Men in Grey Suits

The volunteer defenders
Of Britain’s isle are we
To heaven sworn to hold it
From all invaders free
Poem by Lt.-Col Buck, 16th Kent Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1876

My painting of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps figures is now all but complete! A couple of last minute touches and varnish needed only. They’ve been a real pleasure to paint and these Perry Miniatures figures are sculpted to their usual very high standard.

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Man of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C, c.1880s

Painting these riflemen, as so often in conversions, was an exercise in making decisions wherever the information was sketchy, or where the figures were missing some necessary detail. According to the Cheshire Military Museum’s own guide, the Cheshire Volunteers “after the 1870s… adopted a grey uniform rather than red.” Yet by 1881, scarlet was the only change in uniform colour permitted for volunteers in the Childers reforms of that year, so I presume the changeover to grey uniforms for all Cheshire rifle volunteers must have occurred only just in time.

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Reaching for another bullet…

I’ve gone for a Vallejo Neutral Grey base colour for the uniform which seemed a reasonable match for the rifle volunteer uniform I saw on display in the Cheshire Military Museum.

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Officer offering instruction at the rifle butts

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The scrolling on the sleeves are a little different, but I’ve just gone with the sculpting. I’ve also gone with the assumption that they would have been issued with accoutrements similar to the regulars, wearing black expense pouches and belts as befitted riflemen but retaining a white haversack in the manner of this illustration of a similarly uniformed member of the 14th Middlesex (Inns of Court) R.V.C.

Inns of Court

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I wasn’t at all certain whether my Cheshire Grey’s trousers would have had a stripe down the sides, in the usual military fashion of the day, and if so – what colour. Ultimately, I went for a red stripe in order to add a little extra colour to all that greyness.

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The weapon of these Perry Zulu War British Infantry figures is a Martini-Henry rifle, a breech-loading single shot firing .450 inch bullets with an effective range of up to 400 yards. It seems that in 1879, coincidentally the year of the Anglo-Zulu War in which the weapon acquired some fame, the Rifle Volunteers did indeed begin to be issued with the Martini-Henry rifle as a replacement to the Enfield they’d previously been using. The issuing of this firearm to all the Rifle Volunteers would take up to six years to complete, but it appears that my own Cheshire Greys have got their hands on them, at any rate!

 

My intention now is to place them in some kind of diorama. As I’ve said before, I’ve little experience at creating any kind of ‘dio’, but I can just about manage a bit of grass, so that’s what it might be. The idea is to show them in a group practising their shooting, possibly at the local rifle butts, or perhaps engaged in some organised national marksmanship competition against other volunteer corps.

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A rifle competition might be particularly appropriate as on display in the museum was a shooting prize (a tankard) from one such competition. All the competitors used Enfield rifles and teams of 20 men from each Rifle Volunteer battalion throughout Great Britain took part. So it seems that these Cheshire Greys might have some genuine marksmen in their ranks!

 

More to follow once I’ve got to work on the basing…

Riflemen, Form!

Form, Form, Riflemen Form
Ready, be ready to meet the storm!
Riflemen, Riflemen, Riflemen form!

“Riflemen, Form!” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


The next figures that I’ll be tackling here at Suburban Militarism are some more from the very wonderful 28mm manufacturer, Perry Miniatures. It’s a return to plastics at this scale, which is something I haven’t attempted since my Warwickshire Yeomanry figures. I’m also hoping to paint yet more volunteer troops, this time using Perry’s Zulu War British Infantry.

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Often in visits to military museums I’ll come across examples of Rifle Volunteer tunics or helmets and I thought it about time I explored a little more about this Victorian phenomenon. Hence, my current reading material, the highly informative Riflemen Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908  by I. F. W. Beckett. Rifle Volunteer Corps were first established in 1859, partially as a response to the occasional public ‘invasion panics’ such as the concern over the threat posed by Napoleon III’s France. Such paranoia was stoked by ‘future war’ invasion novels such as “The Battle of Dorking”, which was even subtitled “Reminiscences of a Volunteer”.

Additionally, the growth in support for a rifle volunteer movement was a recognition of the small size of the British regular army relative to its European rivals. Furthermore, most of the British army was often overseas garrisoning the empire and not in a position to immediately counter any invasion. There was a so-called ‘Blue Water’ school of thought which placed faith in the peerless Royal Navy to prevent any invasion. However, the movement eventually managed to elicit parliamentary support for its establishment in 1859, though the government was careful to avoid any significant cost to the exchequer, the emphasis firmly being on the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the corps!

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The Zulu War British infantry set produced by Perry Miniatures,  in addition to the “Foreign Service” pattern helmets used on campaign, also come supplied with ‘Home Service’ pattern helmets. The main difference between these helmets being the Home Service helmets having regimental plate appearing on the front and also the retention of the spike on top. I thought this useful addition could provide the means to create some reasonable examples of men found in some of the Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps, many of which sported Home Service pattern helmets such as the Volunteer helmets below.

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Helmet of the 1st Cheshire rifle volunteers, c.1878. Uniform was grey with scarlet facings.
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Helmet of the 2nd (Earl of Chester’s) Cheshire RVC. Uniform was scarlet with buff facings.
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Helmet of the 3rd Cheshire Volunteer’s Battalion. Uniform was scarlet with white facings. A ‘Cheshire Greys’ field service cap is right.

Being a mass movement of volunteers, there were a plethora of local Rifle Volunteer Corps (R.V.C.s) established all around Britain. The county of Lanarkshire alone, for example, raised up to 107 separate corps; Lancashire raised 91; Middlesex raised 50 and Cheshire 36. The latter is significant because a recent visit to the Cheshire Military Museum has inspired my decision to paint rifle volunteers. My first batch of figures will depict a rifle volunteer uniform I saw there; namely the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. also known as the ‘Cheshire Greys’.

