Under an order dated 1 January 1836, signifying the royal commands that an historic account of the services of every regiment in the British Army should be published under the superintendence of the Adjutant-General, the work of compilation was entrusted to Cannon, at that time principal clerk in the Adjutant-General’s office. During the ensuing 17 years historical records of all then existing regiments of cavalry, and of 42 regiments of infantry of the line, were thus issued ‘by authority’, all of which were prepared under Cannon’s direction.
The Richard Cannon books set the standards to be expected of all future regimental histories. His modus operandi was to liaise directly with the regiments concerned, relying upon them to consult their own records, and to write and proofread their own texts. His function was essentially that of co-ordinator and editor. The resultant work was authoritative and reliable. Based upon a combination of archival sources and personal knowledge of past and servicing officers it provided accurate information regarding dates, engagements, moves and locations. The book contained helpful illustrations – often executed to a high standard – showing details of uniforms and equipment. There was little, if any, of the fine detail or human interest which later generations of readers came to expect, but the essential blueprint has been drawn.
The 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment in the British Army, active from 1755 to 1881. It was originally raised in Northumbria as the 58th Regiment, and renumbered the 56th the following year when two senior regiments were disbanded. It saw service in Cuba at the capture of Havana in the Seven Years’ War, and was later part of the garrison during the Great Siege of Gibraltar in the American Revolutionary War. During the French Revolutionary Wars it fought in the Caribbean and then in Holland. On the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars the 56th raised a second battalion in 1804 as part of the anti-invasion preparations; both saw service in India and in the Indian Ocean, with the first capturing Réunion and Mauritius.