Historical Thoughts and Ramblings

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Historical thoughts and ramblings

By Dave Westhouse

 

THOUGHTS

 

With all the talk on hats, trotter packs and the colour of our pants I thought it time I put down some things and tidbits of information that I have learned, on paper. I am by far no expert and have all this information swimming around in my head and share it when I can but as we are growing I don’t know who knows what.

 

I have heard, read, researched and learned so much in my short time that I thought I might share some of these tidbits in case many of you have not heard of them as well. Don’t ask me for references or where I might have heard something. I can’t remember it all but have heard most of it from multiple sources and some very knowledgeable people. Listen to the higher ups in our unit.  I am talking of Steve and Lori, Hal and Bonni. Between them they have more than 40 years re-enacting experience. They are a wealth of information and would be glad to share what they know, all you need to do is ask.

 

So let me dive in. I will try to make this article as brief and concise as possible but as many may know I tend to ramble.

 

FORAGE CAPS

 

Our forage caps were a hot topic as of late, no pun intended. Much has been said about them, good and bad. Let’s go back in history, pun intended. The forage cap that we used to wear, the red and blue one which is affectionately known as the ‘pork pie’ cap was a creation of Parks Canada from the late 60’s or early 70’s. It was created to put something, cheap and easy to make, on the heads of the summer volunteers of the forts of the Great Lakes area. It was based loosely on a cavalry hat worn around 1820 or later and some infantry units adopted the style. For years, re-enactors used it as well because it was in use by historical sites and it was relatively easy and cheap to produce. That’s where I started my sewing and let me tell you they are easy to make. If I could use a sewing machine I could make one in less than an hour.

 

Several years ago, many in the hobby started to question the historical authenticity of the cap. The goal was to reproduce the cap as close as possible to the real deal within practically and affordability, as with all elements of the hobby. The progression of the redcoat is one prime example. Talk to Glenn Stott or Steve Hartwick, about early attempts at creating a coat for the newly formed Royal Scot unit of 1990.

 

 For anyone who is not aware, every April now for sometime all Officers and NCOs are invited to attend a training day at Fort York and attend a few lectures and study some new drill movements, which are practiced as a group. The information is to be taken back to the Officers’ and NCOs’ respective units where they are expected to teach it. During the Fort York Officer and NCO school in April of 2004, the ‘pork pie’ forage cap was one of the topics of discussion. Most if not all the Crown Forces units were in attendance and Peter Twist (Major General Twist, Twist Miniatures, Discriminating General partner, historical film advisor), Ken Purvis (King’s 8th Sergeant and museum employee/director for Fort York) and Dave Webb (Niagara Parks manager of operations from Fort Erie to Niagara Falls-based at Fort Erie) and others offered information and research into what caps were available at the time (1812-15) and which could be reproduced and would be more historically correct than what was currently being worn. Emphasize MORE historically correct. The ‘pork pie’ was not entirely wrong, just wrong for us and our time period.

           

            What were offered up were the light blue and white ‘pillbox’ cap and the ‘bonnet de police’. Both these caps were in use by regiments stationed in North America from (1812-15). Both were shown and discussed at length. The recommendation by Peter Twist and staff was that all units retire the pork pie and adopt one cap or the other. The discussion then started in all units, as to which one should be adopted. Our group, the then light company Royal Scots, was also looking at making the change. At Fort Meigs 2004 Brad and Glenn Stott brought to our fly an example of each cap for members to view. The pillbox cap was one which the Fort York guard have been wearing for quite a while. It was a fine example, made very well and very historically accurate in detail. If you have the opportunity to actually hold one in your hands, produced by the Fort York guard, you will see how radically different they are from the ones the light company have recently produced. The pillbox cap is supposed to be of a knitted woolen material and then shrunk to create a very tight and stable cap. The light company creation is not quite right and is, in my opinion, a very quick knock off of what it really should look like.

 

            Another unit at Fort Meigs was already wearing the bonnet de police or the stocking cap and one of theirs was available to view as well. The bonnet de police was worn by several Canadian Militia and British Regular units in Canada and are based on a French design. At Fort George, I am told; one can view an actual bonnet de police, a real one, not a replica. So they did exist and were worn. Why would the British wear a French cap? The French were the enemy weren’t they?

