Category Archives: Documents

Sergeants’ Mess Invitation

Sergeants and warrant officers in the British Army have their own mess, with its own strict rules about who can and can’t be invited to mess functions. Tonight we have a simple card invitation issued by the sergeants’ mess of the 9th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment:SKM_C45817100908140This card is printed on yellow card and has never been written out. The only 9th Battalion of the Regiment I can find served in the First World War so I believe this would date from that era.

The following rules on guests in a Sergeants’ mess come from the King’s Regiment but would be representative of most regiments:


  1. Members may invite qualified male guests to the Mess. They are entirely responsible for the conduct of their guests. Guests are not to be brought into the mess after 22:00
  2. On no account is any male person in the armed forces below the rank of Sergeant or equivalent to be introduced into the Mess as a guest.
  3. No civilian guests are to be permitted to enter the Mess without the consent of the Regimental Sergeant Major, or in his absence the Mess President
  4. The Regimental Sergeant Major and President only are permitted to authorise Mess Guests drinks.        


57. Ladies are at no time to be permitted to enter the bar or living accommodation but may be invited into the Mess at the following times: 

(a) Daily from 1830 hrs until the Mess closes.

(b) Sunday’s from 1200 hrs until 1400 hrs.

(c) On special occasions.


  1. Children are only permitted in the Mess on Sunday’s between the hours of 1200 hrs and 1400 hrs. They are not permitted in the bar, dining room and living accommodation.

All messes hold a variety of social occasions throughout the year, hosting the officers or the corporals at differing mess dinners. For these a formal invitation would be sent, the mess using its stock of invitations, such as this one, to make that request.


HMS Sovereign Launch Commemorative Cover

This evening’s post is a commemorative stamp cover from the launch of HMS Sovereign in 1973:SKM_C45817091212480HMS Sovereign was a Swiftsure class nuclear submarine in service from 1973 until 2006. This cover was issued on board the submarine on the day of her launch, as witnessed by the ink stamp from her executive officer:SKM_C45817091212480 - CopyThe envelope features a photograph of the submarine on the slipway:SKM_C45817091212480 - Copy (2)A card inside the envelope has a picture of the submarine’s badge and some facts about the boat:SKM_C45817091212490The reverse tells something about her builders, with a picture of their yard:SKM_C45817091212480 - Copy (3)In July 1990 the Navy News did a special feature on the vessel:

About to work up with Captain Submarine Sea Training, HMS Sovereign is part of the Second Submarine Squadron based at Devonport.

She was launched in February 1973 by Lady Ashmore, wife of Admiral Sir Edward Ashmore, the then CINC-FLEET, and commissioned the following year.

Second of the Swiftsure class of fleet submarines, the Sovereign is powered by a uranium 235 reactor. Controlled nuclear fission heats pressurised coolant water, which is fed to the steam generators.

Here the coolant water transfers its heat to a secondary water circuit which boils, producing the steam which is fed to the main engines for propulsion. There is also a back-up diesel electric drive system.

As a hunter-killer whose main wartime role would be to track and destroy enemy submarines. HMS Sovereign has an impressive array of sonars: active sonars to locate targets through sound transmission and passive sonars for listening to noise in the sea.

She is also fitted with an underwater telephone to communicate with other units while dived. A number of echo sounders are fitted to establish water depth below and ice depth above.

The Sovereign has two periscopes- a search periscope for longer range work and an attack periscope for close range. Between them, these provide a sextant for astronavigation and the ability to take photographs while dived.

The submarine’s five torpedo tubes are capable of discharging the RN Sub Harpoon anti-ship missile and Tigerfish, an electrically powered, wire guided torpedo. Ground mines can also be laid. The maximum weapon load is 25.

HMS Sovereign has a ship’s company of about 100, of whom 12 are officers. The company is divided into operations, marine engineering, weapon engineering, supply and medical departments.

Displacing about 4,500 tons, the submarine can dive to depths in excess of 500 feet. She dives by flooding external ballast tanks and surfaces by blowing the same with air. She is capable of speeds over 25 knots and of sustaining a patrol for over 70 days.

