The British army of the eighteen eighties was, by any standard, no match for the vast conscript armies of Europe. The great battles fought on the European mainland during the unification wars of Germany and Italy employed more troops on each side than Britain possessed. It must be said that the British Army had performed brilliantly against European foes in the past. Wellington’s Peninsular army had bested Napoleon’s marshal’s at almost every turn, throwing French armies out of Spain and Portugal. Almost forty years after Waterloo, despite awful leadership, British soldiers had performed valiantly and beaten the armies of the Russian Czar in the Crimean War.
It was this latter war which had exposed the frightful failures of command, control and supply that had visited such misery and discomfort upon the ordinary British soldier in this campaign. A Royal Commission of 1858 highlighted these deficiencies and set the scene for the largest series of reforms the British Army had ever experienced. Edward Cardwell, secretary of state for war under the first Gladstone administration of 1868, introduced the first of these reforms as the Army Enlistment Act of 1871. Under this act a soldier served six years with the colors and six in the reserves providing a pool of trained soldiers available for national emergencies. The previous 10 to 12 year service requirements had left the army with regiments of grizzled veterans with no reserve system. The act also improved pay and living conditions for the ordinary soldier and a large number of modern barracks were built.
The other, even more far reaching reform, was the Regularization of the Forces Act of 1871, which assaulted the age-old regimental system that had been in existence for two centuries. He created 66 Brigade districts, which necessitated the merging of over eighty of the old numbered line battalions (he left the first 25 of the line intact with two battalions each). This system was created with the defense of the Empire in mind and the theory was that one battalion served overseas while the other remained at the depot for home service. The practice was a little different. The demands upon the army by the small wars and campaigns cropping up everywhere at this time caused the system to break down and, had there been a European emergency, few troops would have been available in the United Kingdom to deal with it. The Navy, it was thought, was deterrent enough. Amongst his other reforms, Cardwell abolished the practice of purchasing commissions along with the ranks of Ensign in the Infantry and Cornet in the cavalry. The abolition of purchase, not surprisingly, caused the most pain, as most officers had no idea what it meant for merit to be part of the equation in a patrician soaked institution. He also centralized the command structure and reformed the entire supply and transport system
In 1881, another Secretary of War, Hugh Childers, took the Regularization Act a step further and formalized the regimental amalgamations by abolishing numbers and introducing County titles for each two-battalion regiment. This meant also that the cherished facing colors worn on collar and cuffs were also done away with and henceforth, English and Welsh regiments wore white facings, Scottish regiments wore yellow and Irish regiments green. Regiments enjoying the title “Royal” retained their blue facings. The cavalry for the most part escaped amalgamation and interference with uniform details. Thus stood the British Army in 1885 at thirty-one cavalry regiments (three of Guards), Three regiments of Foot Guards and sixty-seven infantry regiments of the line.
The eighteen-eighties saw the British Army on almost continuous campaign around the world. The previous decade had ended with wars in Zululand and Afghanistan, both involving disasters (Isandlwhana and Maiwand) but both ending with the British victorious. This decade began with a disaster that ended with defeat. The British, in a ham-fisted attempt to preempt the new Boer Republic’s incursions into Natal caught a bloody nose at Majuba Hill in 1880 and despite an inconclusive fight at Laing’s Nek were forced to seek terms from the South Africans.
In Egypt, the collapse of the Suez Canal company practically bankrupted the Egyptian government and as Franco-British advisors tried to prop up the Khedive (The Egyptian ruler) a revolt was begun by nationalists led by an army colonel known as Arabi Pasha. The British responded with a bombardment of Alexandria in 1882 (French support was withdrawn at the beginning of hostilities). The bombardment was followed by a British invasion that saw the defeat of Arabi and his followers at the battle of Tel-El-Kebir.
The Suez Canal and the route to India were safe but Britain now had taken on the responsibility of Egypt as a protectorate. British officers commanded the Egyptian Army and all areas of the economy and government were under British supervision. Thus, in 1883 when an Egyptian force under the command of General William Hicks was massacred to a man at Kordofan in the Sudan, it was up to the British to sort it out. The Sudan, ruled by Egypt, had erupted in a revolt led by an Islamic cleric, known as the “Mahdi” who, in league with a villainous slaver known as Osman Digna, had fomented rebellion against their masters in Cairo. The man called in to sort out the mess was no less than the charismatic Major-General Charles Gordon whose exploits with the “Ever Victorious Army” had made him famous during the Tai Ping rebellion in China during the eighteen sixties. He was immediately made Governor of the Sudan and took up residence in Khartoum but within months was under siege from the Mahdi’s armies. The British in the Sudan were already dealing with Osman Digna’s forces and defeated him at Tamai and El Teb in 1884 but as the Mahdi’s armies closed in on Khartoum it was evident that a relief operation was in order. As the British government agonized (this was Gladstone’s second administration) the cry for Gordon’s relief grew. Finally the expedition under the command of General Garnet Wolseley, set out, but despite heroic efforts and battles at Abu Klea and Abu Kru , in a truly Victorian melodramatic way, they arrived too late. Kharoum had fallen on January 26th and Gordon had been killed on the steps of the Governors Palace. The Sudan could not be subdued and despite heroic battles during 1885 at Tofrek and Suakin, on the Red Sea, the British withdrew. The last action was at Ginnis on December 31st, 1885 which ironically saw the last British troops to wear the red coat in battle. The Nile Valley was not the only area of operations for the British at this time. The North West Frontier of India continued to be a hotbed of tribal uprisings and revolts and although there were no major operations at this time, thousands of troops remained stationed there. The quiet did not last long. By 1888 the tribes in the Black Mountain and Hazara areas rose up and expeditions were sent to quell them. By the eighteen nineties, the frontier was ablaze with rebellion and a large number of Imperial forces were involved. To the east of India, French meddling in Burmese affairs led to a British expedition to topple the King and annex it to India. The Third Burma War lasted from 1885 to1889.
Elsewhere in the world, British troops were involved in minor operations in Bechuanaland (1884), Sikkim (1888), Natal (1888) and Chin-Lushai (N.E. India 1889).
In 1887, the long Golden Jubilee procession of troops from the Empire who marched past the Queen and enthralled citizens of London were a mere prelude to the vast array of Imperial soldiery that would take part in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations ten years later. The last twenty years of Victoria’s reign would be viewed as the apogee of the British Empire and in just over a decade after her death, the dark clouds of the Great War would burst over the world and change it forever. In 1890, Walter Richards published his three volume work “Her Majesty’s Army”, which was a detailed account of British and Empire troops including its current structure and history. The books were illustrated by three artists who are profiled at the end of this book. We show here their illustrations of the regular army which are interestingly depicted only in home service dress despite the fact that most of these troops were by then posted overseas wearing khaki.
UNIFORMS OF THE BRITISH ARMY 1885
In 1881 the enhancements that Hugh Childers added to the Cardwell reforms took effect. Little was changed in the cavalry, but infantry regiments bore the brunt of the restructuring as will be seen later. One important uniform change affecting the entire army concerned officers. Henceforth, rank badges, previously worn on the collar, were now moved to the shoulder cords (or straps in undress). Regimental officers rank badges were now as follows: Lieutenant-Colonel; Star and Crown, Major; Crown, Captain; Two Stars, Lieutenant; One Star and Second-Lieutenants (subalterns); no badge. NCO badges were as follows: Lance corporals one chevron, Corporals two chevrons and sergeants three chevrons – all points down. Staff Sergeants wore a crown above. Quartermaster-Sergeants wore four chevrons points up with a six pointed star above. Regimental Sergeant-Majors wore a simple Imperial Crown. All rank badges at this time were worn on the right sleeve only.
The order of preference in the British Army was (and is) different from most European armies in that it went Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers and Infantry rather than Infantry, Cavalry Artillery and Engineers. The regular regiments and the militia were distinguished by yellow lace with brass buttons and fittings for other ranks, gold lace and gilt fittings for officers. Please note that helmet, button and lace colors are described as whitemetal, brass, white or yellow which can be construed as Silver, Gilt, silver and gold for officers unless otherwise mentioned. Full regimental details appear in the appendix at the end of the book.
1st & 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)
All three regiments wore an Albert pattern helmet of polished steel heavily decorated with brass figuring and garter star plate in whitemetal. Helmet plume for both regiments of Life Guards was white horsehair and for the Blues it was red. The tunic was the same pattern for all three regiments. For the Life Guards it was scarlet and for the Royal Horse Guards it was blue. It was single breasted with the collar, gauntlet cuffs and piping down the front in facing color. Collar and cuffs blue for Life Guards and scarlet for Royal Horse Guards. Gold lace chevron on cuffs. Well polished steel cuirass was worn with front and back plates. NCOs rank was indicated by gold aguillettes worn on left shoulder. White pantaloons tucked into high polished jackboots with steel spurs. Pouchbelt of white leather with red flask cord down the middle for 1st Life Guards and Blues, blue flask cord for 2nd Life Guards. Pouch was black leather with royal arms on flap in brass. White gauntlet gloves were worn. Officers wore the same dress in better materials only the helmet was German silver and the fittings of gilt. All lace on tunic was gold and aguillettes were worn on the right shoulder to indicate rank
Undress scarlet or blue stable jacket with collar and cuffs of facing color. Blue overalls with double 2” scarlet stripes for 1st Life Guards, The 2nd Life Guards had thin scarlet stripe between the wide stripes and the Royal Horse Guards had single 2 ½ wide scarlet stripes.
DRAGOON GUARDS AND DRAGOONS
There were seven regiments of Dragoon Guards (numbered 1 to 7) and three regiments of Dragoons (numbered 1, 2 & 6). The 1st Royal Dragoons and the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) were, along with the Household Cavalry, designated “Heavy Cavalry”, employing large men over 5ft 8ins tall and large horses over 16 hands. The Dragoon Guards
And 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, were along with all the Lancer regiments, were designated “Medium Cavalry”.
All regiments except the 2nd (Royal Scots Greys) wore a polished metal Albert pattern helmet. The Dragoon Guards wore brass helmets, the Dragoons whitemetal and the Greys wore a bearskin cap. Each regiment wore a different colored plume (see appendix). The badge on the front was a twelve pointed, whitemetal star with an oval center containing the regimental number within a garter. The tunic was scarlet (except for the 6th Dragoon Guards), single breasted with collar, pointed cuffs and tunic piping in facing color. The cuffs bore an Austrian knot in yellow lace and the collar was piped all round in yellow. For officers the collar and cuffs bore gold lace; the latter in the form of a large Austrian knot, which was doubled for captains and tripled for Colonels and Majors. Blue breeches bearing a single wide yellow stripe down the sides were worn tucked into knee length black leather cavalry boots with steel spurs. The 2nd Dragoon Guards (Bays) had white Austrian knots, piping and trouser stripes. The 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) tunic was of light dragoon cut in blue with white collar, cuffs and piping. The Austrian knot was white as were the double light cavalry stripes on their breeches. Officers ranking on the cuffs was the same as for hussars (see later section).
All regiments were equipped with a white waistbelt and cartridge belt with a black leather cartridge pouch and white leather gauntlets. Officers wore waistbelts and pouchbelts covered in gold regimental lace and the pouches themselves were of regimental pattern, many with cloth or metal flaps. Officers at this time wore sabretaches of black leather bearing a regimental device in brass. The undress cap was the blue pillbox with a yellow band and button (white for 2nd & 6th Dragoon Guards) which were in gold lace for sergeants and officers. The stable jacket was scarlet or blue cloth with collar and plain pointed cuffs in facing color. NCOs wore chevrons on their arms according to rank with sergeants and above wearing regimental badges above the stripes. Officers also wore dark blue frock coats in undress. These garments were decorated with elaborate loops in wide black mohair lace on chest, collar and cuffs. A shorter version of this, known as a patrol jacket was worn for barrack duties (and at certain times, on campaign)
The other ranks sword was the 1864 pattern with Maltese cross stamped out of the sheet steel guard and was 38 ½ inches long. It was modified in 1882 by lapping the guard and again modified in 1885 to a shorter 34 ½ inches. Officers swords were of regimental pattern. The Martini-Henry carbine of 1871 pattern was also carried.
