This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Hussars in the Rain

12 July 2013

Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it pours. And in the army whether it's a shower or a torrent, the parade must carry on. After all that's just what soldiers do. And if soldiers march, they must have music played by the regimental band. Photographs of military parades are not uncommon but few offer as much interest as this British postcard of a regimental band in the rain. Flanked by throngs of people huddled under umbrellas, a band of about 24 men takes a left turn while leading a unit of soldiers also in full ceremonial and very wet dress uniforms. This looks like an important event. Where could they be?

As the card was never posted there is no indication of date or location on the back. But most unfortunate is that the photographer's caption is obscured by the wet pavement and dark umbrellas.

{click the images to enlarge}

Despite my best effort to alter the image contrast and color, the lettering refused to cooperate and all that I could bring out was ... S... ...Y_r_ ... ... A 286. Tantalizingly close but still insufficient to make a proper identification. Perhaps a search for similar uniforms would offer better leads. The bandsmen are wearing a distinctive style headgear called a Busby, which is made of fur. Originally worn by Hungarian hussars, it was adopted by several cavalry regiments of the British army. 

It happens that one of the best websites I have found on the history of military uniforms is called  This specialty site has an astonishing number of vintage photographs and detailed history on the hussar military tradition. It seems nearly every European country (and Japan too!) developed mounted regiments of hussars. Though the main text is in French, the page devoted to British hussars is in English. It was there that I found an excellent photo that confirms that the band was a unit of the Yorkshire Hussars.

Yorkshire Hussars 1906
In this photo of six Yorkshire Hussars, we can see that their busby and elaborate jacket cording match the uniforms of the marching band. The colors are dark blue with five rows of buttons and white/silver braiding. Could the postcard have a Yorkshire connection? And where were their horses?

Tracking down photos like this is much like a scavenger hunt, which for an amateur historian like myself, is the real appeal. I readily admit that it is a thrill to uncover the obscure and solve a riddle. My perseverance paid off a few months later with the find of another photo postcard more clearly marked and taken on the same day -- Military Sunday at York, April 30th 1905 C & A 281.

Military Sunday was a special Church of England service established in 1885 by Arthur Percival Purey-Cust (1828-1916), Dean of York Minster from 1880 to 1916. Soldiers and cavalrymen assembled at the York cathedral for this service in April, which I presume was of a type of memorial or thanksgiving. One description says they arrived and departed dismounted and unarmed, though officers were allowed to carry their swords. This explains why the hussar band was on foot.

In this photo a different band marches past the camera. They are not a regiment of horse but of regular army.  Just as I write this post, I have found an identical postcard that was mailed in 1905. The writer identifies this band as the band and drums of the 1st West Riding Regiment, also known as the Duke of Wellington's. The writer goes on to add that "the big drummer has got the Royal Humane Society's Bronze Medal. " The Royal Humane Society was founded in Britain to promote lifesaving and prevent people from drowning. A bronze medal would be one of their awards for gallantry and successful resuscitation of a drowning victim.

I have found (but not purchased) other photo postcards from this same day in 1905. There were at least a  half dozen different photos taken from the same vantage point. (Presumably protected from the rain!) Similar postcards of other Military Sundays at York dating from later years were also published when the weather allowed for more clear but less dramatic photos. Today Google Maps can get us fairly close to the parade route.



The photographer positioned himself just as the parade route turns left from Duncombe Place onto Blake Street. The church doorway on the left is that of St. Wilfrid's Catholic Church. Looming in the background is the western front of York Minster cathedral where the service was held. I've wondered if there was actually two parades before and after the service. Did people wait in the rain the whole time? If they attended the service in the cathedral, where did they check umbrellas?

Since the subjects of the first photo are British hussars, this seems a good opportunity to feature another musician from my collection of well dressed trombonists.

He is a bandsman from the regimental band of the
10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars. His uniform is less flashy than the Yorkshire Hussars band, but still very impressive. You will note a spur visible on his left boot heel. Someday I may learn just how many hours went into learning to play a slide trombone while riding a horse in close formation.

Strong knees, I guess.

Private, 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars c.1905

The site provides this photo from around 1905 of a Private in the 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars showing a near identical uniform. The tunic was of dark blue with the busby bag in red with a  white and black plume. This hussar has a collar badge which the trombonist does not have, but bandsmen's uniforms were often subtly different from regular soldiers' dress.

It was show business after all.

How long did it take for a busby to dry out?  Did it smell?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is singing in the rain this weekend.


Wendy said...

I struggled just a little bit with the photographer's caption (white on white)in one of my photos for next week, but I was able to rock it back and forth under a light to read it. Are postcards of rainy scenes common? I would have thought they'd be too problematic.

As for learning to play the trombone while riding a horse -- better to ask how the horse came to accept it!

anyjazz said...

Excellent find and presentation. The discovery of additional shots from the same point is a great help!

Brett Payne said...

I spent a couple of minutes trying to decipher the caption in that first postcard, and getting as far as "Military ... York," before scrolling down and realizing that you'd already solved that one. I must say, this is how I often think of England, drab and drizzly with plenty of use for umbrellas, but in fact I've been pretty lucky with the weather on my previous visits.

Great that you've found Jerome's Hussards-photos web site. Isn't it magnificent? He is most generous with his time and images, and I've found the huge collection of photographs extremely useful for dating and identifying military images from Derbyshire and other places on several occasions.

Alan Burnett said...

Looking at the photograph before I read your post I thought I recognised the scene but I couldn't actually pin it down. But yes that is York. Can't recall the West Yorks Hussars however - a little before my time.

Postcardy said...

Fascinating postcard and impressive research!

Kathy Morales said...

Just love a good detective story! I'll bet those uniforms did smell....

barbara and nancy said...

I always enjoy your posts. I love how you solve the photographic mysteries. I also love seeing those snazzy uniforms.

Bob Scotney said...

York is least than 40 miles from where we live and a place we visit regularly. I have never seem a military parade or band there. Recently soldiers returning for Afghanistan have marched through the streets. Glad you found that second card.

Little Nell said...

I'd never heard of Military Sunday before, so that's something else I've learned. I was struck by how 'modern' the men in the first photo looked. It could almost have been taken yesterday!

Tattered and Lost said...

I love the way the umbrellas frame the street and bands. And those uniforms the Yorkshire members are wearing are quite fabulous. I almost think they could have played the braiding as an instrument.


once again, your passion and the theme perfectly meshed together.
I dare not imagine the smell of wet fur drying out...

tony said...

What An Interesting Post.The Yorkshire Hussars
are new to me, but I will keep my eyes peeled in local sites to see if I can get extra info on them.(ps,in weather like this,it must have been bloody hot with ones head inside one of those hats!)


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