Thursday, 9 September 2021

Long Weekend in Cardiff 2021 - Cardiff Castle, Romans and the Firing Line Regimental Museum


Last Week I celebrated my sixty-first birthday and took a week out from the normal routine to spend time with friends and family, which at my time of life is the best way to celebrate birthdays; so the paint desk was shut down and the walking boots put on, and off I went on my travels that culminated in a long-weekend away with Carolyn in Cardiff, the capital city of the nation of Wales, to visit our youngest son Will and his girlfriend Marie after he moved up there last month to start his post-graduate medical training in the city's hospitals.

Described as 'strenuous', our approximately six mile walk would complete a circuit that would take in the caves and four waterfalls that make this a stunning part of the country to visit and enjoy.

Arriving Friday mid-morning, after an early start to avoid the holiday traffic moving in and out of the south-west, and a likely increase because of people going home in time for the children going back to school later in the week, we followed the sat-nav out to the Brecon Beacons National Park, to spend a day walking in waterfall country near Cwm Porth.

One of the park's 'Meet and Greet' team, finds Carolyn's boots particularly curious. The Robin has been voted as Britain's national favourite bird and this picture probably explains why. Bold, fearless and naturally inquisitive, with a song to delight the weary walker, I spent a few minutes feeding this little chap before we set off.

On arrival we quickly donned coats, ruck sacks and walking boots, grabbed a bit of trail sustenance in the form of some fresh baked croissants that Marie had brought along and after taking some time to share some food with one of the local meet and greet residents, set off on our days walk.

A real treat to be so trusted by this wild Robin, willing to take part in our quick snack before setting off.

We started our walk with a visit to the cave complex that illustrates the power of the vast amounts of water that gathers up on the Brecon to carve its way down to the coast, with the massive caves often clogged with giant trees and debris from the many downpours that characterise the weather in the winter months.

If like us, you enjoy getting out into the countryside and a bit of walking exercise then the Brecon Beacons National Park is a must visit area and the waterfalls here were an added bonus.

The power of the water and elements are made all too clear with the way this tree lies uprooted in the water.

The series of four waterfalls were a real treat to the walk, providing great vistas of motion and sound

Apparently, according to Will who was walking the route only a week earlier, the water levels were half what they were then and a short period of heavy rain can massively increase the flow of water in a very short time. 

Needless to say, I had my camera to hand whilst on the constant lookout for local wildlife, particularly the birds and thought there would be a good chance of seeing the odd kingfisher or two.

The Dipper, Cinclus cinclus, a resident of fast flowing streams throughout temperate Europe, searching for food among tumbling, rock strewn waters where it wades, swims and dives with complete mastery.

No kingfishers showed up but instead we were treated to the delights of Dippers and Grey Wagtails delicately hunting for invertebrates among the rocks and in the shallows.

The Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea, a female lacking the black bib of the male, whose favourite habitat is fast flowing streams with boulders and an overhang of trees - so perfect conditions!

Our wagtail, showing off her gorgeous yellow undertail.

Our Friday walk was the perfect way to start our weekend, before heading back to our hotel in Cardiff with a weekend of touring, eating, drinking and good company ahead.

On Saturday, we were up bright and early for a day in the heart of Cardiff, and with wall to wall sunshine and blue skies we opted to spend the day walking leisurely around the massive Bute Park gardens alongside the River Taff, before exploring the historic heart of Cardiff, its eleventh century castle, built by the Normans on the foundations of the original third century Roman fortifications build by the 2nd Augusta Legion after its move to the area from Exeter.

The magnificent 11th century Norman keep, atop the original motte dominates the bailey or Castle Green of Cardiff Castle, which was virtually destroyed in 1404 during the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndwr and practically rebuilt in the 19th century with a large restoration by the Bute family incorporating Victorian gothic interpretations of its medieval past together with a nod to its Roman origins. 

Sadly Owain Glendwr didn't do the castle any favours when he practically destroyed the place in the fifteenth century and the restoration work carried out by the Bute family begun in the eighteenth century by John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute and Capability Brown, has left the place looking somewhat like a Walt Disney interpretation of a 'magic castle' with, to my eye, grotesque Victorian Gothic style battlements and great hall with an interior decoration straight out of Sir Walter Scott and the legends of King Arthur to its mock up of a Roman gate tower, harking back to its first century origins.

