Not too long ago I was attending a Gun Show in our area and had just completed a negotiation for the purchase of a Pattern 1908 British Cavalry Sabre. The guard had “possibly” been repainted green in the same shade as the WWI models, though I see no indication that this is not the original paint job; some of these were green and some a khaki colour. The seller stated that it had been issued to the Fort Gary Horse (Canadian) which to his mind warranted a slightly higher price than one might normally expect. This example, I did agree, commanded a higher value but not for the reason he presented as the guard was stamped R.H.G. (Royal Horse Guard). As a shameless fan-boy of Victorian era military, anything marked to the Horse Guard is prized. “Hold on there sunshine”, you may be thinking, “haven’t you forgotten the dates of Victoria’s rein (1837-1901) or missed the fact that the sabre is a Pattern 1908?” The Pattern 1908 was in fact accepted into service by King Edward VII (1901 –1910), rather reluctantly according to some sources as he considered it a very ugly pattern compared to those patterns that came before. I considered this specimen a real treasure and therefore was prepared to pay a bit of a premium. For a change the lack of attention to detail was not mine and I came home with a treasure, in my opinion. Granted I could have pointed out that the stampings did not support his original claim with the intentions of negotiating a lower price, however, since he felt the sword commanded a premium price and I agreed, albeit for a different reason, therefore I feel no remorse at withholding the information. A case where Caveat emptor was somewhat reversed; Caveat venditor perhaps?
The Household Cavalry and I believe Royal Horse Guards still use their Pattern 1892 Mk.II for ceremonial purposes, however during the WWI period they were issued the Pattern 1908 while on active service.
By way of some explanation as to why, if I am so inclined to collect Victorian era black powder military firearms and swords, have I added the Pattern 1908 Cavalry troopers sabre and the Pattern 1912 Officer’s Cavalry sabre to the collection? My collection theme, and I do have one, (a method to my madness if you will), is that I like my collection to tell a story and yet not necessarily including every Pattern of sword or Mark and Number of every musket ever made. Therefore the Pattern 1908 and 1912 is the final chapter in the story of British Cavalry sabres. Also, I do collect in the “other direction” so the collection also has examples of weapons from George III, George IV, William IV as well as Victoria, a range from 1760 to 1901 or 1912 in the case of the last cavalry (Officer’s) pattern.
I find it interesting that the Patterns still in use today by Officers, though for ceremonial purposes only, end with the Victorian Patterns. One exception that I am aware of is the use of the Pattern 1908 by Canada’s R.C.M.P. in their world famous Musical Ride. Now, finding one marked to the R.C.M.P. would be a banner day indeed.
After I had secured the sword I slipped it into what is called a “rifle or gun sock” for transport around the balance of the show. My reasons for this, other than treating the sword with respect and protecting it from any damage while it is in my care, is the unwanted banter that often comes from the vendors. If you carry around a firearm or sword, for that matter, every other dealer is shouting out at you asking if “it” is for sale. I find it rather annoying though I understand their reasons. Sword collectors immediately recognize the shape in the rifle sock and some will ask if they can see what you have. Naturally one would never decline to show off a new prize and the resulting conversation that follows. Eventually I came to a table of a long time acquaintance of mine who is also a fellow sword collector. He is a collector of ancient Japanese weapons and armour, the real thing not the WWII NCO and Officer’s katanas or the cheap scrap metal reproductions out of China. I showed him my latest purchase and he said, upon handling it, that it was a really poor sword and felt awkward in the hand and he thought it would also be a poor sword for fencing. It should be explained that this is common between us, his running down of British military swords and me asking once in a while, when no one else can hear, if a certain blade on his table came out of China recently. I would agree with his tongue-in-cheek assessment that the 1908 Cavalry Sabre feels much different in the hand than a Japanese katana, and he was as usual joking, as I have a couple of Japanese swords in the collection dating from the early 1650s. I also agree that the 1908 would make a terrible fencing sword based on the fact that in my younger days I belonged to a fencing club, using the epee for the most part. Then he hit upon the obvious that the 1908 had no true (sharp) edge and was “too dull to even cut butter”, I have not experimented but I assure you the butter remark was a little over the top. My friend knows his swords so his comments only elicited a laugh from me as I knew he was kidding. The downside is that he now has one up on me!
This has led me to thinking about the current trend on television to run programs comparing different weapons systems and warriors throughout history. Comparing a ninja to a fifteenth century fully armoured knight for example. Who would win? First off there is no such thing nor never has been a ninja outside the realm of fiction and fantasy, so let’s call our imaginary friend a samurai. They were both in more or less the same time periods but the warfare they engaged in was completely different calling for different tactics and equipment. Also the samurai portrayed in these silly “competitions” is almost always indicative of the warriors of the 1650’s period and probably should at least be the fully armoured samurai of the 1500’s. Total nonsense! No different than comparing the Japanese katana of the 1650’s, of which I have two examples in my collection, to the Pattern 1908 British cavalry troopers sabre. Katanas are cutting, or slashing, weapons and the 1908 is a “thrust centric” sword, not even a true sabre; it’s actually more of an estoc. True you can thrust with the katana but just looking at it tells you that the principal use is as a cutter. You’ve probably seen samurai movies where the hero has just polished off 1,714 of the opposition’s samurai then flips his sword under his arm and stabs another opponent who is coming up behind him. Nice move for the camera but not one that would be very useful on the battle field. To make my point, the distance from the body of the samurai to the point of strike (about 4 inches from the tip) on the blade is 42 inches. The point of fatal contact with the enemy approaching from behind is 10 inches taking into account a needed four inches of penetration for a kill. Why would the enemy not simply strike his opponent, who is facing away from him, using a cut at 42 inches away instead of coming within the 14 inch strike range of his adversary? If you stand 14 inches away from your opponent it is almost impossible to make a power cut or even “give point” (thrust, or stab). You may simply say, “There he goes again, making unsupported claims”. Surprisingly enough, while I may blend a couple of stories together to make one better tale every now and then, I never make unsupported claims. Today was a very nice day so I went out into the back yard with my wooden practice katana (officially called a “bokken”) and my tape measure and carried out some experiments. The neighbours are used seeing to my so-called experiments in archeology. Some neighbours tend to describe me as eccentric, for some reason. There are probably less polite terms used when speaking to each other about their neighbour, I am sure.
If we now look at the 1908 cavalry sword and read the history behind it we find that it was designed as a thrusting weapon only and only while on horseback. It was to take the place of the lance for the most part. It is not a fencing epee or a slashing weapon, this I assure you as I have studied and participated in both European and Japanese styles of fencing.
In conclusion there is no comparison, not because one is superior to the other but simply because you can’t compare the two; they are totally different “animals”, different time periods and using different tactics.
I apologize that I have not included photographs this time. I am not set up for photographing larger items and had a lot of trouble when I tried to insert Photoshop reduced backgrounds (canvas).