KSLI in the Castle: Day Trip #13 (Part 3)

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…

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Band of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 1895 print by Richard Simkin

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.

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KLSI Officer’s Full Dress tunic, 1882-1902

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Napoleon’s hair!

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.

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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.

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Colour of Maryland’s 1st Harford Light Dragoons

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:


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.

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Flags of the Loyal Morfe Volunteers, an infantry unit of the Napoleonic era which had disbanded by the time of the war’s conclusion

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.

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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.

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Damage to the museum in 1992 (Photo – Shropshire Star)

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.

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Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)

Continuing my report on the Shropshire Regimental Museum, in this second part I’ll be now looking at the local Rifle Volunteers, the Shropshire Volunteer Artillery and the Shropshire Militia.

Most of the artefacts relating to these local military units of Shropshire were based in the imposing Great Hall of the castle.


The Rifle Volunteers:

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“The Rifle Contest, Wimbledon, 1864”. Lithograph after A. Hunt.

One of the most pleasing finds was the above print of a Rifle Volunteer competition in the 1860s. Regular visitors to Suburban Militarism may recall that last year I embarked on a project to model four separate Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps (the Cheshire Greys, the Robin Hood Rifles, the 3rd London Rifle Volunteers and the Post Office Rifles). During this time, one of the things I researched was what a volunteer rifle range might look like. The above print (click here for a larger image) of Wimbledon Common illustrates many of the features I was speculating about at the time, including:

  • The rifle butts – seen in the distance with markers, backstops and a flag flying to indicate direction and warn of the range being in use. The men engaged in shooting appear to screened off, presumably to limit accusations of being distracted!
  • A vibrant social scene where differently uniformed corps would intermingle (note the different kepis, forage caps, kilts and at least one busby). The competition is well attended with many ladies and children being eagerly entertained by the rifle volunteers.
  • A nice vignette of a successful rifleman being carried aloft by jubilant comrades after his marksmanship has won his corps glory.

For those taking part in such competitions, success could earn the eternal gratitude of one’s officer and comrades, not to say acquire a little local celebrity. So it was for Sergeant Roberts of the 12th (Wem) Rifle Volunteer Corps whose performance at said Wimbledon Common earned him the epithet “The Champion Shot of England”! It also engendered this effusive ‘illuminated address’ by his grateful Captain and colleagues:

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“This is indeed a proud day for your comrades in the Corps…”

A little further on in the museum, I found an example of what might lie in store for those riflemen who did not pay sufficient “strict attention to drill and rifle practice” with as much diligence as Sgt. Roberts – namely, a wooden spoon! This was “probably a booby prize for the worst shot” in the 2nd Shropshire Rifle Volunteers…

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Another of the museum’s fine manikin displays portrayed two local volunteer troops of the Victorian era; specifically men from the two Volunteer Battalions of the Shropshire Regiment. The 2nd Volunteer Battalion wore a grey uniform with black crossbelts and facings. His marksman’s badge of crossed rifles can be seen above his left cuff. His weapon is a Snider-Enfield.

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Colour Sergeant, 2nd Volunteer Batt. KSLI, c.1890.

The 1st Volunteer Battalion was represented by its preceding formation, the 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. The uniform dates from the 1880s, around the time of the Childers Reforms which first linked the Rifle Volunteer Corps more closely with the county infantry regiments. The 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps wore scarlet tunics and white facings, therefore looking much like the regulars.

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Officer, 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1880s

It was great to see county volunteer forces so carefully and skilfully depicted in this display by the Shropshire Regimental Museum. Rifle Volunteers may not have seen any active service prior to the Anglo-Boer War, but they were a significant part of the military and social history of Shropshire.

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Two shakos belonging to Rifle Volunteers from the 1860s.

In the display below of the local Administrative Battalions, the ‘drab’ dress of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion was complemented by dark green braid and black facings and crossbelts. The 1860s shako features a hunting horn badge with the number 48 (being the order of precedence for the Shropshire Rifle Volunteers). Post-1880, both Volunteer Battalions have adopted the dark green Full-Dress helmets. The other ranks uniform to the left is awash with medals, proficiency stars, etc.

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Like the yeomanry, bandsmen would have been a part of self-respective Rifle Volunteer Corps. I spotted this large drum belonging to the second corps below:

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Drum of the Second Shropshire Rifle Volunteers

The Shropshire Militia:

The national Militia force expanded during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but, by the time of their conclusion, a single regiment of Shropshire Militia existed. The established system of maintaining the Militia by local ballot was unpopular, poorly enforced and numbers were in decline.

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Militia cap badges, 1870 forage cap and a “tobacco jar” presented to the 54th Shropshire Regiment Militia. Presumably, the officers had exclusive use of this…

In 1852, service in the Militia became voluntary – closer to the TA of today. The attraction of experiencing army life and wearing the smart uniform must have been attractive to many. Particularly so, as the uniform was very similar to the regulars of the time.

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Militia officer’s 1855-68 pattern tunic and 1869-78 pattern shako. Facings are green.

In 1881, as part of sweeping reforms, the Shropshire Militia came under the newly established King’s Shropshire Light Infantry regiment and was designated the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, K.S.L.I. At the same time, control of the Militia was taken from the Lord Lieutenant and appointments and training came under the War Office instead.


The Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps

To support the large number of  Rifle Volunteer Corps being established in 1860, the importance of mounted infantry and artillery formations to support them was recognised. This wasn’t always easy to achieve as horses and cannons are more complex and expensive formations to maintain. Nevertheless, in Shropshire, the 9th (Shrewsbury) Rifle Volunteer Corps was converted to the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in July 1860. Initially, there were a formation of ‘heavy artillery’ and performed exercises at Long Mynd, an area of heath and moor in the Shropshire Hills. The site of the battery and magazine is still apparently identifiable even today.

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The Shropshire Artillery Volunteers with their 32 pounder guns at Long Mynd. In the foreground, civilians (men, women and a child) have come to watch proceedings.