What's wrong with that you might ask and I suppose to the untutored eye there is nothing wrong with this city centre iconic building, but I found myself searching among the, to my eye, dross, for the real Cardiff castle, which is there if you care to look, epitomised by the Norman keep and other medieval sections of wall and the odd section or two of original 3rd century Roman wall, picked out from the Victorian additions.

However it would be churlish of me not to recognise the symbolic nature of Cardiff Castle and its long historic association with the city through two thousand years, which has seen it play an important role as a defensive fortification as recent as the Second World War with its solid walls and below ground passages serving as a ready made air raid shelter for the local people.

A large section of the original third century Roman fortification can be seen by following the steps down to the Firing Line Museum near the front gate entrance to the castle, untouched by either Glyndwr or the Butes.

Our plan was to walk the walls of the castle and climb the towers before going into the Victorian Gothic great hall and library, the latter building being the most attractive to mine and Marie's eye, and somewhere you could easily ensconce yourself with a good book.

Then we descended down into the lower passages under the wall where the WWII air raid shelters have been restored alongside the longest section of original Roman wall, seen above, and the entrance to the Firing Line Museum of the 1st, The Queen's Dragoon Guards and The Royal Welsh celebrating and commemorating the 300 years of military service by Welsh soldiers in the British Army.

However before checking out the museum we spent some time admiring the cement and plaster mural opposite the Roman wall, recording the conquest and occupation of this part of Wales by the Romans against the local tribe, the Silures; and was sculpted by a local artist Mr Frank Abraham between the years 1981 to 1983.

The style of the sculpting was very reminiscent of standing and admiring Trajan's column in Rome with the mural leading the viewer through a picture book portrayal of the occupation and eventual conquest, not, it has to be said, after a very long struggle by the Silures to resist. 

I have spent some very pleasant days exploring the local area and its history including the Norman and Roman occupation, and you can see the remains of these occupations in the series of posts in the link below:

Whenever I am visiting a different part of the country to home I really like to take some time to visit the amazing collections of historical military treasure held by the British Regimental Museums that represent the Regimental connections with their particular part of the country, and over the years of this blog visits to these museums by me and Mr Steve have been recorded with the encouragement to others with a similar interest to support them by visiting as well.

JJ's Wargames - Regimental Museums 

On entering the Firing Line Museum, now reopened after the pandemic restrictions, the visitor is greeted with this stunning radio-control model of a Tiger I that used to be driven by visitors in the grounds of the castle pre-pandemic

The British Army has been in continual change ever since its foundation at the close of the English Civil War and the establishment of the first British standing army, the New Model Army, that helped create the nation of Britain with Parliament supreme under a constitutional monarchy, hence the reason the Army is not called the Royal Army alongside the Royal Navy or Royal Airforce.

That said with the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the army and its regiments owe their allegiance to the Crown and the regimental traditions have been nurtured since then to carry on the heritage of service from one generation to the next, with soldiers of today able to draw inspiration from the deeds of their predecessors and with the new regiments such as the Royal Welsh proudly combining the heritage of such famous British regiments as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the 24th, 41st (Welsh) and 69th Foot and the Territorial soldiers of the Royal Welsh Regiment.

A gorgeous piece of Regimental tableware illustrating the action by Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill of the 24th Regiment attempting to save the Queen's Colour after the Battle of Isadlwana 1879

Thus the Firing Line Museum brings together a collection of items that capture those key deeds from the history of the Welsh regiments in the British Army, perhaps none more famous than the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift now recorded for posterity in film with Zulu and Zulu Dawn, two classic movies that make traditional British Xmas television viewing and that saw the most casualties suffered by the British army in one day, 1300 killed at Isandlwana, and the award of eleven Victoria Crosses, the most ever awarded in a single action.

The French Revolutionary War, Napoleonic War and the War of 1812 figure large in the history of Welsh Regiments and the collection bears testament to service throughout the first 'Great War' that featured in the early years of the 19th century.

