Tom Kitcher , 1706 :~
The War of the Spanish Succession , the first of what might be called the Wars of Rivalry between Britain and France, raged between 1702 and 1713 , and saw the emergence of John Churchill , Duke of Marlborough, as the possibly the greatest ever British General . Britain was closely allied with the Dutch Republic and the Austrian Empire, and Marlborough’s armies were very much coalition forces containing Dutch, Austrian , British and Danish troops.
The aim was to curb the expansion of France , at the height of its dominance of European affairs in military and cultural matters.
The Allies won most of the big battles in Flanders, but because they lost badly in Spain , the whole sorry business was a stalemate.
Precise details of the British Army uniforms at this period are not to be had : the first detailed regulations did not emerge until 1742. We know the general outlines of their appearance , but in many cases not the precise details , so this figure is the result of a certain consensus.
Military clothing very closely followed civilian dress , apart from the colouring , and all Armies were very similar in appearance.
The red coat had emerged as characteristically , but not exclusively, British , but since Regiments were clothed at their Colonel’s whim, the facing colours and the colour of “ smallclothes “ often varied from year to year.
Written accounts by “ private centinels “ have always been rare , because soldiers were mostly illiterate , but for this war we do have one : Tom Kitcher, a private in Meredith’s Regiment, dictated an account for his local vicar in Hampshire, where he had previously been a farm labourer.
Meredith’s Regiment later became the 37th Foot , better known as the Hampshire Regiment .
Tom served through the 1706 Flanders campaign , which commenced with the Battle of Ramillies , a hardfought Allied victory .
My attempts to trace his whole account have so far failed : he is quoted in a book I recently bought.
He has a nice turn of phrase, and an attitude still prevalent amongst his succesors today :
“We were making forward without a single Horse to our aid, when we had the order to give ground and make way back to the river . “ Pray , what’s this ?” said my Lord Orkney , so his servant told me after. He had no mind to give ground when we were giving no quarter , nor we hadn’t neither, being up to our necks in Deadliness and Noise . “
So I thought him the perfect subject for my figure.
The figure :
All from scratch .
I now dye my own brushed cotton to make 1/6th woolen cloth. It’s not perfect , being a bit fluffy, but the best material I have yet found to represent broadcloth .
The cocked hat is starting to turn into the three-cornered variety usual during the rest of the century.
He wears the full coat over a waistcoat cut down from the previous year’s coat , grey breeches, yellow stocking covered with brown canvas gaiters . Marlborough was a great enthusiast for these, wearing them in his portraits , and ensuring they were supplied to the marching troops , along with adequate shoes .
Tom’s armed with a firelock , in this case a doglock dated to Queen Anne’s reign , with the 46” barrel. Muskets were not yet standardised , and there must have been a variety of patterns in use.
It still has a wooden ramrod , liable to snap at an awkward moment, and the "doglock" refers to the little "dog "behind the cock, which was a safety catch .
The bayonet reflects this variety of types , being the first pattern socket bayonet, rather short , with a split socket so it would fit any musket.
He also carries a sword , a straight brass-hilted hanger.
When it came to hand-to-hand fighting , these were still handy ; though doubtless it saw a lot more use cutting kindling for the campfire.
The cartridges are carried in a leather box bearing the Royal cipher ( Queen Anne, "AR" ), on a buff belt , at this date still without blacking or pipeclay.
The inner man is provided for by the canvas snapsack for rations, bread and cheese being the staples , and a tinplate flask probably containing mostly gin…
The infantry formed up three deep , and had developed the platoon firing which generated a more or less continuous fire along the regiment's front ; a decided advantage over the French , who still formed in five or four ranks.
The use of the bayonet was pretty new, and the pikemen had only recently been retired . The drill for using the bayonet was essentially the same as the old pike motions : when charging bayonets, they levelled the musket across the chest , aiming for the enemies throat.
When in pursuit, they obviously used them less formally :
Tom recounts :
“ The Frenchies seem surprised and shewed no mind to fight much. Some of them I saw turned tail and I spiked one of their officers through the gullet and another through the arse , where he spun like bacon on a spit. “
My apologies to my French friends, but that's what he said .Such was the reality of war , despite the periwigs.
This was was of course the war referred to in the well-known song :~
“ Hark how the drums beat up again
For all true soldier gentlemen
Then let us list and march I say
Over the hills and far away
Over the hills and o’er the main
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain
Queen Anne commands and we’ll obey
While over the hills and far away “
At least Tom made it home safe to tell his tale...