are the men of the Handy Corps”

The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum describes the types of bicycle used by the military:

“There were two types of military bicycle: the roadster and the folding bicycle. Armies experimented with bicycles from the earliest era, but they were not generally accepted until cycle design had evolved sufficiently to produce a robust machine capable of withstanding typical military use. Roadsters were ideal for dispatch riders. Folding bikes were used first by Italian and French armies, and the Faun design, patented in 1896, was used by various British manufacturers, culminating in BSA’s well-known WW1 Folding Bicycle.” The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum

Belgian’s Bicycle Battalions

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With the advent of WWI, the thickly-roaded districts of France and Flanders meant that military cyclists would find the ground better suited for their wheels than combatants found in the South African veldt. The flat landscape of the low countries meant that Belgium in particular was an ideal environment for military cyclists and they were well used in the initial stages before the static stalemate of the trenches set in.

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French WWI chasseur cyclists by the roadside.

Four Carabinier battalions of the Belgian army had attached companies of cyclists. They wore a distinctive uniform with a somewhat old-fashioned peaked hat similar to a kepi. Their cycles were the “Belgica” which was a foldable cycle. This allowed the bicycle to be slung across the shoulder when encountering difficult terrain.

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A dedicated military cycling school in Belgium provided troops with specific training in reading maps, reconnaissance and communication techniques, as well as the mechanical skills needed to maintain the bicycles. Innovation with the military bicycle was rife:

While attempts to convert them into actual weapons by mounting machine guns on handlebars and makeshift sidecars ultimately failed, the bicycle did prove to be very adaptable during the war. Bicycle ambulances were created by welding two bicycles together, side by side, and placing a stretcher in between them. Tandem bikes allowed for a primary pilot to sit at the front and a gunner at the rear. And some bikes were rigged to tow machine guns and other small artillery into position. The Bicycle Times.

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The German invasion of Belgium began on 4 August 1914 and their own Jaeger cyclists went ahead of the infantry with leaflets requesting calm from Belgian civilians. Reconnaissance was often made by bicycle but the cyclist troops were also often hotly engaged, being the first into contact with the enemy. At the very first battle in Belgium, at Halen, the Belgians successfully repulsed German cavalry attacks with a force which included a company of 450 cyclists. Their concealed massed rifle fire inflicted large casualties upon the Germans.

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Model soldier manufacturer HaT has recently produced a couple of WWI cyclist sets for German Jaeger and Belgian Carabinier cyclists, and it’s the latter which I’m currently working on for my latest edition in my WWI project.

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My assistant presents…

The cycles themselves are already painted, as you can see below, and are simply awaiting their riders which I’ll be presenting as soon as I’ve finished painting and mounting them on their bikes!

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Parked ready for their cyclists – a dozen 1/72 scale WWI Belgian army bicycles.

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Exhausted Belgian army cyclists at rest by a roadside.

 

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Marrion’s Men #4: Officer, Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry

In what, for the time being, will be my last post on my series of R.J.Marrion-inspired figures, I present an officer of the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry in Parade Dress from the period 1905-1914.

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This figure is based on an illustration by R.J. Marrion appearing on the cover of #4 book in Barlow and Smith’s series on “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force 1794-1914”; the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry.

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The figure arrived through the post partly base-coated and with its own plinth…

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I re-primed it with some matt black paint and got started…

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54mm is still a new scale to me and I found painting this figure surprisingly challenging, getting the shade and colours to my satisfaction was like dabbling in alchemy. I made a good number of revisions and I think I’m satisfied with the result. Even attaching the figure to its new plinth involved some drilling, fashioning a short metal pin and some glue; such practical activities are never my forte but it’s worked –  it remains upright!

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The Uniform:

The Barlow and Smith book describes the uniform in the following detail:

The scarlet serge frock

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…the new serge frock was entirely scarlet except that there was a trefoil in mixed silver and red cord on the cuffs and similar cord all around the collar forming eyes below the top edging. On the collar were white gorget patches with a central horizontal red stripe and a lozenge-shaped button near the ends of the patch.

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Officer’s scarlet serge patrol frock, 1897-1914.

There were shoulder chains on scarlet backing and a scarlet waist band or self-belt secured in front of the lowest button. The frock had patch and pleated breast pockets and patch pockets below the waist; five silver lozenge-shaped buttons down the front, a smaller lozenge button on each breast pocket flap and one on each shoulder chain. 

I’ve painted the trefoil and collar cord white and scarlet, the former standing out better to the eye than the prescribed silver.

The blue overalls

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The Overalls were dark blue with double silver lace stripes mounted on scarlet cloth, showing scarlet edges and a blue light between the stripes. Wellington boots in dismounted duty with box spurs.

That was all a little too detailed for my liking, even on a 54mm figure. My stripes are basically silver with some kind of red in there too – and that will have to be sufficient!

The forage cap

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Barlow and Smith have a close-up picture of the cap (above) featuring a different badge post-dating the ‘three sprigs of heather’ which features on my figure. It describes the cap thus:

In about 1905 a very striking staff pattern, peaked, forage cap (Fig. 27) was introduced for the officers. It was scarlet, with a white band and piping in the crown seam, and a black chin-strap held by two silver lozenge -shaped buttons. The black patent leather peak had a silver-braided edge for the field officers. A silver badge of three sprigs of heather was worn. 

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It’s certainly a striking feature. Again on my figure, for the silver edge on the peak, I’ve opted for white with a touch of silver so that it stands out more cleanly.