Lancers were introduced to the British Army in 1816, many years after these cavalrymen of Polish origin had made their appearance in the great European armies of Austria, Russia, France and Prussia. There were five Lancer regiments in 1885, the 5th, 9th, 12th, 16th and 17th, all designated as medium cavalry.
The headdress worn was a British version of the Polish czapka and consisted of a black leather skull with peak, fitted with a black leather miter top covered in facing color cloth, except for the 9th Lancers whose top was leather and only the side panels in blue cloth. Around the waist of the cap was a yellow band with central red stripe. The front plate was a brass rayed triangle with trophy devices and the regimental badge in the center. A hanging horsehair plume was worn from a socket on the front left side of the miter, the socket fitted with a metal boss. Officers wore the same cap of better materials with metalwork in gilt and the drooping plume was made of swan’s feathers. The tunic worn was also of traditional lancer cut. Double breasted blue cloth, except for the 16th Lancers, which was of scarlet cloth, with buttons down both sides and the plastron, collar and pointed cuffs being of facing color. The edges of the tunic and skirt, tri pointed skirt flaps and the back seams of the tunic and sleeves were also piped in facing color. A yellow girdle with two scarlet stripes was worn around the waist. Officers rank was shown by lace on the collar and above the pointed cuffs in gold lace with an additional bar for field officers. Breeches were blue for all regiments with a double stripe of yellow lace (white for the 17th Lancers), on each side. Officers stripes were gold lace in full dress. Breeches were tucked into knee boots with steel spurs. Sergeants of Lancer regiments had regimental devices above their stripes. Equipment was the same as for dragoons except the sword belt was worn beneath the tunic. Lancer officers’ sabretaches were black leather with regimental device on the flap. Undress caps and stable jackets were the same pattern as other cavalry except that the caps had quartering lace across the top in facing color (17th Lancers had white bands) and piping in facing color on the back seams of the jacket and sleeves. Frock coats and patrol jackets for officers were similar to those of dragoon guards and dragoons. The mohair lace was of regimental patterns.
Weapons were the same as for other cavalry except for the lance, which was the 1868 pattern of heavy bamboo with steel blade and butt with leather carrying strap and a red over white pennant. Officers carried the light cavalry pattern sword.
In 1881 there were thirteen hussar regiments of the line – the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st. In some cases they were the most elaborately dressed with numerous regimental differences, not all of which can be described here. In all cases the headdress was a fur cap (known as a ‘Busby’ in Britain after the manufacturer) with a cloth panel or bag hanging on the right side. The bag was of regimental color shown in the tables in the appendix. The bag was laced in yellow round and just in from the edge and down the center being secured by a button that also was attached to the cap lines which went down the back and around the neck. A short plume was fitted into a brass socket on the front top of the cap below which a yellow lace boss was placed. For officers the caps were of better materials and the plumes were tall egret feathers. The boss was in gold cord for officers. Officers of the 14th Hussars wore no boss. Brass chin chains (gilt for officers) were worn. Trumpeters and bandsmen of the 11th Hussars had light gray fur busbys. `The tunic was of hussar pattern. In blue cloth for all regiments it was edged down the front and round the skirts in yellow lace. The collar and cuffs were also edged in yellow lace, that above the cuffs being an Austrian knot. The front of the tunic had six rows of lace narrowing to the waist and each terminating at the sides in a bullion button and lace loop. The lace rows were fastened on the front by a yellow loop with toggle. The back tunic seams had yellow lace ending at top and bottom in Austrian knots. Collar and cuffs were of tunic color except the 3rd Hussars who had a scarlet collar and the 13th , whose collar was white. Breeches and boots were the same pattern as in the rest of the cavalry except for the 11th Hussars whose breeches were crimson and all had double yellow stripes except the 13th Hussars whose stripes were white. For officers the tunic and breeches carried gold lace in stead of yellow and the cuffs were decorated with large Austrian knots, plain for lieutenants, with a small line of eyeholes for captains and a line of larger eyeholes terminating in a series of knots above for Majors and Colonels. Swordbelts were worn under the tunic and the pouchbelt and pouch were the same as all line cavalry. Sergeants and above wore plain black leather sabretaches suspended on two whitened leather straps from the waistbelt. All buckles were of brass. Officers’ pouchbelts and pouches were of regimental pattern. The pouchbelts were decorated with intricate gold or silver lace in regimental designs and the pouches were of black leather with scarlet cloth flaps and gold lace embroidered devices in the 7th, 8th, 15th and 18th Hussars while the remainder, except the11th, had silver flaps with gilt ornaments. The 11th Hussars had a crimson leather pouch with gilt flap and silver ornaments. The officers’ sabretaches were equally elaborate and each of regimental design. All except the 11th Hussars, who had crimson leather, were of black leather. The flaps for all the regiments were of scarlet cloth, edged with wide gold lace and embroidered regimental devices in the center. The exceptions were the 11th Hussars who had crimson cloth, the 13th Hussars who had white cloth and the 21st Hussars who had French Grey cloth. Stable jackets and pillbox caps were similar for hussars as for other cavalry. The short jacket was blue with yellow lace around the collars and small yellow trefoil or loop on the cuffs. 3rd Hussars and 13th Hussars had red and white collars respectively. Officers’ jackets were heavily laden with gold lace down the front and on the back seams and for mess dress were worn open with regimental pattern gold laced waistcoats. Pillbox caps were blue with yellow bands for all regiments except the 11th Hussars who had crimson tops and the 13th Hussars who had white bands for other ranks. The bandsmen and trumpeters of some regiments had reversed colors on the pillboxes.
ARTILLERY AND ENGINEERS
There were actually three regiments in the Royal Artillery – The Royal Horse Artillery, The Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery, into which was included the Coast Artillery. As the largest corps in the British Army
the artillery staff establishment was quite extensive and officers at corps level wore the staff uniform in blue with scarlet collar and cuffs but with all other items of regimental pattern. The branch that had the most unique dress was the mounted brigade.
