Category Archives: Photograph

1884 Aldershot Camp Photograph

Most postcards and photographs that appear on the blog on a Sunday night date to the twentieth century- earlier examples are typically from the 1890s but it is rare to come across images from before then and certainly at a price that your author is willing to pay! Tonight’s image is unusual then in dating from 1884 and is a handsome group shot of what I believe are Rifle regiment officers with their wives and friends:SKM_C284e18022611470This is actually pasted to a card back in the ‘carte de visite’ style typical of the period. The men appear to be wearing dark green patrol jackets and most have ‘pill box’ hats worn as ‘undress’ caps in the period:SKM_C284e18022611470 - Copy (2)The officers on the right are wearing glengarries and so I am advised they are likely from a Scottish rifle regiment as these caps were not worn by English units at this period:SKM_C284e18022611470 - CopyAn officer seated at the front with a small dog appears to be wearing a ‘torin’ style cap:SKM_C284e18022611470 - Copy (3)The Torrin was an Austrian inspired side cap, much like the later field service cap but with a more rounded crown.

The rear of the image dates this photograph to 12th August 1884 and shows it was taken at Aldershot:SKM_C284e18022611471The name on the bottom of ‘Howland Roberts’ is likely referring to Sir Howland Roberts, 5th Baronet of Glassenbury, Kent (1845-1917) who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 3rd (London Irish) Voluntary Battalion, Rifle Brigade.

My thanks goes to Jack Fortune for his help with this image. He has suggested that these officers might be part of the 1st Battalion Cameroonians (Scottish Rifles) who were posted to Shorncliffe near Aldershot in 1884. Interestingly the Times of 11th August 1884 mentions that this unit was due to depart for Glasgow from Aldershot on 14th August which would tie in nicely with this image and indicate that these were indeed officers of this regiment. The 15th August saw this report published:

The hired transport Poonah, belonging to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, left Portsmouth for Glasgow yesterday afternoon with the 1st Battalion of the Scottish Rifles from Aldershot. The embarking strength of the regiment consisted of three field officers, five captains, seven sub-lieutenants, one medical officer, 35 sergeants, 457 rank and file, 39 women and 68 children. Thirteen men were left sick at Aldershot, 63 were on leave and 49 were in Egypt.

The Times also tells us that there were a large number of volunteer rifle regiments at Aldershot on 12th August 1884, the day being used for a number of different large scale exercises. It is entirely possible that the non-Scottish officers in the group photograph belong to some of these units. Interestingly there are a number of men in civilian dress in the photograph and quite who they are remains a mystery. It was common to open a military exercise up to civilian relations at this era, especially for officers, and these are perhaps brothers or friends:SKM_C284e18022611470 - Copy (4)This would also explain the women in the photograph who are clearly well to do as they are wearing fashionable clothes of the era:SKM_C284e18022611470 - Copy (5)Although not the clearest image I have ever come across, the early date and more importantly the fact it has a caption on the back make this an interesting little photograph.


RAF Music Group Photographs

This week we have a pair of group shots of airmen during the Second World War:SKM_C284e18021611150

SKM_C284e18021611150 - CopyBoth these photographs seem to have been taken at the same time and judging by the central man holding a small ukulele it is possible that they were a small amateur music group that entertained their fellow airmen. Both photographs have some basic captions on the back and from these we can put a first name to each of the men. We have Alec:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (2)Mac:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (3)Digger:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (4)‘Me’ (sadly we do not have this chap’s name as he was the one who wrote the caption):SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (5)Les:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (6)And John:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (7)The back of the photographs also tells us that this was taken in June 1943 at Downing College. Downing College was, and indeed still is, a university college in Cambridge but its buildings were taken over by the RAF at the start of the Second World War for the training of officers. This did not seem to last too long and the college lost its lodgers before the war ended. These cadets can easily be identified by the white flashes on their field service caps:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy - CopyFor more information on the RAF officer cadet FS caps please look here.

Throughout the time Downing College was used by the RAF, it remained open as a university with the two jostling for space. Mike Archer went up to Cambridge as an undergraduate in 1942:

In 1942 I gained a State Scholarship to read maths at Downing College, Cambridge. This was an eventful year: the tragedy of Pearl Harbour followed by the wonderful achievements of Montgomery at El Alamein. Needless to say the spirits of the students rose and fell in tune with the events. The college had three story blocks with four double rooms on each floor served by one bathroom, so each bedroom had its pair of chamber pots. The morning after Montgomery’s success had become known we arose to see the whole length of the roof of one wing adorned with a line of chamber pots and a large board reading ‘THE NIGHT WE LICKED THE JERRIES’.

HMS Barfleur Photograph

This week’s photograph is a nice study of the battle class destroyer HMS Barfleur:SKMBT_C36416120815480_0001The ship’s pennant number, D80, is painted on her hull making identification easy:SKMBT_C36416120815480_0001 - CopyBarfleur was the first commissioned Battle class destroyer and the only ship of her class to see action during the Second World War. She was present in Tokyo Bay when the official Japanese surrender was signed on USS Missouri.

