Soldiers and Silkmen

Followers of English football may have noted the very sad ending of a football club which could boast an impressive 146 year long history. The club in question was Cheshire’s Macclesfield Town who went by the nickname The Silkmen. What has this to do with Suburban Militarism, you may well ask? The answer lies in the club’s formation way back in 1873, something which piqued my interest. According to Wikipedia;

The beginnings of Macclesfield Town Football Club can be traced, at least in part, to the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers who were formed in 1873 and played regularly in Macclesfield from October 1874. It was agreed at a public meeting on 21 October 1876 that the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers and the Olympic Cricket club teams be merged to form Macclesfield F.C.; initially matches alternated between association and rugby rules.

Bridge Street Drill Hall, Macclesfield. Wikipedia. By Peter Barr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Some research reveals that the headquarters of the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers was the Bridge Street Drill Hall, seen above. This rather impressive building opened in 1871, just two years before members of this rifle volunteer corps formed what would be the genesis of Macclesfield’s 146-year old football club.


Illustration of a Cheshire Rifle Volunteer from “Redington’s New Twelves of Rifle Volunteer Corps“, a coloured print of 12 different Rifle Volunteer figures. Published by J. Redington of London, c.1860.


With the Childers reforms, this unit become the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the local Cheshire Regiment in 1883. Later, with the formation of the Territorial Force, it became the 7th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment in 1908. At the onset of hostilities in the Great War, men of the battalion were mobilised at the Bridge Street drill hall in August 1914 prior to being sent off to Gallipoli and the Western Front.

Some further research reveals something of the 8th Cheshire’s formation and uniform courtesy of the “Historical Records of the 5th Administrative Battalion Cheshire Rifle Volunteers“.

“On the 31st December the Queen accepted the services of a Corps at Macclesfield, consisting of one Company, under Captain Samuel Pearson, late Lieutenant 1st Dragoon Guards. The uniform was grey, trimmed with black lace, and long loops for the Officers, velvet facings, and a kepi. The accoutrements were of brown leather. This Corps was numbered the 8th Cheshire.”

The book includes the lovely illustration seen above of the 5th Cheshire in 1859. The description of a grey uniform also bears a passing resemblance to another Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps – the 1st, also known as The Cheshire Greys.

The Cheshire Greys, c.1860s.

I modelled a small diorama of the Cheshire Greys in their 1880s incarnation wearing Home Service Pattern helmets and firing Martini-Henry rifles. I suppose the 8th Cheshire RVC could have looked much the same at around this time.

The 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteers, “The Cheshire Greys” c.1880.

I’ve written before of how the Victorian Rifle Volunteer movement, with it’s emphasis on locally raised units, could be as much a social as a military endeavour featuring dances, shooting competitions and other events all adding to the camaraderie and cohesion of the units. It seems that, as with the formation of Macclesfield’s football club, sport was also a key feature of the Rifle Volunteer movement. In Macclesfield’s case, the sporting legacy of these local men endured for 164 years until a High Court decision last Wednesday.

The Guardian. Sept 17th 2020 includes this epitaph to the club;

The town of Macclesfield itself is, as the New Order drummer and Silkmen fan Stephen Morris put it, “a mill town that had lost the adjective ‘thriving’ somewhere along the way”. Its high street is pockmarked by boarded-up shops. The football club, like the old Majestic cinema and the many closed pubs on the London Road walk up to the Moss Rose, appears destined to become another lost community asset.

Notably, Bridge Street drill hall, Wikipedia reports “was decommissioned and has since been converted into apartments.” The long legacy of the Rifle Volunteer movement, it seems, has sadly finally come to an end in Macclesfield.

The Girl I Left Behind Me

An interesting metal soldier figure came up on an auction site recently which I immediately recognised as being a recreated scene from a painting. The canvas in question is “The Girl I left Behind Me” by Victorian artist Charles Green (1840–1898).

The Girl I left Behind Me by Charles Green, Creative Commons.

The original canvas is fairly large and hangs in the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester and postcards of this painting are available in the shop. In fact, I remember that I sent one of these very postcards to a hobby friend in Germany.