Royal Horse Artillery
The headdress was the hussar busby with scarlet bag and no lace or button. The plume was white. For officers the busby was slightly larger than that in the hussars being modeled on the 1846 pattern. No boss was worn on the front. The jacket was also of an earlier pattern being a shell jacket edged all round in yellow lace with similar lace on the back seams ending above in a trefoil and below in a figure eight. The scarlet collar was edged all round in yellow lace as was the Austrian knot on the blue cuffs. The front was decorated down the front with double loops every 1 3/8 ins each one terminated in a loop and secured down the front with a brass ball button. Officers versions were more elaborate with all the yellow lace being gold. The ranking system on the sleeves was the same as hussars for captains and lieutenants but field officers had a special pattern of a gold chevron with heavy lace loops and figuring above and below. Pantaloons were blue with a single wide red stripe down the sides and they were tucked into the standard cavalry knee boot with steel spurs.
Undress stable jackets were generally the same as for the rest of the cavalry in blue with yellow laced red collar and trefoil lace loop on the cuffs. The pillbox cap was blue with yellow band and button. Bombardiers (Corporls) had two braa chevrons on the front and for officers the button and band were in gold lace. Officers wore a patrol jacket similar to the infantry in blue with black mohair lace edging down the front all round and five loops across the front ending in crows feet with olivets. The collar was stand and fall, edged with black lace as were the cuffs with Austrian knot. It was fastened down the front with hooks and eyes. Overalls were blue with wide red stripe. Belts and equipment were the same as for hussars with the sword belt being worn under the belt. Officers wore a black sabretache with blue flap edged gold with regimental device in the center.
Royal Field Artillery & Royal Garrison Artillery.
The headdress was the spiked helmet of Prussian style (taller and more elegant) introduced in 1878. The spike was almost immediately replaced by a brass ball finial in an acanthus leaf cup. The body of the helmet was of blue cloth with a rounded peak bound in leather for men and a pointed peak bound in brass for officers who also had a brass strip reaching from the back peak up to the quatrefoil mounting for the ball finial. The device on the helmet was a large Royal Arms above a gun in brass. The chinstrap was of leather backed brass chain. The tunic was of infantry style in blue cloth with collar and piping on the shoulder straps, down the front and round the skirts in scarlet. The rear skirts were piped on each side in straight lines of scarlet. The collar was piped all round in yellow lace and the cuffs had an Austrian knot. Sergeants and above had gold lace. The tunic was fastened by nine brass buttons, with two at the rear and one on each shoulder strap. Officers had wide gold lace on the collar and the ranking system was the same as for the Horse Brigade. Trousers and breeches were blue cloth with wide 1 ¾” red stripes down each side. Mounted gunners wore the standard cavalry knee boots with steel spurs. Officers trousers were worn with Wellington boots and brass spurs. Equipment for men included a white waistbelt and, for mounted gunners a white haversack belt worn over the left shoulder. Dismounted gunners were equipped as for infantry. Officers wore the same pouch, and pouchbelt as the Horse Artillery and the sabretache was plain black leather with a small Royal Arms above gun in gilt on the flap. In marching order, gunners wore a frock with no piping except on the shoulder straps and a yellow lace trefoil on each cuff (Gold for NCOs). The officers wore the same undress, mess dress and patrol jacket as the mounted corps.
The Corps of Royal Engineers wore a uniform very similar to that of the Royal Field Artillery with the following exceptions: The cork helmet was fitted with a spike and the front plate was the Royal Arms without the gun. The tunic was scarlet with Garter Blue (a slightly brighter blue) cloth collar, cuffs, piping round the tunic front, shoulder straps, skirts and rear plaits. For officers the facings and piping on the tunic were of Garter Blue velvet. The piping round the other ranks collar and Austrian knot on the cuffs were yellow lace (gold for sergeants and above). Trousers, breeches, boots and Equipment was the same as for the Field Artillery, and the undress frock was scarlet with blue collar and cuffs with a single yellow loop above. Officer’s pouches bore the royal arms in gilt as did the plain black leather sabretache and the pouchbelt was of crimson leather edged in gold with a gold wavy line running down the center. They wore the same undress, mess dress (with scarlet shell) and patrol jacket as the Artillery.
The three regiments of Foot Guards were the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards. All wore a similar uniform with some time honored distinctions. All regiments wore the bearskin cap regulated at 8 inches high, but bigger looking owing to the fur. Other ranks cps were from the male bear and officers from the female, which made them appear taller than the men’s. The chin chain was in brass for men and gilt for officers. The tunic was scarlet with blue collar and cuffs, with a blue three pointed flap on the cuffs.
It was piped white on the top and front of the collar and down the front and around the outside of the blue flaps. The skirts bore a three pointed scarlet flap on each side piped white. On each cuff and skirt flap were bars of white lace arranged according to regiment and upon each bar, was a brass button. Shoulder straps were blue and the front was fastened with brass buttons arranged according to regiment. For officers the collar and bars on the flaps were of gold lace and the top of the round cuff was laced in gold. Trousers were blue with narrow scarlet stripe for men and 1 ½ “ stripe for officers.
In undress, the men wore a plain white shell jacket and a round pork pie had with regimentally colored band. Sergeants and above wore plain scarlet frocks with gold lace on blue collar and cuffs. The forage cap had a peak with gold lace bars according to rank. Ranking consisted of wide white tape chevrons for corporals and lance-corporals, wide gold chevrons for sergeants (with a special regimental device upon a square crimson flag embroidered upon the stripes for Color-Sergeants) and a large Royal Arms on the upper right sleeve for the Regimental Sergeant –Major. Officers undress consisted of a long frock coat with black mohair loops as well as a patrol jacket when required. The peaked caps were blue with a black mohair figured lace and drooping peak with gilt edging. The regimental differences were as follows:
White Horsehair (goats-hair for officers) plume on the left of the bearskin. Buttons spaced equally on the tunic, with four buttons on the lace bars on cuffs and tunic skirts. Embroidered grenade on collar , royal cypher on shoulder straps. Scarlet band and piping on other ranks and NCOs forage caps.
Red horsehair (cut feather for officers) plume on the right of the bearskin. Buttons spaced in pairs on the tunic, with four buttons on the lace bars on cuffs and tunic skirts in pairs. Embroidered Garter Star on collar and on shoulder straps. White band and piping on other ranks and NCOs forage caps.
