Tuesday’s second hand market was bitterly cold, however one nice item did turn up, which after research proved to be particularly touching; a World War One Field Message Book:This notebook was issued to officers and NCOs to record messages to be sent back to headquarters and as a general notebook in the field. The notebook is actually a refill, which would be inserted into a leatherette cover for protection and then just replaced as it was used up. The opening page indicates that this notebook is Army Book 153 and the code at the top indicates it was made by McCourquodale & Co of London in August 1914 and is one of a batch of 45,000:The following pages give some pointers in how to write army messages:The rest of the book consists of numbered removable pages, each divided up into ¼” squares:Happily many of these pages are written on and the book has been used by an officer training men in the South East of the country. These pages include daily orders and details of guard duties and what to do:Exercises:Trench diagrams:This illustration is dated 18th January 1916 and has the name of a Lieutenant AFC Paxton of the Middlesex Regiment in the bottom right hand corner. This name appears a few times and I believe this was the name of the original owner of the book. AFC Paxton was Archibald Francis Campbell Paxton who was a pupil of Epsom school before joining up in 1915.He was to die on the Somme on 1st July 1916, just six months after making these notes (more information on this officer can be found here) Lieutenant Paxton was clearly preparing for being sent to the Western Front as there are barbed wire diagrams:Pages on telephony:And a camp plan:This plan is dated 18th May 1916, less than two months before he was to die. The book is covered in cardboard for protection and two flaps allow it to be secured into the cover:Although this book is not directly related to the front line, it is a fascinating little piece of history from the Great War and shows the sort of notes an officer made in his day to day work. Despite this, researching this blog post has been quite emotional as I have moved from just owning an interesting object to having something in my care written by one of those who died on the opening day of the Somme. It is objects like this that remind me that as a collector we are merely custodians of history. It is our responsibility to look after these objects to be handed down to subsequent generations.
We have looked at a number of sentimental postcards from World War One on the blog before, tonight we have three cards in a series called ‘I Want to See the Dear Old Home Again’ published by Bamforths of Holmfirth. The poem is spread over three cards, each with a different picture. The trick for the writer is to ensure that each card works as a stand alone piece, but they also work as a collection:
Dear home, far across the sea,
Day and Night for thee I’m sadly yearning;
Loved ones, all in all to me,
Fondly wait the hour of my returning.
As I watch the swallows on their homeward way,
Speeding o’er the restless foam,
Fain would I be flying, for o, my heart is sighing,
The cottage in the little winding lane;
I can see the roses climbing, I hear the sweet bells chiming,
Absence only makes the heart grow fonder,
Oft-times down the village lane
In some happy dream I seem to wander;
Loving lips are meeting in a tender kiss,
Loving souls with rapture thrill,
Eyes are brightly glowing and tears of joy are flowing:
Then I wake- a soldier still! There were literally thousands of different sentimental postcard designs during the first half of the twentieth century and they were clearly collected as much as sent as this set has no stamps or messages on the back so are unused.
Crossing the Line has long been a ceremony enacted by various navies around the world to initiate those who have not crossed the equator before. The ceremony is a chance for high-jinks and is seen as a morale booster, especially as the element of hazing involved in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has now largely gone. The ceremonies involve one crew member dressed as King Neptune whilst the ‘pollywogs’ are required to perform a number of unpleasant or embarrassing activities such as putting their clothes on inside out, crawling on their hands and knees, being pelted with soft fruit etc. After this they are awarded a certificate:This one was issued to a Norman Barnes on HMS Centaur:Sadly the certificate is undated, but the ceremony goes back many hundreds of years, this account from HMS Blossom dates to 1825:
There were on board the ship a great number of officers and seamen, who had never yet gone South of the Tropics, consequently were to be initiated into the mysteries of crossing the Equinoctial line, and entering the dominions of Neptune; great preparations had been making since our leaving Woolwich, for an event which promised to some part of the crew great amusement, to the other great fear; many a poor girl at Woolwich, and at Spithead had been deprived of some part of her wardrobe, to adorn Amphitrite; from one a night cap and gown had been stolen, from another some other part of dress, and although I had no hand in it, I was as bad as the rest, for I was consenting thereto. An immense grey horse hair wig, sufficiently long to reach well down the back of Neptune, had been purchased in England by subscription, accompanied by a venerable grey beard to sweep his aged breast; a tin crown and a trident completed the regalia. On a review of all those who previously had crossed the line, I was selected as Neptune; in vain I endeavoured to defend myself from being deified, it was useless, I must be Neptune, all remonstrance was vain; I took it, resolved to use the trident with mildness. Now reader fancy to yourself the writer of these lines with his legs and arms well blacked, his cheeks, vermillion, short