Friday, 1 February 2019

Taunton, Historic County Town and Home to the Regiments of Somerset

The Earl of Huntingdon's Regiment of Foot 1685

Having spent three quarters of my life growing up and living in the West Country, Taunton the County Town of Somerset has become a place of familiarity even though I have never lived there.

The problem with familiarity is that it can often lead to contempt and we can often stop taking notice of things and places that we have known for many years, often in our own 'back yard' and forget their significance in the grand scheme of things.

I guess, for me, Taunton was somewhere I really needed to take some time to take a look at more carefully and to stop myself from just regarding the town as a place that I passed on the M5 motorway on my way to somewhere much more interesting or as in this case the place I take my car to get it serviced.

Taunton's grand Georgian Market House built in 1772 and decked out in remembrance for the centennial armistice - another moment in history!

So, it was on one particular morning in November last year that I had booked my car in for a service and decided to use my enforced period of time in the town, about fifty minutes from home, to explore the history that relates to it and the wider county of Somerset held in the Museum of Somerset to be found in the historic old castle.

However before heading off to the museum, I had about an hour to kill before it opened and having dropped my car off at the garage and collected my courtesy car, parked up in the town centre and with camera in hand set off to have a look around and see what I could find.

I decided a good place to start from would be the 18th century Market House and arcade erected in 1772 and a classic example of Georgian architecture with its glorious sash windows built right in the heart of the town.

As you will see this is as good a place as any to start from for the history nerd, for as well as being a glorious statement of Georgian confidence and town infrastructure the building is festooned with memorial plaques recording historic moments in the town and one that has particularly interested me from an historical wargamers perspective; namely the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 which I covered in an earlier post from December 2014 when I looked at the culmination of that campaign and the nearby battlefield of Sedgemoor.

The sign on the Market House records the grim history of 1685 and the result of Judge Jeffries 'show-trials'

The Duke of Monmouth, like other military commanders and leaders before him passed through Taunton lying as it does on the northern route into and out of the South West peninsula.

During the long Wars of the Roses the south west was a hotbed of Lancastian sympathies and the town was visited by Queen Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians on their way to bloody defeat at Tewkesbury in 1471.

Perkin Warbeck

In 1497 the Lancastrian King Henry VII had to call in on his way into the south west to deal with the second Cornish uprising and the attempt by the Yorkist pretender Purkin Warbeck to lead a rebellion against his rule. Warbeck was captured and interrogated in the castle in Taunton, before being taken back to London.

Local boy Robert Blake born in nearby Bridgwater led the defence of Taunton for Parliament in the three Royalist sieges of the town

The English Civil War 1642-45 would see Taunton besieged three times by Royalist armies as the town was successfully defended by Parliament despite not having a town wall, however suffering much in the process and loosing many historic buildings during intense moments of Royalist bombardment and leaving half the town either burnt or destroyed.

The Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 is significant in English and British history marking as it does the first battle in the long running religious war between the two Royal houses of the mainly Catholic Stuarts and Protestant Hanoverians, which would follow this and the second successful uprising lead by Prince William of Orange in 1688 during what would later be known as the Glorious Revolution against the Stuart King James II.

After landing at Lyme Regis in Dorset to local popular acclaim, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II, marched through Somerset gathering supporters to his army and arrived in Taunton in June 1685 declaring himself King on the 20th in the town; and condemning it to be one of the key centres for James' retribution following Monmouth's defeat at Sedgemoor on the 6th of July, with the establishment of the 'Bloody Assizes' in the court of 'Hanging' Judge Jeffreys held in the Castle Great Hall of Taunton.

Talking about taking things for granted - This makes you consider how recent and how important street lighting is to modern towns.

From the grand Market House I decided to head towards the River Tone that runs through the town connecting it to the low-lying Somerset levels and the Bristol Channel.

My route from the Market House, to the bridge and then on to the Castle and Museum

The bridge on the River Tone is right in the centre of Taunton and at the end of the main shopping street in town so not exactly the quietest place in Somerset and not somewhere I was expecting to see a great amount of natural history.

