British 1897 Pattern Victorian Infantry Officer’s Sword, Presented to Sergeant-Major H Leahy, Connaught Rangers, for Training Boer War Recruits
Single-fullered straight blade with spear point, 1 inch wide at the shoulder, the blade 32½ inches in length, 38½ inches overall. Steel hilt with pierced decoration including crown and royal cypher of Queen Victoria. Steel chequered backstrap with integral pommel, black shagreen grip bound with wire, brown leather washer. Steel parade scabbard with two hanging rings.
This sword is a gift from a group of officers-in-training, a token of thanks to a senior NCO who trained them. This was a known practice in various British Army regiments - similar examples exist gifted to musketry instructors, riding instructors in the cavalry, etc. As NCOs of this period were issued the more utilitarian staff-sergeant’s swords from regimental stores rather than purchasing their own like the officers, it would have been a mark of great respect to gift him a personal sword to keep.
Whether these gifted swords were carried on duty is unclear, but this example does show telltale patterns of wear one would expect to see from carry, such as dents to the lower scabbard, light rubbing to the blade as one would expect from sheathing & drawing, and rubbing to the inside of the guard where the fingers would rest against it.
The blade is etched on one side with extended custom scrollwork surrounded by foliage, within which is written: ‘Presented to Sergeant Major Leahy by 2nd Lieut N. D. Leeper / 2nd Lieut P. W. Smyly / 2nd Lieut L. M. Browne / 2nd Lieut C E Tayleur / 2nd Lieut A C Gore / 2nd Lieut T C Ruttledge / June 18th 1900’. Below this at the forte is etched the maker’s mark ‘Rob Mole & Sons Birmingham Makers to the War & India [illegible]’. The illegible line is obscured by thick plating, but should read ‘Offices’. The other side of the blade has a brass proof slug stamped with ‘Proof’, within a six-pointed star, as well as more conventional etching of the royal crown and coat of arms and foliate motifs, with a blank name cartouche.
Sgt-Major Leahy would have been the most senior NCO in the 3rd Battalion, Connaught Rangers (Mayo Militia) at the time this sword was presented. He was later awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, a medal issued in limited quantities requiring at least 20 years of dedicated service and ‘irreproachable character’ on the part of a retiring NCO, which entitled them to a special annuity. He does not appear on the Queen’s South Africa Medal roll, which makes sense if he remained in Britain in a training role with the 3rd Battalion.
The six young officers listed as gifting this sword were all young gentlemen living in western Ireland. They joined the 3rd Battalion, Connaught Rangers in March-April 1900, at a time when the Boer War was escalating and the Army called for fresh recruits. Four out of six appear to have gone on to active service in South Africa, and some went on to serve longer-term military careers. Their service records are as follows:
Llewellyn Montague Browne joined the 3rd Battalion in March 1900. He was promoted Lieutenant in July 1900. In 1901 he was granted the local rank of Captain while serving with a Provisional Cavalry Regiment. He became an Instructor of Musketry while at the rank of Captain. In 1908 he transferred to the 5th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, with whom he was promoted to Major in 1910.
Arthur Charles Gore joined the 3rd Battalion Connaught Rangers in March 1900. He was promoted to Lieutenant then was seconded to the 1st Battalion for service in South Africa around August 1900. In July 1901, after around twelve months in the field campaigning with the 1st Battalion, he gained a commission with them at the rank of Second Lieutenant. He remained in South Africa until 1903, earning the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps (Cape Colony, Orange Free State, South Africa 1901 & 1902) and appears to have left the Army afterward. Arthur was a direct descendant of the 2nd Earl of Arran – the 6th Earl at the time was his second cousin once removed Arthur Jocelyn Gore, who also served in the Boer War with the Household Cavalry.
Neville Dermot Leeper joined the 3rd Battalion in January 1900. He was promoted Lieutenant in July 1900 and resigned his commission in February 1901.
Thomas Geoffrey Ruttledge joined the 3rd Battalion in April 1900, transferring to the 1st Battalion in December 1901. He arrived in South Africa in 1902 and served with the 1st Battalion, earning the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps (Cape Colony, Orange Free State, South Africa 1902). He remained with the regiment after the war, being promoted Lieutenant in 1904, and Captain in 1910.
He disembarked for service on the Western Front in August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers. He served as an Assistant Provost Marshall, i.e. an officer of the military police. He was Mentioned in Despatches three times (22 Jun 1915, 1 Jan 1916 and 11 Dec 1917) and received the Military Cross in January 1916. In August 1916 he was promoted full Provost Marshall, until December 1916 when he was moved back to Assistant Provost Marshall of the 9th Army Corps in France. From 26th June 1918 through to 10 September 1919 he was Deputy Provost Marshall over all troops in France and Flanders.
During this period he was awarded several French and Belgian honours: the Croix de Guerre in March 1918, then the Legion d’Honneur (Chevalier rank) and Order of Leopold (Chevalier rank) in November 1918.In the 1919 Birthday Honours he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). In the early 1920s he transferred to the Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment) and was Deputy Provost Marshall for the Irish Command. He was awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1923 New Year’s Honours list. He retired in April 1923, being granted the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Thomas was removed from the Reserve List in 1937 due to age, but was nonetheless recalled to service out of retirement in September 1939, aged 56, joining the Corps of Military Police for the duration of WW2.
Perceval Westby Smyly was commissioned into the 3rd Battalion in March 1900. He was promoted Lieutenant in July the same year. He was seconded for service with the line battalions in South Africa in February 1901 and served with the 1st Battalion earning the Queen’s South Africa Medal with two clasps (South Africa 1901 & 1902). He was promoted Captain in May 1902 while in South Africa. He resigned his commission in June 1903.
Charles Edward Tayleur joined the 3rd Battalion in March 1900. He was promoted to Lieutenant in July 1900 for service in South Africa – he received the Queen's South Africa Medal with three clasps. He transferred to the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment in January 1902 at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, serving with the regiment briefly in South Africa again, then in Singapore, where he was promoted back to Lieutenant in 1903, then in India from October 1908. He returned to Britain in March 1909 then was seconded to the Colonial Office in 1910, which entailed a transfer to the Southern Nigeria Regiment. He returned to the Manchester Regiment (2nd Battalion) in June 1911 and resigned his commission in May 1912, probably because a creditor of his had petitioned that Charles should be declared bankrupt. Perhaps because of his multiple moves with the military the court could not locate his address and he was wrongly judged to be bankrupt, but was released from bankruptcy again in 1913. He emigrated to Australia in 1914 but returned to the UK in April 1915 to rejoin the Army in the 10th (Reserve) Battalion, The Prince of Wales's (North Staffordshire) Regiment, from which he was attached to the 8th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. He was deployed to Gallipoli, where he was killed near the village of Kritihia on the 7th August 1916.
The blade shows signs of having been replated – sword manufacturers at the time offered professional replating services for swords which had lost their lustre with time and carry. The plating is chipped for about 3mm at the very tip. All metal parts of the hilt and scabbard are plated – some handling wear to the inside of the hilt as mentioned exposing dark patinated steel. The shagreen grip is intact with little handling wear, the wire binding is all present with slight movement to some loops. Some dents to the lower section of the scabbard, the chape piece slightly bent to one side due to dents nearby – these do not interfere with sheathing and drawing. The plating has worn on the very end of the scabbard shoe, exposing dark patinated steel.