Straight spear-pointed blade with single fuller. Pierced steel broadsword basket hilt of 1832 Pattern, currently attached to the blade, and second pierced steel field officer’s sabre-like hilt cast with thistle motifs and the regimental badge of the Gordon Highlanders with their motto ‘Bydand’ (Steadfast). Brown leather washer. Spiral grip of wood covered with shagreen bound with wire. Brown leather over wood field scabbard with frog strap, steel silver-plated chape with ball finial, brown leather frog. Hilt and pommel have been nickel-plated.
The blade is etched with foliate motifs, thistles, the crown and cypher of King George V, the badge, motto & name of the Gordon Highlanders with a crown and coronet above and below the stag’s head badge, and the maker’s name of ‘Henry Wilkinson Pall Mall London’ beneath the royal coat of arms and ‘By Warrant’ within a scroll. It has a hexagonal brass proof slug stamped with ‘HW’. The hexagonal slug was used from 1905 onwards to denote Wilkinson’s best quality blades.
The spine of the blade is stamped with the Wilkinson serial number 51179, which would date its manufacture to the end of 1915 or very early 1916.
The Gordon Highlanders was created in 1881 by the Childers Reforms, an amalgamation of the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment and the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment, plus one Militia and two Volunteer regiments, to form a new five-battalion regiment. These regiments already had distinguished histories, and the new combined regiment earned even greater fame for the storming of the Dargai Heights during the Tirah Expedition of 1897, in which the 1st Battalion, led by their officers and pipers, attacked uphill across open ground under heavy fire from Afridi tribesmen, successfully seizing the hilltop. Two of their number were later awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry. Lieutenant Colonel Mathias’s words to his men before the attack had been simple: “The General says this hill must be taken at all costs – the Gordon Highlanders will take it.”
The reputation of the Gordons as fearless shock troops was reinforced by their service in the Boer War, in which they repeatedly assaulted dug-in Boer positions with bayonets fixed while under accurate enemy fire. Winston Churchill, who personally witnessed them in action, described them as ‘the finest regiment in the world’. The two battalions won a combined six Victoria Crosses during the war, more than any other regiment.
On the outbreak of the First World War both battalions were needed immediately on the Western Front. 1st Battalion was already in Plymouth and was therefore among the first British units to travel to the continent (see attached image – note the field officer on horseback, Lieut. Col. Gordon, VC, who would have carried a sword just like this one). The battalion’s initial experience was the complete opposite of their historical role: the BEF was at that time on the defensive against the advancing German army. At the Battle of Mons in September the 1st Gordons, along with the Royal Scots, halted the German advance towards the Mons-Beaumont road, their disciplined fire inflicting heavy casualties with only 4 of their own lost, and later withdrew in good order. At Le Cateau three days later, the 1st again made a successful defence of their position, but only around 100 of them received the order to withdraw and the rest were left behind by the retreating BEF. Attempting to get away after nightfall with other stranded units of the Royal Scots and Royal Irish, they were caught and surrounded near the village of Clary. After a fierce firefight 500 Gordons surrendered and were taken prisoner, effectively destroying the famous battalion in a single action.
The 2nd Battalion arrived in Belgium on the 7th October, having been recalled from service in Egypt, and engaged in heavy fighting in the First Battle of Ypres in October and November, sustaining 75% casualties over the four days between the 28th Oct. and the 1st Nov. It retired on the 6th Nov. with only 3 officers remaining to command 205 men.
The Territorial battalions of the Gordons were now deployed in increasing numbers, and it would take a lot of space to describe the histories of all 21 battalions of the regiment, 8 of which were deployed and which earned a collective 57 battle honours and 4 Victoria Crosses. 50,000 men served with the Gordons over the course of the war, with approximately 27,000 of them killed or wounded. It is worth noting that every deployed battalion of the Gordons apart from the 2nd (who were on the Italian front after 1917) took part in the Second Battle of the Somme and Battle of Lys in 1918. Given this sword’s purchase date, it probably belonged to a volunteer officer recruited during the war (rather than a career officer from before the conflict) who was later promoted to field officer rank. You may wish to research this sword’s owner further – Wilkinson’s purchase records survive in private hands and can be consulted for a fee, although the recording becomes patchy during war years.
The traditionally-styled Scottish broadsword was carried only by Highland infantry regiments until 1881, when the Lowland regiments also adopted Scottish dress and the broadsword along with it (with the exception of the Cameronians aka Scottish Rifles). The use of an interchangeable hilt may date back to the 1860s, but is first officially mentioned in the Dress Regulations of 1883, which authorized the Highland Light Infantry to use the basket hilt for full-dress occasions and the cross-bar hilt for all other occasions. The hilt can be changed by unscrewing the pommel nut, removing the pommel, grip and guard, then replacing the hilt with the other version. It is rare to find a sword with both of its original hilts, especially one for a field officer (officers of the rank of Major or above), who would have purchased a new hilt for his sword when he reached the appropriate rank. The backstrap and grip to go with the field officer’s hilt have been lost.
Unique hilts for field officers and other mounted officers of the Scottish infantry regiments came into being in the late 19th century, probably as another way of showing regimental pride, and allowing officers on horseback to use a hilt more reminiscent of a sabre. This unofficial change gained formal acceptance by the 1880s. The 1914 Dress Regulations note three separate variations:
A steel hilt with pierced scrollwork very similar in form to the 1856 Royal Engineers hilt, first adopted by the Sindh Irregular Cavalry and later used by the Black Watch, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders
A peculiar hybrid of the 1822 Light Cavalry Officer’s hilt paired with a Royal Artillery Officer’s blade, only ever used by the Cameron Highlanders
The hilt seen with this sword – a uniquely Scottish hilt sporting the regimental badge, which was used by the Gordon Highlanders, Highland Light Infantry, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Scots and Royal Scots Fusiliers.
The blade’s etching is very fine, especially for a wartime blade, with only minute patches of patination which do not significantly obscure the design. The nickel plating to the hilt parts shows small areas of wear to raised edges. One of the looping bars which protrudes forwards of the basket has a crack where it rejoins the hilt. The shagreen grip is very good with only tiny losses to the scales, its wire binding is all present. The stitching on the band which attaches the frog loop to the scabbard has come undone. The leather is generally excellent, aside from the frog loop which has some flaking.
£1400 including UK postage - see the Blackthorn Antiques website for purchase, for details on postage elsewhere and for more antique arms not shown on Gunstar.
Recently responses to customer enquiry emails which were sent through the Gunstar website haven't always been getting through. If you'd like to get in touch by direct email for a surefire response, the contact page to use is https://blackthorn-antiques.com/contact-blackthorn-antiques...Read full description