This month, new volunteer, John Mills, tells us about his chosen object from the museum’s collection.
“When I was asked to write about an exhibit from the museum, I was drawn to a particular conflict which greatly interests me – The Crimean War (1853 to 1856).
My object of the month is a Private soldier’s uniform, with field equipment including a wooden water bottle and a knapsack.
The jacket is incredibly rare; most would have been destroyed at the time, due to their condition, or infestation.
‘The Army is covered in dirt, vermin and rags,’ wrote one soldier in 1855. ‘You would not know what nation they belong to.’
The jacket is actually called a ‘coatee’. It was tight fitting, waist length at the front, with a short tail at the back. It had replaced the long tail coat in 1797. However, it proved unpopular with soldiers during the Crimean war and was superseded by the more practical tunic style jacket.
The official adoption of the ‘red coat’ dates from 1645, with the raising of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘New Model Army’ in the English Civil War. Its continued use after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was in some way due to the low price of red dyes at that time, and there’s no basis in the myth that red was favoured so it would not show blood stains, as, in fact, blood shows up as a black stain on red clothing.
The red coats were lined with contrasting colours to provide distinctive facings (lapels, cuffs, collars). 1747 saw the first series of clothing regulations and royal warrants that set the various colours and distinctions for each regiment.
The last time time the Green Howards fought in red was on the 30th December 1885 at the Battle of Ginnis, during the ill-fated Gordon relief expedition at Khartoum in the Sudan.”