The Post Office Rifles in Egypt

The fourth and final group of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. The group are depicted in the hot sands of Kassassin, Egypt in 1882. It was here that the Post Office Rifles (known officially as the Army Post Office Corps or APOC) came under fire from Colonel Urabi’s Egyptian army (see my previous post on this). I know that they took no casualties and am assuming for the purposes of this project that they actually returned fire.

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In my little diorama, the men of the Post Office Rifles have formed a firing line, variously loading, firing or assessing their shots under the instruction of an officer.

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I’ve added a few arid looking plants to the sand and rocks. Given the hot and dusty conditions, I’ve dry-brushed some of the desert onto their puttees and trousers to make them look suitably campaign-weary.

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Ah, those puttees… As mentioned in a previous post, I rashly began painting them with Indian army style puttees rather than selecting figures with leather gaiters, which is what they would have worn. Never mind, putting puttees aside, I still think it gives a nice impression of these men taking part in the 1882 Egyptian campaign.

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I took some time playing around with the white foreign service pattern helmets. Too much shading and the white helmet looks unnatural; too little shading and it looks too bright. After some last-minute tinkering, I think they look satisfactory.

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Artist’s impression of the PO Rifles in Egypt.

That’s all from my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project; for the foreseeable future at least. Next up on the Suburban Militarism “To Do” list are a number of possible figures. The ongoing Napoleonic Cavalry Project has been in hiatus since July and I’m about ready to tackle another regiment.

But creeping quickly up on us all, of course, is Christmas and with that in mind I’ve some more figures under way for what has been something of a seasonal tradition at Suburban Militarism – Christmas Soldiers! More about this soon.

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The Postman Always Shoots Twice

My fourth, and for now last, group in my series of Victorian Rifle Volunteers I can now reveal will be the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, more famously known as “The Post Office Rifles“.

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1930s cigarette card by Players depicting the PO Rifles in Egypt.

In 1860, the Civil Service Rifles (aka 21st Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps) contained a number of companies consisting exclusively of General Post Office workers. Seven years later, over 1000 of these GPO men volunteered for service as Special Constables in response to terrorist acts by the so-called Fenians (Irish Nationalists). Once the threat had subsided, these men went on to form a new separate corps, the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles), later being renumbered as the 24th. They wore dark grey uniforms with scarlet facings.

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The so-called ‘Midnight Charge’ by the Life Guards at Kassassin, 28th August 1882.

In 1882, a group of over 100 men of the GPO serving with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers volunteered for active service in Egypt with General Wolseley’s army. The intention was that the army could make use of their postal and telegraph expertise in the course of communication duties. They were duly formed as the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) by Queen Victoria’s Royal Warrant on the 22nd July 1882.

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The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, 1882.

During their service in Egypt, they became notable for being the first men of the rifle volunteer movement to see action and win a battle honour (Egypt 1882). They came under fire during the action at Kassassin, taking no casualties. This battle was a skirmish prior to the main action at Tel-el-Kebir where the Egyptian army under Col. Urabi was defeated by Wolseley. I found a contemporary poem on the skirmish at Kassassin, from which this extract below gives a sense of the hardships experienced by these volunteers.

RAINED on all day by the sun,
Beating through helmet and head,
Through to the brain.
Inactive, no water, no bread,
We had stood on the desolate plain
Till evening shades drew on amain;
And we thought that our day’s work was done,
When, lo! it had only begun.

Extract from the poem “At Kassassin” by Arthur Clark Kennedy, 1891.

After the war, their service was considered a great success, General Wolseley stating that

“The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful… I have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt …Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion…”

The Gordon Relief Expedition in 1885 saw the next active service of the corps and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 being the subsequent venture. But it is the Kassassin incident during the Egyptian campaign which I intend my figures to depict.

Now I come to admit to what can only be described as something of a figure modelling gaffe! Let me explain…

So far as I can tell, the PO Rifles should be depicting wearing leather gaiters on their lower legs. I have figures a plenty I could have used for these but, inexplicably, the Perry Miniatures figures that (for some reason) I chose to begin painting wear puttees instead. Below left shows the figures with gaiters and right with puttees.

Puttees were in use at this time by some British forces but almost certainly not by the PO Rifles. After some consideration however, I’m ploughing on with them regardless rather than abandoning them for figures with gaiters. Ultimately, I just really like these figures and poses, so Post Office Rifles with puttees it is. Who knows, maybe they did actually wear them?

