Category Archives: Inter-War

Farewell to Lord Birdwood, India, 1930 Postcard

In 1930 Sir William Birdwood stepped down as commander of the Indian Army. As part of his farewell he visited a number of garrisons in India to review his troops before returning to Great Britain. Tonight’s postcard depicts part of this tour, with the Royal Scots Fusiliers parading at Dagshai on 8th October 1930:SKM_C30819032614410Dagshai might be familiar to readers as we looked at another couple of postcards from this base on the blog last year. Here the Royal Scots Fusiliers are lined up on the parade ground, wearing cut away khaki drill tunics over woollen trews. Each wears a Wolseley helmet on his head:SKM_C30819032614410 - CopyOne can’t imagine it was very comfortable wearing woollen trousers in the heat of the Indian sun!

Two officer watch on in the foreground:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (2)Whilst a small crowd of the civilian population of the garrison watch on from above the parade ground:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (3)It is hard to tell, but some at least appear to be natives and might be part of the regiment’s entourage of hangers on.

One small detail I particularly like is the heavy roller for flattening the parade ground, which is parked up on the edge of the field:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (4)The markings on the parade ground itself suggest that it also doubled up as a sports field for the men of the garrison.

On his return to England a dinner was held in honour of Field Marshall Sir William Birdwood and as part of the after dinner speeches he reflected in the soldiery serving in the subcontinent. The Times reported that he had said that:

The British soldier serving in India was today just the loyal, fine and magnificent fellow he had always been. During his 45 years’ service there had been an enormous number of changes in administration and organisation; but he thanked God that there was one factor that had not changed, and that was the British soldier (cheers), and he hoped he would never change. It seemed to him essential to maintain the existing strength of the British force in India. The Indian soldier was a magnificent, true, brave and loyal fellow. If, as was sometimes said, the Indian soldiers were children, he would say that the British officer should (and often did) treat them as his own children, and not as somebody else’s. The sepoy was as devoted as ever to his British officer.

Photograph of an Armoured Car Column, North West Frontier Province, 1937

The interwar period saw the increasing use of modern technology to police the tribal regions of the North West Frontier of India. Budgets between the wars were being squeezed, but aircraft and armoured cars offered a seemingly cheaper way of controlling the tribesmen of this region rather than traditional ‘boots on the ground’. Road building had been prioritised since the start of the twentieth century, but new roads were emphasised throughout the interwar period and these revolutionised British operations. They allowed men and supplies to be moved to troublesome areas quickly and, when supported by armoured cars, relatively safely. This week’s photograph is a fantastic image of a road convoy taking a break in the NWF in 1937 during the Faqir of Ipi’s rebellion:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (5)The back of the photograph indicates that this was taken at Tanai Fort ‘en-route for Manzai (and Delhi) from Wana. Wana was a fort in Waziristan whilst Manzai was in Baluchistan.

The part of the convoy seen here consists of an armoured car:SKM_C30819021407550 - CopyNote the British soldiers taking a breather around the armoured car, each is wearing khaki drill with Cawnpore style solar topees. Behind this armoured care are a four wheel and a six wheel truck:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (2)And three further armoured cars:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (3)Also in the picture is a dispatch rider’s motorcycle:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (4)The armoured cars seem to be Crossley type cars rather than Rolls Royce designs. The domed turrets were particularly Indian in design and sported Vickers machine guns that could be slotted into four different sockets to provide all round fire. On top of each turret sits an armoured cupola for the car’s commander to sit in and control fire from. This example is preserved and on show at the Tank Museum in Dorset:imageEven with armoured cars, these convoys could be perilous:

On the early morning of 9 April 1937, a convoy set out from Manzai fort destined for the garrison at Wana carrying supplies and some officers and men returning to their units at Wana. The convoy was a large one, comprising forty-nine lorries, an ambulance, and three private cars, all escorted by four armoured cars, with infantry and a detachment of Sappers and Miners in lorries. One of the armoured cars was at the front, another at the rear, and two more were amongst the transport. Similarly, the infantry in their lorries were distributed along the length of the convoy. The long snake of lorries wove its way uneventfully past Jandola and then westward onto the Jandola-Wana road. At about 7.40 am it was ambushed in the Shahur Tangi, a narrow, steep-sided, three-mile long gorge, eight miles west of Jandola. There, having been slowed by camels let loose on the road, the convoy was attacked by a large party of Mahsuds and Bhitannis, who had occupied positions on the precipitous hillsides.

