Category Archives: Inter-War

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.

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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.

Whale Island Guardhouse Postcard

Whale Island is the oldest shore training establishment in the Royal Navy, located in Portsmouth Harbour. Whale Island is predominantly reclaimed land, material dredged from the harbour being used for its construction. Large numbers of Napoleonic prisoners helped in its construction and it was well established as a base by the end of the nineteenth century. Whale Island was connected to nearby Portsea Island sometime before 1898 by a footbridge. This footbridge is the subject of tonight’s postcard:SKM_C45817071907530This photograph seems to have been taken between the wars and depicts the guardhouse on the Island:SKM_C45817071907530 - CopyThis guardhouse was pulled down and replaced in the 1970s. The footbridge can be seen to the left of the postcard:SKM_C45817071907530 - Copy (2)With a sentry box and armed sailor on guard:SKM_C45817071907530 - Copy (3)In the distance can be seen the mainland:SKM_C45817071907530 - Copy (4)This wooden footbridge was replaced by a road bridge around the time of the Second World War and this is still in use today. Rear Admiral Gordon Campbell VC describes the guardhouse in his book “Life of a Q-Ship Captain”:

Whale Island is the actual island on which the gunnery establishments are built, and where a large number of officers and men are accommodated. It is connected to the mainland by a small bridge, alongside of which is a guard-house manned by bluejackets, where the usual guard duties are carried out.

RH Nicklin was stationed at Whale Island during the Second World War:

Whale Island is only accessible by a bridge and various jobs are allocated to the ship’s company, one that I liked very much was guard duty mostly on the bridge entrance and in the guard house at the opposite end of the bridge, but there was also guard duties on other parts of the Island especially at nights, this was to make sure that no one could make a landing of sorts. Every guard was armed and issued with live ammunition and knew how to use it after having lots of practice on the rifle range, but the guard on the bridge was my second best job night or day, your duty was to stop everyone entering the island ask for a pass and search all vehicles, when satisfied ring the guardhouse by phone to let them know that you had passed someone so that they would be ready to receive them, then the P.O. on duty would ask them their business and either let them through or send them back and then it was the guards duty to see they cleared the area.

Halifax Royal Navy and Royal Marine’s Badge

My thanks go to my father for permission to post a small item from his collection tonight. The Royal Naval Association was formed to bring together various old comrades association in 1950. Prior to that date Royal Navy old comrades associations were formed at a local level, acting independently of one another and this little badge is for the Halifax Royal Navy and Royal Marines Association:FullSizeRenderThis is a small enamelled lapel badge, with the white ensign and anchor in the centre and would have been worn on a lounge suit lapel. As with so many of these items it is hard to date exactly, but I would suspect it dates to between the wars.

An attempt had been made to form a National Old Comrades association in the late 1930s, its aims were set out as:

THE AIMS AND OBJECTS OF THE ASSOCIATION
I. To perpetuate the Comradeship which began in the Service.
2. Foster good fellowship.
3. Render Service to one another.
4. Encourage and promote social gatherings amongst ex- Naval personnel.
The Association is non-political,
Obligations of Members:- The only obligation is that every member undertakes to do everything in his power to assist ex- Naval men in obtaining civil employment.
Membership.-Membership of the Association is open to all Officers, N .C. Officers and ratings (past and present) who have been attached for a period of not less than twelve months’ definite duty, lent or gazetted, transferred to or enlisted in the Royal Navy, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Marines, Royal
Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Royal Naval Division and the Dominion and Colonial Naval Forces.
Serving personnel are also eligible to join the Association. Organisation:- The organisation consists of a Central Committee, a Headquarters Roll and Branches. The policy of the Association is to expand Branch development as membership increases. .
Subscriptions :- £ s. d.
Annual Membership .. .. .. 2 /6
Entrance Fee .. .. .. 1 /-
Badge .. .. .. 1/ –
Membership Badge.-The Association Badge is issued on enrolment and is numbered and registered. The Badge is the property of the Association, and is to be returned on recipient ceasing to be a member. If there is no Branch in your district, join the Headquarters Roll and transfer to a Branch later, if you so desire.
Branches: Bucks, Aldershot, Central London, Liverpool, Isle of Thanet, Tower Hamlets (London), Edmonton, Kingston-on- Thames, Dublin, Welling, Kent, St. Helens (Lancs.), Dagenham, Windsor. Further particulars may be obtained from the
Hon. General Secretary, Mr. Thos. Oakley, 16 Tring Road, Wendover, Aylesbury, Bucks.