The museum had a number of objects relating to this formation including this Full-Dress pouch:

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Richly embroidered 1st SAV Officer’s Full Dress pouch

The Full-Dress uniform of a sergeant of the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery could be seen in its entirety (below). The Shropshire RHA was formed in 1908 as a consequence of the formation of the new Territorial Force. They were one of only six volunteer corps to be designated as being prestigious Horse Artillery.

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Below is a portrait held in the museum of the first commander of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers, Colonel William Field, wearing a fur busby with white plume. In the distant background can be just about seen some gun limbers and horses. The town of Shrewsbury is in the distance. His fine grey charger also featured in the museum. Following its demise, the beloved animal had its hoof converted into an inkwell, now in display!

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1864 portrait of Col. Field of the 1st Shropshire Administrative Brigade, Volunteer Artillery beside his favourite grey charger.

To encourage proficiency, prizes were awarded to provide an incentive, a common enough concept for volunteer forces. For the SAV, the winning battery each year would take the ”Skill at Arms’ trophy shown below. An image of an artillery team in action can be seen embossed on the front.

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The Full-Dress headgear of the 1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in the 19th century was this shako. Note the metal ball instead of a spike at the top the helmet, and also the artillery piece appearing under the Royal Coat of Arms.

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1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers shako

Complimenting last year’s purchase of the book “Riflemen, Form!” on the Victorian Rifle Volunteer movement, I bought a copy of “A History of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps”, a newly published and detailed account by Derek Harrison, available in the museum shop online. Perfect bed-time reading for me there!

A (thankfully) short, final post on this exhaustive report to come, in which I include some personal thoughts about the museum.

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Shropshire Regimental Museum: Day Trip #13 (Part One – The Yeomanry)

Last week, on a gloriously sunny day, I finally fulfilled a long-held desire to visit the Shropshire Regimental Museum.

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Shropshire Military Museum in Shrewsbury Castle

It is picturesquely based in Shrewsbury’s castle and houses collections relating to the following:

  • The 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment
  • The 85th King’s Light Infantry
  • The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI)
  • The Shropshire Yeomanry
  • The Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery
  • The local Militia, Volunteers and Territorial units
  • The Lords Lieutenant of Shropshire collection

The extensive collection occupies virtually the entire castle, including its impressive Great Hall.

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The Great Hall, Shrewsbury Regimental Museum

In the first part of my review, I’m taking a look at the displays on the local yeomanry regiments of Shropshire. My copy of the “Blandford Encyclopaedia of Cavalry Uniforms” contains three illustrations of yeomanry regiments in Shropshire by Jack Kassin-Scott, including this illustration of an 1892 mounted trooper.

In comparison, the extent of the gold braid worn by the officer becomes evident. The county of Shropshire was quick to respond to the threat of French invasion during the Revolutionary Wars and raised no less than 11 individual Yeomanry Cavalry troops in the 1790s! Starting with the Market Drayton Troop in early 1795, others localities soon followed suit including Wellington, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Pimhill, etc. By the time of the war’s cessation in 1815, only three remained in service: the Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry; the South Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry; and the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry.

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Coatee of Captain Sir Baldwyn Leighton, Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry, c. 1823-28

By 1828, these three regiments were reduced further into two as the South Shropshire and Shrewsbury Regiments were amalgamated into the single South Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry. In response, the North Shropshire regiment renamed itself to become the North Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry.  Eventually, these two would also merge in 1872, becoming simply the Shropshire Yeomanry. This continuity of service entitled it to be 6th in the Yeomanry order of precedence.

Around the museum were pleasing artworks depicting the local yeomanry force including the two above, both by unknown artists. The oil painting on the left is of Colonel William Cludde of the early Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry, 1795. Middle: Yeomanry Officer in Full Dress, 1910 by W.H. Taylor. To the right is a nice print depicting officers of the South Salopian Yeomanry, 1846. A coloured aquatint after Henry Martens.

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Gleaming Shropshire Yeomanry dragoon helmets from the late 19th – early 20th century period.

On entering the museum, I was first guided upstairs by staff to a small vestibule which housed some excellent yeomanry helmets and guidons. The regimental colours included examples of some of the ephemeral early volunteer cavalry such as the Apley Troop of the Brimstree Loyal Legion which lasted from 1799 to 1802.

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Guidon of the Brimstree Loyal Legion, Apley Troop, 1799. (Photo courtesy of This Reilluminated School of Mars blog)

I was delighted to see my first post-Waterloo era Royal Horse Guards helmet with its outrageous and enormous black woollen crest. It was displayed in order to demonstrate how it was the model for the North Shropshire Yeomanry’s own dragoon helmet.

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Window glare obscures much but no all of the astonishing Royal Horse Guards helmet (left) with a North Shropshire Yeomanry helmet (right).

A side view of the regiment’s Full-Dress “Roman pattern” helmet (1817-1846) can be seen below. This pattern helmet was used by both the North and South Shropshire Yeomanry.

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Also in this display was (below) a South Salopian Yeomanry Full-Dress officer’s helmet which features a black plume, something that was replaced with the red/white plume of the North Salopian Yeomanry was adopted upon amalgamation.

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Alongside that was a highly unusual black leather dragoon helmet used by the North Salopian Yeomanry. It too was replaced by the more usual metal helmet upon amalgamation in 1872.

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Proceeding on to the Great Hall, my attention was soon drawn to the sight of some extravagant shakos in a glass case:

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Two shakos owned by South Shropshire/Salopian officers. The glass reflection obscures the extravagant black feather plume (left)

These extravagant shakos were ‘possibly used’ by officers of the South Shropshire and South Salopian Yeomanry. No evidence existed for either regiment adopting them so I can only speculate that these no-doubt wealthy officers were trialling fancy new headgear simply because they liked them!

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Rear view of the shakos, gold epaulettes and forage caps (1860s).

The museum was particularly strong in its collection of old Yeomanry uniforms. Their use of manikins was also really effective, I thought, as can be seen in the fine display below of an officer of the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry in the mid-19th century. It’s a classic heavy dragoon style uniform and the wonderfully ornate metal helmet at his feet.

