Men in Scarlet

Just a quick update on my painting exploits here at Suburban Militarism. The past couple of months has seen my latest project (Victorian rifle volunteers) take shape with mini dioramas of the Cheshire Greys and the Robin Hood Rifles. I can announce that the third instalment has finally begun.

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First basecoats for my new Rifle Volunteer Corps…

These figures arms and heads have been glued and the whole thing primed. Indeed, the first lick of paint has been applied and, after the grey Cheshires and green Notts rifle volunteers, you will notice they are being painted scarlet – a more familiar colour for a British soldier at this time. The majority of Rifle Volunteer Corps initially had red tunics and later the government stipulated that any change of colour to existing RVC uniforms had to be red.

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Another thing that is slightly different about these figures are the puttees around the calves rather than the leather leggings worn by my previous two corps. Essentially, my idea is to recreate the men depicted in a colourised photograph on the front of “Riflemen, Form!”, a book studying the Victorian rifle volunteer movement which I read recently.

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3rd London RVC, 1896 with Gatling gun.

The group in the 1896 photograph of the 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps (11th Volunteer Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps), posing nonchalantly with a Gatling Gun. They are wearing red tunics with yellow facings, white leather equipment, spiked Home Service helmets, and white trousers with dark blue puttees.

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To enable me to replicate this dress, I’ve purchased some loose sprues of Perry Miniatures Afghanistan War British Infantry figures which feature the puttees seen in the photograph. This set, however, doesn’t come with the home service helmets so I’ve used those which came with Perry’s Zulu War kit.

I’ll be back with more pics once I’ve progressed this group a little further!

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The Robin Hood Rifles

By second group of rifle volunteers, the Robin Hood Rifles, have now been given the plinth and plaque treatment. The final result is pleasing enough, but I’ve struggled a little to get the rifleman’s green uniform to my satisfaction. My first attempt looked fine enough but the highlights were too bold and made the uniform look far lighter in shade than it would have been. The next attempt is the one you see now. The highlights are more subtle but the shade of green isn’t quite to my satisfaction, although I maintain it looks closer to the original versions seen in the museum than appears in these photos.

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After some deliberation, I’ve reproduced another rifle range scene, given that this is the only location where these volunteer riflemen might be conceivably discharging their Martini-Henrys!

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I chose some different figures from the Perry Miniatures sprue and /or  glued them in different poses to further differentiate them from the Cheshire Greys. This has allowed me to depict a sergeant making a suggestion to his officer, gesturing to men in the firing line.

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The officer, meanwhile, is using his field glasses to observe the hits (or misses) on the targets some 300 yards away.

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There are two other Rifle Volunteer Corps that it’s my intention to represent. However, they will require slightly different figures to the ones I’ve been using hitherto from the Zulu War British Infantry box (although the figures are indeed still from Perry Miniatures). I’m not certain whether I shall launch into one of these straight away or take a breather from rifle volunteers and tackle some other figures. I shall reveal my intentions in the next post! Till next time,

Marvin

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Merry Men

With the final touches having been applied to my Cheshire Rifle Volunteers, I’ve pressed on with another batch of Victorian volunteer riflemen. There’s certainly plenty to choose from, there being a large number raised after 1859. A number of Rifle Volunteer Corps were known by names which evoked their origins in some way, such as the Post Office Rifles or the Artist’s Rifles.

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Men of the Robin Hood Rifles in the 1880s.

The volunteers that I’m painting however were known by their county’s association with a local outlaw; Robin Hood. Like their namesake, the Robin Hood Rifles were dressed in green, and not just any green; Lincoln Green, of course!

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Victorian uniforms of the Robin Hood Rifles on display in the Mercian regimental museum, Nottingham.

The figures are already all but finished and here they are so far. From the photos below, it appears that my shade of green scarcely matches the real thing (seen in my photo above). In my defence, I can only state that they do look far closer in shade with the naked eye! Having already ordered an engraved label for them (see last post), I’ll next start work on the plinth that they will stand on.

A little history: The Robin Hood Rifles during the Victorian era

The Robin Hood Rifles began life when a few friends decided to form a rifle club in the Spring of 1859. Captain J G Simpkins of the RHR recalled:

“When in the spring of 1859, the spirit of alarm or resentment, caused by the addresses of the Colonels of the French Army to the late Napoleon, spreading rapidly through the country, resulted in the formation of a volunteer corps throughout England and Scotland. I, seeing nothing officially was being done in Nottingham and having some knowledge of drill and military organisation, suggested to a few friends that we should unite and form a rifle club, so that in the event of a corps being formed we might be in a sufficient state of efficiency to form a nucleus. At a meeting of Magistrates and Deputy Lieutenants, His Grace The Duke of Newcastle, the then Lord Lieutenant with whom I had communicated, said, if such were formed the name it should bear, whether that of “Robin Hood Rifles” or “Rangers”, he thought should be one of local or county association. This was the first public meeting or suggestion of the name.

