“The Coldstream Guards Regiment was formed in 1650 as a unit of the Commonwealth Army. It was the only Regiment of the Parliamentary Army that was not disbanded at the Restoration in 1660. The illustration shows the uniform worn by Sergeants in 1832.”
Number 8 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).
When this Regiment was raised in 1685, it was designated “Princess Anne of Denmark’s Regiment”. The title was changed when George I came to the throne, this time to “The 8th Foot”. The drawing shows a Sergeant wearing the uniform of 1828.
Number 7 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).
The 16th Regiment of Foot, of which we show a private in 1828, was raised in 1688. In 1782, the regiment received the county title of “The Buckinghamshire Regt”. The Hertford Militia became a battalion in 1881 when the regiment became known by its present title.
Number 6 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).
2018 has so far seen me add another five regiments to the now 30-strong Napoleonic Cavalry Project which was begun back in 2015. In what will probably be the final cavalry regiment produced this year, I’m finishing off the remainder of my 2 boxes of HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry. From this kit, I’ve previously painted;
All of which just leaves my final Swedish regiment – the Småland Light Dragoons.
In the contemporary print above, the regiment is shown in 1807 wearing a long-tailed navy blue coat with yellow facings, buff-coloured riding breeches and black shakos. Around the waist is a yellow cord sash. The black shako is shown with a peak and this is also reproduced in the sculpted HaT figures yet in this is not visible in Preben Kannik’s illustration of the regiment of 1808 (found in “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour”).
This style of shako reproduced by Kannik, with a tiny – almost non-existent peak – is seen in another contemporary illustration of a Swedish cavalry regiment; the Nylands Light Dragoons of the same year. From these illustrations, the shako appears to have yellow cord around it, something which is reproduced on the HaT figures. The rest of the uniform appears very similar to HaT’s sculpted figures with its waist length coat, although HaT’s troopers are wearing campaign overalls rather than riding breeches.
The horses supplied by HaT are of course very familiar to me, being the same already used for the 18-strong Mörner Hussar regiment and also for the King’s Horse Guard.
Aside from the headdress, the uniform looks closest to the Scanian Carabineers which I painted earlier on in the year. For that reason, I toyed with painting them with yellow coats instead. This was an undress uniform colour adopted for Swedish cavalry regiments for field duty resulting from wearing the reverse colours of the full uniform.
In the final event, I decided to reproduce the same blue coats wonderfully depicted by Danish illustrator Preben Kannik. His “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” book was a regular source of pleasure during my childhood and indeed continues do so right up to today. It contains many uniforms or regiments I’ve painted previously in the project and also, it must be said, regiments which I still intend to attempt.
The Småland Light Dragoon figures are already well under way, so I hope to have something to share on progress reasonably soon.
I’ve happy to say that I’ve recently come in the possession of another postcard from the “Girl Soldier” series by “Ellanbee” (the trading name for Landeker and Brown of London). The illustrator for the “Girl Soldier” series was comic postcard artist William Henry Ellam (1858–1935) and this series I believe to have been created around 1900.
This poised and dignified lady is of the 2nd Dragoons, also known as the Royal Scots Greys. So far in the cards that I’ve discovered, she’s the only character to have drawn her sword, holding the blade in her white leather gauntlet gloves in a relaxed manner.
The artist, Willam Ellam, has once more notably paid close attention to his military subject. The white pouch belt indicates the lady is a private. Her weapon could well pass for being the Other Ranks 1882 short pattern sword and scabbard.
The scarlet tunic with blue facings lined with gold are correct for this regiment, as are the pantaloons of blue cloth with a yellow stripe tucked into black ‘butcher’ boots (identifiable by the V notch) which she would have worn for mounted duties.
As a concession to some clue as to her gender, a few loose blond curls appear from underneath her bearskin. The gilt grenade holder and white plume on the bearskin appear to be correctly depicted. The bearskin she wears would have been shorter than for the officers and made of hair from the male bear rather than the female.
As with other cards in the series, I like the portrayal of this woman by Ellam. I’ve stated before that the original intention will have almost certainly been to create a comic image. Yet to a modern eye, it now lacks any overt sense of being absurd. Instead, suggestion of an ‘hourglass’ corset aside, it appears as a quite natural and even empowering view of a woman in the military. Ellam has drawn a lady entirely comfortable in her uniform and with her chosen profession; she is calm, confident, and with the discernible touch of haughtiness that comes with the prestige of belonging to a famous heavy cavalry regiment.
So far in this series, I’ve unearthed a Life Guard, a Royal Horse Guard of ‘the Blues’, a private of the 12th lancers, and a soldier of the Gordon Highlanders.
Only one card that I know of now eludes me; what appears to be a Sergeant Major of the “Grenadears”.
I wonder how many others, if any, were produced in this series and if so, from which regiments.
For more on this series you may wish to visit my original “Girl Soldier” post from 2017 where I discuss this series of postcards and compare it to a series of trade card illustrations depicting historically uniformed female soldiers issued by “Collectables of Spalding”. Likewise, on International Women’s Day this year, I compared this series to another postcard set of female soldiers by a female artist Winifred Wimbush.
