The Fusilier Museum London re-opened last month after a major refurbishment. It is located in the Tower of London. The Royal Fusiliers themselves require more than a blog post, so I shall skim a bit here, mainly concentrating on the museum itself and do a full-blown article on the regiment later to post on our main web site.
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the amalgam of four fusilier regiments which were combined in 1968, but the oldest and largest element was The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), referred to variously as the 7th Regiment of Foot (until 1880), or often just The Fusiliers.
The regiment was originally raised in 1685 by George Legge, Lord Dartmouth under the orders of James II. The fusil was an innovative new style of musket introduced in the late 17C, hence “fuzileer”. The regiment’s badge is the flaming bomb. Being a royal regiment from inception, its motto is not surprisingly: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense. From the start, the Fusiliers have served in virtually every conflict that Britain has been involved in. Its battle honours are – in a word – illustrious. Twenty of its members have won the Victoria Cross, 12 examples of which are displayed in the museum. Fusilier casualties in World War I were over 22,000.
Although the regiment is barracked elsewhere, its headquarters remain at the Tower of London, in the same building as the museum itself.
The museum comprises an extraordinary display of old weapons and uniforms, flags, letters, medals, personal effects, trophies of war, musical instruments, silverware, mess items, portrait paintings, photographs and oddities which defy categorisation. One such is the iron boot from 1808 that was devised for a “defaulter”, that is to say a malingerer who avoids active service. His name was R. Reginauld. Suspected of aggravating a foot wound, his lower leg was locked in the boot, whereupon it healed quite nicely. A comical tale one might think, except that Reginauld was found guilty at court martial and sentenced to 500 lashes.
By contrast, the greater part of the museum’s rooms tell the regiment’s history through a series of extraordinary stories of bold individual exploits by daring Fusiliers in the heat of battle. These lead the visitor chronologically campaign by campaign to the present day. Each campaign section is accompanied by contemporary objects which the curators have used skilfully to deliver much variety and contrast with consequent lack of repetition. The labelling is simple yet sufficient. The overall effect is that there is a huge abundance of objects but with no feeling whatsoever of clutter.
Of all the Fusilier campaigns, special mention must go to the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon’s armies, and in particular the Battle of Albuhera in1811. In this engagement, the Fusiliers undertook a 20 mile night march to relieve the British line which was about to be overwhelmed. Two battalions of exhausted Fusiliers, fighting uphill, saved the day, losing over half their number in the process.
Nothing could stop that astonishing infantry…fifteen hundred unwounded Fusiliers, the remnant of four thousand, stood triumphant upon that fateful hill!
The regiment celebrates Albuhera Day every year on 16 May.
The only element in the museum that has been deliberately separated out is the medals, which have a dedicated room. The honours are beautifully displayed and lit. There is an interactive display which comprises video clips of soldiers and veterans explaining what medals are all about: there is much more to it than civilians realise. Throughout the museum, interactive displays are used sparingly and intelligently, I think I counted three or four.
In concert with the re-ordering of the museum, it also has a brand new web site which, like the museum, is elegant and modern.
Entry to the museum comes as part of the Tower of London ticket. This is £19.80 (£17.00 online), so I’d recommend you plan a good visit to all the Tower has to offer, but in particular, The Fusilier Museum.