Category Archives: India

Officers Taking Tea in a Club, Simla

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.

Simla Invitation Cards

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.

Postcard of Madras Gymkhana Football Challenge Cup Winners 1920

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.

Indian Jack Knife

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.

Indian Troops Marching in the Desert Press Photograph

This week’s photograph considers a third and final press photograph of the Indian Army training in World War Two. The previous photographs can be viewed here and here, however unlike the last two images this one was not taken in India, but in the deserts of North Africa:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001The back of the photograph has the usual caption for the press:skmbt_c36416120708310_0001This reads:

Indian troops, which were the first of the Empire troops to take up their station in the Middle East, have soon settled down in their desert camp. The picture shows Indian troops led by British Officers, marching out of their camp in the desert.

And in the background of the photograph this camp can be seen, with a selection of tents:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copyAnd a single more permanent outhouse:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-2The men wear desert shorts and shirts with jumpers. Their equipment is simply a leather belt and pair of 03 pattern ammunition pouches:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-3A senior NCO marches at the head of the column with his swagger stick:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-4Note the different shade to his jumper, his collared shirt and that he wears what appears to be a Sam Browne belt without any shoulder straps. The two British Officers march in front of the main body of men:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-5Each wears the peaked cap synonymous with his status as an officer.

There was considerable interest in the Indian troops fighting in the desert, with visits to inspect them from various dignitaries. The Daily Mail of February 15th 1940 reported:

Units of the Indian Army massed in the desert outside Cairo this morning heard a message from the King-Emperor read to them by Mr Anthony Eden, Secretary for the Dominions.

Bearded Sikhs, Rajputs, Jats, Punjabis and Madrassis, dressed in Indian battle-dress of shorts, puttees and grey sweaters, and the varied turbans, cheered lustily at the end of Mr Eden’s speech.

A parade followed watched by Mr Eden, Sir miles Lampson, the British Ambassador in Cairo, and General Sir Archibald Wavell, commanding the British forces in the Near East.

Mr Eden said the whole Empire was grateful to the Indians. The unity of all sections of the Empire was the assurance of final victory.

Indian Red Cross Folding Mirror

My thanks go to Rob Barnes, who has very kindly given me tonight’s object. A small folding shaving mirror given out by the Indian Red Cross:imageThis mirror is made of heavy duty cardboard covered in a printed paper, it opens out to reveal the mirror:imageAnd this can then be folded so it becomes free standing to allow you to shave with it:imageThe folded mirror is only about 3”x2” and would easily have fitted into the soldier’s wash roll. The Indian Red Cross had been founded in 1920 and supported humanitarian aid to Indian soldiers both during their service time and once they had been made prisoners of war. The Indian Red Cross is still functioning today and it’s official role, outlined in the post war period is:

(1) Aid to the sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union in accordance with the terms and spirit of the Geneva Conventions of 12th August, 1949 and discharge of other obligations devolving upon the Society under the Conventions as the recognized auxiliary of the Armed Forces Medical Services.

(2) Aid to the demobilized sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union.

(3) Maternity and Child Welfare.

(4) Junior Red Cross

(5) Nursing and ambulance work.

(6) Provision of relief for the mitigation of suffering caused by epidemics, earthquakes, famines, floods and other disasters, whether in India or outside.

(7) The establishment and maintenance of peace among all nations in accordance with the decisions of the International Red Cross Organization.

(8) Work parties to provide comforts and necessary garments, etc., for hospitals and health institutions.

(9) The expenses of management of the Society and its branches and affiliated societies and bodies.

(10) The representation of the Society on or at International or other Committees formed for furthering objects similar to those of the Society.

(11) The improvement of health, prevention of disease and mitigation of suffering and such other cognate objects as may be approved by the Society from time to time.

During World War Two they published this leaflet explaining their work and encouraging contributions:010

009It was also published in Urdu:006005And Hindi:008007

One of the major initiatives the Indian Red Cross was involved with was preparing care packages for troops captured by the Japanese, these parcels contained:

  • 8 ounces fruit in syrup
  • 16 ounces lentils
  • 2 ounces toilet soap
  • 16 ounces flour
  • 8 biscuits
  • 8 ounces margarine
  • 12 ounces Nestle’s Milk
  • 14 ounces rice
  • 16 ounces pilchards
  • 2 ounces curry powder
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 1 ounce dried eggs
  • 2 ounces tea
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 4 ounces chocolate

Troops in India on a Routemarch

Tonight we have the second in our trio of Indian Army press photos. Again this is a wonderfully taken shot and depicts a groups of recruits setting out from camp on a route march:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001The caption on the back reads:

A picture taken at an Army training establishment “somewhere in India” where Indians are undergoing training for Army life. Village boys joining the Army are given the opportunity of enjoying life on a wider scale, with good pay and many opportunities for advancement.

Photo shows:- Route March- out into the warm, sun bathed countryside the sepoys march. They are now fully-trained soldiers ready to carry on the tradition of the Indian Army. skmbt_c36416120708300_0001The main body of men marching out are all dressed in khaki drill uniforms with 08 pattern webbing and rifles:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copyAs on the last photo we had of Indian troops training, two distinct turban designs can be seen, those with a khulla being Muslim soldiers:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-2And those without being Sikhs:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-3A senior NCO marches beside his men, with his webbing set up to carry a revolver and binoculars, and a small cane in his hand:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-4A British officer can be seen further back keeping an eye on the column:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-5In the background can be seen the large sheds and workshops of the training base:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-6Route marches remain an integral part of military training. They help improve fitness and stamina, provide a good outlet for soldiers energy and help encourage ‘toughness’. They are also a good way for junior officers to practice map reading/getting lost without any major repercussions. Finally, perhaps the most important thing going for route marches is that they are very cheap! Always a consideration with tight military training budgets!