I fulfilled a long-standing intention to visit a military collection which, geographically, isn’t all that far away from me but which nonetheless I’d been unable to get to. It is a military collection housed within the Abington Park Museum in Northampton. Entry is free for visitors, entry times being restricted to afternoons on 4 days a week. It brings together collections relating to:
The Northamptonshire Regiment and its preceding regiments;
48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot,
58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot,
The Northamptonshire Yeomanry, militia and local volunteer units.
In 1970, the Northamptonshire Regiment collection was moved to Abington Park Museum having been previously based at various barracks in and around Northampton.
I have to now admit that in an act of total incompetence I forgot to put a memory card into my digital camera before leaving! All of which meant relying mostly upon my phone’s camera, which is far from the best device for taking decent images. Furthermore, I then later located my missing memory card in my trouser pocket on returning home. Early senility or stupidity?! Nonetheless, I managed to photograph some interesting exhibits, particularly ones relating to that great personal interest of mine – the yeomanry, which I will mostly concentrate on for the purposes of this post.
The Northamptonshire Yeomanry
On locating the military collection in the building, I was soon greeted by the sight of the distinctive uniform of the early Northamptonshire Yeomanry which was first formed in 1794. An example of their ancient Tarleton helmet was on display, looking pretty good for its age (over 200 years old), save for the threadbare comb which had retained a few tufts of its former glory, much like the balding pate of a very old man. The turban was a bright green (to match the uniform’s jacket) with brass chains holding it in place. The words “Northampton” and “Yeomanry” appeared in brass plaques on either side of the crest.
The jacket was green with buff facings. On the shoulders were some distinctive shoulder scales, of a type which I’d previously modelled for the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum figures a couple of years back.
It’s a very distinctive colour (akin to the Norfolk Rangers I mentioned recently) and a pleasing design, which was of course entirely the point, it being important that the Northamptonshire Yeomanry looked impressive. A framed contemporary illustration accompanied the display, not very expertly reproduced below;
Already in my possession prior to the visit was a book on the Northamptonshire Yeomanry; “Yeomen of England” by Ken Tout. It is a warm and lively account of the regiment told by one of its former soldiers. In it, Mr Tout recounts how “one great attraction in [yeomanry] recruitment was the colourful, even gaudy design of the uniform of a troop or a regiment, and poets were already at work writing patriotic songs.” One such early song in 1794 praises the uniform of the newly formed Brackley Troop, part of the NY;
British Yeomen, valiant Yeomen, brave Yeomen for ever Green coats faced with black and in each hat a feather The waistcoats are buff and their trousers are leather With broadswords and pistols and hearts without fear Great Jove must be pleased when these Yeomen appear
They were obviously proud of their green uniforms, although I should have thought that ‘sabres’ would have a better substitute for the word ‘broadswords’ which would have been impractical to wield on a horse! There was no sign of the feather mentioned in the lyrics but a plume was commonly used with Tarleton helmets so it may have simply gone the way of the balding fur crest.
For the great smartness of their first green uniform, the regiment originally had to thank the affluent Earl Spencer whose influence with the King enabled him to secure the use of the King’s emblem, white horse of Hanover, one of only 4 regiments to be so honoured.
There was another uniform on display which I initially took to being an Northamptonshire Regiment infantry officer from the early half of the 19th century. I couldn’t spot an explanatory label and in my limited time in the museum I didn’t go back to confirm. However, Ken Tout’s book suggests that this uniform would have been similar to the mid-19th century Northamptonshire Yeomanry’s uniform. In 1844, the regiment escorted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Tout describes their dress;
“It was an opportunity for the yeomen to don their finery. immaculate scarlet tunics with dark blue facing. gold epaulettes and plentiful gold lace, and the riders’ heights enhanced by their bell-top shakos.”
On my hurried exit from the museum, I noticed that the final room of the collection housed a wonderful display of model soldiers from the local Northants Military Modelling Club. There were lots of terrific models on display, mostly I’d say 54mm scale, of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry through the ages both mounted and dismounted. One of these looked much like the above Ken Tout description of the Victorian escort, though my blurry phone camera ran out of storage and I ran out of time before I could attempt a photo. Prior to that, I did however discover a curious object stuck randomly underneath a table – it was a section of what appear to be bathroom tiles which had carefully been removed intact. On the times, illustrations of Northants yeomen through the ages on them! I presume some individual had hand-painted them. I think they’re terrific, one of those nice eccentric discoveries that make visiting a museum so enjoyable.
Now that’s my kind of bathroom design, (although possibly not my wife’s)! The ‘scarlet tunic’ mentioned in Tout’s book seems to be shown above (right on bottom row). Curse my blurry camera as the accompanying written descriptions which would have confirmed all aren’t readable. The green uniform seen earlier seems to be top right and the 1910-era version mounted in the middle. If we’re to assume they’re all Northamptonshire Yeomen, then it’s possible they also adopted an extravagant hussar style uniform, seen top left. If so, I assume this was approximately from some time between the 1850s up to 1873 (the year of temporary disbandment).
