In Search of Color-Sergeant Middleton
A great challenge for the genealogical or historical researcher can be attempting to identify the individual in an otherwise unidentified period or historical photograph. Naturally, if the person in question is notable of famous in their own right much of the challenge can often be mitigated. On the other hand, if the pictured person in more or less unknown today the prospect of actually identifying the can be daunting, to say the least. The following is something of a case study in the latter process.
The photograph in question (pictured below) is a cabinet photograph (often styled cabinet card) of a uniformed soldier taken in Toronto, Canada. Based on the finely embossed card mount and the image’s matte, finely grained grayscale image I could easily place its creation date to the very late 1890s or early 1900s. A circa 1900 date seemed a good starting point.
Above: The unidentified cabinet photograph of a Canadain color-sergeant that is the focus of the investigation. Photographer: Shorey’s New Studio, Toronto. Source: Collection of http://www.soldiersofthequeen.com.
The next step I took was to attempt identification of the soldier’s rank, regiment or branch of service. Based on the assumed date and known Canadian location, there is little doubt that the man in question was a member of the Canadian Militia (the Canadian Army would not become known as such until 1940). His rank was quickly evident to me as being that of color-sergeant.* During the latter part of the Victorian era, color-sergeants of infantry wore rank insignia that consisted of three inverted gold chevrons with crossed Union Jack flags topped off with a crown. Examining this sergeant’s chevrons quickly told me that he was wearing pre-1902 rank insignia. The crown device told the story.
During the reign of Queen Victoria almost all military rank insignia that contained a crown that stylistically is referred to as a Queen’s Crown. After the coronation of Edward VII, this part of the emblems was changed to the so-called King’s Crown. (See below). This sergeant’s rank device in clearly of the earlier variety.
Above: Two examples of the British style infantry color-sergeant rank insignia. That on the left is the Victorian-era variety with the Queen’s Crown. After 1902 the crown emblem changed to the King’s Crown (right). The differences are subtle but important in dating photographs like the one in this investigation.
Next came putting a name to his battalion/regiment. Canadian infantry (rifle battalions differed) units at the time generally wore the same pattern tunic which appears to have been based in large part on the 1877-79 British tunic. His cap and collar badges were of the “bursting grenade” type that in infantry context denoted membership in a fusilier of grenadier battalion/regiment. Generally, Canadian militia units were raised locally so the search for a Toronto fusilier or grenadier unit was on.
Looking through various print and online sources I was unable to find any Toronto based units designated fusiliers. On the other hand, I was able to identify one styled as grenadiers – the 10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers). Thus far we had a Canadian Militia color-sergeant, probably a member of the 10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers) who was photographed sometime around 1900 at Toronto.
Above: Identifying our subject’s regimental affiliation was greatly helped by locating a digital copy of The Royal Grenadiers: A Regimental History of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the Active Militia of Canada. At left is a detail of our subject photograph and at right in that of Color-Sergeant D. McHugh of the 10/Royal Grenadiers. The uniforms appear to be a spot-on match. McHugh wears the Edward VII Coronation Medal, which fits with the book’s 1904 publication date.
Looking over the details of the image one’s eyes are quickly drawn to the sergeant’s single medal. Medals can provide a wealth of information if enough detail can be made out. There were several distinct categories of medalic awards that can be seen in period photographs. Orders and decorations presented for valor or distinguished service, campaign medals for participation in various wars and conflicts, jubilee or coronation medals for taking part in those royal celebrations. Quite often the specific medal in a given photograph is too indistinct to positively identify with any great certainty. Fortunately, this was not the case in this instance.
Under 8x magnification, the sergeant’s medal was easy to make out and a quick thumb through my dogged-eared copy of Medal Yearbook showed it to be Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (1897). This seemingly small detail would provide the key to bringing all the other hints together.
Above: At left is a close-up detail of the medal pictured in our subject photograph. At right is a modern photograph of the 1897 Victorian Diamond Jubilee Medal.
The Diamond Jubilee Medal was awarded to military personnel from throughout the British Empire who in 1897 took part in events commemorating Queen Victoria’s sixtieth year on the throne. Imperial military contingents which took part in the Jubilee were usually made up of officers and non-commissioned officers from various units who had exemplary records of service. These contingents would normally be made up of men from a number of different units. Canada’s selection was no different.
As specified in Special General Order 59 (12 May 1897), Canada’s contingent would consist of 157 officers and non-commissioned officers from at least forty separate units. The specific copy of the General Order I referenced listed all of the officers by name and rank but only supplied the number of NCOs from each named unit. Even so, it told me that four NCOs from the10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers) took part in the Jubilee. The window of possibilities was narrowing indeed.
The next obvious task was to find the names and ranks of those four Royal Grenadiers. I was able to find a complete online copy of The Royal Grenadiers: A Regimental History of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the Active Militia of Canada by Captain Ernest J. Chambers, Toronto, 1904 via google books and the sought after names were included in the text. A total of five members of the regiment took part in the Jubilee: Lieut.-Col. Mason, Color-Sergeant Middleton, Sergeants Hall, and Noble, and Corporal Clarke. As for the subject of the photograph Lieut.-Col. Mason could be quickly ruled out. That leaves four possibilities, Color-Sergeant Middleton, Sergeants Hall and Noble, and Corporal Clarke. Sergeant Noble is pictured in The Royal Grenadiers: A Regimental History of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the Active Militia of Canada (by then promoted Machine-Gun Sergeant) and was clearly not the man in our photograph so he could also be ruled out.
At this point, I should probably digress as to the possible reason this photograph was taken in the first place. At the time photography had become quite a commonplace and accessible to a very wide cross-section of society. At the same time though by no means as ubiquitous as it is in our selfie-obsessed world today. While no longer the novelty it once was, having one’s photograph taken in a studio setting was still usually reserved to commemorate some singular or special event. For a soldier, this might include commemorating his enlistment, a recent promotion, an overseas deployment or being presented with a medal or similar distinction.
Based on the above, my guess at this point was that the casus belli behind this particular photograph was the subject’s return home and receipt of the jubilee medal in 1897. This coupled with the fact that neither of the above mentioned Sergeant Hall or Corporal Clarke are mentioned as ever being promoted color-sergeant in The Royal Grenadiers seems to narrow down the identity of our soldier to that of Color-Sergeant Middleton.
To clinch the identity I need to find a confirmed photograph of Middleton for comparison but so far one has eluded me. While he is mentioned several times in the text of The Royal Grenadiers, no photos of him were included.
Color-Sergeant Middleton – actually Henry James Middleton – had a long and very distinguished military career in the Canadian forces that spanned two wars. This part of his story will be covered in a future posting.
*Having conducted similar research for more than twenty years there was no need for me to look this up. For those less familiar with the subject of British and Common Wealth rank insignia there is a wealth of information available both in print and online describing the myriad of enlisted rank insignia worn at the time.