The Man of Kent


Painting by Lady Elizabeth Butler, 1919

This well known watercolour was originally on display in the Officer’s Mess at the Buffs Regimental Depot in Canterbury and is currently on display in the Officers’ Mess of Second Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. Referring to a man of East Kent – ‘Kentish’ describing someone of West Kent – it depicts a soldier of the Buffs (the Regiment of East Kent), walking in Flanders during the Great War. He is most likely from the 2nd Battalion.

Able to trace their history as far back as 1572 when Queen Elizabeth I raised men of the Trained Bands to assist the Netherlands in quelling a protestant rebellion, the Buffs were awarded 3rd in the order of precedence in 1782 and became the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot. Thereafter they retained the nickname ‘Buffs’, which had been acquired as a result of the colour of the Regiment’s tunics during a winter campaign as part of the Austrian War of Succession (1740-48).

The Buffs proudly claim 116 battle honours across a history that spanned nearly 400 years. During the Great War they fought with honour across the fields of France and Belgium, as well as Macedonia and the Middle East and were present at some of the war’s most deadly engagements, such as the Somme and Passchendaele. In total the Regiment raised 9 Battalions and were awarded 48 battle honours during the war, including the Victoria Cross of Corporal William Cotter, who for two hours stoically led his men in holding a trench under withering fire, despite having had his leg blown off at the knee and wounds to both arms. Courage comes at a cost and the Buffs lost 6,000 Men of Kent during the course of the War.

Their courage was matched by those serving during WWII. One notable engagement occurred in May 1940 in an attempt to defend the River Dyle against the German onslaught. The British Expeditionary Force of which the East Surrey's were part crossed from France into Belgium. Risqouns Tout, Ville de Mouscron which literally sits on the border. Thrown back by the Germans, units were split up, became isolated and had to fight many individual battles often in places now forgotten. The Battle of Risquons Tout 25th, 26th, 27th May 1940 may well have been one of these were it not for part of the battle being witnessed by the local doctors son, Mike Legrand, a young boy at that time, but who never forgot the bravery shown by the British soldiers. Three privates of the East Surreys manning a Bren gun carrier initially had success against great odds delaying the German advance thus allowing troops to evacuate towards Dunkirk where they would be lifted off the beaches. Later knocked out by anti tank fire all three were killed. The youngest was 19. All three were soldiers of the 1st/6th Bn The East Surrey Regt (TA) as were a further six soldiers of the East Surrey's who died in various positions around the town. Their bravery is still celebrated by the whole town annually and members of the Queen's Regimental Association represent the Tigers honouring their forebears.

Elizabeth Southern Thompson, Lady Butler (1846-1933), was a renowned military artist who won popularity for her works on the Napoleonic Wars, wars of the Victorian period and the Great War. She is perhaps best known for her work, ‘Remnants of an Army’, depicting Dr William Brydon, the only survivor of the 1842 retreat from Kabul during the first Afghan War.

This picture hangs in the Officers' Mess 2nd Battalion, which is not accessible to the general public.