It seems that my visit to the Shropshire Regimental Museum was well-timed, the museum being afforded a full-page review in “Britain at War” magazine’s recent May issue! As a coda to my reports on the museum, I wanted to pay some attention to the regulars: the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Furthermore, I conclude with some personal thoughts on the museum and the threats it has faced to its existence both past and – regrettably – present…
The castle contains the collection of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) which had its origins in two regiments that amalgamated following the 1881 reforms. These were the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment and the 85th King’s Light Infantry. The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry remained a distinct regiment until 1968.
There were many examples of this regiment’s past uniforms, including yet more realistic reproductions of 18th century versions on their impressive manikins. The collection included a nice example of an infantry officer’s blue patrol jacket below from the time of the 85th regiment’s service in the latter part of the 2nd Afghan War. Headgear included a blue 1860 forage cap and white and khaki Foreign Service helmets.
Men of the 85th regiment would have been on the receiving end of the lengthy weapons below, ornate Afghan Jezails – long, intricately carved muskets belonging to tribesmen. To return fire, the British had the Martini-Henry (far left), a powerful breech-loading single shot rifle.
The KSLI served in Egypt and the Sudan during the 1880s and I took a snap of this leather bandolier, once used by a sergeant at the Battle of Suakin, “one of the last occasions that the British soldier wore scarlet”. The group of medals below belonged to two brothers in the 1st battalion. They include the Egypt medal with “Suakin 1885” clasp and the Khedive’s Star, a campaign medal established by Egyptian Khedive Tewfik Pasha for British troops taking part in the 1882 campaign and the Mahdist Wars.
The 53rd regiment guarded Napoleon during his final exile on the island of St.Helena. Napoleon referred to them as the red soldiers, a reference to the regiment’s combination of scarlet tunic and red facings. A nice little memento was on display, a lock of the great man’s hair, no doubt returned to England in the hands of an officer of the 53rd garrison!
I often seem to come across examples of troop shipwrecks in my visits to regimental museums, underlining just how dangerous travelling the world’s oceans was in centuries past for British soldiers. This museum had its own maritime disaster story, told in the form of a large chapel bell, the earliest ‘war trophy’ in the collection. It came from the Ville de Paris, a captured French ship-of-the-line, taken at the Battle of the Saints in 1782. The ship was carrying men of the 85th regiment when it foundered in a hurricane alongside many others in Admiral Rodney’s fleet. The bell was recovered and is on display in the museum.
In common with other regular infantry regiments, the Shropshire regulars served in an astonishing number of theatres around the globe: in the Sikh Wars, in India and the North West Frontier, in South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, Hong Kong, the Iberian Peninsular, Holland, Malta and Gibraltar, the West Indies and North America, etc. In the example of the latter, the 85th fought in the American War of Independence and in the War of 1812. It captured the Colour of the 1st Harford Light Dragoons (of Maryland) captured at the Battle of Blandensburg. This remarkable object was on display in surprisingly good condition, and a postcard duly purchased from the shop.
With that brief exposition on the KSLI collection, I wanted to end with some comments about the museum itself. The two previous posts on the museum’s collection can be found below:
- Shropshire Regimental Museum: Day Trip #13 (Part 1 The Yeomanry)
- Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)
From terrorist bombs to endless austerity: Some final thoughts on the Shropshire Regimental Museum:
This was a first-rate regimental museum. One of the aspects of it that I appreciated the most was its emphasis on letting the exhibits and artefacts assume the central importance they deserve. The large glass cases may seem a rather traditional approach to some contemporary museum curators yet with so much information so readily available on-line, it is in museum’s exhibits where we acquire something unique; an up-close personal assessment of actual, real artefacts where even the apparently less significant can spark off a new interest or ignite the imagination.
The Shropshire museum’s display cases were full – never cluttered – with artwork, uniforms and objects. Excellently made manikins gave the visitor an opportunity to take in the sight of full uniforms. Being the sole occupant of the castle allowed the museum to appropriately fill the entire space and allowed the visitor to fully immerse themselves in the museum and understand the subject. Too often today, regimental ‘collections’ are being forced to share building space, shunted off into a side-room and left to compete for the confused attention of the more casual visitor already exposed in the same visit to radically different topics in other collections.
On 25th August 1992, three IRA bombs were planted in Shrewsbury, one of which was placed at Shrewsbury Castle, where the Regimental Museum had been based since 1985. Nobody was killed, thankfully, but the fire which ripped through the museum destroyed many military treasures and it was said many of the relics involved were irreplaceable.
It took three years to repair the damage before re-opening in 1995. Though mercifully no lives were lost, it had a considerable impact on the collection. To my dismay, it appears that as much as 60% of the collections’ earliest material was destroyed. However, like the motto of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry themselves, Aucto Splendore Resurgo (‘I rise again in greater splendour’), the Museum was resurrected to present the wonderful displays we see today. In recent years, the relentless barbarism of public spending cuts has threatened to do what terrorist bombs could not – close the Shropshire Regimental Museum for good. Thank goodness that, for now, it remains open to the public for a very modest £4 entrance fee.
Suburban Militarism urges all those with an interest in history to visit the museum and support its continued existence in our cultural and social landscape. Shropshire Regimental Museum is independent, relying greatly on public support and therefore welcomes donations, however small. You can donate online to the museum here.