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A closer view of that style of helmet, alongside another example of the aforementioned unique black leather helmet was afforded in another cabinet, seen below:

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The above two North Shropshire 19th century dragoon helmets are amongst the finest examples I’ve seen. The black helmet dates from 1816-36 and the one on the right from 1854-72. The detailed sunburst helmet plates look dramatic against the black leather or white metal and the lion’s face appearing over the crest framed by the red plume is glorious.

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Above is an example of a Shrewsbury Yeomanry officer’s helmet and coatee from the period 1817-30. The helmet has a notably different metal crest to the North Shropshire version above. I’m unsure who the metal figure is intended to depict but the sculpted face with wide open mouth appears menacing enough! The black helmet this time is metal (not leather) and appears to have been subject to japanning. It would have had a bearskin crest, now absent.

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Yeomanry uniforms in transition. Left and middle respectively: North and South Shropshire Yeomanry tunics. Right: the amalgamated Shropshire Yeomanry tunic, interestingly a lancer pattern featuring a red plastron. A trumpeter’s helmet is identifiable by a red plume.

The amalgamation of the North and South Salopian Yeomanry regiments in 1872 required a new uniform to be designed for it. Some compromise was needed therefore to combine elements of both regiment’s uniforms into a new version. The subsequent uniform featured a dark blue tunic with scarlet facings, red piping and gold lacing (as can be seen on the officer below). Leg wear was dark blue with a red stripe (or seemingly gold for officers). The helmet’s gilt ornamentation was inspired by the South Salopian regiment, while the red and white plume imitated that of its Northern cousin.

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Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry Uniform, c.1882.

This new uniform owed something to the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards which, as we have seen, also inspired the dragoon helmet adopted soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

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Early officer’s ornate epaulettes c.1814. Top are brass metal labels which were fitted to the side of a Tarleton helmet – “1st REGt SHROPSHIRE” and “YEO. CAVALRY”.

I’ve said it before, I’m always keen to see evidence of mounted bands and musicians and I was particularly pleased to discover both of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s drum banners, placed high up on the castle wall.

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The regiment’s drum banners would have surrounded the steel kettle drums carried by a drum horse. No sign of the kettle drums, unfortunately, but it was interesting to see how the banner compared to its depiction in the cigarette card set by John Player and Sons that I own.

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As you can see, in comparison with my (admittedly poor quality) photo it looks quite different, featuring a cypher instead of the three ‘loggerheads’ of the Shropshire coat of arms. Furthermore, the scroll underneath reads “Shropshire-Yeomanry-Cavalry” from left to right, and does not have the central word as being ‘Shropshire’. In the 1920s, postcard manufacturer Gale & Polden produced a large poster of Yeomanry drum banners. Their illustration of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s banner agrees with the Player’s illustration showing the loggerheads.

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Gale & Polden’s drum banner

R.G. Harris’ “Yeomanry Drum Banners and Mounted Bands” (#14 in the Ogilby Trust Yeomanry Series) informs me that the wife of the CO, Colonel Wingfield, presented these banners to the regiment on 8th May 1885. They differ slightly in size to each other. There are ‘no known pictures or photographs of the band’, sadly. Furthermore, the versions depicted in the Player’s series and the Gale & Polden poster have never been traced or verified, so may well have simply been erroneous.

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Shropshire Yeomanry riding through the streets of Shrewsbury c.1905

The aforementioned Colonel Wingfield’s name also appeared on an invitation to an event hosted by the Shropshire Yeomanry in 1886. It reports that the regimental band will be ‘in attendance’. This card was nicely illustrated with two yeomen; one in Full Dress with sword drawn and the other wearing a stable jacket, with a carbine and an Other Ranks pill box cap. This invitation I was pleased to see reproduced in the museum shop in the form of a postcard (below):

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The Imperial Yeomanry’s experience in the Anglo-Boer War marked the Yeomanry force’s first experience of foreign warfare. Stripped of their ostentatious finery worn in the previous century, they learned some valuable lessons about modern warfare ahead of the Great War. Artefacts from their time in South Africa were many including this slouch hat:

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…and this photograph below of the yeomen, prior to embarkation to South Africa in 1900.

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13th (Shropshire) Company, 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry 2nd Feb 1900 at Shrewsbury Bowling Club prior to departure for the Boer War.

For the second part of my review of the Shropshire Regimental Museum, I’ll be taking a look at some of the other exhibits.

Finally, I end with two more illustrations of Shropshire’s yeomanry from my Blandford Book by Jack Cassin-Scott:

  • (left) a trooper of the Shropshire Provisional Cavalry, c.1794;
  • (right) South Salopian Yeomanry officer, c.1842.

Nothe Fort (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #12)

Folly – noun; plural noun: Follies. A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose.

Having been a member of the Victorian Military Society for more years than I’d like to admit, I’m always keen to explore any museum or collection which furthers my interest in the topic. Last year, during my summer holiday to Dorset, I visited Nothe Fort; a Victorian coastal fortification just down the coast from where I was staying.

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Nothe Fort with Portland Bill visible across the bay. The fort is covered by earth; a 20th century form of protection which obscures much of the old gun ports.

Weymouth, being a seaside resort, might not be an obvious place to find a fort. This coastal fortification, built to protect Portland Harbour, was one of the so-called Palmerston’s Follies. Suburban Militarism visited and reported another of these ‘follies’ a couple of years ago at Hurst Castle, opposite the Isle of Wight.

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Nothe Fort situated at the mouth of Weymouth Harbour’s entrance.

In 1869, Napoleon III’s France began work on the construction of “La Gloire”, an Ironclad battleship. This was in part a deliberate challenge to Britain’s naval dominance, but it was also a response to the experiences of the Crimean War amongst other conflicts. The industrial revolution had changed and improved coastal artillery design improving range, accuracy and damage. As France signalled an ironclad challenge to the ‘wooden walls’ of Britain’s peerless navy, British coastal fortifications suddenly took on an importance they hadn’t had since Napoleonic times.

