A glance through some old school work turned up a project I thought appropriate to this blog. I think the choice of topic for me and my fellow pupils was entirely our own choice and so I went for the obvious.
The work was a surprisingly lengthy compendium of narrative, illustrations, maps, bibliography and index all on the Battle of Waterloo.
“An excellent project, very well researched and written. A+, Commendation” – it appears that all my hard work was rewarded!
My list of sources for my project included (amongst a number of other books) Aubrey Feist’s “The Field of Waterloo” and “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” by Preben Kannik and W.Y. Carman. I also included some “Information sent by the Wellington Museum” at Apsley House in London. Aside from the general information sent by the museum, a glance at their list of books, postcards and transparencies (and jigsaws) available makes for interesting reading. There was a great range of photographic reproductions of famous paintings or other features within Apsley House.
It’s clear that I put a lot of energy, time and passion poured into my pet topic as an 11 year old.
That enthusiasm understandably wasn’t always matched by total historical accuracy but did include some rather splendid illustrations, apparently carefully copied from other sources.
Older, more knowledgeable, perhaps a little wiser, I still carry that same enthusiasm for the subject today and the project is a nice connection with the schoolboy who poured so much effort into that school work.
Looking through a few more of my old photographs recently I found some birthday snaps from my childhood, in the background of which featured (not unsurprisingly) some model soldiers.
I see on the photo above a box featuring an Asterix the Gaul figurine and “Crossbows and Catapults” – a delightfully destructive game literally played with said weapons in order destroy the opposition’s wall. What particularly interested me though was the large box in the background which I can see is an Historic Battle Game by Italian 1/72 figure manufacturer Esci.
This “Isandhlwana” box was one of the first in series of these historic battle boxes they produced.
First produced in 1984, the set included the equivalent of 2 boxes each of their Zulu War British infantry and Zulu Warriors. Also included within was this plastic moulded battlefield with part of Isandlwana mountain included (it came with the mountain top sliced off so as to fit in the box). My own box, I note, was actually one of the rarer first editions featuring C.E. Fripp’s famous painting of the battle filling the entirety of the box lid, so I guess this birthday may well date from 1984, the year of its release.
I don’t think I ever turned the plastic battlefield into a full diorama and the vacu-formed base was just too flimsy to use without gluing the figures directly into place. I did, nevertheless, have immense fun with their terrific figures, setting up diorama re-fights on anything from tables to carpets. I wonder if anyone did attempt a full diorama using the figures and the base provided?
But that wasn’t all. I found another photograph, presumably from Christmas Day given the party hat, with another of these Esci boxes secreted in the background.
This other Esci box, I can just make out showing “Waterloo 1815”. There were two of these Waterloo sets, one for the Infantry and the other, as appears here, for the cavalry and artillery.
PSR tells me that this set was released in 1985, so this is possibly be a year later at least than the previous pic. This box included Scots Greys, Imperial Guard, battlefield accessories (abatis, barrels, etc) and another vacu-formed base.
A wry PSR reports that “The leaflet is particularly hilarious, however. Not only does it somewhat mangle the English language, as they all do, but the author repeatedly fails to understand the difference between English and British. At one stage he even states the Scots Greys were part of the English cavalry, an ignorance likely to infuriate any Scotsman of the time or since!“
Furthermore, the Scots Greys and Imperial Guard did not, in reality, encounter each other on the battlefield that day, making the dramatic box artwork superfluous. It didn’t matter, boyhood imagination made for far more preposterous encounters than that between the Old Guard and the Scots Greys.
Plastic Soldier Review has a fascinating review of this series of battlefield boxes which eventually expanded to include;
501 – Isandhlwana 1879
502 – Waterloo 1815 – The Infantry
503 – Balaclava 1854
504 – Gettysburg 1863
505 – Waterloo 1815 – The Cavalry and the Artillery
506 – Rorke’s Drift 1879
507 – Hadrian’s Wall CLXV AC
508 – Austerlitz 1805
509 – Jena 1806
510 – Salamanca 1812
511 – Hamburger Hill 1968
512 – Quatre Bras 1815
513 – Borodino 1812
514 – Khyber Pass 1879
515 – Sidi Bel Abbes 1912
Historical accuracy of the battlefields was often low (Salamanca 1812 uses the exact same base as for Rorke’s Drift 1879 for example!) and the idea was mainly to push a group of figures which were already available separately. Regardless, the figures were always very nicely sculpted and the range for plastic 1/72 figures expanded massively under Esci, making them accessible for young lads such as myself for whom owning masses of metal figures then available was not really possible.
