Thursday 30 August 2018

The Cheshire Military Museum (Home of the Cheshire Regiment, Cheshire Yeomanry, 5th Royal Inniskillen Dragoon Guards and 3rd Carabiniers) - Chester 2018

I can't believe it was just over a year ago that I sat down to write up a report on my visit to the York Army Museum as part of of our visit to York in 2017 (see the link below).
York Army Museum

As I wrote in that post, there is something rather unique and special about the British regimental system and its cultivation of its heritage and history.

In the last twelve months I have done quite a bit of reading around the Roman army and its history, not to mention quite a bit of historical fiction to feed the artistic imagination. I find it unsurprising that a lot of British authors of such genres fall back on the British regimental system and its sense of belonging created among serving and former members of a particular regiment, to capture a similar spirit that no doubt existed among serving and veteran legionaries.

The heritage of the various British regiments extend from modern times back to the creation of the first standing British army or New Model Army in 1645 and the fledgling formations created under various Colonels that would go on to become some of the most famous foot and horse regiments gradually subsumed by their modern-day amalgamations.

The Cheshire Regiment as was has not been unaffected by such amalgamations and alongside the Worcesters, Foresters and Staffords now forms part of the four battalions that comprise the Mercian Regiment in today's modern British Army.

However in spite of amalgamations and restructuring the heritage that underpins the new formations is guarded and maintained in the many regimental museums dotted around the UK with some amazing treasures to be seen for the military history enthusiast with a bit of time on their hands and an eagerness to search them out.

Thus I had built into our stay in Chester some time to call in at the Chester Military Museum founded on the site of the former barracks and military depot at Chester Castle that was from 1881 to 1940 the home of the Cheshire Regiment.
Cheshire Military Museum

Sadly, due to the needs of the 18th century British army and the law courts, not much of the original motte and bailey Norman castle built by William the Conqueror remains to be seen by the modern visitor and the displays in the museum help explain the transformation of the current site to the Georgian edifice that stands on the site today.

An impression of Chester's original motte and bailey castle built by William the Conqueror

The castle played a vital role in administering royal authority over this part of the Welsh borders and in time the wooden structures were replaced with stone.

The castle would be the jump off point for King Edward I's Welsh campaign and play key roles in the Barons War and the Wars of the Roses.

As a Palatine County on the northern Welsh marches, Cheshire was ruled as a separate entity from the rest of England by the Earl of Chester from Chester Castle and had its own court and exchequer.

As can be seen in the model below the museum forms a small part of the overall complex taking up the building in the left foreground of the model (A) the original 1810 barrack block with the 1788 court building dominating the centre backdrop to the (D) esplanade or barrack square.

The view of the castle area today from the road outside is dominated by the equestrian statue to a general who was prominent in nearly all my Talavera games from last year.

Field Marshal, as he later became, Stapleton Cotton, was the commander of Allied cavalry in Wellington's Peninsular Army for much of the Peninsular War.,_1st_Viscount_Combermere

Probably best described as a 'safe pair of hands' rather than an inspiring cavalry commander he would lose the command of Allied cavalry at Waterloo to the rather more charismatic and some would say more able Lord Paget, Earl of Uxbridge.

That said, any commander of cavalry would have faced an unenviable task commanding such a force under the Duke who never really understood how to use the arm and was greatly mistrustful of it; and so Cotton should be applauded for at least managing to square that particular circle.

Field Marshal Sir Stapleton Cotton - Wellington's cavalry commander in the Peninsular War

After negotiating the rather busy road outside the castle I found my way to the original barrack blocks from 1810, seen below, that now serves as home to the Cheshire Military Museum.

What follows are my highlights from following the souvenir and guide book that I purchased on entry which illustrates some of the key artifacts held in the collection as well as providing a well laid out map to guide the visitor around the various galleries.

The first of the galleries starts the tour with a basic introduction, especially useful for the visitor who knows nothing about the army and the way it is structured and some of its very early history.

This information was laid out in a way that was digestible for adults and children and I was impressed with the care taken to set the scene and make the collection more accessible to all comers.

The boards pictured here are from that introductory gallery and even I, as someone who knows a bit about the subject, found the information well laid out and informative.

