Thought I’d share on this day an image I found of a Victorian Christmas card depicting the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) gathering mistletoe.
The so-called ‘Cherry Pickers’ are seen here gathering a different crop to cherries. The regiment acquired the nickname following an incident during the Peninsular War, in which the 11th Hussars were attacked while raiding an orchard at San Martin de Trebejo, in Spain. The colour of the trousers, unique to British cavalry, were adopted from the Saxe-Coburg livery and were described as ‘cherry’. Lord Cardigan referred to his men as the Cherry-Bums (or when ladies were present – the more genteel cherubims).
It must be a memorable painting as I recall that I once received a Christmas card of Harry Payne’s Christmas Cherry Pickers when I was around 12 years old and have never forgotten it. It was originally published by postcard manufacturer Tuck and Sons, one of their 6-part #8085 “Christmas” series and it comes as no surprise that their celebrated military uniform artist Harry Payne had a hand in this.
After the first Christmas card was sent in 1843, it appears that cards featuring sentimental scenes of brightly uniformed soldiers were a popular theme in the Victorian era helping connect families and friends scattered across the extensive British empire.
I was surprised to learn that in 2004 famous toy soldier manufacturer Britains produced a “Winter Limited Edition” for their Collector’s Club featuring a representation of Payne’s iconic Cherry Pickers postcard scene in model soldier form! Only 250 sets were made. I’m always pleased to see an artist’s vision of soldiers brought to life in model form. It seems to me to be the perfect Christmas decoration, being something along the lines of my decorative Army of Advent.
And the tradition of modelling military Christmas scenes continues today with Replica Model Soldiers issuing a seasonal scene every year with charming themes include snowballing soldiers, “The Garrison Christmas Dinner” and “US Army Winter Manoeuvres”!