The pouch belt and pouches

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“In about 1902 a pouch with solid silver flap and red leather box was introduced (Fig. 15); it had oak leaf engraving on the flap and the same device as [the previous] cloth-faced pouch, but with the King’s crown all in gilt, entwined and reversed. This pouch was probably introduced for general wear, such as church parades in order to save the embroided type for levees.”

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The sword

In a previous post about the third figure in my series of Marrion’s Men, I mentioned the very kind lady who is the widow of the original owner of these wonderful figures. She unexpectedly forwarded to me a couple of swords which had been found lying around which she hoped would suit the one that I was missing. Although it wasn’t quite right for the Sharpshooter figure, it has proved perfect for this WCYC figure and nestles under the crook of his arm perfectly. For all I know, it may even be the original sword which came with this figure.

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Quite honestly, it feels good to finish some of these figures which were once started by her husband but which, unfortunately, he was unable to complete during his lifetime. Of course, we figure painters ultimately know that we will never finish painting our stock and the hope must be that the ranks of the unfinished find their way to those who will appreciate them to the utmost, as has certainly been the case with this yeoman.

Marvin


Postscript: “the one that got away…”

Incidentally, I spotted another figure by R.J. Marrion which had recently come up for auction from the same stock as this WCYC figure. It’s yet another figure from the Sussex Yeomanry, which was the first book in the Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force series.  I’ve already painted one from the cover of this book, but this one got away from me. I was bidding against a collector with seemingly bottomless pockets and my own bid, which was already much higher than I’d readily admit to my wife, was more than easily trounced by his first offer – which he then bolstered with another just in case! He needn’t have worried; I’m far from a wealthy man. Sometimes, it’s a good thing that my first love remains cheap plastic 1/72 scale figures…!

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Interestingly, this new figure was not from Dorset Miniatures, as all have been previously, but produced by Mitrecap Miniatures. So it seems that Marrion’s yeomen have appeared under the guises of various manufacturers.

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I made some enquiries directly with Dorset Model Soldiers, the successor firm to Dorset (Metal Model) Soldiers which manufactured the Trumpeter and other figures in this range of yeomanry from the Marrion, Barlow and Smith series. The new owner only acquired the firm a couple of years ago so could tell me little more but suggested that my sculpted figures are “likely to be the work of Giles Brown, the previous owner”. Whoever it was, my attempt at painting this figure stands as a kind of humble tribute to their very fine sculpting.

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1912 Camp with the officer seated on the right wearing a similar uniform to my figure.

 

The Life Regiment Cuirassier Corps (Nappy Cavalry Project Regiment #30)

The fourth regiment of the five contained within HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry box are now painted. Cuirassiers now join the Swedish Hussars, Horse Guards and Carabineers already despatched, leaving just a regiment of Light Dragoons remaining.

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Plastic Soldier Review confidently state that the figure I’ve painted is a “Skjöldebrand Cuirassier”. I am uncertain as to whether this identification has been drawn from their own research or from HaT’s own release information, as the box itself doesn’t contain any specific information about the figures. Personally, I’ve not discovered any reference to a “Skjöldebrand Cuirassier” Regiment as such. Anders Skjöldebrand was however a Swedish cavalry leader, and the cuirassier corps was under his command during the Leipzig campaign, but the question remains as to what to actually call this figure’s regiment.

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HaT’s own site contains an excellent monograph on the Swedish cavalry during the time of the Napoleonic Wars and is well worth a read for those who may be interested. It refers to the somewhat wordy Livregementsbrigadens kyrassiärkår – or, in English, the “Cuirassier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade”. So, I have labelled these figures as belonging to the slightly more succinct Life Regiment Cuirassier Corps.

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As with my King’s Horse Guards, only the one pose to paint for which is supplied only three to a box. I’ve doubled this to six with two box purchases. No messing about with the basing for me, this time. Just a little parched brown grass of the kind I’ve become used to seeing on my lawn this summer!

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Not being a wargamer, I always appreciate my figures on parade or in a similar resting pose and this figure and horse pose does the job nicely. An occasional modest twist of the head has enabled them to reclaim a little individuality. I was tempted to paint a white crest for an officer, but stuck with troopers instead – I’d need a few more troops to command before I raise one from the ranks.

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The set’s Hussars, Light Dragoons and Horse Guards share the same type of horse in two poses. My previous regiment, the Scanian Carabineers, had a single horse pose specifically for themselves and the same applies to these Cuirassiers. Plastic Soldier Review assures me that “all the saddlery and cloths are correct for the allocated units”. I trust them!

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What I’ve enjoyed most about painting HaT’s set has been the variety of eccentric uniform styles that the Swedes adopted. The final regiment to tackle however, (whenever I get around to them…) wear a relatively straightforward light dragoon uniform for the time with a shako for headdress. What might make these a little more distinctive is the uniform colour – but more on that whenever I decide to tackle them.

Now for the biography which this time, I admit, has been a particularly tricky one to research…

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Biography: The Life Regiment Cuirassier Corps

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This regiment had its origins as far back as the year 1667. The Mounted Life Regiment was created from an pre-existing cavalry regiment from Uppland which itself could claim a regimental history going back to 1536. During the Scanian War, the regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Lund in 1676.

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1757 uniform of the Upplands Liv Regiment, predecessor of the cuirassier corps.