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Tunic of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C.

British Rifle Volunteer Corps wore a range of uniforms which reflected the somewhat disparate and localised nature of their formation. The majority wore scarlet tunics, similar to the regular infantry at the time. Also very popular, however, were grey or dark green uniforms, a reflection of their broadly intended role as light infantry marksmen and also a practical recognition of the challenges facing the British army as it approached the 20th century. My chosen 1st Cheshire R.V.C. adopted a uniform of grey with red facings. Interestingly, Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form” informs me that;

“…in March 1883, a War Office Colour Committee recommended the grey uniform of the 3rd Devon Rifle Volunteers… as the pattern for the new service dress, but in the event, Indian Khaki was preferred.”

So it seems that the late-Victorian British army came surprisingly close to looking much like the grey-uniformed rifle volunteers that I’m endeavouring to create!

A couple of examples of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. grey Home Service pattern helmets were on display in the Cheshire Military Museum, as was the officer’s tunic (left pic below). Perry Miniatures’ officer figures from the Zulu War set should allow me to mimic the braiding on this to some degree.

I’ve chosen six figures and an officer for my first group of volunteer rifles and have a vague idea of grouping them into some kind of basic diorama. I’m no diorama creator, so I use the phrase advisedly! The figures come with separate arms and heads which require gluing onto the bodies, offering opportunities for varied poses. I’m not the best at model assembly either, I admit, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll post updates on my progress…

 

Somerset Military Museum (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9)

Happily, while on my way back home from holiday I managed to detour and visit the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton. The gallery is a part of the wider Museum of Somerset and contains a collection which covers the following regiments:

· The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s)
· The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry
· The West Somerset Yeomanry
· The North Somerset Yeomanry
· The Somerset Militia, Rifle Volunteers and Territorials
· The Light Infantry and its successor regiment, The Rifles

You will note the above mention of militia, rifles, volunteer and yeomanry, which is something of a particular interest of mine and I wasn’t to be disappointed. I was particularly impressed by the museum’s emphasis on letting the exhibits take centre stage and the whole gallery was very well stocked with uniforms – so I was a particularly happy boy!

Painting of the Sortie from Jellalbad by Daniel Cunliffe
The Sortie from Jellalabad, a painting by Daniel Cunliffe (1801-1871)

Near the entrance to the gallery is the above painting by Daniel Cunliffe which depicts the Siege of Jellalabad, First Afghan War (1838-1842). In it, the 13th Light Infantry are depicted capturing sheep and cattle as part of a successful sortie from Jellalabad in which they were besieged. I was already familiar with some other paintings by Cunliffe, so was pleased to see this one. Another painting that would have been wonderful to view but was unfortunately absent on the day (I think away on loan) was Lady Butler’s “Remnant’s of an Army”. This was the great artist’s iconic depiction of William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jellalabad as the last survivor from the 1842 retreat from Kabul.

The city of Jellalabad in Afghanistan played an important part in the history of the 13th Regiment, the name eventually featuring on their cap badge in recognition of their valour in the conflict. The museum displayed a marvellous uniform worn by Captain George Talbot (below left) of the 13th Light Infantry which he would have been seen wearing on parade in Jellalabad. Also displayed (below right) was a fearsome Afghan dagger taken at the fall of Ghuznee in 1839 and a fabric skullcap worn by the 13th’s Captain George Mein during his captivity.

Taken captive by Afghan leader Mohammad Akbar Khan during the retreat from Kabul, Captain Mein was held for 9 months alongside other British survivors (men, women and children) which included Lady Florentia Sale, the incredibly brave and defiant wife of the regiment’s colonel, Sir Robert. Quite a bit of history seen by that little cloth cap! Large portraits of General and Lady Sale were on display, depicted by the artist George Clint (1770-1854).

The 13th Regiment fought all over the world including the Crimea, Burma, India and South Africa (latterly in both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars). During the Zulu campaign, Major Knox-Leet of the 13th won a Victoria Cross during the disastrous battle of Hlobane and the following day his regiment fought hand to hand with Zulus in the desperate battle of Khambula. The regiment’s band led the British army advance (in square formation) at the concluding battle of Ulundi . The museum had artefacts from the Zulu campaign on display including a Martini-Henry rifle, some Zulu weaponry (see below) and King Cetshwayo kaMpande’s pipe!

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Heavy Zulu iwisa (knobkerries) with a isihlangu (ox-hide shield) taken during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.
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Bust of Lt John Chard of Rorke’s Drift fame. He was not of the 13th Regiment, being a Royal Engineer, but was a local Somerset man.

Anglo-Boer War exhibits included a Boer carving, a century old chocolate box given to troops (with the chocolate still in it) and this helmet below belonging to Corporal Mabey wounded at the battle of Tugela Heights in 1900. Note the hunting horn symbol on his rather campaign-weary pith helmet; an iconic symbol of light infantry troops.

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As I’ve mentioned, the museum was particularly blessed with uniforms such as this sergeant’s from the late 19th / early 20th century. Surrounding it were khaki uniforms and examples of NCOs and officer’s mess uniforms.

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On the right in the photo below can be seen an officer’s sword and scabbard which was carried during the 1st Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), 1st Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) and the Crimean War of 1854, possibly even present during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Few soldier’s swords can claim to have been quite so well-travelled! The sword with the white handle belonged to Lt-General Snow, a former colonel of the regiment.

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You may spy in the above photograph a 1930s Gramophone record which featured the Somerset Light Infantry’s suitably jaunty regimental march called “Prince Albert’s”, performed on record by their band. I believe this march featured in the 1968 film “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Coming up in Part 2 of this post; drums, headdresses and lots of colourful volunteer uniforms abound…