Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

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Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 03 Apr 2013 17:29

HI!

A few months ago a friend of mine and fellow modeller asked me for some advice about sculpting and painting a 54mm officer of the Cameron Highlanders during the Nile Expedition, 1898.

My friend knew that khaki was paramount in Kitchener's Army (with the exception of the Connaught Rangers Maxim Gun detachment at Firket) , but had also seen the well known (and of course incorrect) GW Bacon's Battle of Omdurman print showing the British "thin red line" (attached) and he therefore felt somewhat justified in planning his Camerons officer donning a red doublet for a better "scenographic" effect!

Of course , I said this was definitely a no-no!! Every modeller or history buff with even an "entry level" of knowledge of Victorian Era's uniforms would have made a fool of him!

So eventually (and grudgingly!) my friend went for a more accurate , if "boring" khaki highland tunic!

Well , I will have to apologize to him now!

It would have been just enough to swop his Omdurman 1898 plinth nameplate with a (more interesting, by the way!) Darmali 1898 one, and Voilà : a Red Doublet wearing officer in a Khaki covered Foreign Service helmet would have made a spectacular and unusual entry in any Fgure Model Shows!

The Attached photo clearly shows the Camerons still wearing their red doublets while en route to the Atbara.
The caption reads as follows: The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, wearing kilts and pith helmets, prepare to leave Darmali , during the march of the British Brigade from Abu Dis to confront Mahdist forces at the Atbara.

Someone has commented that just possibly these Highlanders are wearing dark khaki tunics, but honestly this can hardly make sense: please have a look at the white piping (though only barely visible in the attached scans) on the doublet's cuffs and just compare the doublets' dark tone with the real khaki of the Egyptian officer's uniform and the Highlanders' helmet covers . (A rather unusual feature of these red doublets are the breast pockets, though)

Incidentally this photo also dispells two other miths , both quite common in the figure modelling community:

1 - In the 1898 Sudan campaign officers in the Seaforth and Camerons are believed to have worn only the newer and more comfortable Wolseley helmet.
False! I have indeed seen photos of Cameron officers wearing the Wolseley, but clearly this was not "by regimental orders": this particular officer seems to be happy to wear the same Khaki covered FS helmet as his men .

2 - Most, if not all , figures depicting Highland Officers in the field have the basked hilted broadsword. This photo instead confirms a rather well known fact: on campaign Officers of Highland Regiments usually carried the plainer looking cross hilted broadsword (with the execption of the Black Watch - I believe). Clearly , a less effective weapon, for modelling purposes - I must admit!

Cheers to everybody!

Marco
Attachments
The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, cut.jpg
The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, cut.jpg (20.69 KiB) Viewed 4121 times
The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, red.jpg
The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, red.jpg (34.07 KiB) Viewed 4121 times
Omdurman 1898 red coats.jpg
Omdurman 1898 red coats.jpg (52.15 KiB) Viewed 4121 times
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby jf42 » 03 Apr 2013 23:35

Mark- Saluté,

Until Albert and Frogsmile, to mention but two, offer their expertise, I'd like to suggest that the Cameron officer in your photo is wearing the Highland version of a red undress Frock rather than the Full Dress doublet with its blue 'gauntlet' cuffs- for the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders- and pendant 'Inverness' pockets. For officers, the Frock could include flapped breast pockets while all ranks had cuffs piped in a gauntlet style and hip pockets, with the front skirts curved away to accommodate the sporran.

The Frock was still the regulation active service coat for temperate weather service. Whether in 1898 British infantry would really have gone to war in Europe wearing red is open to question. However, that frock on the Nile is certainly not khaki! Whether the Camerons were the only Highland regiment to bring red frocks with them up the Nile, I am not qualified to say. Whether there is any sentimental connection with the Camerons wearing red frocks at the battle of Ginnis back in 1885, I am even less qualified to say.

Ciao
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby Mark A. Reid » 04 Apr 2013 03:15

Ciao Marco;

Another great image, thanks!

I can but agree with jf42's remarks and presume that the Camerons entrained from Cairo wearing these ( relatively ) comfortable frocks before donning khaki sometime afterwards.

Nice to see the two British officers, serving with the Egyptian Army, making an appearance. It would be interesting to speculate if the be-tarboushed figure in smart-looking khaki was asking the Cameron officer why it took them so long to arrive. After all, the Egyptian Army started the reconquest of the Sudan two years before!

The background activity almost suggests that the recently disembarked troops are shedding their equipment in order to don their new khaki ensembles, but that would probably be too much of a stretch of the imagination. White-clad locals appear to have already discovered the new clientele and are probably already peddling genuine dervish weapons or pieces of fabric torn from the Mahdi's Tomb. Ah, the spirit of commerce still thrives " somewhere East of Suez! "

Cheers,

Mark
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby Albert J » 04 Apr 2013 12:28

Mark A. Reid wrote:Ciao Marco;

Another great image, thanks!