Tout’s excellent account also describes in detail the nature of the protective formation required by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry to guard the royal carriage from any threat. The fine and glittering sight of the scarlet-coated procession was commemorated in some spirited poetry by a local 17-year old girl, reproduced in the book:-
On Market Hill our great Yeomanry stood
To guard Queen Victoria to Weedon in the Wood
While through the High Street to Ket’ring she rides
With a thousand spectators arrayed on both sides
The Yeomanry in the Northamptonshire existed until the final troop (The Royal Kettering) was disbanded in 1873. As the Anglo-Boer War came to a conclusion, Northamptonshire, which had been without a Yeomanry regiment ever since, had a new regiment established, the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry.
The Full Dress uniform was in the style of Dragoons and is described in “Yeomen of England” by Tout as being;
“…dark blue, with light blue facings and a white metal helmet with a light-blue and white plume. “
The uniform fitting that description was displayed in the collection (see above). It is a 1910 Full Dress tunic and Field Service cap belonging to the then commander of the regiment, Col. H Wickham. The PAOY website has some information on the Service Dress uniform of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry:
The first [Service Dress] uniform of the new regiment was of regulation drab, or khaki, with pale blue collar, cuffs and piping up back, sleeves and down the front of the jacket. Shoulder chains with brass lettering NIY. The Regimental badge, as worn on the collar, side-cap, peaked cap etc., was the “galloping white horse”: the badge used as the centre piece of Maltese Cross on the Shakos of the 1830-45 period.
The emblem of that Hanoverian horse could be seen clearly on the two later NY uniforms were also on display including this below. It is also prominent on the collar of this corporal of the NY. This tunic dates from 1902-1908 and was displayed alongside a pillbox cap. Note the shoulder chains on blue cloth backing.
Again, the Hanover horse appears – on the Full Dress helmet in a dramatic sunburst design…
…and finally on the front of the Field Service cap, below:
Most pleasing to me about this dragoon-style uniform and helmet was the attractive and unusual colour of the facings. Referred to by Tout and the PAOY website as being ‘light-blue’, this is described as being “Cornflower Blue” according to the “The Yeomanry Force at the 1911 Coronation” authors Robert J Smith and Ronald G Harris. Not only does it appear on the sleeves and collar of the tunic, but it can also be seen on both the cap and the helmet. The cap has this colour piped around the brim and also in a band around the middle. Other ranks apparently just had the band without the piping.
Two depictions of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry around the time of the coronation by R.J. Marrion and E.A. Campbell.
The helmet has a falling white over cornflower blue plume on a silver helmet, as can be seen below:
On the eight-pointed star, the garter inscription surrounding the Hanoverian horse says “Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry”, which was the name of the regiment on it’s 1902 reincarnation. In 1907, it became simply known as the “Northamptonshire Yeomanry” following the Haldane reforms.
The difference between the two examples of helmets relating to the officers and ranks seems remarkably slight. The plumes have been tied back to better reveal helmet details.
Below: the “Cornflower Blue” is evident on the collars and cuffs as well as the plumes:
Below: close up on the arrow pickers and chain on the officers pouch belt. Note the horse motif appears on the buttons as well.
The most complete collection of NY uniforms came unexpectedly towards the end of the collection. I’ve mentioned in the final room was a sizeable collection of mostly 54mm scale models of the regiment in a wide variety of guises. Close up pictures weren’t really possible but I managed to take a couple of a figure I recognised as already being in my collection, ready to paint. I suppose it highly likely that I’ll try and reproduce the 1910 NY Full Dress using my own figure to match the one below!
I was surprised to learn recently that I have a personal connection with the Northamptonshire Militia going back to a relative who served sometime around the 1770s. This chap had the memorable surname Aldwincle (no, I don’t share this unusual surname) and he would have likely been compelled to serve in the force by ballot. This means of selection was not unsurprisingly often deeply unpopular with the mostly reluctant working class men who served in the Militia’s ranks, and so it may have been with Great, Great, Great Great Grandad Aldwincle.
It was particularly pleasing to see some items relating to the same period and regiment in which my ancestor served. The drum below was presented to the Northamptonshire Militia by Lord Viscount Althorp on the 1st September 1779. So, I feel a sense of connection as it is entirely feasible that my relative would have known and indeed heard this drum. He would also have quite probably having been in attendance during its presentation to the regiment on that day.
Another, larger, militia drum was also on display. This bass drum was presented to the regiment while it was on service in Dublin in 1854, probably taking on duties that other regular infantry would have been doing were they not off serving in the Crimean War. It’s a beautiful object, richly decorated and emblazoned with not only the name of the regiment but also of the name of the drum’s benefactor, the regiment’s own Lt-Colonel Lord Burghley.
With rich colonels such as Lord Burghley, one might expect militia officers to display some ostentation and these 1855 shoulder epaulettes provide some evidence of that. There’s a hunting horn symbol in the wreath, a sign of light infantry.
