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Regarding recent interest in Regimental traditions originating during the American War of Independence, there has been reference to the Royal Berkshire's 'Brandywine Flash' and the controversial night actions at Paoli and Old Tappan. Here's some background information.

During the early years of the AWI, The 49th Foot (later 1st Royal Berkshires- ultimately the RGBWLI) had its light company seconded to the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion, a composite unit formed from the light coys of the 40th, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 49th, 52nd, 55th, 63rd,
64th, 37th, 46th, 57th & 71st Regiments, all serving in General Sir William Howe's force assembled to put down the rebellion in the north east.

(The First Light Infantry consisted of companies from: 4th, 5th, 10th,15th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 28th, 33rd, 35th, 38th and 42nd Regiments)

In September 1777, following the British victory at Brandywine Creek, General Howe's advance to Philadelphia was being shadowed by Pennsylvanian General Anthony Wayne who was lurking with his division on the rear right flank of the column of march. Maj Gen Sir Charles Grey was sent with the 2nd LI, the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment and the 44th Regiment to deal with this threat. As the brigade advanced under cover of darkness and bad weather, Grey ordered that the force should attack with the bayonet alone and, to prevent their advance being given away, ordered that flints should be extract from muskets. At least one CO, Major John Maitland of the 2nd LI (A Marine, BTW), demurred and asked that weapons should simply remain unloaded. The Pennsylvanian division was caught in camp near the 'General Paoli' Tavern and withdrew in disorder although Wayne managed to organise a covering force to allow most of his men to escape. It was said that the Americans lost 400 men. The next day, 50 or so bodies were recovered around the camp. 70 prisoners were taken, many of them wounded and left behind with a British surgeon to supervise their care till Washington could provide medical treament of his own. Nonetheless, talk of a massacre quickly spread, with tales of wounded and unarmed prisoners being bayoneted out of hand and burning to death in their makeshift brush shelters.

The 2nd Lights, in the first line of the assault, appear to have been singled out as the principal culprits, even though it was the 42nd, notoriously free with cold steel, acting as sweepers in the third line who set alight the enemy 'wigwams' and must have been equally in the frame. Nonetheless, the Lights were dubbed 'The Bloodhounds' and dark threats of vengeance were sent across the lines.

After Philadelphia was occupied, the British occupied positions around Germantown to the north and awaited a counter attack from Washington. An ambitious American night advance caught the British on the hop and emerging from the October mists, a Pennsylvanian brigade found themselves advancing on piquets of the 2nd LI. With howls of "Have at the Blood Hounds!" they sent the Lights tumbling back towards the main position and, according to Wayne himself, bayonetted any they caught up with.

The attack was checked in the end. After a fruitless eight month occupation, the British abandoned Philadlephia and returned to New York in June 1778. That autumn, the 2nd Lights were involved in another controversial night attack on an Light Dragoon outpost at Old Tappan in New Jersey. There were more stories of unarmed prisoners being 'skivered' out of hand. Shortly after, with regiments being withdrawn to form a force being sent to the West Indies, the two Light battalions in New York were amalgamated and that was the end of 'The Bloodhounds'.

The first reference to red feathers doesn't appear till 1821, when an old general recorded a story he'd been told about his uncle, John Maitland, the Marine CO of the 2nd Lights. According to his informant, the normally impassive Washington was so outraged by reports of British ruthlessness in the incident at Tappan in September 1778, that he vowed he would get 'satisfaction'. Maitland was said to have responded by saying, to make the job easier, he would order his men to wear red feathers in their headgear to make sure they could be identified.

However, within days of Tappan, Maitland is known to have transferred to the 71st Regiment (a Highland corps) as CO of the 1st Battalion and left for Georgia where he later died of fever. The story is a little ambiguous. The 71st Light Coy were prominent in the Tappan attack and it may have been them who were to be supplied with red feathers as they rejoined their regiment for the voyage to Savannah. Certainly, once in the South the 71st gave Washington further cause for resentment and plenty of opportunity to seek satisfaction. He got it at Cowpens and Yorktown.

