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!

 

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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….

The Leicestershire Yeomanry Collection (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #4)

For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Leicestershire Yeomanry collection

The Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is based in a museum at Loughborough’s Carillon. The Carillon is an imposing war memorial built during the early 1920s in the wake of the carnage of the First World War. On the outside of the tower are listed the names of the fallen, whilst inside is housed a military museum and a carillon. A Carillon is an instrument consisting of over 24 bells (played with the fists!) usually housed in some kind of bell tower. These are a particularly common feature in the Flanders region of Belgium where in the First World War much of the British army had fought and died, including many local men in the Leicestershire regiments.

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The Carillon War Memorial and Museum

The bodies of many of these locals who’d been killed during the war remained buried, or missing, over in Flanders far beyond the reach of many relatives. Loughborough’s Carillon building was an admirable memorial attempt to at least bring the sounds of Flanders to the townsfolk of Loughborough; a clever connection made to another land where local men had been lost, never to return. It is within this local landmark tower that the Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is housed.

A model of a trooper in the Leicestershire Yeomanry.
A model of a trooper in the Leicestershire Yeomanry.

It’s been longer than I care to remember since I visited the Carillon and I really can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to revisit. The floor which features the Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is accessible up a tight spiral staircase which ultimately can lead visitors right up into the belfry itself in the very top of the tower. The Yeomanry room is small but effective and features lots of artefacts of interest.

Raised in 1794 at the Three Crowns Inn in Leicester by Sir William Skeffington, the regiment was a response to the threat of invasion by revolutionary France. At the time of this emergency, the Yeomanry would have worn the Tarleton helmet common to regular cavalry of the time, and one example was on display.

An example of the early Yeomanry's Tarleton helmet.
An example on display of the early Yeomanry’s Tarleton helmet.
'Naive and stylised' contemporary painting of a long-serving Quartermaster in the 1830s.
‘Naive and stylised’ contemporary painting of a long-serving Quartermaster in the mid-1800s. Notably, he still wears a Tarleton just before the  change to 1850s style shakos.

The Yeomanry went through a number of headgear changes which is explained in detail on the excellent Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry website, before settling for a while on the 1873 busby.

A busby of the Yeomanry.
A busby of the PAOLYC.

The Yeomanry were formally named “Prince Albert’s Own” Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry (PAOLYC) in 1844, in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort. As a home service force, the regiment was mobilised to enforce public order on a number of occasions. Tackling civil disturbance was never glamorous work – the most notorious example being the Manchester Yeomanry’s debacle at the Peterloo Massacre. Until their contribution to the Boer War effort, public feelings about yeomanry forces could be mixed. However, not being exposed to the same harsh realities of overseas warfare as regular cavalry meant that yeomanry regiments were able to be more decorative and colourful in their uniforms right up into the 20th century.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the PAOLYC were dressed a dark blue uniform of hussars with the aforementioned busby for headgear. Models and photographs of this uniform were on display.

Officer of the LYC.
Officer’s uniform of the PAOLYC.
Photograph taken in 1898 of the LYC.
Photograph of C Squadron of the PAOLYC, 1899. They are wearing informal forage caps instead of busbys.
Ornate Sabretache with the letters LYC for Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry.
Ornate Sabretache with the letters LYC for Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry and the regiment’s prefix “Prince Albert’s Own” in a scroll underneath.

Being intended strictly for home service, yeomanry forces across the country gave volunteers to the newly formed “Imperial Yeomanry” for service in the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the century, the PAOLYC itself submitting two companies.

Boer War service memorabilia.
Boer War service memorabilia.

There was much more to see in the museum on the ground and second floors, comprehensively covering the first and second world wars. Requiring some effort, the top floors gave access to the carillon and its bells for which the great composer Edward Elgar wrote “Memorial Chimes” as the inaugural piece of music. Finally, at the very top (for those without a ridiculous fear of heights like the author), a balcony offered great views over the entire county.

Note: A comprehensive and informative website dedicated to the Leicestershire Yeomanry can be found here and, as with the Carillon Museum itself, is well worth a visit. See also Arnhem Jim blog for a little more info on Richard Simkin’s Yeomanry prints, an example of which is at the top of this post and also in my own possession.

A Suburban Militarism Day Trip: Part 1

In a short break from the modelling, it’s time to talk military history. A public holiday offered the chance of a day trip out to a military museum that I hadn’t visited before. The Sherwood Foresters Museum is based in Nottingham Castle and contains artefacts relating to the 45th Nottinghamshire and the 95th Derbyshire regiments; also the Derbyshire and Royal Sherwood Foresters Militias (militia and rifle volunteers); and related local volunteer battalions. I was expecting a modest display but in fact was really impressed by the quality and range of exhibits. There were plenty of uniforms, headgear and weapons on display; perfect for a military history nerd like me!

Boer War
Boer War pith helmet and bugle.
Nappy redcoat
Napoleonic officer’s coat with excellent examples of a Waterloo Belgic shako (top left), an officers bicorn hat (bottom left), and Stovepipe Shako (bottom right).

French Style Shako

Above are fascinating examples of Crimean War era headgear. A Quilted Albert Shako (top), Albert “Last” Shako with braiding (middle) and a similar but distinctly taller French style shako (foreground).

Bell Top Sjako and Uniform 2
1830s era uniforms with the large Bell Top Shako. Check out those epaulettes!
Militia and Volunteers Uniforms
Notts and Derbyshire Militia & Volunteers uniform displays.

Prior to the visit, I was reading a book review recently in my Victorian Military Society journal about the siege of Magdala in the Abyssinian campaign of 1868, so was delighted to coincidentally find some related artefacts to this campaign. There are claims to have such war booty returned to Ethiopia. It’s a contentious subject for sure, but for now it was wonderful to get the opportunity to see these astonishing objects close up.

Magdala
Artefacts taken from the fortress of  King “Theodore’s” Magdala in Abyssinia: ‘The Magdala Cross’ and ‘The Magdala Cup’, one of several made of horn and silver.

The Crimean War has long been a favourite subject of Suburban Militarism, so I was pleased to see numerous artefacts relating to that conflict, as well. There was a small mortar from the siege of Sevastopol and also a captured Russian drum whose black and white pattern was later deliberately replicated on the 95th’s own regimental drum. Crimean Mortar Crimean Russian Drum 2 Another very Close Shave

Above – Capt. MacDonald of the 95th’s cross belt. Astonishingly, a Russian musket ball remains lodged in the brass lion’s mouth. Having thus barely survived the battle of the Alma, he later survived 20 bayonet wounds received at the later battle of Inkerman too!

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Watercolour print of the 95th on Parade in the Crimea. Artist unknown (J.N. Crealock?)

I’m always interested in military artwork and there were some interesting examples such as the watercolour above. In part 2 of the Suburban Militarism day trip, there’s some more artwork to come…