And anyway; as I always say, ‘my figures – my rules‘!!!

The figures are already approaching completion so expect an update on progress soon.

Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #25)

Italeri have produced a number of very impressive Napoleonic cavalry kits and I’m pleased to have finally tackled their Mamelukes set; possibly one of their best.

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It has involved painting a lot of detail in a large range of colours, which in turn has meant a much larger investment in time to produce them. Was it worth it? I like to think so, they are unique in my collection and looks pleasingly colourful.

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Whilst it’s taken quite a while to get them painted, but the sheer exotic value of their turbans, scimitars, etc, etc, has kept me going.

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The Mamelukes made up a very small force in Napoleon’s cavalry, but the impact of their fame gave them an importance far beyond their limited numbers, and it’s no surprise that Italeri and HaT (amongst other manufacturers) have featured them in their range.

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Well, I can now place these figures into the cabinet with the other Nappy Cavalry Project regiments. And that means I can finally get on with packing for my much-needed summer holiday! Until I return, I send my very best wishes to all readers of this humble blog and leave you with the usual regimental biography and photos!

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Now, I wonder if there are any regimental museums where I’m going…


Biography: Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard [France]

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The word “Mameluke” is an Arabic term meaning ‘property’, indicating the status of Mamelukes as being slaves. Since the 9th Century, the Mamelukes were an influential military caste of slaves which rose to become a power in Egypt eventually ruling as the independent Mameluke Sultanate until 1517, and thereafter ruling as vassals of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his French ‘Army of the Orient’ to invade Egypt to both protect French trade and threaten Britain’s own. The most formidable force in the Egyptian army was undoubtedly the Mameluke cavalry. Equipped in an almost medieval fashion, sometimes including chain mail and iron helmets, they were expert horsemen and swordsmen. Armed with curved sabres of very high quality, they could out-fence most conventional cavalry and were observed to have actually sliced through French muskets.

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Napoleon soundly defeated the Mameluke army at the Battle of the Pyramids where he repelled their massed cavalry attacks. The formidable Mameluke cavalry had impressed him, however, as the only effective arm of the Egyptian army. Consequently, on the 14th September 1799, French General Kléber established a mounted company of Mameluke auxiliaries which were soon reorganised into 3 companies of 100 men each known as the “Mamluks de la République”. In 1803, they were again organised into a single company attached to the Chasseurs-à-Cheval of the Imperial Guard.

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Whilst the officers were occasionally French, the rest of the force were at various times made up of Greeks, Egyptians, Circassians, Albanians, Maltese, Hungarians, Georgians and Turks (amongst others. All were armed with a brace of pistols; a long dagger tucked into their waist sash; a mace; and later even a battle-axe.

The Mamelukes served in Poland, Spain and in Russia, fighting at the Battle of Wagram and most notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 where the regiment was granted an eagle and its roster increased to accommodate a standard-bearer and a trumpeter. Service in Spain led to a famous painting by Francisco Goya depicting their charge against the uprising of the citizens of Madrid on 2 May 1808, a massacre which in part led up to the Peninsular War.

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El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid By Francisco de Goya

In 1813, losses accrued over many campaigns meant that the Mamelukes were inevitably reinforced with Frenchmen who were designated as ‘2nd Mamelukes’. Of the 2 companies of Mamelukes, the 1st was ranked as Old Guard and the 2nd as Young Guard.

CHARGE MAMELUKS AUSTERLITZ

On his return to power in 1815, Napoleon issued a decree stating that the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard would include a squadron of Mamelukes. It is not known whether they formed a complete squadron at Waterloo, or simply attached themselves as individuals to various units; Mamelukes were almost undoubtedly present, however.

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Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, there were widespread reprisals against individuals or groups identified with the defeated Napoleonic regime. These included the small number of Mamelukes who were still in the army. Eighteen of them were massacred in Marseilles by vengeful Royalists while awaiting transportation back to Egypt.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.
Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

The brightly coloured Oriental dress and exotic weaponry of the Mamelukes gave them an influence far beyond the small size of their regiment; an influence felt beyond the battlefield into fashionable society! The Mamelukes loyalty to Napoleon was never questioned and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with him and his empire.

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Notable Battles: Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo.

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Mamelouks de la Garde impériale!

After some dithering over the choice of the next regiment in my Napoleonic cavalry project, I can announce that it will be Napoleon’s Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard by Italeri.

