Artists Rifles Association
The Volunteer Corps was formed in 1859 by Lord Peel in response to patriotic fervour due to the threat of invasion from Napoleon III of France. The Artist Rifles was formed in 1860 along with many of the other famous London regiments as part of this Corps.
The first idea for the Artists, wrote Col. H A R May CB, VD (Artists' Rifles 1882-1921 and CO in 1912 and 1920) occurred to Edward Sterling, an art student and ward of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian, who in 1859 convened a meeting at his studio of fellow students in the life class of Carey's School of Art, Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury, at which a special corps for artists was discussed.
Click to enlarge In 1860 this 'Corps of Artists' was formed consisting of painters, sculptors, engravers, musicians, architects and actors. Other meetings followed at which officers were elected. The badge, designed by Wyon the Queen's medallist, consisting of two heads: Mars - God of War, and Minerva - Goddess of Wisdom, was chosen to represent war and fine arts. The badge bore the motto 'Cum Marte Minerva' which was also the title of the first Regimental March, the words of which were written by an Artist, George Cayley. A regimental rhyme records: "Mars, he was the God of war, and didn't stop at trifles. Minerva was a bloody whore. So hence The Artists' Rifles."
Members of the Corps were to be of two kinds: those enrolled for service in Great Britain who had to provide their own uniform and equipment, pay an entrance fee of 10s.6d. and an annual subscription of £1.1s. on the 1st January each year (with the risk of being reported as a defaulter if not paid by 1st February) and those Honorary Members who were under no liability for military service but paid an additional 10s.6d. entrance fee and an annual subscription of £2.2s. (or a once-off payment of £10.1Os.).
The names of the officers elected were submitted to the Lord Lieutenant who was empowered to grant commissions, subject to the approval of the Queen.
The Corps was officially named 'The 38th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteers'. In 1881 this was changed to 'The 20th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteers' and in 1908 to '28th Battalion London Regiment (Artists' Rifles)'. In 1937 when the Regiment was posted from the 2nd (London) Brigade to a new formation, 'The Officer Producing Group', the title was officially simplified to 'The Artists Rifles, the apostrophe was officially dropped from 'Artists' in that year.
The first 'Captain' of the Regiment to be elected was Lord Bury (later the Earl of Albemarle) but he did not remain in office for very long. The first Commanding Officer in 1860 was Henry Wyndham Phillips, the painter and amongst the early distinguished 'Artists' were John Everett Millais, G F Watts, Val Prinsep, Frederick Leighton (later Lord Leighton, CO after Henry Wyndham Phillips and a future President of the Royal Academy), R W Edis (a future CO), Holman Hunt and William Morris. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite group, however, appears to have been more social than military! As years went by the composition of the Regiment was broadened to include many other professions. By 1893, for example, painters and sculptors represented less than 5 per cent. of the membership with architects 12 per cent., lawyers 12 per cent., doctors 10 per cent. and civil engineers 6 per cent.
In the year of its formation the Regiment's HQ was at the Argyle Rooms, later transferring to the Royal Academy at Burlington House where it remained until 1868. For the next few years it was at various locations around central London until 1889 when a permanent HQ was built at 17 Duke's Road, Euston, the cost of which was found by members of the Regiment.
The old HQ was sold by the MOD amid acrimony and is now the home of the Contemporary Ballet Trust.
A plaque commemorates the Regiment's long association with the building. The Association received no reimbursement from the MOD for the sale of the property.
The Artists contributed the largest contingent to the famous City Imperial Volunteers sent to South Africa in 1900-1901 for the Boer War.
The Artists' Rifles mobilised on 4 August 1914 at Dukes Road, Euston as 1/28th County of London Battalion (Artists' Rifles) and became part of London Division Army Troops in the St Albans area. In October 1914 the Artists sailed to France in the SS. Australind.
A few days after landing Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, sent a request for 52 other ranks from the Artists to be made officers that same day to replace what he described as the 'colossal' officer losses of the 7th Division which was due back in the line in three days.
The only officer training they received was a two hour talk by their battalion commander, Lt Co!. May and a copy of the Field Service Pocket Book before the CO fixed 2nd Lieutenant stars to the shoulder straps of their other rank uniforms. So dressed they joined their new companies in 7th Division, many finding themselves the only officer and therefore company commander!
Col. May wrote later 'surely they were the most rapidly trained and scantily equipped young officers ever produced by the British Army. General Capper's (commander of the 7th Division) opinion, however, was "The young men you turned out have turned out splendidly. Have you any more like them?"
There were in fact many more. After 'The First Fifty' a stream of officers provided by the Artists grew to reach a total of 10,256 before the war was over. This was more than the number commissioned through Sandburst in the same period!
The Artists also fought as a battalion (1st Battalion) and were in the thick of the fighting at Passchendaele in the 3rd Battle of Ypres 1917, and on through to the end of the war as part of the Royal Naval Division as well as providing the GHQ guard battalion and instructors for specialist training. The Artists are commemorated 'going over the top' at Marcoing in 1917 in a painting by John Nash, an official war artist (an 'Artist' who served in that action); the original is in the Imperial War Museum .
The 2nd Battalion was formed at the outbreak of war and acted as a training battalion in Richmond Park and depot at Duke's Road before recruits were sent as officer cadets to Gidea Park, Essex, for field training. When commissioned, officers were posted to Regiments and Corps throughout the Army.
In Nov 1915, the 2nd Battalion moved to France and Flanders and was absorbed into the 1/28th Battalion then operating as an Officer Training Corps.
The third line, the 3/28th County of London Battalion (Artists' Rifles), was formed in Sep 1914. In Nov 1915, it took the place of the 2/28th and was so renumbered. By Mar 1916 it was named No 15 Officer Training Battalion at Hare Hall, Romford. It remained there for the duration.
During WWI, 10,256 officers were commissioned after training with the Artists' Rifles. They went to the Foot Guards, every infantry regiment and to many of the Corps. The Royal Artillery alone had 953 officers and the London Regiment 738 officers commissioned from the Artists' Rifles.
Of the 15,022 Artists, 2,003 were killed, 3,250 wounded, 533 posted missing and 286 taken as prisoners of war. Amongst them they won:
In the Second World War the moment hostilities began, the Artists, which since 1920 had been an officer producing unit involved in officer training but with no obligation to take or be granted commissions, became an OTC and by the end of 1939 the battalion as a battalion was now no more.
Its successors were 163 and 164 aCTUs (in 1941 163 was merged with 167 and 168 aCTUs). Most members of the Artists Rifles had by that time been commissioned and dispersed throughout all the Services and there are no corporate records of casualties suffered or distinctions won, but evidence suggests that they acquitted themselves in the best 'Artists' tradition.
Some pre-Second World War Artists include:
The Battle Honours of The Artists Rifles represents its service in both the Boer War and the Great War: South Africa 1900-01, Ypres 1917, Passchendaele, Somme 1918, St Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Arras 1918, Ancre 1918, Albert 1918, Drocourt-Queant 1918, Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Cambrai 1918, Pursuit to Mons, France and Flanders 1914-18.
Artists Rifles Camp 1909
RSM Puffy Lock, Tower of London, 1914
Click here for additional regimental history