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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

The Rifle Brigade. (Prince Consort's Own). (Adapted Extracts from "A Short History of the Rifle Brigade," by Captain H. G. Parkyn.*)

The Rifle Brigade. (Prince Consort's Own). (Adapted Extracts from "A Short History of the Rifle Brigade," by Captain H. G. Parkyn.*)

A new era in the history of the British Army began with the introduction of light infantry regiments and rifle corps. A new era—not only because they were a new branch, dressed, drilled and intended for an entirely different purpose from the rest of the Infantry, but also because the establishment of such bodies constituted the first actual departure from the theories and principles on which our soldiers had been trained for years, in fact the first cutting of Army "red tape."

In the early days of the Army, indeed down to a quite recent date, the only thing required of the British soldier was that he should be a sort of mechanical being, who would march in close formation or in line and keep step, and above all not think for himself. The idea of a regiment raised and trained in direct opposition to these lines, and in which the men were taught to think and act for themselves, was looked upon with horror and distrust by our military authorities, who were soon to have their pet ideas upset by the brilliant achievements of The Rifle Corps, as the Rifle Brigade was then styled, during the first few years of its career.

In 1755, during the war in North America, Great Britain was fighting against the French, who were aided by French Canadian backwoodsmen and Indians, all expert shots and born skirmishers, who inflicted heavy losses on our troops. It was then realized that our close formations were of no use against a well-armed and active enemy who refused to come to close quarters.

The first movement in the right direction was not a success, as it consisted in the formation of a light battalion by taking all the men of the grenadier companies of the different page 576regiments then in America. The result of this was a collection of all the biggest men in the Army, the anger of whom was raised by the order to cut off the tails of their long coats as well as their much-prized pigtails. These men were, from their size and training, quite useless as light infantry, and they were soon returned to their ordinary duties.

Two years later we find that Wolfe selected all his best shots, employed them as skirmishers, and called them the light Infantry. So strong, however, was the feeling against the loose drill which was necessary for these troops, that soon afterwards the men were all returned to their ordinary regimental work, and for some years it was left to colonial and foreign corps in the British pay to fulfil the important duty of skirmishers.

In 1758, a Colonial corps, composed of loyal Canadians, and called Colonel Gage's Light Infantry, was raised. They were dressed in short brown jackets. At the close of the war they were disbanded; but the lesson of their use bore fruit, for in 1771 it was ordered that every Infantry Regiment should have a "Light Company" for the duties of skirmishing, etc. This company was to be composed of all the most active men and the best shots in the regiment, and was to be distinguished from the "Grenadier" and "Battalion" companies of the regiment by the wearing of green tufts or plumes in their shakos, short tails to their coats, and various other minor differences. On parade they always stood on the left of the regiment when in line. It was not till the outbreak of the American War of Independence that the real need was felt not only for Light Companies, but for whole regiments trained on these principles; and a force called the Legion, composed of both horse and foot, was raised in Canada. This was the first corps in the British pay to be dressed in green.

Several Light Infantry Regiments had been raised as far back as 1759, but on peace being signed they were disbanded, to be resuscitated and again disbanded, finally coming into a lasting existence in 1794. These are now represented by the 2nd Battalion Scottish Rifles and the 2nd Battalion Shropshire Light Infantry.

In 1777, Colonel Ferguson, who was the inventor of a capital breech-loading rifle, was given orders to form a Corps of Riflemen for service in America, the men being drafted from the regulars. With this Corps he did fine service, but was eventually surrounded by superior forces at King's Mountain, and he and many of his men slain.

In 1795, a suggestion was made by General Money that one-fifth of the whole of the British Infantry and half the Sup-page 577plementary Militia should be made Rifles, but this was received with such great opposition that only two companies of one corps, the North Riding of York Militia, were put into green. Even then they were not trained as riflemen.

Later on, in the last days of 1797, a Special Act of Parliament authorized the addition of a Fifth Battalion to the 60th (or Royal American) Regiment (now the King's Royal Rifle Corps), in which Foreign troops might be enlisted "to serve in America." This battalion was dressed in green coats and blue trousers, and was formed in the West Indies, in 1798, out of foreign corps which had been in the British service for some years and a detachment from a foreign rifle corps from the Isle of Wight. Although the 60th, which at this time was a red-coated regiment armed with muskets, thus had one out of its five battalions dressed and trained as riflemen, the broad fact remains that this fifth battalion was composed of foreigners enlisted for service in America, and that there was still no regiment of British Riflemen in our Army. The unfortunate Expedition to the Helder in 1799, where the lack of riflemen was keenly felt, once again proved how urgent was the necessity for such a corps.

So it was that in January, 1800, in spite of much opposition, Colonel Coote Manningham was given permission to raise an "Experimental Corps of Riflemen." For this purpose fourteen different regiments were called upon to send drafts of thirty-two men each. The detachments assembled at Horsham in April, and shortly afterwards marched to a camp in Swinley Forest for training.

In addition to these drafts, volunteers for the Rifle Corps were called for from the Fencible Regiments, each man thus recruited receiving a bounty of ten guineas. In the "History of the Rifle Brigade," by Colonel Verner, it is stated that 396 men were thus obtained from Fencible Corps, and that out of this number no fewer than 230 were from Highland or Scottish Corps; thus originated the "Highland Company" that existed in the early days of the Regiment and during the Peninsular War.