As mentioned in the piece about the history of the castle King Edward I commenced his Welsh campaign from Chester and it was he who cemented the establishment of the Cheshire archers who would become a key unit in English armies throughout the Hundred Years Wars.

Richard II mentioned in the board above had his body-guard of Cheshire archers described as;
'intolerably arrogant, insolent ruffians, who lived on far to intimate familiarity with their king'

So come on you wargaming enthusiasts, why was an infantry 2nd lieutenant known as an 'ensign' and a similarly ranked cavalry officer a 'cornet'?  Relax, no test and no prizes!

The diagram below would serve as a great guide to some wargame rule writers I have come across in helping them to envisage what role exactly they are asking the player to assume and the likely management requirements that might drive.

Come on we have all played the occasional rule set that suggests you are a brigadier but ends up with you doing the job of a corporal and all the other ranks in between at the same time.

The military is no different from any other profession and does like to use its own internal jargon and nomenclature and its worth just sense checking what is the difference between a dragoon and a dragoon guard.

Then once you have got your head around the jargon you just need to get yourself up to speed with the regalia and how to spot anything that requires a salute.

I have written a few book reviews during my work on the Talavera project that looked at the 18th and 19th century practice of commission purchase in the British army of the period and the board pictured below really helps to illustrate what a ridiculous system it was, that in spite of its inequity enabled the some of the best talent to rise, but probably not all.

The system caused scandal when it was revealed that the Duke of York was involved in the purchase system and it would cause Wellington numerous headaches dealing with general officers appointed to him through their seniority which had often been paid and bought rather than acquired through merit or any professional ability.

One of the best books I read illustrating the tension this system could cause was Mark Urban's book about Sir George Scovell, 'The Man who Broke Napoleon's Codes'  who despite his obvious talents that lead him to head up Wellington's intelligence network found his promotion opportunities constantly stymied by the need to be able to purchase the next commission and obstruction from people like his commander who saw his lack of pedigree a reason not to promote him above so called gentlemen with a lot less ability.

The Cheshire Regiment can trace its lineage back to the tumultuous days following the Glorious Revolution when William of Orange landed with an army at Brixham in Devon on the 5th of November 1688 that led in turn to King James II and his family fleeing to France in December of that year and saw the establishment of a joint Protestant monarchy under William and Mary and the publication of the Bill of Rights by Parliament the following year.

King James still had many supporters in England and Ireland and the new monarchy and government were compelled to raise extra troops to ensure the stability of the new regime. In time this would lead to the beginning of the Jacobite risings that would occur from time to time until the final reckoning on Culloden Moor in January 1746, the last battle on British soil.

Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk
The Cheshire Regiment was raised by Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk in March 1689 on the Roodee, a stone cross, still to be seen in the middle of Chester race course.

Frederick, 1st Duke of Schomberg - Adrian van der Werff

In August 1689 the Duke of Schomburg assembled an expedition to Ireland of which the Chesters would be a part. 

They participated in the successful siege of Carrickfergus which surrendered on the 27th August and would also see action the following year at the Battle of the Boyne during which Schomburg was killed.

4th Regiment of Horse 1687

Alongside the information of the early period of the forming of the Cheshires there was reference to the cavalry units formed at this time with this fine example of a troopers sword carried by the 4th Horse founded in 1685 by Thomas Hickman-Windsor, 1st Earl of Plymouth and later retitled the 3rd Dragoon Guards in 1751.

I covered this regiments history during the building of my own 3rd Dragoon Guards for Talavera last year

In addition, if not exactly from this early period of the British army but interesting to see none the less, was this standard of the 4th Squadron, 5th Dragoon Guards, post Crimean War, if the battle honours are a reference.

This regiment was founded by Charles Talbot the first Duke of Shrewsbury in 1685 and would serve alongside the Cheshire's at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

5th Dragoon Guards

The 5th Dragoon Guards have a fighting record second to none taking part in the highly successful British cavalry actions at Salamanca in 1812 and Balaclava in 1854.

I note from my post about the York Army Museum that I referred to an illustration of the VDG, seen above, in my reference to the sword of General Le Marchant on display and who was himself killed leading the regiment at Salamanca.

As you will see the facings of the regiment were green and the regiment was nicknamed 'The Green Horse' and the facing colour though badly faded can still be seen in the standard below.

