Ashanti Photographs 1895

For all discussions relating to the Second, Third, Fourth & Fifth Ashantee Wars fought between 1863 and 1900.

Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby Frogsmile » 11 Sep 2014 16:46

rd72 wrote:
Frogsmile wrote:
What is the date of that image Rob? It's a great picture of the 5-button frock and canvas gaiters and presumably from around 1895.


Frogsmile,
The issue is from January 1896 and the description certainly describes the man (Staff Patten) as a member of the "current" Ashanti expedition... I'm not an expert on the MH Carbine but I think it is an Artillery pattern due to the bayonet lug on the upper band... A MK II or III perhaps, by the fore end.

A Mk I... Shown for the bayonet lug..


Thanks Rob, it is a fine image all round. I have been surprised to read that there were so many conflicts with the Ashanti.
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby jf42 » 11 Sep 2014 19:45

Regarding the canvas webbing gaiters. They were seen, perhaps for the first time, worn as part of the special expeditionary dress provided for Wolseley's Ashantee expedition of 1874 and are prominent in the curiously old-fashioned- not to mention, hybrid- uniform worn for Scott's 1895 expedition. Were they brought out of store for the purpose? It would seem that the clasp knives supplied to troops in 1874 also appeared again in 1895.

viewtopic.php?f=19&t=6681 {various aspects of Ashanti expedition clothing and gear touched on here}

One might think Lt Col Scott, remembering their value in 1874 when he was a young officer in the Black Watch contingent, had some new ones made up especially until one remembers he ordered the troops to wear red serge, instead of khaki drill or even Elcho tweed. The red frocks apparently turned black from sweat. Even though it was January, men passed out in their dozens from heat prostration. That would show an confused sense of priorities, but then perhaps I am expecting too much.

My impression is that the canvas gaiters were only ever seen otherwise worn by bluejackets for shore service, as in Zululand for instance, their last appearance on campaign, I think, being with the Royal Naval Division at Antwerp in 1914. They remain, or were until recently, part of Royal Navy parade dress on shore, blancoed white. Was the provenance of the Ashanti canvas gaiter naval in origin? When did the Navyy first use them?

The long canvas gaiter clearly wasn't as smart as the leather gaiter which held its own, briefly, even after the introduction of Service Dress in 1902 before being replaced by wool puttees. It would appear to be a practical item of campaign dress, nonetheless, arguably more suitable than puttees in the damp of north western Europe (and indeed in cut-down form canvas webbing gaiters were later worn with Battle Dress/Combat Dress for the best part of forty years).

I am curious as to why, unless I am mistaken, its use by the Army appears to have been confined to these two minor expeditions to the very same part of the world. Is it something to do with the effects of moisture and immersion on leather, I wonder?
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby mike snook » 12 Sep 2014 00:58

This is a reflection of an age old problem, only substantially mitigated from the 1990s onwards. It is also an interesting element in terms of 'keeping going' over the course a long campaign. Without wishing to be in anyway condescending, the sheer relentlessness of 'campaigning' is not well understood by those who have not gone through it. In the infantry in particular, the state of the men's feet is a matter of critical importance. If you can't march, you can't fight, and if you can't fight you're in the way and just a hungry mouth to feed.

The wearing of gaiters is designed not to deflect problems with boot leather, but rather with human flesh....in the form of the old 'plates of meat'. The idea is to stop the lower trouser leg becoming drenched in damp long grass or similar foliage. Once the trousers are soaked, it is only a matter of half an hour before the moisture creeps down to the socks. (Of course heavy rain creates the same effect). When socks remain constantly wet, problems with the feet begin. It starts as unpleasant, (albeit you soon get used to it as a status quo), but over time moves beyond an irritation to become the cause of sore feet, wrinkling and blisters. After that comes the rotten flesh condition which has become known as 'trench foot'; a crippling ailment which renders a soldier ineffective. It might take some weeks to arrive at this, but campaigning typically goes on for months and even years at a time. In genuinely awful conditions, it can come on in a matter of days. So the first object of a gaiter is to shroud the trouser leg. The presence of a gaiter at least slows, but will not prevent, the gradual creep of moisture down the trouser leg - if you're really lucky the sun will come out after rain and dry the trousers before too much nuisance effect occurs down inside the boot (ie wet socks).

