Indian Army Cavalry Trooper’s Sword, late 19th Century to Early 20th Century
Made in Britain by Mole of Birmingham, overall length: 92 cm, blade length: 79 cm. This pattern was used by Indian cavalry regiments throughout the second half of the 19th century and into World War One. This one likely dates to the 1890s or later.
The Victorian Highland Light Infantry sword (with field service cross hilt) for Ernest Montagu Leith (1888-1971), winner of the Military Cross during WW1. Captain Leith served with the 1/5 City of Glasgow Battalion (Territorial Force) of the Highland Light Infantry, commissioning as 2nd Lieutenant in 1912 and reaching Captain by 1917 (back-dated to 1916). He served through WW1, including at Gallipoli, was Mentioned in Despatches by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (London Gazette 20 May 1918) and was made a Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Roumania (Romania) and Chevalier of the Military Order of Avis (Portugal). His Military Cross citation, as featured in the London Gazette of 14 March 1916 reads:
“Lieutenant Ernest Montagu Leith, 1/5th (City of Glasgow) Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry, Territorial Force. For conspicuous gallantry when commanding grenade parties in an attack. All the officers and several men were wounded, but he at once established and held a barricade, reorganised his party behind it, and, at a critical moment, assured the success of the attack”.
The sword has a 32 inch double-edged blade and has the field service cruciform hilt fitted, with the extended langets particular to the Highland Light Infantry pattern. The blade is bright and etching clean, with thistles and the VR cypher showing that it dates to pre-1901. This means that Leith presumably got this sword second-hand, perhaps handed down from a family member or fellow officer, but we know it was Leith’s because he wrote his name on the scabbard strap (pictured). The sword also comes complete with a transit/storage bag, which has a weather-proofed outer skin and is lined with chamois.
The Illustrated London News from Saturday, February 22, 1908. This image, more than any other, cemented the reputation of the kukri as a fearsome weapon in the imagination of the western reading public.
There were two patterns of sword used by British cavalry officers during the Victorian era; one pattern for heavy cavalry officers and one pattern for light cavalry officers.
The Pattern 1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword was the regulation sword for combat for officers of heavy cavalry regiments from 1821 to 1912. Heavy cavalry regiments included the three regiments of Household Cavalry, seven regiments of Dragoon Guards, and three regiments of Dragoons for a total of thirteen heavy cavalry regiments. The Household Cavalry regiments had their own unique patterns, but occasionally their officers opted for the standard P1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword, so we could potentially narrow down the number of regiments using the P1821 Heavy Cavalry Sword to nine regiments.
Above: a Pattern 1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1850-1860
The Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword was the regulation sword for combat for officers of light cavalry regiments from 1821-1896. There were seventeen light cavalry regiments during our period. In addition to those seventeen regiments in the regular army, there were dozens (39 in 1880) of Yeomanry (essentially militia cavalry) regiments, the vast majority of which were light cavalry. Based on numbers of regiments alone, once can see that there were far more light cavalry officers than heavy cavalry officers, and therefore more P1821 Light Cavalry Officers’ Swords than P1821 Heavy Cavalry Officers’ Swords. Officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery also carried the P1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword, thereby adding to the already large numbers of P1821s manufactured in the 19th century.
Above: a Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1850-1860
In 1896 the powers that be decided that the light cavalry officer’s sword had insufficient hand protection and decided that officers of light cavalry regiments should adopt the P1821 Heavy Cavalry hilt. At that point officers had a few options–they could re-hilt their current swords with the heavy cavalry pattern hilt, or they could buy completely new swords. It is likely some officers ignored the new regulation and kept their three-bar light cavalry hilts, but most officers would make sure their swords conformed to regulations. With the new regulations of 1896 requiring all cavalry officers to adopt the heavy cavalry hilt, heavy cavalry pattern swords became much more plentiful than they had been prior to 1896. For modern day collectors, this means that post-1896 heavy cavalry officers’ swords are much easier to find on the market than pre-1896 heavy cavalry officers’ swords. Post-1896 cavalry swords are often called the Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword or Pattern 1896 Universal Cavalry Officer’s Sword. Although this pattern was replaced by the Pattern 1912 Cavalry Officer’s Sword, a number of officers chose the P1896 which was still being made throughout the period of the Great War.
It is important to note that throughout the Victorian era, especially in last two or three decades, officers’ swords began to subtly change–most notably grips and blades became straighter. Below is an example of a World War One era Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword.
Above: a Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1914
These images of Winston Churchill illustrate the change to the regulations. As a newly commissioned officer in 1895, young Winston is wearing a Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword. In 1896 Churchill is pictured wearing a Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword.