THE SABRETACHE FOR MOUNTED DUTY
A sabretache is a flat, leather pouch or satchel with long straps traditionally worn by some cavalry and horse artillery officers from the left-hand side of the waist belt near to the officer’s sabre. The term sabretache is an early nineteenth century phrase that derives from the German word Säbeltasche (Säbel ‘sabre’ and Tasche ‘pocket’) and the French version sabretache.
Sabretaches ultimately derive from Hungarian haversacks, or bags (called tarsoly), which over time became more elaborate. Such bags were used for carrying fire-making tools and other, small essential items, rather like a Scottish Highlander's sporran. In the eighteenth century, Hungarian Hussar uniforms and accessories (including sabretaches) became the ‘standard’ form worn by certain regiments of cavalry officers, including those of the British, French, Polish and Russian armies. Sabretaches fulfilled the function of pockets, which were absent from the tight fitting uniform of the hussar style. Part of the wartime function of light cavalry was to deliver orders and dispatches and the sabretache was well suited to hold these. By the 19th century, other types of cavalry, such as lancers, also wore them.
In the British Army, sabretaches were first adopted at the end of the 18th century by light dragoon regiments, four of which acquired "hussar" status in 1805. They were still being worn in combat by British cavalry during the Crimean War, but the useful functionality of its design also led to its use for a period by mounted officers of all-arms, and not just the cavalry. The large front flap was of stiffened form and could be used as a firm surface for writing, viewing a map, or making a sketch.
During Queen Victoria's reign and for a short period subsequently there were generally two forms of sabretache. Firstly, there was a full dress version whose large front flap was embellished with bullion lace, battle honours, crests, crowns, insignia, monograms, mottoes, and so forth. Secondly, there was a plainer, generally leather version (undress form) that was used for ‘daily’ life and when in the field. Most European cavalry regiments had stopped using the plainer form by the early twentieth century, but some continued to use the dress version for ceremonial occasions. The sabretache was abolished for all arms in 1902 and it disappeared from the British Army as a uniform item. This appendix of our series covers just the full dress sabretaches in use by the arms, services and departmental corps, less cavalry, between 1881 and 1902.