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"Did British volunteer units have flags?" Topic

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Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 5:58 a.m. PST

I'd very much doubt flags were authorised, but Prussian Landwehr had unofficial flags a lot of the time, so it did happen.

Some volunteer units were the size of a battalion, i.e. 600+, and considered to be "Fit to serve with troops of the line". If so, and given flags were supposed to be a rallying point and an orientation indicator to commanders, how did units like these manage without one?

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 6:13 a.m. PST

It depends what you mean by 'volunteer units'. There were no 'volunteer' units with that title as such during the Napoleonic Wars. That movement came later in the Century. There was no real equivalent of the Landwehr.

However, strictly speaking all British soldiers were volunteers as there was no conscription. During our period there were yeomanry, militia and fencible units but they were only for home defence and they did not serve abroad. They did have colours.

Hope that helps.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 6:30 a.m. PST

Er, well there definitely were volunteers and volunteer units.

The periodic Returns, Presented To The House Of Commons, Of The Volunteer Corps Of Cavalry, Infantry, And Artillery describe all of them. There used to be a .pdf you could download (which I have) but it no longer exists. The vast majority of these volunteers by headcount were infantry. Yeomanry cavalry were maybe 5 to 10% of the total, though it varies by locale. There were about 300,000 of them. The official return used the titles they gave themselves, including quite a lot of "regiments".

So these are the units where I'm trying to figure out if they had flags. It's likely too much to establish what unit had what colour, but the 1st Royal East India Volunteers (their actual name) of Essex / Herts numbered 721 all ranks in March 1806 (excluding 43 not present when inspected) so some of these were substantial units and as such may have needed a colour like their line brethren.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 6:45 a.m. PST

4th, please let me know if you turn up anything on the Percy Tenantry Volunteers--2,000 men, horse foot (including rifles) and guns, all drawn from the Percy estates. They're still on my list to build if I can ever get enough information.

Stoppage15 Oct 2020 6:52 a.m. PST

Fascinating document:

Google Books – Volunteer Corps of Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery

- Counties (English and Scottish mixed, with Irish separate) split down into towns or hundreds.
- Military commandants
- Lancashire and Yorkshire providing thousands of troops.
- Yeomanries organised per county – not towns
- Artillery companies mainly in the South – especially fishing ports and towns upstream.
- 460,000 of which 80,000 (approx 1/6th) from Little Britain.
- Some ports on south coast not represented – assumed RN sucked up all manpower.

Stoppage15 Oct 2020 6:56 a.m. PST

Page 41:

Percy Tenantry Lord Percy, Col,
Number of Troops: 6
Establishment per Troop: 40
NMumber of companies: 17
Establishment per Comp: 63
TERMS OF SERVICE: Military District

No doubt familiar with:

Wiki – Militia and Volunteers of Northumberland

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 7:32 a.m. PST

@ robert

They feature in the pdf I have, which expands on Stoppage's summary. They were all in the Northern District (Northumberland) under Brigadier-General Ker.

The Percy Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Earl Percy, had an establishment of 240 other ranks organised into 6 troops. The March 1806 returns show 20 absent with leave and 45 without, so that 175 rank and file were present. They further had 4 captains, 9 subalterns, 1 "staff", 14 serjeants and 6 trumpeters / drummers for a mustered strength of 209. That's presumably one trumpeter per troop. They provided their own horses (you were let off horse tax if you did so). The state of their horses, arms & accoutrements, and clothing were all "Good", and they were assessed as "Fit to act with troops of the line".

The Percy Tenantry Riflemen numbered 1,071 of whom 1,039 were mustered on inspection day. There were also 3 field officers, 15 captains, 32 subalterns, 3 staff, 53 serjeants, and 17 drummers for a total of 1,162 in 17 companies, which is an average of 68 men per company all ranks. Presumably there was one drummer per company. They were rated "Fit to act with light troops".

Finally, the Percy Tenantry Artillery was 24 other ranks, a captain and a serjeant in one troop. Their kit was described as Very Good and they were thought "Fit to act with troops of the line".

Uniforms, complete guess. I'm going with Tarleton light dragoon style for yeomanry, RHA for artillery if I need any (coastal battery crews?), and a mix of Strelets American Militia in Winter Dress 1812 and British Line Infantry In Egypt for the volunteers. Two ranks deep? Three ranks deep? No idea.

The go-to title on this is The British Volunteer Movement, 1794-1814 by Austin Gee (2003) but it's OOP and starts at £200.00 GBP or so second hand, which is better spent on figures.