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Just six men were on the roll when the 1st Nottinghamshire Volunteer Rifle Corps first paraded on the green of Nottingham Castle. That figure rose to more than 400 within a few months at which point they became formally known as the “Robin Hood Rifles”.

The Robin Hood Rifles later had the honour of representing their country abroad in a shooting competition in 1863. They also enjoyed being inspected by Queen Victoria on multiple occasions where they received high praise from the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge, amongst others.


Meanwhile, it’s time for me to get these riflemen where they belong; on the rifle range!

A Final Touch

I thought my recently finished Cheshire Rifle Volunteers deserved some means of proclaiming who they are supposed to represent. The solution was both surprisingly cheap and easy to get hold of, I was pleased to discover. So here they are; my final photos of the Cheshire Greys now with an engraved plaque.

…And in the final pic, I reveal the identity of my next intended Rifle Volunteer group by plaque!

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And I’ve a plaque already engraved for the next group of volunteer riflemen – the Robin Hood Rifles!

Home on the Range

Presenting the finished group of Cheshire Rifle Volunteers! My little cohort consists of men of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps under instruction from an officer. Out on the rifle range, they are firing their Martini-Henry rifles at targets some 300 yards away. The year is 1884 and a county-wide shooting competition is but a week away. Some further rifle practice is needed if the Cheshire Grey’s best shots are to be in with a chance of winning that silver cup…

A little research revealed to me that the remains of long-forgotten Victorian volunteer rifle ranges do still exist around the UK, some being more readily visible than others. It seems that many of these rifle ranges fell out of use sometime before the Rifle Volunteers final absorption into the new Territorial Force in 1908. Perhaps a dwindling interest in the movement was to blame, but after 1908 I suspect that the Territorial Force’s closer ties to the county regiments of the regular army meant the volunteer battalions might have made use of the regular’s facilities instead.

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“No hits, boys? You men can actually see the target, I presume?!”

Finding appropriate drill space and rifle ranges in the early years of the movement occasionally proved problematic and caused friction with the local population. However, during the heydey of the Rifle Volunteers, the activities of the local corps could become important social events. In 1861, for example, a county-wide rifle competition was watched by a crowd estimated to be up to 30,000!

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“300 yards!? Wish I’d brought my spectacles…”

The Rifle Volunteer movement always emphasised high standards of marksmanship. So, target practice at the rifle range – described at the time as ‘that interesting, healthful and manly exercise which the Rifle movement is supposed to supply’ – was seen as the main way of maintaining the enthusiasm and skill of the volunteers. An 1864 account of a Buckinghamshire Volunteers rifle competition suggests that the chief source of motivation wasn’t always the silverware however:

“The Volunteers were cheered in no small way by the presence of a good sprinkling of the Ladies, who with a bravery not common to the sex, boldly faced the wind and appeared to take great interest in the proceedings…”

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Men of the 1st Cheshire RVC (Cheshire Greys) around the time of their formation in 1860. Most are wearing shakos of a type similar (though seemingly not the same) as the museum example below.
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Shako of the 1st Cheshire RVC, c.1860.

A 2015 story in a provincial newspaper reported on the discovery of an old rifle range which had been apparently completely forgotten by the local community. Using a metal detector, a former soldier turned amateur archaeologist was first alerted to its existence when he discovered many Victorian-era bullets in the area, saying “...the oldest is the .577/450 Martini-Henry, which came into service in 1871 and is famous for being used during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.”

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Bullets recovered from a Victorian Rifle Volunteer’s range in Dudley. Martini-Henry bullets centre and post-1889 Lee-Enfield’s either side.

He located an 1880 edition of a map of the area and discovered the rifle range was clearly marked upon it. The locator of the range, Mr Beddard, goes on to describe how the range is depicted on this old map:

It was marked ‘volunteers’, with the firing positions running from the Dudley direction for 850 yards, spaced out every 50 yards up to the target area. Some have marked firing trenches, some have raised firing positions.”

For my own models, I’ve simply included a distance marking post with my group, demonstrating that they are firing at a range of 300 yards from the targets. Not sure what form these posts would have taken, so I’ve simply used my imagination here!

