21st Empress of India’s Own Lancers, A victorian captain’s epaulette


A good captain’s gilt bullion epaulette from a full dress tunic. Although is no VRI royal cypher in the usual position on this example there is no evidence that there has ever been one stitched on.       jul12/6

Provenance: This item came with many others including a sword [some to be seen in the Gallery section] from someone who acquired them some thirty or more years ago. The following notes indicate the probable original owner. His example of the later mess jacket appears elsewhere on the website.

We have not yet been able to confirm the name of the officer to which these items belonged but the uniforms tell the story of an officer who was a major before 1901 and remained in it during at least part of the Edwardian era. His full dress uniform shows that he had a considerable group of medals and there are also loops for the fixing of a breast star. None of the majors who served in that period seems to have held a knighthood but it is quite possible that this one had a foreign order – most likely an Egyptian one which could have been awarded as a result of the regiment’s very high profile service in the 1898/99 campaign in the Sudan. There were only three majors serving in the regiment at the crucial 1898 to 1902 when these uniforms were in use. The one who seems to fit the requirements is Major John Fowle who was commissioned in 1881, served with the Light Camel Regiment in the Egypt campaign of 1884, became a major in 1898 and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1902. He commanded B Squadron at Omdurman where he was mentioned in despatches, and crucially was awarded the Ottoman Order of Osmanieh. The other major commanding A Squadron [C & D were commanded by captains], Harry Finn was given a brevet of Lt Col after the battle.  The regiment can trace its origins back to 1760 as the 21st Light Dragoons but it went through several guises before becoming the 21st Hussars and finally being designated 21st Lancers in 1897, receiving the additional honour of becoming “Empress of India’s Lancers” the following year. The title accounts for the extremely unusual honour for a British regiment of bearing the royal cypher VRI rather than the more usual VR: this was usually used only by units of the British Indian Army.  SOLD 12th September 2021

At Khartoum Kitchener, commanding the force, selected the 21st to scout the land before Omdurman and they made a famous charge against far larger Mahdist forces than had been thought to occupy the area. In September 1898 the young Lieutenant Winston Churchill, although himself a 4th Hussar, took part in what is often described as the last full scale cavalry charge of the British Army when he rode with the four squadrons of the 21st Lancers. The regiment suffered huge casualties and three members received a Victoria Cross for that day. The event was recorded in the painting of Major Edward Matthew Hale, now in the National Army Museum.