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  1. #1
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    What's the story here?

    If we've discussed this before, I apologize.

    I believe the image below is an 1852 portrait of the 79th Regiment of Foot (later to become 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders). I'm unaware of them being actively engaged in hostilities at this time, so I'm not sure what's going on in the scene. What I see, however, are tents in the background which indicate that they are deployed somewhere. I see men in what I assume is their marching/fighting gear, complete with packs. Plus a piper, a fellow in trews, and various other types of uniform. It appears to be a mixture of officers and enlisted. Is this just a painting to represent all the different bits of uniform and gear that the regiment wore, and not necessarily a scene from life?

    The real subject of my question, however, is the man third from right. He seems to be wearing a long leather apron over his uniform, and is holding an axe down by his foot. I would hastily assume he was chopping firewood for their camp. But he's wearing it over his full gear, including his jacket and kilt (I see the pleats poking out behind him). And he's wearing his hat and white gloves too! Nobody, even in 1852, would chop wood wearing that stuff. He also has his belt strapped over the apron, with what appears to be the same small gear bag that others have behind them, but his is in front. Sorry, I don't know what that piece of gear is called.

    So what in Heaven's name is the story with this painting, and especially that chap in the apron?

    Last edited by Tobus; 26th January 18 at 11:38 AM.

  2. #2
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    I agree that the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders) was not engaged in "active service" at the time of the painting. My guess is that they are depicted while at a field training camp (which I believe they had annually), and that the artist was engaged to show regimental personnel wearing the unit's various uniforms and field equipment at that time. Hence, we have one soldier wearing a feather bonnet, while two wear the bonnet with a foul-weather cover. Another soldier wears a glengarry bonnet. The sergeant-major at left is in trews while other soldiers wear kilts. The soldiers in white jackets are in "walking out" dress (i.e., for going on liberty), while others wear the regular red coat. The soldier in the pack equipment is in full-dress for a parade (yes, they really wore that stuff on parade, as well as in actual combat). With the advent of photography, "mix of uniforms" compositions remained popular through at least the end of the 19th c. I have a book on the Black Watch that has many such photos.

    The soldier with the leather apron and axe is one of the Regiment's pioneers (i.e., field engineers), who were responsible for going in advance of the unit on the march or in the attack to cut away obstacles, or to build simple field fortifications, etc. All British regiments had pioneers from at least the early 18th c. and they were still actively used in the mid-19th c. Even today, some regiments maintain a section of pioneers with traditional tools and leather aprons for appearance on parade. In some units, they are the only ones allowed to have beards.
    Last edited by Orvis; 26th January 18 at 12:11 PM.

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  4. #3
    Join Date
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    Maybe I'm weird but this looks to me like the modern illustrations showing all the different uniforms and levels of dress of a unit.
    Steve Ashton
    Forum Owner

  5. #4
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    Perfect! Thanks for the detailed reply.

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orvis View Post
    I agree that the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders) was not engaged in "active service" at the time of the painting. My guess is that they are depicted while at a field training camp (which I believe they had annually), and that the artist was engaged to show regimental personnel wearing the unit's various uniforms and field equipment at that time. Hence, we have one soldier wearing a feather bonnet, while two wear the bonnet with a foul-weather cover. Another soldier wears a glengarry bonnet. The sergeant-major at left is in trews while other soldiers wear kilts. The soldiers in white jackets are in "walking out" dress (i.e., for going on liberty), while others wear the regular red coat. The soldier in the pack equipment is in full-dress for a parade (yes, they really wore that stuff on parade, as well as in actual combat). With the advent of photography, "mix of uniforms" compositions remained popular through at least the end of the 19th c. I have a book on the Black Watch that has many such photos.

    The soldier with the leather apron and axe is one of the Regiment's pioneers (i.e., field engineers), who were responsible for going in advance of the unit on the march or in the attack to cut away obstacles, or to build simple field fortifications, etc. All British regiments had pioneers from at least the early 18th c. and they were still actively used in the mid-19th c. Even today, some regiments maintain a section of pioneers with traditional tools and leather aprons for appearance on parade. In some units, they are the only ones allowed to have beards.
    If I remember the whole gear correctly, the Royal Canadian Regiment "Pioneer Guard" (formerly from my home town) march with the full red jacket, white pith helmet with red hat band and gold spike on top and a full-length 1/4" thick white leather apron and a chromed axe. In theory they are able to chop a perfect toothpick out of wood stock. The apron is to hold a piece of stock against their chests while they whittle out a small part for their structure, potentially with the axe!

    If the retreating enemy blows a bridge, the Pioneers should be able to quickly build a temporary structure, and it's considered perfect if the last member of the unit crosses and seconds later it collapses - strong enough to get everyone across, but no time or effort put into making it stronger than absolutely necessary. The regular engineers can build something more permanent when they arrive later.

    This unit of the Pioneer Guard are required to wear a full beard with minimal trimming as part of their uniform. Their hair however, is normal regulation length.
    Rev'd Father Bill White: Retired Parish Priest & Elementary Headmaster, lover of God, people (most of them!) dogs, joy, humour & clarity. Legion Padre, theologian, teacher, philosopher, linguist, dreamer, traditionalist, bon-vivant, encourager of hearts & souls & a firm believer in dignity, decency, & duty. A proud Sinclair.

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  8. #6
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    Red face

    Quote Originally Posted by Father Bill View Post
    If I remember the whole gear correctly, the Royal Canadian Regiment "Pioneer Guard" (formerly from my home town) march with the full red jacket, white pith helmet with red hat band and gold spike on top and a full-length 1/4" thick white leather apron and a chromed axe. In theory they are able to chop a perfect toothpick out of wood stock. The apron is to hold a piece of stock against their chests while they whittle out a small part for their structure, potentially with the axe!

    If the retreating enemy blows a bridge, the Pioneers should be able to quickly build a temporary structure, and it's considered perfect if the last member of the unit crosses and seconds later it collapses - strong enough to get everyone across, but no time or effort put into making it stronger than absolutely necessary. The regular engineers can build something more permanent when they arrive later.

    This unit of the Pioneer Guard are required to wear a full beard with minimal trimming as part of their uniform. Their hair however, is normal regulation length.
    Thatís quite possibly the greatest thing Iíve ever heard. It made my day that they are not only allowed, but required, to have beards.
    Descendant of the Gillises and MacDonalds of North Morar.

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  10. #7
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    Prob the apron maker...
    "We are all connected...to each other, biologically; to the earth, chemically; to the universe, atomically...and that makes me smile." - Neil deGrasse Tyson

  11. #8
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    Father Bill - I've been to parades by the Fort Henry Guard (Kingston ON), which has two pioneers dressed and equipped in the 1867 British uniform. They are bearded and equipped with axes, leather aprons, and back-slung saws, shovels, engineer swords and their pack/blanket. The drill of the FHG is impressive, but the pioneers drill with their axes was amazing! They went from ordered axes to shouldered axes, then to presented axes with the same aplomb they would have displayed had they been armed with rifles/bayonets. I'd not seen that before and was greatly entertained by their performance. I highly recommend the FHG, should any of the rabble get a chance to see them perform - they even have a piper!

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  13. #9
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    Smile Assault Pioneers

    As a former member of a Scottish Regt now amalgamated(@#@#@), the Plt Sgt of our AP's was the only one allowed to have a beard without a medical excuse. Heck, if we wanted to grow a moustache we had to apply in writing to the Co Cmndr (technically speaking).
    Aye Yours.



    VINCERE-VEL-MORI

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