The painting has many elements of the very narrative and (to some modern eyes at least) somewhat mawkish style of Victorian art. We see troopships awaiting in the distance as loved ones and locals take their leave of the departing regiment. An old fella shakes the hand of one young soldier, while a consoled young lady looks down at her baby in sorrow as if already widowed. The headgear suggests these Napoleonic-era soldiers are off to Belgium for the coming Waterloo campaign, or perhaps for the latter stages of the Peninsular War.

Waterloo shakos waved aloft. Green, Charles; The Girl I Left behind Me; Leicester Arts and Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-girl-i-left-behind-me-81029

I believe there are some errors with the uniforms; the drummer boys should be in reversed colours to the troops, for example. I like how the artist contrasts these regimented, marching drummer boys with the running of the kids alongside them at play, reminding us that while they are called to battle they are still essentially children.

The colour yellow seems to be a feature of the young women in the crowd, I notice, which puts me in mind of the old song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”. Wikipedia says of the song:

The song/poem “She wore a yellow ribbon” has appeared in various forms for at least four centuries. It is based upon the same general theme: A woman of destiny is under some sort of test or trial as she waits for her beloved to return. Will she be true to him?

All of which seems to be the central theme of the painting. The centrepiece of the painting is the young lady (in yellow dress) clinging to her beloved as he marches off to war. The fortune of their relationship appears to hang in the balance as his death in war, and her fidelity at home, threatens its future.

Get to the point, Marvin!

Oh yes, the figure I saw was a 54mm recreation of this couple in Green’s painting. There are minor differences of course, but the composition and their poses are near identical. It is by El Viejo Dragon Miniatures, a Spanish manufacturer which seems to specialise in ladies wearing rather less clothing than our regency lady here! Curious that a Spanish manufacturer has recreated it.

The auction listing states that this model is of “a soldier in the Inniskilling 27th foot and his sweetheart around 1814 before Waterloo. Hand painted in Ulster by Rainey Miniatures.” 

The paint job is quite nicely done, though overall the shading appears a little ‘grubby’ for my tastes. I would also have wanted to recreate the scene in Green’s painting more closely with the yellow dress and the soldier’s white breeches, etc. Perhaps the painter was unaware of the inspiration behind this scene or, more likely, they wanted to create a more meaningful and local scene for themselves, and so set it in Ulster.

Unfortunately, the price for the figure is a little more than I want to pay, the family ‘war chest’ just won’t take any more model soldier purchases of late!

Wait. There’s an option to ‘Make Offer’? ….I really shouldn’t, or my own ‘girl’ will place her arm around my neck – and not in a fond way either!


The Song:

“The Girl I left Behind Me” is a folk song said by some to date back to the Elizabethan era and is commonly associated through the ages with being played whenever soldiers left for war and set sail. Consequently, the title of the painting was drawing on a tune traditionally associated with the drama it was depicting.

The tune, incidentally, aside from being the title of a painting showing troops heading to Belgium in 1815, can be heard playing in the 1970 film Waterloo at the moment when Wellington orders the whole Allied army forward in victory.

O ne’er shall I forget the night,
The stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv’ry light
When first she vowed to love me.
But now I’m bound to Brighton camp
Kind heaven then pray guide me
And send me safely back again,
To the girl I left behind me.

British Infantry Uniforms of the 19th Century: #13

13. Royal Berkshire Regiment

This regiment was formed in 1881 and adopted the name of “Princess Charlotte of Wales Regiment”. In 1885, the regiment was granted the title of “Royal” in recognition of the service of the 1st Battalion at the action of Tofrek in 1885. The drawing depicts a private of the old 66th Foot in the uniform of 1855.

Number 13 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).

British Infantry Uniforms of the 19th Century: #12

12. Royal Welch Fusiliers

“This regiment was raised in 1689. In the Royal Warrant of 1713 it was described as the “Royal Regiment of Welsh Fuzileers”. The present form of spelling “Welch” was adopted in 1920. The drawing shows a fusilier in 1849.”

