Category Archives: Inter-War

Territorial Army Lapel Badge

During the late 1930s local Territorial Army units started pressurising the War Office for some form of recognition for those who had joined their ranks. It was suggested that members either be given a certificate they could frame and hang at home, or some sort of lapel badge that could be worn with civilian clothes to show the commitment of the man to the force. The War Office gauged the opinions of TA units and in 1935 it was clear most were in favour of the badge. It was finally in March 1937 that the War Office granted permission for a badge to be issued.

The design settled on was a based around the letters ‘TA’ with a kings crown above and a lion springing forward below:imageThis design was the brainchild of a Mr Coombes of the Royal Mint and was to be made of sterling silver. The badge was approved by the King in March 1938 and the order for the first 250,000 was placed on 19th March 1938.

The badges has a lapel fitting on the back and a number can be found stamped on them here:imageEach badge was uniquely numbered and a register was maintained by local TA associations. It was expected that if a man left the TA, the badge would be returned and struck off the list. Sadly it is unclear if these registers still survive, as it would be very interesting to be able to identify the original owners of these badges.

Naturally the badges numbered ‘1’ and ‘2’ were presented to the King and Queen as honorary colonels of the TA.

The design was to be used for many years and examples can be found from the post-war period with a Queen’s crown at the top, these post war examples can also be found with a pin fastener rather than the lapel fastener. The badge was also used in printed form on a variety of leaflets and posters:imageBill Spry was a member of the TA during the 1930s:

I joined the T.A in 1932 at the suggestion of my uncle, Lionel Simpson, who was already a member. After an interview at the H.Q in Park St. Drill Hall, I was given a sealed envelope to take to a doctor’s house in Cathedral R.C Cardiff for my medical examination. The door was answered by a maid, she took the envelope and told me to return the next day. I did so and she gave me a sealed envelope back which I handed in to the H.Q office. I was told that I had passed the medical! I had to add a year on to my age to join, (I was fifteen) and for my first year was rated as “Boy Spry”. I also gave my name as “William James” Spry which I thought was correct, whereas it is actually “James William” Spry. Any eventual discharge papers included these particulars and caused me quite a few problems. My first camp 1932, was in Monmouth under canvas, very wet, very miserable, ablution and toilets in the open air. We slept in bell tents my place was under the flap so that anyone entering or leaving had to step over me. In the Mess tent eight men were assigned per table. Food was supplied in one big dish for each table. The senior men then divided the food onto plates. Guess who got the smallest portion and the stringiest piece of meat! In spite of this I got the prize for the “best recruit”. Incidentally, my pay as a “boy” was eight pence per day. The following year 1933, the annual camp was in Penally, near Tenby, in huts and fine weather. Each man was issued with three heavy blankets, (no sheets). Each morning these had to be folded neatly and laid out with the rest of the kit in the proscribed manner. Returning to my hut one morning I saw with dismay that one of my blankets was missing, stolen. I reported this to my sergeant. He said “No problem, go and take someone else’s”. I said that I couldn’t do that. He replied “That’s an order, do it”.

Waiting until the hut was empty I took the blanket from another bed and put it on mine. Returning to the hut later that day I was pleased to see that the bed I had robbed was back to three blankets! I attended camp each year until 1939. In 1933 I was rated signalman, pay 3/6d f.d. In 1934, I was promoted to lance corporal, 1935 Corporal, 1936 lance sergeant. Our uniform included bandolier, breeches and spurs (very smart). This was because until 1931 horses had been used to pull the cable wagons and the army had not got around to changing our uniforms.

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Photograph of L-Class Submarines

This week’s photograph is an interesting interwar image of a fleet of five British submarines tied up in harbour: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (3)This is a small snap taken on a box-brownie and judging by the gunwale of a boat in the foreground was taken by someone on a harbour trip on a small pleasure craft. The nearest boat is L22, an L class submarine. We looked at another image of one of this class, L27 here. L22 was sold for scrap in 1935 so the image is before she went to the breakers, and perhaps shows the boats laid up waiting their fate. Other boats in the image include L52 and L20. Interestingly there is another photograph I have found showing all three of these boats tied up together at Gosport in 1933: Submarine_Flotilla_1933_at_GosportThe L-class submarine was originally planned under the emergency war programme as an improved version of the British E-class submarine. The scale of change allowed the L class to become a separate class.