I can but agree with jf42's remarks and presume that the Camerons entrained from Cairo wearing these ( relatively ) comfortable frocks before donning khaki sometime afterwards...


Cheers,

Mark



I would certainly agree with you both, and further, the speculation of re-kitting. Certainly a tempting, and not so far fetched assumption! Something for further discussion...when would the Cameron's have applied the blue rectangular flash worn on the left side of the FS helmet during this campaign?

Off Topic...At this time, well 1896 anyway during the Ashanti Expedition, Home Service Undress frocks were worn by detachments of the Guards, Northumberland Fusiliers,KOYLI,KSLI,RIF,Devons, 2nd West Yorks, and the Royal Engineers. Along with khaki FS helmets, brown canvas gaiters and home service trousers. (Khaki was however adopted in 1896 as the uniform for foreign service)

As a side...Note the officer's privately purchased water bottles. These are wood and covered with khaki or drab felt and made by S.W. Silver and Company,originally furniture makers (some can be found with leather covers).
These were the true forerunner to the o/r's pattern (and later officer's) carried in the 20th Century.

Albert J
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby jf42 » 05 Apr 2013 00:28

Albert, was the 1896 khaki Foreign Service uniform for Home battalions ever issued in other than khaki drill i.e. for hot weather postings? if not, I guess we can assume that, in the event of a conflict closer to home, a stop-gap measure similar to the 1899 Serge Frock might have rapidly made an appearance.
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby Albert J » 05 Apr 2013 01:30

jf42 wrote:Albert, was the 1896 khaki Foreign Service uniform for Home battalions ever issued in other than khaki drill i.e. for hot weather postings? if not, I guess we can assume that, in the event of a conflict closer to home, a stop-gap measure similar to the 1899 Serge Frock might have rapidly made an appearance.


The 1896 KFS uniform of cotton drill material was intended for use in more temperate climates i.e. hot weather. Home battalions would have worn scarlet for Home Service Undress when stationed at home for most occasions. At least until Service Dress was adopted. One of the contributing factors to the adoption of the 1899 pattern serge( a stop-gap measure itself) was the warmth it provided to those serving in South Africa from April 1900 (when it was received their in quantity) until the close of hostilities. Many forget that the temperature drops considerably in the South African evenings during the winter months of the Southern Hemisphere. The 1899 pattern was very short lived at approx. 2 years tops. It was slowly being replaced while still in use in SA!

I suspect were there a conflict closer to home as you suggest, at least around the time of the 2nd ABW, I believe a drab 4 pocket serge frock would be in order. There was already one being produced in 1901 with removable shoulder straps that even made it to SA in small quantities and I see no reason why it wouldn't have filled the void if the need arose. Prior to this I would agree something along the lines of the '99 pattern serge would have fit the bill.

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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 05 Apr 2013 19:38

jf42 wrote:Mark- Saluté,

Until Albert and Frogsmile, to mention but two, offer their expertise, I'd like to suggest that the Cameron officer in your photo is wearing the Highland version of a red undress Frock rather than the Full Dress doublet with its blue 'gauntlet' cuffs- for the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders- and pendant 'Inverness' pockets. For officers, the Frock could include flapped breast pockets while all ranks had cuffs piped in a gauntlet style and hip pockets, with the front skirts curved away to accommodate the sporran.

The Frock was still the regulation active service coat for temperate weather service. Whether in 1898 British infantry would really have gone to war in Europe wearing red is open to question. However, that frock on the Nile is certainly not khaki! Whether the Camerons were the only Highland regiment to bring red frocks with them up the Nile, I am not qualified to say. Whether there is any sentimental connection with the Camerons wearing red frocks at the battle of Ginnis back in 1885, I am even less qualified to say.

Ciao


Ciao!

Yes, sorry!
Of course, when I used the word "doublet" for brevity I did not mean the full dress type but the Highland red undress Frock - sorry fro the misunderstanding.

I was aware that the Camerons did wear this at the battle of Ginnis, but as you said it's hard to say wether there could have been any "sentimental connection" with the battle fought 13 years before!

In any case - while I knew about Ashanti 1896 and the a/m instance at Firket, this is so far the first and only photographic evidence I have ever come across, for the Red Coat being worn in the 1898 Sudan campaign!

Attached are two colour plates showing the Highland red undress Frock as worn by the Camerons in Egypt 1882/Ginnis 1885 . The one appearing in the 1898 photo just look the same, in fact.

Cheers!

Marco
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img307.jpg
img307.jpg (61.45 KiB) Viewed 4024 times
Last edited by fantomark on 05 Apr 2013 20:51, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 05 Apr 2013 19:56

Albert J wrote:
Mark A. Reid wrote:Ciao Marco;

Another great image, thanks!