The second purpose of a gaiter is to make the effective top of a boot much higher and thus prevent the boot being flooded even in the shallowest puddle of water. Before 'Goretex socks', (actually over-socks as it were), and then, a few years later, goretex boots, came on the scene in the 1990s, the 'good infantry soldier' kept his boots layered with boot black in order to retain whatever limited 'waterproof' qualities they might possess (which in my youth was virtually none - if anything our boots of the 1980s were less waterproof than those of the late-Victorian soldier and the two World War generations). The single most important item of clothing in the good soldier's kit was his second pair of socks, which he would try to keep dry at all costs. The metaphorical 'good soldier', (only a proportion of the body of the kirk, the size of which proportion rather depends on the quality of the leadership cadre of officers and NCOs - the key difference between a good regiment and a shabby one), would, on reaching a bivouac, take off his damp socks and replace them overnight with his dry pair. This will give his feet some respite. His wet pair of socks he will lay out to dry - ideally on a sunny rock while it is still daylight: in a hot climate they'll be dry in half an hour. If it isn't hot, or daylight, or he is in some difficult environment, (such as the dense forest conditions of the Victorian era Gold Coast), he might have the opportunity to dry them near his camp fire (if he's allowed one - which will depend on tactical factors). If all else fails, he might well end up wedging his damp socks into his arm pits or his crotch for the night, (yes I know...yuk!...tell me about it!). He should then, before moving off for the next day's march, replace his best socks with his still probably slightly damp pair. It is only by devoting this level of sustained care and attention to his personal well-being that he can keep himself fit for duty, in field conditions, for months on end. It is the good soldiers who succeed in this object. It is a fact of life, in the great conundrum that is soldiering, that good soldiers will also be to the forefront of the 'charge', whether that charge, depending somewhat on era, be a metaphorical or a literal one. Thus the good soldiers may well be will be amongst the first to be 'attrited', (awful made-up word, but it conveys the relentlessness of campaigning well), over the course of a long spell of field service. I have observed that it is possible in military history to trace the gradual decline of a unit's professionalism/performance, it's courage even, as the good soldiers (and the leadership cadre of officers and NCOs) fall away from the Colours as casualties of disease or battle. So the fewer good blokes you lose, from any cause, the better. Thus seemingly inconsequential matters - decent boots, socks, gaiters etc - assume much greater importance than might at first seem apparent.

Most of the other soldiering of the Victorian era was done in hot dry climates, rendering gaiters less relevant. Gold Coast soldiering took place in a dank forest environment - a 'jungle' in all but name - where the maintenance of the feet becomes a doubly difficult proposition of course.

Hey ho.

M

P.S. Knee-length puttees (not 'invented' in 1873-4), achieve the same effect as gaiters - which is another explanation of the apparent absence of long gaiters elsewhere.
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby jf42 » 12 Sep 2014 02:25

But Mike, the question was not "why gaiters?" ( Been down that soggy trail, believe me) but "why those gaiters there and then?"

The army had re-introduced gaiters ca. 1859 IIRC; the leather models we see being worn in Home Service dress and in Zululand and a few other theatres that I can think of. New Zealand?

Wolseley- being Wolseley- included a different model gaiter for his Ashanti expedition, made of canvas. If this was in anticipation of the conditions in West Africa, where Wolseley had never set foot, well then, bravo for thinking ahead. Maybe the Red River expedition had taught him something about immersion. So far all very rational, all very mid-Victorian, all very 'Sir Garnett'.

It is a minor matter, but one that I find intriguing nonetheless, that the only other time, as far as I am aware, that we see those canvas gaiters being worn by the army is on the repeat match in Ashanti 20 years later. The officer in command of the 1895 expedition is a veteran of the previous one, so it might hardly be coincidence that the force was dispatched wearing canvas gaiters- yet he chooses to have them wear serge frocks- hardly suitable, one might argue, for the climate or the terrain. So is he a disciple of Sir Garnet or is he not? (True, the prevailing wisdom thought wool safer than cotton for men sweating heavily).

Meanwhile, in the intervening years we see the RN blue jackets wearing those canvas gaiters, or similar, on shore as well. Is there a link? Did Sir Garnet, perhaps, get his canvas gaiters from the Navy? Did Lt Col Scott?

Was the Gold Coast really the only place that canvas gaiters were suitable lower leg wear for the British Army?

If so, fair enough, but I am curious. (New Zealand?)

After all, given the prevailing wisdom, the EF might have been sent to West Africa wearing puttees- although perhaps at that date they had still hadn't quite graduated from being an Indian 'thing.' I think the Mounted infantry at home were wearing them by 1896, weren't they?

By the way, I don't think anyone here has said puttees were invented in 1873-74.
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby mike snook » 12 Sep 2014 21:47

Yes, jf, not aimed at you specifically, old man, but merely a general dissertation on 'why gaiters' which I thought would be of more general interest to those who haven't had the dubious pleasure of sharing those sorts of experiences, (which you have), and really understanding what goes on behind the scenes of all that battle, death and glory stuff! And I haven't suggested, nor I think even inadvertently implied, that anybody so much as mentioned puttees before I did. Merely a casual afterthought on puttees.