One final photo which I may have shown before on this blog. A birthday cake featuring a chocolate cake Fort Zinderneuf complete with Cadbury Fingers for gates and topped with two Britains French Foreign Legionnaires (the officer is partially hidden behind the French flag).
The sad death of Christopher Plummer at the age of 91 was announced today. He, of course, played many memorable roles in his long and brilliant career. For this military history nerd, however, he always remained His Grace, The Duke of Wellington from the magnificent spectacle that was the film “Waterloo”. I remembered it being said somewhere that not only did Plummer’s Wellington beat Rod Steiger’s Napoleon in battle, but that he also ‘out-acted’ him too. That’s very harsh on a Steiger performance I really love, but there’s no doubting Plummer’s brilliant portrayal of Wellington.
Apparently, Plummer was instrumental in shaping his memorable portrayal of the Duke on film according to “Adventures in Historyland, infusing the character with some of the life and authenticity of the real man himself;
“Plummer, unhappy about the dry treatment the Duke was getting in the film, cornered Willow [a British advisor named Willoughby Grey, whose great grandfather had actually charged at Waterloo with the Scots Greys] and said “You know practically every recorded statement the Duke ever made. Let’s put them in the script, even if they are out of context. The writers have all gone; let’s give him back some of his wit and style.” Of course Willow agreed, most of the lines in the film were indeed said by Wellington at one time or another, although in different ways. Bondarchuk [The Director] accepted these alterations with good grace, as he’d never liked the script much anyway, and tolerated everything from unauthorised script changes to Steiger’s on the spur ad-libs.“
I think I’ll try to find some time to watch the film once again this weekend…
“By God, that man does war honour.”
Plummer’s Duke of Wellington : [on seeing Napoleon manoeuvringhis army]
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 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.
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 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.
Okay, so the 37th Regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project is actually two regiments as it incorporates a troop of uhlans for good measure…
My approach to painting black uniforms is no doubt excessively complex – after all, when all’s said and done, they all just look… well, black!
The box comes with 9 hussars and 3 uhlans. Firstly – the 2nd Brunswick Hussar Regiment:
Nine hussars in total all wearing their finery, pelisses, shakos and plumes. One arm ‘option’ included a bugle which I’ve used and assigned to the grey horse.
I’ve never been a fan of separate arms glued onto pegs – they never seem too secure to me, but I recognise it provides some interesting extra choices. One of the figures with fixed arms had a broken sabre which I cut off completely to hopefully give the impression of simply riding.
On the shako is a white skull and crossed bones (the Totenkopf in German), which appeared on both cavalry and infantry regiments in the army of Brunswick.
For the uhlans, with only three figures in the box I wanted to make sure that all my lancers were carrying lances, although the other arm options were available.
The czapkas worn by these uhlans have an attractive colour scheme – light blue cloth with yellow piping. These colours mimic the colours of the Duchy’s flag, which was similar to the Ukrainian flag of today.
To be honest, I didn’t have much faith on these uhlans looking all that impressive but I think they’ve turned out quite nicely.
Biography: 2nd Hussars and Uhlan squadron [Brunswick]
In 1809 Prince Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick, raised a corps of soldiers to fight the French, who had occupied his country since it’s defeat in the Jena Campaign of 1806-07. The whole army were called ‘Black Brunswickers’ because they wore black uniforms in mourning for their lost independence. Brunswick had been absorbed into the newly formed Kingdom of Westphalia which had Napoleon’s brother on the throne.
After an initially successful uprising, Duke Frederick William eventually was forced to England where his army of over 2000 troops (including cavalry) formally entered British army. Now known as the Brunswick Oels Hussar Regiments, the Peninsular War (1808-1814) saw them fight at the battle of Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, the Nive, and Orthez.
In 1815, the Duke of Brunswick re-raised his army and took two cavalry regiments into the 100 days capaign; the 2nd Brunswick Hussars (684 sabres in 4 squadrons under Major Cramm) and a single squadron of lancers (just 235 men under Major Pott) .
