The Childers reforms of April 1881 included a major overhaul of the rank classifications for the rank and file. The creation of Warrant Officers comprised (for cavalry of the line) Regimental Sergeants Major to which were added Regimental Quartermaster-Sergeants, 1st Class staff Sergeants and Bandmasters later that year. This reform also standardized and simplified the badges of rank worn by all ranks in all branches of the army. For the cavalry of the line, the two decades that followed were marked by organizational changes. The establishment of the regiments was increased in April 1890 from 488 men and 300 horses to just over 700 men and 450 horses. In December, the structure was also changed from two squadrons with 3 troops each to four squadrons of two troops with the side effect that Troop Sergeants Major became Squadron Sergeants Major, now of course reduced to four per regiment.
During this period, all Dragoon Guards regiments spent some time stationed overseas, mostly in India. The 6th Inniskilling Dragoons were sent to India in 1897 but neither the Royal Dragoons nor the Royal Scots Greys were sent to India. Most of the regiments saw campaigning in Egypt and the Sudan either as regiments, detachments or members of the Camel Corps. All ten regiments served in the Boer War 1899-1902.
With regards to dress, the Dragoon Guards and Dragoons wore much the same uniform as that adopted in 1874. Apart from minor changes in details, equipment and service dress it remained that way until the end of the century.
The helmet worn by nine of the ten regiments were essentially the same as that worn by the officers and differed only in material and minor details. The shell for the Dragoon Guards regiments was brass as were the fittings. Comparison between the men’s version and officers that exist today shows the shell to be slightly more rounded and the pointed peak shallower for the other ranks. The spike, four-leaf base, rear seam decoration, front band, rosettes and curb chain were identical in style to the officers. The spike for all regiments was the fluted kind without the sphere as worn by officers of the 2nd DG, 1st & 6th Dragoons*. The two Dragoon regiments had white metal shells but otherwise the same as for Dragoon Guards. The plumes were the same as for officers but volume of horsehair used was somewhat less. They were removed from the spike for home service use on manoeuvres and exercises. The bearskin for the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) was shorter than for the officers and made of hair from the male bear rather than the female. The white plume was somewhat shorter and worn on the left side. A white metal Hanoverian leaping horse was worn on the upper rear of the bearskin.
The wearing of special pattern helmets by warrant officers and senior NCOs is difficult to determine. Photographic evidence is scarce but it seems there is a photo of the RSM of the 4th Dragoon Guards in 1881 wearing an officer’s pattern helmet. There is definitely a photo of the RSM of the same regiment dressed almost entirely as an officer in the year 1902 which suggests that this was a regimental matter. Most photos show RSMs wearing the same headdress as the rest of the regiment. Since warrant rank was only created in 1881, it may be that the acquisition of officers’ helmets and other distinctions by warrant officers was a growing trend as the years progressed. After 1902 most warrant officers of Dragoon Guards and Dragoons were wearing officer’s pattern helmets.
* An other ranks helmet of the Royal Dragoons with a sphere between the spike and base can be seen at the Household Cavalry museum in Windsor. As so often in the British Army .... anomalies abound.