In 1946, Barfleur deployed to the Far East along with the rest of the 19th Destroyer Flotilla, performing a variety of duties, including visiting many ports on ‘fly-the-flag’ visits. Barfleur returned to the United Kingdom with the rest of her flotilla in 1947, and was subsequently placed in Reserve.

In 1953, Barfleur took part in the Fleet Review at Spithead in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Barfleur was positioned in the middle of the destroyers St. Kitts and Crossbow.

Barfleur also became Captain (D) of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, which served in the Mediterranean. While there, Barfleur picked-up survivors from a Handley Page Hastings that had crashed in the region. Upon the completion of her task, Barfleur returned the aeroplane’s crew to Malta. In 1954, Barfleur moved back home but was returned to the Mediterranean the following year.

The destroyer was involved in the Suez War in 1956, taking part in the Allied landings in early November. Barfleur returned home later in the year for the last time to join the Home Fleet.

In 1958, Barfleur was put in Reserve before being placed on the disposal list and broken up at Dalmuir in 1966.

Barfleur’s main armament was two dual 4.5 inch guns on the fo’castle:SKMBT_C36416120815480_0001 - Copy (2)Barfleur was a fast ship, capable of making up to 35.75 knots, and this speed was achieved through her fine lines, with a bow capable of cutting through the water:SKMBT_C36416120815480_0001 - Copy (3)And two steam turbines capable of giving 50,000 shp, venting through a single central funnel:SKMBT_C36416120815480_0001 - Copy (4)Barfleur was home to 268 sailors and one dog, the ship’s mascot Gozo, a Maltese terrier:02Emailv1Gozo considered himself superior to all other pets in the ship; he had his own papers, kit bag, hammock, kit list and a conduct sheet (with many offences written therein) and S264, and many letters and signals of his activities.  His rate was A/B Dog.  He had a Crossing-the-line certificate and also claimed the honour of being the first allied dog in Tokyo.  He met and talked to more than twenty Admirals, lunched with Commodores and taken leave in New Zealand.

His overall length was some 12 inches, his height almost six inches and his displacement some 3-lbs.  The colour scheme was pure white, or at least for almost two minutes after bath time, after which he takes on a real battleship grey for camouflage purposes.

HMS Eagle at Capetown Photograph

Welcome to the final post of 2017, I hope you have all had a pleasant weekend and tomorrow we will start the fifth year of the blog! It seems a little strange putting it like that, but the blog started back in 2014, and I have covered a lot of ground in that time. I think I am right in saying (although I have no empirical evidence), that Tales From the Supply Depot is the most popular British and Empire militaria blog in the world (if only because there are very few others out there!). This would not be the case if it were not for you, the loyal reader who keeps coming back to read more of my twaddle! My thanks go out to you for reading, commenting and interacting with the blog and all being well I will keep buying bits of military junk, I will keep writing about them and you will keep reading it!

Tonight being a Sunday we have our customary photograph to look at and tonight it is a fine study of HMS Eagle, an Audacious class aircraft carrier:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (6)This photograph was taken at Capetown, as can be seen from Table Mountain towering up in the background:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (4)The ships pennant number, R05, can be seen painted on the central island, giving us an easy way to identify the ship:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (2)Note the massive Type 984 radar above the bridge. The whole island and bridge was completely rebuilt when the carrier underwent refit in 1964. Arrayed in front of the island are part of the carrier’s air group. She carried a mixture of Sea Vixen, Scimitar and Buccaneer aircraft as well as Fairey Gannet reconnaissance planes, one of which can be seen on the stern, just in front of the ensign:SKM_C284e17120411481 - CopyThe ship is clearly manned for entering or leaving port as the decks are packed with sailors, all lining the sides:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (3)The following account is of HMS Eagle’s time in Capetown:

We were certainly glad of our blues for the ceremonial entry into Capetown. The helicopter brought out the pilot and the Admiral- Flag officer, Second-in-Command of the Far East Fleet. We watched as the first rays of sunshine dissolved the table-cloth and crept down from the tiny lift house at the top of Table Mountain to the flats and office blocks below, and we listened to the noise of the saluting guns as they echoed around the rocks. Berthed as centrally as one could hope for, we were quickly ashore for a ‘leg stretch’ and the first chance to savour the tremendous hospitality that became a feature of the cruise. Special offices were set up on board and ashore to cater for invitation to lunches, for drives and barbeques.

For those who enjoy sightseeing there was, of course, the cable-car trip to the top of the mountain. Some visited the Rhodes memorial at Rosebank, and many took coach trips farther afield; either round the Cape and to the Cape of Good Hope itself, or along False Bay, past Cape Hangklip and up into the mountains to the flatness of the plateaux behind them; from the barrenness of the mountainous moorlands to the fertile apple growing areas and vineyards.

