The Art of The Royal Lancers

The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeths’ Own) is a British Cavalry regiment with a prestigious history.

Formed through a series of amalgamations of six antecedent regiments – the 5th, 9th, 12th, 16th, 17th & 21st Lancer regiments respectively – they have an astonishing combined history going back to 1689 when James Wynne raised a regiment of Light Dragoons which, after fighting at the Battle of Aboynne in Ireland the following year in 1690, went on to become the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

The other five regiments have similarly distinguished histories – forming in 1783, 1715, 1759, & 1858 respectively. Collectively, and often alongside each other, they have fought in every major conflict of the British Empire and then the United Kingdom since then. Often acquitting themselves with great valour and gallantry in the service of Kings, Queens and Country, they now live, work, and train at Catterick, Yorkshire, ready to undertake a number of important mounted and dismounted military tasks – always ready to fight as required. More recently, they have also been central to HMG’s response to the pandemic in the north of England, offering assistance to the civil authorities across the region.

The consequence of this extraordinary combined history is that the Regiment has an amazing collection of art and other chattels that it has acquired over the centuries. Full of art, silver and other memorabilia of campaigns past, when taken as a whole, this collection is priceless.

I know all this because I served as an officer in the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (The Prince of Wales’s Own) in my twenties, stationed in Germany. As a (remarkably!) regular fixture of the Orderly Officer schedule, I grew to know and love this important collection as we checked it daily for damages, wear & tear, or simply missing silver spoons – the bane of the Adjutant over his morning coffee.

So it was that I was extremely flattered to be asked by the Regimental Colonel to undertake a project to photograph, document and record the collection. It was done for both posterity and insurance purposes, but more importantly, should the unthinkable happen and the Officers’ Mess burn to the ground, we then would have the ability to replicate some of the precious, irreplaceable art belonging to the Regiment.

In February this year, I decamped to a bitterly cold Yorkshire for two weeks to live back in the Officers’ Mess and undertake this mammoth project. I turned the squash court (fortunately right next door to the Mess, but unfortunately, unheated) into a photographic studio, and, with a small but willing team of soldiers and officers (without whom I simply could not have done it), we managed to photograph 273 works of art over that period. The paintings ran from four inches to ten feet wide and of varying monetary value from not very much at all to priceless art.

Whilst the Officers’ Mess is the home to the officers of that regiment (the same being true, of course, for the WOs’ & Sgts’ Mess), they are also half museum to the histories of our famous military regiments. Our officers and SNCOs live amongst these histories that in turn underpin the traditions and customs of any given regiment. To the outsider, these might range from the archaic to bizarre, but in reality, and without us even really realising it, they form the soul of our individual military units, creating in turn ethos, comraderie, pride and loyalty to each other – all fundamental qualities for any fighting body.

As such I would make a strong argument that these paintings and the other artefacts of a regiment, are a vital element of the oft talked about but rarely well defined ‘moral component’ of our Army. (In fact, I would go as far as to say the ‘Mess’ as an idea is equally important, but that’s another conversation and anything damaging that should be eschewed immediately.) Put another way, should something happen to these paintings and they are lost, I would have no doubt that every officer and soldier of The Royal Lancers, past and present, would keenly mourn their loss.

Whether you agree with this view or not, it is undeniably beholden on all of us, serving or veteran, to be the custodians of our Regiment’s treasures for the future generations to come, and so I’m extremely glad that I am able to play my small part in that… Even if, as Orderly Officer, I could have thrown every bloody silver spoon out the window as I counted them for an umpteenth time!

Cover photo: ‘The Empty Saddle’ • Credit to Lt Anna McDermott RL for the photos of the team in action.

With huge thanks to the Commanding Officer, the Officers and Soldiers of The Royal Lancers for their unfailing enthusiasm and hospitality during my sojourn in their home.

Read more about the history of The Royal Lancers here, or here for the serving Regiment.

Do get in touch if you have a digitisation or archiving project with which we can help you – everything from large scale art photography, photograph album digitisation, digital photograph collages and more. Ping an email to 👍

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