British 1889 Pattern Infantry Staff Sergeant's Sword by Mole, 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment
Straight single-fullered spear-pointed blade, pierced infantry ‘Gothic’ style hilt with crown and cypher of Queen Victoria inset within an oval. Wire-bound shagreen grip, black leather washer. Blade length 32¾ inches, 38¼ inches overall. Steel scabbard with two fixed hanging rings. Metal parts other than the blade have been nickel plated.
The flat of the blade is stamped at the forte on one side with the issue date 97, indicating 1897, and three crown inspection marks with ‘B’ for Birmingham. It is stamped on the other side with a broad arrow and ‘WD’, indicating War Department property, ‘MOLE BIRMM’ indicating the manufacturer Mole of Birmingham, another crown inspection mark for Birmingham and an ‘X’ indicating that the blade passed a manufacturer’s bending test. The spine of the blade is stamped with another crown inspection mark for Birmingham.
The inside of the hilt next to the quillon is stamped with ‘5 1896 V 2. GR. 8’. The scabbard is identically stamped on one side near the throat, confirming that sword and scabbard are an original pair. I believe this is a unit mark indicating the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, the sword being transferred to their stores in 1896. The throat piece of the scabbard is stamped on the trailing edge with a broad arrow and ‘WD’ War Department stores mark, and ‘9’.
Founded as the 2nd Gloucestershire Rifle Volunteers in 1859, recruiting from the Gloucester Docks area, this unit became the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the Childers reforms of 1881. The battalion earned its first battle honour in the Second Boer War, as it contributed service companies of men willing to deploy to South Africa, who then fought alongside the regular 2nd Battalion of the Gloucestershires. From 1906 it trained with the Portland Brigade for a role defending the Navy base at Portland Harbour. In 1908 it became the 5th Battalion, headquartered in Gloucester, which fought in WW1 and WW2. In 1967 it was split and the parts merged into the Wessex Volunteers and Royal Gloucestershire Hussars. Its lineage is maintained by 6th Battalion, The Rifles, still based at Gloucester.
British Army sergeants continued to carry swords as a sign of rank even after they were withdrawn from the basic infantryman. Unlike officers, who purchased and owned their own swords, sergeants were issued their swords from regimental stores like a musket or bayonet, and the swords remained government property. By the late Victorian period only Staff Sergeants still carried them, but a diverse range of designs had developed, five different models of sword used in various corps of the Army.
The 1889 Pattern sword was introduced to standardise these many types into one useful weapon for everyone (except Highlanders, who kept their distinctive swords). At the suggestion of the Duke of Cambridge the final design came in two versions to better match the dress of different units: one with a gilt brass hilt and one with steel. Gilt brass was used for regular infantry, Engineers, and Medical Corps, while steel was used for Rifles, Artillery and other Department Corps. Its straight blade could be seen as presaging the thrusting-oriented design of the new officer’s blade which would be introduced in 1892, but the sergeant’s is wider and still has a cutting edge on one side, more traditional in form.
The blade is bright with some cleaned pitting to the lower section of the blade giving a frosted appearance in places. Some lifting of the nickel plating on the inside of the hilt but no significant losses. The shagreen of the grip is all intact with very little handling wear, the wire binding is also all present with only slight movement to some loops. The scabbard is similarly bright with very little wear to its nickel plating – the steel scabbard screws have a dark patina.