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:In 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.And 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.
It is hard to comprehend the revolution in manufacturing India went through during the Second World War. Before the war India had a very limited manufacturing base, whilst there was some modern industry in the country it was at a comparatively early stage of industrial development The Second World War acted as a catalyst and the country went through a very rapid change in a short period of time. One area that needed rapid expansion was that of optics- sights for weapons, telescopes and mirrors and of course binoculars. Tonight we are looking at a rather fine pair of binoculars manufactured in Calcutta in 1944:In design they are virtually identical to the equivalent British made binoculars. There are a few detail differences compared to other sets I have. For instance on my British made binoculars the loops for the carrying strap are little brackets soldered onto the body of the binoculars. This Indian pair have a slightly expanded top plate with two cut outs through them instead for the straps to secure into:The focus of the binoculars is adjusted by twisting the eyepieces to move them in and out and this changes the focal length, the eyepieces have knurling on them to make it easier to twist:The two parts of the main body have a textured lacquer to aid grip:And the angle of the two halves is adjustable, around a central brass rod:A small guide is marked on the end to show the relative angle of the two eyepieces:There are two sets of markings on the binoculars, one indicates that they are ‘Binoculars, Prism, No2. Mk II’ and they have six times magnification:The other set of markings indicate they were made in Calcutta in 1944 by ‘M.I.O’:MIO was the ‘Mathematical Instrument Office. The 1944 History of the Indian Supply Department provides some interesting background:
During war, the numbers of firms producing scientific instruments has increased to about one hundred and sixty but very few of them are well equipped. The Mathematical Instruments Office has been enlarged and converted into an Ordnance factory and the work of manufacturing simple stores like drawing boards, stands, instruments, sun compasses etc., has been taken away from it and given to the private firms. This left the M.I.O. free to concentrate on the production of the more important stores such as binoculars, prismatic compasses, sighting telescopes etc. The industry is mainly concentrated in Calcutta with 95 of the total 160 firms located there. Lahore comes next with 21 firms.
My thanks go to Michael Skriletz for kindly sending these binoculars across the Atlantic for me.
A few years back we looked at the Indian 37 pattern water bottle cradle and in passing mentioned the Indian made water bottle. We did not however look at it in any great detail and I have now managed to pick up a different example of the bottle that allows us to take a more detailed look at this particular bottle. The bottle is of the traditional kidney shape and would have had a woolen cover originally. From the date it was designed to be used with 37 pattern webbing and it is made of tinplate that has been painted in a matt sand colour, rather than being enameled:The bottle does not have anywhere for a cork string to be tied to it, suggesting the thread of the cork was sewn to the cover. The top of the bottle has a distinctive spout, with a tapering section, before the main opening:By way of contrast, this is a 1941 dated version of the bottle, from the same factory and it shows a slightly different variation in the style of the top pressing:(This particular bottle is now on its way across the Atlantic to join the collection of a good friend of mine). The base of the bottle has manufacturer’s details stamped in. In this case someone has rubbed the paint off before I managed to pick it up so we can clearly see it was made by The Metal Box Company of Calcutta in 1944:This bottle is made of tinplate and The History of the Supply Department in India relates some of the demands for tinplate in the sub-continent:
Tinplate is essentially needed by all the three Defence Services in war. Mechanised armies depend on tinplate for their petrol, water, oil and grease, all of which must be packed in tins. It is also needed for packing food stuffs, in operational areas, for army utensils like camp kettles, degchies. mess tins, water bottles, and gas mask boxes. In munitions also, tinplate is essential.
Nearly every round fired or bomb dropped owes something to tin-plate. It is required for lining the boxes of rifles and machine gun ammunition. Charges for big guns are stored in tinplate containers. Fuses for small bomb and tails and vanes for bigger ones are all made from tinplate. Depth charges also are dependent on tinplate. These increased military demands led to the expansion of the Indian tinplate industry and its output rose to 58,300 tons in 1942, 68,400 tons in 1943 and 80.000 tons in 1944. The largest increase has been in heavy gauge (26 E.G. and thicker) production in special qualities.
All this expansion has been carried out and maintained despite the loss of Malaya and its supplies of tin and palm oil, as the Company had fairly large stocks of tin. Some imports came from the U.K., the U.S.A. and China. Arrangements were also made for the supply from Kenya of sufficient ore. By confining the use of tinplate to certain essential articles such as containers for
food-stuff and pharmaceuticals, mess this, water bottles etc., the consumption of tin was reduced by about 80 per cent. All other essential war demands requiring coated plate either for anti-corrosion protection or for ease of fabrication such as ammunition boxes and ordnance stores were produced in ‘terneplate’
With the possible exception of the AK47, most firearms do not function well when they are covered in dirt and grit. Unfortunately the internal parts of a gun need to be oiled for them to function properly, and this oil in turn attracts dust and seizes up the action. This problem becomes more acute in arid conditions such as the North West Frontier or the deserts of Northern Africa. Whilst there is no substitute for regular cleaning of weapons by soldiers, physical covers over the working parts of a weapon can help reduce the level of dirt significantly and therefore breech covers were produced for the Lee Enfield rifles. Most of these covers were produced in the UK or Canada and use press studs to secure them, as described in this list of changes from 1915:
“The Breech cover is fully described in LoC 17368, 24 June 1915.
“the Cover is made of Double texture waterproof drill, and is fitted with 3 press studs on the left side of the rifle. Two eyelets are fitted in the cover for a lace which is knotted on the inside to retain it in position:
The cover is attached to rifle by means of the lace as follows-
Rifles Short MLE– To the guard sling swivel, or through the swivel screw hole in the lugs on the trigger guard.”
Tonight however we have an Indian produced example that uses a staples and a cloth strip to secure it:My thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for helping me add this one to the collection. As can be seen the cover fits tightly over the bolt and action of the rifle, the opposite side to the fastener has a double thickness area around the bolt handle to prevent this area from wearing too quickly:The cover is wrapped around the action, the staples are pushed through holes in the breech cover on the opposite side, and the whole assembly secured with the long cotton tab:This allows the cover to be easily removed by quickly pulling on the tab and this allows the assembly to fall away. A pair of leather ties are fitted:These secure to a ring in front of the magazine on the rifle to prevent loss of the cover:The cover is made of the same rough cotton drill as Indian made gas mask bags, inside are a couple of stamps: one has a date of 1943 and a number ‘2’:The second stamp is a faint purple marking with the letters ‘F.S.A’:Quite what this stands for is unknown now. We end with a nice illustration of a breech cover being used in the trenches of World War One to keep mud out of the action of a ‘jock’s’ SMLE:
A couple of weeks back I picked up a truly wonderful photograph album from a former British Army officer, Major Stevenson, who had spent much of the war in Simla in India. We will be looking at a selection of the photographs form this album in the coming months and start today with a lovely informal shot of British officers relaxing in the town towards the end of the Second Word War:This does not look like an officer’s mess, but rather one of the many clubs that existed in India during the time of the Raj. The prominent military club was the ‘Simla United Services Club’ which this may well be. The United Services club had opened in 1844 and was restricted to commissioned military officers, army or navy chaplains, members of the Indian Civil Service and judges. The club boasted tennis courts, billiards, an extensive library and reading room and other facilities for off duty officers to relax in.
Here a group of officers are sat enjoying afternoon tea, complete with cake:An Indian waiter stands behind, wearing a turban and cummerbund:The officers themselves are sat, relaxed, in Lloyd Loom chairs. The two closest to the camera appear to be a captain:And either a second lieutenant or major:These officers would either be part of the permenant staff in the town, or passing through on the way to and from other assignments further up country. To the right of the picture can be seen sofas and soft chairs; a more relaxed area for officers to sit and read the paper, play games or chat with their colleagues:
The United Services Club in Simla closed in 1947 with the coming of Indian independence, however other clubs remain across the sub-continent and are popular amongst Indian officers and business men alike. Although their membership is now far more inclusive than it ever used to be, these clubs are a lasting legacy of the British Empire in the region.