Dalek designer set his sights on the history of riflemen

C5172135   Ray Cusick -photo by Steve Cobb
C5172135 Ray Cusick -photo by Steve Cobb
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The remarkable story of Britain’s first rifle regiments is told in the book Wellington’s Rifles, written by the late Ray Cusick.

Horsham resident Mr Cusick - best-known to the public as the designer who created the Daleks - finished the manuscript shortly before his death in February this year.

His friend and fellow historian John Grehan told the County Times that Mr Cusick’s interest in the subject dated back to his National Service in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

One of the first tasks the conscripts were given was to clear out a store room containing old haversacks.

The bags’ contents revealed that they had been left behind by riflemen who had headed off to France at the start of the war.

Those soldiers had never come back to reclaim their possessions - two battalions had been trapped at Calais during the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat to Dunkirk.

The discovery encouraged Mr Cusick to take an interest in the history of his regiment, which had its origins in colonial America.

After his retirement in 1988, Ray devoted his time to writing articles about military history - concentrating on the Napoleonic era - and was later invited to become a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society.

“It was a subject he was most familiar with,” said Mr Grehan.

“For quite a few years I was encouraging him to write a book about it.

“He wrote a lot for the journal of the regiment that he was a member of - the King’s Royal Rifle Corps - so he was a natural to write a book of that sort.

“Obviously the Sharpe series has done a lot to raise the profile of rifle regiments in the Napoleonic wars, and the Sharpe TV series is regularly shown on different TV channels so it’s very much in the public eye.”

Wellington’s Rifles goes back even further, to a time when the rifle was a specialist weapon mostly used by hunters, and only just beginning to appear on the battlefield.

“There was lots of resistance from military figures who were very traditional and wanted to use smoothbore muskets,” Mr Grehan explained.

“The whole philosophy was to produce a wall of fire. They could only really do that by rapid fire, and the rifle was much slower to load.”

Frederick the Great had used the traditional method to great effect, and it had become an entrenched part of military doctrine.

Soldiers were expected to march and act as part of a ponderous mass of troops, loading and firing with no chance to show initiative.

This contrasted with the emerging role of riflemen as skirmishers who were allowed to move around freely, often in groups of just two, firing upon enemy columns from cover and picking off officers from long range.

Mr Grehan said that early rifle regiments were a risky experiment, since the only way to test whether they were any use was to put them on the battlefield.

The book explains: “So long as both sides adhered to the established formations and manoeuvres of the eighteenth century there was no practical need for arms of greater precision.

“The rifle was expensive to manufacture, required greater training and had the disadvantage that it took longer to load.

“It was for these reasons that Napoleon banned the use of rifles.

“He himself was a poor shot with a hunting rifle, injuring a marshal when out hunting.

“It was accepted that you took your chance in battle; the ritual of the system was that some considered it against the accepted tenets and rules of warfare to deliberately pick off individuals which was seen as ungentlemanly.”

Napoleon’s opposition to the use of rifles left his skirmishers at a disadvantage during the Peninsular War.

Wellington’s Rifles is published by Pen and Sword, priced £15.99. Visit: http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk