6 min read

Sixteen objects and stories from the New National Army Museum 3

Following a three-year, £23.75m redevelopment The National Army Museum in London re-opens its doors with 2,500 objects displayed across five themed galleries. Here are some of the star items

The document that launched the English Civil War

a photo of a document written in Old English bearing the signature of Charles I

Warrant signed by King Charles I at Nottingham August 22, 1642.© National Army Museum

This warrant marks the beginning of the First Civil War (1642-1646). It was signed by King Charles I at Nottingham on 22 August 1642 and authorises Lord Willoughby of Eresby to raise the regiment that became the King’s Lifeguard.

In 1641 the Militia Ordinance had given Parliament control of raising troops, but the King bypassed Parliament’s authority by using an ancient system known as Commission of Array. By this means he granted a commission to an officer in a specific area to recruit the local people.

The warrant also raised the crucial question: who controlled the Army – Crown or Parliament? On the same day he signed this warrant, the King raised his royal standard at Nottingham, effectively declaring war on Parliament. In the five years which followed, the Royal and Parliamentary armies were transformed from amateur soldiers into efficient fighting machines.

The first tartan uniform

a photo of a tartan tunic

Coat of the Royal Company of Archers, King’s Body Guard for Scotland, 1822 (c) © National Army Museum

The Royal Company of Archers came into being in 1676 when it was formed for the encouragement of archery. At the beginning of the 18th Century it received a new charter from Queen Anne, and under King George IV the Company was given the additional title of ‘The King’s Body Guard for Scotland’.

It has since acted in that capacity during visits of the Sovereign to Edinburgh. The Captain-General is the Gold Stick for Scotland, (ceremonial bodyguard to the Sovereign) and takes his place at coronations and other ceremonies. The Royal Company of Archers also hold the distinction of being the first military body of troops in the service of the British Crown to wear tartan in their uniform.

This version of the uniform dates to c1822 and was utilised for George IV’s visit to Edinburgh that year. It was updated from the original red based pattern introduced in 1713.

A Nazi car pennant

a photo of a red triangular pennant with a Nazi swastika in its middle

Nazi car pennant 1945 (c.) © National Army Museum

This pennant was obtained by Private Robert Powis, 1/7th Battalion The Queens Royal Regiment, during his service in Germany. He was in Berlin for the victory parade, having fought his way across North West Europe (1944-1945) with 131st Lorried Infantry Brigade, part of 7th Armoured Division whose exploits in in North Africa made it famous as the Desert Rats. Powis had earlier served with 131st Brigade in North Africa and Italy.

After taking part in the early part of the Italian campaign, the Brigade was withdrawn and took part in the invasion of Europe and was in the vanguard when the Allies landed in Normandy, on D-Day, June 6th 1944.

The eighteenth century cap designed for lobbing grenades

a photo of a large bonnet with go;d and red decoration and a crown at its apex and

Officer’s grenadier mitre cap associated with 43rd Regiment of Foot, 1740 (c). © National Army Museum

This officer’s cap displays the white horse and motto of the house of Hanover, the Royal family of the time. Translated the motto reads: ‘Nor do difficulties deter’. Until a Royal Warrant in 1751 forbade it, the Colonel of the Regiment could put whatever device or badge he chose on the grenadier cap.

This kind of brimless ‘mitre cap’ was in service from the 1740s to the 1760s and was developed specifically to allow grenadiers to lob a round iron grenade without catching the side of the wide brimmed bicorn hats worn by many soldiers of the eighteenth century.

The hat later evolved into the bearskin, which is still worn by grenadier and guards regiments in armies across the world.

An early symbol of the Germans in WWI

a photo of a leather helmet with spike on its top and an eagle motif on its front

German picklehaube helmet © National Army Museum

An enduring symbol of the earlier days of the First World War, the German Pickelhaube with its leather helmet and brass spike and motif, originates in the Prussian helmets supposedly invented in 1842 by King Frederick William of Prussia and adopted by all Prussian soldiers in the 1840s.

As the First World War progressed and leather stock dwindled, pickelhaubes were made of felt and other ersatz materials – all of which afforded little or no protection to the wearer. The helmets were eventually phased out on the frontline in 1916 in favour of the equally iconic 1916 stahlhelm, which with its steels construction and flared out neck and side afforded better ballistic protection to its wearer.

Cromwell’s regal portrait

a photo of Oliver Cromwell being fitted in a suit of black armour by a young page

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, unknown artist after Robert Walker, approx. 1653.© National Army Museum

A Member of Parliament before the British Civil Wars, Oliver Cromwell became a soldier and rose to be commander of Parliament’s cavalry. By the time of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, he had become the foremost general in Britain. A brutal campaign in Ireland to subdue a rebellion there (1649-1650) was marked by brutal massacres at Drogheda and Wexford and today Cromwell remains one of the most enigmatic and controversial figures in British history.