Life on board is made the more pleasant thanks to a fully equipped galley and laundry. A quantity of films, videos and games are carried to entertain members of the ship’s company off watch.Strategist-SUBMARINE-2

Military Police Notebook

Like civilian police, the Royal Cops of Military Police issued its men with an official notebook to record what they did and saw when on duty. This notebook was an official document and could be used in evidence at court so had to be carefully written in, with various rules about how and what could be deleted. During the war these notebooks were of a conventional book form, with the spine on the left. After the war however the design changed and the notebooks now had their spine along the top. Having the official designation of ‘Army Book 466’ this example was manufactured in September 1958:imageThe code along the bottom reveals that this was part of a batch of 8,000 produced at the time. Note the large Queen’s crown printed on the cover. Military Policemen carried this book in their breast pocket with a pencil or pen to write with. Instructions on the back of the cover reminded men about how the book should be used:imagePages are all numbered so it is clear that none have become detached:imagePolice notebooks were issued on a one for one basis- no police officer could have more than one in his possession at any given time. This prevented miscarriages of justice where things were incorrectly recorded or where confusion could be implied in a court case. There is a very good page on military police notebooks here, and it is from this site the following description of their use comes:

Service Police notebooks are used to form the basis of most official reports that follow on from an RMP NCO performing his many and varied duties. Primarily used for the General Policing role, notes made at the time of an incident, arrest, or other situation, will be used to form the basis for the reports that RMP submit to other unit Commanders; for example, in the event of a traffic collision, reports on the collision would be sent to Army legal services, the drivers’ commander, and if required, the third parties’ insurance company (although it is not very often that this last part happens).

For the provost Operations side of things, in addition to the normal Police Duty side of things, certain operations notes on the conduct of any given military route that the NCO might be assigned to help run, would be recorded, along with any brief notes as to what to keep watch for, local points of interest, and so on; this is not to say that classified notes would be recorded in a notebook – far from it; only such material that an NCO would need to run his or her part of a military route would be noted, and than, only the material that it would be advantageous for the NCO to know in order to perform his or her duties to the fullest possible extent. In this way, operational material that could be of use to an enemy would be kept to a minimum, in case of capture – remember, RMP operated (and still do) right up to the forward areas of the battle.

Book Review “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”

As a collector of military ephemera I was very pleased to learn that a book had been published on collecting war publications, and indeed had been out for a couple of years. I am not quite sure how I had missed this particular book, but I quickly ordered myself a copy of Arthur Ward’s book “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”. The book soon arrived and I settled down for a much anticipated read.imageThe book is published by Pen and Sword on high quality glossy paper and is profusely illustrated. The book is divided up into chapters covering The Home Front, Entertainment, Children, Civilian Militias and Military Manuals. These are bookended by chapters putting the materials into context and how to care for them. The text is well written and flows well making the book pleasurable to read and I found the opening and closing chapters very interesting. imageThe author starts by looking at the state of propaganda in both the UK and Germany during the Great War, with an interesting discussion of the artistic merits of German posters of the time. Unfortunately although many of these posters are described, very few are illustrated and I felt that for something relying so heavily on visual media the actual posters would have helped get across the thrust of the argument.imageI found the thematic chapters highly frustrating. I recognise that context is very important, but I felt the emphasis was too heavily weighted towards context and there was not enough about the publications themselves. There are many books about life on the home front: what I wanted from this book was a look at the printed materials used on the home front: how heavily were they censored, how were supplies of paper maintained, did people respond positively or cynically to the materials they were presented with? Unfortunately nearly all of each chapter was devoted to context and very little to substance which was disappointing.

The book ends with some very useful information on preserving the documents and I learnt a lot from this. A set of useful appendices are included including one on Penguin books in wartime. Again I feel the author missed a trick here as there was clearly much more of a story to tell here and perhaps this should have been a full chapter of the book itself rather than tucked away as an appendix.imageOverall there is a lot to recommend this book, it is lavishly produced and there is much to learn from it, however I came away from it feeling rather unsatisfied and that is something of a pity for what should have been an important addition to the study of the period.

Copies of the book are available from Amazon here.

Cawnpore Etching

This week’s image dates back to the nineteenth century and is a fine etching of a group of Highlanders storming the guns at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny:SKM_C45817022215110In the mid nineteenth century printed etchings gave a way for art to be enjoyed by the masses. Photography was still in its infancy and true paintings were beyond the pocket of most. Etchings could be mass produced and were very affordable. The more wealthy had them framed and hung on the wall, emulating the paintings of the wealthy. The poor decorated their houses by pulling the etchings from magazines and sticking them to the walls, much like the posters of today. Most of these etchings were in fact copies of actual paintings, the engraver’s skill being to translate this image onto metal for reproduction. Consequently some etchings are crude, others like this one are remarkably detailed. As well as scenes from history and famous people, current events and especially British military victories particularly appealed to the Victorians. This particular engraving dates to 1860 and judging by the large number of copies for sale online was a very popular print.