The Cheshire Regiment would serve as a garrison regiment in Ireland until 1695, returning for a short period after service in the Low Countries.

In 1702 it sailed for Jamaica where it would spend the next twelve years helping to defend British interests in the area against French aspirations.

Following that deployment it was posted in 1726 to garrison Menorca where it would spend the next twenty two years but having a detachment sent to serve on the Continent, seeing action in June 1743 at the Battle of Dettingen.

The regiment up to this time was known by the name of its colonel, but by 1751 the Regiment was in the lists as the 22nd Regiment of Foot, otherwise known as 'The Old Two-Twos'.

Soldier of the 22nd Foot in 1742
On the 1st January 1757, the 22nd Foot began its association with North America when it landed at Chester, Pennsylvania as part of Lord Amherst's expedition to take the French fortress of Louisbourg in French Canada.

Carolyn and I spent our honeymoon touring the north and east states of America, crossing in to Canada and visiting Quebec where I was able to see the fortress and famous battlefield outside of the city.

The museum holds some really interesting artifacts from those actions including a cannon shot and piece of masonry taken from Louisbourg seen below.

The item below is the bottom of a colour pike carried at Louisbourg. I was hoping something similar could have been seen in Gerry Embleton's early Osprey illustration above, but sadly not.

One of the classic history lessons I got at school covered the capture of Quebec and French Canada with the death of General Wolfe at the moment of his victory in 1759.

The death of General Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec

The British love a classic 'death at the moment of victory' tale, be it in this case Wolfe, or Nelson at Trafalgar or Brock at Queenstown Heights and often the story comes with an associated item, from Nelson's and Brock's coats with the death dealing bloodstained hole to in this case a piece of the 22nd Foot's regimental colour still bearing the blood stains of the fallen hero, seen in the two pictures below.

More fragments of the 22nd's Colours from Quebec

With the collapse of French resistance in Canada the 22nd Foot were sent off to the French island of Martinique in December 1761 which fell to British forces on the 12th February 1762.

On the 6th of June 1762 the 22nd Foot had no time to celebrate their latest battle honour as they were dispatched with a force to capture Havanna and Western Cuba from the Spanish which fell to the British along with the capture of the Spanish fleet on the 14th August earning the 22nd Foot a second battle honour in eight very busy months.

In 1775 the regiment resumed its association with North America when it was part of British forces sent to reinforce General Thomas Gage at Boston arriving in time to take part in the costly attack on Breeds Hill, known to history as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The battle would cost the life of Colonel James Abercrombie of the 22nd who led the Combined Grenadiers attack on the American redoubt

A gift from the former colonies

Following the evacuation of Boston the 22nd continued to serve in the northern theatre seeing action in the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776 and the Battle  of Rhode Island in 1778, ending the war in New York on its return to the city in 1779.

I didn't quite have the camera set up when taking this picture, but careful examination shows the '22' inscribed on the button

In 1782 the regiment was formally titled the 22nd Cheshire Regiment of Foot. In 1793 it was back in the West Indies during the French Revolutionary War, before being posted to South Africa in 1800 and then on to India in 1805.

In 1805 the regiment took part in the siege of Bhurtpore in northern India during the Second Anglo-Maratha War.

The siege was a costly failure and an embarrassing defeat for British forces with four attempts to force breeches made in the city wall repulsed each time with losses to the British of over 3,000 men.

The manikin of Sergeant John Shipp leading the Forlorn Hope at Bhurtpore really captures the intense determination of the man, who even though badly wounded in the second assault came round and volunteered to lead the fourth gaining a commission for his valour into the 76th Foot.

He would soon after leave the army only to rejoin it following personal bankruptcy to join the 24th Light Dragoons, becoming their RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) and again gaining a commission into the 87th Foot following distinguished service.

The fortress of Bhurtpore was a formidable one and would not fall to British assault until 1826 and the picture of it below in 1860 with its moat, which was flooded by the Marathas during the first siege in 1805, illustrates how difficult it would have been to take.

Fort Bhurtpore photographed in 1860 by Samuel Bourne - British Library

The display cabinet seen below holds the oldest uniform in the collection, of an officer of militia, in this case the Ashton cum Mersey Militia circa 1805.