Handlebarbleep15 Oct 2020 7:39 a.m. PST

Home Defence was (and still is) the province of the Home Office, not the Ministry for War (or the modern MOD). The Colours, Standards and Guidons of the Militia and Yeomanry at this period were actually regulated by the Home office, not Horseguards. Many of the volunteers had colours presented by local dignitaries and they were technically raised by the Lord Lieutenencies who granted commissions on behalf of the crown. Indeed until recently Lords Lieutenants frequently were Presidents or members of TAVRA's (now RFCAs) and the chairs of which were intimately involved in the recruitment of Reserves and Territorial Officers.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 7:55 a.m. PST


Yes – the volunteer units only came under army command in the event of actual hostilities. They were self-regulating organisations and not really capable of operating with other volunteer formations.

Handlebarbleep15 Oct 2020 8:18 a.m. PST

@4th Cuirassier

Technically still true today. I remember the pipmply-faced probationer Police Constable turning up to the Exercise KP on Hard Rock and being a bit put out that the 100 or so heavily armed members of the Home Service Force company were under the impression that under Police Primacy, HE was in charge!

The raising of local forces under the Lord Lieutenancies goes back to William the Conqueror. They still are the Sovreign's representatives. It wasn't until the late 20th century that we removed the Earl Marshal of the Kingdom from what was known as the Council of TAVRAs.

On another thread, someone accused Georgian Britain of being feudal. It still is!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 9:09 a.m. PST

Thank you, 4th. The artillery in question was two 3-pd "flying artillery" attached to the cavalry, and they also had gun limbers and were described as making long practice marches, so I'm figuring proper guns and probably block trail. (Most of the volunteer and militia artillery of this period had guns mounted like ships' cannon, so once the invading French captured them, they couldn't carry them along at marching pace--a cynical, but probably accurate, assessment. I think the only other exception was London's Honourable Artillery Company.)

We've got a portrait of a young Hugh, Earl Percy (the Duke of Nothumberland's son) in Tarleton, dark green jacket and black facings, so the cavalry must have strongly resembled Tarleton's British Legion. The infantry--and this held me up for years--are all described elsewhere as "Percy Tenantry Riflemen" so the dark green jacket, black facings and stovepipe shako at Alnwick Castle probably covers all of them. Thank Heaven for the white duck trousers, so they can be told from the 95th! (There are differences in the shako--but nothing I'd attempt below 28mm.) Senior NCO has a half-pike, too. Put that together with the drummer, and it's the sort of unit you have to buy in pieces.

Agree probably RHA helmet for the artillery troop, but whether they were in the same green with black facings as everyone else--well, I'm too biased to say. I'd really like them to be.

Ah! The Duke of Northumberland who raised them is the "Earl Percy" of the Lexington-Concord and Long Island campaigns of the AWI. So the troops may have been amateurs, but Northumberland himself was a thorough professional.

von Winterfeldt15 Oct 2020 10:21 a.m. PST

no colours for Prussian Reserve regiments – I wouldn't count that as many.

Here and there some Landwehr or other units got colours from their home town, but the Prussian King denied them to be carried on the battle field.

I know from just one unit, which carried such a colour all the time in a waggon and just displayed it once at their home coming parade in 1815 in their home town.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 10:39 a.m. PST

@ Robert

That's really interesting to know. I have yet to delve into the uniformology of the volunteers but the infantry are tricky.

The government provided the arms and accoutrements, but the picture re uniform is less clear. As the volunteers were funded by local public subscription, I would guess they got as much uniform as their locale or commanding officer was prepared to pay for. This could be anything from an armband to the rather dramatic-sounding Percy Tenantry rifle rig. Did they really all have rifles though? All 1,200 of them?

Cavalry are easier since there are enough portraits of contemporary yeomanry officers to make some reasonable guesses about these units in general. Light dragoon jackets in red, blue or (you've shown me) dark green with a Tarleton hat seem to have been the favoured rig. The horses could be in non-military coat colours like dun or blue roan.

I have been to the HAC and I am sure that was where I have seen prints and drawings of them in a quasi-RHA rig. There was also a London company of longbowmen (now there's something you don't see in many Napoleonic battles).

The fun part of this is that sometimes you can Google the commander's name and the town the unit was based in, and you can find his house (and probable unit muster point) on Streetview. I did this with Major Mascall of the Ashford Light Infantry.