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A view of the inside of the fort at rampart level with Weymouth harbour and the south coast beyond.
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The ramparts and courtyard of Nothe Fort during my visit in 2017. The rear face of all the casemates at gun deck level are visible.

In 1860, a Royal Commission set up by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston sparked a multi-million pound coastal defence development programme. Nothe Fort was part of this response, being completed in 1872. Unusually for the time, it was built by the Royal Engineers and not by private contractors, which had gone bankrupt shortly before commencement. The fort’s walls were 13ft thick at casemate level (the level of the guns) and 50ft thick at the lower magazine level! The twelve casemates originally housed:

  • x2 64 pounder rifled muzzle loaders (RMLs).

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  • x4 9 inch RMLs – firing 256 pound shells up to 3 miles.

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  • x6 10 inch RMLs – firing 400 pound shells up to 3 miles.

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Built by Victorian armament giant Armstrong, these were large and powerful cannon for their time, requiring a team of 18 men to service each gun. In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were replaced by an even mightier gun;

  • x7 12.5 inch RMLs – firing 818 pound shells up to 3.5 miles.

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Below is a summary of some of these mighty Victorian Armstrong guns, some of which were installed at Nothe Fort or displayed in model form:

Armstrong 64 Pounder Cannon:

  • x2 emplaced 1873 and 1904
  • Fired 64 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
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64 Pounder RML – one of a number of scratch-built models of Nothe Fort’s Victorian guns crewed by men of the RA.

On entering Nothe Fort, I was immediately confronted by one of these 64 pounder guns. Armstrong’s 64 Pounder Cannon was the first Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) gun to enter British service.

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It is mounted on a wooden carriage with thick rope stays. Aiming was facilitated by iron wheels which ran along an iron track in the floor. The shells can be seen bottom left in my photo above.

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Two of them were installed in the fort specifically to protect the harbour entrance, hurling their 64 pound shells across the harbour and Weymouth Bay. They were in service from 1872 before being finally declared obsolete by 1908.

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Armstrong 9in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x4 emplaced 1873 and 1892
  • Fired 256 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
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This model was of the larger 9 inch RML gun with crew.

Four of the casemates originally housed these 9 inch guns. One can see how much larger it was when comparing this model with the above model of the 64 pounder and crew. Unlike the 64 pounder, it is housed on an iron carriage to better cope with the increased weight and power. No replica or original of the 9 inch gun exists in the fort today, aside from this model.


Armstrong 10in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x6 emplaced 1873 and 1912
  • Fired 400 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
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The model of the 10 inch RML with gun crew. One man in the foreground is wheeling the huge shell.

The 10 inch RMLs took up six of the casemates and were initially the largest guns in Nothe Fort until replaced by even larger calibre guns in the 1890s. The above model of the nine men of the Royal Artillery servicing the gun show them in shirt sleeves with pillbox hats. More men would be down in the tunnels of the magazine level supplying the crew with shells and cartridges. No replica or original existed in the museum.


Armstrong 12.5in 38 ton Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x7 emplaced 1892
  • Fired 848 pound shell a distance of 3.5 miles
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This model of the 12.5 inch gun nicely shows the men covering their ears from the deafening blast to come. The man pulling the firing cord and the officer giving the order to fire have no such luxury…

The massive 12.5 inch RML gun is a reproduction but is brilliantly impressive nonetheless, giving a real impression of the weight, size and sheer power of these monsters. The casemate which houses it had manikins dressed in period uniforms to provide a good impression of how the men of the Victorian Royal Artillery would have looked at this time.

During this period, the Royal Artillery was divided into three arms, named respectively the Royal Field Artillery (RFA); the Royal Artillery (RA); and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). It would have been the RGA (as specialists in siege and coastal artillery) which would have manned Nothe Fort, perhaps with some assistance from the local Artillery Volunteer Corps.

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In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were considered obsolete and replaced by these more powerful 12.5 inch guns;

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Life-sized manikins provide a sense of scale of these giant coastal cannon.

The manikins also helped to demonstrate something of the processes involved in serving such a large cannon. One of the manikins is pictured below wheeling the canvas-wrapped charge, packed with explosive, up to the muzzle and the massive ramrod can be just seen lying on the floor. Another man wheels over the heavy 818 pound shell. The embrasure is covered by a mantelet, a thick rope curtain, which would have been fully closed when loading the cannon and intended to protect the men from counter-battery fire, shrapnel and snipers.


The Barracks:

Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery were required to sleep and live on the gun decks. Nothe fort gave a nice impression of life in the barracks. The thin walls on the side facing the inner courtyard were quickly removed during gunnery practice and could remain so for days at a time. Consequently, their living quarters were liable to be somewhat open to the elements on one side – most unpleasant in winter time!

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The Magazine Level: down in the tunnels…

The fort was particularly informative when it came to explaining how the guns were served with the constant flow of ammunition required to keep the enemy at bay. It all happened below the gun deck deep, down the magazine level’s tunnels which circumnavigated the whole fort.

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Nothe Fort has extensive tunnel systems, eerie and often deserted during my visit.

The magazine level had the potential to be a source of total disaster for the fort. The very slightest of sparks could ignite the black powder stored there and destroy the fort from the inside. The risk was very real and the Royal Artillery took great precautions to prevent it from happening.

Lamps were kept in special sealed cabinets embedded in the walls to prevent the naked flames becoming ignition sources and reaching the powder. Furthermore, the small room where black powder was stored and cartridges prepared were kept strictly separate from the rest of the fort. It was accessible only via a “shifting lobby”, a changing room where men would have to divest themselves of all their usual clothing and change into white clothing containing no potential sources of sparks instead (no metal buttons, badges, etc.). Heads were covered with cloth caps and even the shoes were canvas as hobnails in the soles could create tiny sparks on the floor.

Men were not allowed to pass from one side of the lobby whilst wearing their usual uniform. Above we can see RGA uniforms in one lobby already hung up on the wall, their owners already changed and at work in the shifting lobby accessible through a side door.