The Volunteer Corps:
The Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers were represented by a grey uniform of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The name dates it from being after the 1881 Childers Reforms which merged the existing 48th and 58th line regiments into a single Northamptonshire Regiment, also attaching the local volunteer corps and militia as additional battalions.
With its grey uniform and red piping, and Home Service Pattern helmet, it looks much like the Cheshire Greys Rifle Volunteers that I modelled in 28mm scale last year.
Finally, it was interesting to see displayed a cymbal which had been presented in 1876 to the band of the 2nd Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers, demonstrating that military bands could be as much a feature of the Rifle Volunteers as any other force in the British Army.
And very briefly, The Regulars!
Finally, although my greatest interest these days is on the volunteers, a very brief word on the Regulars. The Northamptonshire Regiment was formed out of the amalgamation of two pre-existing line regiments, the 48th and 58th regiments. It served in a number of theatres including New Zealand, a number of exhibits from which were displayed. There were some interesting watercolours and artworks around the walls, although the artists themselves seemed to be largely unknown.
Some uniforms of a type similar to those depicted above could be found around the museum.
They were lots of very interesting items on display, but some of my favourites included some extravagant 1832 epaulettes from an officer of the 58th Foot and a Pickelhaube and bugle, trophies from the Great War, Pickelhaube war booty always being a popular choice for many British regiments it seems.
Being a collection housed as a part of a wider museum, the Northamptonshire Regimental Collection inevitably suffers from the lack of focus that that entails. To enter into the collection, for example, I walked past a room inexplicably containing a large painting and am Egyptian sarcophagus! When compared to some other more dedicated military museums, the Northants collection felt a little lost and unloved.
At the time of writing, the Northamptonshire County Council has been in the news recently for being the first (of many?) to go effectively bankrupt. In such circumstances, with public services being pared down to a statutory minimum, culture and the arts could suffer greatly in favour of more immediately essential services. The fate of the Regimental Collection of Northampton in such circumstances remains to be seen.
I’ve very recently become the proud owner of some large antique prints purchased at what was an absurdly low budget price (aka ‘my price range’). On coming through the post, they emitted that strong musty smell suggestive of great age and antiques.
The four prints depict the following yeomanry cavalry regiments from the 1840s:
The Yorkshire Hussars
The Buckinghamshire Hussars
The Suffolk Yeomanry, Long Melford Troop
The 2nd West York Yeomanry
They are in excellent condition considering their great age. Coming with their own generously sized mounts, they are 45cm x 55cm in dimensions, so they are really quite large for a suburban domestic property. My wife has generously agreed to their being displayed in the spare upstairs room as soon as I source some appropriate frames.
So what’s the story behind these prints?
They are from a series of prints titled “Fores’s Yeomanry Costumes“. Each print is dated to a specific day of issue, between 1844 and 1846, and state that they are published in London by “…Messrs Fores, at their sporting and fine print repository & frame manufactory, 41 Piccadilly, corner of Sackville Street.”
‘Messrs Fores’ were the sons of Samuel William Fores. He was an illustrator and publisher based in London. Fores Senior was the son of a cloth merchant and established his business as a print seller in 1783, specialising in popular satirical caricatures. Yeomanry had featured in Fores publications prior to the 1840s. the most infamous of which was by George Cruickshank who created a biting satire on the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. The sarcastically titled “Manchester Heroes” are the men of the ‘Manchester and Salford Yeomanry’ who are sabreing defenceless men, women and children, to the anguished cries of “Shame!”
After S.W. Fores’s death in 1838, his sons took over the business and moved their output from satire to sporting scenes and fine art. This series of yeomanry costumes, begun a few years after their father’s death, was probably a part of that intentional move away from the satirical publications that had made his fortune.
The prints are plates numbered 1, 3, 4 and 6 from a series of eight, so far as I can tell, in total. The drawings are by Henry Martens, a military artist whom I’ve mentioned before on Suburban Militarism after seeing copies of some of his paintings displayed at the Royal Norfolk Regiment Collection, The 2017 Anglo-Sikh Wars exhibition and also at the Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum last year. I also saw a print from this very series when I visited the Shropshire Yeomanry Museum earlier this year. The print (plate 5 in the series) featured the South Salopian Yeomanry and was reproduced on my report on the Shropshire Yeomanry earlier this year.
Martens painted a great deal of military scenes in the early 19th century, notably on the Sikh and Xhosa wars. He was, however, apparently also well known for his depiction of British army uniforms released between 1839 and 1843 under a different publisher (Ackermann). The Yeomanry Costumes drawings appears to have been a natural continuation of his successful uniforms series with Ackermann.
Martens’ works were often engraved and hand-coloured by a lithographer called John Harris, and this is indeed the case with my own prints. The ridges of carefully applied paint on the prints can still be felt on the fingertips!
