This year marks 225 years since Sir John Leicester of Tabley mustered a county regiment of light cavalry in response to increasing fears of invasion from Napoleonic France, and thus the Cheshire Yeomanry was born. To commemorate their founding, the regiment has commissioned a memorial sculpture to be located at their dedicated site on Yeomanry Avenue at The National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Alrewas, Staffordshire. I had the honour of being chosen to create this artwork. The brief stated:
“There is a strong appetite to commission a unique memorial which will act as a focal point at NMA for future generations. The Cheshire Yeomanry is not looking for a standard brick plinth and plaque memorial; rather, a small but novel sculpture that appeals to all visitors to NMA, yet, at the same time, will provide dignity and a place to pause and remember for all visitors. It will be a striking memorial for a Cheshire regiment that was raised 225 years ago.
“Throughout this long history, it has been served by thousands of Cheshire families and continues to have local serving members. The sculpture will reflect the pride of the Regiment and provide a focal point at the NMA to the Serving and Former soldiers of the Cheshire Yeomanry by honouring the history and memory of those who have served, and those that will serve in the future.”
Although never intended as an overseas fighting force the regiment has served to support the regular army in several operations: during the Boer War (where they were awarded their first battle honour) and in France, Flanders and Palestine during WW1, suffering heavy losses at the Somme, Bepaume and Epehy. In WW2 they served both in the Middle East and in North-Western Europe. At the Battle of Litani in Palestine the regiment were the last British Cavalry to fight on horseback.
In the late 20th century, the squadron was deployed with the UN in Cyprus and jointly with the Queen’s Royal Hussars and Queen’s Dragoon Guards in Bosnia and Kosovo. This century, the squadron has completed over 57 operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.
At home, some 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry made up a portion of the troops who attended the rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester in 1819. Although present, the regiment was not involved in the Cavalry charge into the crowd which resulted in “The Peterloo Massacre”. More recently the regiment has carried out ceremonial duties with the Household Cavalry Regiment in London.
In 1996, the Cheshire Yeomanry was granted the freedom of The City of Chester and the following year exercised its right to parade through the city with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed to celebrate their bicentenary.
Several defence reviews and military operations have seen the Cheshire Yeomanry amalgamated with other units, disbanded and reformed many times. In 1920, they reformed as a cavalry unit and remained as such until 1942. In 2014, the Cheshire Yeomanry Squadron (now based at Fox Barracks in Chester) re-joined the Queen’s Own Yeomanry. In the same year, the Territorial Army was renamed Army Reserve and the squadron was reassigned to light cavalry (reconnaissance) using RWMIK (revised weapons mounted installation kit) Land Rovers.
As part of the most recent Strategic Defence Review, The Queen’s Own Yeomanry was paired with a regular light cavalry unit – The Light Dragoons – and continues to provide support to the Regular Army. Reserve soldiers have recently been deployed in Bosnia, North Africa and Kenya. The squadron is currently training with the new Jackal long-range patrol vehicle.
Striding forward with an eye on the past
The brief stated:
“The Regiment has used many forms of transport throughout its long history but has always used horses for ceremonial purposes, such as parades. In war, the Regiment also used camels, bicycles, tanks, armoured Rolls-Royce cars, Land Rovers, and scout cars. ‘Vehicles’ are very important to the Regiment, often providing refuge in terms of camouflage, protection and weaponry. They also offer the Regiment shelter, kitchen and sleeping quarters, and when with their horses, companionship.”
The arboretum is a registered charity and as such charges a maintenance fee to keep the sculptures and 150-acre park looking their best. I was struck by how well maintained both were when I paid a visit last year.
Several restrictions and requirements were placed on the design of the sculpture in terms of size and maintenance. One stipulation was that the Cheshire Yeomanry Regimental Crest should be incorporated into the design, this bears the Prince of Wales’ feathers which the regiment was granted the right to display in 1803.
In response to the brief, I have designed a life-sized rearing war horse created using the mechanisms, structure and detail found on the Fox, Ferret and Jackal armoured vehicles.
Objects of war mix with more familiar domestic objects such as a spade and the beloved ‘BV’ boiling vessel that provides the crew with hot water for tea and cooking. The plinth carries a turret wheel which will frame the regimental crest – to be cast in bronze. I have tried to encapsulate the strength and dynamism of the animal with the armoured feel of the regiment’s vehicles.
The arboretum already features a highly naturalistic life-size horse so I wanted to create a unique and modern monument that would strike a different note. Captain David Stanfield kindly gave me a tour of Fox Barracks and allowed me to study one of the Jackal vehicles up close. The Cheshire Military Museum also have a wealth of memorabilia relating to the regiment, including Fox and Ferret armoured vehicles.
The body of the horse is tank-like and incorporates toeholds, wheel arches, rear lights and smoke canisters. The legs and thighs are formed from wheels and tyre treads with the helmet-like head supported by gun parts and a spine and ribs derived from the Jackal anti- roll system.
The whole sculpture will stand at 3m tall, so perhaps more ambitious than the ‘small’ sculpture originally planned. Created from weathering steel, which contains copper and smaller bronze elements, the overall appearance will be rusted and aged whilst the material’s unique properties provide a protective surface that will endure indefinitely.
As well as being of symbolic and emotional importance to the regiment, the horse embodies courage, freedom, power, endurance, personal drive, passion and heroism. The animal appears to be moving forward but looking back in order to represent soldiers of the regiment past and present.
The sculpture will be sited in May this year, with an inaugural event on 12 June.