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Wellington's Army

 

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The New Face of British Napoleonic Reenactment in England: The British Battalion
by Keith Raynor

       The weekend of Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th February 1999 saw the first official outing of the Composite Battalion in this country. Dispite an artic wind blowing in off the Derbyshire Hills, the two day event held at a bleak Bolsover Castle witnessed various re-enactment societies joining together to practice drill as one unit. The weather and site was in sharp contrast to the origins of the Battalion.

      In the summer of 1998, many U.K. societies portraying a variety of British Army Georgian Regiments, dating from 1793 to 1815, were invited to a festival in Malta. The event commemorated the French seizure of the Island and its subsequent liberation by British forces.

          To co-ordinate the British re-enactment societies who had joined to this sunny clime more effectively, a Composite Battalion was formed consisting of all participating Redcoats. The result was a qualified success. Under the auspices of Serjeant Jeff Peacock of the 68th Durham Light Infantry, the Composite Battalion was drilled into shape until it could perform the appropriate drill and manoeuvres of the period as a team.

         Upon returning to damp rain-swept Britain, the idea of forming the Composite Battalion on a more permanent footing gained acceptance from those who had originally experienced the initial concept and from other similar interested societies.

        By November 1998, enough interest had been expressed so as to call a meeting, which proposed to establish the Composite Battalion and to create the ground rules for its future operation. Many of the " Redcoat " societies sent along representatives to this meeting, including the large independent northern groups.

           Held in a cordial and productive manner, the meeting agreed to a series of initiatives. A code of conduct was drawn up by which the Composite Battalion was to be run. A Battalion structure was also agreed upon; The different societies forming the Battalion would according to their size, either form their own independent company if they have a large enough membership, Or, smaller sized societies would be grouped together to form other companies. Each company would have a Commander, either an Officer or Senior N.C.O. who would take ultimate responsibility for that unit. The new formation would be termed the First ( Composite ) Battalion.

            In overall command of the Battalion would be two Senior Officers. One, acting as a more informal figurehead and the other as the actual Commander at displays. These two Senior Officers serve only with the consent of the Officers belonging to the individual societies which would comprise the Battalion. To aid the Senior Officers in their endeavours, these Officers have appointed a small battalion staff who will run on military lines the Battalion following as closely the original historical staff role.. This may simply take the form of carrying orders from the Senior Officers to the Company C.O.'s. or informing the Composite Battalions Company's where they are to assemble during each days events etc. As they are not elected however, Staff Officers will have no authority within any unit.

           Along with forming the Battalions structure, the November meeting debated the need for one standard type of drill to be practiced. Whilst some societies were already conversant with Dundas's 18 Manoeuvres and the Manual of Arms; The Battalions objective was to train all its constituent members up to a high standard of Drill so as to move and act as one body.

            But, despite the agreement for a standard of drill, a practical acceptance had to be made regarding uniforms. All society representatives agreed that uniform clothing was to be as authentic as possible, though it was acknowledged that variations in uniforms would exist making a uniformity of appearance unachievable. This was due to the Battalion consisting of various societies, each one portraying a different period of the British Army during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. A variation in uniforms would thus exist to reflect the changes that took place in style between 1793 and 1815 besides differences in uniforms caused by Regimental distinctions. However, it was hoped that the overall impression of a large body of men, acting as a team, would to some extent compensate for this. After all, the Duke of Wellington himself was unconcerned with the men's appearance provided they had 60 rounds of ammunition and their muskets worked.

         So, on a cold gray day in February, between 50 and 60 Redcoats marched up and down Bolsover Castle green clutching with fumbling frozen fingers metallic musket barrels and then warm mugs of tea ( Heaven !). The societies who endured this first drill included the 23rd, 33rd, 45th, 68th and 95th. Other societies contributing to the First Battalion include the 9th,16th, 37th, 47th, and 85th Foot, plus the 12th light Dragoons, with quite a lot of other groups interested. Overall, the weekend was deemed a success, for as dusk set on Sunday, the Redcoats present were seen to be moving and acting as one. It is early days yet, but it will be interesting to see how the First Battalion
develops.

          As a final note concerning the Battalion, impetus to its formation has been stimulated due to news from across the Channel in Europe.  Over there, a European Napoleonic Society has been developing with its members formed long the lines of Army groups. Thus, there are French, Austrian, Prussian, etc, Army groups; And no matter what nationality you or your society are, if for instance you are English portraying French, you join the French Army Group and not any National ( eg. English ) group of like minded societies but different national impressions.

          Following a meeting in London on the 21st February which involved representatives of all the U.K. groups who took part in the Malta event, together with the Senior European E.N.S. members, it was agreed that the First Battalion would constitute the British Army Infantry Group of the E.N.S. In addition, the 12th Light Dragoons were invited to constitute the British Cavalry arm. The Historical Maritime Society have also been invited to join the E.N.S. This means at present, the E.N.S. now has a membership which exceeds all individual National Napoleonic re-enactment societies. At this rate, the First Battalion could well evole into the international umbrella group for all those interested in high quality British Army re-enactment of the late 18th and early 19th century's.

Copyright: Keith Raynor 1999


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