Soldiers in Cigarette Cards: Part 1

When I was in my teens, my uncle would occasionally take me along to a ‘cigarette card fair’ which took place in a church hall. From the late 19th century up until the 1940s, cigarette packets would come with collectible cards. Card series topics could be anything from Household Hints, to Birds, to Association Footballers, or (of course) on military topics. Amongst the very earliest series was a set on the then ongoing conflict of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

Naturally, my interest in military history burning bright even in my teens, I chose to collect card series on military topics. Such sets as my meagre financial resources would stretch to included the following (years of issue in brackets);

  • Military Headdress (1931)
  • Regimental Colours and Cap Badges (1910)
  • Drum Banners and Cap Badges (1924)
  • Military Uniforms of the British Empire Overseas (1938)
  • Uniforms of the Territorial Army (1939)
  • Colonial & Indian Army Badges (1917)
  • Infantry Training (1915)
  • War Decorations and Medals (1927)

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I’m not sure whether these are particularly collectible today, if at all, but for me they are an interesting source of information, often with beautiful illustrations, on a variety of military-related topics. After reviewing some of these sets, I’ve decided to use this blog to start showcasing some of the best military ones I’ve discovered in storage.

To begin with, some Yeomanry and Volunteer regiments. I’ve mentioned in the last post how Yeomanry regiments have captured my interest of late, particularly with the installation of some of my figures in the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum last month. Player’s 1924 “Drum Banners and Cap Badges” series depicts a good number of Yeomanry regiments. My selection of cards from the series include:

  • Sherwood Rangers (Hussars)
  • Dorset Yeomanry (Royal Field Artillery)
  • Queen’s Own Royal Staffordshire Yeomanry (Hussars)
  • Derbyshire Yeomanry (Armoured Car Company)

The Derbyshire Yeomanry is a regiment I mentioned in my previous post. In fact, I’m surprised to realise that in recent years I’ve visited the collections of all of these regiments!

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Drum banners and cap badges of the Derbyshire Yeomanry (left) and Sherwood Rangers (right)
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Drum banners and cap badges of the Staffordshire Yeomanry (left) and Dorset Yeomanry (right).

Being all hand-drawn, the detail and skill in each card is impressive and must have taken some time to produce. It is interesting to note the variety of colours and designs used in just these four examples. The Staffordshire knot in the cap badge is an iconic symbol of that county and the Sherwood Rangers make use of oak leaves and acorns as a connection to the forest after which they are named. Two of the regiments have been converted from mounted cavalry after the First World War to alternative arms. The 14 most senior Yeomanry regiments had the honour of remaining mounted on horses as traditional cavalry, but the Dorsets have (by the time of the release of this 1924 set) been converted to Royal Field Artillery and the Derbyshire Yeomanry are shown as being an Armoured Car Company in the Tank Corps.

More references to Yeomanry regiments by Players could be found in their similar “Regimental Colours and Cap Badges” series of 1910, including this one of the Norfolk Yeomanry. As with the “Drum Banners…” series, note the excellent quality of the very detailed illustrations.

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 London Yeomanry Regiments: Left is the cap badge and guidon of the Westminster Dragoons (County) and  right is the drum banner of the Rough Riders (City)
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Guidons and cap badges of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (left) and the Norfolk Yeomanry (right).

 

And finally, continuing the volunteer regiments theme, Players also produced this set in 1939, depicting “Uniforms of the Territorial Army“. Once again, I think the illustrations here are excellent, and the line drawings of related buildings or architectural features compliments the image and subject perfectly.

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The Castlemartin Yeomanry were from Pembrokeshire and famously helped secure the capture and surrender of a French invasion force in 1797 gaining the first ever yeomanry battle honour “Fishguard”, quickly ending the last invasion of the British mainland. Shown in the splendid 1797 uniform, Pembroke Castle is sketched in the background.

The Sherwood Rangers uniforms I’d also seen at the The Queen’s Royal Lancers and Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum, the ancient Major Oak of Sherwood Forest is shown in the background.

Likewise, the Robin Hood Rifles were a volunteer rifle corps whose uniforms I saw on display last year in the Nottingham Castle museum (see my pics below). The background on their card shows the grand Exchange Buildings on High Street.

The Post Office Rifles are a regiment that’s been on my mind with regards to modelling some figures using perhaps some Italeri British Zulu War Infantry. The image is based on a contemporary depiction of their marching off to Egypt in 1882 and winning the first Volunteer overseas battle honour. The background image appropriately depicts pyramids and camels.

Finally, the Lovat Scouts are a yeomanry regiment which served with distinction in the Anglo-Boer War. As a Highland regiment they were attached to the Black Watch and later formed two companies of the Imperial Yeomanry and the card depicts them in pith helmets and khaki worn during this conflict. A typical Boer farmhouse is shown in the rear of the illustration.

Next time in this series:  Two superb sets on the topics of overseas British Empire uniforms in the 1930s and, one of my favourite sets, British military headdress.

PLEASE NOTE: Suburban Militarism is a non-smoking blog (and always has been). I’m glad that the cigarette companies don’t produce these today, however – I would be buying the packets for the cards and throwing away the cigarettes!

 

 

 

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