RUSI Library of Military History: Would you put an actor in charge of a rifle?


Roll of Honour RLMH 1As part of its archiving work, the RUSI Library of Military History has discovered a pamphlet revealing life in an 'artistic regiment'.

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As part of our redevelopment plan, we are finding lots of amazing things hiding in some of the darker corners of this Library. We are now starting to look at our archive of pamphlets and have found some interesting things to add to one of our most popular sections.

Our archives contain histories of Britain's regiments, battalions, battle groups and volunteer corps; they have long been some of the most utilised volumes in our collection. Library visitors not only use them to find out more about different regiments, but often find nuggets within their pages nuggets of little known information about key battles. So in March we were delighted to find a collection of pamphlet and other publications on the history of different parts of the British Army.

A large number of these items were not written by professional historians, but by serving and former soldiers themselves, hence as well as a record of what the regiment did in certain campaigns, they also give the reader a feeling of what life was like in the regiment. A great example of this is A record of the United Arts Rifles 1914-1919. Published in 1920, its aim was not 'to be an official history, but a collection of articles and photographs of a more personal nature, which is hoped will form a souvenir of considerable interest to all who have been on the Roll of the United Arts Rifles.' So as well as the details of the formation of the battalion, training and service during the First World War, there are stories of getting out of camp dressed as a soldiers' girlfriend and success on the sports field. Each chapter of the book is written by a different member of the regiment and, perhaps surprisingly, from those throughout the ranks.

Roll of Honour RLMH 2As the regiment's name suggests, the United Arts Rifles were a pals brigade which attracted singers, sculptors, artists, authors and actors, so, unsurprisingly, the book is littered with cartoons, photographs and even in poetry. At the back of the book is an illustrated Roll of Honour.

The United Arts Rifles were not the first artistic regiment. Another pamphlet that re-emerged is 'a short history of "B" company, "Artists" R.V.' This pamphlet tells the story of how the company was formed during a life class at Carey's Art School in 1858. The regiment formed on 10 May 1860 and it attracted artists such as John Everett Millais, Holman Hunt, William Morris and Henry Wyndham Phillips. Interestingly, the only illustration in the book is a musical score.

A full list of the newly catalogued regimental histories can be found here [link to follow] while you search for our full range of regimental histories and other books here.

The RUSI Library of Military History is open to RUSI members and, by appointment, to members of the public. Members can also borrow up to six items from the collection. Our opening times can be found here.




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