The Artists Rifles is a volunteer regiment of the British Army.


In 1859/60 there was a large scale formation of rifle volunteer corps as the threat of invasion by French forces was feared. These became units of the Volunteer Force, with corps being organised within counties, and commissions being granted by the Lord Lieutenant of each county.

The 38th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps was formed in February 1860 based at Burlington House, Piccadilly.[1] The idea for the raising of a corps of artists was the suggestion of an art student at Careys School of Art, Bloomsbury, named Edward Sterling.[2] [3] [4]

The corps adopted a badge, consisting of the heads of the Roman gods Mars and Minerva, representing war and the arts respectively. The badge was designed by William Wyon, chief engraver at the Royal Mint.[4] [3] The badge was the subject of a bawdy regimental rhyme:

Mars, he was the god of war and didn’t stop at trifles.
Minerva was a bloody whore, so hence the Artists Rifles.[3] [4]

The founding members included the portrait painter Henry Wyndham Phillips and the painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton. Notable members over the next few years included William Morris, Charles Edward Perugini, Ford Madox Brown, Luke Fildes, Valentine Princep, Charles Keene, John Leech, John Everett Millais, George Frederic Watts, Algernon Charles Swinburne, John William Waterhouse, Alfred Leete, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, William Frederick Yeames and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.[2] By 1893 the proportion of painters and scupltors in the corps had fallen to less than 5 percent, with architects and lawyers accounting for 12 percent each, doctors 10 percent and civil engineers 6 percent.[3] In 1877 the corps was renamed to the 38th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteer Corps, with headquarters moved to the The Arts Club, Hanover Square, and in 1880 corps in Middlesex were renumbered and it became the 20th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteer Corps. Three years later the headquarters moved to Euston.[1]

During the Second Anglo-Boer War the Artists' Rifles sent a large contingent of men to South Africa to form part of the City Imperial Volunteers.[3]

In 1908 there was a reorganisation of reserve forces. The Volunteer Force became part of the new Territorial Force, whose units were administered by County Associations. The The London Regiment was formed from the various battalions in the newly formed County of London.

The 20th Middlesex Rifles became the 28th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Artists Rifles).

First World WarEdit

In August 1914 war broke out and the battalion was embodied. It was renamed to the 1/28th (County of London) Battalion (Artist's Rifles) on the formation of a duplicate 2/28th Battalion. In October 1914 they moved to France where they became an officer training unit. In all 10,256 officers were commissioned through the battalion, replacing the heavy casualties being suffered. In June 1917 they joined the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division as a combat unit and fought on the Western Front, notably at the Battle of Passchendaele.[5] The duplicate 2/28th (County of London) Battalion (Artist's Rifles) was formed in August 1914. In November 1915 it was absorbed by the 1/28th Battalion. The 3/28th Battalionwas formed in September 1914 and was renamed to 2/28th Battalion in November 1915. In March 1916 it was converted into an officer cadet battalion.

Inter War and Second World WarEdit

The Territorial Force was reformed and renamed as the Territorial Army in 1920, with the majority of pre-war units reformed, although often with different roles. The 28th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Artists Rifles) was reconstituted at Euston. In 1922 the various battalions of the London Regiment were formed into separate regiments and it became the reconstituted as infantry in T.A. with HQ at Duke's Road, Euston Road 28th County of London Regiment (Artists Rifles). In 1929 it was affiliated to the regular Rifle Brigade and in 1937 was renamed to The Artists Rifles, The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own). Throughout this period its actual role was an officer training unit.

In 1939, with war in Europe feared, the Territorial Army was doubled in size. The Artists' Rifles became 163 and 164 Officer Cadet Training Units.[1] [3] 163 OCT was disbanded in 1943 and 164 OCT in 1945.[1] [3]

Post WarEdit

The Territorial Army was reformed in 1947 and the unit was reformed as The Artists Rifles, The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) with headquarters at Chelsea.[1] Shortly afterwards it was transferred to the Army Air Corps and was renamed 21st Battalion, Special Air Service Regiment (Artists' Rifles). The number "21" was chosen to perpetuate the wartime 1st SAS and 2nd SAS. In 1952 it was renamed as the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (The Artist's Rifles).[1]

Today, the full title of the Regiment is 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve).

Battle honoursEdit

Battle honours were awarded to the regiment for the Boer War and the First World War:[1] [3]

  • South Africa 1900-01
  • Ypres 1917
  • Passchendaele
  • Somme 1918
  • St. Quentin
  • Bapaume 1918
  • Arras 1918
  • Ancre 1918
  • Albert 1918
  • Drocourt-Quéant
  • Hindenburg Line
  • Canal du Nord
  • Cambrai 1918
  • Pursuit to Mons
  • France and Flanders 1914-18


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 The Artists' Rifles. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Artists' Rifles. Spartacus Educational.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 The Artists Rifles.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Story of the Artists Rifles. The Virtual Victorian.
  5. Chris Baker. The London Regiment. The Long Long Trail.

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