As can be seen, at this date, Halifax was not affiliated with them. This attempt at a national organisation seems to have stalled when war broke out, it would be 1950 before the present RNA was formed, it is still in operation today with branches across the country.

King’s Royal Rifle Corps Lapel Badge

A few years back we looked at a postcard of a group of men in civilian dress, wearing their old cap badges on their lapels as a sign they were old soldiers (see here). As can be seen from that photograph, old cap badges whilst easily available were too large to wear comfortably on the lapel of a civilian suit. Therefore smaller lapel badge versions of cap badges were produced by enterprising manufacturer’s for old soldiers to buy and wear in civvy street to show their regimental allegiance. This example is for the King’s Royal Rifle Corps:imageIt is made of a bronzed metal and features a miniature representation of the cap badge to the front:imageThe quality of this is actually quite remarkable as under a magnifying glass all the lettering can be read and the reproduction is excellent (the blurry-ness above is my poor camera rather than any issue with the badge). I suspect this badge dates from between the wars and would have been produced commercially, possibly for sale through the regiment’s Old Comrades Association. The back of the badge has a half-moon fixing that allows the badge to be fitted to the button hole of a blazer or jacket:imageThese regimental lapel badges are still manufactured and worn today, however these days it is more likely they will be found with a pin fastening rather than a lapel hook- clothing has changed over the last eighty years and few today wear the sort of suits that can take this sort of fastening.

RAF Opthalmascope

Good eyesight is a requirement for pilots today as it was during the Second World War. Therefore all prospective recruits to the RAF during the war were subjected to eye tests to ensure that pilots had 20/20 vision. These were performed by RAF doctors, using eyesight charts. If they needed to take a closer look at a patients eyes however they could use an opthalmascope, a small instrument to look into the back of a person’s eyes to see if there are any defects. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to come across one of these instruments, in an elegant leatherette covered box:19250547_10154637772618045_2002613271174023683_oAs can be seen this has an embossed crown and AM indicating Air Ministry ownership. Opening the case we can see it is fully lined and holds the opthalmascope in a purpose made fitting:imageA maker’s mark is printed on the silk on the underside of the lid:imageThe contents themselves are the body of the opthalmascope, the head, and three spare bulbs:imageThe body would hold several large cell batteries, the head attaches to the body, with a small screw to hold it tight:imageThe head consists of two overlapping discs, one of which can be rotated to change the size of an aperture used to look through into the patient’s eye:imageOn the rear can be seen where the small bulb fits, giving illumination straight into the retina to check for damage:imageThis is clearly a high quality medical instrument and was almost certainly bought off the shelf by the RAF, as the only ownership markings are on the case. For instruments such as this it was not worth the Air Ministry putting in their own specialist contracts considering that comparatively few were required, therefore only the case is marked as this was easily done by the manufacturer.

As might be expected some men were desperate to fly and a way around an eyesight test could be found, Martin Lunn describes how his father Sergeant Denis Lunn managed to get through:

My father, in his early twenties, was desperate to join the RAF, but was very much afraid that he would fail the eye test as he was considerably short-sighted. He therefore asked someone to copy out the eye chart for him so that he could learn it off by heart. He passed the eye test and went on to be awarded the Defence Flying Medal for rescuing nine Allied airmen in the Messina Straits in the first air-sea rescue operation from Sicily since the day of the invasion.