No plume on the bearskin. Buttons spaced in threes on the tunic, with three buttons on the lace bars on cuffs and tunic skirts. Embroidered thistle on collar and on shoulder straps. Diced band ( a red/white/blue checked pattern) and scarlet piping on other ranks, NCOs and officers forage caps.
There were a multitude of other distinctions too numerous to mention here. The bandsmen of all three regiments wore tunics heavily laced on chest collar and cuffs in gold and the drummers had all seams on their tunics laced in white tape with a blue ‘Fleur-de-Lys’ pattern. Equipment was as for normal infantry, see below.
Infantry of the Line
In 1881, the battalions following the first twenty five regiments, which already had two battalions, were merged into two battalion regiments bearing a county title and forming sixty-seven Regimental Districts. The county militia became the third battalion and the old volunteer corps were numbered from 4th Battalion onwards. With this amalgamation came a change in the age-old facing colors. The Royal Regiments retained their Blue facings, the English and Welsh regiments wore white facings, the Scottish regiments yellow facings and the Irish green. Although the function of the infantry by now was the same for all regiments, the dress distinctions that had differentiated them before, were continued so that Fusiliers, Light Infantry, Rifles and the Scottish regiments all had special features.
English, Welsh and Irish Regiments
The helmet was the universal pattern cork helmet (known as the Home Service pattern) covered in blue cloth with spike (see Field Artillery above). The helmet plate was an eight pointed garter star with regimental device in the center. The tunic was scarlet cloth with collar and round (called ‘Jam-pot’ at the time) cuffs in facing color with white piping down the front and on the two rear skirt plaits. The shoulder straps were scarlet with abbreviated regimental title embroidered in white on the ends. The collar bore a regimental badge on each side and the tunic was fastened with seven buttons down the front. The trousers were of blue cloth with ½”scarlet welts. A white leather waistbelt was worn with clasp bearing the royal crest on the tongue and “HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE” on the buckle. It was fitted with two loops on the rear to accommodate the Valise Pattern equipment of 1882 pattern. The Valise (or pack) was worn somewhat awkwardly above the buttocks and suspended over the shoulders with straps that had loops that attached to the ammunition pouch straps either side on the front.
Bayonet frog was worn on the left side and a white canvas haversack with strap was worn over the left shoulder. In field marching order, the trousers were worn tucked into leather gaiters of 1868 pattern. A scarlet frock was also worn for marching order and barracks. At this time it was plain scarlet with collar in facing color only. There were several variations of this frock being worn at this time. The undress headwear was the blue glengarry with regimental badge on the right side. NCOs above sergeant wore the officer pattern forage cap with drooping peak. All sergeants wore a crimson sash over the right shoulder..
Officers wore the same uniform as the men with the differences as follows: Helmet as for Royal Engineers Officers with helmet plate of eight pointed star with regimental badge in center, usually of gilt or silver. Tunic bore gold lace on collar and cuffs and twisted gold cord on shoulders. Ranking consisted of a cuff chevrons in gold lace, points up for lieutenants with plain thin gold lace on either side terminating in a small Austrian knot above and crow’s foot below. Captains and majors had two chevrons, the latter with looped figuring on the upper lace. Lieutenant-Colonels had two chevrons with figuring above and below. Lace patterns were oak leaves for English and Welsh regiments, Shamrocks for Irish and Thistle patterns for Scottish. A crimson sash was worn over the left shoulder. Trousers were the same as for men. The waist belt carried the sword slings and the clasp bore a regimental badge. For undress the blue patrol jacket (largely the same as Artillery, Engineers pattern) was worn, often with a blue peaked forage cap with a scarlet band for ‘Royal’ regiments and black lace for others. The peak was edged in gold bullion lace and field officers had a gold braid welt around the crown. The front bore the regimental badge, often in elaborate embroidery. In addition to the blue patrol jacket officers could wear an undress scarlet frock which had no facings, but was decorated in thin gold lace around the collar and Austrian knots on the cuffs. In 1885. This jacket was increasingly being replaced by a blue plain jacket with pleated pockets on the chest. Another form of undress headwear was the ‘Austrian’ pattern folding hat (called a Torin cap) but it was also being phased out.
The six English Light Infantry regiments (there were no Welsh or Irish ones) wore the same uniform in every respect except that the home pattern helmet was covered in dark green cloth as were the forage caps both stiff and folding. Sergeants of some light infantry regiments wore chains and whistles on their sashes. The sergeants of the Somerset Light Infantry wore their sashes over the left shoulder like officers.
There were eight fusilier regiments on the English, Welsh and Irish establishment. Instead of the helmet, they wore raccoon or sealskin caps, similar to Guards but shorter. No fusilier regiments at this time wore plumes except the Northumberland Fusiliers who wore a red over white hackle on the left side. The officers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers wore a black ‘Flash’ hanging from their collars at the back.
There were four regiments of Rifles at this time: The Cameronians (see Scottish Regiments), the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, The Royal Irish Rifles and the Rifle Brigade. All except the Cameronians wore the same basic uniform with differences. The helmet, (later to be changed to a lambskin busby) was of infantry pattern in dark green cloth with bronze fittings. The KRRC had a bronze Maltese Cross as its badge, while the Royal Rish Rifles had a bronze oval wreath decorated with battle honors and the Rifle Brigade had a bronze eight pointed star with bugle and strings in the center. The tunic was dark green (officially known as Rifle Green No. 1 – which was close to black!) with scarlet collar for the KRRC, green for the RIR and black for the rifle brigade, all edged with black lace. The cuffs were dark green and pointed with ½” black lace for all three regiments but edged scarlet for the KRRC. Trousers were essentially black with no welting. Undress and marching order frocks were made of black cloth and were piped around the collar base and in the form of a single loop on the cuffs in facing color. Equipment was the same as for line infantry except for being in black leather. The waistbelt was secured by a snake clasp. Undress headwear was the same as for light infantry except that staff sergeants and above wore the pillbox cap with black lace band and button. Rank stripes were black backed scarlet for the KRRC and in gold lace for the Rifle Brigade. Senior NCOs wore the officers patrol jacket.
