Among the records of the two Surrey Regiments held at Surrey History Centre, there are a large number of photograph albums. One of the reasons for joining the military has always been the opportunity to travel and 'see the world' and these albums show a great many places where soldiers were stationed, at peacetime and in war, places that they would never otherwise have visited.
Some of the earliest photographs in the collection can be found in a regimental album of the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment (reference ESR/2/13/4), the precursor of the 1st Battalion East Surreys and, as the album shows, this regiment appear to have been particularly well travelled. The dates printed on the album cover, 1861 to 1891, are a little misleading as the earliest photograph is of a captured Russian gun at Sebastopol, when the regiment participated in the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War in 1855. The first ever war photographs were a few from the United States war with Mexico in the late 1840s but the first systematic photographic coverage of a conflict was during the Crimean War of 1854 to 1856, so this photograph and a view of Sebastopol in 1856 are particularly early examples of war photography.
After serving in the Crimea the 31st Regiment travelled to Gozo, Malta. In 1857 they were in Gibraltar, in 1858 they travelled to South Africa and in early 1859 they went to India, serving in Bombay (Mumbai) and Poona (Pune). The next photographs in the album, however, date from their next period of active service in China when an Anglo-French force attacked the Taku forts in Tientsin (Tianjin). The battle took place in 1860 but the 17 photographs date from 1861 to 1862, after the fighting, with photographs of river boats, bridges, street scenes and buildings, in Tientsin, Sinho, Shanghai and 'Tsolin'. There are also a couple of studio photographs, of a 'Chinese gentleman and family', and 3 men described as 'Mess Comprador and assistants', which would have been local people working for the army. The way of life, the local dress, even the buildings, with temples and pagodas, must have appeared very unusual and exotic to a soldier from England.
Malta, Gibraltar and home service
After service in China to 1863 the regiment did not see further active service until the First World War but continued to travel across the Empire, and their journey can be traced through the album. After a few years' service at home and in Ireland, illustrated in the album with views of Plymouth and a group photo at Raglan Barracks, Devonport, the regiment embarked for Malta in 1867. The album has photographs of the various forts and historic buildings used by the military and a number of copies of a formal photograph of a large group of soldiers, with the Colours, showing 'The Crimean Veterans still serving in the regiment at Malta'. In 1872 it was on to Gibraltar with photographs of various gun batteries, the parade ground, barracks and of course views of the Rock. A return home in 1876 is shown with a view of Portland in 1876, the regimental pack of dogs in Aldershot in 1877 and photographs of the whole regiment in Shaft barracks, Dover, in 1880 and 1881.
Then it was back overseas to India in 1884. This was familiar ground for many British soldiers but the 31st regiment, now the 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, had not been stationed there since 1859 so it was probably the first time for many of the soldiers. As was usual they moved around and we have photographs of the battalion in Ranikhet in 1885, including an informal group in blazers with tennis rackets, mallets and at least three pet dogs, with each man named. In 1888 in Allahabad photos include a hall decorated for the Regimental Ball, and a photograph of 'B' company with only a few names given but including Lucy, one of three dogs. The men were in Calcutta in 1890 with views of government buildings and Fort William. They were then in Dum Dum in 1891 with photographs of formal and informal groups of soldiers including the whole 1st battalion, 'less one co on detachment' and a series of labelled photographs of military buildings such as the officers' mess and regimental institute.
The album should finish here, but there were clearly a few spare pages to fill, with an added image of the Happy Valley racecourse, Hong Kong, in 1923, and also undated photographs of military buildings and 'Inhabitants of Trinidad', though the Regiment had not been in the Caribbean since the early 1800s.
The whole album is a wonderful collection of images, from the early days of photography, showing the many, many places an ordinary soldier of the 1800s might serve, at home or abroad, in times of war and of peace.
Discover more about the records of the Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment held at Surrey History Centre.
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- Sebastopol, Crimea. Russian battery immediately after capture circa 1855 (page 31)
- Pagoda at 'Tsolin', China, circa 1862 (page 16)
- Gibraltar east side 1872 to 1876 (page 35)
- Polo team, Ranikhet, India, 1885 (page 50)
- Fort St Angelo, Malta 1867 (page 18)