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.

Soldiers in Cigarette Cards: Part 1

When I was in my teens, my uncle would occasionally take me along to a ‘cigarette card fair’ which took place in a church hall. From the late 19th century up until the 1940s, cigarette packets would come with collectible cards. Card series topics could be anything from Household Hints, to Birds, to Association Footballers, or (of course) on military topics. Amongst the very earliest series was a set on the then ongoing conflict of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

Naturally, my interest in military history burning bright even in my teens, I chose to collect card series on military topics. Such sets as my meagre financial resources would stretch to included the following (years of issue in brackets);

  • Military Headdress (1931)
  • Regimental Colours and Cap Badges (1910)
  • Drum Banners and Cap Badges (1924)
  • Military Uniforms of the British Empire Overseas (1938)
  • Uniforms of the Territorial Army (1939)
  • Colonial & Indian Army Badges (1917)
  • Infantry Training (1915)
  • War Decorations and Medals (1927)

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I’m not sure whether these are particularly collectible today, if at all, but for me they are an interesting source of information, often with beautiful illustrations, on a variety of military-related topics. After reviewing some of these sets, I’ve decided to use this blog to start showcasing some of the best military ones I’ve discovered in storage.

To begin with, some Yeomanry and Volunteer regiments. I’ve mentioned in the last post how Yeomanry regiments have captured my interest of late, particularly with the installation of some of my figures in the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum last month. Player’s 1924 “Drum Banners and Cap Badges” series depicts a good number of Yeomanry regiments. My selection of cards from the series include:

  • Sherwood Rangers (Hussars)
  • Dorset Yeomanry (Royal Field Artillery)
  • Queen’s Own Royal Staffordshire Yeomanry (Hussars)
  • Derbyshire Yeomanry (Armoured Car Company)

The Derbyshire Yeomanry is a regiment I mentioned in my previous post. In fact, I’m surprised to realise that in recent years I’ve visited the collections of all of these regiments!

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Drum banners and cap badges of the Derbyshire Yeomanry (left) and Sherwood Rangers (right)
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Drum banners and cap badges of the Staffordshire Yeomanry (left) and Dorset Yeomanry (right).

Being all hand-drawn, the detail and skill in each card is impressive and must have taken some time to produce. It is interesting to note the variety of colours and designs used in just these four examples. The Staffordshire knot in the cap badge is an iconic symbol of that county and the Sherwood Rangers make use of oak leaves and acorns as a connection to the forest after which they are named. Two of the regiments have been converted from mounted cavalry after the First World War to alternative arms. The 14 most senior Yeomanry regiments had the honour of remaining mounted on horses as traditional cavalry, but the Dorsets have (by the time of the release of this 1924 set) been converted to Royal Field Artillery and the Derbyshire Yeomanry are shown as being an Armoured Car Company in the Tank Corps.

More references to Yeomanry regiments by Players could be found in their similar “Regimental Colours and Cap Badges” series of 1910, including this one of the Norfolk Yeomanry. As with the “Drum Banners…” series, note the excellent quality of the very detailed illustrations.

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 London Yeomanry Regiments: Left is the cap badge and guidon of the Westminster Dragoons (County) and  right is the drum banner of the Rough Riders (City)
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Guidons and cap badges of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (left) and the Norfolk Yeomanry (right).

 

And finally, continuing the volunteer regiments theme, Players also produced this set in 1939, depicting “Uniforms of the Territorial Army“. Once again, I think the illustrations here are excellent, and the line drawings of related buildings or architectural features compliments the image and subject perfectly.

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The Castlemartin Yeomanry were from Pembrokeshire and famously helped secure the capture and surrender of a French invasion force in 1797 gaining the first ever yeomanry battle honour “Fishguard”, quickly ending the last invasion of the British mainland. Shown in the splendid 1797 uniform, Pembroke Castle is sketched in the background.

The Sherwood Rangers uniforms I’d also seen at the The Queen’s Royal Lancers and Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum, the ancient Major Oak of Sherwood Forest is shown in the background.

Likewise, the Robin Hood Rifles were a volunteer rifle corps whose uniforms I saw on display last year in the Nottingham Castle museum (see my pics below). The background on their card shows the grand Exchange Buildings on High Street.

The Post Office Rifles are a regiment that’s been on my mind with regards to modelling some figures using perhaps some Italeri British Zulu War Infantry. The image is based on a contemporary depiction of their marching off to Egypt in 1882 and winning the first Volunteer overseas battle honour. The background image appropriately depicts pyramids and camels.

Finally, the Lovat Scouts are a yeomanry regiment which served with distinction in the Anglo-Boer War. As a Highland regiment they were attached to the Black Watch and later formed two companies of the Imperial Yeomanry and the card depicts them in pith helmets and khaki worn during this conflict. A typical Boer farmhouse is shown in the rear of the illustration.

Next time in this series:  Two superb sets on the topics of overseas British Empire uniforms in the 1930s and, one of my favourite sets, British military headdress.

PLEASE NOTE: Suburban Militarism is a non-smoking blog (and always has been). I’m glad that the cigarette companies don’t produce these today, however – I would be buying the packets for the cards and throwing away the cigarettes!