A Sad Loss at Loos

I received some interesting information yesterday regarding the brother of my paternal grandmother. This man, John Neal, was part of a family tree recently researched by my mother and going as far back as his namesake, another John Neal(e) born in 1654. The John Neal that caught my attention had apparently died on 25th September 1915, as Lance Corporal J T Neal of the 2nd Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment.

I did a little on-line research and noticed that the date of his death coincided with the first day of the Battle of Loos. Further research confirmed that the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment was indeed part of the attacking force (see below) and I assumed that he was one of the casualties of this battle.

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You will notice that he was part of the Indian Corps, Meerut Division, “The Garwal Brigade” serving alongside Gurkhas and the commander was a Brigadier General Blackader. Leicester has a long shared history with India, the city today being home to a large Indian population. The regiment’s nickname “The Tigers” is a reference to the considerable time it spent in India. It seems that this connection continued into the First World War. The Garwhal Rifles, the 8th and 9th Gurkhas all remain Indian army regiments to this day.

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British machine gunners in action at Loos, 1915.

The Battle of Loos (pronounced loss in French) was a terrible slaughter for the British army. The French pronunciation of “Loss” here seems somehow grotesquely appropriate to anglophones for this dreadfully wasteful encounter of human life. The battle was notable for being the first time that the British deployed poison gas. It was also a test of Kitchener’s new volunteer army (“Lord Kitchener Needs You”) and I suspect that my relative John Neal could have been one such volunteer.

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Ghostly figures of British infantry advance through a gas cloud at Loos, 1915. Photograph believed to have been taken by a soldier.

However, I then discovered that the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was actually involved not in the main battle that day on the 25th September, but took part in a diversionary attack at Pietre in support of Loos, instead. The British Commander in Chief, Sir John French said of this action:

“The Indian Corps attacked the Moulin du Pietre… These attacks started at daybreak and were at first successful all along the line. Later in the day the enemy brought up strong reserves, and after hard fighting and variable fortunes the troops engaged in this part of the line reoccupied their original trenches at nightfall. They succeeded admirably, however, in fulfilling the role allotted to them, and in holding large numbers of the enemy away from the main attack.”

So, I therefore assume that my ancestor was killed at some point during the day’s fighting at Pietre, drawing German troops away from the main action at Loos. Ironically, even the slaughter at Loos itself was only really another supporting action to the large French attack in the 3rd Battle of Artois. Such was the scale of the mass killing on the Western Front.

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The Guards Cemetery, France, where my ancestor is buried, very near to the Great Cross visible in the background.

Lance Corporal Neal’s is buried in the Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy in northern France. This cemetery is on a site once used at the front as a dressing station and HQ by the army (near to a crossroads known to the British as Windy Corner).

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Written in red pen on the interment sheet, 2 / Leicestershire Regt, No.8666 Neal, Pte J. He lies next to a Lt of the Royal Irish Rifles who was apparently belatedly identified.
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Plot IX, Row G. No. 5. – right in front of the Great Cross.

Like many soldiers, his body was exhumed from elsewhere and moved to be consolidated with others in the Windy Corner cemetery early in 1920. When he was taken from the original location, the means of identity was listed as being a ‘disc’. It sounds like his identification was fortunate as most others appearing on the same reburial form, and therefore alongside him in the cemetery, were listed simply as being “unknown soldiers”.

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It seems quite a pleasant spot, John Neal’s grave, surrounded by fields and trees. It would be nice and very appropriate to visit one day, I think.

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War Games

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.

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Stratego: “full of surprises”. It seems the gent on the box cover is surprised as me to find the sapper’s dragoon-style helmet has mysteriously lost its plume!

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’.

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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
  • Lieutenant: Shako
  • Captain: Shako
  • Major: Shako
  • Colonel: Dragoon helmet with woollen crest and plume
  • General: Bicorne hat with plume
  • Marshal: Bicorne hat with feathers
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The army ranks are helpfully depicted on the edge of the ‘battlefield’.

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!