Once the cartridges were prepared, they were cased for safety and passed to the corridor through a small hatch low in the wall.

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Thereafter the charges were transferred carefully to a winch and hauled up to the gun deck. The shells were also separately winched to the gun deck from the nearby shell store.

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Shells in the shell store which was situated on the opposite side of the corridor from the shifting lobby.

Shells did not need anything like the same level of precaution as the charges as they contained no explosive material.

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A manual 64 pounder shell hoist on the magazine deck used to transfer shells directly up to the gun deck.

The heavy 12.5 inch shells, due to their great weight, had to be lifted up to the gun deck via special mechanical winches.

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A mechanical winch used for the heavy 12.5 inch shells

Once the shells and cartridges were up on the gun deck, the gun crew would load them and continue to pour fire upon those enemy ships!


Nothe fort was built with what was the deadliest industrial armaments then available. It was industrial armament developments which soon brought about its demise, however. Naval technology put the balance of power once more back into the hands of the ships. Whilst even the most powerful Armstrong coastal gun could lob a shell 3.5 miles, a dreadnought battleship could hurl far more destructive shells at a much greater distance, meaning the fort could be destroyed by distant battleships with impunity.

Palmerston’s follies showcased the immense fire power of a leading industrialised nation. They projected a Great Britain both brimming with confidence and yet at the same time fearful that its international pre-eminence would be challenged. These fortifications may have proved to have been follies, but their 21st century role as museums of coastal defence makes this military history nerd very content indeed.

Now back to those French WWI 1914 infantry which are coming on apace but are likely to be delayed this week due to domestic circumstances. Updates will follow when ready…

Military Treasures in an Unstately Home

A brief visit to Calke Abbey and gardens in Derbyshire today offered up some pleasant surprises relating to military history. Calke Abbey is billed by the National Trust as “the unstately home”, being left in the somewhat run-down state that it was found in when transferred to the charity. The house was owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years until it was passed to the Trust in 1985 in lieu of millions of pounds of death duties.

Consequently, a tour of the house reveals a delightfully cluttered and eccentric collection of hidden treasures gathered over past centuries, scattered across its gloomy rooms with peeling paintwork. It was in amongst all this that a number of military items came to my attention.

In one room was a huge collection of rocks, fossils, ancient artefacts and other ephemera. In amongst all these cabinets I spied some Crimean War medals presumably taken from a Russian soldier, and also a button from the Russian 22nd line infantry regiment. Also in this room were a couple of brass buckles from the early incarnation of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, a regiment I’d seen displayed in a visit to Derby last year.

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Buckle of the Derbyshire Volunteer Cavalry c.1794.

I suspect that the local yeomanry had been officered by the Baronet whose family seat was at Calke Abbey. Command of the yeomanry regiments at the time of the Napoleonic wars were often given to the aristocracy. Indeed, the wonderful old library contains a number of tomes relating to the operation of yeomanry forces, all but confirming the commanding of the regiment by the Harpur family heirs. The online catalogue includes:

  • Instructions for the use of yeomanry and volunteer corps of cavalry. (1803)
  • By His Majesty’s command. Just published, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise of the cavalry. (1796)
  • List of the officers of the several regiments and corps of fencible cavalry and infantry of the officers of the militia; of the corps and troops of gentlemen and yeomanry; and of the corps and companies of volunteer infantry. With an index. (1796)
  • An elucidation of several parts of His Majesty’s regulations for the formations and movements of cavalry. (1808)
  • An elucidation of several parts of His Majesty’s regulations for the formations and movements of cavalry. (1824)
  • A manual for volunteer corps of cavalry. (1808)

Upstairs in the sprawling mansion, I located part of the uniform of the Derbyshire Yeomanry Cavalry, a jacket I believe from the late 19th century;

Made from blue wool cloth with scarlet trimmings by Stokes and Co of Derby, the gilt metal buttons are cast with the Derbyshire Yeomanry crest. The remaining red-striped dark blue trousers and black boots were due to be also displayed sometime later this year. I suspect that the uniform is similar to this one, a heavy dragoon-style, depicted in my wonderful yeomanry regiments book with plates by Richard Simkin;

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Derbyshire Yeomanry c.1900 by Richard Simkin.

Displayed alongside the uniform was this fascinating artefact; a musical score of marches written for the Derbyshire Yeomanry by famous composer Joseph Haydn, no less, for Sir Henry Harpur the Baronet and his “Volunteer Cavalry of Derbyshire embodied in the year 1794”. The very pleasant piece of baroque classical music is on youtube.

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Haydn’s marches for the Derbyshire Yeomanry!

And that wasn’t all. In a child’s playroom, of all places, I found another piece of exotic weaponry. Behind some marbles and beside a cot was a shield. To me, it was an unmistakable design which was commonly seen during the Victorian army’s campaigns in the Sudan during the 1880s and 1890s. I asked the helpful assistant in the room who admitted that she wasn’t sure about the object, but on checking the catalogue found that it was only listed as being a “Round primitive shield made of thick, light-coloured animal hide. Possibly elephant hide.” Furthermore, the assistant showed me some spears in the same room which may have been associated with the shield. To me, they looked more like assegais than the examples of the broad bladed spears I’ve seen from the Sudan. But if that shield wasn’t from the Sudan campaign, I’ll eat my hat! I do wonder how this war booty may have ended up in an aristocratic child’s playroom in Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

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The Calke Abbey elephant-hide shield.

So, some interesting nuggets of militaria made for a pleasant surprise. Suburban Militarism has taken a particular interest in Yeomanry Cavalry regiments of late, so to find some items related to the Derbyshire Yeomanry was a real boon. I’ve not been idle on the painting front, however. Evidence of my modelling activities to come soon.

 

 

 

 

Warring in Worcestershire (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #7 – Part 2)

…Continuing my previous post on my visit to the Worcestershire Regiment and the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry museum, I thought I might showcase some of the many examples of headdress on display.

