British P1856 Pioneers Saw-Back Short Sword

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The British army has had several patterns of saw-back bayonets but few saw-back swords. The pattern 1856 infantry Pioneers’ short sword (hanger) was issued to the Pioneers within each infantry battalion.

In the 19th Century, each British infantry battalion had a ten-man squad of Pioneers, under the command of a corporal or sergeant. Their main tasks were to travel in advance of the main army, to clear the way and to undertake and supervise heavy construction work, often in enemy territory. The Pioneers were an early form of combat engineers.

Besides being a weapon, the saw-back sword was robust enough to replace the axes and hand saws usually carried by the Pioneers. The short, heavy blade could be used as both a saw and a machete and was of particular use when cutting brush to clear a field of fire and for clearing bivouac areas.

The 570mm blade has 27 pairs of saw teeth, extending for 390mm from the ricasso. The blade is double-edged for the last 165mm and terminates in a spear point. The saw teeth remain very sharp and the blade’s cutting edge has been service sharpened. The blade retains its upper and lower cutting edges.

The ricasso is stamped with the Wilkinson maker’s name and the fabrication date of July 1895. The ricasso also bears a Birmingham reissue stamp and the reissue date of 1902.

The obverse ricasso is stamped with the bend test X, Wilkinson inspection stamps and the War Department initials and Broad Arrow. The blade is in near mint condition and retains its original leather washer.

The blades full width tang is hilted with ribbed brass grip scales, held in place by four steel rivets. The thick brass stirrup guard has a short, flat ball quillon, which is stamped with the unit markings of the 1st Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment and the re-issue date of December 1902. It is likely that the sword was originally issued to the 1st Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment for use in the Anglo-Boer War, where the regiment fought in the famous battle for Colesberg, with heavy losses, including the commanding officer. After the Boer War ended in May 1902, the sword would have been sent to the Birmingham Small Arms Factory to have a new scabbard made and the re-issue date would have been stamped on the quillon at this time.

The sword is complete with its matching, brass mounted leather scabbard. The scabbard is in excellent condition. The leather is strong and the stitching is intact and tight. The leather of the scabbard is stamped with the War Department Broad Arrow, 1902 issue date and inspection stamp.

The brass throat of the scabbard is stamped with the re-issue date of December 1902.

This is a near perfect example of a scarce British Pioneers sword. The sword is fresh to the market having been on display in a Suffolk museum until its recent closure.