Number 12 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).

The Illustrated London News, Sept. 26th, 1863…

For some time, I’ve had my eye on acquiring one of the many Victorian newspaper illustrations of rifle volunteers from the movement’s heyday in the 1860s through to the end of the century. It was an abstract concept until Mark from Man of Tin drew my attention to such a print on display over his painting desk. It looked so good that it convinced me to do likewise.

The image I’ve chosen featured in a recent post and is taken from The Illustrated London News, September 1963. The caption reads: Review of the Norfolk Volunteers on Mousehold Heath: Lady Suffield presenting the prizes won at the Norfolk Rifle Association meeting.

A spare frame and a cheap picture mount does the job nicely.

I chose this one because of my interest in military volunteers from Norfolk, being a county I lived in years ago. What’s more, the illustration is a good scene of Victorian volunteer soldiery together with depictions of men and women of the local community taking a keen interest in proceedings. The dark-coated men lined up are from the local Volunteer Rifle Corps.

To either side are the mounted Norfolk Light Horse in their scarlet coats, wearing black dragoon helmets with falling white plumes, a force which I posted about earlier this year. This short-lived formation were attached to the local rifle corps. Other mounted military men in the distance appear to be officers wearing a variety of headdress and I can even make out a hussar.

The mounted man in the foreground appears to be an infantry or militia officer.

In the centre with the cocked hat could even be the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk which at the time of this event would have been Thomas Coke’s son**.

And so, the artistic militarisation of my household walls continues…


** Incidentally, this week it was announced in the Eastern Daily Press that Norfolk has appointed its first female Lord-Lieutenant of the county in 470 years of the role.

Fores’s Yeomanry Costumes

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.

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The four prints depict the following yeomanry cavalry regiments from the 1840s:

  • The Yorkshire Hussars

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  • The Buckinghamshire Hussars

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  • The Suffolk Yeomanry, Long Melford Troop

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  • The 2nd West York Yeomanry

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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.”

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41 Piccadilly, corner of Sackville St today. Now a Pret-a-Manger – predictably!

‘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!”

Peterloo.jpg

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.

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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.

Shropshire Museum Painting
South Salopian Yeomanry by H. Martens

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Dedicated reads: “To His Grace The Duke of Buckingham and the Gentlemen of the Corps, these engravings are respectfully dedicated by their obliged and humble servants, The Publishers.”

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“To the Rt. Hon. The Earl de Grey and the Gentlemen of the Corps. this engraving is respectfully dedicated by their obliged and obedient servants, The Publishers.”

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!

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Nothe Fort (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #12)

Folly – noun; plural noun: Follies. A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose.

Having been a member of the Victorian Military Society for more years than I’d like to admit, I’m always keen to explore any museum or collection which furthers my interest in the topic. Last year, during my summer holiday to Dorset, I visited Nothe Fort; a Victorian coastal fortification just down the coast from where I was staying.

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Nothe Fort with Portland Bill visible across the bay. The fort is covered by earth; a 20th century form of protection which obscures much of the old gun ports.

Weymouth, being a seaside resort, might not be an obvious place to find a fort. This coastal fortification, built to protect Portland Harbour, was one of the so-called Palmerston’s Follies. Suburban Militarism visited and reported another of these ‘follies’ a couple of years ago at Hurst Castle, opposite the Isle of Wight.

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Nothe Fort situated at the mouth of Weymouth Harbour’s entrance.

In 1869, Napoleon III’s France began work on the construction of “La Gloire”, an Ironclad battleship. This was in part a deliberate challenge to Britain’s naval dominance, but it was also a response to the experiences of the Crimean War amongst other conflicts. The industrial revolution had changed and improved coastal artillery design improving range, accuracy and damage. As France signalled an ironclad challenge to the ‘wooden walls’ of Britain’s peerless navy, British coastal fortifications suddenly took on an importance they hadn’t had since Napoleonic times.

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A view of the inside of the fort at rampart level with Weymouth harbour and the south coast beyond.

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The ramparts and courtyard of Nothe Fort during my visit in 2017. The rear face of all the casemates at gun deck level are visible.

