This week’s photograph is a delightful photograph that I believe was taken in India between the wars. It depicts a small group of soldiers, relaxed and off duty and posing with one of their pets, a small dog:The dog looks to be some sort of mongrel rather than a pure breed, but it is wearing a collar and seems very relaxed in the arms of one of the group so is presumably a well-loved companion to these men:It was often said that British soldiers made friends with the dogs and children of anywhere they were posted and this seems to have been especially the case in India where one author in the 1890s observed, “as a rule, the canine breed comes in for a large share of attention and patronage from British troops.” Perhaps it was because dogs and children had no fear or hatred of the soldiers that they took them to their hearts so readily, both treating British soldiers with a benign curiosity and growing friendship in a way in which many adults of native populations did not.
The men in this photograph, despite being off duty continue to wear their sun helmets, both the older Wolseley pattern:And the newer, lighter but more bulky ‘Bombay bowlers’:The 1930s Woodbine’s guide for troops going to India warns soldiers:
Don’t go into the blazing sunshine without your Topee or Helmet, whether it be Summer of Winter time, the Summer especially, between the hours of 9-a.m. and 5-p.m.
It is interesting to note that all the men wear collarless shirts, most with their sleeves rolled up and khaki drill trousers or shorts, except for one man on the extreme right who has a startlingly white pair of shorts on:Quite why he is wearing these is a mystery, but they are certainly distinctive! The men are standing in a courtyard in front of what appear to be quite elderly brick built barrack huts:It is hard to be sure, but I suspect that these would be at one of the older military cantonments in India, the buildings themselves erected in the Victorian era and still seeing service fifty years later when this photograph was taken.
One of the most dangerous operations at sea is refuelling one ship from another by means of a flexible fuel pipe. This is a manoeuvre the Royal Navy has been experts in for many decades and during the two world wars smaller ships such as Destroyers were regularly refuelled by capital ships with larger fuel tanks such as battleships. It was however more common to take on fuel from small tankers, with both ships having to maintain station whilst fuel was transferred from one vessel to the other. Tonight we have a series of snapshots taken by a sailor aboard a Royal navy warship as she refuelled form a small tanker at sea. The image quality isn’t brilliant, but it is rare to have such photographs and even from these hurried snaps it is clear how dangerous this activity would have been:The fuel lines can be seen snaking up from the tanker, supported by a derrick and then coming down to the warship where they would be pumping fuel straight into her tanks. The sea looks very calm here, but even a mild swell makes this task far more hazardous and anything with cables under tension at sea can be potentially lethal as if they snap they whip back and can cut a man in half instantly.
Eric R Wilkinson was aboard HMS Euryalus in 1944 and describes how she was oiled at sea:
This is the time to write about oiling at sea. Ship’s companies in cruisers and destroyers were used to a life in which it was always necessary to visit a port to take in oil fuel every few days. The time between refuelling varied with all sorts of factors — the speed we sailed at (as I recall we used at least twice as much oil per mile at full speed as at cruising speed) and how low in fuel it was acceptable to be in the circumstances of the place and time. But every week or so, and often more frequently, we put into a port to refuel. This brought respite from the monotony of watch-keeping at sea, at least for the few hours it took to refuel.
But such frequent visits to port would obviously not be possible in the Pacific, and therefore we learned to refuel at sea. This had been part of our working-up programme at Scapa. An oil tanker steamed at constant speed while the ships being fuelled kept station on her, on each side or behind. Flexible hoses were hoisted from ship to ship, and the fuelling proceeded. It was a fraught period for many in the ship. The shipping of the hoses was difficult at the best of times and almost impossible in poor weather. Occasionally the hoses disconnected and fuel gushed everywhere. Keeping station imposed continual strain on the bridge personnel who had to steer and adjust the ship’s speed very precisely.
It was also stressing for the men in the engine rooms who had to adjust the big wheels which controlled the throttle valves which admitted steam to the engines, as orders were telegraphed from the bridge. The engine designers had not envisaged this sort of close speed control being necessary, and the tachometers fitted to each engine gave only rough readings. Fine adjustments had to be made by repeatedly clocking the rev counters. Finally, the engineer officer in charge of taking in oil fuel had to be released from his watch-keeping duties in the engine room so the other engineer officers had to take over his watches
This week we have a series of photographs, all from the same page of a photograph album, entitled ‘recovering a torpedo’. Ships needed to practice firing torpedoes to ensure crews knew what to do in a real life situation. The problem was that torpedoes were very expensive, containing motors, gyroscopes and other instruments to ensure they steered a true course to their targets. To practice torpedoes were fitted with dummy warheads, weighted to give the correct weight, but devoid of explosives. These practice torpedoes were often painted bright colours to make them more visible and once they had been fired and completed their run, every effort was made to recover the torpedo so it could be repaired and reused. These photos show the crew of a destroyer recovering a practice torpedo, with a small whaler used to recover the weapon and then a davit used to bring it back on board ship. The photographs are not dated, but I suspect the images were taken in the 1950s.It was not always possible to recover every torpedo fired and often fishermen dragged them up with their nets. In these cases salvage money was paid. Others have remained undiscovered until the present day and when they are found the question then has to be asked as to whether they are live or not. In 2011 Royal Navy divers were called to a torpedo found near Beachy Head:
Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) responded to an urgent call by Dover Coastguard after the five-metre-long section of a torpedo was seen by the crew of the Royal Sovereign fishing boat at around 1430hrs on 8 February 2011.