The leading armoured car and first three trucks, having passed out of the gorge, were not attacked directly and sped to the next manned outpost, carrying news of the attack. Meanwhile, the lorries at the front of the convoy in the gorge were disabled when their drivers were killed, trapping the others behind. Raiders hidden in the rocks close to the road attacked the convoy along its length causing very heavy casualties but, although some trucks were looted, the armoured cars, the infantry escort and the other troops with the convoy fought most gallantly and prevented the convoy from being overrun. An aircraft providing support overhead was badly damaged and forced to land. Reinforcements arrived later in the day and fighting continued sporadically until nightfall. In the evening as the firing lessened the lorries that could be moved were either sent on to Sarwakai or back to Manzai and the wounded were evacuated. By the following morning the raiders had gone…In total, the attack claimed seven British officers and two other ranks (Turner and Davies) killed, five officers and one other rank (Bowkett) wounded, 20 Indian other ranks killed and 39 Indian all ranks wounded.

Army Education Certificate

In order to be promoted to Sergeant, the British soldier needed to have completed a Second Class Army Certificate of Education. This was a qualification that showed he had mastered certain subjects sufficiently to be considered for promotion and helped weed out those soldiers of insufficient intellectual ability to succeed as an NCO. These exams were held regularly, both in the UK and at overseas garrisons. The certificate had been set up in the mid Victorian era and AR Skelley describes its foundation in his book ‘The Victorian Army at Home’:

In 1861 a new inducement towards learning was the army certificate of education. On the recommendation of the Council of Military Education three levels or standards were set out and were linked with promotion in the ranks. The third-class certificate specified the standard for promotion to the rank of corporal: the candidate was to read aloud and to write from dictation passages from an easy narrative, and to work examples in the four compound rules of arithmetic and the reduction of money. A second-class certificate, necessary for promotion to sergeant, entailed writing and dictation from a more difficult work, familiarity with all forms of regimental accounting, and facility with proportions and interest, fractions and averages. First-class certificates were a great deal more difficult and were required for commissions from the ranks. Successful candidates had to read and take dictation from any standard author; make a fair copy of a manuscript; demonstrate their familiarity with more complicated mathematics, except cube and square root and stocks and discount; and as well prepare for examination in at least one of a number of additional subjects. After 1887 candidates were examined in British history and geography in place of a special subject. First-class certificates were awarded on the results of periodic examinations held by the Council (later Director-General) of Military Education. Second and third-class certificates were presented on the recommendations of the Army schoolmaster. The third-class certificate of education was considered to be too high given the level of literacy of many army recruits, and the Commission urged the introduction of a fourth (minimum) standard.

These certificates were still very much in use in the interwar period and tonight we have a lovely example of a Second Class Certificate issued in 1932 to a private serving in India:SKM_C30819030107530My thanks go to Andy Dixon who kindly passed me this certificate, knowing my love of all things Indian. The certificate was awarded to Pte E Dixon of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:SKM_C30819030107530 - CopyHe took his exam in Agra in December of 1932:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (2)He studied four subjects:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (3)And the award was made in Delhi on 3rd January 1933:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (4)Note how the dates have had the ‘2’ crossed out and the year typed next to them! It seems a bit mean of the Indian Authorities to do this when this was probably the only educational certificate Pt Dixon would ever receive!

It is often forgotten how important the army was in educating working class men in the early twentieth century. Many young men joining the military had very limited education, few were truly illiterate thanks to nineteenth century reforms of the education system, but many had left school at a very young age and had only limited reading, writing and arithmetic. The army education certificates encouraged them to learn and prepared them for potential promotion whilst giving an ever more technical military a pool of better educated and more useful men.

Gordon Highlander’s Memorial Post Card

This week’s postcard depicts the splendid war memorial for the Gordon Highlanders at the Scottish National War Memorial:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (2)The memorial includes the regiment’s cap badge at the top:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (3) - CopyTogether with their First World War battle honours and the wording, “To the memory of the 453 officers and 8509 warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the regiment who gave their lives for their King and Country in the Great War 1914-1919”:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (2) - CopyThis memorial is part of the Scottish National War Memorial in a chapel in Edinburgh Castle. Proposals for a Scottish National War Memorial were put forward in 1917, during the First World War, by John Stewart-Murray, 8th Duke of Atholl, and Capt George Swinton of Kimmerghame. Sir Robert Lorimer, one of the architects involved in the Imperial War Graves Commission, was appointed in 1919, but opposition to a large-scale monument arose from the Cockburn Association and others concerned with the castle’s heritage. A more modest scheme to remodel the North Barrack Block was finally agreed in 1923, and the memorial was formally opened on 14 July 1927 by the Prince of Wales. After the  Second World War 50,000 names were added to the rolls of honour. Names continue to be added from successive conflicts, however the memorial itself has been left unchanged.