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Back to our game: to add some martial atmosphere to our own Stratego engagement, I had my copy of ‘Regimental Marches of the British Army – Volume 2″ playing over speakers in the background.

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The battle begins…

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.

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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”.

Game on!!!

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Painting the 19th Hussars: an update

It’s been a sad weekend for me. Receiving the news that my beloved 1-year-old cat Morris had been sadly hit and killed by a car, was a real blow. We shared a close bond, he and I, and I’ll sorely miss the little chap. I loved his comical ways, even when as a kitten he mounted a surprise sortie and captured and ran off with some of my plastic soldiers!

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Morris

At such times, I find my hobby can be a welcome distraction and a consolation. Indeed, through these sad circumstances, I’ve nonetheless managed to carry on and progress with my 19th Hussars. I also managed to find some more depictions of the regiment rooting about my cigarette card collection, including (left) this fine illustration of the regiment’s Kettle Drummer issued by Gallaher in 1898 and (right) a corporal of the 19th Hussars from a collection called “Soldiers of the King” issued by Ogden’s in 1909.

 

 

On the 1898 card it can be seen that the 19th were known as Princess of Wales’s Own, yet by the time of the Ogden’s cigarette card issues they had become the Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal Hussars, following her husband King Edward VII’s accession to the throne after the death of Queen Victoria.

Back to the figures – below are a few photos to show the results of my progress. It’s difficult to see clearly on my photographs but I’ve tried to recreate the key dress features particular to this regiment, such as the yellow lines on the white bag on each busby. There are no plumes on these fellows who appear sculpted more ready for battle than parade!

The horses are now primed and awaiting the first lick of paint. An update of their development to follow…

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One of my troopers representing the 19th Hussars

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Trooping the Colour and a Postcard

Some weeks ago, I posted about the depiction of women in historical military uniforms showcasing some of my modest collection of trade cards and postcards on the subject. Through my letter box has come another of my ‘Girl Soldier’ series of pre-WW1 postcards; a Life Guard!

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This is most appropriate given that this Saturday was the day when lines of brightly coloured soldiers aren’t just seen on my painting table here at Suburban Militarism; they’re also seen on television parading for the Queen’s birthday – The Trooping of the Colour. Essential viewing for this military uniforms enthusiast!

Beats watching Game of Thrones any day, in my (eccentric) opinion.

Anyway; any viewer of the Trooping of the Colour ceremony might note that it’s not just men appearing in the parade.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery which is made up of nearly equal numbers of males and females. Being a ceremonial artillery unit that is mounted on horses, women undertake tasks of a mounted regiment becoming farriers, saddlers or tailors, in addition to riding the horses and operating the six 13 pounder WWI-era guns.

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Certainly, the women of the King’s Troop RHA have proved themselves more than capable of performing their duties during The Trooping of the Colour. How long before we see women riding in the parade wearing the full cuirass of the Lifeguards or Blues & Royals, I wonder? Possibly in the not-too-distant future.

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I imagine that comic postcard illustrator Ellam would have scarcely believed it possible when he penned his “Girl Soldier” series for postcard manufacturer Ellanbee in the early years of the 20th century. It’s possible that the Girl Soldier series was intended to be absurd; ludicrous. Yet over 100 years later, women are an increasing presence in the British army latterly in combat roles and, therefore, in its ceremonial duties as well.

For now, then, the vision of a female Life Guard such as Ellam’s still remains an illustration. Or does it? Though there are no women in the Household Cavalry at present, for some time now there have been female musicians in both the Band of The Life Guards and the Band of The Blues and Royals, which come together from time to time, mounted or dismounted, as the Massed Band of The Household Cavalry and take part in the Trooping of the Colour. So the reality of the female Life Guard comes inexorably closer.

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WO1 E. Freeborn, Bandmaster of the Lifeguards.
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A musician in The Band of The Life Guards.