The following stirring fictionalised account of the attack by the 78th Highlanders comes from VA Stuart’s book Massacre at Cawnpore:

The Highlanders of the 78th, led by their pipers, hurled themselves at the enemy positions, the sun glinting on the bright steel of their ferociously jabbing bayonets. The riflemen of the 64th flattened themselves to the ground, then rose, as one man, to advance firing. The 84th, with memories of comrades who had defended the Cawnpore entrenchment, took guns at bayonet point and neither they nor the Sikhs who fought beside them, gave quarter to any gunner who had the temerity to stand by his gun. In their famous blue caps and “dirty” shirts, the young fusiliers fought grimly…they had Renaud, their commander, to avenge and they had brought in blood, the right to call themselves veterans.SKM_C45817022215110 - CopyAnd always the order was “Forward!” Shells burst and round shot and grape thinned the advancing ranks; a 24-pounder held them until it was blown up by Maude’s guns from the flank; then a howitzer from the enemy centre ranged on the charging 78th, forcing them to take cover behind a causeway carrying the road.

Havelock himself rallied them, his sword held high above his head as a storm of shot and shell fell about him. “Another charge like that wins the day, 78th!” he told them and the red coated line re-formed at his bidding and stormed the howitzer’s emplacement, their pipes keening above the noise of battle and the shouts and oaths of the weary, sweating Highlanders.SKM_C45817022215110 - Copy (2)

South Atlantic Fund First Day Cover

On 15th July 1982 a charity called ‘The South Atlantic Fund’ was constituted to raise money to aid the victims of the war in the Falkland Islands and their families. By Autumn 1982 a sum of £11 million had been raised and one of those contributing to the fund was the Royal Mail who issued a special first day cover to raise money:SKM_C45817070608230Fortuitously the Royal Mail had issued a set of stamps based on famous naval personalities from history on 16th June, which provided a suitable set of stamps to display on the cover:SKM_C45817070608230 - CopyA special envelope was printed for the South Atlantic Fund, with a design incorporating the White Ensign and the silhouette of a frigate:SKM_C45817070608230 - Copy (2)Inside the envelope is a card giving details of the charity and how much money the Royal Mail was aiming to collect:SKM_C45817070608230 - Copy (3)Alan Feinstein, Director of Public Relations at The Post Office wrote to the Daily Mail on 7th June 1982 explaining:

Mrs Such (Letters) will be pleased to learn that the Post Office will be offering for sale a million special pictorial envelopes with a maritime theme to boost the South Atlantic Fund by a minimum of £100,000.

They will go on sale at most post offices from June 28 until July 2, following the issue on June 16 of our planned Maritime Heritage stamps planned more than two years ago to celebrate the English Tourist Board’s Maritime Heritage Year.

The Post Office is guaranteeing a £100,000 minimum donation from the sale of the special envelope and the stamps bought for them, and any surplus will also go to the fund.

A special advert was taken out in the national press to advertise the covers:DMHA-1982-0628-0024-FSadly I have been unable to find out the exact amount of money raised by the sale of these covers, but judging by how common they are I suspect a lot were sold!

Active Service ‘Privilege’ Envelope

Tonight we have a small envelope with an interesting story. From the Great War onwards soldiers were given one free ‘Privilege’ envelope a week. This allowed them to send private correspondence home without being censored. The system worked on trust, and a random selection would be checked to ensure nothing sensitive was being sent out- soldiers losing the right to the envelopes if they divulged sensitive information. As only one envelope was allowed a week, soldiers tended to put multiple letters inside, with the recipient forwarding them on to others. The system continued into the Second World War, with a buff envelope with green lettering marked on it. This envelope however is rather different from the norm:SKM_C45817060611220The ‘privilege’ part of the envelope has been obliterated with a large black stamp:SKM_C45817060611220 - CopyThis suggests that the stock of normal envelopes for mail that would be censored had run out and these were over marked to remove the privilege status. The recipient’s name and address is filled out on the right hand side of the envelope, here to a Private F W Brown:SKM_C45817060611220 - Copy (2)These envelopes remained in use into the 1950s as recalled by one ex-serviceman:

This was all we were allowed to use for about three months in 1956 prior to and during the Suez invasion. Most of the men that I served with still have them as we thought that no letter was better than these things. Mind you some of this could have been our fault as all letters prior to this had to be put into the company office unsealed to be censored. Now on standing orders when this instruction came out it informed us that what we wrote would remain confidential as long it is had no military references in them, and would never be commented on by the officers censoring the mail. Well we had to put all this to the test so we spoke about our platoon officer w#nking himself silly and one of the others being so daft he could not find his back side with both hands. Well as quick as shot they were down in the lines bawling out the men who had written these letters, only to find that complaints were put in against them for breaching Company Orders. So they refused to censor the letters and we got was the Field Post Cards for months on end. Ain’t life fun in the Army