 

            Yes they were. They were also very creative and fashionable not only in fashion and food but also in military attire. Anyone who attended Peter Twist’s lecture at the 2004 History Conference held in London by the UTMRS would understand why the British would adopt something that was French. The lecture he did was about British headgear, mainly about the progression of the shako and the influence of French and Prussian design on the British and American military. Peter stated how the British and even more the American army were not very creative and couldn’t come up with something on their own and were always copying what was already out there. As soon as the Prussians or French came up with a new cap or design the opposing side copied it. Do you ever wonder why the American forces of 1812 look so similar to ours? Red on blue instead of blue on red and cut of coat almost identical? So you have the bonnet de police, a French designed cap from the Peninsula Wars being worn by British soldiers. The bonnet is relatively easy to make and doubles itself as a night cap during cold weather nights, something not uncommon in North America and Canada to be specific. Interestingly enough many of the American units wear the bonnet de police or something very similar. See this website for some detail on it.

            http://www.corpsofdiscovery.org/Html/chapter%20HTML/Articles/Articles/Fatigue%20or%20Forage%20Cap.htm

 

            Back to Fort Meigs 2004, the Royal Scots light company and the change in cap. The decision of which cap to change to and even the decision to change the cap were not in the majority. Most of the group members were not even aware there was the possibility of a change. It was a decision, which was being carried out by a select few, mainly those in the upper echelon of the command staff of the time. I didn’t even know about it until then and then had little involvement in it, as I was only a private and just the president of the unit. I didn’t need to know. The change didn’t take place that year or by the time our Grenadier unit was created. As an aside, I never liked any kind of hat we wore. The pork pie looked too much like a beret in my mind. Looking to the choices I wasn’t impressed with either of them but certainly didn’t want to wear the pillbox but the change was coming.

 

            The change of course did happen but we were now a separate unit free to make our own choice. Some discussion took place and it was decided that we would continue to retire the pork pie and that we would adopt the bonnet de police in part because a majority of the units were changing to it (uniformity), it matched our barrack’s jackets (where the pork pie and the pillbox did not) and it was relatively easy to produce (the pillbox if done correctly would not be so easy, and no relevant information was at hand on how to actually do it).

           

            That brings us to today and we are now outfitted with the bonnet de police, a forage cap with French influence that was used by units here during the War of 1812. Is it correct for our unit? Are we wrong wearing it? Who knows? Brad Stott has one hand drawn picture to go by to say that the pillbox was worn. There is no argument there. According to Peter Twist, who got the information from Ken Purvis, the white and sky-blue pillbox was shipped to Upper Canada by the hundreds, if not thousands during the latter stages of the war. According to Ray Hobbs there is some evidence of 2 units wearing them but no more than that. The bonnet de police was also used and evidence exists as such. Which hat then did our unit wear? How can we ever be sure? What we can know is, we are wearing an authentic cap modeled after an original which was worn by troops here during the War of 1812 and one that was adopted by us and many other of our fellow Crown Forces companies including, the 41st, 49th, 89th, Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles and the Crown Forces Core of Drums. If the public ever asks about it, now you will be armed with information, which is relevant, factual and correct.

           

PANTS

 

            Gray pants. My long thought of convention and beliefs were that a British soldier had a black hat, a red coat, white cross belts and white pants. So when I met the Royal Scots the gray pants struck me funny. ‘What’s with the gray pants?’ was one of my first questions. I have heard so many things but think I have read the final answer but cannot for the life of me remember where I read it.

