One always expects the unexpected when walking along the King’s Road, but seeing the men from the Chelsea Arts Club in full regalia of the long remembered, oft forgotten “Unshrinkables” was even more of a sight to behold than usual.
Thank goodness they were so ably accompanied by The Worshipful the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and a guest dressed in honour of past Chelsea resident Dame Katharine Furse, who was Director of The Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) no less.
Surely one needs no more reason to visit our Summer Exhibition, Chelsea in the Great War, than an entire mix of the sombre, the unusual and the downright out-of-the-ordinary.
For those wanting something more sedate and thought provoking the Chelsea Arts Club has puzzled visitors with its display of dazzle tactics used in WWI. Come to take a proper look at how camouflage changed the visual appearance of battleships. How very innovative.
For more about the unusual truth of The Unshrinkables take a look at the online text of the
Record of The United Arts Rifles from which the following excerpt is taken.
“Towards the end of August, 1914, squads of strange looking men of all ages
in white (at any rate they were supposed to be white) sweaters, and often without
hats, could be seen drilling and marching in the grounds of Earl’s Court Exhibition.
Their drill was poor, and they made all sorts of mistakes, but so few people visited
the Exhibition at that time that their earliest efforts were for the most part
mercifully hidden from the public gaze. Later in the autumn, in October, a
move was made to the Royal Academy. In effect the curtain was then up, and
the white sweaters and their owners were more or less in the public view. From
that time onwards, on almost any afternoon, a long trail of men could be seen filing
out of the Royal Academy quadrangle. Collectively, they still did not know much
about drill or tactics, but their mistakes were not then so obvious, they were all
keen to learn, and their drills and long marches were making them fit. There
were many opinions as to their identity; curiosity sometimes prompted brass hats
to look into the Academy Quadrangle to see the very latest thing in War, and they
left — amazed. Some people said that these men were German prisoners, others
thought they might be convicts. There were even suggestions that they were
boy scouts, a subtle compliment which some of the older men possibly appreciated.
But no one suggested that they might be soldiers ! On Sundays these men often
marched fifteen to twenty miles. Sometimes they took bands with them, but not
the same band, for any self-respecting band that had been on one march never
wanted to try another. Again, the white sweaters could be seen — or felt — in
Hyde Park after dark. Their night work was then truly wonderful and thrilling,
and the park chairs and seats scattered here and there provided many opportunities
for casualties. The bone of contention was generally the Serpentine Bridge, and
some of the after-armistice discussions as to whether the attacking or defending
force had been successful, though justifying the epithet of the Corps as thinkers,
threatened to outlive the War itself.
These men in white sweaters (hence the title of ” the Unshrinkables “) drilled
with outlandish weapons — any bit of old iron they could find — attended lectures
and marched and doubled and tired themselves out, little recking of the good-
natured amusement and some ridicule which they encountered from the people
who throw cold water on any movement of which they are not themselves a part.
But to say more of this epoch would be to poach on Mr. Emanuel’s preserve.
Besides the simple chronicler is — or should be — confined to a record of solemn
facts ; and statements of fact are generally dull, even though — possibly because
— they are truthful.”