I thought my recently finished Cheshire Rifle Volunteers deserved some means of proclaiming who they are supposed to represent. The solution was both surprisingly cheap and easy to get hold of, I was pleased to discover. So here they are; my final photos of the Cheshire Greys now with an engraved plaque.
…And in the final pic, I reveal the identity of my next intended Rifle Volunteer group by plaque!
Presenting the finished group of Cheshire Rifle Volunteers! My little cohort consists of men of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps under instruction from an officer. Out on the rifle range, they are firing their Martini-Henry rifles at targets some 300 yards away. The year is 1884 and a county-wide shooting competition is but a week away. Some further rifle practice is needed if the Cheshire Grey’s best shots are to be in with a chance of winning that silver cup…
A little research revealed to me that the remains of long-forgotten Victorian volunteer rifle ranges do still exist around the UK, some being more readily visible than others. It seems that many of these rifle ranges fell out of use sometime before the Rifle Volunteers final absorption into the new Territorial Force in 1908. Perhaps a dwindling interest in the movement was to blame, but after 1908 I suspect that the Territorial Force’s closer ties to the county regiments of the regular army meant the volunteer battalions might have made use of the regular’s facilities instead.
Finding appropriate drill space and rifle ranges in the early years of the movement occasionally proved problematic and caused friction with the local population. However, during the heydey of the Rifle Volunteers, the activities of the local corps could become important social events. In 1861, for example, a county-wide rifle competition was watched by a crowd estimated to be up to 30,000!
The Rifle Volunteer movement always emphasised high standards of marksmanship. So, target practice at the rifle range – described at the time as ‘that interesting, healthful and manly exercise which the Rifle movement is supposed to supply’ – was seen as the main way of maintaining the enthusiasm and skill of the volunteers. An 1864 account of a Buckinghamshire Volunteers rifle competition suggests that the chief source of motivation wasn’t always the silverware however:
“The Volunteers were cheered in no small way by the presence of a good sprinkling of the Ladies, who with a bravery not common to the sex, boldly faced the wind and appeared to take great interest in the proceedings…”
A 2015 story in a provincial newspaper reported on the discovery of an old rifle range which had been apparently completely forgotten by the local community. Using a metal detector, a former soldier turned amateur archaeologist was first alerted to its existence when he discovered many Victorian-era bullets in the area, saying “...the oldest is the .577/450 Martini-Henry, which came into service in 1871 and is famous for being used during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.”
He located an 1880 edition of a map of the area and discovered the rifle range was clearly marked upon it. The locator of the range, Mr Beddard, goes on to describe how the range is depicted on this old map:
“It was marked ‘volunteers’, with the firing positions running from the Dudley direction for 850 yards, spaced out every 50 yards up to the target area. Some have marked firing trenches, some have raised firing positions.”
For my own models, I’ve simply included a distance marking post with my group, demonstrating that they are firing at a range of 300 yards from the targets. Not sure what form these posts would have taken, so I’ve simply used my imagination here!
A 2012 archaeological survey report by Herefordshire Council of a Rifle Volunteers’ firing range on Bromyard Downs provides a further insight into the nature of a Victorian Rifle Volunteer’s rifle range:
“The Bromyard range was, like most Volunteer ranges, extremely simple, though some were even more basic in the facilities they offered. Simplest of all was the range on Coppet Hill, Goodrich, with a single lane ending at a target in a small excavation marked as an old quarry, with no intermediate firing points indicated and no flagstaffs. At Aston Ingham near Newent, too, a single target was accommodated in a small delve cut into the rising ground”
Others, it seems, could be more elaborate. Some would feature shelters for the riflemen acting as markers and observers. These took the form of emplacements behind the butts or as brick huts placed to the side of the range. Shooting platforms or trenches were sometimes provided, although I imagine that for many ranges firing positions would consist simply of open grassland with distance marker posts – as in my little diorama. In the Bromyard Downs report, it goes on to describe the target end of the range:
At the butts end, the map shows the targets (plural) as a solid square structure projecting forward from a short straight line. Immediately behind the targets was a backstop shown as an earthwork mound 11 yards long with its west end curving forwards. As well as a backstop, this may have acted as a mantlet, protecting the Volunteers on marking duty. Behind that… was a second embankment on the hillside above, no doubt to stop high rounds from ricocheting off the rising ground; the map bears the legend ‘Butts’ between the two embankments. There was also a flagstaff a few yards to the east, which would have given formal warning that firing was taking place and would have aided the shooters by indicating wind strength and direction at the target.