At the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, the regiment was stationed in Uppland and 4 companies (540 men) were part of the expeditionary force sent to campaign in Pomerania. The following year, 800 men of the regiment were sent over to Pomerania to reinforce the Swedish expeditionary force campaigning against Prussia. In November, a detachment of the regiment was at the Combat of Güstow.

In 1791, the Cuirassier corps of the Life Regiment was formed. At this point, I refer to the following information on this is respectfully reproduced from the HaT website from information on “The Swedish Cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars” written by Björn Bergérus:

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Contemporary print of Swedish cavalry:  cuirassiers shown mounted and dismounted (officer).

The Cuirassier corps… was formally created in 1791 when the former Mounted Life Regiment was split into three units, the Cuirassier Corps, the Light Dragoons Corps of the Life Regiment (in 1795 re-named the Hussar Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade) and the Light Infantry Battalion of the Life Regiment Brigade (in 1808 renamed the Grenadier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade).

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The Mounted Life Regiment had its recruitment area all around lake Mälaren. For the cuirassiers in particular the recruiting area became the original area of Uppland, reaching north from Stockholm to around Uppsala. The unit was present during the campaign in Germany 1813 and was part of the Swedish cavalry present at the battle of Dennewitz, September 6th 1813. The Swedish general Skjöldebrand was ready to charge but was held back by Bernadotte, who figured that the French would fall back anyway, which they did.

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Swedish cavalry cuirass

The Cuirassier Corps was the only Swedish unit equipped with cuirasses. They would have started the period with a single front-plate, which was later changed to a full front- and back plate. The cuirass would although have become a bit out of fashion, and it is unclear how much it was really worn. When not wearing the cuirass, the unit had a full dress uniform, very similar to the uniform of the Scanian Carabineers, but with white collar and cuffs. Furthermore, for field duty, all Swedish cavalry regiments had an undress uniform, generally made in reverse colours, which for the Cuirassier Corps meant a white jacket with dark blue collar and cuffs.

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Richard Knotel’s depiction of a Swedish cuirassier officer (centre).

By today’s standards, [the Swedish cavalry horses] would barely pass as a pony. However, the Cuirassier Corps and the Scanian Carabineers – the two Swedish heavy cavalry regiments – were to have horses exceeding 1,45 m in height. Any colour of the horse was generally accepted, but for the heavies – the Cuirassiers and Carabineers – they had to be of dark colour. The preferred colour of the horses for the trumpeters was white or grey for all regiments.

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I’m grateful to HaT and Björn Bergérus for this information as discovering anything on the Swedish cuirassiers was proving particularly difficult!

Notable battle: Dennewitz.


A Footnote about Anders Skjoldebrand…

As I’ve mentioned, Plastic Soldier Review listed these figures as being Skjöldebrand Cuirassiers, so I thought it worth a brief mention about who this Skjöldebrand actually was.

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General Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand. Miniature by Jakob Axel Gillberg 1810.

Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand (1757 to 1834) was an “unusually versatile talent”; at various times being a Swedish count, a military general, and a statesman and minister. He began his military career as a cornet in the South Scanian Cavalry Regiment in 1774, and was later promoted to lieutenant in the East Gothic Cavalry.

He was present in the Russo-Swedish War taking part in the Battle of Karlskrona. In 1789, he then managed to serve at sea and fought in the sea battle of Öland. In the Napoleonic Wars, having risen to the rank of General, he was present at the battles of Dennewitz and Leipzig. In command of the Swedish cavalry (which included the Morner Hussars and Scanian Carabineers), he later won a victory at the Battle of Bornhöved (December 1813) and participated in the war on Norway the following year. He died in 1834 in Stockholm.

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The History of Colour-Sergeant Lejaune

“…And then appeared upon the scene the only man I have ever met who seemed to me to be bad, wholly bad, evil all through, without a single redeeming virtue save courage.” John Geste

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It must be the heat. This endless 2018 UK heatwave has brought about my own bout of le cafard. In my sultry ennui, thoughts have turned to the desert. And when I think of the desert, I think of my WordPress avatar. He is an old Esci 1/72 scale figure of the French Foreign Legion from my childhood collection. Some time ago I dubbed him Sergeant Lejaune, after a character from Beau Geste. The little fellow had something of the bearing of a tough and experienced NCO about him.

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Such was the terrific quality of the sculpting that it was possible to reveal a face of real character.

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I think I painted him about 5 or 6 years ago along with a handful of other Legionnaires from Esci’s now very rare set “French Foreign Legion”.

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In P.C. Wren’s iconic novel about the French Foreign Legion, “Beau Geste”, Colour-Sergeant Lejaune is first described by Major Henri de Beaujolais of the Spahis, who had discovered his body in the deserted Fort Zinderneuf:

“Lying on his back, his sightless eyes out-staring the sun–lay the Commandant, and through his heart, a bayonet, one of our long, thin French sword-bayonets with its single-curved hilt! No–he had not been shot, he was absolutely untouched elsewhere, and there he lay with a French bayonet through his heart.”

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So begins the mystery of Fort Zinderneuf with its eerie garrison of dead legionnaires still arraigned propped-up at their posts in the embrasures. John Geste describes his first meeting with this fearful sergeant thus:

“He came from the regimental offices, a fierce-looking, thick-set, dark man, with the face and figure of a prize-fighter; glaring and staring of eye, swarthily handsome, with the neck and jowl of a bull-dog. He also had the curious teeth-baring, chin-protruding jaw-thrust of a bull-dog, and there were two deep lines between the heavy beetling brows.