The entire Brunswick contingent was heavily engaged in the Battle of Quatre Bras with the cavalry incurring 46 casualties which included the fatalities of not only the Duke himself but also the Brunswick Hussars’ own commander, Major Cramm.
In Wellington’s despatch of the 19th June, he praised the contribution of the Brunswick troops and their commander;
The troops of the 5th division, and those of the Brunswick corps (The Black Brunswickers), were long and severely engaged, and conducted themselves with the utmost gallantry. Our loss was great, as your Lordship will perceive by the enclosed return; and I have particularly to regret His Serene Highness the Duke of Brunswick, who fell fighting gallantly at the head of his troops.”
During the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington thought it prudent to keep the battle-scarred Brunswick cavalry far from the front line, in reserve near the centre. Consequently, they were only called into action during the latter stages of the battle, counter-attacking the French cavalry attacks costing them a further 92 casualties.
Notable Battles: Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, Quatre Bras, Waterloo.
In my previous post, I revealed the 36th regiment in my Napoleonic Cavalry Project to be the 18th Hussars. It’s a return to Italeri for the first time since their Mamelukes in 2017. The detailing is terrific if subtle.
The horses are elegant but are something of a problem. Firstly, they connect to their bases with pegs – and I don’t like pegs. Thankfully, these ones fit perfectly together but are never as strong as if they were moulded together and a couple of horses parted company from their bases during painting.
Secondly, the horses don’t have the sheepskin saddle covers, an essential item for any self-respecting hussars of the period, but with these nicely sculpted horses, I can live with that.
Finally, the horses come with two disfiguring marks, discs, on their right flanks, presumably a feature imprinted from the moulding process. It looks a bit ugly and I’m not sure whether the scars which are left by attempting to delicately carve them away is better than just leaving them in place. It’s a shame as the horses are beautifully sculpted.
No overt command figures included in this set except the trumpeter.
I keep picking up boxes of these Italeri Hussars / Light Dragoons so I’ve still got enough for more regiments if I return to them to do more in the future.
Formed in 1759, the regiment was first known as the 19th Dragoons and Drogheda’s Light Horse. It was renumbered a few time before settling on the 18th in 1769. Wellington himself spent some time in the regiment as a junior officer.
In 1805, it adopted the “King’s Irish” title and was converted to hussars two years later. It was sent to the Peninsular theatre in 1808 for a year’s service where it faught in the successful cavalry actions of Sahagún and Benavente and also at the Battle of Corunna where the commander Sir John Moore was killed.
It was back in the Peninsular under their old comrade Arthur Wellesley in 1813 and fought in many of the battles leading to the French defeat (including Vitoria, Nive and Toulouse).
For the 100 Days campaign, The 18th Hussars were a part of Sir Hussey Vivian’s 6th British Cavalry Brigade alongside the 10th Hussars and the 1st Hussars of the King’s German Legion. Numbering 447 sabres in three squadrons, they were commanded by Lt-Col the Honourable Murray.
During the Battle of Waterloo, the 18th Hussars found themselves on the extreme left of Wellington’s line, behind the buildings of La Haie farm. Being over 2km away from the centre of the Allied line, the regiment had an almost uniquely quiet time for most of the battle. Having plenty of space to do so, they were formed up in line rather than in columns.
Only late in the day was the regiment moved to the seat of the action in the centre as the French cavalry began to retreat with the rest of their army. Their spirited attacks on the enemy nonetheless cost them over 100 casualties.
The 18th Hussars remained in France after Napoleon’s defeat as part of the Army of Occupation. It was disbanded in 1821 as part of the post-Napoleonic Wars reduction in the British Army’s strength, that numbered regiment not to be reformed again until 1858.
When it comes to a hobby, pleasure should be the guiding principle. My head has been telling me to do something a little different from Napoleonic-era cavalry figures. My heart, however, simply loves to paint them! And there are seldom more pleasing uniforms to paint than hussars.
So far in my Napoleonic Cavalry Project I’ve painted;
So, at the risk of boring everybody, I’m painting some more!