Following the appalling tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire last week, the Queen led a minute’s silence before the Trooping the Colour ceremony to remember the victims. Kensington and Chelsea council has asked the British Red Cross to help co-ordinate an appeal to support those affected and it has started an appeal to raise money. Various websites are also calling for donations, including the London Evening Standard Dispossessed fund, which has already raised over £1m. JustGiving also has a page specifically for firefighters.

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Harry’s Horses

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Life Guards at Horse Guards Parade, London by Harry Payne.

When painting 1/72 scale cavalry, I always enjoy adding white markings to my horses’ faces as this provides them with a little individuality and personality. Indeed, these markings are used in real life to identify individual horses in a herd. On the face, they are variously identified as blazes, snips, stars and stripes, depending on where on the face it appears and how extensive it is. Likewise markings on their lower legs are unique to each horses, these can be stockings, socks or boots, depending on their length up the leg.

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A Prussian cuirassier horse in progress…

Putting the finishing touches to the Prussian Cuirassier horses, I was looking around for a little inspiration and was drawn to my collection of Harry Payne postcards.

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The 21st Lancers by Harry Payne

Born in 1858, Harry Payne was a Londoner, a son of a clerk. He went on to produce an enormous number of paintings on military subjects, many being sold as postcards produced by firms such as Gale and Polden, or Raphael Tuck and Sons.

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The 17th Lancers: ‘Telling off for road duty’

After attending art school, he worked for a time for a firm of military contractors. By the 1880s, he had developed into a talented military artist and was enormously prolific. Furthermore, he even sold his work to members of the royal family including several commissions during Queen Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee.

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Band and drums of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars

Much of his work was produced with assistance from his older brother Arthur, although in exactly what capacity, I am unsure. No doubt, his assistance was invaluable in being able to produce such a high number of artworks to order. The two brothers produced a book together for the Queen’s Jubilee year with the original illustrations being presented to Queen Victoria herself.

Aside from the postcards, Harry and Arthur worked on illustrated material for The Strand Magazine, The Navy and Army Illustrated, The Graphic, and various books for, amongst others, Cassell, Virtue and Routledge. In 1903, a set of 50 images were painted for a Players set of cigarette cards, entitled “Riders of the World”.

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The Hampshire Regiment

Harry Payne was noted for his attention to detail in reproducing the military dress of the British army in his paintings. He research could be extensive and his 23 years spent in the West Kent Yeomanry further assisted his knowledge. Working in oil on canvas or watercolours, he was to prove a popular artist for decades.

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The Irish Guards

Although he also painted a range of other topics (cowboys, rural scenes, etc), Payne’s speciality was in depicting the military uniforms of the British army during the late Victorian / Edwardian period. The army was in transition during this time, adopting khaki for its campaigns but still retaining their brightly coloured uniforms for other ceremonial duties. His artworks captured the full range of different orders of dress.

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Officer, Coldstream Guards

Aside from accurate and detailed uniforms, Harry Payne was a painter who prided himself in his depiction of horses. The cavalryman was still considered to be a highly effective force at the turn of the century. Whether armed with a rifle, sabre or lance, a cavalryman’s military equestrian skills were highly prized.

Flicking through his depictions of horses, I copied some of their markings to be reproduced on my Prussian cuirassier horses. I’m not an artist like Harry Payne; but aside from our shared enthusiasm for depicting military uniforms, I like to think we might also have in common an ability to derive a certain satisfaction from painting military horses too.

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Band of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabineers)

More on those Prussian Cuirassiers soon.

Marvin.

Girl Soldier

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A female hussar

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

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

Military Maids

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

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

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British Yeo(wo)manry… c. 1800?

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

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

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

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

The Ellanbee Girl Soldier Series

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

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Corporal, Gordon Highlanders

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

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

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Trooper. Royal Horse Guards

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

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Trooper, 12th (Prince of Wales) Lancers

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shell Shock

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

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

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

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

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

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The aftermath…

Musings on the Napoleonic Cavalry Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mars Austrian Uhlans (1805-1815)

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

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A Uhlan struggling to lead an invisible horse…

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

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

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

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

Well, you have been warned…