I’m well used to seeing the beautiful and prodigious work by Richard Simkin in his depictions of the yeomanry during the 1880s and 1890s. Henry Martens, it seems, can be placed in a tradition of faithfully recording the exotic dress of Britain’s yeomanry regiments, a tradition which was carried on by Simkin.
As I’ve indicated, I believe, at least four more paintings were produced in this series. These depicted the West Essex Yeomanry, the Buckinghamshire Artillery Corps, another scene of the Long Melford Troop from Suffolk and, as previously mentioned, the South Salopian Yeomanry. It’s interesting that two were produced for the Long Melford Troop and two for troops from Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire. Some of the prints (notably not the Long Melford Troop) includes a dedication to a local dignitary and the ‘Gentlemen of the Corps’. It’s possible that sponsorship was received by the publisher for this series from those willing and able to pay for the privilege.
There may be more than 8 prints in the series. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any other bargains, though wall space for any more will be limited! I doubt another in a similar and affordable price range will turn up any time soon, however!
Finding myself on a rare trip to London with my wife, I somehow persuaded her that a short detour to the nearby National Army Museum might be in order and she graciously agreed. The National Army Museum is situated right next the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and entry to the museum is entirely free. It was founded in 1960 “for the purpose of collecting, preserving and exhibiting objects and records relating to the Land Forces of the British Crown”.
I think I must have last visited when I was about 14 years old for a seminar organised by the Victorian Military Society; so, ah, that’s a few decades ago now. It has changed beyond recognition since being reopened recently after a 3-year, £24 million redevelopment. A press release had this to say about the redesign:
Following an extensive review of the existing National Army Museum brand, the museum set out to transform perceptions of a dark and austere military museum to a modern, bright, engaging and relevant space fit for the 21st century.
As someone with a long-standing interest in military history, I must confess that I’m never happier than in a “dark and austere military museum”! Hearing of its transformation therefore into a “relevant space” concerned me a little. Would it be relevant to me? The press release continued:
Working with creative agencies … the new National Army Museum brand is reflected in the physical museum, its website and has influenced designers across the project in every aspect, from permanent gallery displays and public spaces, to interior design and signage.
We strive to talk about our subject in ways that are at once insightful, sharing, conversational, stimulating and above all real and relevant. We want to inspire conversations, not just questions and answers, and support genuine and meaningful encounters with our story for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The new brand encapsulates this position.’
OK. I got to admit that I don’t really go in for all this ‘branding’ speak. A “genuine and meaningful encounter” for me is what happens when I see a military exhibit. What’s “relevant” probably depends more on the individual visitor and is difficult for a curator to anticipate. As for what’s “real” – there’s surely nothing more real than an historical artefact; interactive screens, vinyl wall displays and branding designs are ultimately mere simulacrum. So, though I appreciated the desire for the NAM to engage with as wide a portion of the general public as possible, I was visiting with some concerns as to how engaging I personally would find it.
The new National Army Museum is split over its floors into separate galleries respectively titled “Soldier”, “Battle”, “Army”, “Society” and “Insight”. It sounded all a little bit vague to me and, pressed for time, didn’t assist me to identify where I might quickly find topics that I’m most interested in. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s an imaginative attempt to introduce the topic to the more general visitor who might not have such preferences.
Inside, the museum certainly looks impressive. It’s open and inviting, strikingly fresh, modern and clean.
Perhaps it’s a trifle too clean? There are lots of open space which, I couldn’t help but feel could have been used to display more exhibits! Thankfully, there are still plenty of exhibits to be found for a military history nerd like me to enjoy. So, I’m going to review some of the best.
The “Soldier Gallery” contained about a dozen uniforms worn by manikins in glass cases. The arrangement was seemingly random although, with such a wide subject, perhaps such indiscriminate juxtapositions are as good an approach as any. I’d have liked to have seen more of them, nonetheless! Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin robes were on display as were the below examples of the superbly ornate 10th (Prince of Wales Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars) and the very smart 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (also known as Skinner’s Horse), a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.
I was particularly pleased to see an example of the striking First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform on display. Having discussed Serbian women’s involvement in WWI and having taken part in FEMbruary earlier this year, female involvement in warfare is a topic that has cropped up a number of times on Suburban Militarism.
The pouch on the rear of the uniform states “FAYC”, referring to them being yeomanry cavalry, i.e. they were expected to ride horses. Any hard riding would have been severely hampered by the presence of that long navy skirt. No doubt many in the FAYC would have rather worn far more practical riding breeches. The very fine scarlet uniform closely resembles the kind of smart Full Dress uniform in use by some of the male yeomanry of the time. For Service Dress, the men were already moving on to the more practical khaki – displayed alongside was the excellent Anglo-Boer War-era Imperial Yeomanry uniform. The style and colour of the FAYC uniform was a sign that women were not at all expected to get involved in the front line of battle. My post on the Female Soldiers of Serbia gives some indication of how this restrictive expectation was thwarted by many brave women in reality.