Stop giggling at the back! There is nothing amusing about being ‘at the butt’s end’. In the example of the Bromyard range, it seems possible that the targets consisted of a marked iron plate, a notion supported by a number of severely flattened spent bullets.
Next, I might put a label on the wooden plinth indicating what the figures represent…
Well, as the painting of these Perry Miniatures figures have been far from anything like a pain in the ‘butt’, be warned that I’ll be continuing this little Volunteer Rifle Corps project with my next small batch of riflemen representing another corps, some of which have already been glued together. More details to follow!
The volunteer defenders
Of Britain’s isle are we
To heaven sworn to hold it
From all invaders free
Poem by Lt.-Col Buck, 16th Kent Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1876
My painting of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps figures is now all but complete! A couple of last minute touches and varnish needed only. They’ve been a real pleasure to paint and these Perry Miniatures figures are sculpted to their usual very high standard.
Painting these riflemen, as so often in conversions, was an exercise in making decisions wherever the information was sketchy, or where the figures were missing some necessary detail. According to the Cheshire Military Museum’s own guide, the Cheshire Volunteers “after the 1870s… adopted a grey uniform rather than red.” Yet by 1881, scarlet was the only change in uniform colour permitted for volunteers in the Childers reforms of that year, so I presume the changeover to grey uniforms for all Cheshire rifle volunteers must have occurred only just in time.
I’ve gone for a Vallejo Neutral Grey base colour for the uniform which seemed a reasonable match for the rifle volunteer uniform I saw on display in the Cheshire Military Museum.
The scrolling on the sleeves are a little different, but I’ve just gone with the sculpting. I’ve also gone with the assumption that they would have been issued with accoutrements similar to the regulars, wearing black expense pouches and belts as befitted riflemen but retaining a white haversack in the manner of this illustration of a similarly uniformed member of the 14th Middlesex (Inns of Court) R.V.C.
I wasn’t at all certain whether my Cheshire Grey’s trousers would have had a stripe down the sides, in the usual military fashion of the day, and if so – what colour. Ultimately, I went for a red stripe in order to add a little extra colour to all that greyness.
The weapon of these Perry Zulu War British Infantry figures is a Martini-Henry rifle, a breech-loading single shot firing .450 inch bullets with an effective range of up to 400 yards. It seems that in 1879, coincidentally the year of the Anglo-Zulu War in which the weapon acquired some fame, the Rifle Volunteers did indeed begin to be issued with the Martini-Henry rifle as a replacement to the Enfield they’d previously been using. The issuing of this firearm to all the Rifle Volunteers would take up to six years to complete, but it appears that my own Cheshire Greys have got their hands on them, at any rate!
My intention now is to place them in some kind of diorama. As I’ve said before, I’ve little experience at creating any kind of ‘dio’, but I can just about manage a bit of grass, so that’s what it might be. The idea is to show them in a group practising their shooting, possibly at the local rifle butts, or perhaps engaged in some organised national marksmanship competition against other volunteer corps.
A rifle competition might be particularly appropriate as on display in the museum was a shooting prize (a tankard) from one such competition. All the competitors used Enfield rifles and teams of 20 men from each Rifle Volunteer battalion throughout Great Britain took part. So it seems that these Cheshire Greys might have some genuine marksmen in their ranks!
More to follow once I’ve got to work on the basing…
Form, Form, Riflemen Form Ready, be ready to meet the storm! Riflemen, Riflemen, Riflemen form!