The tunic for officers was the hussar pattern (with five loops across the chest instead of six) in dark green with scarlet collar and cuffs for the KRRC and black velvet for the Rifle Brigade. The Irish Rifles were self-colored. The loops and seam lace were of black mohair and the ranking was similar to the Artillery. Pouch and Pouchbelt were of black patent leather as were the sword slings. The fittings on the pouchbelt were silver. Undress included a hussar pattern patrol jacket with four loops across the front and the pillbox cap.
The ten Scottish regiments in the British Army had their own distinctive dress, only one item of which they all had in common. This was the seven button doublet worn by all ten regiments in scarlet (or Rifle Green by the Cameronians). This garment was single breasted with, below the waist four large flaps (known as Inverness flaps), two in front and two behind. In addition, there were two small flaps on the back between the two large ones. The cuffs were of gauntlet type which were 4” in front and 6” in the rear. The doublet was piped down the front, around all the the skirt flaps and top and rear of the gauntlet cuffs. There were three strips of braid on skirt flaps and cuffs each terminating with a button. The piping was white for all regiments except the Cameronians, which was black. The collar and cuffs were blue or yellow. Officers doublets were the same as the men’s but with gold lace on collar and cuffs and ranking was indicated by the number of bars of lace. One for a lieutenant, one with a thin bar for captains, two with thin bar by majors and two wide ones with two thin bars above and below for Lieutenant-Colonels. Equipment was the same as for line infantry regiments.
Lowland Regiments (Except Rifles)
All the lowland regiments wore the doublet with trousers in regimental tartan known as trews. The tartan for all lowland regiments at this time was the government or Black Watch tartan. The Royal Scots and Kings Own Scottish Borderers wore the infantry home pattern helmet in blue cloth. The Royal Scots Fusiliers, of course, wore the fusilier cap. All other distinctions were the same as in the English Infantry regiments. In undress a red doublet was worn similar to the full dress doublet with facings only on the collar. The glengarry had a diced band as did the forage cap with peak worn by senior NCOs and Officers.
The Scottish Rifles spiked helmet was the same as the one worn by the other rifle regiments in dark green cloth with a bronze badge of a star within a laurel wreath. They wore a special doublet in dark green cloth with all lace in black and seven black buttons down the front, on the cuffs and Inverness flaps. Trews were of the government tartan. Belts, leggings and equipment were as for English Rifles. Officers doublets were of a special pattern, which was laced down the front and round the skirts with wide black mohair lace and fastened by hooks and eyes. There were six wide bars of the same lace with pointed ends on each side equally spaced and narrowing toward the waist. There was similar lace on the back seams. All other items were as described for other rifle regiments. The glengarry was plain dark green and worn by all ranks including officers.
The five kilted regiments were all dressed similarly. The headdress was the feather bonnet with diced band and leather chinstrap. All regiments had a large white feather hackle worn on the left side except the Black Watch, which had a red one. The regimental badge was worn at the base of the hackle. The scarlet doublet had facings on the collar and cuffs and all regiments wore the kilt which were in the following tartans: Black Watch – Government, Seaforths – McKenzie, Gordons – Gordon, Camerons – Cameron and the Argylls – Government with a white stripe in the sett. Each regiment had a sporran (or purse) suspended on a white strap around the waist in front. This purse rested upon a large backing of white horsehair (except the Argylls, who had a badger’s head and pelt) which obscured the front of the kilt. The diced hose (by this time – socks) were supported by garters with regimental flashes down each side. All ranks wore white spatterdashers (or gaiters) which reached to mid calf and covered the top of the boot. The higher back was reinforced by a whalebone strut and they were secured by white whalebone buttons on the sides. In full dress and on parade (without equipment) a plaid or scarf was worn in the regimental tartan. It went over the left shoulder and once around the body with the end hanging at the back (which nearly reached the ground) and secured to the shoulder with a large brooch. In marching order the equipment was the same as for all infantry and the frock could be worn, although is not often very evident In undress and for drill purposes, other ranks wore a plain white shell jacket (similar to the Guards). The glengarry was worn in undress, plain blue with red pompom for the Black Watch, Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders and with a diced band in the Gordons and Argylls. (The Argylls had a special pattern dicing of red/white/red). Officers of Highland regiments were similarly dressed to the men but with finer materials and they carried the Highland Broadsword with the elaborate hilt and guard, which was carried on slings attached to a wide white belt worn over the right shoulder and carrying a breast plate with regimental device. In undress they wore the white or the scarlet shell jacket with the glengarry and the Seaforth and Gordon Highlanders’ officers also wore the stiff peaked forage cap with peak and a diced band when wearing trews only. Mounted officers wore tartan breeches and black knee boots.
Highland Light Infantry
The Highland Light Infantry was unique in the British Army at that time wearing the shako in blue cloth with leather peak. A diced band was worn around the lower half and dark green cap cords were worn. The rest of the uniform was the same as for Highland regiments except that trews were worn of McKenzie tartan. In full dress, the officers and NCOs wore the plaid and brooch over the left shoulder and officers carried the broadsword hung from the shoulder belt. In undress the uniform was the same as for the highlanders except for the trews. The glengarry was dark green with a diced band and senior NCOs and officers wore the peaked forage cap in dark green cloth with diced band.
Before the war in the Crimea (a mere thirty years earlier) there was little logistic support for the army in the field. The commissariat was an ad hoc arrangement set up by the army commander’s staff when required. Medical and veterinary officers were part of the regimental staff as were paymasters and quartermasters. Only the Ordnance department had an organization and this (which is typically British) was not strictly under the purview of the Commander in Chief!! The unsatisfactory performance of all these disparate functions during the war led to the creation of specific departments to deal with them. The Land Transport Corps was created which, after several manifestations such as the Military Train and the Control Department, became the Commissariat & Transport Department. The Medical services acquired a permanent organization along with a proper Hospital Corps. The Ordnance Department was put on a more military footing and full departments were set up for the Veterinary and Pay functions.