…This was Colour-Sergeant Lejaune, a terrible and terrifying man, who had made his way in the Legion (and who made it further still) by distinguishing himself among distinguished martinets as a relentlessly harsh and meticulous disciplinarian, a savagely violent taskmaster, and a punishing non-com. of tremendous energy, ability, and courage.

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…To his admiring superiors he was invaluable; to his despairing subordinates he was unspeakable… He took an actual delight in punishing, and nothing angered him more than to be unable to find a reason for doing it…

At this point you’re probably beginning to realise what a thoroughly unpleasant character Lejaune is. Not perhaps the best name for a welcoming avatar! In the book, we learn a little of Lejaune’s history. He came from service in the Belgian Congo, a colony which had a reputation for appalling brutality towards its indigenous inhabitants even amongst the widespread colonialist attitudes of the day.

And later, through the coming to the Legion of a deserter from the Belgian army, we learnt a sinister, significant, and explanatory fact… Lejaune had been dismissed from the Belgian Congo service for brutalities and atrocities exceeding even the limit fixed by good King Leopold’s merry men.

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Looking again at my avatar, however, although I dubbed him Sergeant Lejaune, he has a distinctly kindly face with more than a hint of a warm smile about him. He’s more of a favourite uncle than a fearful NCO. Perhaps he’s the alter ego of Wren’s Lejaune? Belgian sadist his namesake may be, but as my avatar he’s quite a welcoming face to visitors.

Here are a few of his ‘chums’ from the French Foreign Legion. Bear in mind that I painted these back in 2012/13, I believe, when I’d only been painting 1/72 scale for a matter of months. I think they stand up pretty well!

I said that this Italeri set is very rare, but boom times are coming to lovers of Beau Geste in miniature scale. In some great news, I understand that Italeri are soon reissuing this set of figures, although it seems only as part of a big “Beau Geste: Algerian Tuareg Revolt Set” which comes with a fort, Tuareg tents, Tuaregs and more. At 64 euros, I may have to think carefully about that! What’s more, Strelets are also apparently working on their own fine-looking set of Foreign Legion and Arabs!

Lejaune and the Movies

The character of Colour-Sergeant Lejaune has been depicted in film a number of times since Wren’s novel was first written. Here’s a brief overview of how he’s been portrayed:

Beau Geste (1926)

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This early version of Wren’s famous tale was a silent movie and starred Ronald Colman as Beau Geste with the actor Noah Beery playing the role of the Sergeant Lejeune.

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Noah Beery (far right) as Sergeant Lejaune.

Interestingly, Noah Beery reprised his role as Sergeant Lejaune in 1939 in a radio play, starring alongside Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier (Olivier had previously played Beau Geste on stage) as part of the CBS Campbell Playhouse radio series. In reprising his role, Beery was switching from a silent-only role to a voice-only performance, demonstrating an impressive range of ability. You can listen to the play, with Welles at the beginning introducing Beery as “your favourite villain” below:

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Orson Welles on the radio

Beau Geste (1939)

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The very splendid blog “Movies a la Mark” posted on the 1939 Hollywood production of Beau Geste starring Gary Cooper. The brutal sergeant, this time instead known as Sergeant Markoff, in this film was played by Brian Donlevy. The site has this glowing tribute to Donlevy’s loathsome Legionnaire portrayal:

“Best of all, and what gives the picture real guts and grit is Brian Donlevy’s famous performance of ‘Sgt. Markoff’, next to whom the Sahara is no big deal.  Brutally sarcastic and about as sadistic as the Production Code would allow, this remains one of foremost villain roles of the 30s.

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Sergeant Markoff (aka “Lejeune”)

For whatever reasons, the other cast members did not like Donlevy at all – maybe he was a method actor ahead of his time?  On-set relations probably did not improve when Ray Milland accidentally stabbed Donlevy in the abdomen with a bayonet, bad enough to leave a lifelong scar.”

‘Accidentally’? One has to wonder given the strained relations on set!

Beau Geste (1966)

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Telly Savalas as Sergeant-Major Dagineau (aka Markoff, aka Lejeune…)

1966’s update had Telly Sevalas playing the infamous nemesis of the Geste brothers. This film took great liberties with the original plot; the British Geste brothers were now American and had been reduced to just two. As with the 1938 film, our sergeant had been renamed again to Sergeant-Major Dagineau. Dagineau is revealed to be a former St. Cyr military school educated officer who was broken to the ranks once his previous troops under his command had deserted to a man.

Beau Geste – BBC TV Series (1982)

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I well recall eagerly watching this series as a boy when it was released, greatly enjoying the depiction of these soldiers on television. The brothers Geste were played by Benedict Taylor, Anthony Calf and Jonathon Morris. In the 1982 BBC series, John Forgeham played the sadistic sergeant. A character actor noted for his ability to play less than sympathetic roles, the 6-foot tall Forgeham was very well cast, exuding menace and violence in every scene.

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Forgeham’s Lejeune tears a strip of an unfortunate Legionnaire.

The series stayed much closer to plot than other films and the name of Sergeant Lejaune was retained. The production also notably paid very close attention to authentic legionnaires uniform and equipment, the troops even shown singing the legion’s famous marching song “Le Boudin”. In Wrens’ book, Lejaune also calls for them to sing this song;

“Now, my merry birds,” said he, “you’re going to sing, and sing like the happy joyous larks you are. We’ll let our Arab friends know that we’re not only awake, but also merry and bright. Now then–the Marching Song of the Legion first. All together, you warbling water-rats–Now.” And led by his powerful bellow, we sang at the tops of our voices.