Percy Tenantry15 Oct 2020 11:27 a.m. PST

I've spent the last 4yrs researching the Percy tenantry and am at present writing a book. I can confirm that the cavalry had flags (we have one in the collection at Alnwick) The Artillery wore blue the same as the RHA ( but with black facings) as this was a government stipulation from 1803 that Infantry wore Red, Riflemen green and artillery Blue. You are correct with regards to the Riflemen, they had the same uniform and equipment as the 95th apart from the white pantaloons. I'm happy to answer any other questions.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 11:35 a.m. PST

Hi Percy

Well that settles it, I've got to have a unit of volunteer artillery with black facings and 3-pounders :-)

Do you have any sense for how widely observed the uniform stipulations were? Where the Returns say clothing is "poor" it's unclear whether this means there's a marked lack of regulation uniform, or they have the right kit but it's falling apart, or they're in their civvies and those are falling apart.

Percy Tenantry15 Oct 2020 11:36 a.m. PST

Just to correct a few of the other comments – the cavalry and Rifleman had buglers not drummers. Despite the manakin photo of a Sgt holding a halberd, they did not carry them. We don't exactly know what the gun carriages for the 3 pdrs looked like as it especially made and was supposed to be better than the RHA ones. It was not a block trail though.
The cavalry were actually issued with grey overalls, the white breeches must have been privately bought and only used for inspections etc.

Percy Tenantry15 Oct 2020 11:39 a.m. PST

Hi 4th cuirassier, their uniforms were well kept. They had at least 3 issued of kit between 1803 -1814. We dont know what the 1798 -1802 uniform was for the infantry, but it appears to have been green, perhaps similar to a chausser.

Dennis15 Oct 2020 12:18 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier (and anyone else interested):

While copies of "The British Volunteer Movement, 1794-1814" by Gee may be a bit dear to purchase (but see below), there are library copies almost everywhere-my quick and non-exhaustive search turned up more than 200 locations worldwide with copies including about 6 libraries with copies within about 100 miles of my US midwest residence. I don't know if the UK has interlibrary loan-I see no reason why it wouldn't-but I'd bet I could get a library copy delivered to my local library w/i a week or so, subject to problems due to wuflu. Also, I found a copy in very good condition available for about $100 USD through Amazon.

And it looks like the first 80 pages or so are available on google books.

Brian Smaller15 Oct 2020 2:05 p.m. PST

Well this volunteer unit certainly had flags. The Loamshire Volunteers.

Stoppage15 Oct 2020 3:57 p.m. PST


Home Service Force – those were the geezers with ponchos and moustaches defending strategic assets that I was demonstrating against as "civil mob". (Catterick area 1985)

Handlebarbleep15 Oct 2020 5:25 p.m. PST


Yes, a fine body of men in a long and noble tradition of those willing to answer their nation's call in time of need.

I bet the Spetznaz were crapping themselves!

Although subject to ridicule and characature then and some modern reservations aside, we'll never know how they would have coped with a large-scale Revolutionary or Napoleonic invasion. However, at least one unit proudly bore a battle honour on their colours "Fishguard"

Major Snort16 Oct 2020 1:45 a.m. PST

Many of the Volunteer Infantry units carried colours.

Although it does not describe what these colours looked like, the book "Loyal Volunteers of London and Environs", originally published in 1799, notes whether many of the units had colours or not.

Many of these units had colours, some had none and were not expected to be issued with any, and others were expecting to be presented with their colours in the near future. Even some of the small one-company units had, or were expecting, colours.

Regarding armament, although the Board of Ordnance did issue muskets to many Volunteer units, including poor-quality old Prussian arms in a few cases, many units purchased their own, often of better quality. Some units purchased rifles rather than muskets.

dibble16 Oct 2020 1:49 a.m. PST

I have an excellent book written by James. D Geddes called 'Colours of British Regiments' (Volume Three: Militia, Fencibles, Volunteers, and Local Militia) 288 pages, A4 size paper.

All the illustrations are colour photos (not all are very good) of extant colours from all those types mentioned in the title, and yes, the book contains hundreds of them as well as written descriptions of those that did not survive but were catalogued in county archives.