Despite having fought to defend its sovereignty, he later used his military power to disband Parliament and rule in its place as Lord Protector from 1653 to his death in 1658. Upon the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 his body was disinterred and, with other regicides, his head was placed upon a pole above Westminster Hall.

The portrait has suffered as a result of its sitter’s controversial career, having been slashed across the face. Ironically, the artist Walker borrowed the pose from the work of Van Dyck, King Charles I’s painter.

The first official representation of black soldiers in the British Army

an embroidered cloth featuring two Georgian era West Indian soldiers flanking a crest with 4th regt at its centre

Regimental Colour, 4th West India Regiment, 1795-1804. © National Army Museum

Regimental Colour, 4th West India Regiment, 1795-1804. © National Army MuseumThis is a fragment is from the flag that the West India Regiment carried in battle. Museum curators think it’s the first official representation of black soldiers in the army.

Unlike other colonial units, such as the regiments raised in India, the West India Regiment was part of the regular British Army because it was raised specifically to wage war in the Caribbean.

The 4th West India Regiment was raised in 1795 as Nicholl’s Regiment of Foot and served at Martinique (1809) and Guadeloupe (1810) during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) before disbandment in 1819. The regiment was re-established in 1862 going on to serve in the Gold Coast (1863-1864), British Honduras (1866) and Gambia (1866) before final disbandment in 1869.

The brave Sepoy awarded a VC

a portriat of a sikh soldier in service dress and chest full of medals including a Victoria Cross

Khudadad Khan VC, approx. 1935. © National Army Museum

Khudadad Khan fought for the British in the Indian Army during the First World War. In 1915 he became the first Indian soldier to win the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for military bravery.

Just 26 years old when his regiment, the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, British Indian Army, was thrown into the line during the First battle of Ypres in October 1914 Khan found himself heavily outnumbered as he manned a machine gun post.

As all around him were killed the young Sepoy continued working his gun and was eventually left for dead by the enemy. Despite being severely wounded he crawled back to his regiment during the night. Thanks to his bravery, and that of his fellow Baluchis, the Germans were held up just long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive and stem their advance towards the vital ports of Boulogne in France and Nieuport in Belgium.

A uniform relic from the Battle of the Somme

a photo of an army officer's breast tunic with an arm missing

Service tunic worn by Captain George Johnson, July 1 1916. © National Army Museum

At 7.30 am on July 1 1916, after a seven day barrage and following the detonation of several huge mines, 14 British divisions attacked the German lines of the Somme in Northern France.

Among the British soldiers going over the top to face the withering hail of German machine gun fire that day was Temporary Captain George Johnson of the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment). The battalion suffered particularly sweeping losses during the 8th Division’s attack at Mash Valley near Ovillers-La Boisselle.

One of the few men to actually reach the second line of German trenches, Johnson was hit in his chest, pelvis and arm. The sleeve of his uniform had to be cut away so that medics could attend to his injuries.

The British suffered over 57,000 men killed or wounded during the day, but Johnson – a career soldier who had risen through the ranks and served in the Boer War – survived and continued his military service before being discharged from service on health grounds in 1921. He died just shy of his 90th birthday in 1968.

Horse shit cigarettes

a photo of a plain white emptypacket of cigarettes with the word Horseshit Cigarettes on the cover

‘Horse Shit’ cigarettes, about 1945 © National Army Museum

Soldiers collect items that appeal to their sense of humour. Sergeant Edward Alfred Bickle, who served with the Royal Fusiliers between 1939 and 1945 collected these during his service in the Second World War.

Cigarettes were a mainstay of the British Army in the war and were readily available both as ration issue and from the NAAFI stores, but the quality varied. The Victory V brand – made in India and issued mainly in India and to soldiers in the North African and Mediterranean theatres, are remembered by some soldiers as offering a particularly unpleasant smoke.

This spoof packet claims the cigarettes are manufactured from ‘the very choicest horse shit from only contented horses. Free from piles and clinkers etc…” The side of the packet reads: “20 shit hot cigarettes”.

The order that launched the Charge of the Light Brigade

a photo of a handwritten note

The order that launched the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, 1854. © National Army Museum

The Battle of Balaklava took place during the Crimean War (1854-56) on 25 October 1854. It witnessed one of the most famous acts of battlefield bravery, the Thin Red Line, and one of the most infamous blunders in military history, the Charge of the Light Brigade.

To prevent the Russians moving the guns they had captured earlier in the battle, Lord Raglan issued an order to the Light Brigade to retrieve them. He was still waiting on the reinforcements from Sevastopol to arrive, so the light horsemen were the only troops available to him.