The exterior of the building is decorated with gargoyles and sculpture by Pilkington Jackson, John Marshall and Phyllis Bone, whilst the interior contains elaborate wall monuments commemorating individual regiments. The stained-glass windows are by Douglas Strachan The original aim behind the Memorial was to commemorate Scots and those serving with Scottish regiments who had died in the First World War, from the declaration of war on 4 August 1914 to the Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919 (confirmed military suicides and those tried and executed excepted). Upon the altar within the Shrine, placed on the highest part of the Castle Rock emerging through the floor, stands a sealed casket containing the Rolls of Honour listing over 147,000 names of those soldiers killed in the First World War together with open lists within the Hall. After the Second World War the limiting dates were modified, with another 50,000 names inscribed on the Rolls of Honour within the Hall, and with further names continuing to be added there.

Horse Guards Postcards

Horse Guards in central London was commissioned by King George II in 1745 to replace an earlier building of the same purpose on the site that had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was dangerous to the cavalrymen billeted there. The new Horse Guards was designed by William Kent in the Palladian style and it is this building that is depicted in this postcard:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (4)The cost of the buildings was £65,000 and took nearly ten years to complete. The Household Cavalry moved into the northern wing of the uncompleted building in 1855; at that time, there was stabling for 62 horses compared to 17 today. Originally, the two wings were connected to the central block by single storey ranges; in 1803-5 a further two floors were added to these, giving the building its present appearance.The building also served as the offices for the various administrative departments responsible to the Secretary at War, which would eventually become formalised as the War Office. Also located at Horse Guards was the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. Two famous occupants of the office, a room originally intended for courts-martial, were Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1795-1809), popularly believed to be “The Grand Old Duke of York”, and the Duke of Wellington (1827-28 and 1842-52). The final Commander-in-Chief at Horse Guards was Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who was so reluctant to move to the new War Office building at Cumberland House in Pall Mall that he had to be ordered to leave by Queen Victoria. Wellington’s desk is preserved in the same room, which is now the office of the Major-General Commanding the Household Division and General Officer Commanding London District. Horse Guards subsequently became the headquarters of two major Army commands: the London District and the Household Cavalry.

In this view the two large sentry boxes for mounted soldiers are clearly visible:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (4) - CopyThe building’s close proximity to the rest of London is clearly seen in the postcard, St Paul’s Cathedral in particular being visible on the skyline:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (5) - CopySadly the cranes of London’s docks are long gone today, Horse Guards is however largely unchanged, the parade ground behind the main building remains the centre of British ceremonial life and the site for trooping the colour to this day.

Institute and Depot Barracks Kasouli Hill Postcard

Last year we looked at a postcard of the Indian hill station of Kasauli here. Today we have another image of the same barracks, but taken looking back the opposite way and this time showing the Institute as well:skm_c30819010312060 - copyThis is a black and white image that has been tinted to colourise it, this type of postcard proving popular around the time of the First World War. In the centre of the image is the barrack square itself:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copyThe barrack buildings of the depot surround it and are of typical Indian design; single story with broad verandas and high roofs to allow air to circulate:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copy (2)The Kasauli Institute sits on the hill above:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copy (3)The Kasauli Institute was founded in 1904 as a research facility for medical and public health under the directorship of Major David Semple RAMC. To start with it specialised in dog bites, its first year saw it treat 321 cases, this had risen to 22,000 by 1938. It was also a teaching institute and a 1904 copy of the British Medical Journal explained:

The laboratories of the Institute have been thrown open for the instruction of officers of the R.A.M.C. and I.M.S., and have been employed for clinical diagnoses of material from all parts of India, for the preparation of typhoid vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus antitoxins, and for research.

Today the facility is known as the ‘Central Research institute, Kasauli’ and the location specialises in vaccine research.

British Legion Remembrance Leaflet

By the early 1930s the British Legion and the Haigh Poppy Fund had become firmly entrenched in British life and was doing sterling service in raising money for ex-servicemen and their families. The charity published a small pamphlet in 1930 that gave details of its work, what it spent its money on and how supporters could donate to the fund. The cover shows a large crowd in London, presumably at some sort of commemoration for the end of the Great War:skm_c30819010908040 - copyThe interior of the leaflet has graphs and details of the different causes the charity supported along with a small number of pictures:skm_c30819010908050skm_c30819010908051skm_c30819010908052skm_c30819010908060skm_c30819010908061The rear has an advertisement for poppy wreathes that loved ones could purchase and arrange to have placed on a soldier’s grave:skm_c30819010908062The Daily Mail reported on the preparations for Poppy Day in 1929:

Nearly 500,000 volunteers throughout the Empire, it is hoped, will sell poppies on Armistice Day, November 11. No fewer than 37,000,000 poppies and 20,000 wreathes have already been prepared at the British Legion factories.

An attempt is being made to collect not less than £750,000 this year for ex-Service men…

Approximately 4,000 local committees are busy preparing for November 11 throughout Britain and over-seas.

A big poppy motor mascot has been manufactured with a metal clip so that it can be fixed to motor-cars. Arrangements are being made for the distribution of these emblems in garages throughout the country.