Category Archives: postcard

RNVR Group Photograph

This week’s photograph is a splendid image of a group of Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve seaman, taken at around the time of the Great War:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (4)The men can be identified as RNVR by their cap tallies which read R.N. (Anchor) V.R.:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5) - CopyThe RNVR was a reserve made up of men who were not sailors in civilian life, the RNR by contrast had its ranks filled by fishermen, tug boat crews etc and were consequently natural seaman who needed different training to the more ‘amateur’ RNVR. The men in this photograph where the white cotton duck working uniform:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (4) - CopyAlthough it looks like a tropical uniform, this particular design was used on the UK as a heavy duty uniform for use during tasks that would damage the traditional dark blue serge uniform. And all seem to have the high laced anklets typical of the RN at this period:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6) - CopyMore information on these anklets can be found here. It is interesting to note that in the photograph above at least one man clearly has hobnails in his boots. At the time hobnails were not routinely fixed to RN boots unless the sailor was undergoing instruction or based ashore. Hobnails would have been dangerous on board a ship where they would make it very easy to slip on a wet deck. Ashore they were essential to help prevent the boots form wearing out very quickly.

The men are stood in front of a mast, the top of which can be seen above their heads, one rating holding the halyard to steady himself:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (7) - CopyThese men are probably on a training course ashore, either as part of their annual training commitment or if the photograph was taken in wartime then before being deployed to a ship for service.


World War Two Humorous Postcard

This week we have a nice little postcard from the Second World War. The fit (or lack thereof) of army uniforms has long been a source of humour and one famous joke went that in the army there were two sizes of clothing, too large and too small. If your uniform fitted you , then you were clearly the wrong size. This card though pokes gentle fun at the size of army trousers:SKM_C284e18060515060In many ways the back of the postcard is more interesting than the front:SKM_C284e18060515061The card was sent to a Private Hatfield of the ATS who was based in Chilwell:SKM_C284e18060515061 - CopyIt seems to have been sent by a fellow ATS member, possibly on leave:SKM_C284e18060515061 - Copy (2)The card reads:

Dear Margaret

I am having a fine time, dancing, beer and men, but it’ll be grand to see all the girls in Camp. Hope you are all fine in Hut 44.

Love Peggy

Chilwell Camp was particularly large, as recalled by one member of the ATS, Joan Ball:

After training I was sent to Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. The camp was enormous, with three thousand army personnel and three thousand civilians. Military policemen were on duty at all the entrances and we had to salute every officer we met. We were billeted in the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, a large building on top of a hill. The dining room, catering for a thousand girls, was huge. The food was generally plain and rather stodgy. We had scrambled egg, which arrived on huge trays and was made from dried egg, for breakfast. It was not a pretty sight; but it was either that or porridge. We brought bread and cheese back from meals to toast for supper while sitting around the fire trying to keep warm. Mother sent me food parcels occasionally, which was a treat.

Fortunately there weren’t too many air raids. Life was busy but we had plenty of leisure pursuits at the camp. Telephones were a luxury in most homes at the time so I wrote lots of letters.

I was trained as a clerical officer. After passing my exams I was allocated to an office about a mile from the barracks. It being such a large camp, discipline required that we march to work in platoons. When it was dark the last person at the rear carried a lantern. Eventually I was promoted to Lance Corporal and was in charge of the platoon as well as joining the guard duty rota at the barracks.

M Newberry was another at Chilwell:

I served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S) and the Women’s Royal Army Corps (W.R.A.C) from 1940 to 1951. I was aged 23 when I volunteered to join the A.T.S at the recruiting office in Trinity Square, Nottingham on 12th September 1940. A week later I was embodied at Neville’s Cross Recruiting Depot, County Durham on 20th September 1940. After 3 weeks training and being kitted out in uniform I was posted to Central Ordnance Depot (C.O.D), Chilwell, Notts, Platoon 4, Hut 48 on 11th October 1940.

From then my work was in the Depot M.T. (Mechanical Transport) Stores, Building 157, R.A.O.C (Royal Army Ordnance Corps), with the road and railway bringing the stores in at one end and the rail and road taking the stores out to all the war zones at the other end.

The A.T.S were billeted in a camp on the hill overlooking the Depot brick huts with the so called ‘Donkey Store’ (hard to get going). These huts housed 24 girls each. They had to be meticulously cleaned each day, except weekends, for inspection, with all bedding barracked perfectly. This was before we marched on parade to and from work, twice a day to the Depot.

The stores we were packing were for the R.A.O.C and we had to be Trade Tested and learn about stores. This meant that we were given an increase in pay when we passed these Tests and then allowed to wear the R.A.O.C badge over the lapel coat pocket. After that we worked hard to earn promotion, I was fortunate to gain a quick year of holding Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant ranks in 1942/43. Then finally I was promoted to Warrant Officer II in 1945, which is shown in my records.