“Riflemen, Form!” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The next figures that I’ll be tackling here at Suburban Militarism are some more from the very wonderful 28mm manufacturer, Perry Miniatures. It’s a return to plastics at this scale, which is something I haven’t attempted since my Warwickshire Yeomanry figures. I’m also hoping to paint yet more volunteer troops, this time using Perry’s Zulu War British Infantry.
Often in visits to military museums I’ll come across examples of Rifle Volunteer tunics or helmets and I thought it about time I explored a little more about this Victorian phenomenon. Hence, my current reading material, the highly informative Riflemen Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908 by I. F. W. Beckett. Rifle Volunteer Corps were first established in 1859, partially as a response to the occasional public ‘invasion panics’ such as the concern over the threat posed by Napoleon III’s France. Such paranoia was stoked by ‘future war’ invasion novels such as “The Battle of Dorking”, which was even subtitled “Reminiscences of a Volunteer”.
Additionally, the growth in support for a rifle volunteer movement was a recognition of the small size of the British regular army relative to its European rivals. Furthermore, most of the British army was often overseas garrisoning the empire and not in a position to immediately counter any invasion. There was a so-called ‘Blue Water’ school of thought which placed faith in the peerless Royal Navy to prevent any invasion. However, the movement eventually managed to elicit parliamentary support for its establishment in 1859, though the government was careful to avoid any significant cost to the exchequer, the emphasis firmly being on the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the corps!
The Zulu War British infantry set produced by Perry Miniatures, in addition to the “Foreign Service” pattern helmets used on campaign, also come supplied with ‘Home Service’ pattern helmets. The main difference between these helmets being the Home Service helmets having regimental plate appearing on the front and also the retention of the spike on top. I thought this useful addition could provide the means to create some reasonable examples of men found in some of the Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps, many of which sported Home Service pattern helmets such as the Volunteer helmets below.
Being a mass movement of volunteers, there were a plethora of local Rifle Volunteer Corps (R.V.C.s) established all around Britain. The county of Lanarkshire alone, for example, raised up to 107 separate corps; Lancashire raised 91; Middlesex raised 50 and Cheshire 36. The latter is significant because a recent visit to the Cheshire Military Museum has inspired my decision to paint rifle volunteers. My first batch of figures will depict a rifle volunteer uniform I saw there; namely the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. also known as the ‘Cheshire Greys’.
British Rifle Volunteer Corps wore a range of uniforms which reflected the somewhat disparate and localised nature of their formation. The majority wore scarlet tunics, similar to the regular infantry at the time. Also very popular, however, were grey or dark green uniforms, a reflection of their broadly intended role as light infantry marksmen and also a practical recognition of the challenges facing the British army as it approached the 20th century. My chosen 1st Cheshire R.V.C. adopted a uniform of grey with red facings. Interestingly, Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form” informs me that;
“…in March 1883, a War Office Colour Committee recommended the grey uniform of the 3rd Devon Rifle Volunteers… as the pattern for the new service dress, but in the event, Indian Khaki was preferred.”
So it seems that the late-Victorian British army came surprisingly close to looking much like the grey-uniformed rifle volunteers that I’m endeavouring to create!
A couple of examples of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. grey Home Service pattern helmets were on display in the Cheshire Military Museum, as was the officer’s tunic (left pic below). Perry Miniatures’ officer figures from the Zulu War set should allow me to mimic the braiding on this to some degree.
I’ve chosen six figures and an officer for my first group of volunteer rifles and have a vague idea of grouping them into some kind of basic diorama. I’m no diorama creator, so I use the phrase advisedly! The figures come with separate arms and heads which require gluing onto the bodies, offering opportunities for varied poses. I’m not the best at model assembly either, I admit, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll post updates on my progress…
Having time off with my 10 year old daughter over the holidays, I found that she was keen to play some board games with me. Once we exhausted the ones in the house, I happened to mention some of my favourite board games when I was a child, one of which included a game called Stratego. Days later, she returned home from her grandparents (my parents) one day with the said box of Stratego in hand. It had been hiding in their loft all these years.