Although a militia uniform the cut and style would be very similar to that worn by officers in the 22nd Foot at that time and gives a useful guide to their appearance.

The deep scarlet colour would have contrasted sharply with the more orange red of the ordinary soldiers coat as exemplified with the manikin of Sergeant Shipp.

Following transfer to Mauritius in 1810 and garrison duties through the Napoleonic Wars, the next time the regiment would see active service would be during a reposting back to India in 1843.

The years 1839 -1843 were tumultuous ones for the British forces serving on the North-West Frontier with Afghanistan as the first moves in what became known as 'The Great Game' were played out between the British and Russian empires with the focal point very much centred on Afghanistan.

In 1839 the British made a move to install a puppet ruler in the frontier territory in an effort to control events by sending in around 25,000 troops to replace Emir Dost Mohammed with Emir Shah Shujah.

The plan seemed to be succeeding with the recapture and deportation of Dost Mohammed, until the Afghans rose up in 1841 and drove the British forces out of the country killing Shah Shujah, causing a retreat through the mountains in the harshest of conditions and inflicting the loss of around 4,500 troops plus another 12,000 camp followers and attached personnel.

Obviously after such a major set back and the recriminations that inevitably follow it, British focus shifted to the possible causes or issues that may have contributed to the disaster and that focus fell on the Emirs of Scinde and the Baluchi who, following the end of the war in Afghanistan and due to discontent in their relations with the British, had been making threatening remarks to British officials and had started to raid British convoys travelling from India into Afghanistan.

Scinde is the third largest province in modern day Pakistan and takes its name from the Sanskrit word 'Sindhu' or 'River' referring to the Indus River that dominates the province.

General Charles Napier pictured in 1849

Major General Charles Napier was tasked with bringing Scinde under the control of the British East India Company; brother to William Napier the famous Peninsular War historian, Charles Napier was an experienced soldier having served in the Peninsular at Corunna, Bussaco, Fuentes de Onoro and Badajoz and was appointed commander of the Indian army within the Bombay Presidency in 1842 at the age of 60.

Crossing the Upper Scinde frontier in Sukkur in February 1843, the Anglo-Indian army of reportedly 2,800 men or though some sources say that the force was nearer 10,000 met Emir Talpur and the Baluchi army initially numbering around 3,000 but later amassing to 30,000 men. Again these numbers are questioned with some sources stating that the Baluchis were much nearer an equivalent force of about 8 - 10,000 men.

Anglo-Indian troops crossed into Scinde from the top of the map on the 'Upper Sind Frontier' moving towards Hyderabad

Battle of Meeane 17th February 1843 - Napier can be seen riding 'Red Rover' his horse, among his troops in the forward line

The two armies met at the little village of Miani (Meeane) and all sources seem to agree that the Baluchi army was greatly outmatched in its weaponry, mainly relying on mass cavalry armed with sabres and spears supported by a few ancient Persian cannon; with the British Anglo-Indian troops using flintlock and percussion cap Brown Bess muskets supported with modern cannon.

The Baluchi army is reported to have pressed its cavalry attacks with great ferocity, with the battle cry "we will die but not give up Sindh" and Napier reported that he was required to ride among his forward troops to steady them and to resist the temptation to give ground or break as the massed cavalry pressed his line.

Private Edward Glenn wrote an account of the battle describing the
 ".......sabres were like standing corn, the turbans like flowers in a summer meadow......."

Private Edward Glenn, 22nd Foot engages a Balouch warrior in one of the wadis that crisscrossed the area

In four to five hours of battle the 8,000 strong Baluchi army is reported to have lost 6,000 of their number versus just 256 British casualties.

After Meanee, the British recommenced their advance on Hyderabad meeting another Baluchi force of about 20,000 men and fighting the Battle of Dubbo or Hyderabad, depending on your preference, on the 24th March 1843.

Either way, the Baluchis were again defeated opening the way for the conquest and incorporation of Scinde into the British Raj.

In the cabinet below are some of the trophies taken during the campaign including the Amir's alabaster chair together with a selection of Baluchi weapons which include tulwars (swords), punch daggers and the Amir's gold inlaid sword with an inscription from the Koran.

