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“.

cigaretteterri12
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.

1st-LG-at-TEK-HP
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.

640px-Tel_El_Kebir1882
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.

…And they’re finished: 3rd London Rifle Volunteers!

The third vignette of groups of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. It took a little longer than planned thanks in no small part to the unwelcome appearance of a gastric virus which has laid me low for a few days. Feeling a little better today, I charged for the finishing line by finishing the basing and popping on the plaque. I feel pretty satisfied with these figures, although the blue shading on their puttees hasn’t really come out on the photographs as I’d hope.

3rd London RVC (4)

3rd London RVC (12)

At the last moment, I decided to dispose of the usual distance marker and so just have them all blazing away on a local range.

3rd London RVC (9)

One of the things that I do like about these Perry Miniatures figures is the ability to create one’s own poses by twisting a limb or positioning some figures to suggest a narrative.

3rd London RVC (14)

I particularly like these two figures below, depicting a sergeant and a private deep in conversation while their officer issues some instructions behind them to the group.

3rd London RVC (5)

Likewise,although I was initially unsure whether a figure (2nd from right below) would work, but now appreciate how he appears to be gazing off down the rifle range after the target, assessing his shot.

3rd London RVC (6)

3rd London RVC (7)

These figures came with backpacks which I chose to retain, seeing as the group on the cover of the book “Riflemen, Form!” which inspired my choice of corps could also be seen wearing their full kit. Also, their facings are described as being buff coloured, not yellow, and so I repainted the collars. Their cuffs are shown on the colourised photograph as being black or navy blue, not buff, and I’ve retained this simply to match the photo as much as possible. Oh – and, ah, …I’ve just realised that I need to finish the shoulder straps!

3rd London RVC (11)

51ICUPFiKoL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

3rd London RVC (10)

So far in my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project I’ve depicted three corps:

My Victorian Rifle Volunteers Project has at least one more group to come before the end of this year. And this next group I intend to depict as being in action against a real enemy rather than shooting defenceless targets out on the rifle range! Students of Victorian military history may therefore be able to guess the rifle volunteer corps I have in mind – others will have to wait to a forthcoming post!

Update: 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps…

We are not armed to carry war
To near or distant land
To steep the smiling globe with gore
Or prowl with hostile band.
But we are trained with trust above
To guard our native coast,
Our Queen, our fame – our home we love,
And those we love the most. 

Alfred Richards, “Our Volunteers”, 1860.

3rd London RVC (7)
In progress but getting there – man of the 3rd London RVC

As I indicated in recent post, my third subject for my Victorian Rifle Volunteer project is the 3rd City of London RVC, a small group of whom featured on the cover of a book on the topic of the Rifle Volunteers that I’d been reading; Ian Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form!” My figures are nearing completion, yet there’s still plenty to do including much of their equipment, and of course their base (being another rifle range on a wooden plinth).

3rd London RVC (12)
This figure is supposed to be looking down the rifle range after taking a shot?

One of the key instigators of the early Victorian rifle volunteer movement was a journalist, playwright and poet called Alfred Bate Richards who personally enlisted 1000 men to form the ‘Workmen’s Volunteer Brigade’.

3rd London RVC (11)
A sergeant.

This brigade later became formally known as the 3rd City of London Rifle Volunteer Corps, the same depicted by my figures. Its uniform was scarlet with buff yellow facings and brass buttons. In January 1862, Richards came in for some ridicule when he proposed changing his men’s original kepis and shakos headdress to a bearskin and a red plume, despite the financial difficulties experienced by his corps. Eventually, they adopted the Home Service pattern spiked helmet seen worn by these figures.

3rd London RVC (9)

Richards was also active in raising money to send a force of volunteers, the ‘British Legion’, to assist the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi in his campaign of liberation. Many of the ‘Garibaldi Excursionists’, as the Legion was known, were members of the new Rifle Volunteer Corps, perhaps some even from his own 3rd London RVC. This attracted controversy, particularly when the politically neutral government sought to discourage moves for the 3rd London RVC to personally entertain Garibaldi on a visit.

171041-004-157A8D22
Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1861.

3rd London RVC (6)

The men were generally less well-off than some other London RVCs recruited from the professions and middle classes, although some financial support was received from the City of London and the Livery Companies.

3rd London RVC (4)

Without its own drill hall, its parades were held variously at central London locations such as Regent’s Park, the Ditch of the Tower of London and at Gray’s Inn Square. Formal inspections and award ceremonies were held in London’s Guildhall, whilst their annual inspection was carried out at Horse Guards Parade (very prestigious!). Church parades were held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street and the corps headquarters were at various locations within the square mile of the City of London.

3rd London RVC (8)

Alfred Richards recruited his friend, Major General Beatson of the Bengal Army, to be the 3rd London RVC’s honorary colonel for a period. Being a corps made up of generally less wealthy men than many other London corps, it was in need of a patron with money and Richards eventually persuaded a baronet to become its corps commandant and replacement Honorary Colonel, with Richards acting in the capacity as major and second in command.

3rd London RVC (14)
Officer with field glasses. He wears leather gaiters instead of puttees.

 

3rd City of London rifles helme
1878 Officer’s Home Service Pattern helmet of the 3rd London RVC.

Having a poet as their founder it was appropriate that their motto was a quote from the Roman poet Virgil; “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work conquers everything). Another poet who was a vocal supporter of the Rifle Volunteer movement was the poet laureate, Lord Tennyson. He wrote to Richards congratulating him on having been a key instigator of the movement and added, “I hope you will not rest from your labours until it is the law of the land that every man-child born in it shall be trained to the use of arms.’ Quite a surprising aim, perhaps, for men of the ‘pen’ to be striving for widespread use of the ‘sword’!

Next update will hopefully include the based figures themselves, though with a couple of other projects on the go it may take a couple of weeks to finally get there. Oh well, “Labor Omnia Vincit”, to quote Virgil!

3rd London RVC (3)

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.

Rifle volunteers 3 (4)
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.

51ICUPFiKoL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

51ICUPFiKoL._SX332_BO1,204,203,20jjlkjkl0_.jpg
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.

Rifle volunteers 3 (3)

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!

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.

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (8)

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!

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (12)

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.

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (1)

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

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (7)

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (4)

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

Robin Hood Rifles Finished (14)

 

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.

robin hood rifles pic
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!

DSCF2503
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.

Cigarette cards (14)

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!

Rifles cheshire (1)

Rifles cheshire (2)

Rifles cheshire (4)
And I’ve a plaque already engraved for the next group of volunteer riflemen – the Robin Hood Rifles!