Piking Around

While speaking of Colonial-era militias, much emphasis is placed on the use of firelocks with their related “12 Apostles” and later flintlocks with their cartridge pouches, but to be sure, many 17th Century town militia forces had to fall back on the old staple of the Hundred Years’ War and Burgundian Wars– the pike.

And the drill for these weapons was serious, as demonstrated by this superb reenactment video courtesy of the Massachusetts National Guard, who notes:

“In early 17th century Massachusetts, every able-bodied male between 16 and 60 was required to attend militia drill once a month except during the harvest months of July and August. One of the main weapons for European armies at the time was the pike, a wooden pole up to 17 feet long with a sharp metal point on the end. Handling a pike in a row with your fellow soldiers could be very difficult and exhausting. This video shows reenactors from the Salem Trayned Band demonstrating a training drill from a 1607 manual with 16 ½ foot long pikes.”


This 17th-century pike point was excavated at Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site at the site of the workshop of bladesmith and blacksmith Joseph Jenks. It may have been part of the equipment for the local militia unit.
National Park Service Museum Collections, SAIR 2251

Perhaps the last military use of the pike for purposes other than ceremonial was in 1940, when Winston Churchill, facing the dearth of arms for the newly formed Home Guard post-Dunkirk wrote the War Office in July 1941, begging, “Every man must have a weapon of some kind, be it only a mace or pike.”

The War Office took this order literally and by July 1941, had reportedly ordered 250,000 “Home Guard Pikes” along with a smaller number of ersatz cudgels and maces. These long five-foot pikes had 45-inch metal tubes topped with surplus 17-inch American-made Pattern 1913 sword bayonets welded in place. However, most were not produced and those that were weren’t even issued as better weapons for the Home Guard were soon procured.

Via the Royal Armouries collection.

Still, it would have been interesting to see footage of a highly drilled Home Guard platoon using the old 1607 pattern manual for their pikes– provided they never had to use them against Panzergrenadiers armed with MP40s and MG34s.

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