For their part in the campaign the 22nd Cheshire Regiment of Foot were awarded the battle honours 'Meeanee', 'Hyderabad' and 'Scinde'.

On my way from the Indian collection I passed through other items relating to the late 19th century and spotted this rather obvious Zulu shield, which was intriguing as I was not aware of the 22nd Foot being involved in the campaign in Zulu Land.

This is why you really do need to buy a guide book on entry, because when I took the time to read it I discovered that a Captain Molyneux, 22nd Foot, straight out of the new 'Staff College' was sent to join Lord Chelmsford's staff during the campaign in 1879.

The shield is described as belonging to the Mbonambi Regiment and the Martini-Henry rifle alongside it was a presentation weapon awarded to Colour Sergeant T Davies 2nd CRV following his victory in the annual shooting competition 1888-89.

The Cheshires were involved in the later campaigns in South Africa versus the Boers 1899-1902 with the Cheshire Yeomanry providing two companies to the combined Imperial Yeomanry.

This service earned the 22nd Cheshires the battle honour 'South Africa 1900-02'.

As in the York museum, the WWI displays form a significant part of the Chester collection and with the current centennial commemorations seem very apt given the focus on WWI in recent years.

As with other regiments during WWI and the rapid British army expansion, the war needs created multiple battalions of the same regiment, thirty-eight battalions in the case of the Cheshires that meant men from the Cheshire Regiment served across multiple theatres. These various theatres included France and Flanders on the western front, Gallipoli, Salonika, Palestine, Italy and Mesopotamia.

When most people consider the First World War, it is trench warfare on the western front that comes readily to mind and the signs and humour in this display marks this clearly as a trench occupied by 'Tommy Atkins'.

With the internal dug outs built into the walls of the trench occupied with manikins of British soldiers of the period, you can get an impression of the squalor of trench warfare and the conditions the soldiers had to contend with.

Part of the recreated British trench, which is eight feet deep and with a narrower than normal fire step to allow wheelchair access and a periscope on the right to allow a peek over no-mans land.

The Cheshire Regiment formed the first 'Bantam Battalions' in Birkenhead, the 15th and 16th battalions. Bantams were all men under 5ft 7ins and on arriving at the front were forced to raise the firing steps in the trenches they occupied.

The German Maxim machinegun seen below was captured by the 10th Service Battalion, Cheshire Regiment on the 7th June 1917 and forms with the picture of poppies a poignant reminder of the carnage these weapons could and did cause.

Together with the horror of massed artillery shelling, machineguns like this were the great killers in WWI and were nicknamed 'The Devil's Paint Brush' by British Tommies.

Alongside the Maxim was displayed a tribute to Private Thomas Alfred Jones VC, DCM.

Known as 'Todger' Jones to his friends, he single-handed crossed no-mans land under fire to kill a German sniper who had been causing havoc to his company.

Arriving in the German trench he was amazed to find 150 Germans who surrendered to him of which, with the help of two comrades, 102 were brought back under shellfire to British lines.

He said of his prisoners, when they kept coming out, 'I laughed like blazes'

A very brave soldier and one lucky enough to have survived the war, Thomas Jones went on to earn the second highest award for valour, the DCM.

The helmet seen below is the one worn by Jones on his dash across no-mans land and bears the indentation of the sniper's bullet whom he killed.

'Todger' Jones' dented helmet from a German sniper's bullet

The second VC winner highlighted was Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin VC, who as can be seen in the description below displayed a similar contempt for his own personal safety leading others in, and single-handed, clearing out enemy positions in spite of heavy casualties inflicted on the company that led his into the attack.

The very large rifle seen in the display cabinet below is a German Model 18 Mauser anti-tank rifle with a 13mm calibre round.

With the appearance of British tanks in numbers towards the latter stages of the war this weapon formed part of the desperate German attempts to stem the tide of allied offensive operations in 1918.

One of the other developments illustrated in this display cabinet is the example of the typical service cap British soldiers went to war in in 1914 and its uselessness at protecting the head from anything worse than a rain shower.

The shrapnel holes on the top rear of the cap shows clearly why British Tommies soon went to war wearing a helmet that their forebears from Agincourt would have instantly recognised and would soon earn the sobriquet 'battle bowler'.