In 1860, a Royal Commission set up by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston sparked a multi-million pound coastal defence development programme. Nothe Fort was part of this response, being completed in 1872. Unusually for the time, it was built by the Royal Engineers and not by private contractors, which had gone bankrupt shortly before commencement. The fort’s walls were 13ft thick at casemate level (the level of the guns) and 50ft thick at the lower magazine level! The twelve casemates originally housed:

  • x2 64 pounder rifled muzzle loaders (RMLs).

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  • x4 9 inch RMLs – firing 256 pound shells up to 3 miles.

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  • x6 10 inch RMLs – firing 400 pound shells up to 3 miles.

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Built by Victorian armament giant Armstrong, these were large and powerful cannon for their time, requiring a team of 18 men to service each gun. In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were replaced by an even mightier gun;

  • x7 12.5 inch RMLs – firing 818 pound shells up to 3.5 miles.

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Below is a summary of some of these mighty Victorian Armstrong guns, some of which were installed at Nothe Fort or displayed in model form:

Armstrong 64 Pounder Cannon:

  • x2 emplaced 1873 and 1904
  • Fired 64 pound shell a distance of 3 miles

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64 Pounder RML – one of a number of scratch-built models of Nothe Fort’s Victorian guns crewed by men of the RA.

On entering Nothe Fort, I was immediately confronted by one of these 64 pounder guns. Armstrong’s 64 Pounder Cannon was the first Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) gun to enter British service.

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It is mounted on a wooden carriage with thick rope stays. Aiming was facilitated by iron wheels which ran along an iron track in the floor. The shells can be seen bottom left in my photo above.

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Two of them were installed in the fort specifically to protect the harbour entrance, hurling their 64 pound shells across the harbour and Weymouth Bay. They were in service from 1872 before being finally declared obsolete by 1908.

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Armstrong 9in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x4 emplaced 1873 and 1892
  • Fired 256 pound shell a distance of 3 miles

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This model was of the larger 9 inch RML gun with crew.

Four of the casemates originally housed these 9 inch guns. One can see how much larger it was when comparing this model with the above model of the 64 pounder and crew. Unlike the 64 pounder, it is housed on an iron carriage to better cope with the increased weight and power. No replica or original of the 9 inch gun exists in the fort today, aside from this model.


Armstrong 10in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x6 emplaced 1873 and 1912
  • Fired 400 pound shell a distance of 3 miles

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The model of the 10 inch RML with gun crew. One man in the foreground is wheeling the huge shell.

The 10 inch RMLs took up six of the casemates and were initially the largest guns in Nothe Fort until replaced by even larger calibre guns in the 1890s. The above model of the nine men of the Royal Artillery servicing the gun show them in shirt sleeves with pillbox hats. More men would be down in the tunnels of the magazine level supplying the crew with shells and cartridges. No replica or original existed in the museum.


Armstrong 12.5in 38 ton Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x7 emplaced 1892
  • Fired 848 pound shell a distance of 3.5 miles

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This model of the 12.5 inch gun nicely shows the men covering their ears from the deafening blast to come. The man pulling the firing cord and the officer giving the order to fire have no such luxury…

The massive 12.5 inch RML gun is a reproduction but is brilliantly impressive nonetheless, giving a real impression of the weight, size and sheer power of these monsters. The casemate which houses it had manikins dressed in period uniforms to provide a good impression of how the men of the Victorian Royal Artillery would have looked at this time.

During this period, the Royal Artillery was divided into three arms, named respectively the Royal Field Artillery (RFA); the Royal Artillery (RA); and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). It would have been the RGA (as specialists in siege and coastal artillery) which would have manned Nothe Fort, perhaps with some assistance from the local Artillery Volunteer Corps.

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In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were considered obsolete and replaced by these more powerful 12.5 inch guns;

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Life-sized manikins provide a sense of scale of these giant coastal cannon.

