Though many people came to think so, I wasn’t born wearing a ‘green jacket’. My boyhood interest in ‘re-enacting’ Rogers’s Rangers led to a brief sojourn with The Sabre Society in 1975 and then membership of the 21eme Infanterie de Ligne (where I served at the first ‘Waterloo’ event back in 1978 as a drummer). I transferred into the original re-enactment unit of the 1/95th Rifles in that same year.
The ‘original’ 95th Rifles was born in the costumed shoots at Belvoir Castle where three local members wore a reconstructed uniform (using skilfully converted Nottingham bus drivers jackets). They were spotted and duly invited by the original 45th Foot (Nottinghamshire) to continue in this role by becoming part of the newly-created Napoleonic Association. The subsequent march of the 95th Rifles into camp wearing full marching order the following year went down in the annals of the uniformed NA. I met and chatted with the ‘originals’ at Waterloo and duly received my ‘invitation to enlist’ - most of their members had previously served in the Army and in addition were also experienced muzzle-loading shooters so we hit it off right from the very start. The original thirteen members nicknamed “Baker’s Dozen” always retained a distinct performance ‘edge’ over other NA units in both parade and skirmish in the UK and ever- increasingly, ‘overseas’.
The 'original' 95th Rifles re-enactment
group, formed in the 1970s.
The original unit marched through the early 1980’s into the mid-1990’s passing through three major costume and equipment changes and selectively taking on several new members. I applied myself to learning and advising ‘what it was really like on campaign’ and as some NA pensioners will already know, gained valuable experience as a ‘flintlock armourer’ and a historical interpreter through my great interest in what has now become known amongst re-enactors as ‘practical experimental archaeology’ - more simply, ‘living-history’ - and this was applied to reconstructing as accurately as possible ‘Rifleman Moore of Wellington’s Army 1810-1815’. This began in 1989 with my individual presentations for English Heritage on this theme and then extended far beyond that in 1991 in first advising and then serving as Military & Technical Adviser / Armourer on the television series Sharpe from 1992 - 2005.
On location out in the blissfully undeveloped Crimea and later Turkey gave me the opportunity, by leaving the internal combustion engine behind on base camp and once out on filming location (these were both visually evocative and physically demanding), to blink out the television camera and see the terrain, the lines of redcoats, the cavalry, the artillery parks and the tented camps as the nearest thing I’d ever get to actually being a part of “Wellington’s Army”. In addition to ‘teaching’ I realised that I had the opportunity to get closer to the 95th Rifles ‘on campaign’ than anyone else in the past and gain a lot from the experience. The uniformed aspect taken from recreating a basic issue of arms and equipment enabled me to test each of these for practical performance ‘in the field’ by wearing only the uniform of the Napoleonic 95th each day ‘on location’ and ‘staying in camp’ instead of going back each day to the hotel accommodation of the film cast and crew. Writing up these experiences led to a series of reports and articles going back to a select few in the UK from 1992 through to 1997. The result of these experiences and tests became a series of articles named ‘Recreating the 95th Rifleman 1808-1815’ which dealt not only in uniform and recreated campaign performance but also dealt with the more obscure aspects such as everyday comfort & survival and hence included a lot of personal observations and philosophy in associated comparison to ‘reading between the lines’ of the memoirs left to us of actual riflemen of the 95th.
The final version of the reconstructed veteran ‘Rifleman Moore of Wellington’s Army’ showing the effect of many years ‘on campaign’ with the 95th Rifles uses a sunny day and a vantage point high in the Pyrenees to enjoy a pipe and look back along the road to Spain to remember ‘absent friends’.