Shrapnel holes seen on the typical early war British service cap

The miniature Regimental Colour seen below was made by wives of soldiers in the first battalion just before the war and it was awarded to the best shooting company.

Going to war with the battalion in 1914 it seemed it was lost to the Germans when the battalion was virtually wiped out during an attack on the 24th August that saw the battalion hold up the attack of eleven German battalions as the British line reformed behind them.

The Colour was carried by one of the battalion's drummers who had the presence of mind to hide it in the house seen below where it was recovered after the Armistice.

The British being a naval power rather than a land one have relied on a small volunteer professional army backed up by a similarly volunteer part time force of originally militia, later renamed yeomanry, later morphing into the Territorial Army which like the Regular Army had units based often around county areas or large cities.

The 'Territorials' kept their county traditions by keeping the names of their local yeomanry formations be they infantry cavalry or artillery.

My own father joined the 55th Field Regiment, West Somerset Yeomanry, Royal Artillery in 1943 and so it is great to see that the Cheshire Museum remembering the service of their local yeomanry units which in this case is the Cheshire Yeomanry seen below.

The Cheshire Yeomanry went to war in World War II in the Middle East with their horses.

Apparently after requisitioning horses for war service overseas one of the Yeomanry mounts turned up with a note attached from his owner saying simply "Rufus, 7 years old..... be kind to him".

It is noted that the Yeomanry always fed and groomed their mounts before eating themselves.

Arguably the last cavalry action of the British army, the Cheshire Yeomanry are depicted here crossing the River Latani between Palestine and Lebanon as an Empire force moved to invade Vichy French held Syria in 1941.

In 1938 four British regiments were converted from infantry to machine-gun regiments. These were the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Cheshire, Manchester and Middlesex Regiments and one of the Machine Gun Training Centres (MGTC) was based at the Castle barracks for a time.

All of the Cheshire battalions were converted, which included over time the 1st and 2nd regular battalions, together with the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Territorial Battalions.

The Vickers .303inch Medium Machine Gun was a powerful weapon using a water cooled barrel, it could fire 600 rounds per minute in canvas belts of 250 rounds sustained fire, but usually operating with short two second bursts or longer bursts of ten seconds.

It was a tried and trusted gun developed during the First World War and was able to deliver direct fire and indirect dropping fire at targets behind cover or in dead ground.

The denim shirt below bears the bullet holes from wounds received by Percy Franklin whose machine-gun team were captured, lined up and shot.

The lighter shirts were issued to machine-gun teams in the summer months to be worn instead of their normal serge battle dress and Percy was wearing this one when shot and left with severe stomach wounds as his captors dug graves.

Making his escape whilst the enemy were occupied with digging, he managed to make his way back to the sound of his battalion machine-guns firing and survived his terrible ordeal.

'They who stay behind also serve', aptly describes the role of women during the world wars who generally were not involved in direct combat operations conducted by the western powers, Britain included.

In Britain, women as well as often carrying out domestic responsibilities, were involved in the war effort very much from the 'get-go', filling the ranks of the military support services, with my own mother volunteering to join the Womens Auxiliary Air Force, better known as WAAF's.

Alongside the military roles, women took up the work vacated by men summoned to join the armed services, with a vital section of work needed in the agricultural sector to help bring in the harvest and feed an island threatened by the only thing that terrified Churchill, namely the U-boats in the Atlantic Campaign.

The Land Girls that formed the Land Army went to work often having to learn a whole new skill set in helping to manage the produce on British farms.

I have a special affection for the Land Girls as my former neighbour, Monica, now sadly passed away, was a member of this fantastic force of volunteers and I still smile at her tale of being charged by a bull and surviving the encounter by standing still and closing her eyes.

Perhaps the worst defeat suffered by British forces at any time, certainly if looking at the size of army surrendered versus the size of the enemy force surrendered to, the fall of Singapore in February 1942 has to be right up there among the worst.

It was in 2005 that I travelled to the Burma Railway and later to Singapore in the company of my uncle who had served under General Percival as a lieutenant in a Royal Artillery search-light battery.

Very much a trip to gain some closure on his whole experience of combat in the Malayan campaign and later captivity as Japanese slave labour on what became known as the 'death railway', I well remember his anger and frustration standing in a recreated command bunker used by Percival and his command group watching a recreated conversation with manikins of the key personalities discussing why they should surrender Singapore.

