As with many items of Indian equipment in my collection, my thanks got to Andrew Dearlove for his help with tonight’s object. India produced its own Short Magazine Lee Enfields at the Ishapore Arsenal, it also produced its own ammunition and accessories for the rifle including a webbing sling, closely modelled on the British design from the Mills Company:The webbing has a looser weave than that produced in the UK and the fittings are notably cruder, as can be seen when comparing it with a British made example (lower):The ends are made of brass, but the stampings are not well defined and it is not easy to push them through the sling loops on a Lee Enfield, a pair of copper rivets secure them to the strap:An inspection code is very faintly stamped on one end:And another faint black number is stamped onto the webbing:Again these are too indistinct to be read. These rifle slings are available in the UK, but are of course less common than the British produced examples. The quality is far poorer and certainly if this example is anything to go by they do not fit rifle slings as easily as British made examples, they are however the perfect accessory if you are lucky enough to have an Ishapore produced SMLE.
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:
This week we have a second photograph from the collection belonging to Major Stevenson, this image is a fine shot of the ‘India Gate’ war memorial in New Delhi:The India Gate was designed by the prominent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and commemorates the 82,000 Indian troops who died between 1914 and 1920. The foundation stone was laid on 10th February 1921, being completed and inaugurated in 1931 by the Viceroy. The memorial is deliberately designed to be secular with no overt religious symbols, a key consideration in a religiously diverse country such as pre-partition India.
TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL AND ARE HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE HERE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR
The gate is also covered in the names of 13,218 Indian war dead. The top of the gate has a large bowl, where it was planned oil could be placed and burnt on special occasions, although this has rarely ever been done:Overall the memorial stands about 137 feet tall, dwarfing the people in the foreground:These seem to be mostly military personnel with a few civilians mingling amongst:In the background can be seen a small canopy:This originally held a statue of King George V, but this was removed in 1961 and the canopy is currently empty. I believe this photograph might date from the VJ Day celebrations as a number of fighter aircraft can be seen flying overhead in formation:The India Gate War memorial still stands in New Delhi and remains a national focus for military remembrance to this day.
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.
Tonight marks four years since my first post on this blog. It has come a long way since those early days and some of the first posts seem rather amateurish now. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the blog; I have met many fellow enthusiasts and collectors and the generosity of the collecting community in terms of research, time and indeed physical objects on occasion has been wonderful. I hope that I haven’t bored you too much over the years and that you have learnt something- I have certainly learnt a lot researching and writing these posts! I intend to keep writing for many more years to come and I keep picking up new and odd bits of kit…
A few weeks ago I picked up a photograph album and paperwork from a Major Stevenson in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps who was in India during the Second World War, based at Simla. Simla was the summer capital of India from 1863 onwards and during the hot weather the government and military of India operated from this mountain town. With a massive ex-pat community there was a bustling selection of leisure activities including sport and an amateur dramatics group. Major Stevenson was heavily involved in amateur dramatics during his time in India and tonight we have a few invitations he kept over the years.
In Anglo-Indian society invitation cards and calling cards were essential, woe betide the man who ignored them as he would find himself ostracised from the rest of his peers. Indeed it was often said that the cultural mores of British India were fifty years behind those of the UK, with the Anglo-Indians wishing to emphasise their ‘Britishness’ more than was ever felt necessary at home. For those interested in the social history of India I heartily recommend Charles Allen’s book ‘Plain Tales from the Raj’.
The first of these cards is inviting the then Captain Stevenson to a variety show to be held at the Kali Bari Hall in Simla on 16th December 1943 which had been organised by the GHQ (General Headquarters) Recreation Hall:The hall is still in Simla and is part of a Hindu temple complex in the town. It seems to have been used for a variety of different social events, this card was for another variety show, this time raising funds for famine victims:This would have been for the Bengal Famine which struck India in 1943 and killed 2.1 million people following a combination of pressures from the war and poor weather conditions. The government struggled to cope and it seems shows like this one were organised to help provide funds for charity workers to provide emergency food.
The final card in this little selection dates to 1946, just after the war and is an invite to Major Stevenson and his wife to a cast supper at the grand hotel organised by the Simla Amateur Dramatics Club:Major Stevenson seems to have been actively involved in amateur dramatics his whole life; he settled in Morley in West Yorkshire after the War and was a member of their local drama group for many years.
As has been discussed on this blog before, sport was an important part of military life in India and this week’s photograph is a marvellous shot of the winners of the Madras Gymkhana Football Challenge Cup in 1920, The 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment:
The cup itself, officially known as the EK Chetty Cup, is seen in the centre of the photograph with smaller commemorative tankards for the players surrounding it:The team itself sits around their cup, most players wearing a dark shirt, white shorts and leather football boots of the period:One player has a lighter coloured shirt and is presumable the goalkeeper:Only one man wears military uniform, a lance corporal, who is possibly the coach:The Madras Gymkhana Club was founded in 1885 and in 1895 organised the first football cup in the city, with ten teams from across the country competing. The local journal ‘The Sketch , A Journal of Art and Actuality’ reported:
Last year, a few ardent devotees came together and decided to make a start. The game found support at once, and when, at the General Meeting of the Gymkhana Club a request was made for a Tournament Cup to be played under certain conditions, a uniform consent was accorded.
Lord Willingdon, Governor of Madras, was an important supporter of the football cup and attended all the finals between 1919 and 1924 so was presumably present when the team above won in 1920. The cup was won exclusively by military teams until 1933 when the first civilian team won, The Pachaiyappa High School.
We have looked at various jack knives on the blog over the last few years, but tonight we have an Indian example to consider. My thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for his help with this item. The Indian jack knife is very similar to those from the UK, but noticeably cruder in construction:The grip panels are thinner and less shiny than those on the British jack knife and are probably made of a local substitute for the hard Bexoid plastic or horn used on other examples. The chequering is also less regular which leads me to suspect it is hand finished rather than produced on a machine:Other Indian knives can be found with red fibre grip panels. The jack knife has the usual combination of fold out blades. Taking up one side is a large marlin spike used for parting the fibres of ropes and (apparently) by boy scouts wishing to remove stones form the hooves of horses!There is the obligatory blade:This is again far rougher than a British jack knife. This example is faintly stamped ‘1942’:The final fold out part is the tin opener:Having used these for living history, I can confirm they are very effective at opening tin cans, but do need a bit of practice to get the knack! This example has manufacturer’s initials for ‘CMW’ I think:The whole knife is rounded off by a copper lanyard loop that allows it to be attached to a string lanyard and slung around the waist:Numerous variations of these knives abound, mainly because they production of these small items was put out to commercial tender by the Supply department rather than being made at a government factory in India. The History of the Supply Department notes:
The Department maintained registers of contractors by categories. Invitations to tender were normally issued to all contractors registered as competent to produce the store required. This method was mainly used for the vast range of miscellaneous engineering and general stores which could be produced by the small contractors and where there still remained an element of competition, viz., buttons, badges, knives, forks, spoons, scissors, hollow ware, padlocks, crockery, tables, chairs etc.