However the one thing that never fails to amaze and delight me is the way nature copes with the encroachment of modern urban life and my mind reflected back to Carolyn's and my vist to York a few years back and seeing Pike cruising about the former Norman fish ponds in the city with passers by oblivious to their presence.

Taunton was to equally live up to the memories of York as I took the time to enjoy walking by the river and seeing what secret natural life was quietly getting on with things amid a town just about to start another working day.

Whilst looking closely at the river, my was caught by a sudden flash of emerald green darting across my field of vision causing me to catch a fleeting glimpse of a Kingfisher as it darted beneath the bridge and out of line of sight.

Amazed at seeing such a beautiful bird like this in a busy town centre and knowing a bit about the habits of Kingfishers, often selecting carefully chosen perches from where to dive on unsuspecting small fish, I unpacked the camera and waited patiently for another glimpse, drawing curious glances from passing members of the public - something I have grown used to in my pursuit of such harmless pleasure.

Can you see what caught my eye?

Sure enough, patience payed off and I was rewarded with the perfect opportunity to get what turned out to be a picture at maximum telephoto but with the camera living up to its potential and delivering the fine pictures of a Taunton based Kingfisher starting just another morning patrolling the River Tone -fantastic!

Just in case your eye sight is worse than mine. A Kingfisher in the town centre of Taunton!

My time taken in pursuit of the Kingfisher had allowed the clock to roll on and with the museum doors about to open I followed the course of the river that was used to link it with the original moat surrounding the old castle, taking time to observe other members of the local wildlife as I headed up to Castle Green.

A busy Moorhen enjoying the morning air

Close to the museum a rustle in a small tree announced my arrival had been spotted by four young Grey Squirrels, a North American import that has sadly caused the destruction of the native Red squirrel but now is an established member of British wildlife

The sword in the stone illustrates Somerset's claim to the Arthurian legend along with other parts of the South West of England

Castle Green marks the centre of the original boundary of the old Taunton Castle which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and the fortifying of the town by King Ine of Wessex in 710 AD although the site of his original fortification is thought not to have been on that of the castle.

An illustration of the old Taunton Castle courtesy of the Museum of Somerset

The first building recorded on the site, built a few years after Ine's fort, was an ecclesiastical minster built by Wessex Queen Frythugith wife of King Aethelheard with a later manor house built to adjoin it.

Given the link to the church many people were buried in the area of the Green and are still there to this day.

In 1100 the Bishops of Winchester created Taunton Castle as the centre of their great estates in Somerset with the Green being the outer ward and the whole area encircled by a moat fed by the waters of the nearby River Tone.

Access to the Green was via the East Gate , known today as Castle Bow and the West Gate which stood near the site of the Winchester Arms; both the gates are portrayed in the illustration of the old castle above.

The bishops built barns and other buildings on the Green to store produce from their farms and in 1521-2 built a grammar school which survives today on the southern edge of the site serving as Municipal buildings.

The Castle Green today which was the original outer ward of the castle seen in the museum illustration and ground plan above, and with the old grammar school pictured here on its southern edge

The castle is the very historic centre of Taunton and sadly not much of the structure survives today apart from the Great Hall seen below and forming a major part of the building now housing the Museum of Somerset.

It is fascinating to reflect that this little corner of England was on occasion the centre of great drama and history, for here at Taunton Castle was where Henry VII in 1497 arrived to interview the defeated Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck and in 1644-45, here it was that Robert Blake defended the town from two Royalist sieges and here in 1685 in the Great Hall, Hanging Judge Jeffreys presided over the show trials known later as the Bloody Assizes and the conviction and execution of the nineteen rebels captured after the Battle of Sedgemoor during the Monmouth Rebellion and recorded on the nearby Market House.

The remaining original building from Taunton Castle - The Great Hall now part of the Museum of Somerset

The now modernised interior of the Great Hall where Judge Jeffreys presided back in 1685

George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys also known as "the Hanging Judge",_1st_Baron_Jeffreys

The Museum of Somerset declares itself to be the holder of 400 million years of history in Somerset, together with the home of the British army regiments of the county.

So with that in mind I started with the earlier treasures and finished off with the regimental collection.

When talking of 'treasures' I don't use the word lightly when you get to see this first exquisite example of a Roman floor mosaic known as the Low Ham Mosaic discovered in a Roman villa at Low Ham and dating to 350 AD.

