Militia uniform buttons

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This article by Nicholas Le Cornu was first published in the 1990 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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The earliest identifiable Jersey Militia buttons are to be found on an officer's jacket of the 4th or South Regiment in the Musee de L'Emperie, Salon de Provence. The jacket conforms to the clothing warrant of 1768 and dates from around 1780. The buttons are large (230 mm), bone-backed, flat-faced gilt with repousse letters Sth R above a numeral 4, surrounded at the outer rim by a small chevron wreath. The style of the 1st or North-west Regiment button shown in Plate 2a , that of an engraved number 1 within a chevron wreath, suggests that it is contemporary with the above.

Uncertain date

It cannot be said precisely when the Jersey Militia first adopted regimental buttons. Surviving Guernsey Militia officers' coats of the mid-18th century bear them, so it is almost certain that they were being worn in Jersey. As for the other ranks, obliged by law to provide their own uniforms, which, from contemporary accounts, were rudimentary, their buttons may have had a regimental number but equally could have been plain.

In 1780, in the aftermath of the Duke of Nassau's abortive invasion attempt the previous year, the British Government made an issue of clothing to the Militia as a gesture towards morale and, thereafter, assumed the responsibility for future supplies at its expense. One may assume that the clothing then issued bore some form of regimental button similar, perhaps, to a surviving other ranks' Guernsey Militia pewter button which bears the word 'Guernsey' but no regimental number.

Plate 1
Plate 2

The buttons shown in Plates 1a and 1f are probably associated with the clothing issues of either 1803 or 1809, but it is conceivable that they follow a pattern introduced in 1780. The button shown in Plate 1a was worn by other ranks of the Saint Helier battalion of the 4th or South Regiment. The lettering St H over M is an abbreviation for Saint Helier Militia. Likewise the button in Plate 1 f bears the numeral 3 above the letter E indicating the 3rd or East Regiment. The North-west Regiment had the letters NW over M, and the South-west had its regimental number 5 above the letters SW.

Later, in the Napoleonic Wars, the pattern of button used by both officers and men changed to that of a crown above the regimental number, all within a circle (Plate 1 b, g, h). The last use of this design was on the clothing issued in 1820 and worn until 1832. There were other styles in use during the period, as is shown by the officers' buttons in Plates 1 e and 2d. This came about as a consequence of the 4th Regiment having two battalions, Saint Helier and Saint Lawrence. Both had the same facing colour, but were practically independent regiments, the split having been made in order to accommodate the large population of Saint Helier. To distinguish the officers, one battalion, probably Saint Lawrence, must have adopted this distinctive button.

Sir John Le Couteur

The four different facing colours of the five Jersey Militia regiments proved a considerable inconvenience whenever islanders moved between the parishes, necessitating the return of one uniform and the issue of another. To simplify the situation, it was envisaged that there should be a single pattern of uniform for the whole of the Jersey Militia. The architect of the plan was Sir John Le Couteur, Colonel of the 1st Regiment. Following an audience with the King, at which Le Couteur displayed the new uniform, the Jersey Militia was granted the title 'Royal' in January 1831, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Jersey. A regiment so styled had the right to wear blue facings, thus enabling all the Jersey regiments to be dressed alike.

Having decided on a uniform facing colour it followed that there should be a patterned button which could be worn by all the regiments. Le Couteur's initial design had three leopards surmounted by the cypher of Willian IV, which had to be changed on the militia becoming 'Royal'. Le Couteur wrote to the Lieut-Governor of Jersey suggesting "the 52nd button is a very neat one so that by substituting RJM for 52 one may look very smart": As a note to this letter in his letter-book, he added "I altered ... three ... days after ... the button - the star of the Garter in the centre Royal Jersey Militia as a border':Le Couteur's Garter-star design was accepted and appeared on the new clothing issued in 1832.

The manufacturers of the other ranks buttons were Firmin. In the records of the Board of Ordnance is the tender (right) for the Jersey Militia buttons.

Militia officers also adopted the Garter-star pattern button in silver for wear on the coatee (Plate 2e), although officers of the 2nd or North Regiment had their own regimental button (Plate 2h). A variant of the latter exists with the words Royal Jersey Militia on the garter in place of Royal Jersey Regt.

The 1832 clothing was replaced in 1846. One detail that emerges is that the six band sergeants wore gilt buttons. The Board of Ordnance inadvertently had supplied silver-plated buttons but these were returned and replaced with gilt. The gilt button shown in Plate 2c may well be one of them.

The Garter-star pattern developed with the reintroduction of the regimental number into the design, on officers' and other ranks' buttons of all five regiments, of the size associated with the 1856 pattern tunic (Plate 2b). However, it should be noted that all surviving officers' tunics of the 1856 pattern bear tunic size, unnumbered, Garter-star buttons (Plate 2g) while those of the NCOs and men have the Royal Crest pattern in pewter (Plate 2f). Why there should be two designs for the button of this tunic is unclear.

Officers of the 2nd Regiment had, in addition, a special pattern tunic button similar to that on their coatee, but larger, with the design of a crown within the garter bearing the words Second Royal Jersey. The Royal Crest was in effect the successor to the Garter-star as the universal pattern button of the Royal Jersey Militia. It was first worn by the other ranks on the 1856 pattern tunic, and subsequently adopted by officers on the 1868 pattern tunic. When officers' lace changed from silver to gold, about 1881, a gilt Royal Crest button replaced the plated version. The pattern continued after 1902 with the Tudor Crown, in gilt for full dress, and in bronze on service dress. The other ranks wore the pattern in white metal until 1881, when brass general service buttons were authorised. It was worn also on officers' mess dress, in silver on a gilt ground.

Artillery

In England, the British Militia Artillery wore silver lace and buttons to distinguish it from the Royal Artillery. Throughout its existence, the Artillery of the Jersey Militia, styled the Royal Jersey Artillery from 1771, wore gold lace with dress identical with that of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, save for special distinctions. Thus, a surviving officer's coatee in the collection of the Societe Jersiaise, conforming to the 1838 clothing changes, retains the previous 1833-1838 buttons, because the new button authorised in that year for the Royal Artillery incorporated the battle honour 'Ubique', to which the Jersey Artillery was not entitled.

Mention should be made of the Royal Jersey Rifles, a body formed in 1852 from the Light Companies of the 1st Regiment and Saint Helier Battalion of the 4th Regiment. The 1st dressed similarly to the Rifle Brigade and the 4th as the King's Royal Rifle Corps. A surviving 1st Regiment rifle officer's jacket dating from 1852, in the Militia Museum at Elizabeth Castle, bears small black composition buttons with the design of a '1' within the strings of a bugle-horn tied with a bow, around which is a circle with the words Royal Jersey Rifles. The facings and lace of the Jersey Militia were as below:

  • 1st Buff - Silver
  • 2nd Yellow - Gold
  • 3rd White - Gold
  • 4th (St Helier) - Blue Gold
  • 4th (St Lawrence) - Blue Gold
  • 5th Blue - Gold
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