There was a nice display case (above) of some exhibits which, unfortunately, were not labelled for identification. The interactive screens nearby may well have been able to tell me more but a lack of time moved me on and so I was left to speculate what the peculiar white japanned dragoon helmet was (some yeomanry musician’s helmet?), or the age and regiment of the light-blue sergeant’s coatee of some light cavalry.
I was pleased to see some of the colourful and unusual dress from British empire forces from overseas. A uniform of a West Indian regiment was treat to see, it’s style modelled on the renowned Zouaves of the French army, apparently on the instruction of Queen Victoria herself. A fascinating account of the history of the West India Regiments from its iniquitous slavery beginnings through to 1927, “Slaves in Red Coats“, can be found on the NAM website. Further exploring British army uniforms across the globe was the above West African Frontier Force uniform. Like the West Indian version, this Lance Corporal of the Nigeria Regiment also sports a Zouave-style jacket and red fez but without the white turban wound about it.
Waterloo, Wellington and Napoleon loomed large in the displays in the Battle Gallery. It was a great experience to stand so close to exhibits such as Wellington’s cloak and General Picton’s top hat from the battle.
Looking at that top hat, I was reminded of the scene in the epic film “Waterloo” by Dino De Laurentiis where Lt-General Picton is shot and killed leading his troops forward in a scene brilliantly portrayed by Jack Hawkins. The sight of a gentlemanly top hat and umbrella in the midst of a brutal battle was memorably incongruous. In the film, a gruff Hawkins cries to his men “On! you drunken rascals, you whore’s melts, you thieves, you blackguards!” But his tirade is halted as the top hat is suddenly scarred by shot, the only sign that Picton himself has been hit also. The hat is last seen tumbling to the ground alongside it’s owner on the Belgian hillside, swallowed up and lost in the ongoing battle. Picton was described by Wellington as being a “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”, but respected his great ability to command. His last words were reputedly a far less coarse “Charge! Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!” as he lead his troops to counter-attack the French.
An impressive cuirass and helmet of a French Carabinier was displayed as was the skeleton of Napoleon’s famous grey horse “Marengo”, which he rode throughout many a campaign. The Arab mount was visibly a rather small horse, judging by the skeleton. It suffered 8 wounds in battle but survived to a grand old age of 38. Captured at Waterloo, it ended its days living a deservedly quieter life in England. Astonishing to think of the dramatic events, places and people that the now sightless Arabian stallion must have once seen.
I encounted a magnificent diorama of Waterloo that I’d heard about previously. It was first developed by Captain Siborne over a decade after the battle happened making use of his own obsessively meticulous research. Financial issues as well as the immense work involved delayed its completion until 1838. Incorporating, in its original form, over 70,000 tin soldiers (5mm scale) it demonstrated an immensely detailed recreation of the landscape. Siborne reputedly fell foul of the Duke of Wellington, who apparently voiced disapproval for a perceived incorrect excessive bias towards the role that the Prussians had taken, though this is disputed amongst historians.
Finally, I visited the Soldier Gallery which presented a wall resplendent with all manner of exotic military headdress!
Again, it was a somewhat random approach to take but ultimately looked impressive. Up on this wall, I discovered my very first example of a British hussar’s Mirliton, which was very pleasing to see. This headdress was something which I’d modelled for the first time earlier this year when painting my Swedish Morner Hussars.
Amongst other new discoveries was the Light Company helmet pictured below from the time of the American Revolutionary War. Note the face on the crest, the red horsehair and turban. The appearance of the figure of Britannia on the front plate identifies this as being the 9th Regiment of Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment (see Rule Britannia! My report on the Norfolk Regiment Collection from 2016).
More examples of headdress below including some very spectacular Dragoon helmet crests sandwiching a grenadier’s mitre cap.
Exhibits shown below are of the Napoleonic British Dragoon Guards and an 1834 Lancer’s Czapka of the 17th Regiment, notable for its skull and crossbones cap badge indicating ‘Death or Glory’. Both tremendously ostentatious and decorative objects.
My wife and I then underwent instruction by a virtual Drill Sergeant, which involved standing on a specific area and having a video of sergeant bellow instructions at us. He offered “helpful” advice and “considered” assessments of our relative performance. I’m pleased to say that he was slightly less annoyed by my performance than by hers!
Sadly, I then had to rush off before I had a chance to experience either the Society or Insight galleries. All in all, I had an enjoyable visit and discovered some great objects. I’m not sure the ‘theme’ approach quite works for me and some of the efforts gone to engage a wider audience were sometimes just not relevant or of interest to me as a visitor with an established interest in the topic. That said, I do fully understand and accept the drive for a national museum with free entry to engage the widest possible audience and not just the history nerds like myself.
The NAM’s efforts to make its exhibits available online via it’s website – or by appointment to its storage facility – and to also reach out with create ‘extra-curricular’ evening talks, events and displays are to be commended (viz. a recent cultural evening of food, music and performances to launch a display on Romania’s WWI involvement).
The very well refurbished National Army Museum in particular had very helpful and friendly staff. With free entry and lots to see, it can only be recommended to those with any degree of interest in military history.