So! If the OP is looking for a particular unit, I may be able to help

PS. I also have some examples of guidons too.

dibble16 Oct 2020 3:08 a.m. PST

Be aware that there were countless variations of dress for all the volunteer/Fencible/Local Militia units and the Militia and Yeomanry were not immune either. I have been studying them all for some years and believe me when I say that there's a good reason why there has been no definitive book on the subject. Its a bloody nightmare…

Stoppage16 Oct 2020 3:27 a.m. PST
robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2020 3:51 a.m. PST

Thank you, Percy Tenantry! Please let us know when the book is out.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2020 4:09 a.m. PST

@ dibble

Well, it's early days, but right now I'm tentatively interested in this lot:

Royal Spelthorne Legion
Hampstead Volunteers
Loyal Southwark Volunteers
Highgate Volunteers

St. Giles & St. George's Yeomanry
Clerkenwell Yeomanry
Royal Westminster Yeomanry
Loyal North Britons

Anything on uniforms and flags gratefully received…if none known, one can always make it up. For example, here's my made-up flag of the Loyal Southwark Volunteers:

dibble16 Oct 2020 12:40 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

I'll let you know about that little lot in the next week. I have 'if Mr memory is correct' some information of what you seek. I have posted all the London Volunteer plates here:

TMP link

You will have to do a lot of scrolling down to find the many pictures that I posted of the Volunteers, Militia etc. Be aware that I'm updating all that info, correcting errors, posting new examples etc, and will be reposting it all, but this time they will be on separate threads. One for regular foot and Artillery Regiments, one for cavalry/ Horse Artillery and I shall do the same for the Militia and Volunteer units.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 4:43 a.m. PST

4th, if you follow dibble's link and scroll down far enough, you can find at least two volunteer colors.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 11:35 a.m. PST

That is a stonking set of images.

It looks like the Tarleton was all the rage. I wonder what 1:72 / 20mm figures one would use? Possibly these?


dibble18 Oct 2020 12:53 p.m. PST

When I eventually get around to it, things will be more refined when I post the updated version on multiple threads instead of 'all-in-one'…:)

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2020 8:24 a.m. PST

By the way, my interest in the Clerkenwell Volunteers was sparked by the fact that they were commanded by a Colonel Magniac.

One imagines the G was silent.

Colonel Maniac's son founded Jardine Matheson.

dibble22 Oct 2020 10:52 p.m. PST

Loyal North Britons?

Cecil C.P. Lawton has this to say on pages 87-88 of 'A History of the Uniforms of the British Army':

Officers wore full Highland dress of Scarlet jacket faced yellow, silver laced, fur sporran and kilt in government tartan. The hose was red and white and head-dress the feathered bonnet.

The men, however, wore grey Breeches and half-boots, the feathered bonnet and tartan fly on the shoulder.
The Light company had wings, red silver laced waistcoats, and green feathers in their bonnets.

There was also a Rifle company in tartan jackets, with a fly, green breeches, short gaiters, and stovepipe cap with green plume and cord.

I have these pictures:


Lieutenant-Colonel, The Duke of Sussex

Same again

And a Light Company Officer, unfortunately, in black and white.

And this miniature said to be a young Duke of Sussex in a fascinating 'Light infantry company, tartan (Inverness) jacket of the same Northern Association.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2020 5:09 a.m. PST

Many thanks for these Dibble. There was me worrying my volunteer light infantry would look too much like regular light infantry. Tartan coats indeed!

dibble23 Oct 2020 6:00 a.m. PST

The light infantry with the tartan Jacket was the 'Rifle Company'

42flanker23 Oct 2020 7:28 a.m. PST

@ Percy tenantry

"We don't exactly know what the gun carriages for the 3 pdrs looked like as it especially made and was supposed to be better than the RHA ones. It was not a block trail though.

It's a long shot- the other end of the country to be precise- but in 1800 it was reported :
"Yesterday the 3d Regiment of East India Volunteers paraded at their usual drill ground, and marched thence to Sydenham Common.. Several manoeuvres were tried with a curricle gun, which appears to be a very useful appendage to a battalion, particularly in a woody country."

'Curricle gun' was an ambiguous term but tended to mean a light gun with twin shafts instead of a trail, into which the rear of two horses pulling in tandem' could be harnessed directly, thereby dispensing with the need for a limber. It had superseded the earlier term 'galloper which proved overly optimistic.' Experiments with 6 pdrs on curricle carriages in 1793 had shown them unsatisfactory for horse artillery, proving unstable and awkward to bring and out of action, but we find them in 1798 providing light support with the Crown forces in Ireland during the United Irishmen rebellion. 3 pdr curricles were also in evidence in Holland in 1794-85. In neither case did the guns meet with approval but the appeal of the 'curricle' arrangement seems to have endured for volunteers even though they did not prove to be as nifty as they looked. Perhaps these snazzy 'buggy'guns were the sort of thing that appealed to the dandy Duke of Northumberland.

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