The boarding of the San Nicholas and San Jose by Nelson's HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent 14th February 1797 - Nicholas Pocock
Soldiers of the 69th Foot were serving as marines on board Captain and Private Mathew Stevens was first to board the San Nicholas.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's the army often provided soldiers for service at sea and members of the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Foot, which would amalgamate later with the 41st (Welch) Foot in 1881 to form the Welch Regiment, would see service as adopted marines seeing action at the Battle of St Kitts and the Saintes in 1782, the capture of Toulon in 1793, the Glorious First of June 1794, Battle of Genoa 1795, serving alogside Nelson in HMS Agamemnon, and with him in HMS Captain at the battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797, with a soldier from the regiment, Mathew Stevens being the first to board the 80-gun San Nicholas.

The coat of Colour Sergeant Chadwick, c.1815 who saw service in 1797 at the battle of Cape St Vincent aboard HMS Britannia. The green facings of the 69th Foot are seen here together with a picture depicting the Battle of the Glorious First of June at the back.

A general service naval cutlass and pistol for service at sea

The scrimshaw engraved powder horn commemorates the surrender of the French invasion force which landed at Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1797, the last invasion of the British Isles and the pistol is thought to have been issued to the Kings Dragoon Guards and is engraved 'Henshaw 1793' K.D. Guards on the lock plate together with the letters E.I.C. suggesting it may have been sold afterwards to the East India Company.

An officers coatee and Belgic shako of the 69th Foot, with a King's Dragoon Guards pattern 1812 helmet (top) from the Gatley Collection and worn at Waterloo

The 1st King's Dragoon Guards was raised in 1685 as the 2nd Queen's Regiment of Horse by Sir John Lanier and would go on to earn battle honours at Blenheim, Ramilles, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Dettingen and Warburg.

After the Second World War it was amalgamated with the 2nd Dragoon Guards to form the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards.

The 1st King's Dragoon Guards in action with French Dragoons at the Battle of Waterloo 18th June 1815

The museum holds a marvellous collection of items relating to its service at perhaps its most famous battle honour, Waterloo, during which the King's Dragoon Guards took part in the famous charge of the Union and Household Cavalry brigades on General d'Erlon's I Corps attack at the start of the battle.

No. 6 Troop, Waterloo guidon is seen at the back of this display, alongside an officers coatee of the 69th Foot, with a King's Dragoon Guards pattern 1812 helmet (top) from the Gatley Collection and worn at Waterloo and the hilt, blade and scabbard of a 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sabre used at Waterloo.

A better look at the 1812 pattern British heavy dragoon helmet of the King's Dragoon Guards together with a British cavalry pistol discovered on the field of Waterloo after the battle, marked on the trigger guard 'K.D.G.E. 15', identifying as belonging to a member of E Troop, King's Dragoon Guards.

Captain James Frank Naylor's diary recording his exploits at Waterloo and the campaign of 1815.
I wish I could write like that!

Alongside the King's Dragoon Guards, the 69th Foot played its role as part of the British infantry component of Wellington's Allied army at Waterloo, and was badly cut up at the Battle of Quatre Bras on the 16th June 1815 as the Duke of Wellington held Marshal Ney at bay as the Prussians were defeated along the road at Ligny.

The loss of the King's Colour of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Foot at Quatre Bras, 16th June 1815 after ensign Duncan Keith was cut down by a French cuirassier. The 69th Foot suffered 38 killed and 115 wounded in the battle out of an initial strength of 546 men

The King's Colour of the 2/69th has a famous story behind its capture by French cavalry at Quatre Bras and a fascinating one that led to its recovery and return to the UK.

The 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot was raised by Colonel Edmund Fielding in 1719, being raised from invalid soldiers through disease or injury, later renamed the Royal Invalids in 1741 and then numbered the 41st Regiment of Foot ten years later, becoming a conventional line regiment in 1787 and being joined by a young lieutenant Arthur Wellesley a year later.

Members of the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot photographed by me in 2019 at Crusade

From 1793-96 the regiment saw service in the West Indies taking part in the capture of Martinique and the attack on Guadeloupe, following which it returned home before being sent to Canada in 1800 where it would form a key component of British troops that saw service in the War of 1812 with elements of the regiment serving under Major-General Isaac Brock at the siege of Detroit and the Battle of Queenstown Heights in 1812, under Major-General Henry Proctor at the Battle of Frenchtown, with the regiment forming the core of the force that laid siege to Fort Meigs.