It’s International Women’s Day and it seems to be making a greater impact this year, following on as it does from the #MeToo phenomenon. I thought it might be an appropriate occasion for another post on artistic depictions of women in the military.
About a year ago, I posted on the topic of depictions of women in late 19th century military uniforms. In that post, I examined attitudes towards women at this time seen through the lens of their depiction in military uniforms. In particular, I showcased a cigarette card series and also a postcard series from the early 1900s by Ellanbee called “Girl Soldier”. These images were interesting because, despite being a ‘comic’ series, they (doubtless unintentionally) provided a vaguely realistic and empowering image of women in military uniforms at a time when they were not even allowed to vote.
I’ve been looking at expanding my modest Girl Soldier postcard collection and in the course of my largely fruitless research I recently discovered another series of postcards on a very similar theme called “A Call to Arms!”
At first sight, “A Call to Arms” closely follows the Girl Soldier theme; young women dressed in the smart full-dress uniforms of famous British army regiments of the day. However, we soon see there are significant differences.
Firstly, the series adorns its images with seductive phrases: “Won’t you take me?“, “Say when you’ll have me”, “I’m ready when you want me”, etc. They are very deliberately sexualised and seductive.
Secondly, the uniforms are not accurately depicted as with Ellam’s Girl Soldier series. The “A Call to Arms” uniforms are a mere simulacra, mimicking the uniforms yet compromised by retaining the kind of impractical dress a lady in the era of King George V would be expected to have.That Life Guard doesn’t have genuine jackboots; she as a dress dyed black where the boots should be. It all feels a little like she’s modelling a new fashion collection inspired by military uniforms.
Only the soldiers of the Scottish regiments retain a close affinity to the real articles, thanks to the kilt’s similarity to a knee-length skirt. Yet, there is more than enough detail in all her illustrations to suggest that Winifred Wimbush spent some considerable time researching the real uniforms.
It is interesting to compare the Call to Arms lancer below (of the 17th Lancer Regiment) with the Ellanbee Girl Soldier lancer (of the 12th Lancers).
Immediately noticeable is that the Call to Arms lancer wears a long skirt with a split up the side, whereas the Ellanbee Lancer of the 12th wears genuine riding breeches. The lady of the 17th has high heels; the lady of the 12th has riding boots with spurs. There’s also a difference in stance; contrast the self-confident lancer of the 12th with her far more shy and demure fellow lancer.
What is perhaps surprising, given the slightly saucy presentation, is that the artist for “A Call to Arms” was a woman. Winifred Wimbush (1884-1958) was the daughter of Henry B Wimbush, a landscape painter, illustrator and a renowned postcard artist. A website dedicated to her father, Henry, admitted that “very little is known about Winifred or her painting” but nonetheless provided a decent short biography on her. It says:
Winifred, Henry’s eldest daughter was the only one of his children that followed him into a career as a professional artist.
This picture the ‘Flower Girl’ which appeared as the frontispiece in ‘The Channel Islands’ by Edith Carey published in 1902, was painted by Henry and it is reported that Winifred was the model. She would have been around 16 years of age when the picture was painted and this may have encouraged her interest in fashion along with her talent as an artist.
Winifred painted 9 different sets of postcards that were published by Raphael Tuck. Several of the sets were loosely ‘propaganda’ cards for the 1st World War and would probably have been published between 1914 -1916.
And these propaganda postcards were entitled “A Call to Arms”.
Series 8772, 3, 4 were published as Oilette’s and generally showed regimental uniforms, often worn by girls and bearing the heading A call to arms. The border showed the red, white and blue of the union flag.
There’s no doubting that Winifred Wimbush was a talented artist. Her drawings are excellent. Her women are realistically proportioned and stylishly, elegantly painted. By contrast, Henry Ellam’s pleasing illustrations do seem a little more cartoonish compared to Wimbush’s artwork.
However, “A Call to Arms” does place women firmly in the submissive role that was expected of ladies in Britain at that time. They are, even in khaki greatcoats, not warriors but akin to passive models or sexually available seductresses. No doubt, as propaganda, they were painted to specifications provided to Wimbush by Tuck’s postcards and for a very specific purpose. Ellam’s confident female soldiers were supposed to be absurd and ridiculous; Wimbush’s coquettish soldiers were intended to provide succour for frightened men far from their loved ones on the front line. Neither series took the concept of women as resourceful and brave soldiers seriously despite, as my recent post on Serbian women soldiers proved, women most definitely being so at the time.
Perhaps, on International Women’s Day, I should end on a more positive note. Contradicting and challenging Ellam’s lampooned ‘girls’ and Wimbush’s submissive women from 100 years ago; women soldiers of the Life Guards now allowed within the mounted band. Currently, they are only allowed in the regiment as musicians but it’s surely only a matter of time until Ellam’s female lifeguard fully becomes a reality.