To begin at the very start, one of the very oldest exhibits in the museum was this Tarleton helmet of the early Worcestershire Yeomanry. The Tarleton was a light dragoon helmet popular with the British army at the turn of the 18th/19th century. It’s certainly a grand design with its thick bearskin crest, polished black leather, and leopard-skin turban held in place by brass chains (the pattern has faded in the photo). The same helmet was worn by other yeomanry regiments with small differences in design and colour of turbans.

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Tarleton Helmet of the Worcestershire Yeomanry

Following on from the bell shako in the 1830s (see previous post), the Worcestershire Yeomanry later adopted a Heavy Dragoon-style helmet with a white and red plume. The crest incorporates gaps on the side for ventilation, essential on a hot day.

A change to the uniform of hussars brought with it the busby headdress with a red bag and, for the officers, this dramatic, tall red plume.

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Yeomanry’s busby

As the Worcestershire Yeomanry prepared to send its sons off to the Anglo-Boer War, they were each presented by Lady Dudley with a replica Pear Blossom to wear in their khaki slouch hats. One of these touching presentations was on display with its brief dedication still attached (“…to wear on entering Pretoria”). This tradition continued when they served in First World War Palestine, the yeomanry wore a stitched version of the pear blossom became their badge in their Wolesley pith helmet (see below).

Finally, moving beyond the period of history usually covered by Suburban Militarism, there was also the helmet below worn by the yeomanry in their final days as a horse mounted regiment. This thick cork hat was known as the Topee and was employed in hot or tropical climates and I was delighted to find one on display.

I mentioned the wonderful Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers uniform and headdress in the previous post, but there was also two other helmets on display in the same case. On the left is the rifle volunteers undress cap with a bugle-horn badge (a symbol universally used by light infantry troops); and on the right is a French-style shako with a green ball plume.

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Contrast with this version of the shako worn by the militia, an 1861 pattern;

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A few remaining items of headdress that took my interest. The hat on the top left is an unusual cap called a Broderick. It was based on a German design (possibly Landwehr?) and used for a brief period between 1904-1908.  Next to it is the khaki service pith helmet used by the Worcestershire Regiment during the Boer War, is much more familiar. It’s dull and dusty colouring was essential to avoid being a victim of Boer sniper fire out on the veldt. It contrasts nicely with the more formal version with spike in the bottom photo.

And finally, there was a significant display on the action of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry at Huj in Palestine. Having just announced that my figures are now on display at the Warwickshire Yeomanry museum, it’s perhaps appropriate to finish on this topic. Aside from fascinating artefacts such as the Wolseley helmet already depicted, there was a moving story of a yeomanry officer who later became a vicar. On Remembrance Day 1946, Jack Parsons (who won a Military Cross as a Lieutenant in the charge at Huj) performed a sermon in his new calling as a vicar. In he service, he used the bible as his inspiration in pledging to take his old yeomanry sword and a Turkish one and together remake them as a ploughshare. The new ploughshare was used to sow and grow wheat for communion. Now, that’s what I call ‘up-cycling’. The remade plough was on display together with the remaining two sword hilts; a nice coda to the Huj story, I thought.

Well, that’s enough history and museum talk. Back to the modelling soon…

Worcester Warriors (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #7 – Part 1)

Having had a week away from work, I promised myself (with my good lady’s consent) a day trip out to a regimental museum. Having recently visited the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum to deposit my figures into their care, I fancied a trip out to their sister regiment; namely the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry collection in Worcester’s City Museum & Art Gallery.

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Uniforms of the Worcestershire Yeomanry. Left; c.1837 scarlet tunic and shako. Right; trooper’s hussar uniform with the undress Pill-box hat c.1892. Background painting by W.J. Pringle depicts an 1838 review of the Yeomanry.

Aside from the yeomanry, within the museum were other non-regular army units including the local Worcestershire Artillery, Militia and Volunteer units associated with the Worcestershire Regiment. The same collection also houses exhibits from the regulars comprising the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, and of course its previous guises comprising the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot and the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot.

Worcestershire Yeomanry, Militia, Rifles and Volunteers uniforms:

The history of the county’s Yeomanry Cavalry from 1794 is told by the museum right up to its amalgamation with the Warwickshire Yeomanry in 1956. Like the Warwickshires, the Worcestershire Yeomanry initially sported a light dragoon style uniform with a Tarleton helmet. Their jacket was scarlet, rather than the Warwick’s French Grey, with blue facings. On entering the museum, I was immediately faced with this splendid re-creation of the uniform below.

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Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry circa 1794.

They eventually adopted the bell-top shako in the 1831, a Heavy Dragoon helmet in 1850, and by 1871 a dark blue hussar style uniform replete with busby.Much of these wonderful uniforms and helmets were on display in the case below:

As the yeomanry were only raised for service on home soil, when the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 created a dire need for more cavalry a new national force was raised from volunteers drawn from the national yeomanry regiments; the Imperial Yeomanry. Two companies of yeomen from the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry signed up to serve in the IY, earning the regiment’s first battle honour. Following this conflict, they briefly adopted an apparently unloved lancer uniform inspired by the Australian New South Wales lancers who attended Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897.

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Lancer style uniform with red plastron which could be turned back to match the khaki,

In WWI, the regiment served in Palestine (alongside the Warwickshire Yeomanry) and took part in their spectacular and successful cavalry charge of Turkish lines at Huj. A particularly effective model, I thought, of a yeomanry trooper during this campaign was on display;

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A fine life-size model of a yeomanry trooper circa 1917 in Palestine, looking suitably dusty and thirsty.

In the mid-19th century, the yeomanry cavalry also had an attached artillery force dressed in blue coats. Evidence of their existence came to light recently when these 6 pounder and 3 pounder cannonballs were dug up near the base in Hewell Grange. The artillery detachment was finally disbanded in 1871 with the guns being sent on to Woolwich.

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Whilst chatting to the helpful lady at the gift shop, I noticed a truly enormous canvas above her depicting an 1838 review of the Yeomanry. Upon this could be seen the distant artillery detachment firing a salute. Just prior to this review, the regiment had been newly honoured by the young Queen Victoria who had awarded them the prefix “The Queen’s Own”.