Also from 1821 comes another old General's memoir. In that year the 42nd, by then renowned as 'The Black Watch,' felt the need to claim the red vulture feather they wore in their bonnet as their own exclusive distinction. This was duly granted but when the Adjutant General's office asked for a written account of how the distinction had come to be adopted, no one could say for certain so they turned to General James Stirling. One of the longest serving officers of the Regiment, Stirling had begun his service in America. He stated categorically that at the beginning of that war when the composite battalions were being formed, the 2nd Light Infantry were given red feathers to wear and when the 42nd were brigade with them, Howe ordered them to wear a red feather as well- 'to make the whole uniform.' (This is, incidentally, also the first documented reference to origin of the 'red hackle' although ambiguous paintings survive from c.1790. According to Stirling, however, it was not until 1802 after the battle of Alexandria that the King officially granted the Black Watch the right to wear this 'American' red feather. Accounts of a royal award made seven years earlier did not emerge until the 1840s). Much of the detail of Stirling's account is inconsistent with the recorded facts and it is not entirely logical but it seems unlikely the old General had simply imagined both the 2nd LI and the Black Watch wearing red feathers.

In 1833, when the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment returned from 19 years continuous service in Australia and India, it was noticed that their light company was wearing a red feather in their dress shako as opposed to the regulation green worsted 'ball-tuft' (i.e. pom-pom) ordered by regulations four years previously. Unfortunately we only have the Adjutant General Office's letter enquiring when the Light Coys red feather distinction was authorised and a second letter giving cordial acceptance of whatever explanation was supplied and granting the distinction. The letters from the 46th have not survived.

However, we can assume that their account bore close relation to the story told 18 years later when the 'Historical Record of the 46th Regiment' was published 1851 as part of a series of regimental histories produced by the Adjutant General's office. This gives the earliest surviving version of the story behind the 46th Regiment's red feather.

The Americans having vowed vengeance for the attack at Paoli (which they deemed a "massacre"), and that they would give no quarter, the soldiers of the Light Battalion declared that in order to prevent any one not engaged in the action from suffering on their account, that they would dye the feathers worn in their caps red, as a distinguishing mark,

The Light Infantry's touching concern that their comrades should not have to answer for their deeds is a suitably Victorian twist on what, if it indeed happened, would be more credible as a simple act of bloody-minded defiance.

Meanwhile, sometime in the 1820s the 49th Princess Louise's (Hertfordshire) Regiment, were recreating their Regimental records destroyed in 1813- appropriately while fighting the Americans in Upper Canada. The new Regimental Digest of Service noted a red feather was adopted by the light company during the AWI but managed to confuse the battle of Brandywine Creek with the night action at Paoli. However, In the case of the 49th, the tradition had not endured. It is worth pointing out that inspection reports for the light company of the 46th from after the AWI make no mention of a red feather, either.

In 1858, flank companies were abolished and the 46th South Devonshires were granted a red 'ball-tuft' in their shakos as a Regimental distinction. In 1878 the introduction of the Blue Cloth Home Service helmet finally rendered the redundant ball-tuft obsolete and the 46th lost their 'red feather' distinction. When in 1881 the 46th were combined with the 32nd Cornwall Light Infantry to form the DCLI, an emblem of crossed feathers in the new regiment's helmet plate badge revived the tradition. A red patch worn behind a Light infantry bugle horn badge on the Field Service Cap was later introduced as a more appropriate form. This was then worn with the khaki serge Service Dress cap from 1905, the khaki F.S. cap (1937) and on the beret during the Second World War and after.

Meanwhile the 49th had become the 1st Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment. In 1934, it was decided for recruiting purposes to adopt a square, red patch behind the cap badge "to commemorate the part played by the Light Company of the 49th Regiment in action at Brandywine Creek" - the significance of the night action at Paoli was acknowledged at the time but soon forgotten. From the start, the red patch was known as the "Brandywine Distinction" and when after 1945 it was transformed into an inverted red triangle behind the beret badge, supposedly recalling a red plume, it came to be known as the 'Brandywine Flash.' It was worn as such by the Royal Berkshire Regiment and its descendants until the RGBWLI were absorbed into the The Rifles in 2007 and the red feather tradition was no more.