Home Guard Training Photographs

It is always nice to get photographs that show something a bit unusual, and tonight we have a lovely pair of images showing the Home Guard training. The first image shows them involved in some sort of crab running:SKM_C284e17112816000 - CopyThe instructor in the centre is carrying some large flags and his ‘Home Guard’ armband is clearly visible:SKM_C284e17112816000 - Copy - CopyThe men are all simply dressed in battledress, with field service caps. Quite what they are doing is not clear and it perhaps appears to be some sort of training in how to move stealthily in a crouched position:SKM_C284e17112816000 - Copy - Copy (2)A group of other soldiers looks on from the side lines:SKM_C284e17112816000 - Copy - Copy (3)The second photograph is less ambiguous and shows men practicing throwing hand grenades:SKM_C284e17112816000They have just let go and the practice grenades can be seen in mid-air, whilst the men are in the process of taking cover on the ground:SKM_C284e17112816000 - Copy (2)It was essential to practice throwing dummy grenades to prevent accidents when live grenades were used and to build confidence with the weapon, a Home Guard circular from Bridlington lamented:

From recent observations it would appear that instruction in all types of grenades held on charge has in some cases been badly neglected and some NCOs and men appear to be pretty scared when asked to handle dummies.

Robert Nosworthy instructed the home guard in the use of hand grenades in London:

To tell you the truth, I think it was one of the most dangerous things I could have ever thought about doing, because of these squads that were sent down to me from various places, parts of London, had never even handles a dummy bomb. And a lot of them were larking about, and you had to come down on them pretty stiff. And we didn’t have a lot of actual accidents, but we had very near misses…In a lot of cases, the idiots would pull the pin out beforehand, and a lot of that sort of business, and I’d have to chuck the bomb over quick, and all dive down. They hadn’t the slightest idea. But some were very good.

One of the commercially produced Home Guard training manuals of the time gave the following instructions:

How to Throw. Grenades are thrown with the same arm action as that of an over-arm bowler at cricket. This enables you to propel them with a high trajectory, which is suitable for their purpose of attacking over obstacles such as barricades. As they are meant entirely for close-quarters fighting, there is no point in trying to throw them very far; it is much more important to get accuracy than length of throw.

It is important that every man should learn to throw the grenade with the movement which comes most natural to him. He must cultivate a free natural body swing rather than any set of drilled movements. During grenade practice you must make a point of accurately observing where the grenade falls. You will practice throwing over a high wire, and from behind cover, both standing and in a lying position. You will throw into circles marked on the ground, always remembering that you are throwing at an enemy who is behind cover.

Only one man will throw at a time. No man will throw without a direct order: grenades will never be thrown from man to man. No man will attempt to catch a grenade: no man will pick up a grenade which has been thrown, until ordered to do so.

These instructions must be rigidly obeyed, in order that, from the very start, you will instinctively learn to treat grenades with respect. There is no need to be nervous with a grenade, however, as long as you understand it.

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.

HMS Theseus Sailor and Family Photograph

This week’s photograph is a delightful family grouping including a naval rating:SKM_C45817091209230 - CopyThis photograph was taken at the very end of the nineteenth century and the women are wearing particularly fashionable dresses that first come into vogue about 1895. They are clearly a family of means and they would seem to be a middle class or at least upper working class group. The sailor has a cap tally for HMS Theseus:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - CopyThis enables us to date the photograph to after 1896 when this cruiser was commissioned. It is highly likely that the subject of this photograph was on board the ship when it was involved in a punitive expedition to Benin in a now forgotten colonial spat.

The Punitive Expedition to Benin lasted nine days and was to see the end of the Benin Empire and the burning to the ground of Benin City. The origins of the expedition are complex, but came down to a number of factors:

  • A trade embargo imposed by Benin on the lucrative supply of palm oil.
  • An increased military presence by Benin on her borders.
  • The rulers of Benin had a reputation for treating slaves harshly and displaying large quantities of human remains in public. This gave a moral ‘justification’ for any campaign.

The trigger point for the Benin Expedition came after a British column, ostensibly on a trade mission, were ambushed and massacred leaving just two officers alive. In response to this a punitive expedition was sent to the country under the command of Rear Admiral Harry Rawson. The force consisted of a naval element of which HMS Theseus was a part and the country was soon subdued. The crew suffered badly from malaria whilst on campaign and when HMS Theseus was refitted in Chatham later that year the opportunity was taken to disinfect the ship thoroughly. It is certainly tempting to imagine the sailor in our photograph as part of this expedition.

Also of note in this photograph is the small boy sitting in the foreground:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - Copy (2)He is dressed in a miniature replica of the sailor’s suit, complete with collar and cap. This style was particularly popular for children of the middleclass at the end of the nineteenth century, illustrating the pride the country felt for its navy and the self-confidence of the later Victorian in his nation, Empire and military- it would also likely to have been even more popular if a family member was in the Royal Navy.