 

            When I first started, the answer I got on gray pants was that they were winter issue pants. Soldiers, it was stated, wore gray in the winter and white in the summer. ‘So why don’t the Royal Scots wear their white pants’, I asked? ‘Because, they sank’, was the answer. Huh!? The story goes like this, and I am just relaying what I heard so bear with me. As everyone should know the Royal Scots arrived sometime late summer of 1812 and were not ready for duty until January of 1813. January is cold so hence they were wearing their winter issue pants. Winter turned to spring, spring to summer and they were to be issued their whites but unfortunately the ship carrying their pants sank on its way over from England. The Royal Scots were forced to wear their winter issue pants for the remainder of the war. Believe it? Sounds a little odd. Made for a good story but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

 

            This is where my failing memory comes in and at some point I will rediscover where I found this information. The gray pants were originally thick woolen overalls worn over the white pants. Flank company troops (lights and grenadiers) would wear them, as they tended to do more work than a line company soldier. Light infantry tactics as you know involve a lot of kneeling. Try kneeling and keeping clean a pair of white canvas pants. The gray woolen overalls with white canvas pants underneath tended to be hot and rather cumbersome, as you can imagine, so troops would wear only the overalls without the canvas pants underneath. The Board of Ordinance, always trying to save money and cut corners, adapted to this convention and made the overalls smaller and smaller until they were eventually a standard issue gray woolen pant for flank companies. Flank companies wear gray woolen pants, which show dirt less, and the line companies wear the standard and traditional white canvas pants. I can offer no documentary evidence or related sources for this information. All I can say on this one is that this is what I read and that is what I will be relating to the public when they ask, ‘What’s with the gray pants?’

 

TROTTER PACKS

 

            Trotter packs. Thanks to Darryn for doing such a bang up job and taking on the task of making himself one and offering to produce more for whoever wants one. Osprey books show a trotter pack very similar in every respect to the one Darryn built and the one most of us have. Look around to other units who carry packs and you will see another type of pack that is different than ours. It is an envelope style pack more like a valise and held together simply by strapping it. It also has no wooden frame inside it. The light company of the Royal Scots is changing to a pack, which is a cross between the latter, and what we have. The debate on which pack is correct carries on and frequently resurfaces it seems on a regular basis. If you consult the War of 1812 Yahoo messages site you will note this. If you wish to see the past comments made on that string you can do a search for ‘trotter pack’ on the list and it will display all messages related to that search. So does that mean we have the wrong pack? Who knows, join the debate on the one list and debate it to death. The same argument of our forage cap can be applied to the pack. The wood frame trotter pack as we have was introduced as early as 1805 to replace the softer pack, which had previously been used and was produced exclusively by Mr. Trotter’s company. What we can know is, is that we have a pack which was used by soldiers around our time and it can be used for display purposes to demonstrate to the public that everything a soldier owned was held in his pack and that he had to carry it all with him. Right or not, it’s something to illustrate to the public, and we all own one that is the same and we are uniform in presentation.

 

            Sometimes it gets frustrating when you come across items such as the pack or the cap, and you wonder, are we wrong? The important things to remember are that we will be forever changing, we will never know it all, we may never know what something was really like, we endeavor to create the best impression we can in a uniform manner presenting the same thing in the same way with equipment and uniform that is alike as much as possible.

 

            So the trotter pack we know was to put stuff in, then what was the haversack for? Did they put their razor in it, their deck of cards or homemade dice? No, the haversack was for putting food rations in while on the march. Today we carry it wherever we go. We store a variety of items in it from our wallets, to car keys, to extra flints and water bottles. Historically speaking the haversack would only have been worn when the soldier was on the move. Three days of rations would have been stored in it so that food was never far away. If in camp or stationed in a fort the haversack wouldn’t have been necessary, food would not have been far away and being in one spot there wouldn’t have been the need to carry it with you. Do we ditch our haversacks and not wear them? No. Just know that it is probably somewhat inaccurate to be wearing them all the time. Use this knowledge when relating information on uniform and accoutrements to the public. Here is one case where you see some people wearing the haversack on top of belts. It’s possible this would have come off when going into battle along with the backpack. If it is put on first, it’s hard to get off when belts are on top. Should we change? Probably not, although Larry Lozon would certainly think we should. Larry for those who do not know already is that loud gray haired guy that follows Peter Twist around and does a lot of the commentaries at events. The haversack is one of his anachronistic peeves, but that’s just Larry and we’ll leave it at that.

