It is perhaps unsurprising that competitive rifle competitions have always been popular in the armed forces. Good marksmanship is an essential military skill and men competing against each other naturally try to improve their own skills which in turn translates to better trained men in the field.
The Army Rifle Association was formed in 1893 and exists today, it’s stated purpose being:
The aim of service competition shooting is to promote interest in small arms shooting for Service purposes by means of individual and collective competitions, framed to include practice in methods which will lead to increased EFFICIENCY ON THE BATTLEFIELD
These competitions became important parts of the regimental year and India was no exception with several prestigious competitions run there for regiments stationed in the country. Tonight we have a delightful spoon that brings one of these to mind:Although it is not hall marked, I suspect this spoon is in fact made of silver but being produced in India it is not marked in the same way a British made example would be. The top of the spoon has an elegant lion and the initials ARA for the Army Rifle Association:The rear of the spoon is engraved ‘India Cup 1938’:The India Cup was a platoon rifle and Lewis gun competition held in India and I suspect this spoon was given out to one of the participants as a souvenir of his time competing in the match.
India took its rifle competitions very seriously and until the early 1930s sent a team to the annual shooting matches at Bisley in the UK. Unfortunately at this point the cost could no longer be justified and they pulled out of the competition, as bemoaned in The Times in February 1935:
The news, just received from the Army Rifle Association of India, that for reasons of economy it is not proposed to have a team representing the Indian Empire at the Imperial meeting this year has caused surprise and regret.
For many years the India team has been built up from those on leave in this country, stiffened by a backbone of old hands who have retired from the Services, so there is no heavy cost of transport, as there is for teams from Canada and other parts of the Empire. Particularly unfortunate is it that the team should withdraw this year when there will be a big gathering of Empire marksmen to celebrate the King’s Silver Jubilee.
The criticism that this Indian team as it has been constituted for many years past does not truly represent the shooting ability of India can be made with justice; but the commandant must always cut his coat to his cloth. With a more liberal financial endowment the best Indian marksmen could be brought home instead of a team’s being picked form those who are on leave.
During the Great War most informal photographs of military life were taken by officers. The Kodak vest model was introduced in 1912 and was hugely popular, however even though it was easily affordable to the officer classes, it was still out of reach of most private soldiers. Most ordinary soldiers therefore used a much cheaper camera, the Box Brownie. Even so the opportunities to take photographs in wartime was very limited and it was not until the inter-war period that we start to see photography really taking off amongst the private soldiery. Photographs by ordinary soldiers are still comparatively rare however as unless they were near to a large town to get them developed, the kit and chemicals needed to develop early film were bulky and expensive and again much easier for officers to access.
Tonight we have a series of photographs from India between the wars that I believe were taken by an ordinary soldier and depict everyday life in the Jewel of Empire. I debated looking at the photographs individually but I feel the impact and impression of daily life is far clearer by looking at them as a set. None are of great artistic merit, but they do capture the atmosphere and sense of place very well and some of my particular favourites are the soldiers on bicycles and the native sepoy. This is very much a barrack room view of army life and the photographs depict ordinary soldiers and NCOs rather than the officers, the barracks are dusty and simple and the landscapes are of the rough country around the base rather than any spectacular views from a Raja’s palace- I rather like them all the more for their simplicity and ordinariness. Sadly I have no context at all for he photographs and we do not know when, where or by whom they were taken.
Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image and to view them as a slideshow.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at a knife and fork emblazoned with the crest of the Indian Amy Canteen Board. Since that post I have been very lucky to add a matching dinner plate to the collection :This is a large plate, about 12″ across, with a black border around the edge, the only marking on it at all is the black transfer print of the Army Canteen Board’s logo:As noted on the last post, this institution was liquidated in 1927. I am struggling to find exact details but it does seem to have come under criticism for wasting public money and left a large number of creditors in its wake when it was wound up. Indeed concerns had become so great that Earl Winterton in the British Parliament was forced to make a statement about its winding up in 1927:
asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he can explain why the Government of India has decided to dissolve the Army Can teen Board; and what system it proposes to adopt in its place?
As regards the first part I would refer to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) on the 7th June last, of 5 which I am sending the hon. Member a copy together with a copy of the Report mentioned therein. As regards the second part, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement recently issued by the Government of India on the subject
Following is the statement:
As a result of inquiries the Government of India have decided to revert to the system of unit contractors existing before the Army Canteens Board (India) was constituted, and arrangements are now being made under which contractors will take over canteens from the Board in the Northern and Western Commands.
Certain conditions designed to ensure efficient service and to safeguard the interests of troops have been drawn up. These conditions have been accepted by a representative body of contractors and will be made applicable to all canteen contractors throughout India. They include a minimum rate of rebate, the furnishing by the contractor of all rooms in which he functions and inspection by canteen inspectors employed under orders of the Quartermaster-General, particularly with regard to the quality of foodstuffs supplied which will be subject to frequent analysis.
Following its demise the Indian Army Canteen Board fell into obscurity and I suspect that this is the first time a matching set of plate and cutlery have been put together since the late 1920s:This little set has piqued my interest and I will now be on the look out for any more pieces that have somehow survived the last ninety years and arrived in the UK from the other side of the world to add to my little set.
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’