The set I’m using is an old classic; Italeri’s British Light Dragoons (Hussars). It’s a set of lovely figures, the old Esci sculptor beautifully detailing the flowing pelisses and intricate braiding. It was originally released by Esci in 1985 very specifically labelled as being Lord Cardigan’s 11th Hussars of the Crimean War. It was then reissued with a couple of extra poses the following year as being British Light Dragoons of the Napoleonic Wars/Waterloo! These two sets were both reissued by Italeri when they took over the rights to the moulds on Esci’s sad demise around 1990.
It is appropriate that the first British hussars in my project have come along quite late as the British army was itself slow to adopt hussars into their cavalry arm. Some continental armies had a hussar tradition going back to the late 17th century, but Great Britain only began to convert light dragoons to hussars in the early 19th century. That reluctance can be seen in the official name of the British hussar regiments. At the time of Waterloo, all were formally still known as Light Dragoons with the word “hussars” being almost a grudging adjunct in parentheses.
At Waterloo, there were four British hussar regiments (not including the King’s German Legion’s three hussar regiments also present) and these were;
The 7th (The Queen’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars)
The 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars)
The 15th (The King’s) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars)
The 18th (King’s Irish) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars)
Excepting the 10th Hussars which wore bright red shakos, these Italeri figures could stand for any of the other three (although the 15th I think may have had shakos too). I’ve opted for the 18th Hussars.
The 18th Hussars wore blue dolmans with white braiding, faced with white. Their Pelisses were also blue and white braid with white fur trim. Their brown fur busbies had a bright blue bag. It is on the horses that Italeri widely deviate from historical fact. Hussars during this period had fur saddle covers with hounds teeth edging but my regiment must have sent all theirs to be cleaned.
I’m well advanced with this set already so will be sure to share my handiwork shortly.
Ever since picking up this box of figures, I’ve had the name of a song, “The Faithful Hussar”, going around my head but had no idea of the melody or even where I’d heard it. Google put me out of my confusion; it was used as the moving end scene in the classic anti-war film “Paths of Glory”. I’d seen it recently and the final scene is always moving. A captive German lady (herself a German actress who married the film’s director Stanley Kubrick) silences the baying French Poilu and reduces them to tears with her timid and tender song “The Faithful Hussar“.
KAMAR of Germany supply a great range of 1:72 scale figures including their own range of figures ranging from the Viking era to WWII. They also stock other manufacturers including Phersu’s ancients and Stenfalk’s magnificent animal range, to name but two. From KAMAR, I ordered this small group of four 1815 Dutch Carabiniers in metal, thinking, that despite their small number, they might make for a pleasing and unusual addition to the Nappy Cavalry Project.
These figures are supposed to depict the Dutch Carabiniers dating specifically from 1815, referring to their part in the 100 Days campaign and the battle of Waterloo. They were part of Tripp’s Heavy Cavalry Brigade at Waterloo which consisted of three regiments from the Netherlands:
1st Dutch Carabiniers (pink facings and red turnbacks)
2nd Belgian Carabiniers (red facings)
3rd Dutch Carabiniers (yellow facings)
I’ve elected to represent the 1st regiment which wore the unusual pink facings. Across the internet, it appears that there is some confusion over the headdress worn by these Dutch Carabiniers during the Waterloo campaign. It seems that most sources depict both the 1st and 3rd Dutch Carabiniers wearing bicornes whilst their Belgian comrades in the 2nd Belgian Carabiniers wore steel dragoon helmets.
In my copy of the ever-reliable The Waterloo Companion, however, Mark Adkin actually has the 1st Dutch Carabiniers wearing the steel helmet and this is further depicted in one the book’s plates.
Eventually, I discovered a comment from a blogger which might offer an explanation for all the confusion. This blogger suggests that;
“…the uniform with the bicorne and long tailed and lapeled coat was prescribed by the Souvereign Order of 31st December 1813. The regulations of 9 January 1815 ordered a short tailed single breasted coatee and the Belgian (steel) helmet. They were to be fully implemented on 1st May 1816. So both regiments went to war in 1815 in the old uniforms.”
So, it’s probable that KAMAR’s figures are suitable for Waterloo. Incidentally, the Italian manufacturer, Waterloo 1815, have produced a set of 6 metal / resin Belgian Carabiniers with steel helmets and which would compliment my Dutchmen very nicely. Well, I suppose I might consider a purchase…
There’s plenty of colour to paint in this regiment; pink, blue, red and white and you may also notice that these troops wear an orange cockade in their bicornes, in recognition of the Dutch Royal House. I think the most pleasing aspects of the figures is their relaxed state, swords drawn but otherwise passive with their standing horses nonetheless looking pleasingly animated and alive.
