British Army Volunteer Regiment
Major Barfield: I saw enough of that type in the trenches. Artists' Rifles and so forth. Pansies, if you ask me, excusing my French, I hope, ladies.
Mavis: Were you in the Artists' Rifles, Major?
Major Barfield: I certainly was not, Miss Pellington. I was in a proper fighting unit.

- extract from The Cat and the Pigeons by J. E. Hollingsworth

Unlikely as it sounds, there really was a regiment of the British Army known as the "Artists' Rifles". It was formed in 1914 from the 20th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteer Corps (itself founded in 1860). As a volunteer regiment, it attracted the attention of many men of an artistic nature (although public opinion was divided as to their worth as soldiers, as the extract above shows). They saw a great deal of action, fighting battles at Ypres and Passchendaele, the Somme, the Hindenburg Line and many others throughout France and Flanders.

Many who were later to become famous names joined, or were attached to the regiment, including such worthies as Charles Jagger, Bert Thomas, Edward Thomas, Paul Nash, John Nash, John Lavery and William Lee-Hankey. The great English war poet Wilfred Owen joined in 1915, and spent two years with them, and Noel Coward was drafted in toward the end of the war.

The regiment, unlike many others, was not disbanded after the war, and it became an important officer training unit. It marched on until 1947, when it was redesignated to form the SAS Regiment, 21st Battalion (Artists) Volunteers (unlikely as it may seem), and still remains as a Territorial Army reserve unit.

There is also an album by this name, released by the band Piano Magic in 1999, and a collection by the photographic artist Paul M. Smith, based on his own experiences in the army, bears this title.

Encyclopædia Britannica
...and many more from Google
...not to forget pottedstu, who gave me the idea
I don't know about you, but trying to imagine Noel Coward going over the top is still a little too much.

When I was 17, me and my mate worked at the rifle ranges in Bisley. Bisley ranges are the biggest in the world, I think, and there are lots of rifle clubs that have clubhouses there. On big competition weekends, like the Queen's Shoot, it was our job to collect the entrance fee of £3 from everyone who wanted to bring a car in. Normally you could come in for free, but on competition weekends everyone had to pay £3. It was that simple.

Now there were some people who would refuse to pay, because they considered their membership fee to be quite enough, thank you very much. Some would actually speed up as you stepped out in front of their cars, forcing you to leap aside! The thing was, you always knew that when this happened, the (big, expensive) car receding into the distance would have an 'Artists' Rifles' sticker in the window.

I don't know whether this is what has become of the distinguished regiment described above. That would suck.

I have to say, none of these guys really looked like Wilfred Owen types to me.

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