Corporal, 21st Lancers 1898


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This is the khaki uniform of a Corporal in 21st (Empress of India's) Lancers, as worn in the Battle of Omdurman 1898.
The regiment was first raised in 1760 by the Marquis of Granby and was then known as the 21st Light Dragoons. After many years of service in the West Indies, South America, South Africa and India the 21st had still not been used for the very purpose that cavalry had been created, that is, a full charge against a standing enemy.
Later, the regiment, now known as the 21st Lancers, was based almost permanently in India, which during the time of the Raj was more of a "social posting".
In 1884 a detachment of the 21st. joined the force sent to the Sudan to rescue General Gordon who was besieged in Khartoum by an army of Dervishes. Unfortunately the expedition arrived too late, finding Khartoum in ruins and General Gordon dead.
The 21st became Lancers in 1897 and in the following year was part of Kitchener's army sent to retake the Sudan. Other cavalryman taunted the 21st.on their past record by saying that their motto should be "Thou shalt not kill", and the regiment journeyed towards Omdurman, the new capital, with the single intention that there would be a charge.
At around 9.30 am on 2 September 1898, on the Kerreri Plain outside the city of Omdurman, Lt Col Rowland Martin of the 21st Lancers turned to Sergeant Trumpeter Knight and gave the order "Right wheel into line!" About twenty minutes later 21 of the 440-strong regiment were dead and 71 wounded - many of them hideously, with sword and barbed spear; acts of gallantry had been performed which would bring three Victoria Crosses, and a unique distinction at the hands of the Queen Empress; they had driven two thousand of the Mahdist enemy out of the path of General Kitchener's advance - as ordered; and a stirring chapter had been added to the legend of young Winston Churchill. They had also started a controversy, which can still raise hackles to this day. Before the charge was ever launched, the battle of Omdurman had already been won by magazine rifles, Maxim guns and high explosive shells. Yet those few moments of bloody, face-to-face fighting, had a huge significance for the regiment, and for the British cavalry arm as a whole. In the battle madness of that charge, the Regiment released tensions, which had been festering for decades - some might argue for 138 years, since the regiment was first raised in 1760. The Lancers had been looking forward expressly to the moment since their arrival in Egypt two years previously and had feared that they would be denied it. New weapons, and the new tactics they demanded, were changing the face of warfare before their eyes. They were preoccupied by the foreboding that the centuries old cavalry spirit - the spirit which animated the wild dash of horse and rider, steel in hand for death or glory - was to be discarded in favour of the drab utility of mounted infantry.
In the event, their foreboding was justified: it is generally accepted that the 21st at Omdurman made the British Army's last true regimental cavalry charge against a standing army.
Lieutenant Winston Churchill, who rode with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman, estimated that the charge lasted two minutes. Yet just over 100 years later it still excites our fascination with the mad dash of the cavalry and a clash with the enemy.
When she heard of the charge, Queen Victoria awarded the 21st the title "Empress of India's) and later authorised the use of her official cipher on their uniforms which was an unique distinction marking the 21st as Queen Victoria's Lancers
The 21st Lancers were eventually amalgamated with the 17th Lancers in 1922 (see elsewhere in Uniform Museum)
The Sudan campaign of 1898 was the first all-khaki campaign outside India. Our Corporal is wearing full campaign kit and carries the 1890 pattern cavalry sabre with the steel scabbard covered in khaki cloth, together with a 9ft bamboo lance. A carbine was also carried in a leather boot on the saddle. He wears the 50 round 1882 pattern bandolier, which replaced the Hussar pouch belt. NCO's and men all wore the same khaki frock with two breast pockets as worn by Infantry, but with the addition of shoulder chains. Bedford cord breeches were worn with boots and khaki puttees and detachable spurs. The cork foreign service helmet had a loose fitting khaki cover, but unlike Infantry, who wore a rear neck protector, the 21st wore a wide quilted khaki sunshade, which fitted around the perimeter of the helmet. This was a device peculiar to the regiment.


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