Swift and Bold: The reenactors of the 5/60th Rifles

The 5/60th Rifles were one of the most elite regiments of the British army during the Napoleonic wars. They were skirmishers equipped with the excellent Baker rifle and dressed in green rather than the traditional red jackets.

Now a group of enthusiasts in the west Midlands are bringing the unit back to life. I was lucky enough to catch up with them at a training event at Middleton Hall.


In the first video, Steven Davies and Peter Wright explain the history of the unit

In the second video, the guys explain a little about the uniform and kit that the 5/60th used in The Peninsular

For more background on the unit and it’s founder Steven Davies check out the interview below:

When and how did your interest in the Napoleonic era begin?

As a child growing up in the ’90s, the exciting and swashbuckling series ‘Sharpe’ was on prime time TV. I can still remember setting the VHS to record before I went to bed. I loved the uniforms, history and seeing Sharpe getting one over the French.

How did you get involved in reenactment?

My first foray into re-enactment was going along to watch the ‘Sealed Knot’, a UK based British Civil War re-enactment society. After talking to one of their members about the history and kit – and before sense took over – I discovered I had signed up and taken the King’s shilling. I spent the first season taking part in every event possible, and loved every minute of it. As with all good things they have to come to an end, and after two years I left for pastures new, this time trying out Medieval which I have to admit was just not for me.

Tell me about your reenactment unit the 5/60th – how did it begin?

Having been somewhat interested in Napoleonic battles and history anyway, I decided to re-watch Sharpe. I had at the time expressed an interest in joining the 95th Rifles re-enactment society, but discovered there were at least 3 UK groups portraying them!

Watching ‘Sharpe’s Enemy’ I noticed some riflemen with red facings and wondered who they were. The rest is history (well it was history anyway), but it sent me on a journey of learning as much as I could about them. Within two months we had the bare bones of a re-enactment group together, and turned up for our first event at Middleton Hall with a box of what can only be termed ‘fancy dress outfits’. We had immense fun, and from there decided to formally set-up the group and begin purchasing uniforms and kit.

How big is it now and what events have you taken part in?

The group is now over three years old, and boasts a membership of 20+ committed and active members who actively attend events all over the country. Our events range from local indoor training sessions to Major battle re-enactments such as the 200th anniversary of Waterloo which featured over 6,000 re-enactors from all over the world. Our regular events include garrisoning an original Napoleonic fort, a Martello Tower, multi-period events with everything from spartans to cold war era re-enactors & of course campaign events where we camp authentically and only use the correct rations a soldier would’ve received/scavenged.

Tell us about the Waterloo reenactment. What was it like to take part?

It was simply an amazing experience. I’d struggle to find the words to do it justice! Camping in the walled garden of Hougomount, and cooking our dinner in the sunken road was very poignant and a little eery too. The number one memory which will be forever etched in my minds eye was watching the Imperial Guard appear out of the gunsmoke, and then delivering a Brigade volley which forced the immortal words from a French officer – “La Garde Recule”.

Why the 5/60th? What appealed to you about the unit?

I knew very little about the unit when we first formed, but as the months and years went by we managed to paint a pretty vivid image of exactly what they did. The battalion were the first rifle-armed battalion in the British Army, and were trained with the first ever rifle manual the British used. The battalion was ever-present in the Peninsular war and boasts the most highly decorated officer the campaign in Jean P Galiffe; an ex-officer of the French Royal Guard who was present in at least 16 actions during the Peninsular conflict. The unit had many unique quirks, such as being able to sport the moustache, clothed in green and their lineage also helped to give the modern day Rifles their motto ‘Swift & Bold’. The unit was just the total opposite of the typical line infantryman.

Men of the 5/60th fire a volley during training
Men of the 5/60th fire a volley during training


What was special about the Baker rifle as a weapon?

It was the first ever mass-produced British made Rifle. Prior to this the British had only ever really purchased rifles from the continent. The 7 grooves which helped achieve a 1/4 turn along the length of the barrel were deemed optimal for accuracy, and the results were deadly. In fact Marshall Soult even wrote to the War Minister in Paris pointing out that the 5/60th responsible for the ‘extraordinary loss in prominent & superior officers’. Colonel Dumas also remarked that “Les Riflemen” were solely responsible for the loss of 500 officers and 8 generals in a one month period. Being able to accurately shoot men at three times the distance that they could shoot you speaks for itself and is a big advantage in combat.

What advice do you have for anybody who wants to get involved in Napoleonic re-enactments?

Pick a side first of all, and then a role – a soldier of the line, a light infantryman, rifleman or camp follower. There truly is a place for everyone in re-enactment, it’s not all about fighting as there are many civilian roles which can be portrayed such as a blacksmith, baker, gentleman or just a beggar.

Once you’ve decided on a role, find a suitable group to attend an event with and go along a couple of times to try it out for yourself and be sure it is for you. Most groups have kit which can be loaned out, so you can attend the first few events without having to put your hand in your pocket.

What books would you recommend people read to really learn about the unit and it’s history?

Swift & Bold by Gibbes Riguad is a great read, as is Annals of the KRRC Vol II by Lt. Col. Butler. The latter reads like a boys adventure chronicle as it details the complete movements of the battalion throughout the peninsula, and is a cracking read in itself with some excellent first hand accounts and anecdotes.

I understand that you are working on a history of the battalion – can you
tell us more about it? What will it cover? How detailed is it etc?

Yes, myself and my colleague Rob are working on a comprehensive history of the battalion which will aim to cover the background, formation, kit, tactics and events they took part in from 1798-1818. We have new sources which have come to light which help paint a better picture of the unit and more importantly of the men in its ranks. Famed Peninsular war artist Christa Hook has also joined us to illustrate the book, something we are very pleased about. We hope to have it finished by the end of the year.

And you are making uniforms? Is that a business? If so how is it going and
how hard is it to make Napoleonic era uniforms?

Guilty as charged! It’s going really well thanks, strength to strength. Currently it is something for our group only as we were in desperate need of quality accurate Georgian clothing. The Georgian tailoring system is very unique, and confusing at times if you use modern terminology. Knowing the Georgian difference between a dolman, coat and jacket is testing at times -as are the construction methods – but easy when you know how, it just takes a while to learn.

How should people get in touch with you to find out more?

The best way to contact us is to e-mail or visit our website. Details as follows:

info@5th60thrifles.co.uk
www.5th60thrifles.co.uk

The unit has also created their own videos to help potential recruits to learn about the unit and its uniform and kit

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