Photographs sent by the sailors to SDU2 in Portsmouth confirmed that the section did not contain any explosives and was in fact the pressure vessel and engine part with the warhead and propeller completely rotted away.
Once the Portsmouth-based squad arrived at 1800hrs, the divers made a further inspection of the torpedo, which had been tied to a buoy by the Royal Sovereign fishermen, and at 0600hrs the following morning they towed it to the beach.
Officer-in-Charge of SDU2, Lieutenant Commander Alan Nekrews, said:
The important thing is that there was no warhead attached so it didn’t have any explosive elements – we could see this from the images we were sent and then we certified the fact that it was safe when we made an inspection.
It was then handed over to the Coastguard who decided they wanted to keep it.
Although SDU2 would normally dispose of the section, the torpedo is now on display at Sovereign Harbour Marina.
This week’s photograph is a nice study of the wartime destroyer HMS Wrangler:HMS Wrangler was a W class destroyer laid down in 1942 and launched in 1944. We can identify the ship by her pennant number, R48, painted on the side of her hull:The W class displaced 1710 tons and were powered by oil burning Admiralty three drum boilers that turned Parsons geared steam turbines, the boilers being trunked into a single funnel:The W Class were armed with four single 4.7 inch Mk IX guns, two in a pair of turrets for’ard:And two in turrets aft:The ships had Type 272 surface-search radar, Type 282 and 285 gunnery radar and Type 291 early warning radar, which can be seen on or around her mast:Directly in front of this is an open bridge:She was assigned to the 27th Destroyer Flotilla, together with all of her sister ships, upon completion and Wrangler was working up at Scapa Flow with the Home Fleet from 21 July to 16 August. She then proceeded to the Mediterranean for several months before she was assigned to the Eastern Fleet by late 1944. During Operation Robson, an aerial attack on the oil refinery complex at Pangkalan Brandan, Sumatra, in mid-December, Wrangler escorted the main body of the fleet. Afterwards, the ship sailed to Bombay, India, to have her boiler tubes replaced, a lengthy job that took from 14 January to 19 May 1945. By 17 July, the ship was en route, together with her sister Wakeful to reinforce the British Pacific Fleet operating off the coast of Japan. On 20 August she was selected to remain with the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable as part of the British contribution to the occupation forces. Wrangler was present when the Japanese surrendered on 2 September aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
The ship ferried Allied prisoners of war back to Australia before departing Sydney on 8 November and arrived at Plymouth on 16 December. The navy originally intended to reduce her to Category B reserve, but decided to assign Wrangler to the Naval Training Command on 18 January 1946 and she became the chemical warfare training ship based at Devonport Royal Dockyard. From September 1946 until 1950 the ship was with the Rosyth Local Flotilla as a boys’ training ship and had her 40 mm guns removed during her December 1946 – January 1947 refit. Two years later Wrangler was in a collision that damaged her Carley floats and main deck plating. In 1950–51 she was assigned to the 4th Training Flotilla.
After this the ship was assigned as the lead ship in a conversion process that saw her emerge as a Type 15 frigate. She continued serving in this form until 1956 when she was sold to South Africa and renamed SAS Vrystaat. By 1963 she was worn out and suffering from galvanic corrosion so was placed in reserve. In 1976 she was sunk as a target off Cape Point.
This week’s image is rather unusual and depicts a young lady in what appears to be the dress of a pierrot, wearing an army cap:The cap has the badge of the Machine Gun Corps:Whilst the dress has distinctive pom-poms on it, typical of the costumes worn by pierrots:The pierrot show was hugely popular in the United Kingdom throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The concept had been taken from the French pierrot shows and brought to this country in 1891 by the singer and banjoist Clifford Essex. The character of pierrot came from French pantomime and wore baggy clothes in black or white, with contrasting pom-poms sewn on. English pierrot troupes consisted of a number of men who dressed up in distinctive costumes and then put on concert parties with singing, dancing, jokes and juggling amongst their repertoires. They became synonymous with shows on the piers of the country’s seaside towns and throughout World War One soldiers set up their own pierrot troupes as part of concert parties put on to amuse the troops. The popularity of these shows was such, that even the Australians copied the concept creating their own ‘Digger pierrot’ troupes. This young lady would probably not have been one of these troupes operating near the front line, although there were women in YMCA concert parties in France during the war, it is more likely for her to have belonged to a group back in the United kingdom putting on shows for either convalescent troops or even just the general public. Her costume is clearly inspired by the traditional male pierrot costume, but made as a dress rather than as baggy trousers and a jacket.
Happily someone has written on the date, 1917, to the photograph so we can date it:The girl in the photograph may just be larking around with some props in the photographer’s studio, however I do not feel that is the case and I suspect she was genuinely involved in entertainment as a pierrot of some sort. These photographs are very intriguing, but often throw up far more questions than can easily be answered.