How little my interests have changed since childhood. Stratego is a battle game which has a distinct 19th century military flavour to it. The aim is to capture the enemy flag by beating the opponents pieces by outranking them in 1-to-1 encounters. One must avoid attacking the bombs which can only be safely defused by sappers. The difficulty lies in the ranks of the enemy’s pieces being unseen and only revealed when nominated to be ‘attacked’.
The army ranks are delightfully depicted in cameos, each featuring a unique style of 19th century European military headdress. These consist of:
Scout: Hussar busby
Sapper: Dragoon helmet, (Albert pattern without plume?)
Sergeant: Field service cap
Colonel: Dragoon helmet with woollen crest and plume
General: Bicorne hat with plume
Marshal: Bicorne hat with feathers
Based upon the French game of L’Attaque, the game is a nice combination of chance and strategy, just like in a real battle. The game’s predecessor, L’Attaque initially came with cardboard illustrations on contemporary European soldiers. The V&A museum in London has this 1925 version, below:
Being created by a French lady, Mademoiselle Hermance Edan, the illustrations featured types of the French and British armies with ranks written in the appropriate language. I notice that the British army’s flag is not represented by the union flag but instead by the ‘red ensign’, the flag used by the merchant navy. Sacré bleu!
Full credit to Eleanor, my daughter, she soon grasped the different ranks and the rules of the game. Unfortunately for her, luck was against her and furthermore she was up against a ‘competitive dad’ who shamefully wasn’t about to lose a battle…
I noticed that there were some pleasing Napoleonic-era illustrations of cavalry on the side of the battlefield board, three hussars and another cavalryman wearing a cuirass engaged in combat.
It was enjoyable to play Stratego again after all these years and it may even become a regular feature. But wait! There was one more military strategy board game that Eleanor had brought home; Campaign – “a compelling game of military and political strategy in the age of Napoleon”.
As the finishing touches were applied to my Perry Miniatures hussars, I discovered an interesting fact. The regiment that I have painted, the 19th Hussars, were known by the nickname of “The Dumpies”. Apparently, this was an unflattering reference to the below-average height of men in the regiment.
With its origins as an Indian army regiment (the 1st Bengal Light Cavalry), regulations concerning height restrictions were more relaxed than in other British cavalry regiments. As a consequence, the greater proportion of shorter men in the regiment earned them the nickname ‘The Dumpies’. Being a chap of shorter stature myself, this sounds like exactly my sort of regiment!
It seems that the 19th Hussars might have also acquired a more inspiring nickname; “The Terrors of the East”. At a mere 28mm in height, I personally think that “The Dumpies” is a name perfectly suited to my three hussar figures.
There are still nine more hussar figures in this range available from Perry Miniatures, Six of them feature more dynamic poses (charging) and the remaining three include a trumpeter, an NCO and an officer. I fully intend ‘at some point’ in the future to purchase these too and add them to my other ‘dumpies’.
As for my next painting assignment which I’ve been making plans for – all will be revealed in a forthcoming post…
“For our homes and for our hearths” – Staffordshire Yeomanry motto
I finally made a trip out to a military museum that I’d been intending to visit for some time. The Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum is housed in the Ancient High House in Stafford and I had made plans for a visit last year. Unfortunately, problems with my train meant that I abandoned the attempt. I am glad that I’ve finally completed the trip as the collection was certainly well worth a visit.
A little regimental history:
The Staffordshire Yeomanry were formed on the 4th July 1794 to counter the threat of invasion posed by revolutionary France. Known as The Staffordshire Regiment of Gentlemen and Yeomanry, they initially wore a red coat with yellow facings, a white waistcoat, white leather breeches and a Tarleton helmet. In 1808 they changed to a blue hussar style jacket, thereby adopting a colour which they would retain into the 20th century.
Illustration of an early uniform by W.Gray, c.1870.
Simkin watercolour of an early uniform
It was soon called out to assist the authorities put down a riot. Indeed, the keeping of domestic order became an all-too-regular occupation right up to the 1860s. It is said that they were called out to maintain civic order on more occasions than any other yeomanry regiment! The Staffordshire Yeomanry variously consisted of up to 12 troops based in towns across the county such as Lichfield, Stafford, Wolverhampton and Uttoxeter, numbering at its peak anything up to just under 1000 men in total.