The manikins also helped to demonstrate something of the processes involved in serving such a large cannon. One of the manikins is pictured below wheeling the canvas-wrapped charge, packed with explosive, up to the muzzle and the massive ramrod can be just seen lying on the floor. Another man wheels over the heavy 818 pound shell. The embrasure is covered by a mantelet, a thick rope curtain, which would have been fully closed when loading the cannon and intended to protect the men from counter-battery fire, shrapnel and snipers.


The Barracks:

Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery were required to sleep and live on the gun decks. Nothe fort gave a nice impression of life in the barracks. The thin walls on the side facing the inner courtyard were quickly removed during gunnery practice and could remain so for days at a time. Consequently, their living quarters were liable to be somewhat open to the elements on one side – most unpleasant in winter time!

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The Magazine Level: down in the tunnels…

The fort was particularly informative when it came to explaining how the guns were served with the constant flow of ammunition required to keep the enemy at bay. It all happened below the gun deck deep, down the magazine level’s tunnels which circumnavigated the whole fort.

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Nothe Fort has extensive tunnel systems, eerie and often deserted during my visit.

The magazine level had the potential to be a source of total disaster for the fort. The very slightest of sparks could ignite the black powder stored there and destroy the fort from the inside. The risk was very real and the Royal Artillery took great precautions to prevent it from happening.

Lamps were kept in special sealed cabinets embedded in the walls to prevent the naked flames becoming ignition sources and reaching the powder. Furthermore, the small room where black powder was stored and cartridges prepared were kept strictly separate from the rest of the fort. It was accessible only via a “shifting lobby”, a changing room where men would have to divest themselves of all their usual clothing and change into white clothing containing no potential sources of sparks instead (no metal buttons, badges, etc.). Heads were covered with cloth caps and even the shoes were canvas as hobnails in the soles could create tiny sparks on the floor.

Men were not allowed to pass from one side of the lobby whilst wearing their usual uniform. Above we can see RGA uniforms in one lobby already hung up on the wall, their owners already changed and at work in the shifting lobby accessible through a side door.

Once the cartridges were prepared, they were cased for safety and passed to the corridor through a small hatch low in the wall.

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Thereafter the charges were transferred carefully to a winch and hauled up to the gun deck. The shells were also separately winched to the gun deck from the nearby shell store.

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Shells in the shell store which was situated on the opposite side of the corridor from the shifting lobby.

Shells did not need anything like the same level of precaution as the charges as they contained no explosive material.

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A manual 64 pounder shell hoist on the magazine deck used to transfer shells directly up to the gun deck.

The heavy 12.5 inch shells, due to their great weight, had to be lifted up to the gun deck via special mechanical winches.

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A mechanical winch used for the heavy 12.5 inch shells

Once the shells and cartridges were up on the gun deck, the gun crew would load them and continue to pour fire upon those enemy ships!


Nothe fort was built with what was the deadliest industrial armaments then available. It was industrial armament developments which soon brought about its demise, however. Naval technology put the balance of power once more back into the hands of the ships. Whilst even the most powerful Armstrong coastal gun could lob a shell 3.5 miles, a dreadnought battleship could hurl far more destructive shells at a much greater distance, meaning the fort could be destroyed by distant battleships with impunity.

Palmerston’s follies showcased the immense fire power of a leading industrialised nation. They projected a Great Britain both brimming with confidence and yet at the same time fearful that its international pre-eminence would be challenged. These fortifications may have proved to have been follies, but their 21st century role as museums of coastal defence makes this military history nerd very content indeed.

Now back to those French WWI 1914 infantry which are coming on apace but are likely to be delayed this week due to domestic circumstances. Updates will follow when ready…

The Post Office Rifles in Egypt

The fourth and final group of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. The group are depicted in the hot sands of Kassassin, Egypt in 1882. It was here that the Post Office Rifles (known officially as the Army Post Office Corps or APOC) came under fire from Colonel Urabi’s Egyptian army (see my previous post on this). I know that they took no casualties and am assuming for the purposes of this project that they actually returned fire.

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In my little diorama, the men of the Post Office Rifles have formed a firing line, variously loading, firing or assessing their shots under the instruction of an officer.