A 2012 archaeological survey report by Herefordshire Council of a Rifle Volunteers’ firing range on Bromyard Downs provides a further insight into the nature of a Victorian Rifle Volunteer’s rifle range:

“The Bromyard range was, like most Volunteer ranges, extremely simple, though some were even more basic in the facilities they offered. Simplest of all was the range on Coppet Hill, Goodrich, with a single lane ending at a target in a small excavation marked as an old quarry, with no intermediate firing points indicated and no flagstaffs. At Aston Ingham near Newent, too, a single target was accommodated in a small delve cut into the rising ground”

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View up a disused Victorian rifle range near Etchinghill, Staffordshire

Others, it seems, could be more elaborate. Some would feature shelters for the riflemen acting as markers and observers. These took the form of emplacements behind the butts or as brick huts placed to the side of the range. Shooting platforms or trenches were sometimes provided, although I imagine that for many ranges firing positions would consist simply of open grassland with distance marker posts – as in my little diorama. In the Bromyard Downs report, it goes on to describe the target end of the range:

At the butts end, the map shows the targets (plural) as a solid square structure projecting forward from a short straight line. Immediately behind the targets was a backstop shown as an earthwork mound 11 yards long with its west end curving forwards. As well as a backstop, this may have acted as a mantlet, protecting the Volunteers on marking duty. Behind that… was a second embankment on the hillside above, no doubt to stop high rounds from ricocheting off the rising ground; the map bears the legend ‘Butts’ between the two embankments. There was also a flagstaff a few yards to the east, which would have given formal warning that firing was taking place and would have aided the shooters by indicating wind strength and direction at the target.

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A view of the Etchinghill backstop embankment.

Stop giggling at the back! There is nothing amusing about being ‘at the butt’s end’. In the example of the Bromyard range, it seems possible that the targets consisted of a marked iron plate, a notion supported by a number of severely flattened spent bullets.

Next, I might put a label on the wooden plinth indicating what the figures represent…

Well, as the painting of these Perry Miniatures figures have been far from anything like a pain in the ‘butt’, be warned that I’ll be continuing this little Volunteer Rifle Corps project with my next small batch of riflemen representing another corps, some of which have already been glued together. More details to follow!

 

Men in Grey Suits

The volunteer defenders
Of Britain’s isle are we
To heaven sworn to hold it
From all invaders free
Poem by Lt.-Col Buck, 16th Kent Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1876

My painting of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps figures is now all but complete! A couple of last minute touches and varnish needed only. They’ve been a real pleasure to paint and these Perry Miniatures figures are sculpted to their usual very high standard.

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Man of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C, c.1880s

Painting these riflemen, as so often in conversions, was an exercise in making decisions wherever the information was sketchy, or where the figures were missing some necessary detail. According to the Cheshire Military Museum’s own guide, the Cheshire Volunteers “after the 1870s… adopted a grey uniform rather than red.” Yet by 1881, scarlet was the only change in uniform colour permitted for volunteers in the Childers reforms of that year, so I presume the changeover to grey uniforms for all Cheshire rifle volunteers must have occurred only just in time.

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Reaching for another bullet…

I’ve gone for a Vallejo Neutral Grey base colour for the uniform which seemed a reasonable match for the rifle volunteer uniform I saw on display in the Cheshire Military Museum.

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Officer offering instruction at the rifle butts

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The scrolling on the sleeves are a little different, but I’ve just gone with the sculpting. I’ve also gone with the assumption that they would have been issued with accoutrements similar to the regulars, wearing black expense pouches and belts as befitted riflemen but retaining a white haversack in the manner of this illustration of a similarly uniformed member of the 14th Middlesex (Inns of Court) R.V.C.

Inns of Court

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I wasn’t at all certain whether my Cheshire Grey’s trousers would have had a stripe down the sides, in the usual military fashion of the day, and if so – what colour. Ultimately, I went for a red stripe in order to add a little extra colour to all that greyness.

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The weapon of these Perry Zulu War British Infantry figures is a Martini-Henry rifle, a breech-loading single shot firing .450 inch bullets with an effective range of up to 400 yards. It seems that in 1879, coincidentally the year of the Anglo-Zulu War in which the weapon acquired some fame, the Rifle Volunteers did indeed begin to be issued with the Martini-Henry rifle as a replacement to the Enfield they’d previously been using. The issuing of this firearm to all the Rifle Volunteers would take up to six years to complete, but it appears that my own Cheshire Greys have got their hands on them, at any rate!

 

My intention now is to place them in some kind of diorama. As I’ve said before, I’ve little experience at creating any kind of ‘dio’, but I can just about manage a bit of grass, so that’s what it might be. The idea is to show them in a group practising their shooting, possibly at the local rifle butts, or perhaps engaged in some organised national marksmanship competition against other volunteer corps.

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A rifle competition might be particularly appropriate as on display in the museum was a shooting prize (a tankard) from one such competition. All the competitors used Enfield rifles and teams of 20 men from each Rifle Volunteer battalion throughout Great Britain took part. So it seems that these Cheshire Greys might have some genuine marksmen in their ranks!

 

More to follow once I’ve got to work on the basing…