I can but agree with jf42's remarks and presume that the Camerons entrained from Cairo wearing these ( relatively ) comfortable frocks before donning khaki sometime afterwards...


Cheers,

Mark



I would certainly agree with you both, and further, the speculation of re-kitting. Certainly a tempting, and not so far fetched assumption! Something for further discussion...when would the Cameron's have applied the blue rectangular flash worn on the left side of the FS helmet during this campaign?

Off Topic...At this time, well 1896 anyway during the Ashanti Expedition, Home Service Undress frocks were worn by detachments of the Guards, Northumberland Fusiliers,KOYLI,KSLI,RIF,Devons, 2nd West Yorks, and the Royal Engineers. Along with khaki FS helmets, brown canvas gaiters and home service trousers. (Khaki was however adopted in 1896 as the uniform for foreign service)

As a side...Note the officer's privately purchased water bottles. These are wood and covered with khaki or drab felt and made by S.W. Silver and Company,originally furniture makers (some can be found with leather covers).
These were the true forerunner to the o/r's pattern (and later officer's) carried in the 20th Century.

Albert J


Ciao!

Great info, about the Waterbottle!
The same square pattern (or avery similar one ) was apparently in use with the Rifle Brigade in the same campaign.

I have no details about a definite date for the blue "helmet flash" . However this was already in place at the battle of the Atbara.

Ciao!

Marco
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 05 Apr 2013 20:25

Mark A. Reid wrote:Ciao Marco;

Another great image, thanks!

I can but agree with jf42's remarks and presume that the Camerons entrained from Cairo wearing these ( relatively ) comfortable frocks before donning khaki sometime afterwards.

Nice to see the two British officers, serving with the Egyptian Army, making an appearance. It would be interesting to speculate if the be-tarboushed figure in smart-looking khaki was asking the Cameron officer why it took them so long to arrive. After all, the Egyptian Army started the reconquest of the Sudan two years before!

The background activity almost suggests that the recently disembarked troops are shedding their equipment in order to don their new khaki ensembles, but that would probably be too much of a stretch of the imagination. White-clad locals appear to have already discovered the new clientele and are probably already peddling genuine dervish weapons or pieces of fabric torn from the Mahdi's Tomb. Ah, the spirit of commerce still thrives " somewhere East of Suez! "

Cheers,

Mark


Ciao, Mark!

I agree with you that the red undress frock would have been relatively comfortable for the trip up to the NIle in February /March 1898.
However, the Camerons did not get to Darmali (where the photo was appaerntly taken) in a "lazy" train ride from Cairo.
In fact they had to do a fair amount of marching to get to the front !


Their recorded progress was as follows (please se attached map):

At end of January the Camerons were camped at Dakesh Rail head, with the rest of the (then single) British Brigade.

On 13 February the British Brigade moved to Abou Dis, a few miles south.

On 25 February (after the Brigade had returned from a route march of 14 miles) orders were received to move to Dabeika , a village ten miles south of Berber, by forced marches.
During the night the battalions left by train for the new rail head, that was then at Shereik, 16 miles further south .
From there they started on their march to the front, arriving at Dabeika on March 3. The marching average was about 11 miles a day , with one day's rest (2 March) .
Wether all this marching was carried out in the red frock or in the khaki drill one , I could not say!
Darmali, where the photo of the Camerons in their red frocks was taken, was a village just south of Dabeika and a short distance north of the Atbara Fort , therefore at the end of their long journey south , (please see map).

(Maybe reason for the red frock was simply the Battalion having just attended a Church service or a Parade of sorts, and the photographer caught them just before they changed back into their usual khaki drill frocks...).

Ciao!

M
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby Mark A. Reid » 06 Apr 2013 01:29

Ciao again;

Thanks for this clarification, Marco. I was hoping that " someone " would provide a time-line for the Camerons' " Advance to the Front, " as journalists were fond of naming any image of soldiers on the move! Your suggestion that the troops were returning from a parade that justified a higher order of dress than khaki strikes a positive chord with me. Their khaki uniforms may very well have been neatly piled inside their tents by this stage of the campaign.

Whilst a route march of only 11 miles sounds, at first, a little leisurely, when one factors in the excessive heat and limited water, these were pretty trying experiences for soldiers unused to the climate, to say nothing of the rocky and sandy terrain. Perhaps the best marching record in this country was achieved by the 3rd Egyptian Infantry Bn. in April 1889 when they covered 70 miles in a mere 60 hours over broken terrain. They set out to intercept a dervish raiding party returning to Matuka but missed them by a mere two and a half miles. The poor infantrymen at times jogged to keep up with elements of the Egyptian Cavalry and Camel Corps and must have felt particularly chagrined at so closely missing their prey.