and very loose trowsers, a double frilled shirt, from whose ample folds the salt water dripped plentifully, two swabs for epaulets, a long grey horse hair wig, a venerable beard of the same colour, a tin crown, a trident, and to complete the whole, a hoarse church yard cough; fancy all this I say, and Neptune, or your humble servant in his shape stands before you. The evening before we expected to cross the line, the lookout man reported at 8, P.M., a light a head; presently a hoarse voice hailed “ship ahoy” which being answered by the Captain, Neptune intimated his intention to visit the ship early next morning. Accordingly early in the morning the ship was made snug, the top-sails were close reefed, courses hauled up, top gallant sails furled, a new sail was secured to the gunwale of the barge on the booms, the other edge to the hammock netting, leaving a hollow of eight feet, capable of containing an immense quantity of water; into this sail the very men who were to be dipped in it, were employed in pumping and bailing water, little thinking, poor creatures, they were making a rod for themselves. A gun had been dismounted on the forecastle, the carriage made into a car, on which were to sit Neptune and Amphitrite, and between them the Triton; in order to keep all secret, a sail was run across the forecastle to screen Neptune and his gang from observation. Just before the appointed time, all who were likely to undergo the dreadful operation of shaving were ordered below, the gratings put on, and a constable stationed to prevent the ascent of more than one at a time; a wise regulation, for our numbers were nearly equal, and had they shown fight, might have conquered; a rope was rove through a block on the main yard arm, to one end of which was secured a handspike, astride of which sat a man with his hands fastened to the rope over his head.
The first of the ship’s company that were shaved, who was brought up blindfolded by the whole posse of constables was the armourer, a weather-beaten honest old Hibernian, who had been a farrier in the Peninsular Army for many years. At the reduction, he had found his way as armourer of some small craft, and thence to our ship; on his entering for our ship, so anxious was he to be within the given age, which was thirty, that on being asked his age he gave it as eight and twenty, although fifty six was written in legible characters on his old cribbage face, which throughout the ship’s company had gained him the cognomen of old eight and twenty. On this man then the barber had to perform his first functions; a bucket was filled with all the cleanings of the hen coops, pig-stys, &c. and with it a due proportion of tar had been mixed; with a large paint brush dipped in this villanous compound, and his razor, close to him the barber stood waiting the signal. My first question was “what is your name my man?” “John S—-, your honour,” at the instant of his opening his mouth the brush went across it, when the face the poor creature made it is impossible to describe, “phoo what do you call that?” “what do you call that?” I again asked the old man how old he was, “eight and twenty your honour, and so I am; oh I will spake no more, I will spake no more.” As a last effort to make him open his mouth, I said if you mean to put him overboard, mind have a good rope round him for perhaps he cannot swim. Terrified at the idea of being thrown overboard the poor fellow said “I cannot swim, oh, I cannot swim;” but as the brush again crossed his mouth, he uttered with his teeth closed, “I will spake no more, by J—s I will spake no more if you drown me.” Amid a roar of laughter two men tripped the handspike on which he sat and sent him backward into the sail where the bear was waiting to receive him; it was soon over, he escaped and stood by to see his shipmates share his fate. At the time of his being shaved he was not aware who Neptune was, when he found it out I could not get him to speak to me for some time; at length Irish good temper conquered, and we were friends again.
When the British Army introduced the WS88 radio set we looked at yesterday, they issued it with an accompanying webbing pouch to allow it to be attached to the recently approved 44 pattern webbing set.This pouch was supposed to be worn on the left hand side of the webbing, with a similar pouch for the battery on the right. It is made of the same green lightweight cotton webbing as the rest of the 44 pattern tropical webbing:As can be seen the pouch is secured by a quick release fastener on the front, this example is sadly broken. Whilst sharing many characteristics with the contemporary 44 pattern set, this pouch is not strictly speaking part of that set, as it is not listed in the pamphlets of equipment, rather it is an associated piece of equipment designed to be compatible with the main webbing set. The rear of the pouch is virtually identical to the 44 pattern ammunition pouches, but is marginally wider to accommodate the larger radio set:A pair of metal loops are sewn to the pouch to attach it to the waist belt:The rear also has a radio stores’ code of ‘ZA33126’ and the letter ‘L’ indicating it is to be worn on the left:The base of the pouch has a small drainage hole:This combined with the waterproof casing of the WS88 set allowed the operator to wade through water and still use the radio at the end of it. The top flap of the pouch has a large opening allowing the user to operate the WS88 set:A small pocket runs down the side of the pouch to hold the aerial when not in use:This pouch was manufactured by MECo in 1948:
Following Tuesday’s post on the WS38 radio set, tonight we move on to look at its successor the WS88 set, introduced in 1947. This set was a major move forward from its predecessor and included many new features based of experience in the Second World War and American practice. The radio comes with a webbing pouch that is compatible with the 44 pattern set (we will look at the pouch tomorrow night):The radio itself uses a VHF signal for the first time, overcoming congestion in the low HF band that had caused problems with the WS38 set and the unit is entirely sealed helping keep moisture out, a problem that had plagued the WS38 set in the tropics:The use of this particular radio in the tropics is confirmed by a sticker on the base:This is the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) who inspected the radio as part of Far East Land Forces (FARELF). The WS88 set weighs around 10 pounds, could achieve a range of 1 mile and its battery lasted for up to 24 hours. The top of the radio has a connection point for the headphones:Also visible is the on/off switch and the switch for choosing one of four pre-set frequencies. The radio stayed on preset frequencies for up to 5 weeks, a major improvement on its predecessor which needed constant adjustment to stop it drifting off frequencies. The following diagram illustrates the controls:On the side of the radio are two fastening points allowing it to be attached to the battery and a microswitch to control the microphone:The interior of the radio uses miniature glass valves and the controls are very simple compared to earlier models, the battery however was still separate and carried in a pouch on the right, the WS88 set on the left:As well as being used as an infantry set, it was also available with a different set of frequencies for use with mortar teams and was used in vehicles. It remained in use by cadets into the 1980s and they do not seem particularly rare, as with the WS38 set, it’s the spares I need now, the headsets and aerials come up for sale- the batteries are much harder to find…
Tonight, after a gap of quite a few months, we look at another campaign medal from the Second World War, in this case the 1939-45 star:The design of the star exactly mirrors that of the France and Germany Star we looked at here, but the scroll reads ‘The 1939-1945 Star’:The ribbon has equal bands of dark blue, light blue and red:These represent the Royal Navy, Royal Air force and Army, each band is the same width to represent the equal contribution of each force, as with all these medals, the ribbon was designed by George VI. The 1939–1945 Star was awarded for any period of operational service overseas between 3 September 1939 and either 8 May 1945 in Europe or 2 September 1945 in the Far East theatre. The broad criteria were 180 days of service between these dates, with more specific criteria depending on service arm.
Naval personnel qualified after 180 days afloat between certain specified dates in areas of operations as laid out in the regulations.
- Army personnel had to complete 180 days of service in an operational command.
- Airborne troops qualified if they had participated in any airborne operations and had completed 60 days of service in a fully operational unit.
- Air Force air crew qualified after 60 days of service in an operational unit, including at least one operational sortie. The 1939-45 Star was also awarded to crews of transport aircraft that flew over certain specified routes. Air crew of fighter aircraft engaged in the Battle of Britain were also awarded the Battle of Britain Clasp, while air crew of bomber aircraft who participated in at least one operational sortie in a Bomber Command operational unit were awarded the Bomber Command Clasp in 2013.
- Ground crew and other Air force personnel qualified upon completion of 180 days of service in an area of operational army command.
- Merchant Navy personnel qualified upon completion of 180 days of service with at least one voyage made through an operational area.
World War Two was the first conflict to make widespread use of radio communications. The sets were still primitive, being heavy and valve operated, but marked a major turning point in the development of modern warfare. The most common man portable short distance radio in use by the British Army was the WS38 Mk II set, with over 100,00 produced by the end of WW2:The training manual described the WS38 set as:
The No 38 Set is a light weight portable sender and receiver designed for short range R/T working. The frequency band covered is approximately 7.3 Mc/s to 8.8 Mc/s obtained in a single range on a calibrated tuning control common to both sender and receiver. Sender and receiver are automatically adjusted to the same frequency thereby simplifying netting.
The set is carried on the left breast next to the respirator and the supporting sling is secured to the webbing equipment by means of a brace hook and ring secures the set at the lower end.
This radio has a tin box housing the working parts, which gave it a range of between one and two miles depending on terrain and atmospheric conditions, with a number of dials on the top: These include a socket for an aerial:The main tuning dial:Ana a switch turning the radio on and allowing it to send or receive:A painted panel gives details of the Set type:Whilst an individual serial number is painted on a small plate riveted to the top:Inside are a number of valves:And other early electronics:A cable runs from the set to a plug that connects separate junction box which attaches the set to the battery, headphones and microphone:The set-up is shown on this contemporary diagram:These sets are seen being carried by a dedicated signaller in contemporary photographs, such as this photograph from War illustrated in 1944:I am very pleased to have added this set to my collection, but it does offer me a whole new area of collecting and many of the accessories for the WS38 set are rare and/or expensive so like many of my projects, purchasing the extra bits is a case of seeing what comes up rather than an active hunt for parts regardless of price.