Trade Testing gave us a foresight into stores we could be handling in the course of our work, particularly the areas due to receive them in all corners of the world such as in the African Campaign, the North Atlantic (Mumansk) and Japanese (Far East) where stores were specially treated for the climatic conditions for example Tank Sealing (Arcticisation) for Russia, (Wax Dipping) South East Asia Command for humidity. Welding and tyre re-treading was a speciality done by A.T.S as well as Clerks, Cooks, Orderlies and Admin. We had Russian representatives stationed in the Depot to oversee the Arcticisation of tanks, vehicles and spares.

Night shift was introduced as the war intensified and bunk beds were introduced to accommodate more A.T.S up to 5,000 in Chilwell from all over the country and the British Empire e.g. Jamaica. D Day, VE Day and VJ Day will long be remembered by the A.T.S. who were stationed at Chilwell.

At the end of the war we still had plenty of work to do as stores were returned to Chilwell by the troops coming home. This continued until my demob number was due and after careful consideration I decided to accept my recommendation for a Commission in the A.T.S.

Postcard of Light Infantry Territorials at Camp

This week’s postcard is a nice group shot of territorial soldiers on their annual camp, just prior to World War One:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy - Copy (4)They wear the standard khaki service dress of the regular army, but if you look closely at the shoulder titles they are particularly large and elaborate, this being typical of territorial units:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy - CopyThese brass titles normally included the name of the regiment, the number of the battalion and a ‘T’ for territorial above them, as in this representative example:s-l500The cap badges show this unit is a light infantry regiment and the two most likely contenders are the Durham Light Infantry or the Shropshire Light infantry. Sadly I can’t get a high enough magnification to be sure:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy - Copy (3)Behind the men are traditional bell tents:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy - Copy (2)This is most likely the Mk V bell tent, the most common model in use at the period. It had a diameter of 12’6” and could sleep up to twelve men arranged in a star burst formation, foot to pole. The following instructions were issued in the Field Service Pocket Book 1914 for pitching bell tents:

  • Mark centre with peg. Describe a circle, with a radius of 4 paces, on which the pegs will be. In this circle, drive in the two pegs opposite the door of the tent, one pace apart. At 3 paces from these pegs, on either side of them, drive in pegs for guy ropes. The other guy rope pegs will be 5 paces from these and 5 paces from each other.
  • Put up tent. Pole to be set and kept perfectly upright. 
  • Drive in the other pegs, which should be one pace apart and in line with the seams of the tent.
  • Doors, if possible, point to leeward.
  • 7 1/2 yards from centre to centre of tents.
  • Cut drains round bottom of tent walls and heap earth inside flap.
  • Dig a hole 6 inches deep close to tent pole, then if heavy rain comes on suddenly, the tent pole can be pushed into the hole and much strain is taken off the canvas, ropes and pegs

The sheets around the base of the tent could be rolled back during the day to air out the insides for hygiene purposes and this pattern of tent remained in service, albeit with territorial units of the army, until the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Till the Boys Come Home Book Review

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will have realised that I rather like World War One postcards, and they are a regular item on our Sunday night image slot. The number of postcards produced during World War One is quite staggering and they range from the very common to some really rare cards that were produced in tiny numbers. I am an incidental collector of these postcards, I pick them up if I come across them but I am not actively seeking them out. Despite this, reference books are always useful to have and so I was pleased to recently pick up a copy of ‘Til the Boys Come Home, The First World War through its Picture Postcards’ by Tonie and Valmai Holt.51BQbVDQx6LThis book was first published back in 1977, but a revised edition was released in 2014 by Pen and Sword and it is this copy I have. The book is surprisingly weighty for its size and this is due to the high quality paper used in its printing, this being a necessity in a book with over 700 reproductions of postcards in full colour inside. The quality of reproduction is superb and the selection of images excellent with many rare and unusual cards included from all the belligerent nations of World War One. These images are accompanied by captions for each one and a traditional body text that approaches the Great War thematically. The authors look at topics such as the machines of war, humour, women and the home front and that great love of the era, sentiment. Splitting the book thematically makes a great deal of sense and one of the things that struck me was the similarities and differences between the various nations approach to topics. This is perhaps most apparent in humour with the British publishing self-deprecating humorous cards reflecting on the conditions in the front such as the illustrations by Bruce Bairnsfather and the adaptation of many seaside comic characters to the wartime situation (the large and overbearing wife, the hen pecked husband etc.). By contrast German humorous cards seemed to have a love of toilet humour, bare bottoms and chamber pots!imageFor me however the main problem I had with this book is the dated nature of much of the supporting text. Originally written in the 1970s the book perpetuates the ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ and ‘Mud, blood and Poppycock’ portrayal of World War One. The historiography of the conflict has moved on since then and historians have been increasingly challenging this view of the war with research showing that actually junior officers led their men well and suffered disproportionate casualties as a result whilst Generals were far more innovative and open to new ideas (even if the execution of them was limited) than had been previously believed. If the book was a direct reprint of the original I could accept this far more readily, but the authors make a point of saying that the book has been revised and updated for the Twenty First century and I found some of the supporting text quite jarring.imageThis criticism aside, the book is a wonderful coffee table book that is packed full of illustrations and background information and I have no hesitation in recommending it to collectors of wartime postcards or just those who are interested in how the war was portrayed through one of the most popular mediums of its day. I have certainly learnt a lot from this book and it is currently available from Naval and Military Press for just £4.99, instead of the cover price of £24.99 here.image