It is ironic that in the 1960s soldiers in the KRRC- later 2 RGJ- were told the red backing to their cap badge was also a relic of campaigns in America. After the 60th Royal Americans' bloody victory over an Indian force, it was said, the feather's of the enemy dead were taken, dipped in their own blood and worn as trophies so the rest would know who it was who beat them. It never happened. When the 60th became a Rifle Regiment, they simply adopted the red facings of their 5th Rifle Battalion. The red badge backing didn't appear until the late 19th century. The tale was a garbled borrowing of the LI red feathers from the AWI and the 5th Northumberland Regiment's tradition of taking white feathers from fallen French grenadiers at St Lucie in 1778. When all the infantry were ordered to wear white feathers in 1829, the 5th were authorised to wear theirs with a red tip to continue their distinction and the legend grew up that this symbolised the blood of the dead French staining their white feathers. This hackle is still worn by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. And so it goes...

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Hi jf

Very many thanks for your excellent and most interesting post re "Red Feathers". Sorry to be so late in responding to this but I have only just found it, tho' I must say I am surprised that no one else has apparently made any comments.

I wonder if I might add a couple of "footnotes" which may be of interest to you and any others :

(1) Battle of Brandywine 11th Sept 1777

(2) Paoli incident 20th Sept 1777

(3)46th Foot (Lt Coy) Red plumes :

The earliest surviving official authority for this appears to be the 1834 edition of "Dress Regulations for the British Army"

(4) Little or no mention was made of the Middlesex Regiment "traditional red feathers" mentioned by Maj J.L.Archer c.1888

A diamond shaped patch of red & yellow was worn behind the cap badge c.1920, but was not officially authorised until August 1950. The yellow represented the old facing colour of both the 57th & 77th Foot, and the red (or "claret") to commemorate the 57th Lt.Coy participation at Brandywine & Paoli.

(5) The 71st Foot mentioned were in fact "Frasers Highlanders" (disbanded in 1784) not the HLI who later took this number.

Any further information anyone has would be greatly appreciated. Regards. Jeff

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This is an interesting research subject. Should you all be able to continue with the subject , then Brian and I will

be pleased to make it a Moderators' Post. Tell us if you think there is further 'mileage' ? Mervyn

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I grew up about 2 miles from the Brandywine Battlefield. By chance, I ran into a company of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (then numbered the 32nd) on a road march in Bermuda around 1954, and they regaled me with the story of the red flash and gave me a cap badge, me being but a young lad at the time. It was one of my first bits of British militaria, and I carried it during my year in Viet Nam as a good luck piece. It worked.

As I remember the story, the red patch was earned at Brandywine (which is a creek running through the area), but we also discussed Paoli at the time. Interestingly, the pronounced Paoli as "Pow-lee", and all the locals call it "Pay-o-lee", so it took me quite a while to figure out where they meant. I didn't see the 32nd mentioned in jf42's notes above, but that was probably one or two re-numberings and amalgamations before my experience with them.

I've lost almost all connection with Chadd's Ford (the town at the Brandywine site), but I do know that they still celebrate the battle every September.

Delighted to see this post.

Best,

Hugh

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Jeff, thank you for wading through what, on re-reading, now seem rather hastily composed notes. I might well take advantage of Mervyn's offer to redraft and expand- when I am a little farther down the road.

Thank you, too for prompting closer attention to the involvement of the 57th 'light bobs' at Paoli Tavern. I had read in Woolbright's history (1893) of their adoption of a red feather when part of Maitland's 2nd Light Infantry but was unaware of the existence of the Middlesex Regt's claret and yellow flash or of its significance.

Having looked into the subject a little today, it seems to me the evidence for the 57th wearing a red feather is as slight as for the other component coy's of Maitland's 'Bloodhounds'. The claim that they continued to wear the red feather for a period after the end of the AWI is contradicted somewhat by the reference in Woolbright to an inspection at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1784 when the 57th's clothing was approved as regulation (as was that of the 46th during several post-war inspections, with particular reference to their Light coy). Curiously, the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment were in Nova Scotia at the same time, and there is no comment to their famous red feather, which they now appear to have been wearing since the start of the AWI. On returning home, their bonnets attracted hostile comment. Perhaps we are dealing with an easy-going Major General.

I should be most interested to read any documentary evidence relating to the Middlesex Regiment adoption of a flash after the Great War and to the official recognition of their distinction in 1950. Are you aware of direct reference to the 1777 campaign in America being made at the time? I was unable to trace your reference to Major J.L Archer. I should also be grateful if you could expand on that a little.