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A white plume of cannon smoke can just be seen in the centre of this fantastic canvas by local artist W.J. Pringle, evidence of the yeomanry’s artillery detachment in action.

The Worcestershire Militia pre-dated the establishment of the yeomanry by a very long time indeed. In fact, the local militia’s precedents go back to the forming of the Fyrd during the Anglo-Saxon era. The militia was commonly called upon during national emergencies such as the Spanish Armada in 1588 and later in the English Civil War during 1642–1651. It was formally re-established in 1770, uniforms and other exhibits being on display from this era. After the 1881 Childer’s reforms, the two county Militia battalions were classified as the 3rd and 4th Battalions (to join the 1st and 2nd regular battalions) of the Worcestershire Regiment. I noticed that the Worcestershire Militia was depicted in another nice painting on display, showing them drilling on the south coast in readiness for an expected invasion by Napoleon.

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Militia officer’s 1830 pattern tunic with 1816 pattern shako.

Rifle Volunteer organisations were another element of national defence forces, and, after intense lobbying, these were established with patriotic fervour on a wide scale from 1859 onwards. Worcestershire being no exception. The Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers came into being in 1859 with their battalions eventually becoming the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment. I think these dark green uniforms sported by the rifle volunteers at this time are particularly fine. The prospect of wearing such a rifleman’s uniform would possibly have been enough to make me sign up, I think, were I proficient with a rifle!

The 2nd part of this Day Trip report will look more closely at headgear on display, amongst other things. Until then, there’s still three more uniforms I wish to show! From right to left; an 1860s officer of the 29th Foot uniform with french-style shako; a wonderfully ornate Sikh jacket captured on the battlefield of Ferozeshah, 1st Anglo-Sikh War 1845; and an 1815 pattern officers coat belonging to a Lt. Colonel of the 36th Foot.

Part 2 of this Suburban Militarism Day Trip to follow…

 

 

 

 

 

Exciting News!

I’m delighted to announce some rather exciting news regarding my figures. Having recently painted the Warwickshire Yeomanry figures, I hit upon an idea. Recalling from a previous visit that the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum had a very impressive collection of model soldiers, I wondered whether they might be interested in my own humble efforts (using figures by Perry Miniatures) at depicting the early incarnation of its regiment .

Earlier today, I revisited the museum in Warwick where Trustee Mr Philip Wilson graciously accepted them as an acquisition to be displayed on permanent loan!

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I’m especially pleased that these figures will be on display here at this venue because in my opinion the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum is especially good. It is a provincial regimental Museum staffed and supported by volunteers only. These volunteers bring not only great enthusiasm, but an extensive knowledge and understanding of the regiment and its history, and this is reflected in the high quality of the displays and exhibits.

Great exhibits and fascinating artefacts (not to say great model soldiers), abound. For this fan of military art, the museum seems especially blessed with great paintings, prints, caricatures and other illustrations. I saw a number of originals from which I based the painting of my own figures, including the oil painting of an officer of the 4th Kineton Troop. Many of my favourite artists, such as Simkin and Orlando Norie, are in evidence, but the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the original painting of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry’s glorious charge at Huj by the famed Lady Butler .

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Lady Butler’s “Charge of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry at Huj”.

All of this (now including my painted figures of course), is accomodated in a splendidly renovated basement of the Court House in Warwick. Temporarily housed in one on the display cabinets, my figures will be soon moved to another cabinet within which is housed an original WYC Tarleton helmet, sabres and ephemera relating to the early period in the regiment’s history. A more suitable place for them in the museum, I couldn’t imagine!

Whilst signing over my figures into the care of the museum, Mr Wilson kindly showed me facsimiles of beautiful illustrations of the regiment engaged in sword drill. It is gratifying to note that these pictures suggest a type of jacket closer to those on my figures than I had originally thought possible.

It was also suggested that the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum’s own website might soon be updated with photos of my figures on display. None of my figures have ever been on any kind of public display before and I don’t mind admitting that I’m very gratified some are now appearing in such a fine museum. Following all the positive testimony I’ve given in this post, I do therefore heartily recommend giving the (free admission!) Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum a visit. You will find knowledgable and friendly staff on hand and, of course, my figures are now on display there!

Further information on the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum website can be accessed here

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Acquisition form: Proudly signing my figures over to the museum’s collection!

Maxims and Buddhists (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #6 – Part 2)

Continuing my report on my trip to the Royal Norfolk Regimental museum, where I was happily touring the regimental galleries whilst my wife and young daughter were hitting the local Norwich shops…

The 1903/04 Younghusband expedition to Tibet has often been described as the last of Queen Victoria’s ‘little wars’. Although Her Majesty had passed away a few years before the adventure, it certainly bore all the hallmarks of a typical Victorian colonial army venture. A key feature of such wars, I’ve always felt, was the clash of cultures. The Zulus, Maoris, Sikhs, Egyptians and Chinese had cultures utterly distinct from the British, and indeed from each other. Globalisation and the modern world would steadily erode these differences but significant ‘first contact’ moments with these disparate peoples were often of a military nature.

The Tibet expedition yielded a clash with a people utterly different to the British, and quite distinct even from other nations of the region. The stark nature of these differences was brought into sharp focus with the use of modern western weaponry, in particular the Maxim machine gun. It was a struggle to manage at times in the extreme cold but was nonetheless devastatingly effective against Tibetan swords.

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This particular maxim was used by Lt Hadow and his 17-strong detachment of Norfolks on the expedition and he boasted of it being able to fire 450 rounds a minute. The devastating effect upon the matchlock-armed Tibetans, even as they were retiring, seems to have elicited moral discomfort from some British troops. “I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire, though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible”, wrote Hadow later. “I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.” Reaction in Britain to the massacre at Chumik Shenko had been one of “shock [and] growing disquiet”. Magazines such as Punch expressed critical views of the situation where “half-armed men” were being wiped out “with the irresistible weapons of science.” The First World War was only a decade away.