The armament was increased when the 21-inch torpedoes came into service. The Group 3 boats had two QF 4-inch guns fore and aft of the lengthened conning tower. Also, 76 tons of fuel oil was carried in external wing tanks for the first time in British submarines. Several of the Group 1 boats were configured as minelayers including L11 and L12. In the Group 2 boats, L14, L17 and L24 to L27 were built as minelayers carrying 16 mines but without the two beam torpedo tubes.

The introduction of the L class came too late to contribute significantly in World War I. L2 was accidentally depth-charged by three American destroyers in early 1918. L12 torpedoed the German submarine UB-90. L10 torpedoed the German destroyer S33 in October 1918 but was sunk by accompanying destroyers.

L55 was sunk in 1919 during the British naval intervention in the Russian civil war by Bolshevik Russian destroyers. She was salvaged by the Russians and was re-commissioned by the Russians with her original service number.

The L class served throughout the 1920s and the majority were scrapped in the 1930s but three remained operational as training boats during World War II. The last three were scrapped in 1946 after long distinguished service.

In 1937 The Times reported that another of the class was up for sale:

Submarine L. 71 has been placed on the sale list at Portsmouth. This leaves only eight vessels on the effective list of the once numerous “L” class, which formed the bulk of the British flotillas for several years after the war. The class embodied the experience gained with earlier oil-engined submarines, particularly the “E” class and L.1 and L.2 were in fact begun in 1916 as E. 57 and E. 58. L.71 was begun in September 1917, by the Scott’s Shipbuilding Company, Greenock, but was not finished until 1920, when she was commissioned by Lieutenant G.A. Garnos-Williams, D.S.C., now maintenance commander at Gibraltar. Up to last year she served in the 2nd Submarine Flotilla, Home Fleet, and was among the units detached to the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the Abyssinian concentration.

Army Rifle Association India Cup Commemorative Spoon

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:imageAlthough 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:imageThe rear of the spoon is engraved ‘India Cup 1938’:imageThe 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.

Interwar Indian Army Photograph Album

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.

 

 

Royal Marines Practicing with a Lewis Gun Photograph

This week’s photograph comes from between the wars and depicts a small group of Royal Marines under instruction on a beach:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2)The men can easily be identified as marines by their cap badges:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2) - CopyIn front of them is a Lewis gun with a number of spare magazines:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (3) - CopyAnd an ammunition box tucked underneath the bench:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (4) - CopyThey are clearly in the tropics as they are wearing KD shirts and shorts:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (5) - CopyIn the background can be seen a group of sailors wearing tropical whites, milling about on the shore:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (6) - CopyA set of Lee Enfield rifles can be seen stacked up in a rifle ‘tepee’ on the sand:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (7) - CopyThis all suggest the marines are part of a detachment on board a ship who have taken the opportunity to come ashore to get in a bit of weapons practice where they have more space. It was rare for a ship smaller than a cruiser to have a marine detachment so they have probably come off of a cruiser or a battleship. The islands look Mediterranean so it seems likely that they were part of one of the cruiser squadrons that made cruises of the islands in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Lewis gun was ideal for the Royal Marines at this period in history. They were often deployed in small groups ashore as landing parties; rifles were portable but had a limited rate of fire whilst the Vickers although offering high rates of fire was far too big and bulky to deploy quickly and easily from a boat. The Lewis was man portable but could lay down far higher rates of fire than a traditional rifle allowing a small party to have a disproportionate effect in a skirmish. It was also used as a close in anti-aircraft gun, with ten being the standard issue to capital ships in 1933. They were fixed to special mountings that allowed them to be fired into the air and traversed quickly to follow the biplanes of the era.