The uniforms worn by these departments (They were called ‘Departments’ because few except the Commissariat and Medical had serving other ranks and were only staffed by officers) were universally of blue cloth with different facings on collar and cuffs. The front and skirts were piped in facing color. The senior officers wore cocked hats and in units without other ranks, it was the only full dress headdress and the plumes were of swan’s feathers shortening in length toward the junior ranks until it became a upright mushroom shaped plume. Otherwise the home pattern helmet in blue cloth with ball or spike was the standard wear. The ranking on collars and sleeves were all patterned on the Royal Artillery system with the exception of the Medical Staff. Pouches, belts and other items were departmentally patterned. Staff officers of departments wore a long frock coat in undress with black roll collar and mohair loops across the front. No badges were worn on the forage cap bands except for the Medical Staff Corps. The differences between the departments in 1885 were as follows:
Commissariat & Transport Corps
Senior officers cocked hat plume consisted of white over blue swan feathers. The helmet was fitted with a ball after 1880 (better for working with horses!) and the plate was a crowned eight pointed star with the C&T monogram in the center. Facings on the tunic were white, for men with white collar and white trefoil on cuffs. NCOs had gold trefoils. Officers had white collars and cuffs, the shoulder belt was of gold lace with blue morocco leather stripe. Trousers and breeches were blue with double white stripes, (gold for officers) and the peaked forage cap had a gold band with blue central stripe. Other ranks wore the pillbox with white button and band with blue central stripe.
Ordnance Store Department
Cocked hat plume was white over black. Blue helmet with spike. Scarlet facings. For other ranks, the collar was scarlet and the cuffs bore a scarlet trefoil. Officers facings on collar and cuffs. Scarlet stripe in center of gold shoulder belt and peaked forage cap band. Trousers bore double scarlet stripes and other ranks pillbox cap had buff band with central scarlet stripe and button.
Army Pay Department
Plume in cocked hat was mushroom type of white over yellow feathers. No helmet worn. Yellow collar and cuffs. Yellow double stripes down trouser legs (Gold for full dress). Pouchbelt and forage cap band with yellow central stripe.
Army Medical Department
From 1873 to 1884 the Army Medical Staff and the Army Hospital Corps were two separate organizations but in that year they were amalgamated to form the Army Medical Staff Corps. For the Officers of the staff there came a major uniform change for they had until then worn scarlet tunics with black facings and the 1883 regulations confirmed that. The new uniform for the staff surgeons and medical officers was now blue with black velvet collars and cuffs. The ranking system was modeled in the infantry of the line. The cocked hat plumes were black cock’s tail feathers. The pouchbelt was gold lace with four black lines equally spaced for the Surgeon-General and three lines for his deputy and two for other officers. Single wide gold lace stripes with two black lines were worn on the trousers for full dress and also on the gold band of the forage cap. Undress trousers had a single wide scarlet stripe. Before 1884 all surgeons had worn cocked hats. Now those ranked as Surgeon were to wear a home pattern helmet with the Royal Arms on the front.
Medical Staff Corps (ex Army Hospital Corps)
The blue helmet was fitted with a spike and bore the crowned eight pointed star with the Geneva Cross in the center. Officers tunics were blue with Garter Blue velvet collar and cuffs and infantry ranking system in gold lace. The lower loop under the chevrons contained the Geneva Cross. Dress and undress trousers were the same as for infantry along with the patrol jacket and forage cap which had a black oak-leaf pattern band and bore the Geneva Cross in a crowned gold circle on the front. Pouch belt was brown leather edged in gold lace with black pouch belt. Other ranks and hospital orderlies wore blue uniforms with scarlet piping on the base of the collar, down the front of the tunic and on the skirt plaits. The cuffs had a trefoil in scarlet lace. The pillbox cap had a scarlet band with blue stripe around the enter and scarlet button. Senior NCOs wore the officers pattern forage cap without the red cross. All other ranks of the Army Medical Staff wore Geneva Crosses on their right upper sleeve.
Army Veterinary Department
Like the Pay Department, there were only officers in this organization. The plume was red cock’s feathers drooping downwards. The blue tunic had maroon collar and cuffs and the gold lace pouchbelt and sword belt had a maroon center stripe with a similar band around the forage cap. The forage cap for junior surgeons was the pillbox with no peak.
All mounted troops had essentially the same horse furniture. This consisted of an 1885 pattern saddle resting on a black felt numnah with brown leather circingle over a web girth. The head collar, bridle, reins and crupper were of brown leather with a steel collar chain. The bit was of steel. Buckles, bit bosses and head collar rosettes were of brass and the head rope was white. Steel stirrups were attached to brown leather straps. The saddle was usually covered with a black sheepskin edged all round with a scalloped fringe in regimental color. For officers the leatherwork was of better quality, a bridoon rein was added and instead of a head rope there was a steel chain. The head collar rosettes were often of gold bullion. The officers’ elaborate saddlecloths or shabracques had been abolished in 1881 but the Army was persuaded to allow these items to be used until worn out.
All the leatherwork was of black leather. The sheepskin over the saddle was black edged red for the 1st Life Guards and The Blues, while the 2nd Life Guards had white sheepskins edged in blue. Officers horse furniture was naturally more elaborate. The black leatherwork was decorated with gilt fittings and the head collar rosettes were of bullion lace. The shabracques for the Ist and 2nd Life Guards were of blue cloth, the 1st with pointed ends, the 2nd rounded and both edged with wide gold lace edged both sides with a red stripe. The holster covers were similarly covered with they and the corners of the shabracque carrying the royal cypher and regimental devices in gold and silver lace. The Royal Horse Guards shabracque had long pointed ends. That and the holster covers were of scarlet cloth edged in gold lace with a blue center stripe. Regimental devices were worn on the holster covers and shabracque corners.
Dragoons and Dragoon Guards
Horse furniture was the same as for the household cavalry except the leatherwork was brown leather and the saddles had black sheepskin covers edged in scalloped facing cloth. Officer’s shabracques and holster covers were of blue cloth edged with wide gold lace. The shabracques had pointed corners for all regiments except the 6th Dragoon Guards whose corners were rounded and the gold edging had a blue central stripe. All were decorated with regimental devices in the corners and on the holster caps.
Horse furniture was the same as for Dragoons and Dragoon Guards with brown leatherwork and sheepskin saddle covers edged in scalloped facing cloth for other ranks. Officer’s shabracques were rounded at the front and rear corners, of blue cloth and edged with wide gold lace carrying a central blue stripe.