I won’t be including very many of what became ‘The Reminiscences of Rifleman Moore’ for the benefit of re-enactors as personal stories and tales often don’t reflect the atmosphere at the time they occurred and are - and always will be - replaced with fresh memories from new members. Though I appear ‘on-camera’ in several of the episodes of Sharpe mostly as ‘Rifleman Moore’ all my best experiences took place ‘off-camera’ during what might be deemed ‘leisure time’. The experiences, adventures, exploits and the suffering of real soldiers ‘on campaign’ can only be shown on a television or a cinema screen up to a certain point - and though some recent feature films are notable in their portrayal, battlefield-violence only ever gets close to horrible reality in a book depending on the personal experience or the skill and imagination of the author. I do agree with veterans I’ve chatted with that ‘the good times do tend to dim the bad times’ and the fun-parts are always the ones you remember. Suffering acute dysentery in the 110 degree heat of India or standing in the lee of a canvas tent sharing a single cigar with soldiers in an average temperature of minus two working over fourteen nights in recreated trenches filming ‘The Storming of Badajoz’ has to be experienced in order to reveal the actual reality of physical and mental feelings - no period soldier of the 95th could return after the end of a battle to the hotel to take a hot shower and climb into a comfortable bed so the best thing to do ‘to get the full experience’ on a suitable occasion is to do that yourself - but you must become fully prepared for what could happen as a result. In the same way, not many re-enactors have had the experience of ‘live-firing’ muzzle-loading and all that, that entails, especially ‘in the field’ as reflected in my two articles Practical Experiments to ascertain the Battlefield Effectiveness of the Baker Rifle and the ‘Brown Bess’ Infantry Musket of the Napoleonic Period and Loading and Firing the Baker Rifle. In then applying my experiences from 1995 to 2004 in guiding ‘battlefield tours’ to the actual battlefields of The Peninsular War and The Waterloo Campaign (and later, The Crimean War of 1854-6) enabled me to explain to tourists that not everything you read in the history books or see on the television screen should be taken as gospel - but it became a two-edged blade in that trying to present truthfully graphic accounts of some battles did create an emotional response in me which was later described by one journalist and documentary film-maker as a result of me having ‘experienced them in the flesh’.
On location during the
filming of 'Sharpe's Challenge'
I was greatly influenced in my early years with the 95th by a novel written by C S Forester called 'Death to the French' as it seemed to sum-up in fiction the creation of the ‘model experimental rifleman’ of 1800-1806 as visualised by Manningham and Stewart and later incorporated into the ‘light infantry’ concepts of Sir John Moore as the means of defeating the French to be skilfully introduced by Wellington in 1808 and by 1810 - with the formation of The Light Division - had become a highly efficient force. I was presented with a copy of 'Death to the French' from an actor I worked with on Sharpe in his appreciation of my help and it sits today on the bookshelf with the equally valued books of Harris, Smith, Leach, Kincaid, Green, Costello, Simmons, Surtees and many other collected memoirs of the 95th. Only later did I note the actor in question in making the gift of the book had ‘amended’ one of the latter pages to read “Many years later, when he was a rheumaticky old pensioner mumbling in approaching senility in the chimney corner, he would tell bits of the tale to the doctor and the squire’s young son but he never learned to tell it straight and the tale of his involvement in history was always so broken up amongst reminiscences of Waterloo and the Storming of Badajoz and the battle of Balaklava that it was too hard to untangle. Not that it matters. Not even trifles depended on it as in those days there were no crosses or medals for the men in the ranks. There was only honour, duty and adventure and it was hard for a later generation to realise that these abstractions had ever meant anything to the querulous, bald-headed old boozer who had once been Rifleman Moore”.
Along with the other works which are to be included in this section of the website, I’m happy to supply my research and reference notes and articles by request to be reproduced here for the benefit of all Recreated 95th Riflemen everywhere, to give something back in return for all the good times I had in the ranks and in becoming an Honorary Member of the 3/95th in the present-day corps of Napoleonic 95th Riflemen. I hope they are all of use in answering the questions you still can’t find in books - though many have recently been written on the subject - or simply by adding to your existing knowledge. I just forget who it was that said “Imitation is the sincerest form of Flattery” but indulging in costumed re-enactment and through gunsmoke, sweat and tears (and a helluva lot of fun with a nip of rum sitting around the campfire at night) by finding a ‘fellowship in arms’ with like-minded folk is the best way to realise your interest and any research into the heritage of the 95th Rifles. In that respect, Riflemen - I raise my glass in the old 95th toast of ‘green tufts and short barrels’ in wishing you the very best of Luck!