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As I remember the story, the red patch was earned at Brandywine (which is a creek running through the area), but we also discussed Paoli at the time. Interestingly, the pronounced Paoli as "Pow-lee", and all the locals call it "Pay-o-lee", so it took me quite a while to figure out where they meant. I didn't see the 32nd mentioned in jf42's notes above, but that was probably one or two re-numberings and amalgamations before my experience with them.

Hugh,

The reason you didn't see the 32nd (Cornwall Light Infantry) mentioned is that they became the 1st Battalion DCLI, when the Regiment was created in 1881, while the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment became the 2nd Battalion. It was the 46th Regiment whose light company were part of the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion in 1777 and who had perpetuated the 'red feather' tradition in the years after the AWI.

Your memory of the way the squaddies pronounced 'Paoli' in contrast to the locals in southern Pennsylvania is a wonderful vignette of how the name had been mangled by generations of West Country sergeants and corporals passing the story on to successive intakes of recruits (I'm thinking, 'Paola'- 'Paoli'- fair enough!).

As for Brandywine, for some reason, in the 46th and also the 49th (later 1st Royal Berkshires), the tradition became garbled and over the years the story was attached to the battle of Brandywine Creek rather than the subsequent night action near Paoli Tavern. Perhaps it was something to do with wine being red- (although brandy, like the river, is brown) or perhaps because 'Brandywine' is easier to say and is a more vivid name than 'Paoli' which, while exotic, is confusingly alien- and hard to say! ('Paoli Tavern' had been named by local Whigs in honour of a Corsican nationalist who had led a resistance campaign against the French and, ironically, was living in exile in London.)

Your situation of being a local boy from Chadds Ford, of all places, and then being told the story in a far away place by descendants in spirit of the soldiers who fought at Brandywine and Paoli Tavern must be unique.

I'm glad the good luck charm worked for you. Thanks for your story.

Edited by jf42

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Gotta love this forum! Thanks for the information. It's probably more than survives at the local museum.

Hugh

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Hugh- This might stir some old memories:

http://sites.google.com/site/djkl157/home

[via:<http://www.britisharmedforces.org/li_pages/regiments/dcli/duke_index.htm>

By the way, I think the correct pronunciation of Paoli is PA-OH-LI, which in Standard English would morph slightly into PIE-OH-LEE.

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Hi jf & all

Here are some of the "docs" I mentioned (if I can post them sucessfully) :

Sorry, having problems with my "downloads"....will have to get back to you later. Regards. Jeff

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Hugh- This might stir some old memories:

http://sites.google....te/djkl157/home

[via:<http://www.britisharmedforces.org/li_pages/regiments/dcli/duke_index.htm>

By the way, I think the correct pronunciation of Paoli is PA-OH-LI, which in Standard English would morph slightly into PIE-OH-LEE.

Many thanks for this; it was a real treat. I surely must have met some of the men in these photos. I'll never forget the subaltern leading the march in a heavy khaki wool shirt in the Bermuda climate.

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Jeff,

Thanks for posting those scans. I look forward to seeing what might have been said regarding the significance of the Middlesex Regt’s yellow and claret flash at the time it was adopted and when it was authorised.

In the meantime, I've been comparing what was being said by C19th historians on the matter of the 57th Light coy in America.

Here's what H.J. Warre said in 1878:

"The Americans, enraged at their comrades having fallen into their own trap, declared they would give no quarter to the troops of the Light Battalion. To prevent others not engaged in this night attack from suffering on their account, the soldiers of the light companies composing this battalion dyed their plumes red, as a distinguishing mark for the enemy, and as a memorial of the signal success of the expedition. This practice was continued by the Light companies of the regiments engaged until they were ordered to wear green."

(Historical records of the Fifty-seventh, or, West Middlesex Regiment of Foot)

IN 1893, H.H. Woolright wrote:

"After this affair the Americans vowed no quarter to the light battalion, in defiance of which threat, and as a mark of distinction, the latter dyed their plumes red, and the light company of the 57th and the others* that formed the battalion continued to wear red plumes till some years after, when the whole of the light infantry were ordered to wear green."

(*Footnote: "The light company of the 46th, however, continued to wear the red plumes, and the distinction is still commemorated in the uniform of that regiment")

(History of the Fifty-seventh (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot 1755-1881)

As the marked passages show, both these accounts bear a close resemblance to each other and also, significantly, to the account that appeared in Cannon’s "Historical Record of the 46th, or the South Devonshire Regiment of Foot," published in 1851.

“It was this affair which gave the FORTY-SIXTH regiment Red Feathers, which it has ever since worn. The origin of the distinction is as follows:-

The Americans having vowed vengeance for the attack at Paoli (which they deemed a "massacre"), and that they would give no quarter, the soldiers of the Light Battalion declared that in order to prevent any one not engaged in the action from suffering on their account, that they would dye the feathers worn in their caps red, as a distinguishing mark...

-=-

It does appear that the 1878 and 1893 accounts for the 57th Regt red feather drew heavily on the 1851 history of the 46th Regt. There's no detail that suggests that the Middlesex historians had access to another, independent source- let alone an earlier one.

There are unpublished sources that indicate red feather stories were circulating in some form as early as 1803- but there is no direct reference to the 2nd Light Infantry or Paoli Tavern although the 1803 anecdote appears to have become garbled in the intervening eighteen years before it was committed to paper in 1821.

There is also unpublished correspondence from 1822 that, arguably, shows the tradition of the 46th wearing red feathers circulating c.1808. All this can be set against the recollection of Major General James Stirling who stated in 1822 (as part of that same correspondence) that when he arrived in New York with the 42nd RHR in 1776 the 2nd LI were wearing a red feather (while the 1st LI wore a green feather). the implication being that these distinctions were adopted purely for recognition purposes and battalion esprit de corps.

Looking at the source you quoted, Major Lawrence-Archer's reference to the subject is brief and, sadly, even shorter on reliable facts. Space may have been at a premium in his book but it's interesting that he makes a point of referring to the Light Infantry wearing a red plume at the time of Yorktown but does not mention its relevance, given that the appeal of the red feather tradition is the story of the 'light bobs' ' defiant gesture in the face of American vengefulness; a theme that goes at least as far back as Agincourt and the alleged origin of the British V-sign.

In fact, the Light Infantry of 1781 was not the Light infantry of 1777-78, when the events said to have inspired the adoption of the red feather occurred. In 1778, many regiments were sent ‘southward’ to Georgia and the West Indies and the light companies of the regiments remaining in New York were merged into one battalion and adopted a green feather. This included four light companies that had fought at Paoli Tavern, who presumably would have been required to lay aside any symbolic red feathers and adopt green, as had the light company of the 37th when they transferred from 2nd LI to 1st LI earlier in the summer.

When the Light Infantry was re-organised into 2 battalions at the end of 1779, in preparation for for the Charleston expedition, the companies were mixed up so that some that had been in the 1st LI in 1778 were put in the 2nd LI and vice-versa. Only three companies from the original 2nd LI (1776-1778)- those of the 43rd, 57th and 64th Regiments- were in the ‘new’ 2nd LI. These might have re-adopted the red feathers of their old battalion, but would the three companies from the 1st LI (who may have been wearing green feathers since 1776) and the three companies who had come out with their regiments as reinforcements, and were entirely innocent of alleged atrocities, would these have been so content to advertise themselves as targets of American revenge? Or had the red feather perhaps become by then simply a symbol of esprit de corps and general defiance? We have no evidence either way.

The one piece of contemporary evidence that we have currently is that in 1783 the light infantry of the 71st Regiment ('Fraser's Highlanders') - part of the 2nd LI until they went to Georgia in 1778 and featuring prominently in connection with 'American' red feather stories- were recorded wearing mixed black and red ostrich feathers in their Scottish bonnets.

It seems unlikely that there isn't some germ of truth to the American 'red feather' tradition but the evidence, on examination, proves to be very insubstantial and based almost entirely on hearsay. The origins are unlikely to have been as dramatic as later generations have liked to recount, as now appears to be the case with the Black Watch and their 'red hackle'. That doesn't detract from the value of the emblems worn by generations of soldiers, for whom the feathers, hackles tufts and flashes worn in honour of past exploits have provided a cherished symbol of loyalty, discipline and pride.

Edited by jf42

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