The BBC budget restricted the outdoor filming location to a less authentic, but nonetheless vaguely convincing, Dorset sandpit. It was not the first film of the Foreign Legion to have its desert scenes shot in the south of England, the 1967 Carry-On film “Follow that Camel” substituting the Sahara for Rye and Camber sands!

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An Update: It seems that the Foreign Legion is all the rage in this hot weather. My good friend Mark at Man of Tin Blog has coincidentally just posted on his own band of 15mm Peter Laing Legionnaires, complete with palm trees courtesy of Danish chain “Flying Tiger”. I wonder if there’s a Sergeant Major Lejaune amongst them too?

Horsemen at Holkham Hall: Day Trip #15

A week’s holiday away with the family means a break from the hobby for a while. Sometimes. The Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry collection was just down the coast from where we were staying but, having visited last year, I declined a revisit and stuck to spending time with the family. When we decided to visit the magnificent Holkham Hall and its enormous gardens however, it provided me with an opportunity for some military history…

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Holkham Hall on the day of my visit

Prior to my trip to the Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry collection last year in the Muckleburgh Collection, I did a little background reading. One of the many early incarnations of Yeomanry from Norfolk mentioned in my book was the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry. I seemed to recall that the troop’s standard was on display within the hall, so I kept an eye out for it as we toured around. I’m glad to say that I did indeed find it although, I’ve since been unable to find any reference to it being at the hall whatsoever, so how I knew I simply have no idea!

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The opulent entrance at Holkham Hall.

Norfolk Yeomanry was raised, disbanded and re-raised a number of times between 1782 and 1849. At any one time it consisted of a wide range of troops from all across the county, often equipped and officered by wealthy local landowners at their own expense. The coastal district of Holkham in North Norfolk was no different and the area was dominated by the very grand Holkham Hall. The man who raised Holkham’s first yeomanry force was the hall’s owner Thomas William Coke. One of his portraits was up on the wall in the Manuscript Library.

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Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, by Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862).

Underneath this portrait was a seemingly insignificant little banner but I recognised it immediately as being an early yeomanry standard. The HYC initials confirmed it; Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry.

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Holkham Hall’s Manuscript Library with the yeomanry standard. Up on the wall are portraits of Thomas Coke surrounded by (I believe) his three daughters, and also his first wife, Jane (below right).

The Yeomanry standard was hung at eye level in the small Manuscript Library room surrounded by many priceless and ancient books. The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force series on the Norfolk Yeomanry contains a monochrome photo of the standard and describes it in the following way: —

“…A standard of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry of 1798 carries the same central device, the three turreted castle on a shield with crown above and the letters H and Y left and right of shield and C below, a panel in each of the four corners.”

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The 3-turreted castle is a feature on the coat of arms of Norwich, the principal town of Norfolk. The four corners contain two galloping horses and two ostriches with horseshoes held in their beaks (the ostrich being an emblem used within the Coke family coat of arms). The black and white photo looks very similar although notably the horses are reversed in their direction. The black and white photo might simply be the rear view but the fringe on the base of the standard has come away in my photo. So, this might also be a different standard altogether to my photo. I approached the helpful guide in the room to find out more and he suggested to me that the standard may well not be the original version at all but instead a slightly ‘newer’ version created in the 1820s, towards the end of the regiment’s existence.

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HYC: The standard of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry

In my chat with the knowledgeable guide, he also suggested to me that Mr Coke had raised the yeomanry troop partly because other local landowners suspected that he harboured sympathies with the republican revolutionaries of France! This is perhaps surprising for a man with so much wealth, land and influence. Raising a troop of yeomanry could have been a method therefore to forestall any suspicious rumours over his loyalty to the king, and of course did his prestige as a rich landowner no harm at all. Records seem to support the guide’s suggestion that Coke did indeed feel some pressing need to ingratiate himself with the King. In a letter to the Prince of Wales, Coke writes:

”Feeling eager to show my zeal in defence of my King and Country at this alarming crisis… I think the best service I can render is by raising a Squadron of Horse, of the most respectable Yeomanry in this neighbourhood… of which I hope your Royal Highness will have the opportunity of judging by honouring Holkham with your presence in the autumn.” Letter from Thomas William Coke to the Prince of Wales. May 1798. From “Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry” 1908.

Coke was appointed to the rank of Major Commandant of the HYC on the 19th July 1798. The local paper recorded the moment that the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry’s standard was first bestowed upon the new troop. The Mercury recorded that, on October 6th, 1798:

“The two troops of Holkham volunteer cavalry, commanded by Major Coke, received their standard from the hands of Mrs. Coke. At eleven in the morning the troops, proceeded to the chapel, where the standard was consecrated by the Rev Henry Crowe, sen.

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The Chapel within Holkham Hall where the standard was consecrated.

The account continues:

At twelve o’clock the troops were drawn up on the South lawn, within a short distance of the house, when with some ceremony, the standard was given into the hands of Captain Edmund Rolfe. After the ceremony, the troops were entertained by their commanding officer, Major Coke, in Holkham House.” From Records of the NYC”.

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South side of Holkham Hall where Captain Rolfe finally received the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry standard from the hands of Mrs Jane Coke.

Mrs Coke was a committed abolitionist and keen supporter of social welfare. Her portrait also appears up on the wall in library alongside her husband, her face now seemingly looking towards the standard that she’d bestowed upon the regiment just two years before her untimely death.

