Of redcoats, mad dogs and Englishmen…
Scots Guards, Battle of Alma, Crimea 1854
The British Army of early times was a well funded, trained and equipped military force. Attired in sharp looking uniforms considered impracticable by today’s standards; the army had a history spanning over 350 years and was involved in numerous European, colonial conflicts and world wars.
The army played an important part in shaping Britain’s history and helped established the former British Empire.
Storming of Badajoz by the 88th Regiment of Foot. Picture by Chris Collingwood.
The Infantry army of the British Army, may be said to be exceptional in two ways.
Firstly, despite the economic stringency resulting in amalgamations of regiments, changing methods of warfare and the reduction of British power in the world, the infantry has survived essentially for a good three centuries which in turn has given it much of its moral strength and prestige.
Secondly, the British infantry has a long history of experience in campaigning in more parts of the world than any other infantry of any other country. From the Americans, Burmese, Chinese to the Zulus, indeed, from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ the British infantry has fought them all.
The most salient, indeed the most visual feature of the uniform of the British infantryman has always been his scarlet or red coat.
The prominent military writer and researcher, Michael Barthorp professes that even though “there have been exceptions to this, and in our more utilitarian age duller colours predominate, but even today it can still be observed in the full dress of the Foot Guards and, occasionally, on drummers and bandsmen at ceremonial marches.
This fine, martial colour has been worn by other elements of the British army, and indeed by some other armies, but its visual effect on enemies and allies alike has generally been to signify the presence of the British Infantry.
Before Ramillies, Louis XIV exhorted Marshal Villeroi ‘to have particular attention to that part of the line which will endure the first shock of the English troops’. When Villeroi observed the red ranks massing against his left, he reinforced according from his centre – with subsequent catastrophe for himself.
Nearly 180 years later, at Ginniss in the Sudan, the infantry were ordered to resume their red uniforms, the better to overawe the Dervishes; this was the last occasion when red was worn in action.”