Aeneas and his Trojan Aeneads on their six year voyage before making landfall at Carthage

This glorious floor tells one of the early myths about the founding of Rome and the tragic love story of Dido, Queen of Carthage and Aeneas the Trojan Prince destined to establish a new Latin province and create the new Troy in Italy, as recorded by the poet Virgil in about 25 BC.

Dido and Aeneas (naked on horseback) go on a hunt together

The floor was discovered in the bath block of the villa across which bathers would have crossed to get to the cold plunge pool.

The floor was created from about 120,000 locally sourced tesserae consisting of Lias limestone and fired clay.

The two tragic lovers who married but separated after Aeneas left to pursue his mission leaving Dido cursing him and foretelling that his leaving would condemn their two peoples to everlasting war, thus foretelling the Punic Wars to follow.

The turbulent history of these islands means that just about every museum in the country can boast its local finds of coin hoards.

I love seeing them as each one is quite unique and the span of the coins dates, their denomination, the size of the hoard and their condition with some amazing representations of the rulers from the period all come together to tell a story.

The Frome hoard is thought to date from around 290 AD and was discovered in 2010 by metal dectectorist Dave Crisp and is described as the largest coin hoard ever found in a single container in Britain.

After reporting the find to County archaeologists, the complete collection of coins and its clay pot were carefully excavated.

Later examination revealed that the clay pot and its lid had been carefully placed in a pit and the pot was discovered to hold 52,503 coins ranging in date from 253 - 290 AD.

All but five of the coins are made from copper and low grade silver, with the five exceptions being very rare silver denarii of Carausius and in almost perfect condition.

The hoard was shown to weigh 160kg, that's nearly 353 lbs in real weight, and once buried would have been very difficult to recover leading some to suppose that the hoard may have been a votive offering rather than money hidden for safety.

In 286 AD Britain and Gaul broke away from the Roman Empire under the leadership of Carausius, who was proclaimed Emperor and made London his capital.

Condemned as a pirate by Rome and sentenced to death in his absence, he remained in power until 293 AD when he was murdered by his chief minister.

The short lived Emperor Carausius 286 - 293 AD

Large sections of the Roman road known as the Fosse Way are still followed by the modern road through Somerset and along which many of the Roman settlements in the county have given up their finds illustrating the period of Roman occupation.

The Fosse Way, in Green starting in Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) and traversing modern day Somerset on its path up to Lincoln (Lindum) - Original map created by Andrei Nacu

This rather large display cabinet held a selection of the pottery and other day to day objects, common in Roman Britain that have been discovered in settlements throughout Somerset

The fashion for Roman women to wear their hair high always ensured a demand for bone hair pins

A varied selection of Roman brooches used to fasten clothes and cloaks with some plain and others highly decorated and intended for show.

The West Bagborough coin hoard dates from 365 AD and contains 681 silver coins as well as cut up pieces of silver often used for trading when there was a shortage of coins. This hoard represents a very large sum of money.

The skeletons seen below date from 300-400 AD and were discovered in Ilchester. They are of a woman aged between forty to fifty years old and that of a small dog found next to her in the same Roman grave.

The dog may have been a pet or working animal and at some time suffered a broken leg which may have left the animal with a limp.

The British Army Regimental system and its attachment to local areas throughout Britain, which in England means the counties, has fostered a strong tradition of local attachment and service to the country that spans the centuries.

Even today with the modern British army forced to amalgamate the old regiments into new incarnations that adopt the traditions and culture of their old famous forbears, much affection remains at a county level for these new representations and it is still not unusual to see the new regiments returning from a tour overseas given the freedom of a particular county town from which its antecedents were drawn.

The large display board below at the entrance to the Somerset Regimental section of the museum, showing the faces of British soldiers across the centuries, really captures this image of service and reflects much of the spirit that animates those new regiments today.

The regimental honours displayed on either side also illustrates the great depth of experience and achievement that is not uncommon to see on many of the British regimental colours and a source of great pride to the servicemen and women who serve in the new modern units today.

One of the really interesting aspects of studying British military history is that great depth of tradition, campaigns fought throughout the world and the many periods in which British soldiers have served and their ever changing appearance, illustrated very well by the display of uniforms and equipment seen below and which makes watching an historical film with me such a challenge for my wife. 

The regular army county regiments of Somerset are the 13th Foot raised in 1685 and later titled the Somerset Light Infantry and now part of the modern British army's regiment, The Rifles. The 13th were later joined by the 40th Foot or 2nd Somersetshire Regiment of Foot raised in 1717. The 40th would later amalgamate with the 82nd Foot in 1881 to become the new Prince of Wales Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).

Alongside the regular army the country has a tradition of a second force of very often part-time soldiers who were originally termed militia and very often entitled Yeomanry Regiments that would later become the foundation of the British Territorial Army and of which Somerset fielded two such Yeomanry Regiments, the West and North Somersets, my own Dad serving in the former during WWII.

The King's Colour seen below is that of the 1st Battalion, The Somerset Light Infantry, 1864, displaying the Regimental number at its centre and its twenty battle honours on either side.

The miniature below is that of Captain C. C. Maud, DSO, of the 1st Somerset Light Infantry and who was killed leading his soldiers on an attack on Ploegsteert in Belgium on the 10th December 1914.

During the Christmas Truce of that year his body was returned by a German officer declaring that he was "the bravest of the brave".

Captain C.C. Maud, DSO, 1st Somerset Light Infantry

Needless to say that in the centenary of the ending of the First World War the country was very much focused on remembering the servicemen and women from that period and Captain Maud was one of 4,756 members of the Somerset Light Infantry who died during that war.

Captain Maud's medals including his Distinguished Service Order seen top left, awarded for distinguished and meritorious service to officers (now to all ranks) usually in combat with the enemy.

Captain Maud's temporary grave marker as seen below

Private Percival George Govett was also one of the four and half thousand Somerset men to be killed in action in WWI and the certificate commemorating his loss, together with his service medals and dog tag are a sober reminder of the cost of war and the loss of young lives so full of potential and yet cut short.

Privat Percival George Govett, Somerset Light Infantry

The 13th Foot can trace its lineage back to 1685, a date already referenced to earlier in the post when looking at the Monmouth Rebellion that had such dramatic impacts on Somerset and the wider West Country.

Indeed it was during that emergency that on the 20th June 1685 King James II ordered the Earl of Huntingdon to raise a regiment of foot soldiers for which one of its first duties was to guard prisoners captured at the Battle of Sedgemoor.

In 1688 King James was deposed and with Huntingdon remaining loyal to the former King, Fernando Hastings, the earl's cousin, replaced him as Colonel of the Regiment.

Below is an illustration of the soldiers in Huntingdon's Regiment of 1685 with, from left to right, a musketeer, sporting an early plug bayonet, a pikeman, a grenadier and an officer.

The Colonel of the Regiment had to provide the uniforms and equipment at his own expense and the soldiers received a wage of eight pennies (modern equivalent 3p) a day which would have been spent mainly on food and lodgings.

Huntingdon's Foot of 1685
The regiment first saw action at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 where the Government army suffered a crushing defeat to the Jacobites and with those plug bayonets probably not helping the Government soldiers stem the charge of the highland troops.

I remember visiting the site of the battle years ago on one of my first visits to Scotland and being amazed at the position for such an obvious ambush site with the Jacobites on high ground overlooking the track on which the Government force was advancing and them with a river and deep gorge behind them negating any chance of retreat.

The succession of Jacobite Wars that saw the creation of the regiment were to figure large in its history with other periods of service on the continent with the Regiment most noticably seeing service at the Battles of Almanza in 1707 during the War of Spanish Succession and at Dettingen in 1743 and at Fontenoy in 1745 during the War of Austrian Succession.

The look of the regiment during this period (1743 -53) is captured in the two prints below and shows the 13th Foot with yellow facings.

With the regiment tracing its founding during the first battle of the Jacobite Wars it seems rather fitting that it should have been a part of the last one and the last battle on British soil when the Duke of Cumberland led a Government army into Scotland and defeated the Jacobite army of Price Charles Stuart on Drummossie Moor, Culloden on 16th April 1746, with the 13th (Pulteney's) Foot fighting on the right flank of Cumberland's army.

The Battle of Culloden - David Morier 1746

Shot pouch recovered from the battlefield of Culloden

The 13th Foot served at Dettingen in 1743 at which King George II was the last British King to lead his army into battle

These scarlet breeches were worn by King George II at the Battle of Dettingen in Bavaria in 1743

The Seven Years War and later American War of Independence would see a major expansion of the British army with the commitment that these wars placed on it. The 13th Foot would see much of this time spent in the West Indies preceded by garrison duties in Ireland, Gibraltar and Minorca.

It was during this period of expansion and the early foundation of what would become the British Empire that the the sister regiment to the 13th the 40th (2nd Somerset) Regiment was founded in Nova Scotia in 1717.

The next major conflict would be the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with the 13th Foot again seeing service in the West Indies in the late 1790's before returning to Europe to be sent with the British army organised to eject the French from Egypt in 1801 with the 13th being present at the siege of Alexandria.

The miniature of an officer in the 13th seen below illustrates the look of the regiment at that time and the button below it is one that would have been worn by ordinary ranks from that period.

For the rest of the Napoleonic period the regiment would again see service in the West Indies before leaving for Quebec at the start of the War of 1812 with the United States, seeing action at Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain before returning home in 1815.

Button of the 13th Foot circa 1800

In 1822 the 13th Foot was officially re-titled the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment (Light Infantry) and was sent to India under the command of Major (Fighting Bob) Robert Sale, arriving at Kolkata (Calcutta) Bengal in June 1823 seeing action the following year following the invasion of Cachar (Assam) territory by a Burmese force.

Major Sale was very much an officer who led from the front and was wounded several times and would achieve fame during the 1st Afghan War.

Major Sir Robert Sale Commanding Officer of the 13th rescues a soldier from attack by a Burmese chief during the storming of the stockade at Kamarut, Burma, July 1824.

The war ended in 1826 when the Burmese King of Ava agreed to cede the territory to the British and to pay compensation to the British East India Company.

View of Prome, Burma in 1825 showing the town and high ground occupied by the 13th Light Infantry

A Burmese officers sword captured during the 1st Burmese War 1824-26. The hilt is silver and decorated with a hunting scene

Burmese daggers c.1820, one with a bone handle and brass and steel scabbard and the top one with a curved blade and jade handle

There is nothing quite like seeing the cut of original uniforms from a given period to give an authentic look to how these items of military dress would have looked.

The Museum of Somerset houses some very fine examples of British military dress from the early 19th century to more recent times.

Below is a Light Company officers coatee of the West Somerset Militia 1808-16 and gives a really good impression of what was typical dress for Light Infantry officers during the Napoleonic Wars.

In Somerset seven local militia regiments were raised during this period to bolster the decline of the local militia, much of it probably due to the number of these trained men who would have volunteered for the regular forces serving with Wellington in Spain.

Light Company Officers Coatee of the West Somerset Militia 1808-16

The next example is an officers coatee of the West Somerset Yeomanry who were originally raised as Volunteer Light Cavalry in 1794 and with this particular jacket dating to 1812.

The regiment saw service later during the First World War at Gallipoli and later in Pallestine and France as infantry (12th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry).

It converted to an artillery regiment in 1920 and my father saw service with the regiment as an armoured OP with Gaurds Armoured Division 1943-46.

West Somerset Yeomanry Officer's Coatee 1812

The stunning ceremonial dress coat seen below belonged to Captain George Talbot, 13th Light Infantry who joined the regiment in August 1841 in Afghanistan and he would have worn this on parade as the Duty Officer.

Ceremonial uniform of Captain George Talbot 13th Light Infantry 1841

Captain's Battledress blouse, North Somerset Yeomanry c. 1956 when the regiment was reformed post war as the 16th Airborne Division's Armoured Regiment transferring later that year to the 43rd Wessex Division which explains the Divisional Wyvern insignia seem below the Parachute wings on the right shoulder.

Captain's battledress blouse, North Somerset Yeomanry

A more modern day look for The Rifles is seen below, formed in 2007 from The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry, The Light Infantry, The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets.