The dress of the officers of The Rifle Corps in 1800 was almost identical with that of the Light Dragoon officer.

Coote Manningham was the first Colonel of the Rifle Corps, and is justly looked upon as the founder of the Rifle Brigade.

Colonel Manningham wrote his famous "Regulations for the Rifle Corps" in the year 1800. This book formed the basis of the system upon which all British Riflemen were organized and disciplined and taught their duties in camp, in quarters, and in the field. His name will endure for all time owing to page 578the old Riflemen's song which has been sung in the Regiment from its early days:

Oh, Colonel Coote Manningham, he was the Man,
For he invented a Capital Plan.
He raised a Corps of Rifle Men
To Fight for England's Glory.

He dressed them all in Jackets of Green
And placed them where they could not be seen,
And sent them in front, an invisible screen
To Fight for England's Glory.

Etc., etc.

The "Experimental Corps of Riflemen" was in action for the first time on August 25th, 1800, when a Strong detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart fought against the Spaniards at Ferrol. When the officers of the Corps were subsequently gazetted, all their commissions bore this date. For these two reasons British Riflemen have ever since observed August 25th as the "Regimental Birthday."

Early in 1803 the Rifle Corps was directed to be styled the 95th Rifles. Lieutenant-Colonel Sydney Beckwith was now placed in command, and in the spring, Colonel Coote Manningham, in accordance with his own Standing Orders, gave a series of Lectures at Shorncliffe Camp to the Officers on the Duties of Riflemen and Light Infantry on Active Service. These were subsequently printed, and upon these, coupled with the "Regulations" already described, the 95th Rifles were trained. Later, a Camp of Exercise was formed at Shorncliffe under the personal direction of Sir John Moore, and here, together with the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry (now 1st and 2nd Battalions, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) the Regiment was trained as a Brigade by the General under whom a few years later they were to gain such undying glory.

In 1805 a second, and four years later a third Battalion was raised at Canterbury, and so popular was the Regiment that in three days over 1,100 recruits were obtained for the Regiment from the Militia.

In 1816 the Regiment was taken out of the numbered Regiments of the Line and constituted a separate Regiment, styled the Rifle Brigade, the only instance in the history of the British Army where such a distinction has been conferred on a Regiment.

Two years later, on the death of Sir David Dundas, the Duke of Wellington was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment, and at the State funeral of the Duke in 1852, the page 5792nd Battalion, which had been brought from Canterbury to London for the occasion, headed the procession from Chelsea Hospital to St. Paul's.

The Duke was succeeded as Colonel in Chief of the Regiment by His Royal Highness the Prince Consort.

During the Crimean War the Rifle Depot was formed at Winchester, where it has remained ever since, except when the old barracks were destroyed by fire in 1894 and the Depot was sent to Gosport as a temporary measure, returning to Winchester in 1904.

In 1857 a fourth Battalion was added to the Regiment.

1861 saw the death of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, and in the following year, Queen Victoria, "desiring to perpetuate the remembrance of her beloved husband's connection with the Rifle Brigade," commanded that the words "The Prince Consort's Own" should be added to the title of the Regiment.

Field-Marshal H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, became Colonel-in-Chief in 1868.

In 1877 the helmet was introduced as a universal head-dress for all infantry other than Highland and Fusilier regiments, but was not taken into wear by the Rifle Brigade until 1884. This head-dress was very unpopular in the Regiment, and after a few years was discarded for the Rifle cap.

In 1880 H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught was appointed Colonel-in-Chief, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales being transferred to the command of the three Regiments of Household Cavalry.

Upon the augmentation of the Army in 1914, the new "Service" Battalions of the Regiment were raised. Eight of these Battalions and the four Regular Battalions were actively engaged with the Expeditionary Force.

The original Badge of the Rifle Corps (1800-1803) was the Crown and Bugle Horn. This design, with the addition of the number "95" between the Bugle Horn strings, was its Badge when the title was changed from "The Rifle Corps" to that of the "95th, or Rifle Regiment," and in consequence it was under this Badge that the Regiment fought throughout the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

When, in 1816, the Regiment was taken out of the numbered Regiments and was ordered to be styled "The Rifle Brigade," the numeral "95" was replaced by the letters R.B. This is the Badge as at present worn on the officers' buttons.

The same Badge, without the letters R.B. (which is practically identical with the original badge worn by the Rifle Corps) now forms the centre of the Regimental Badge of the page 580Regiment. It is also displayed on the boss of the full head-dress (the Rifle cap) and is found on the Bandsman's music pouches.

Many fresh Battle Honours having been granted to the Regiment in connection with the Peninsular War, the need was felt for some means of displaying them, for, as is well known, the Rifle Brigade, unlike other regiments, has no colours on which the honours may be inscribed. This led to the evolution of the present badge, a Maltese Cross surrounded by a laurel-wreath and surmounted by a crown. In the centre of the cross is the old Bugle and Crown, encircled by a ring bearing the title of the Regiment. The major honours, Waterloo and Peninsula, are inscribed below the greater crown and at the base of the badge, the remainder on the arms of the cross and on the ribands entwined about the wreath. In the main, the badge appears to have been copied from the Cross of the Order of the Bath. This Order had been reconstructed into three branches in 1815, and the three Colonels of the Regiment at the time had had the Military Branch conferred upon them.