But the cavalry commanders, who lacked Raglan’s view of the battlefield, were uncertain as to which guns his order referred to. What’s more they could only see a Russian artillery battery at the end of a heavily defended valley.

With artillery and infantry firing on them both flanks they advanced. Some of the horsemen succeeded in reaching the Russian guns at the end of the valley and even drove the enemy manning them into retreat before charging the Russian cavalry beyond.

Ultimately around 260 men of the Light Brigade’s 673 were killed or wounded, and 475 horses were lost.

A model view of Waterloo

An aerail view of a model showing the Battle of Waterloo

The Siborne Model. © National Army Museum

In 1830 Captain William Siborne obtained official approval for his suggestion that a model be constructed of the Battle of Waterloo. He took leave from the Army, undertook an eight-month survey of the battlefield and sent a circular letter to surviving British officers who had served at Waterloo.

The model is based on where units had been at ‘about 7 PM, but it is clear Siborne was highly selective of the evidence he chose to use. Much of the area occupied by the advancing Prussians is excluded and the model was clearly intended to be viewed from the British position. Nevertheless it is a magnificent modelling achievement, and along with the archive of letters to Siborne which was its by-product, forms a unique piece of historical evidence.

It was completed in Ireland in 1838 and shipped to England in 39 sections and assembled for public display in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. Although the model attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors, paying one shilling each, receipts did not cover Siborne’s costs and he was left seriously in debt. The model was returned to Ireland in 1841 and placed in storage.

In 1851, a subscription was raised among the British regiments depicted and the model was purchased and later became part of the Royal United Service Museum. When that museum was forced to close, much of its collection, including the model, was presented to the National Army Museum.

A child’s memento from a massacre

a photo of a small leather shoe

Child’s shoe retrieved from the well at Cawnpore, 1857 © National Army Museum

On 6 June 1857, during the Indian Mutiny (1857-1859), rebel forces under Nana Sahib laid siege to Cawnpore. The garrison of British and Indians, half of whom were women and children, held out for 20 days before surrendering on the promise of a safe conduct. As they embarked on the boats which were to carry them to safety, almost all the men were murdered, the remnant were later shot.

The women and children were returned as captives to Cawnpore, where they were later massacred on the approach of a British relief column. Many of the bodies were thrown into a well in the middle of the compound.

British soldiers carried such mementoes from Cawnpore into later battles to fuel their desire for vengeance.

The counter culture digs military

a part colourised photo of Jimi Hendrix wearing a purple scarf and military jacket

Jimi Hendrix, Gered Mankowitz, 1967, (c.) Gered Mankowitz © National Army Museum

The 1960s saw a flowering of military attire – particularly the colourful dress uniforms of the Hussars and the Guards, adopted by the counter-culture.

For this iconic shoot Jimi Hendrix, then residing in London, wore a Hussar’s jacket, or pelisse, purchased from the shop ‘I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet’.

One of the signature shops of swinging London, at it’s height the shop’s customers included John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. The boutique first opened in Portobello Road with further branches opening across the city including the Kings Road and Carnaby Street – each selling dandy military attire to hippies.

Haig’s poppy

a photo of a poppy made from wire and fabric with the words Haig's fund at its centre

Earl Haig Fund (Scotland) badge, about 1930. © National Army Museum

John McCrae saw poppies flowering on the devastated battlefields of the First World War and wrote In Flanders Fields in 1915. The Royal British Legion adopted the poppy symbol and the Haig Fund was set up in 1921 by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig to assist ex-servicemen and remebrance poppies are sold by its members and the British Legion until this day.

Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory was founded in March 1926, shortly after the Royal British Legion’s factory in London at the suggestion of Countess Haig. The black button at the centre of the poppy bears the words Haig’s Fund. Poppies today bear the words ‘Poppy Appeal’.


a painting of soliders carrying a coofin draped with a union jack across a tarmac

Repatriation, Helmand, Afghanistan, February 2009, Matthew Cook. Copyright Matthew Cook

This watercolour and acrylic ink by Matthew Cook, part of an extensive collection of artworks held by the museum, shows troops carrying the Union Jack draped coffin of Corporal Daniel Nield, 1st Battalion The Rifles.

Deployed as the Forward Air Controller in a Fire Support Team of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, Corporal Nield was killed as a result of an explosion, believed to have been caused by a Rocket Propelled Grenade, during a contact with enemy forces north of Musa Qaleh in Helmand province, Afghanistan on Friday January 30 2009.


National Army Museum

London, Greater London

The National Army Museum is a leading authority on the British Army and its impact on society past and present. We examine the army's role as protector, aggressor and peacekeeper from the British Civil Wars to the modern day. Through our collections we preserve and share stories of ordinary people…

























3 comments on “Sixteen objects and stories from the New National Army Museum

Leave a Reply to Peter MacDonald Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *