Cap badge of the Artists Rifles
|Type||Light Infantry and Officer Training (prior to 1947), then Special Forces|
|Role||Reconnaissance and long range patrols (current)|
|Engagements||Boer War, World War I|
|Decorations||8 VCs, 56 DSOs, 893 MCs, 26 DFCs, 15 AFCs, 6 DCMs, 15 MMs, 14 MSMs, 564 MIDs (World War I)|
Boer War: South Africa 1900–01.
|Henry Wyndham Phillips and Frederic Leighton|
The Artists Rifles[nb 1] is a special forces regiment of the British Territorial Army. Raised in London in 1859 as a volunteer light infantry unit, the regiment saw active service during the Boer Wars and World War I, earning a number of battle honours. It did not serve outside Britain during World War II, as it was used as an officer training unit at that time. The regiment was disbanded in 1945. In 1947 it was re-established to resurrect the Special Air Service Regiment. Today, the full title of the Regiment is 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve).
Formation and 19th century
The regiment was formed in 1859, part of the widespread volunteer movement which developed in the face of potential French invasion after Felice Orsini's attack on Napoleon III was linked to Britain. The group was organised in London by Edward Sterling, an art student, and comprised various professional painters, musicians, actors, architects and others involved in creative endeavours. It was established on 28 February 1860 as the 38th Middlesex (Artists) Rifle Volunteer Corps, with headquarters at Burlington House. Its first commanders were the painters Henry Wyndham Phillips and Frederic Leighton. The unit's badge, designed by J.W. Wyon, shows the heads of the Roman gods Mars and Minerva in profile.
In September 1880, the corps became the 20th Middlesex (Artists) Rifle Volunteer Corps, with headquarters at Duke's Road, off Euston Road, London (now The Place, home of the Contemporary Dance Trust). It formed the 7th Volunteer Battalion of the Rifle Brigade from 1881 until 1891 and the 6th Volunteer Battalion from 1892 to 1908. During this period, the Artists Rifles fought in the Second Boer War as part of the City Imperial Volunteers. Following the formation of the Territorial Force, the Artists Rifles was one of twenty-six volunteer battalions in the London and Middlesex areas that combined to form the new London Regiment.[nb 2] It became the 28th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment on 1 April 1908.
The Artists Rifles was a popular unit for volunteers. It had been increased to twelve companies in 1900 and was formed into three sub-battalions in 1914, and recruitment was eventually restricted by recommendation from existing members of the battalion. It particularly attracted recruits from public schools and universities; on this basis, following the outbreak of the First World War, a number of enlisted members of the Artists Rifles were selected to be officers in other units of the 7th Division. This exercise was so successful that, early in 1915, selected Artists officers and NCOs were transferred to run a separate Officers Training Corps, the remainder being retained as a fighting unit. Over fifteen thousand men passed through the battalion during the war, more than ten thousand of them becoming officers. The battalion eventually saw battle in France in 1917 and 1918. Casualties suffered by both members of this battalion and amongst officers who had trained with the Artists Rifles before being posted to other regiments were 2,003 killed, 3,250 wounded, 533 missing and 286 prisoners of war. Members of the Regiment won eight Victoria Crosses, fifty-six Distinguished Service Orders and over a thousand other awards for gallantry.
In the early 1920s, the unit was reconstituted as an infantry regiment within the Territorial Army, as the 28th County of London Regiment. In 1937, this regiment became part of the Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade.
It was disbanded in 1945, but reformed in the Rifle Brigade in January 1947 and transferred to the Army Air Corps in July as the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artists Rifles). The number 21 SAS was chosen to perpetuate two disbanded wartime regiments 1 SAS and 2 SAS, with the 1 and the 2 being reversed into 21. 21 SAS was active during the Malayan Emergency and in many subsequent conflicts. In 1952, members of the Artists Rifles who had been involved in special operations in Malaya formed 22 SAS, the modern special forces regiment - the only time a Territorial Army unit has been used to form a unit in the Regular Army.
For much of the Cold War, 21 SAS's role was to provide stay-behind parties in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of western Europe (as part of the Corps Patrol Unit alongside 23 SAS and the Honourable Artillery Company).[page needed]
Current role and structure
21 SAS consists of:
- 'HQ' Squadron (Regent's Park)
- 'A' Squadron (Regent's Park)
- 'C' Squadron (Basingstoke/Cambridge)
- 'E' Squadron (Newport/Exeter)
The regiment's current role is to provide depth to the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) group. 21 SAS is tasked to the highest level and can operate in difficult and often changing circumstances, sometimes in absence of guidance and within situations that have significant operational and strategic importance.
Support Squadron provides support staff to UKSF(R) activities including personnel such as drivers from the RLC, REME weapon technicians, combat medics, Intelligence Corps personnel and Ops room staff.
See Special Air Service for their battle honours
- Boer War: South Africa 1900–01.
- The Great War (3 battalions): Ypres 1917, Passchendaele, Somme 1918, St. Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Arras 1918, Ancre 1918, Albert 1918, Drocourt-Quéant, Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Cambrai 1918, Pursuit to Mons, France and Flanders 1914–18.
The unit's war memorial in the entrance portico of the Royal Academy at Burlington House commemorates the 2003 men who gave their lives in the Great War with a second plaque to those who died in World War II.
The following members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross in the Great War:
- 2nd Lt Rupert Price Hallowes
- 2nd Lt Arthur James Terence Fleming-Sandes
- Capt The Rev Edward Noel Mellish
- Lt Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather
- Lt Eugene Paul Bennett
- 2nd Lt George Edward Cates
- Lt Donald John Dean
- Lt Col Bernard William Vann
- Originally the regiment was designated as the Artists' Rifles until the apostrophe was officially dropped from the full title in 1937, as it was so often misused.
- The Honourable Artillery Company and the Inns of Court Regiment were intended to become the 26th and 27th Battalions of the London Regiment. They were not satisfied with their high numbers so ignored them.
- Regiment, Artists Rifles Association
- Gregory 2006, 297.
- Gregory 2006, xvi.
- Mars-Minerva (JPEG), Artists Rifles Association
- Gregory 2006, 80.
- Westlake 1986, 233.
- Gregory 2006, 96.
- Higham 1922, xviii.
- Gregory 2006, 253.
- James G. Shortt, pages 16-17 "The Special Air Service", ISBN 0 85045 396 8
- Ballinger 1992.
- "Special forces", Army, UK: MoD
- Ballinger, Adam (1992), The Quiet Soldier, Chapmans, ISBN 978-1-85592-606-6.
- Gregory, Barry (2006), A History of The Artists Rifles 1859–1947, Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, ISBN 978-1-84415-503-3.
- Hacking, Juliet (2000), Princes of Victorian Bohemia, National Portrait Gallery.
- Higham, S Stagoll (2006) [1922, Howlett & Son], Artists Rifles: Regimental Roll of Honour and War Record 1914–1919 (3rd ed.), London: Naval & Military Press, ISBN 978-1-84734-129-7.
- Westlake, Ray (1986), The Territorial Battalions, A pictorial History, 1859–1985, Tunbridge Wells: Spellmount
- Winter, JM (1977), "Britain’s ‘Lost Generation’ of the First World War", Population Studies 31 (3): 459.
- To enquire about joining 21 SAS(R) contact recruit enquiries.
- Artists Rifles Association.
- A Presentation of Some Works of Art Produced by Some Members of the Artists Rifles.
- Facebook page: The artists of The Artists Rifles.
- Pinterest board: The artists of The Artists Rifles.
- Twitter feed: The artists of The Artists Rifles.
- "Supporting Squadrons to UKSF", Army: Special forces, UK: MoD.