Weapons and equipment were the same as for other line cavalry. Officers carried the light cavalry pattern sword. The horse furniture for other ranks was also the same as for the rest of the cavalry with the black sheepskin without the scalloped edging. Officers horse furniture was unsurprisingly elegant and colorful. In 1885 six hussar regiments were still authorized to have shabracques. Five had long pointed corners: They were the 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 15th, all of which were blue except the 10th Hussars which was scarlet. The 14th Hussars shabracque was blue with rounded corners. All shabracques were edged in gold lace and bore devices on the corners over the holsters of regimental patterns. The officer’s saddle of every hussar regiment, with or without shabracque, was covered with a leopard skin. This was edged in scalloped lace in the color of the busby bag except the 3rd Hussars (scarlet), 10th Hussars (blue), 11th Hussars (gold lace edged crimson). The 21st Hussars had a leopardskin with legs extending and no edging and the 14th Hussars had a black lambskin edged yellow. Each regiment’s horses had horsehair throat plumes in the following colors: 3rd (white), 4th (scarlet), 7th (white), 8th (red over white), 10th (none), 11th (crimson over white), 13th (white), 14th (white), 15th (scarlet), 18th (scarlet over white), 19th (white), 20th (yellow-later crimson), 21st (white). The 10th Hussars bridle and reins were decorated with cowry shells in full dress.
Only officers of the Royal Horse Artillery wore shabracques which had rounded rear corners and were of blue cloth with wide gold edging. The regimental device in gold lace was carried on the rear corners only. A black sheepskin was placed over the saddle with red scalloped edging.
The mounted officers of the Royal Field Artillery, Royal Engineers, Infantry of the Line and Departments had horse furniture essentially of cavalry pattern with no shabracque. There were exceptions: The Foot Guards mounted officers wore a plain blue saddlecloth edged with gold lace. The square cut corners carried the rank of the officer in gold bullion. The Rifle regiments (except the Cameronians) had dark green saddlecloths with edging in facing color.
The other ranks sword was the 1864 pattern with Maltese cross stamped out of the sheet steel guard and was 38 ½ inches long. It was modified in 1882 by lapping the guard and again modified in 1885 to a shorter 34 ½ inches. The Martini-Henry carbine of 1871 pattern was also issued. The lancers carried the 1868 pattern lance of heavy bamboo with steel blade and butt with leather carrying strap and a red over white pennant. The Household Cavalry carried the 1885 regimental pattern which had a slightly longer blade and there were two types of officer sword, both 1882 pattern – cavalry and light cavalry pattern all with guards and other embellishments of regimental pattern.
Infantry and Other Arms
All infantry and other dismounted corps carried the 1871 pattern Martini-Henry rifle, a breech loading weapon of 0.45 in caliber, 4ft 1 ½” long and weighed 8lb 10oz. The bayonet for other ranks was the triangular bladed socket pattern (of doubtful value) 17 ½ ins long or the pattern carried by sergeants and color-sergeants which was the sword bayonet with a wavy flat blade 18 3/8” long. Officers carried the 1846 pattern sword (often modified), 32 ½” long with the guard of regimental pattern in the Foot Guards and with the “VR” crowned cypher in infantry and other branches. Many regiments had their own devices in the guard. Departmental officers wore swords of infantry or cavalry pattern depending on their mounted or dismounted status.
A NOTE ON KHAKI AND TROPICAL UNIFORMS
During the first half of the nineteenth century little was done to address the clothing worn by troops in the hot climates that were encountered on overseas service. The harsh conditions in India prompted the issuance of a white cotton tropical tunic and trousers in 1854 to some regiments as “Hot Weather Dress” while the undress cap was often covered in white cloth with a curtain over the neck. During the Indian Mutiny this clothing was often died with tea or coffee to produce a light brown color called “Khaki”, the Pushtun word for “dust”. By the Abyssinian expedition of 1868 the 8th Kings Regiment was issued with a grayish/khaki uniform and cloth coated wicker helmets. This dress soon evolved into the regular khaki uniform which by the mid 1870s was being worn by British troops in India. It was extensively worn during the first Ashanti expedition in 1874 and the Third Afghan War of 1879/80 where the trousers were tucked into puttees wrapped around the legs. These were at first blue cloth, but soon changed to khaki. The Egyptian War of 1881 did not see much use of khaki except as breeches worn with undress frocks by cavalry regiments. The ensuing Sudan War of 1885 did see khaki being worn by most troops with a few exceptions, the last red coats being worn at the battle of Ginnis (see above). Dress regulations in the 1880s do not mention khaki uniforms for officers, however the white tropical helmet is described in detail. This was the 1874 pattern helmet made of cork with white cloth covering. It would survive until 1899 without much change. In full dress it was worn with spike or ball and chin chains, sometimes with the home service helmet badge or forage cap badge worn on the front. By 1885 it was being universally worn by troops overseas most often with a cloth puggaree wound around the body above the brim. Before the mid eighteen eighties it was either covered in khaki cloth or stained khaki, however it was manufactured and issued in khaki cloth from 1887.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING
Barthop, MichaelThe British Army on Campaign 1816-1902 (4), 1882-1902, Osprey 1998 Bowling, A.H. The Foot Guards Regiments 1880-1914, Almark 1972 Bowling, A.H.British Hussars Regiments 1805-1914, Almark 1972 Bowling, A.H.British Infantry Regiments 1660-1914, Almark 1970 Bowling, A.H.Scottish Infantry Regiments 1660-1914, Almark 1970 Carman W.Y,SimkinsUniforms of the British Army – Cavalry Regiments, Webb-Bower 1982 Carman W.Y,SimkinsUniforms of the British Army – Infantry Regiments, Webb-Bower 1985 H.M. War OfficeDress Regulations 1883. Stadden, CharlesThe Life Guards Dress and Appointments 1660-1914, Almark 1971 Walton, P.S. Simkin’s Soldiers Volume I Cavalry The Victorian Military Society 1981 Walton, P.S. Simkin’s Soldiers Volume II Infantry Picton Publishing 1987