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I’ve added a few arid looking plants to the sand and rocks. Given the hot and dusty conditions, I’ve dry-brushed some of the desert onto their puttees and trousers to make them look suitably campaign-weary.

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Ah, those puttees… As mentioned in a previous post, I rashly began painting them with Indian army style puttees rather than selecting figures with leather gaiters, which is what they would have worn. Never mind, putting puttees aside, I still think it gives a nice impression of these men taking part in the 1882 Egyptian campaign.

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I took some time playing around with the white foreign service pattern helmets. Too much shading and the white helmet looks unnatural; too little shading and it looks too bright. After some last-minute tinkering, I think they look satisfactory.

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Artist’s impression of the PO Rifles in Egypt.

That’s all from my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project; for the foreseeable future at least. Next up on the Suburban Militarism “To Do” list are a number of possible figures. The ongoing Napoleonic Cavalry Project has been in hiatus since July and I’m about ready to tackle another regiment.

But creeping quickly up on us all, of course, is Christmas and with that in mind I’ve some more figures under way for what has been something of a seasonal tradition at Suburban Militarism – Christmas Soldiers! More about this soon.

The Postman Always Shoots Twice

My fourth, and for now last, group in my series of Victorian Rifle Volunteers I can now reveal will be the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, more famously known as “The Post Office Rifles“.

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1930s cigarette card by Players depicting the PO Rifles in Egypt.

In 1860, the Civil Service Rifles (aka 21st Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps) contained a number of companies consisting exclusively of General Post Office workers. Seven years later, over 1000 of these GPO men volunteered for service as Special Constables in response to terrorist acts by the so-called Fenians (Irish Nationalists). Once the threat had subsided, these men went on to form a new separate corps, the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles), later being renumbered as the 24th. They wore dark grey uniforms with scarlet facings.

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The so-called ‘Midnight Charge’ by the Life Guards at Kassassin, 28th August 1882.

In 1882, a group of over 100 men of the GPO serving with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers volunteered for active service in Egypt with General Wolseley’s army. The intention was that the army could make use of their postal and telegraph expertise in the course of communication duties. They were duly formed as the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) by Queen Victoria’s Royal Warrant on the 22nd July 1882.

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The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, 1882.

During their service in Egypt, they became notable for being the first men of the rifle volunteer movement to see action and win a battle honour (Egypt 1882). They came under fire during the action at Kassassin, taking no casualties. This battle was a skirmish prior to the main action at Tel-el-Kebir where the Egyptian army under Col. Urabi was defeated by Wolseley. I found a contemporary poem on the skirmish at Kassassin, from which this extract below gives a sense of the hardships experienced by these volunteers.

RAINED on all day by the sun,
Beating through helmet and head,
Through to the brain.
Inactive, no water, no bread,
We had stood on the desolate plain
Till evening shades drew on amain;
And we thought that our day’s work was done,
When, lo! it had only begun.

Extract from the poem “At Kassassin” by Arthur Clark Kennedy, 1891.

After the war, their service was considered a great success, General Wolseley stating that

“The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful… I have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt …Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion…”

The Gordon Relief Expedition in 1885 saw the next active service of the corps and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 being the subsequent venture. But it is the Kassassin incident during the Egyptian campaign which I intend my figures to depict.

Now I come to admit to what can only be described as something of a figure modelling gaffe! Let me explain…

So far as I can tell, the PO Rifles should be depicting wearing leather gaiters on their lower legs. I have figures a plenty I could have used for these but, inexplicably, the Perry Miniatures figures that (for some reason) I chose to begin painting wear puttees instead. Below left shows the figures with gaiters and right with puttees.

 

Puttees were in use at this time by some British forces but almost certainly not by the PO Rifles. After some consideration however, I’m ploughing on with them regardless rather than abandoning them for figures with gaiters. Ultimately, I just really like these figures and poses, so Post Office Rifles with puttees it is. Who knows, maybe they did actually wear them?

And anyway; as I always say, ‘my figures – my rules‘!!!

The figures are already approaching completion so expect an update on progress soon.

…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)

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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!