The 41st Foot played a key role in the British defence of Canada in 1812 and was largely destroyed in the Battle of Moravian Town, but with the light company continuing to serve, seeing action in the last great battle on the Canadian frontier at Lundy's Lane. 
Here are examples of the 1803 Shako plate worn up until 1812, an officer's gilt gorget, cross belt plates and regimental buttons and number excavated at Fort George, after the Battle of Niagara. The three General Service Medals were awarded to Sergeant J. Stagnell, Lieutenant B. Bender and Private J. Adams of the 41st Foot for the action at Detroit in 1812.

The regiment would also be present at the Battle of Lake Erie, the defeat at the Battle of the Thames and the capture of Fort Niagara in 1813, with the exploits of the regiment captured in the memoirs of Private Shadrack Byfield who lost his arm at Conjocta Creek in 1814 before returning home.

The King's Colour of the 41st Foot which was taken to Canada by the Regiment in 1799 to be replaced in 1801 with the  Act of Union that year requiring the cross of St Patrick  to be included in the design of the Union Flag, and that shamrocks be included in the central wreath.

This King's Colour of the 41st Foot is very old, in fact the oldest preserved colour in the museum, presented to the regiment on the 26th May 1773 and continuing in service until 1787 when the regiment abandoned its title 'Invalid', becoming a standard regiment of line. 

With time pressing to explore other parts of the castle, amongst other things, I quickly grabbed some pictures of other items I would have liked to have spent more time studying but which I think gives an idea of what an interesting museum this is and to encourage others to pay it a visit.

As it seems likely we will be revisiting Cardiff quite regularly over the next few years I certainly plan to.

A rather impressive representation of the 1st King's Dragoon Guards as they would have looked on the 16th May 1919 when they charged Afghan forces in the Khyber Pass, during which Captain William Rowland Frederick Cooper, who led the squadron was 'badly wounded' in the shoulder, and was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order and received mention in the London Gazette on the 3rd August 1910. 

World War One has left an indelible mark on all corners of the UK as the many War Memorials in its towns and villages bear testament to and Wales is no different in marking a war that ended any sense of glory associated with total, industrial warfare that was heralded in the 20th century.

The dramatic diorama below reminded me of another presentation I saw at the Crusade Show in Penarth back in 2019, this time by Dr Jonathan Hicks introducing his book 'The Welsh at Mametz Wood', detailing the fighting that occurred in that part of the Somme battle in 1916.

The book takes a close look at the actions of the 38th Welsh Division who were raised in 1914 and who would see their first action in Mametz Wood in July 1916, and I recounted Jonathan's presentation in my show report back in 2019

If you're interested in reading more about the book and the presentation then follow the link below.

The museum holds a small collection of interesting machine-guns, heralding that significant development in modern warfare from the last century.

This PM M1910 Russian Maxim machine gun was first used by the Imperial Russian Army in WWI with this particular example having been captured by soldiers of the 1st Battalion, The Welsh Regiment in Korea in 1952, but with this type of gun continuing in service into the Vietnam War.

The Vickers Heavy Machine Gun saw service with the British army from the First World War right into the Cold War era of the 1960's which is an indication of the effectiveness of this six to eight man operated gun, with the example given on the notice of ten such guns firing at High Wood, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, continuously for twelve hours, firing in the indirect, long range barrage mode, and getting through 100 barrels and firing one million rounds without any failure.

The Japanese Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun, was a development of the Hotchkiss series of machine guns and entered service with the Japanese in 1932 and was used throughout WWII, gaining the nickname of 'The Woodpecker' by Allied soldiers, due to its very identifiable sound when fired; and I well remember the account I was given by a veteran British soldier, lying wounded in Queen Alexandria Hospital, during the Battle for Singapore in 1942, knowing the hospital was under direct attack, when he heard the distinctive sound of this gun firing though his ward window.