Cheers,

Mark
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby jf42 » 08 Apr 2013 21:27

I'm going to hazard an intelligent guess and say that from the angle of his head, the officer in the centre is removing his sword and water bottle, rather than putting them on. He is in the characteristic pose of someone, possibly tired and eager to doff his gear, who hasn't quite judged the trajectory of straps over his helmet (In the reverse procedure one would be more likely to drop one's head directly forward). If correct, what would that tell us? Are they more likely to be arriving from a march, say, than a church parade? The men on the right appear to have already unharnessed.
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 10 Apr 2013 16:04

jf42 wrote:I'm going to hazard an intelligent guess and say that from the angle of his head, the officer in the centre is removing his sword and water bottle, rather than putting them on. He is in the characteristic pose of someone, possibly tired and eager to doff his gear, who hasn't quite judged the trajectory of straps over his helmet (In the reverse procedure one would be more likely to drop one's head directly forward). If correct, what would that tell us? Are they more likely to be arriving from a march, say, than a church parade? The men on the right appear to have already unharnessed.


HI!
Yes, sharp observations!
What you say doed make full sense, really! And , on top of that: would waterbottles be carried on a Curch parade at all? I am not sure, but I am quite certain they would be definitely required on a desert march !

I agree with you: the general feeling of this image conveys is that of troops removing (or having just removed) their equipment , rather than putting it on!

This said , if the pic was actually taken after a desert march rather than a parade (and as I said in a previous post the Camerons did go through a fair bit of marching at the very time the photo was taken) it's a mistery to me why the Regiment was still wearing the red frock.

Darmali is just south of Debeika, and I can't really think of a reason why the Battalion should have marched all the way up there wearing the red frock!
The Camerons were already in the Sudan as early as January, and to me it's simply inconceivable that khaki frocks would not have been issued (or unpacked) in March 1898, and that the battalion did all heir marching up river in red.
This would probably be theo only instance in the whole British Brigade!
The presence of the khaki cover on the helmet (normally worn with the khaki frock, and not with the red frock) is a further puzzling element to me. For sure there must be a reason why both officers and men were all wearing red in this photo, though what this could be I really haven't got a clue! I just mentioned a church parade ,or some other cerimonial event, because the use or red frocks on parade in the Sudan desert in 1898 would seem to me the only realistic explanation...

As I said this is the one an only photo I know about showing British troops in the field wearing red frocks in the Sudan 1898.
And it's just as good that's a photo and not a painting... I am pretty sure that if it was a painting instad of a photo, most historians would simply have dismissed it as totally inaccurate!

Actually , I have already won a couple of drinks from fellow modellers and re-enactors betting I had some positive evidence of British Troops wearing red in the 1898 in the Sudan !!
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby jf42 » 11 Apr 2013 01:01

Not that I would want to suggest the Camerons were unusually tender, heaven forbid, but what was the weather like that year? Could it be quite cold on the Upper Nile in March, especially after dark? Did the men carry greatcoats on that campaign? I know the sun is shining in the photo but could it be the wool frocks were worn to ward off chill, say on a night march?

Please excuse my ignorance. I only have basic knowledge of the Sudan campaigns.
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 11 Apr 2013 10:16

Well, I think that again what you say makes perfect sense!

The wearing of a red frock may actually be just due to the cold weather in fact.
The Desert at night can be really cold (as I have personally experienced in Egypt and Morocco on several occasions ).

The Cameron's march to the front took place In place bewteen January and March 1898, which was a relatively cool period of the year anyway (and early mornings in the desert may be indeed very cold!) .

As to the use of greatcoats in the Soudan, again this is a good point!
I don't reacall having ever seen a pic of British troops wearing one, in fact - while I have seen quite a few from the Boer War , just one year after.
The grey roll carried on the back of the equipment was most probably a blanket, then.
(By the way: these are shown displayed in this pic. neatly - more or less! - folded , and lying in line on the ground)


So we may possibly assume that red frocks (at least in some battalions) may indeed have been an expedient cold weather dress for British troops going up the Nile in 1898. This said I have never seen any other additional photos of British troops in red frocks in this campaign, nor I remenber having read any mentions of red frocks in any or the several War Correspendents' accounts of this famous campaign .... So the mistery continues!

Ciao!

Marco
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Re: Red Coats in the Nile Expedition 1898

Postby fantomark » 12 Apr 2013 16:46

HI!

I have just found one more image (based on photographic evidence) of the Camerons going up the Nile in red frocks, which I have herewith attached.
It appeared in the Graphic, March 12 1898.

Does anybody know of any other British regiment going up the Nile in red frocks in 1898?

Cheers!

Marco
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Camerons at Wadi Halfa 1898.jpg
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