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My ever-helpful assistant presents the latest box of cavalry to paint.

Part of my wariness with this set was down to tackling a regiment somewhat out of my comfort zone. Firstly, they are from Egypt and a far cry from the European cavalry of which I’m familiar.

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Mamelouks de la Garde impériale à la charge by Auguste Raffet

Secondly, they are irregulars and as such don’t wear a uniform dress, never mind the traditional Napoleonic European style uniform. But I paint military uniforms – that’s what I do! Before I hyperventilate any further, here’s a useful guide to their dress which suggests some general uniform guidelines:

During their service in Napoleon’s army, the Mamluk squadron wore the following uniform: Before 1804: The only “uniform” part was the green cahouk (hat), white turban, and red saroual (trousers), all to be worn with a loose shirt and a vest. Boots were of yellow, red, or tan soft leather. Weapons consisted of an “Oriental” scimitar, a brace of pistols in a holder decorated with a brass crescent and star, and a dagger.

After 1804: The cahouk became red with a brass crescent and star, and the shirt was closed and had a collar. The main change was the addition of a “regulation” chasseur-style saddle cloth and roll, imperial green in color, piped red, with a red and white fringe. The saddle and harness remained Arabic in style. The undress uniform was as for the Chasseurs-à-Cheval of the Guard, but of a dark blue cloth.

So that gives me something to go on. They are certainly going to take longer to paint given their disparate colour schemes. One thing is for sure, the figures are beautifully sculpted by Italeri, possibly amongst their finest. The figures are very large for the scale, but this will be of more concern to a wargamer than a mere figure painter like myself.

Painting oriental irregulars certainly provides a different challenge, and it’s one I’m looking forward to. I’ll post updates once I’ve got something to show, until then here are some images of Mamelukes as it seems these exotic horsemen were a favourite of artists over the years.

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François-Antoine Kirmann, chef d’escadron des mamelouks de la Garde impériale (1808-1811).
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Mamelouks de la Garde impériale au défilé by Felician Myrbach (1853-1940)
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Capitaine français des mamelouks de la Garde impériale by Ernest Fort (1868-1938)
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Porte-étendard des mamelouks de la Garde impériale.

 

Loyal Emigrants and Royal Marines

Two of my regiments in the Quiberon Expedition project are now finally finished; the Loyal Emigrants and the Royal Marines. Just leaves the Royal Louis Regiment (also known as Le Régiment d’Hervilly) to finish off and then it’s on to the final figures which will be the artillery.

These Strelets boys are not the prettiest figures, and converting the regiments probably doesn’t do them any favours either. However, I think they look okay and make for a interesting and different topic to explore. Not much more to add other than say in my very best Franglais – “Ici, ils sont les régiments Quiberon d’expédition!!”

The Loyal Emigrant Regiment:

Le Régiment d’Hector  (The Royal Marines):

In other news; I’ve added a new page to Suburban Militarism dedicated to Strelets’ Crimean War series of figures. The plan is to get back to painting some of this range and build up my armies, displaying them via links on the new page. Given the huge numbers of figures and diverse sets for me still to paint, this is likely to be an ongoing project lasting some considerable time!

Quiberon Update

Whilst taking a little time out from painting my latest Nappy Cavalry Regiment, I revisited my Quiberon Expedition venture that I’d first begun after returning from holiday in July. I’ve previously posted some progress pictures of the Royal Emigre Regiment and the Royal Marine Regiment, but I’ve also recently begun the Royal Louis Regiment too.

For the other regiments I’d been using Strelets’ British Infantry in Egypt set, but for the Royal Louis troops, I needed the Strelets’ French Infantry in Egypt set instead. Neither of the Strelets sets are perfect for the Quiberon uniforms, but with the strategic application of paint, at 20mm tall I fancy I can almost get away with it. The Royal Louis Regiment features the pre-revolutionary white uniform, but I could use the same figures for their adversaries, the revolutionary French troops themselves.

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In progress… the Royal Louis Regiment.

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With one more regiment still to paint (the Royal Artillery also with Strelets figs) I’m hoping to maybe have a selection of these troops ready by the end of the year or possibly by the beginning of the next. In the meantime, it’s back to those Cossack boys…

Strelets French Artillery in Egypt box (with assistance from my daughter).
Strelets French Artillery in Egypt box (with assistance from my daughter).