Lieutenant General Arthur Percival Commander of British
and Commonwealth troops in Malaya and Singapore

At the time of this conversation my uncle was fighting a battle with lead Japanese units cycling down a road in full view of his soldiers manning a Vickers machine-gun whom they opened up on killing some and driving the survivors back into the cover of a nearby rubber plantation.

The decision to surrender was just the final chapter in a series of poor command decisions conducted before the war in the Pacific had started and during those depressing days of fight and retreat; and I still find it hard to find anything good to say about Generals Percival and Australian General Gordon Bennett. The men that they commanded deserved better.

Whatever the merits for it, the decision to surrender Singapore condemned the civilian and military population to a hideous captivity in the hands of one of the most barbarous armies ever seen since the coming of the Mongols.

Lt. General Arthur Percival (right) under a flag of surrender on his way to meet with Japanese General Yamashita

I had not expected to see the items associated with this moment in history and the reconciliation with General Percival with his invitation to be present at the Japanese surrender in 1945 on board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

The Post war period saw the Cheshire's dealing with the threat of Communism and withdrawal from Empire.

The pressure put on the British army to deal with both these post war issues meant that there remained a need for short term conscription into a National Service Army that had to deal with conflict areas around the world.

Battledress continued in use post war among the many National Servicemen called up to oversee British withdrawal from Empire

Communist insurgency forces inspired by the success of the Chinese communists conducted a fierce struggle to take over in Malaya and saw the British forces conduct one of the most successful anti-insurgent wars.

The Cheshire Regiment was involved in the so called 'Malayan Emergency' and has some very interesting items from the period including this communist cap seen below.

Indigenous and irregular forces are not unusual in British operations oversees and have been an important aspect of British campaigns dating back to the French Indian War in the 18th century.

British patrols in the Malay jungle could meet from time to time aboriginal hunting parties armed with highly poisonous blow dart pipes and bamboo dart quivers as seen in the cabinets below.

Alongside blow-pipes is a maroon coloured riot helmet issued to British Soldiers serving in Northern Ireland in the 60's and 70's in this case marked up with the old 'Two-Twos'.

Blow pipes and riot helmets, all in a day's work for the Cheshire's!

From Vickers medium machine-guns to the Milan anti-tank missile launcher, or in this case a mock up of the disposable anti-tank system.

The Cheshire Regiment continued on in service with the late twentieth century British army just as often to be involved in peace-keeping rather than war-fighting such as operations in Bosnia in the early nineties.

However with the demands of a peace dividend for British taxpayers following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the following reduction in the military, the Cheshires are no more, but their traditions and heritage form part of their successors, The Mercian Regiment.

At the rear of the museum building in the quadrangle between it and the old Provosts block there are a few vehicles and guns that hail from my era, and sadly my era is now part of history!

The L4 MOBAT a recoilless gun designed for anti-tank use and to be towed by a landrover

Looking from the rear blast dispenser you can see the optical sight which would also house a Bren gun used for ranging the weapon.

Fox light armoured car used for reconnaissance by the Cheshire Yeomanry - armed with an L21 RARDEN 30mm canon and an L37A2 7.62mm machine-gun for self-defence - 1973 to 1993

Ferret Mk1 scout car used also by the Cheshire Yeomanry could carry a .30cal M1919 Browning machine-gun in the turret when required. Still used by some Commonwealth countries today, it was in service with the British army from 1952 - 1971

The prefab domed shelter seen below was salvaged from the end of the runway at RAF Harwarden and allowed the man who fired the very-pistol letting aircraft know if it was safe to land, be able to take shelter from bomb splinters.

A very enjoyable museum and well worth a visit if you are able, I finished my tour in the shop where I picked up a folder of prints by Micheal Barthorp illustrating the uniforms of the 22nd Cheshire Regiment.

Next up, more from Chester with a look at other aspects of its rich history including the Anglo-Saxons, Normans and the English Civil War.

In addition I have a book review to do on an excellent read that I picked up from Karwansaray Books that has taken a bit of time to read but has been a very positive experience, and guess what, it has loads of detailed maps in colour - more anon.