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by Captain J L Davies
formerly Grenadier Guards

Amidst the panoply of colour and the cheers of the spectators on Diamond Jubilee day, 22nd June 1897, two elements of the Household Brigade’s participation stood out. One was very noticeable at the time; the other did not emerge until the following year.

The Queen’s Procession which travelled from Buckingham Palace to the service of thanksgiving on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, then across the river, through south London and back to Buckingham Palace, consisted of twenty-five thousand troops of the British, Indian and Colonial Armies. Twenty thousand troops lined the six-mile route. The procession was split into two halves: the Colonial Procession, led by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, followed by the Royal Procession. The latter included six naval guns, sixteen mounted bands and detachments of cavalry regiments and seven horse artillery batteries. There were seventeen Royal carriages and over one hundred and fifty mounted officers, foreign military attachés and envoys in attendance. Seven of the most striking were the officers from the 1st Prussian Dragoons of the Guards (‘Queen of Great Britain and Ireland’s’).

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving service in front of St Paul’sCathedral, June 22nd 1897.
Albumen print,
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

The Royal procession was led by Captain Oswald Ames, 2nd Life Guards, the tallest man in the British Army, standing at 6 feet 8¾ inches. The blade of his specially lengthened state sword was over 40 inches alone. In contrast, Lieutenant Viscount Kilcoursie, Grenadier Guards, later Field Marshal the Earl of Cavan, stood at 5 feet 3 inches. Canon George Browne noticed ‘long Ames’ as he led the procession past the south transept steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. He also heard a cockney wit in the crowd call out to a dragoon officer who followed and was as short as Ames was long, ‘Come out o’ that there ‘elmet! I sees yer little legs a danglin’ down’. Ames became something of a celebrity. He was portrayed by Leslie Ward, ‘Spy’, in Vanity Fair and his name featured in all the newspapers at the time of the Jubilee. At the subsequent prize-giving at Ames’s alma mater Charterhouse, the headmaster William Haig Brown told the school and assembled guests that ‘The school has not had any great successes this year; but all the world now knows that at least we have high aims’.

The second element that stood out was not mentioned in the newspapers at the time and was only noticed by some of the spectators in Pall Mall who had sight of the Guards’ Crimea memorial. Amongst those who did notice was the artist Hubert von Herkomer RA. Having won tickets for himself and his wife in the club’s ballot to view the procession, he was standing on the balcony of the Athenæum Club. ‘From there’, he wrote, ‘my eye at once rested on the curious group around the Guards’ Memorial. Nobody could tell me anything about those old men, but it flashed on me at once who they were, for, although only some were Chelsea pensioners in red coats, others were in civilian clothes, all had medals on their breasts. These surely, I said, must be the old veterans of the Crimea! I soon found out that it was the idea of General Higginson who thought it a pretty idea to put the old men around their own monument … There were several artists and at least one sculptor at the Athenæum. None were struck by that group, but it touched me on the instant, and I saw a subject ready-made. What could be more effective than a group of young soldiers in bronze above the living old men, solemn and deadly still with all the strange animation about them?’

Von Herkomer wrote to General Sir George Higginson who had been the Adjutant of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards in the Crimea. He is the officer on horseback in Lady Butler’s painting The Roll Call, now in the Royal Collection. Von Herkomer told General Higginson that he wished to paint the group at the memorial. Higginson was delighted and wrote to the painter on 6th July 1897:

My dear Professor,

I am pleased! The subject treated as you, with great known sympathy and regard for the feelings of veteran soldiers [Herkomer had received critical and popular acclaim for The Last Muster, exhibited at the Royal Academy in summer 1875, depicting Chelsea Pensioners at Sunday morning service, now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral], will treat it, cannot fail to stir the declining interest which the modern world takes in the fate of the few survivors of the campaigns of 1854–55. I can assure you that the gathering together of these eighty old chaps that morning in St. George’s Barracks [which used to be in Trafalgar Square on the site now occupied by the National Portrait Gallery] previous to marching them to their allotted station under the memorial erected in honour of their worthy deeds was one of the most grateful tasks I ever undertook; I reminded them that the last time they and I had paraded on that very same spot was on the morning of 20th February, 1854, when we started to embark for the Crimea. One man, unable to walk without assistance, was accompanied by his son; another by his daughter and her child. This will account for you noticing a woman and child among them.

I can get you a complete list of those who were present if you desire it…All were respectably dressed and though for many years they had not stood in the ranks they ‘pulled themselves together’ for the occasion with straightened shoulders and heads erect. I think that a combination of the Chelsea red-coat and the civilian garb would not be inappropriate in a picture illustrating an episode which only an army such as ours can furnish.

Yours very sincerely,
George W Higginson

Von Herkomer then arranged for the men he had seen below the Guards’ Memorial to visit his studio in Bushey so that he could obtain an accurate portrait of each. The names of the Guardsmen were General Higginson, Colonel Heaton, Sergeants Doswell and Harvey, Corporal Palmer, Privates Crosse, Dry, James, Silby, J Waters, B Cross, J Sherman, G Hicks and T C Fox. The little girl was the grand-daughter of Sergeant-Major T W Lose.

The result was the monumental painting The Guards’ Cheer, measuring 295.5 by 192 cm, which Von Herkomer unveiled a year after the Jubilee at the 1898 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It was an immediate hit with the public and became even more popular through reproductive prints. The painting was presented to the Bristol City Art Gallery in 1907 by Henry Overton Wills, of the tobacco family, where it remains.

‘Ossie’ Oswald Henry Ames (‘Men of the Day. No 643.’) by Sir Leslie Ward, chromolithograph, published in Vanity Fair, 27th February 1896

The Guards’ Cheer, 1898, by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, oil on canvas. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery © Bristol Culture, photography by Public Catalogue Foundation

Sources: Bonham’s, Oxford, 5th December 2012, lot 56, ‘An 1874 pattern 2nd Life Guards state sword of exceptional size’; G F Browne, The Recollections of a Bishop, London, 1915; J Saxon Mills, Life and Letters of Sir Hubert Herkomer CVO, RA, London, 1923.

© Crown Copyright