Awarding the Evelyn Wood Cup, 1922

It is amazing how quickly the military can recover from major conflicts and return to the peacetime rounds of training, socialising and competitions. These are the life blood of regiments in peacetime and tonight we have a wonderful photograph that is helpfully captioned on the back! (A very rare occurrence believe me). This photograph depicts the awarding of the Evelyn Wood Cup in Aldershot on 12th August 1922:SKM_C45817082508260The Evelyn Wood Cup was a competition in which different regiments competed in a competition with marching and marksmanship at its core. As with so many of these military competitions I am struggling to find many details of when it was established, but it certainly seems to have been started before 1907 and was being contested as late as 1967. If anyone can furnish further information please get in touch. The Times of 9th August 1922 explained that the cup:

Includes a march of eight miles in fighting order, and is open to company teams of four platoons, each platoon containing two rifle and two Lewis gun sections. The competition will be carried out under a scheme which supposes a retiring and invisible enemy. It is severely practical and calls not only for shooting skill, but also calls for most of the skills necessary to succeed against the assumed enemy.

More details come from the report on 1923’s competition:

The conditions imposed a preliminary march of eight miles in battle order, by company teams of one officer, one sergeant, and two rifle and two light-gun sections of one leader and six men each.

Among the teams of thirty 480 rounds of ammunition were distributed, and these, together with the oppressive heat, the weight of shrapnel helmets, gas masks, packs and weapons, made tiring work of the march. For the march 2 ¼ hours were allowed, but while 50 points were deducted for every five minutes r part of five minutes over time, two points were credited when the march occupied less than the time allowed.

The march demonstrated the full benefits which athletic sport confer upon the marching men. Several teams lost men by the way, seven falling out of one team. The 2nd Cameron Highlanders, who last week won the athletic championship of the Command, finished thirty minutes inside the time limit with every member of the team.

In the centre of the photograph we can see the cup itself being handed over by an elderly and senior officer:SKM_C45817082508260 - CopyThis ceremony seems to be part of a larger set of competitions as a table behind him is positively groaning with trophies!SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (2)I am not entirely sure, but I believe the officer receiving the cup might be from the Scots Guards, based in the dicing on his cap band:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (3)Other Guards officers can be seen in the background:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (4)Interestingly the photograph is embossed with the stamp of ‘Gale and Polden’ of Aldershot:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (5)This famous company is better known for its range of weapons pamphlets from the Second World War.

This photograph illustrates the benefits of a caption on the back as it has made research much easier than would have otherwise been the case.

Grenadier Guards McCalmont Cup Photograph, 1929

Tonight’s photograph was a very generous birthday present from my brother, the original photograph a very impressive 18 inches by 14 inches and mounted on card. The photograph depicts the winning team from the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards at the 1929 McCalmont Cup:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (9)The cup itself can be seen in the centre of the photograph, with a miniature version in front:SKM_C45817081108190 - CopyI believe this cup would have been for a shooting competition as the men are posing with Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (2)Interestingly one of the officers, with a particularly fine chest of medals, has a rifle as well:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (3)All the men in the photograph are experienced soldiers, with a multitude of proficiency badges on their sleeves:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (4)And the man sat on the front at the far right has an impressive four long service and good conduct stripes on his sleeves:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (5)These stripes indicate that this private had eighteen years of good conduct. As befits a Guards regiment the men’s uniforms are spotless, with brightly polished regimental buttons rather than General Service pattern examples. Each has a pair of white on red embroidered shoulder flashes with the regimental name:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (6)This affectation has remained with the Grenadiers to the present day, still being worn on the sleeves of modern Number 2 dress uniforms. They are also wearing regimental forage caps with gilded peaks, rather than a standard khaki service dress cap:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (7)The officers also show regimental insignia, with the distinctive elongated pips of rank peculiar to Guard’s officers:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (8)I have tried to identify anything further about the McCalmont cup and I believe it was run at the Pirbright Ranges by the London and District Rifle Meeting. As ever if anyone can help provide some more background get in touch.