The castle has many interesting treasures to seek out for those of us with an interest and a keen eye as a visit to the Great Hall and library revealed an interesting collection of 17th century armour and hand weapons.

How about this for an amazing treasure, a six hundred year old light cannon, found in the well within the castle keep, still on its original tiller bed.

And finally, I thought given the recent focus of the blog, I would end our look at Cardiff Castle with a group of three naval cannon that most visitors seem to walk past without a second glance but that are very unique and rare.

Unfortunately the other two were being clambered all over by a child seemingly determined to be in the picture and so I contented myself with the example below.

French frigate 6-8lb cannon captured from frigates escorting the French invasion force to Bantry Bay in Ireland in 1797 and brought to Cardiff as ships ballast.

We had a fantastic few days exploring the waterfall country on the Brecon Beacons, Cardiff Castle and the Bay area, and I met up with Mr Steve during our stay to enjoy an evening meal out on Saturday night together with a quick visit to the new Firestorm Games shop which opened that weekend and is a very impressive games shop.

Not only that but we were blessed with fantastic weather to be out and about in and it was great fun being shown around the town by Marie and Will and a nice way to finish off my birthday week.

Thank you to Marie and Will for a lovely time in Cardiff, made even better by glorious weather

Next up: Well I'm back into the routine, and the painting desk is back up and running with the wet pallet restored and work commencing on finishing some 28mm AWI Mohawk Indians, some British AWI regulars, before turning my attention to some 28mm Vikings I'm painting for Steve M, and then back to the ships with a selection of French and Spanish schooners and cutters.

Not only that but I have a book review to do and a Peninsular War scenario AAR to report on, so plenty of stuff to come.

Sources referred to in this post:


  1. Looked like a great way to celebrate your birthday! My wife and I did a day trip (by train!) to Cardiff from Maidenhead in 1987 (she wasnt my wife way back then) - I remember seeing the castle and thinking it all looked a bit odd - now I know why. A few years later (now married and on a return trip from NZ) we spent a few days in Wales, including visiting the Brecon Beacons, Portmeirion and Blaenau Ffestiniog via the narrow gauge railway, its a beautiful country and has a lot of castles dotted around the coasts too, courtesy of the old Hammer of the Scots, Edward Longshanks, when he was is his Welsh bashing phase!

    1. Hi and thank you, we had a great time and it really was a 'birthday on tour' which was a lot of fun.

      Like you I last visited the castle back in the mid eighties and was impressed with how much there is to see compared with the last time I was there, and yes I am now spending retirement time visiting places in the UK that have been long on the list of must sees.

      Funnily enough I am now hoping to visit New Zealand as soon as things get back to normal and I have a few Maori War sites in mind to visit if I get the chance, and some posts for the bog if I do - fingers crossed.

      All the best

  2. A beautiful walk and a virtual visit of Cardiff Castle - what a good way to start my day. The museum looked fascinating - I loved seeing the photos of those old battered King's colours.

    1. Hi Bill, thanks mate, glad you enjoyed the read.

      The sight of the King's Colour of the 2/69th was a real treat and a surprise because I didn't know it had been recovered. I have stood on the field of Quatre Bras at least three times and to imagine if that Colour could play back the scenes it witnessed makes it a very special item.

      Thanks again

  3. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing your outing. I always enjoy your blog content. I often marvel at the wax work at these museums. Very life-like.

    1. Hi and thank you.

      I think modern military museum displays have really had to up their game in recent years to attract a younger generation without the grounding in British history that previous generations have benefitted from.

      To my mind that is one of the positives that has come out of the situation in that mannequins in my day tended to be straight out of a fashion shop window and totally inappropriate for the subject, with the best early examples I remember being at the French Les Invalides in Paris which blew me away in the late seventies when I first saw them with glorious renditions of the cavalry on horses that helped set off the Napoleonic horse furniture, something we haven't quite replicated here in the UK even today.

      The earliest best examples in the UK came about, I think, in the eighties or early nineties, with the National Army Museum hiring Gerry Embleton, I think, to create some amazing Peninsular War and other Napoleonic full size figures for the museum.


  4. Great post, thanks for sharing. Happy belated birthday!

    1. Hi Adam,
      Thank yo and glad you enjoyed the read.