The Bugle and the Queens Crown form the cap badge and the Regimental motto 'Swift and Bold' are displayed on their cross belts.

In 1837 Persian troops allied to the Russians occupied the Herat region of Afghanistan causing the British in neighbouring India to fear a Russian intervention in the area.

As a consequence the British decided to remove the emir of Afghanistan, Dost Muhammad and replace him with a 'puppet' ruler, Shuja Shah Durrani.

Shuja Shah Durrani

To support these moves an expeditionary force entitled the Army of the Indus was formed that included the 13th Light Infantry and they crossed into Afghanistan in March 1839 taking Kandahar in April without resistance.

The lack of any serious resistance to the British invasion and their interference in Afghan affairs presaged the struggle to come and the Imperial forces would be back in India by October 1842 following a popular uprising against Shuja.

The 13th Light Infantry were part of the force sent out from Kandahar to capture the important city of Ghazni that controlled the key routes leading to Kabul.

The city fell to an assault that lacked the necessary siege equipment to deal with its defences, this due to an already difficult supply situation impeding British military operations due to a lack of sufficient draught animals for towing guns and equipment only added to by growing Afghan resistance.

Eventually the main gate was blown up with explosives as illustrated below allowing Imperial troops to enter the city, heralding a night of bitter hand to hand fighting that left the city in British hands but with 200 British dead and wounded and the Afghan defenders thought to have suffered 2,000 killed wounded and taken prisoner.

British and Indian troops attack the fort at Ghanzi, 23rd July 1839
The 13th Light Infantry were awarded the Battle Honour 'Ghuznee 1839' in 1844.

Following the victory at Ghazni, the British column pressed on to Kabul and oversaw the enthronement of Shah Durranni only to see the plan of regime change fall apart with a popular uprising in October 1841 and the taking of Kabul by the rebels.

Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at the Battle of Gandamak 13th January 1842 - William Barnes Wollen

By November the British had fallen back to Jalalabad after a disastrous retreat through the mountains from Kabul leading the last stand at Gandamak.

The Remnants of an Army - Lady Elizabeth Butler 1879 - On loan from the Tate Gallery London

The painting shows the moment in 1842 when Dr William Brydon arrived outside the fortress town of Jelalabad during the 1st Afghan War, He brought news that 16,000 British soldiers and camp followers had been massacred making their way back to India from Kabul, despite an offer of safe passage from Akbar Khan. Dr Brydon was one of the few survivors.

Jalalabad came under siege by the rebel Afghans forcing the garrison under the commander of the 13th Light Infantry, Sir Robert Sale to lead a break out in April 1842, defeating the rebel forces under Akbar Khan.

The 13th Somerset Light Infantry and Skinner's Horse capturing a flock of sheep at the Siege of Jalalabad - Daniel Cunliffe

Afghan daggers captured by the 13th Light Infantry at the storming of the Fort of Ghuznee c.1839.
The skullcap was worn by Lieutenant George Mein while being held captive in Afghanistan in 1842
A Khyber Knife (Pesh-kabz) c.1840. These fearsome weapons were originally designed to pierce chain-mail armour. They have a single edge blade and thick 'T' spines for strength and rigidity. This example was captured by Private (later Sergeant) Robert Magowan at Jelalabad on the 7th April 1842. Magowan joined the regiment as a boy soldier in India in 1835.

Major General Sir Robert Sale 1782 -1845 by George Clint 1843
Sir Robert joined the 13th Light Infantry in 1821 and led them during the 1st Afghan War, most notably at the Siege of Jalalabad, earning himself the nickname 'Fighting Bob'.

Florentina, Lady Sale 1790 -1853 by George Clint 1843
In 1840 Lady Sale joined her husband in Afghanistan and like him was famous for her courage. She and her daughter were taken prisoner in 1842 during the disastrous retreat from Kabul, later rescued by forces under Sir Robert Sale's command.

Not strictly part of the 1st Afghan War, but this picture, 'The Red Thread of Honour', of a group of soldiers from the 13th LI with their green pompoms storming an Afghan position in 1845 shows the look of the regiment at this time

The conduct of the 13th Light Infantry at Jalalabad was recognised on their return to India on the 26th August 1842 with Price Albert offering his patronage of the regiment and them adopting the title
13th Somersetshire (Prince Albert's Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot and the regimental facings were changed from yellow to blue in recognition of their status as a 'Royal' regiment.