Being interested in artistic depictions of military history and uniforms, I occasionally come across images of female soldiers. I’m not referring to genuine servicewomen but instead to a certain genre of illustrations which show women in traditional military uniforms. There can be found examples of real women serving in genuine combat roles in western armies during the 18th and 19th century, Private Hannah Snell of the 6th Regiment of Foot and Marines being a good example (see below), but the illustrations I’m referring to are something entirely different.
Awareness of this topic first came to my attention when I bought a cheap set of trade cards many years ago called ‘Military Maids‘. When she saw them, my wife suggested they looked a bit creepy! She has a point; the ‘maids’ in question seem to be an unsettling mixture of the historically accurate and the suspiciously erotic. In these illustrations, one can see such examples as a beautifully drawn and entirely accurate depiction of a British 4th Light Dragoon in 1854; or a French Empress Dragoon of the Guard; or a splendid grenadier of a Swiss Napoleonic regiment.
4th Light Dragoons, c.1854
Empress Dragoons, c.1815
Swiss Regiment, c.1812
The attention to accuracy and detail in the drawings is impressive. Tarleton and Mirliton helmets; Bell Shakos and Uhlan Czapkas; Stovepipe and Waterloo Shakos; Tricornes and Bicornes are all carefully reproduced with an expert knowledge. Furthermore, the quality of the illustrations is very high and a natural pose has been created for each soldier.
Did I say entirely accurately depicted? Not quite. Look closer and one realises that they all seem to sport exuberant perms crushed underneath their Czapkas, Shakos and helmets! They also wear high heels (a code of military dress I strongly suspect to also be inaccurate)… The neat cut of their uniforms leaves us in no doubt as to their gender, as well.
This wonderful illustration below, for example, depicts a musician from a lancer regiment holding a ‘serpent’. The serpent is one of my favourite military musical instruments, being so utterly bizarre and exotic. There’s a fine example in my local regimental museum.
However, once more I can’t quite shake the impression that it has been deliberately placed in the hands of this ‘military maid’ to ‘perform’ on entirely for its salacious connotations! I do like these cards, but the problem is that I’m not sure what the viewer is supposed to admire here. Are we admiring the fine depictions of historical military uniforms, the skilled illustrations, or the charming lasses who are wearing them? All of it?! It’s that combination of sexy pin-ups and historical military art that creates the unease that my wife quickly identified.
The Ellanbee Girl Soldier Series
I also have in my military art collection a few postcards from a series called “Girl Soldier”. So far as I have discovered, the “Ellanbee Girl Soldier Series” of postcards were produced around the early 1900s (pre-WWI) and depict women in various full-dress British army uniforms of that period. Delightfully illustrated by “Ellam”, they share with the Military Maids series a dedication to historical accuracy, as can be seen in this Gordon Highlander below:
What they don’t share is quite the same lewdness in presentation. These ladies seem altogether a little more natural and military in their bearing. No peering coquettishly over the shoulder. No high heels, heaving bosoms or tumbling perms here; the only concession to femininity appears to be a possible hint of lipstick and their slender waists – suggestive of an Edwardian-era corset perhaps?! There’s a sense that these are images of ‘girls’ who not only appreciate wearing a fine uniform but are also capable of acting with confidence and bravery in them too.
The woman depicted below is of the Royal Horse Guards and wears a fabulously haughty look, entirely suitable for one in such a prestigious regiment.
And this lady is from the 12th (Prince of Wales) Lancers, holding her bamboo lance with a natural ease.
I’m always looking to add to my modest ‘Soldier Girls’ series collection, but they seem very rare and I can scarcely find anything whatsoever on the internet about the series. I’ve previously discovered two thumbnail views of a Life Guard and a Grenadier Guard, so I’m aware that there were at least those regiments also issued. The artist I believe to be a comic postcard illustrator called William Henry Ellam. Though I can find precious little about him, he seemed to also specialise in anthropomorphic humour (animals acting in a human manner).
Presumably, the idea of these being female and yet dressed like soldiers was intended to be ‘comic’ material for the Edwardian audience, in the same incongruous way that Ellam’s cats dressed in top hats might have been viewed – charming simply for being preposterous. But I find them artistically pleasing in their own right, and it must have been an unusual (if unintentionally) empowering view of womanhood at a time when even universal suffrage had yet to be achieved.
So, if Military Maids was titillating and Soldier Girls was patronising, what does that make me? I’ll dodge the question and simply call myself an incorrigible collector of all types of military artwork!
To end with; below are more images from the Military Maids series and also a card from the Army Careers Information Office circa 1992, featuring (at that time) a more up to date and realistic image of a “girl soldier” in uniform.
Finally, an appeal: any further information on the Soldier Girls series would be gratefully received!
British Foot Guard, 1815?
I’m guessing a cheeky Belgian Light Dragoon.
British 11th? Hussar
Highland officer in tartan trews.
British officer late 18th century?
British Dragoon Trumpeter
Napoleonic-era Neopolitan Grenadier
Women of the Royal Army Nursing Corps
August 2018 Update:
Mark at Man of Tin blog has been inspired to create some imagination female soldiers in blue uniforms using some old metal figures by Wellington Toy Company. You can check it out here.