The Artists’ Rifles was formed in 1860 as part of the Volunteer Corps, to encourage artists, sculptors, actors and musicians to fight for their country when there was a perceived threat of invasion from the French under Napoleon III.
We have probably the largest collection of Artists’ Rifles memorabilia outside of the SAS regiment. However, unlike the regiment, we plan to place this on public display.
In light of this, I am writing to ATG to appeal to readers for Artists’ Rifles items or for information about Artists’ Rifles activity.
Born on Bond Street
The history of this remarkable unit is fascinating. In the later 1970s-early ‘80s I worked at Sotheby’s in Bond Street (clocks and watches). On the wall of the back door of the building in St George’s Street is a circular plaque stating that the Artists’ Rifles were formed in that building in the studio of Sir Henry Wyndham Phillips.
Frederick Lord Leighton was an early colonel of the regiment that included eminent pre-Raphaelite artists such as Millais, Holman-Hunt, Burne-Jones, Rossetti and William Morris. Later members include the Nash brothers, Sir Barnes Wallis, Sir Ran Fiennes and Bear Grylls.
During the First World War, the Artists’ Rifles produced more than 10,000 officers for the British Army, RFC and later RAF, making them part of the history of every regiment including the Guards.
The regiment formed a guard of honour each year at the Royal Academy because of the connection with Leighton and painters and poets. There is a memorial in the courtyard to the 2003 officers who died in the First World War as well as the RA members who fell.
During the Second World War it continued as an officer-producing unit. After the war it was disbanded along with many other regiments, but later absorbed into the SAS.
Today the full title of the unit is 23 Special Air Services Regiment (Artists) (Reserve).
Readers can contact me through the charity’s website, thetrenchexperience.com.
The Trench Experience charity secretary