In addition the regiment was awarded a new badge of a mural crown with a scroll entitled 'Jalalabad' for display on their Colours and uniform and the regiment was greeted with a twenty-one gun salute at each station it passed on its return through India.

After twenty-three years of foreign service the regiment returned home in 1845 spending the next nine years on garrison duties at home and in Gibraltar.

In 1854 the regiment joined the army sent to the Crimea taking part in the Siege of Sevastopol.

In May 1857 the Indian Mutiny erupted and the regiment was sent back to India arriving at Kolkata in October of that year.

The 13th Prince Albert's Light Infantry in action at Azimghur, India 1858 - Orlando Norrie

Map of Northern India, the heart of the Indian Mutiny 1857-59 illustrating the position of Azimghur

On the 16th April 1858 the Prince Albert's Light Infantry was attacked  on the road to Azimghur by a force of 10,000 mutineers. The regiment fought with great courage and after two hours the enemy fled.

Regimental Colours presented by Prince Albert in 1846 and carried during the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny.
Note the new 'blue' facing colour in recognition of the 13th Prince Albert's Light Infantry being a Royal regiment.

Two members of the 13th Prince Albert's Light Infantry, awarded VC's for their conduct at the Battle of Azimghur 6th April 1858, during the Indian Mutiny

The two Victoria Crosses awarded to Sergeant Napier and Private Carlin together with an Enfield 1853 pattern socket bayonet, the type used by the 13th Prince Albert's during the Mutiny.

With the conclusion of the Indian Mutiny the British army was reorganised and expanded in light of the demonstrated demands put on it during the Crimean and Indian expeditions and a realisation that the Empire would need to be garrisoned appropriately.

Thus the 13th Light Infantry raised a second battalion at Winchester in January 1858 but with both battalions remaining on garrison duties at home, Mauritius and Malta until its next spell of active service in South Africa when the regiment took part in the Ninth Xhosa War of 1878 and the Zulu War of 1879.

A Zulu iklwa or short thrusting spear (left) so named because of the sound the weapon made when pulled from the body of a victim. Next to it is an assegai or throwing spear designed to be thrown at the enemy just before close combat and presented to Thomas Collinson who fought with the 13th Prince Albert's LI during the Zulu War

Victoria Cross awarded to Major William Knox Leet 1879 for bravery at the Battle of Hlobane next to a pipe belonging to Cetshwayo kaMpande (1826 - 1884) King of the Zulu's c.1879

Battle of Hlobane 28th March 1879

The closing stages of the Battle of Kambula 29th March 1879 with a company of the 1/13th in the foreground driving the Zulus back into a ravine

The Martini-Henry 0.45 calibre rifle, 1871, (centre) the standard British Army rifle used during the Zulu War

Following the conclusion of the Zulu War the regiment was further increased from its two battalions to seven with the addition of the former county militia and rifle battalions under the Childers reforms of  1881 with its battalions seeing service in India, Burma and the Second Boer War.

Just before the outbreak of the First World War the regiment changed its name to Prince Albert's (Somerset Light Infantry) in 1912 with the regiment increasing in size to eventually eighteen battalions serving in Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Western Front.

Replicas of Private Thomas Sage' VC and his other medals

First World War French and German helmets together with a 'Battle Bowler' of the Somerset LI.

German trench mortar captured at the end of the First World War on the Hindenburg Line in North Eastern France

Following demobilisation at the end of the First World War, the regiment was rapidly reduced to the original two regular battalions with the second battalion seeing service in the Third Afghan War of 1919 during which this Afghan Field Gun was captured in the Khyber Pass.

In May 1919 the Afghan leader, Amir Amanullah, led his army into north-west India and declared war on its British rulers, seeking freedom for his country from British influence.

His army was soon defeated by forces which included the 2nd Battalion the Somerset Light Infantry.

During this small-war soldiers manned look out positions in the Khyber Pass to warn the main British-Indian force of enemy attacks. Each of ten positions contained mini-camps (sangars) with chest high stone walls.

Inside these camps up to 100 riflemen lived in extreme conditions enduring heat, flies and the stench of rotting corpses.

Soldiers pictured manning Green Hill Picket, the largest of the look out positions in the Khyber Pass during the Third Afghan War.

On the 1st January 1921 the regiment changed its name for the final time to The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's).

For the waging of the Second World War the regiment would raise eleven battalions, with the First battalion seeing service in the Far East with General Slim's XIVth Army.

The Second Battalion saw service in the Mediterranean with action in Italy and later in Greece.

The Fourth and Seventh battalions would see service in North West Europe as part of XX1st Army under General Montgomery with 43rd Wessex Division.

The Tenth battalion was converted into the 7th Parachute Battalion assigned to 3rd Parachute Brigade, 1st Airborne Division, but later joining 5th Parachute Brigade, 6th Airborne Division landing in Normandy on the night of 6th June 1944 as part of Operation Tonga, later seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Varsity with the crossing of the Rhine.

Japanese Arisaka type 38 Rifle (6.5 mm), the design dating from 1897 and based on the German Mauser. This example was captured in 1941. A later 1939 model was introduced with a 7.7 mm calibre, however both types were still in use in 1945.
Below is a Japanese Officers Sword also captured in 1941

The 30th Battalion would also serve overseas seeing action as part of 43rd Infantry Brigade part of 1st Army in Tunisia and Italy.

The Wyvern shoulder patches of the 43rd Wessex Division, a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting or Commando knife, a Bren light machine-gun and Webley service revolver alongside the Mk I Battle Bowler with camo-net, typical for NW Europe although the MKII turtle shell shaped helmet was also to be seen, particularly with 3rd Division soldiers. My father had the old Mk I hanging in his garage for years when I was a lad.

An interesting example of an early Whermacht (German Army) Second World War helmet but using an earlier pattern First World War model with the projecting rivets and more pronounced coal scuttle look

German vehicle pennants captured in North Africa

After the conclusion of the Second World War, British forces oversaw the withdrawal from empire and the containment of Communism from the borders of West Germany to the Far East as British soldiers had to be prepared for full on war fighting to low level terrorist campaigns.

This period would also see the beginning of the trend that continues into the modern setting with the amalgamation of regiments and the establishment of a much smaller more professional army.

The Post War 1st Battalion would see service with the British Army on the Rhine from 1951-53 before joining British forces waging war against Chinese backed communists in the Malayan Emergency 1952-55, where it took part in jungle warfare.

Examples of a captured Communist Insurgent's classic red star cap and the jungle equipment worn and carried by British troops can be seen below.

Fighting terrorism around the globe has been a significant part of the service carried out by British soldiers since 1945 typified by the Somerset Light Infantry service helmet worn during operations in Cyprus in late 1956.

The regiment was tasked with combating the Greek-Cypriot EOKA insurgent threat which typically saw soldiers tasked with cordoning off and searching villages for insurgents, their weapons and explosives.

This part of the collection concluded my visit to the Museum of Somerset and to Taunton.

As with all my visits to various Regimental Museums around the country these collections really do hold some amazing historical treasures that bring to life the accounts in books or to be read on the net.

There is nothing quite like seeing a full size Khyber Knife or an Enfield 1853 pattern socket bayonet to really help bring alive these moments in the history of the British Army and its attachment to the community at a local level, and I hope these type of posts will encourage others to support and visit these superb collections.

In addition, following my visit in November last year and taking the time to put this post together has only reinforced my appreciation for the great history linked to Taunton and the County of Somerset and I wont be regarding the town in quite the same way the next time I pass it on the M5.

Next up two units of Sarmatian Light Cavalry complete my first Sarmatian division alongside some new sabot command bases.


  1. That was absolutely fascinating, thank you. Oddly on the 23rd December I saw a kingfisher on the Ravensbourne river close by Catford railway station in South London. First time in my life that I had ever seen one.

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the read.

      I find it amazing that you can see a creature like this in an urban setting and it was quite unexpected. They really are a delight to see and I felt very privileged to be allowed to get his portrait.