 

ONE LIST

 

(For anyone who does not frequent it often or even know about it, the Yahoo 1812 messages list affectionately known as ‘the one list’ can be accessed by going to this URL

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/warof1812/messages - it is a good resource to read what others know and are finding out. It also gets a little political at times and must be taken with a grain of salt and sometimes just flatly ignored).

 

ANACHRONISM

 

            Now that I’ve mentioned the word anachronism and actually spelled it correctly let’s talk a little bit about that. At most events we have started appointing an anachronism officer to police the camp. We try our best to put up our camp and display it in as close a period manner as possible and hide from the public those items, which blatantly remind them that they are still in the 21st century. Nothing worse than seeing a splendid 19th century scene then to see a costumed person whip out a cell phone, smoke a cigarette, or check the time on their wrist watch. So what is the anachronism officer looking for? Just those obvious things like open tents, tarps sticking out, and modern items out in the open. How far can we take it though as there are lots of things that are not quite right anyway?

 

            The camp itself is laid out similarly to that which it may have been although there are some subtle differences, which are changed for safety and comfort. Let’s take a look at them. The streets of our camp, according to those in the know, should be 20 feet wide and contain the fire pits. One pit for every ten men or so spaced regularly up the street, one every 10 to 20 feet or so. Hey that sounds cool, why don’t we do that then if that’s the way it should be? The way I hear it, is that it is done for safety and comfort. Can you imagine the public stepping through our narrow streets with fires going? Our camps are historically accurate to a point. Everything from the officer’s street and back is anachronistic, meaning it is wrong and did not exist. The fly we use, the chairs we sit on, and the boxes we cart our stuff in would not have been part of the camp. The fire pits are moved to this end of the camp to get them out of the streets for safety reasons and for our comfort each unit is allowed a fly near it for protection from both rain and sun. I think Steve had something to do with this set up, but I could be wrong. Now, back to the street. The one thing that remains out of context of accuracy is the lantern stands and lamps. Purely they’re for our safety, comfort and enjoyment. I would suggest that all lanterns be staked between the tents and not stick out beyond the front of the tent just to make it more esthetically pleasing, but that’s just me. Camp furniture and all that exists under and around our fly is there and permitted for our comfort. When talking to the public this can also be part of your talk to explain what the camp was like when the soldier actually had a camp.

 

WEB SITE RAMBLINGS

 

            If I may break away for a moment from the historical side of things to the hobby and how we do things by relating a story which developed over a year or two. This will bring us to our website http://www.royalscotsgrenadiers.com/ and the wealth of information which it contains. When I started out I was voracious in my appetite for knowledge. I went to the library and got book after book to read and went on line and typed query after query and search after search on anything and everything War of 1812. Nothing new, most of you may have done the same yourselves. I searched out those who would relate information they had gathered so that I could know it too. I watched and listened to everyone I could when they would talk to a member of the public. Tidbits of information I could use so that I wouldn’t have to say ‘I don’t know’. Anyway, here I ramble on, back to my point. In those early years I would often ask questions more so about the hobby and rules, regulations and so forth and a standard and frequent answer would invariably come from our own Hal Dennison, ‘it’s in the constitution’ or ‘it’s in the standing orders’. It got so that anytime I opened my mouth I was sure I could here ‘it’s in the constitution’ or ‘it’s in the standing orders’. ‘Hmmm’, I thought, maybe there was something to this and I should read them. And read them I did. Front to back, back to front, over and over again, until one day when he said that one line I had come to hear so often I was able to reply, ‘no it’s not, I read it and nowhere does it say that’. That stopped him and we laughed.

 

            So, now you ask, “What is the point to that? You did say you had a point’. I do and it is just that the information is there even for us in our unit. The website contains so much information and one should go through periodically and reread information to discover the answer to a question which may have been on your mind. Not everyone is like me on this so I just offer my point of view on it. There is information there on how and what we are and what we do. It has come full circle because now people will ask a question and OH MY GOD I have turned into a Hal because my phrase is, ‘It’s on the website’. :>)

 

            I’ll wrap it up there for now. I have a few more things I thought I might talk about but thought I would save them for another time so that I can get this out now for reading. Until then…

 

Dave Westhouse

June 22, 2006

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