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On the right, Mrs Jane Coke (nee Dutton) looks across towards the standard that she bestowed in October 1798.

In 1798, tally returns show the HYC numbering 100 men, double the number that many other corps in Norfolk at the time had raised. Consequently, as suggested above, it was split into two troops. The Holkham Troop’s officers consisted of;

  • Major Commandant Thomas William Coke
  • Captain Edmund Rolfe
  • Lieuts. George Hogg and Martin Folkes-Riston
  • Cornets Jason Gardner-Bloom and John Ward

I am unsure as to the uniform details of the Holkham Yeomanry. The automated scanned text of Thomas Coke’s letter to the Prince of Wales contained within the “Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry” is garbled: ” …I have to request your Royal Highnesses permission that we may wear the colours of ye loth for our uniform”. Yellow, perhaps? There is in existence an engraved chart entitled “A view of the volunteer army of Great Britain in the year 1806” which listed the colours of all the yeomanry forces but unfortunately omits the Holkham Troop! With the notable exception of the Norfolk Rangers who wore green jackets, the majority of Norfolk’s yeomanry at this time wore red coats, facings which were mostly black and breeches predominantly white or blue. All wore Tarleton helmets. So perhaps we can assume that the Holkham Yeomanry probably looked very similar.

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Jacket of the Clackhouse Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry
Opie, John, 1761-1807; John Harvey (1755-1842), Mayor of Norwich (1792)
John Harvey, Mayor of Norwich in the 1792 uniform of the Norwich Light Horse Volunteers.

The Peace of Amiens in 1802 led to the disbandment of the yeomanry but this was almost immediately followed by a re-raising of all the cavalry in 1803, when Britain once more declared war on France. Lord Townsend of Fakenham grouped the many disparate corps of yeomanry existing across Norfolk into three regiments to improve efficiency. The Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry troop were attached to the 1st Regiment alongside the Norfolk Rangers, the Lynn & Freebridge, Smithdon & Brothercross, and the Marshland Troops. The newly combined 1st Regiment then numbered 350 in total. Some years later, the entire 1st Regiment was to adopt the Norfolk Rangers green uniform.

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Marquess Townshend in the uniform of the Norfolk Rangers, 1799.

Of course, although the threat was very real and persisted for years, Napoleon never did invade and the yeomanry were never called upon to fight him. However, civil disturbances kept many yeomanry forces busy. Indeed on the 16th March 1815, months before the battle of Waterloo, the Holkham Yeomanry’s own commander was subject to an attack by an angry mob:

“Thomas Coke of Holkham was present at a show of prize cattle in Norwich when… a number of persons, acting upon the assumption that he was a supporter of the Corn Bill, proceeded to treat him in a very rough and violent manner…the mob hurled a volley of stones and brickbats at Mr. Coke and friends.” From ‘Records of the NYC’.

It seems that he was besieged in a public house and only barely managed to escape. The riot was quelled by the Brunswick Hussars, then stationed in Norwich, under the  command of a Lieut-Col. Von Tempsky. Disparity of wealth between rich and poor was certainly extreme at the time, yet ironically it appears that Coke was one of the more socially conscious of landlords.

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Officer of the Norfolk Rangers in an illustration by RJ Marrion.

Coke’s troop of cavalry, the Holkham Yeomanry, were finally disbanded for good in 1828. Various incarnations of mounted yeomanry from within the county continued to arise intermittently, however, and there were ongoing ties with Holkham Hall. Indeed, nearly 20 years later, on May 22nd, 1847, the Norfolk Chronicle reported on “Prince Albert’s Own Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry” drilling on the grounds of Coke’s Holkham estate:

“The town of Wells is at this time very gay, being honoured by a visit from the gentlemen comprising Prince Albert’s Own corps of Yeomanry cavalry. They entered the town on Saturday last, under the command of Major Loftus, and the lovers of music are day by day enchanted by their splendid brass band… Their practising ground is on the North lawn in Holkham Park.” From ‘Records of the NYC’.

The same newspaper later also documented the activities of this yeomanry regiment at Holkham Hall which is worth quoting at length to provide an overview of yeomanry duties and occupations during camp:

“We mentioned in our last week’s paper, the arrival at Wells, of the 300 Prince Albert’s own corps of Norfolk Yeomanry cavalry, for eight days permanent duty, on Saturday the 15th inst.

”On Monday the 17th, the three squadrons mustered for exercise and marched to Holkham Park, permission having been granted to Major Loftus by the Earl of Leicester, to make any use of the Park for exercise, likewise the stables at the Hall for the accommodation of the horses during his sojourn at Wells, with the corps under his command. At two o’clock the corps were dismounted, and at this period, the Major received a most polite invitation for himself and his brother officers to luncheon at the Hall…

“On Tuesday, at ten o’clock, the corps again marched to the Park, and after going through various evolutions, until 2 p.m. dismounted. The officers received an invitation to the Hall to luncheon, a marquee being erected in the Park for the accommodation of the men, in which refreshments were provided, and at three o’clock they returned to town…

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1843 dragoon helmet of the Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry.

” At an early hour on Wednesday morning, the corps assembled in the Park at Holkham… Precisely at half past five the Earl arrived accompanied by the Hon. and Rev. Thomas Keppel, and were received with all military honours. At eight o’clock the Lord-Lieutenant accompanied by Major Loftus, and the officers proceeded to the concert room which was crowded to excess, and it is but justice to state that owing to the excellent arrangements made by Mr Jonas Wright, the band master, the company assembled enjoyed a musical treat, not often met with in a provincial
town.

“On Thursday morning there was a short foot parade, with carbines and side arms, and at twelve o’clock, the officers, non-commissioned officers and several of the private members proceeded to the Park for the purpose of playing a game of cricket with the Earl of Leicester. At four o’clock the officers and players sat down to a most sumptuous entertainment given by the noble Earl, at which every delicacy of the season was provided.” Quoted in Records of the NYC’.

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Napoleonic-era Holkham Yeomanry muskets on display in the local Victoria Inn, which is still owned by the Coke family.

Thomas Coke, having been created 1st Earl of Leicester in 1837, after 20 years a widower shocked all by marrying 18-year old Anne Keppel at the somewhat advanced age of 68(!). They had a son who inherited the title. Thomas Coke died at the age of 88 in 1842. His body was returned to Norfolk from Derbyshire where he’d been out on a visit and on the final leg of the coffin’s journey there were yeomen in attendance.

After the disbandment of the Norfolk Yeomanry in 1849, there were still instances of volunteer cavalry parading at Holkham Hall. In 1861;

“A body of mounted volunteers, the Norwich Mounted Volunteers, took part in the great review of the whole of the volunteers of the county, on Sept 12, 1861, which was held at Holkham Park. Their uniform consists of a scarlet tunic with blue facings, white cross belt, white breeches, and Napoleon boots, the head-dress is a busby with blue bag; the forage cap is blue trimmed with white. ” Norfolk Chronicle, 1861. Quoted in “Records of the NYC”.

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Norfolk Light Horse Volunteer, c. 1864. By 1863 the busby described had become a dragoon helmet as shown.

It wasn’t until the Anglo-Boer War that the Norfolk Yeomanry was re-raised once again now under the patronage of the King himself. These were men intended to fight out on the South African veldt as part of the Imperial Yeomanry force. The very first parade of the “King’s Own Regiment of Norfolk Imperial Yeomanry” took place at Holkham Hall, on September 10th, 1901. Still awaiting their uniforms, the regiment paraded by squadrons in plain clothes on the cricket ground. On the day of my visit, a cricket match was in progress, the sport still being played right in front of the hall where Norfolk yeomen had once paraded, rode and manoeuvred so often many years ago.

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Cricket match taking place on the north side of the hall; scene of yeomanry drill, parades, band concerts and even sometimes yeomanry cricket from the past!

Further on in the hall, I also discovered a small display featuring men of Holkham Hall who had fought in the World War and were recorded on the Roll of Honour or the war memorial which lies within the grounds. The Roll of Honour included two estate workers who respectively served with yeomanry regiments; the Westminster Dragoons and City of London Roughriders. There was also one from the Norfolk Yeomanry, a Walter Hughe. World War 1 had ensured that a Holkham man finally did see action serving with the county’s yeomanry.

Finally. below are some scenes of the Norfolk Yeomanry at Holkham Hall during their Summer Camp in 1911. Equestrian events such as tent-pegging can be seen and the men are watering their horses in Holkham Hall’s lake. The regiment’s C Squadron had a drill station in nearby Wells-Next-The-Sea.

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Norfolk Yeomanry Summer Camp Holkham Hall 1911 (2)

Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry

My Austro-Hungarian Pucherna infantry regiment has a pedigree that goes back to 1741. Garrisoned in Transylvania, its ranks are filled by ethnic Romanians. The multi-ethnic empire of Austria-Hungary fought Russians, Serbs, Greeks, Italians, Poles, and indeed other Romanians. In the K & K army, it was not uncommon for Poles to find themselves fighting other Poles, Italians fighting other Italians and Slavs fighting against other Slavs.

Anyway; the figures. First up; this is the finished officers armed  with revolver, binoculars and, somewhat anachronistically, a sword. No Austrian officer would have worn one in the Great War but I suppose it’s a way for Strelets to identify the officer more clearly for wargamers.

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None of the Other Ranks are wearing any metal helmets, just the kepi which, along with the rest of their dress, probably dates them to the early war period.

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I like this next figure, head down, holding on to his hat and running through the storm of bullets and shrapnel – though whether it is towards or away from the enemy lines, who can tell!?

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I’ve painted a couple of men carrying some type of machine gun. Being more knowledgeable than I about Austro-Hungarian machine guns, I can only quote Plastic Soldier Review who had this to say about it:

The standard machine gun of the war was the Schwarzlose M07/12, but this is not that. It has a bipod just in front of the ammunition feed, which must be fairly close to the point of balance, and it has a drum feed rather like the later Thompson sub-machine gun. This makes it look like the lightened German MG 08/15, although when this weapon was given a drum feed it was on the side rather than underneath. As an intended assault weapon its water jacket would have been emptied before being carried like it is here, yet it would still have been much heavier than this figure seems to suggest. However we can find no evidence that the Germans gave numbers of this weapon to the Austrians, so the question must be why it is in the arms of an Austrian.

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Perhaps, then, Strelets have simply been unfussy in their desire to include a machine gunner in the set, useful potentially for wargaming purposes. Incidentally, I have forgotten to paint the stock a wooden colour, something that I will attend to one day…

Other weapons include, of course, the rifle which is depicted being fired either standing or kneeling.

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Also, there are examples of men throwing a hand grenade. It appears to be similar to the German stick grenade, nicknamed the ‘potato masher’ by the British troops. I understand that the Austrians hand their own version of the stick grenade which was thicker and bulkier, so this might be a good match. With the empire having supply problems, I suspect that shortage of materials may have resulted in different versions or even German imports.

