My local museum is currently housing an exhibition dedicated to the Anglo-Sikh Wars 1845-1849. I’ve been a member of the Victorian Military Society since the age of 14 and so was naturally thrilled when I heard of this exhibition coming to my home city. Having been able to pay a visit to it today, I can say that it was well worth the anticipation.
Leicester has a particularly close relationship with India, both historically and culturally. The Leicestershire Regiment was known as ‘the Tigers’ due to its lengthy service in India, and the city’s successful Rugby team is called the same. Today, the city of Leicester has one of the highest populations in the UK of people from the Indian subcontinent (including Sikhs) and these have contributed greatly to the city’s distinct cultural development into the 21st century. With these ties in mind, it makes Leicester an ideal venue for such an exhibition.
When the Anglo-Sikh Wars began, the Sikh army had been equipped and trained in the style of European armies of the time. A number of Napoleonic war veterans came over from Europe to assist ruler Ranjit Singh in creating a well-trained, well-equipped and well-paid fighting force. They were largely successful, but it still remained a European-Sikh hybrid as some of the army retained Sikh traditional dress, weapons and fighting methods due to cultural and religious resistance to the new ideas.
One of the first exhibits to catch my eye was this ‘foul weather’ czapka below from an officer of the 16th Lancers. The ‘foul weather’ aspect being presumably the black weather-proofing covering the headdress in favour of any other adornment or colour. The chain chinstrap could be unclipped from the back and then reapplied under the chin to a fixing on the side whenever necessary. The 16th Lancers won fame due to repeated charges made at the battle of Aliwal in the First Anglo-Sikh War. Here they successfully charged and broke the Sikh infantry squares which had been arrayed to receive cavalry in the European manner.
The next item of note was another example of military headdress. This wonderfully ornate cloth headpiece was ‘worn by officers at the battle of Aliwal’. Presumably, the curatorial staff are referring to the Sikh officers here, but it doesn’t specify which particular arm of the Sikh (or Khalsa) army. It might be a cavalry officer’s headpiece. Sikh cavalry consisted of a regular force trained in the European style of warfare, and a more irregular force known as the Gorchurra who were made up of the nobility and gentry of the Sikh kingdom. The Gorchurra resisted the European style military dress so I’m guessing that this fancy piece might be a feature of the Gorchurra?
One of the artefacts on display was already familiar to me as I’d seen it last year in Worcester during another Day Trip, it being on loan for this exhibition from the Mercian Regiment Museum there. A Sikh prince, or other high-ranking officer may well have worn this coat (below left and centre). The extremely detailed braiding at the back of the jacket could now be seen by me thanks to it’s relocation. It’s a terrific item and looks like it could easily be from the British army; albeit as a vastly more elaborate version than the peculiarly plain example worn by an officer of the 53rd regiment on the right.
Some battlefield relics I found particularly interesting, such as the piece of red cloth “cut from the sleeve of a Colour-sergeant of the 53rd Regiment mortally wounded on the battlefield of Sobraon Feb 10th 1846 and given at his request to Major Thomas Mowbray“. The scarlet still remains vivid against his sergeant’s stripe even to this day.
This Sikh artilleryman’s sword was another battlefield relic, the inscription on the blade records how it was found lying close the body of a cornet in the 16th Lancers after the battle of Aliwal, 1846.
Not all battlefield relics were of a military nature, though. A British officer’s bible taken into the battle of Chillianwallah was on display as was this Sikh manuscript was found at the battle of Ferozeshah. The item contained compositions by Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib. Lying below it can be seen two sharp circular Sikh Chakkars (war quoits) and deadly-looking Tulwars (swords) taken during the wars.
Below can be seen two British army swords, the larger being an infantry officers sword. The smaller is an 1821 pattern Light Cavalry Sabre as used by a Sergeant in the 16th Lancers. The exhibition included reports of how inferior the blunt British cavalry sabres were when compared to the razor-sharp Sikh versions.
There were a number examples of hand-drawn maps on display, these were sketches of battlefield and siege dispositions. I was also pleased to see reproductions of contemporary paintings on the war a number of which were by the artist Henry Martens depicting actions at the battles of Ramnuggur, Sobraon, Mudki and Aliwal. The artist Henry Martens could even possibly be a source for a later post, I think.
Congratulations are to go to the Sikh Museum Initiative, The Newarke Houses Museum and the many others involved in making this exhibition happen. It remains on until the 4th July 2017 and comes very well recommended by Suburban Militarism!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As promised below…!
My humble camera is never the best but hopefully these photos are adequate.
Hello. After endless login problems with this blog’s previous incarnation, Suburban Militarism has moved to WordPress. Which at least gives me a chance to start anew and begin by offering some self-reflection. In essence, what is “Suburban Militarism” all about?
It is a record of my hobby, which is to say in essence the painting of 1/72 scale plastic soldiers. Military history, particularly of the 18th-19th centuries, was a topic that always engrossed me as a boy and captivated my imagination. I recall at school one day when the class was given the opportunity of writing an essay on any subject they liked. I chose ‘The Battle of Waterloo’, which I wrote about with gusto. It was to my surprise that nobody else seemed to share an interest in an even remotely similar topic! This was the first indication that my great love was potentially an odd or even uncool one and therefore something that might have to be kept secret.
Quietly, I amassed a collection of plastic soldiers (mostly Airfix and Esci) numbering into the 1000s, which was not a bad achievement for someone relying on pocket money, Christmas and parental generosity. I sorted and paraded them regularly. Although I had figures spanning a variety of periods, my first and principle love remained with the 18th/19th century European armies. There was something about all that riot of colour so neatly aligned in elegant lines and squares that appealed to me in some romantic way.
Unfortunately, all that ‘riot of colour’ didn’t extend to my own armies. Quite simply, I didn’t have the patience, knowledge or skill to paint them. I didn’t know where to begin and I certainly didn’t know anybody else who shared my esoteric interest who could advise and encourage.
And so, tragically, all the neatly arrayed ranks of Airfix Waterloo British and French Infantry, and the wildly charging Napoleonic Cuirassiers or Scots Greys, remained sadly monochrome…
Until one day, decades later when, well in to my thirties, I rediscovered the old troops in my parents loft. Initially, I had a go at casting and painting up some 25mm Prince August figures with some moulds I’d found. The results were encouraging. These sporadic attempts at painting them continued for a few years until I entered a local hobby shop. There before me were endless boxes of Napoleonic plastic 1/72 scale troops. I was like Augustus Gloop seeing the inside of Wonka’s chocolate factory for the first time. Pure heaven! I was astonished that there was so much variety as I’d never seen anything remotely like this when I was younger. I was lucky to find a box of French Imperial Guard! In that shop, I fell in love all over again with the little guys and immediately bought a couple of cheap boxes of Prussians.
And I never looked back. Making up for all those years as a boy with troops without any colour, I now paint them in every hue. This blog is a record of that renaissance. A little bit of militarism tucked away in Suburbia. Few know of my hobby outside of my immediate family. Behind those net curtains, one man builds an army.