In 1838, in honour of their work in maintaining order, the new Queen bestowed upon them the title “Royal” and thenceforth the regiment became known as the “Queen’s Own Royal Regiment”. At the end of the century, they supplied men for service with the Imperial Yeomanry serving in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, securing the regiment’s first battle honour in the process, and went on to fight with great distinction in the two World Wars.
Suburban Militarism (mostly) concerns itself with military history prior to the 20th century, so I’ll review some exhibits from that era. That said, the regiment’s 20th century guidon below was a fine example.
Just prior to entering the collection which was housed on the top floor of the ancient building, I was delighted to notice a number of terrific artworks on the regiment. Much of these were by some of my favourite military artists. There were some very fine paintings of the Staffordshire Yeomanry by both Richard Simkin and Orlando Norie, none of which I’d seen anywhere before.
Both artists painted the regiment appearing in force, as well as also small studies of individual yeoman as a demonstration of evolving uniforms through the ages. A photograph on display was attributed to Richard Simkin, apparently being used by him as a basis for painting a yeoman in a uniform formerly worn decades earlier.
There was also up on the wall a painting of which I was familiar. It is unclear who the artist is (although I’d heard a previous suggestion of it being Norie), but learnt through my visit that it might well be by Henry Martens, whose artworks I’d last seen in the Anglo-Sikh Wars exhibition earlier this year.
Of a number of great portraits depicting yeoman within the museum, two particularly caught my attention. John Stratford (below) served with the 14th Light Dragoons in the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Persia and in the Indian Mutiny, prior to joining the Staffordshire Yeomanry as a sergeant instructor. This remarkable veteran eventually died in 1932 at the ripe old age of 102!
Below, taken from the back of my purchased book, is an oil painting of Trooper David Riley, sometime builder and joiner turned farmer, wearing his uniform of 1852. He holds an Albert Pattern dragoon helmet with a black plume. The painting is notable for depicting a humble trooper rather than a more senior rank.
The Staffordshire Yeomanry of the middle of the 19th century had one of the smartest uniforms of any yeomanry regiment, in my humble opinion. The beautiful Albert Pattern helmet with its striking black japanning and ornate silver plate was adopted in 1850. It originally had a black plume surmounted with an acorn decoration but this was changed in 1859 to a white plume with a rosette top. This headdress changeover for all ranks apparently took up to a decade. One sergeant of the Himley Troop observed how he felt the black plume “…somehow or other puts one in mind of a funeral…“; an attitude which may explain the eventual changeover to white!
The black plume is not revealed clearly on my photograph
I always enjoying seeing artefacts connected with regimental musicians and bands, so it was good to see the kettledrum banner with its prominent Staffordshire knot under the crown. The silver trumpets on either side in the display were presented to the regiment in 1845, having been funded by public subscription.
The regiment eventually became hussars and adopted a busby with a red bag and white horsehair plume. Notice the difference between the officer’s busby (left & centre), with a brighter, more extravagant white plume and silver cord, and contrast with the Other Rank’s plainer plume with white cord on the right hand photograph.
Uniforms on display demonstrated developments in the tunic and also provided some examples of late 19th / early 20th century mess dress. ‘Pill box’ forage caps had beautiful silver banding and intricate scrolls on the top, which increased in intricacy for the senior ranks. Note the all-red field service cap nestling by the sleeve in the photo top-right. This replaced the pill box style for a time. A long plume holder can also be seen just visible to the right rear of the cabinet in top left photo.
And finally, below can be seen some of the accoutrements that took my attention. The officer’s black pouchbelt is adorned with ‘prickers’ for spiking enemy guns, and the trooper’s white pouchbelt and pouch is just below it. The very fine epaulettes on display had gilt Staffordshire knots. One pair of these provided an example of how the officers stored them to maintain good condition (a metal case).
Having enjoyed free entry to the museum, I thought it only correct to make a special donation to the Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum and also I purchased a book on the regiment on sale in the shop. The museum comes highly recommended for a visit by Suburban Militarism.