To conclude, some pictures of my first metal figures in the 1:72 scale Napoleonic Cavalry Project, followed by a brief regimental biography:
Regimental Biography: The 1st Dutch Carabiniers and Waterloo
During the Waterloo Campaign, the 1st Dutch Carabiniers were part of the Dutch Heavy Cavalry Brigade under Maj-General Tripp. The regiment numbered 446 sabres across 3 squadrons and in command was Lt-Col Coenegracht.
They were initially held in reserve behind Wellington’s centre. However, after the Household Brigade had been badly mauled in their epic counter-charge against the main French infantry assault, Tripp’s heavy cavalry became the only intact heavy cavalry formation left to Wellington. Consequently, they were heavily engaged against the French Cavalry for the remainder of the afternoon.
The Dutch Carabiniers initially counter-charged the French Cuirassiers which had been pursuing the remnants of the Household Brigade. A fierce melee ensued until the French were forced to withdraw.
As the battle continued, the 1st Dutch Carabiniers were called upon to counterattack on a number of occasions costing them 102 casualties (25% of the regiment) including a number of their senior officers including Lt.Col. Coenegracht himself, who was mortally wounded.
A flavour of the exhausting and bloody nature of the fighting experienced by the 1st Dutch Carabiniers at Waterloo can be gleaned from this quote by Maj-General Jonkheer (respectfully reproduced from the brilliant General Picton blog):
“After resting in this position, I noticed enemy’s cuirassiers which were advancing to charge the English squares. I saw a perfect moment to charge the enemy and ordered the 1st Regiment of Carabiniers attack the enemy as they were disordered around the squares. After the charge there were numerous enemies dead and wounded left on the ground. At the moment when the 1st Regiment rallied, the enemy sent in a second charge, in this action there were more than one French cuirassier regiment. These were equally repulsed by the 2nd and 3rd Regiment, many cuirassiers were left in our hands.”
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.
The Warwickshire Yeomanry horses have been shelved for now and the Bennos Forum Group Build figures are awaiting some essential paints to be delivered. Instead, I’ve been rapidly painting figures for a friend’s son this week. Whenever she visits with her son, he has previously shown a great interest in my model soldier displays. Consequently, a couple of years ago, I painted some Strelets Cuirassiers that I had lying around and posted them off to him as a Christmas present.
My wife, struggling for an idea for his latest birthday present, asked me if I could paint some more. Unfortunately, these friends have moved away and so I’m not sure what era he’s into, although my daughter suggested he used to like medieval knights. That’s a little out of my comfort zone, so I was relieved to hear my good lady suggest instead I paint some British Napoleonic infantry, preferably flank companies and sporting a mix of Belgic and stovepipe shakos. Actually, she didn’t quite say that. What she actually suggested was that I paint some “Pride and Prejudice” type soldiers…
One of my ideas for 2016 painting was to tackle some superb Waterloo British Infantry and Highlanders by Italeri, so happily I had some Nappy soldiers lying around all ready to start some time this year. Curiously, despite the core of my childhood 1/72 scale armies being made up of British Waterloo infantry, I’ve never painted them! I’m not sure why I haven’t turned my attention to them previously, but here I am finally tackling some for a young lad who, perhaps, might go on to really develop his own interest in the topic. It would nice to think that these figures spark an interest in the same way that (in their unpainted guise) they did for me.
These Italeri figures are terrific, certainly better than the charming but flawed old Airfix ones that I used to have parading so many times during my childhood. These figures seem to sport a mixture of Belgic and older ‘Stovepipe’ shakos, some being covered in oilskin. The poses are good and very natural (witness the NCO standing nonchalantly).
Time was tight though, I had only been given a week to paint them! There’s lots of tricky detail on the figures and I’ve had to rush them a little more than I’d like in order to meet the super-tight deadline. Nevertheless, I’ve risen to the challenge and here’s the finished figs. At last, after so many years of waiting, my Waterloo British infantry are finally in gloious technicolour! Just a terrible shame I now have to give them away…