Displayed alongside the Maxim, with some poignancy, are the Buddhist religious artefacts and artworks taken during the venture. Having been rather isolated from the outside world, the contrast between 20th century mechanised warfare and an ancient religious tradition is starkly contrasted in this display.

Against this industrial military power, the Tibetans were still using flint and tinder pouches for their stone-ball firing muskets, and wielded long swords.

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Stone musket balls with a wooden scabbard behind

Looting and the collection of exotic artefacts was common practise and not just in the British army of the time. It’s a contentious topic for sure, but I’m grateful that as a consequence I am at least able to see these wonderful and well-preserved objects close up. As a buddhist myself, (yes, a buddhist with an interest in military history – I’m a complicated guy), it’s a particular pleasure. Lt Hadow’s granddaughter, Celia Hadow, transported one looted statue of the Buddha back to Tibet to return to the 14th Dalai Lama himself and BBC Radio 4 made a programme about it called ‘The Return of the Buddha’ in 2004.

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Tibetan artefacts on display above included a brass statue of the Buddha, two clay teacher statues, a bone prayer trumpet used by Lamas, a prayer wheel, a wooden printing block, and a golden chorten (a model of a religious monument) taken at the battle of Gyantse.

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A fine Bhutanese dagger in the collection was a diplomatic gift to Lt Hadow from the ruler of Bhutan, Tongsa Penlop, who accompanied the Younghusband Mission.

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At a different part of the castle was a gallery entitled  ‘Treasure, Trade and the Exotic’, which I discovered included one more looted exhibit; a ceremonial bone apron.

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Although the British invasion caused destruction and harm to Tibet, arguably this seems to pale in comparison to what the country has suffered, and continues to suffer since then.

There was so much of interest to see in this small but effective collection that I simply include a gallery below of some more objects which I thought particularly noteworthy:

A visit to the castle shop yielded an excellent book on The Royal Norfolk Regiment by Tim Carew, which I’ve been eagerly devouring ever since. From this history, it seems the regiment was subject to numerous disasters and bouts of being virtually wiped out! Disease (mostly), storms at sea, extreme privations, or incompetent generalship were sometimes to blame, but never was it as a consequence of the bravery or competence of its soldiers. Britannia must have been proud of her sons.

That visit has whetted my appetite for another museum venture. I’m having to travel farther afield to find new collections but they’re often worth the effort when I do. In the meantime, now my holiday is over I will be soon back once more to the modelling.

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Reading material!

 

Rule Britannia! (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #6 – Part 1)

I’ve just returned from a wonderful holiday by the sea. Aside from beachcombing, I did occasionally head inland and one such trip visited Norwich, a city which was once my home for year back in 1998/99 whilst I was studying at the UEA (University of East Anglia).

It was terrific to return to the’fine city’ of Norwich once again, a city I always loved to live in, but one of my aims with this visit was to see the Royal Norfolk Regiment collection. This is currently housed in the walls of the castle, along with a number of other collections covering such diverse themes as Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds, Victorian taxidermy and other exotic collections. Consequently, the regimental museum suffers a little from a lack of space and also has to compete for the attention of visitors faced with a plethora of other distractions.

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The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Nevertheless, I always enjoy a regimental museum and the Norfolk Regiment version certainly did not disappoint! The Norfolk Regiment has a long, proud and occasionally tragic history. Becoming the 9th Regiment of Foot in 1751, it later was dubbed the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot. Raised by James II in 1685, it served in Europe’s 7 Years War, the yellow fever ridden West Indies, troublesome Ireland, revolutionary America, enjoyed some recuperation in Japan, and found very great renown for its actions during the Peninsular War. In the Victorian era, it fought in the diseased trenches of the Crimea and in all of the ferocious Sikh and Afghan wars, settling into Indian service before being renamed simply The Norfolk Regiment in 1881.

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Royal Norfolk Regimental Drum

In 1799 the King approved the Regiment’s use of Britannia as its symbol and her depiction was much in evidence in the museum. Britannia’s image was portrayed in many versions on cap badges, crossbelt buckles, waist belt buckles, snuff boxes, pouches and buttons. The image of Britannia gave rise to the nickname ‘ Holy Boys ‘ awarded to the Regiment when Spanish soldiers mistook the figure of Britannia on the soldiers’ badges for the Virgin Mary.

Poor old Britannia even took a direct hit from a bullet as evidenced by this brass crossbelt buckle which (presumably) may have at least saved the life of its wearer during the desperate 2-day battle of Ferozeshah during the 1st Anglo-Sikh War, 1845.

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Other metalwork on display included this pair of wonderful Afghan army helmets, captured during the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War. The design is similar to the brass dragoon helmet then popular with the British cavalry. This pair appears to have been made in Afghanistan, showing less-than-sophisticated workmanship they were manufactured in a somewhat asymmetrical manner!

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Asymmetrical Afghan infantry helmets.

Space limitations no doubt limited the number of uniforms on display, nonetheless there was a fine example of an officers coatee worn by Ensign Duncan Pirie who sadly died of fever in India in 1839. The red sash around the waist meanwhile belonged to a Lt Douglas in the Crimean War (1854-56). It is ominously blood stained and holed by a bullet.

The excellent computer archive on the regiment’s timeline demonstrated many wonderful paintings and watercolours of the regiment, including some work on the regiment by the wonderful Richard Simkin and this watercolour below by Henry Martens, showing a detachment of the 9th Foot entering the Fortress of Allahabad after the First Sikh War in 1845-6. A shame that none were available in the shop for this fan of military art.

Watercolour by Henry Martens, showing a detachment of the 9th

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Watercolour believed to depict soldiers of the 9th in India but could in fact depict a scene in Egypt! An example of the curatorial problems encountered by museums.

Finally, also catching my eye was this protective armour plating used during bayonet fencing. There was also displayed a large helmet with an enourmous face guard used for the same purpose. From my photo there can also be seen a splended Bell shako with dark green plume. Britannia taking pride of place as always on the badge!

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Part two of this museum report (featuring some wonderful Tibetan buddhist exhibits) to follow shortly….