I don't know how seriously the events of that last Ashanti campaign have been researched...and I mean well researched. We've all seen the photo of the disembarkation in serge, because it's at least a curiosity, for all the reasons you give, but in my book that photo of itself doesn't mean they were still wearing it by tea time the same day, let alone flogging through the forest in it at any point after that. The idea seems to me, as I think you have implied, at least doubtful and therefore certainly something which would need to be confirmed by credible and overlapping primary source evidence. Getting to the bottom of who is wearing what, when and why is a research nightmare: I'm presently trying to do it for the Cape Frontier Wars and the Mutiny, where it turns out 'fancy' may well be the best descriptor of British Army dress! Good luck with gaiters.

As ever

Mike
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby jf42 » 13 Sep 2014 00:17

Well, yes. Given all those photos of battalions preparing to leave for South Africa in marching order wearing patrol jackets and scarlet frocks topped off by Foreign service helmets- not to mention the well known photos of the Mounted Infantry circa 1896 (The Curragh? Aldershot?)- it is a fair question how long the serge frocks remained on the backs of the troops on the 1895 Ashanti campaign.

This fellow has read sources that apparently indicate 'yes'

The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa'S Gold Coast
By Robert B. Edgerton


Ashanti 1895 (Edgerton).jpg
Ashanti 1895 (Edgerton).jpg (128.16 KiB) Viewed 835 times


http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Tkm5 ... er&f=false

Gaiters. How did we get there? I am meant to be doing hats.
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Re: Ashanti Photographs 1895

Postby mike snook » 13 Sep 2014 14:38

I do own Edgerton, jf, but don't particularly admire it...which in no sense implies that others wouldn't either. The headline problem is that one can't legitimately refer to a campaign in which there isn't a shot fired as 'active service'. There was no fighting.

There is a primary source called 'To Kumasi with Scott' by somebody called Musgrave, evidently there on the day, which at p. 177 makes a definite assertion of troops being formed up on parade at Kumasi in red. By the same token, because it was a palaver, with a big escort on parade, designed to overawe the locals, one can't definitely rule out the possibility of the kit being specially donned for the occasion. Wolseley was by now C-in-C and had taken an interest in the expedition as evidenced by the presence of a composite special service force of 12 & 240. Many will be aware that he tried this caper for the Second Anglo-Ashanti War, but had been overruled by the Duke who had rightly (in my view) insisted on unit integrity being maintained, with the result that the 23rd (RWF), 42nd (Black Watch) and Rifle brigade got to do it. We also know that Wolseley had given special orders in the Sudan that red was to be worn by the men aboard Wilson's steamers when they disembarked in Khartoum. I have dismissed the notion that red was worn throughout the steamer dash in Beyond the Reach of Empire. That wasn't what they'd been told to do and isn't what they did. But the point is that putting on red for special occasions was part of Wolseley's mindset. So even with the Musgrave reference I think there is another step of confirmation to go.

Unfortunately I don't own or have the time to search for Musgrave's text, so as to see exactly what it says (and to rate its reliability). From the information I have available to me, the two other major components were 20 and 400 from 2nd West Yorks and 2nd Bn West India Regt (up from Sirra Leone). There was also a body of departmental troops to which your man in the photo clearly belongs.

2nd West Yorks was on its way home from India when it was turned back from Gibraltar to the Gold Coast. To my mind this might limit the opportunity for it to be issued with a special service uniform, such as Wolseley might ordinarily have insisted upon. By the same token, it probably would have had Indian khaki clothing with it, as well as, I would imagine, at least one red serge tunic or frock. This might go some way to explaining its curious mixture of dress on disembarkation. So we have red on the beach and red at Kumasi, either of which might qualify as a Wolseley 'special occasion'. That leaves the hard work in between. Musgrave might address this, but I don't know. What I can offer is the circumstantial evidence that 80 men of 2nd West Yorks fell out on the march on the first day. This is perhaps indicative but by no means proof positive that they might well have been wearing red......it's beep hot in a West African forest whatever you happen to be wearing!

Not much left to do if it's important to anybody...but this does not qualify as 'active service' in red. No shooting, no medals; no medals, not active service.

As ever

M

PS Readers of BTROE might be interested to know that in scouting this stuff out I have just learned that my old chum Bloody-Minded Pigott became the first resident at Kumasi after this affair! Poor Asante. I bet he was insufferable!!

Which reminds me....the correct modern rendering of Ashanti is Asante.
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