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The faces of Strelets figures often seem to suggest something of an individual character about them, such as this chap kneeling and loading his weapon.

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Finally, the use of the bayonet is being practised by this soldier who is holding a suitably aggressive expression.

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And with that group of Austro-Hungarian infantry now despatched, I’m left musing what to paint next in my growing WWI project…

For now, with my summer holiday immanent, a short hiatus will begin as Suburban Militarism will be putting down the brush and taking a well-deserved vacation and heading for a beach. Until next time, best wishes to all my friends and visitors!

 

 

 

Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry in Gasmasks

All of my Strelets Austrian WWI infantrymen are now finished and based. I’ll present my handful of figures wearing gasmasks first and then reveal the other more numerous troops in a second post soon.

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I’ve said it before, these troops in gasmasks present a nightmarish sight. The ‘dehumanisation’ of 20th century mass industrial warfare somehow becomes almost literal when the face of a soldier is replaced with such a mask. The expressionless, glassy eyes are very disturbing. Strelets are to be praised for having the vision to be the only manufacturer of 1/72 scale to produce these figures. I previously painted a handful of their British and French infantry in gasmasks just prior to the inception of this blog on WordPress way back in 2014.

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The Austro-Hungarian army of WWI was increasingly reliant on Germany as the war progressed and in the case of supplying its troops with suitable gasmasks it came to rely mainly on German imports rather than their own creations.  This imported gasmask  would have been variations of the Gummimaske.

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WWI German Gummimaske and storage cannister.

So I’ve painted my mask in a similar style to the example above. Strelets, in an apparent oversight, have not included any gasmask storage canisters on the figures, so we must assume that it is either not used and the mask simply stuffed into the haversack or is obscured by other accoutrements.

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A very 2-dimensional figure below, almost like an old-fashioned ‘flat’ model soldier really. With a bit of paint, I think the fellow looks quite effective though.

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Strelets, somewhat eccentrically, often like their officer figures to be fitted out in the full regalia due to the rank, even it seems in the midst of a Great War gas attack! The officer below is wearing a yellow sash and has drawn his sword. He is also aiming his far more practical revolver ahead through the gas cloud.

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More regular visitors to my blog  may notice that I have spent a little extra attention on my bases this time for these figures. Rather than just throw some loose grass scatter over a base, in a completely new approach I’ve created a mix of sand and rock and glued that to the base. Once dry, I applied a soil wash for shading and then added dry brushed layers of paint to highlight the texture of the ground. I’ve included just a few tufts of grass to leave areas of bare earth and rock. This is no doubt pretty basic stuff for modellers but is a ‘giant leap forward’ for Suburban Militarism! It takes a bit of extra time to do so whether I’ll be prepared to take a similar approach all the time is in doubt.

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In 1916, the Austro-Hungarian army attacked the Italian troops at Monte San Michele deploying a mix of phosgene and chlorine gas. This was the first use of gas on the Italian Front and thousands of unprotected Italian soldiers died.

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Italian dead after the Austrian gas attack on Monte San Michele. http://www.esercito.difesa.it, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50801790

There were many ways to become a casualty in the First World War, none of them anything less than terrible, but even in the midst of the industrialised mass killing of that conflict, gas attacks seemed a particularly barbarous and cruel manner to harm the combatants, even to people of the time.

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The use of such chemical weapons was actually banned under 1899 Hague Declaration, so it’s use was already illegal and therefore a war crime. Being difficult to deploy against the enemy in a targeted and effective way (wind direction could be crucial), and also being easily subject to counter-measures thanks to the development of the gasmask, its use thankfully has largely died out in subsequent conflicts although, as in the recent Syrian allegations, the threat of this dreadful weapon sadly persists even today.

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Gas and my Great-Grandfather: some final words

For years, I had always been told that my great-grandfather had been a victim of a gas attack in the First World War. This, I had been informed, was the reason his mind had been affected to such an extent that after military discharge he was apprehended chasing his family down a street with an axe. Harry Bennett was incarcerated in an asylum where he died only a few years later seemingly in poor physical as well as mental health. I offered a few words about this in a very early blog post back in November 2014.

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My great-grandfather, Private Harry Bennett, Leicestershire Regt, 1914-18 war.

A soldier in the Leicestershire Regiment, it was whilst he was serving in France that he had written to his wife to suggest that his latest child (my grandmother) should be named Francis, it being a reference to the country where he had found himself while separated at her birth. Actually, at my nan’s funeral a few years ago (she was 98!), it was reported that he rather less romantically suggested she be named “one-too-many” before then proffering Francis! My brother carries the masculine version of that name, and now my own daughter does too, in her middle name.

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Men of the Leicestershire Regiment on the march during the Great War.

More recently, some information came my way from my mother regarding his service record. It made no mention of gas poisoning but instead made some references to an injury received in battle, from which he’d recovered, and also a persistent foot problem (“trench foot”?) which resulted in discharge. It now occurs to me that, at a time when post-traumatic stress was not understood – much less accepted – the ‘mental effect of gas poisoning’ story might have been a way in which his shattered mental health could be understood and accepted within his family and community. Traditional notions of bravery and cowardice in war made severe psychiatric breakdowns caused by modern warfare appear to be signs of weakness or moral failing. Being employed by a mental health NHS Trust, perhaps I of all people in my family am in a better position to offer a far more compassionate understanding of my poor grandfather’s condition, a century on from his breakdown.