Royal Navy Base Photograph

This week’s photograph is an interesting view of the parade ground at a Royal Naval base:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - CopyUnfortunately the image is undated and we have no idea where it was taken, my guess is that it dates to the Second World War or just after and if anyone can recognise the location please comment below! The most obvious way of identifying it is a Royal naval base is the mast flying the white ensign in the centre of the photograph:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (2)These masts take the place of the jack on a ship from which a white ensign is flown, sailors outside of buildings when ‘colours’ are piped have to stand still, face the direction of the mast and salute it whilst the ensign is lowered, before the carry on is piped and they can continue on their way!

This photograph seems to have been taken during ‘divisions’ and a number of different groups of sailors are on the parade ground in groups awaiting inspection:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (3)Other groups are still marching to the square:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (4)In the background can be seen a number of accommodation blocks, made of concrete and the faint outlines of camouflage paint can just be made out, again indicating the shot was taken either during or just after World War 2:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (5)In the foreground can be seen one of the playing fields used for playing football or hockey, one of the two goal posts easily visible:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (6)A solitary vehicle is parked on the right of the photograph and I suspect that this vehicle is in use as a staff car and is sitting in front of either the base commander’s offices or the administration block:SKM_C284e18041015520 - Copy - Copy (5) - CopyShore bases were essential to the Royal Navy for both transit accommodation and for training purposes. It was far easier to train a sailor in the theories of wireless or radar in a classroom on land than aboard an old ship moored in a river as had traditionally been the case. Throughout the Second World War more and more bases were opened up on land either for training or to house sailors awaiting their draft to a ship. After the war the Royal Navy pretty much abandoned the use of hulks for teaching bases and instead relied upon shore establishments, many next to the coast. Although a lot of these bases have shut over the subsequent 75 years, some still remain and they are still used for teaching officers and ratings how to perform complex technical tasks away from the dangerous and cramped conditions of an actual warship.

Royal Navy Rating Sentimental Postcard

It has been some time since we last looked at a sentimental postcard from the First World War. For those unfamiliar, there was a huge postcard collecting frenzy from the 1890s until the Great War and postcards with sentimental images and poems were very popular. These cards were often parts of much larger sets and together they made a long poem of often variable quality with a series of different but interrelated images. As can be expected, during World War One those cards depicting soldiers and sailors were particularly appealing to the public and we have looked at a number of these on the blog before. Tonight we have another example, this time depicting a sailor:SKMBT_C36416010513330_0001The verse reads:


“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so thought a sailor on the sea.

He is thinking night and day

Of one girl far away

“Wish that I could send a message just to tell her where I am

I’d also like to send some kisses to my Susan by Marconi telegram”

Ignoring the terrible quality of the poem, the final line is interesting in referring to the telegram. This was very much the wonder communications device of the era and was akin to the satellite revolution in that it finally allowed instant messages to be sent from around the world back to Britain and revolutionised communications in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. These cards are hard to date without a postmark on the back, but I suspect this example is from the 1910s or the very start of World War One.

The card depicts both the sailor himself, looking suitably pensive:SKMBT_C36416010513330_0001 - CopyAnd the girl he is dreaming of, in a suitably wispy panel high on the card as if in a thought bubble:SKMBT_C36416010513330_0001 - Copy (2)What is far more interesting is the ship behind him. This warship is straight out of the 1890s, and has a single, large double barrelled turret:SKMBT_C36416010513330_0001 - Copy (3)This design was long obsolete by the Great War, replaced with more modern Dreadnoughts from 1906 onwards which suggests that the postcard manufacturer was looking for a more evocative image for his card design than a modern battleship would have given him. Likewise the ship is painted in the Victorian colours of a black hull, white superstructure and buff funnels rather than the far more drab warship grey that WW1 warships were painted in. This design choice in unsurprising when one considers that the postcard is painting a sentimental and romanticised image of longing and distant love rather than an accurate portrayal of a modern navy.

To modern eyes these postcards seem very saccharine, especially in light of the looming conflict, but they were hugely popular at the time and tapped into the mood of the era.

Highland Light Infantry Pipers Postcard

This week’s postcard is another of those delightful ‘oilette’ postcards that were so popular during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This example depicts the pipers of the Highland Light Infantry:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - CopyThey are wearing the full home service dress worn before the outbreak of World War One with scarlet tunics, kilts and glengarries:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - Copy - CopyBehind the pipers can be seen the drum section and the rest of the regiment marching along:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - Copy - Copy (2)Pipers were not only used for parades, they also had an important role raising morale on the battlefield and offering aid to their wounded comrades. One piper from the highland light infantry, Kenneth McLeman was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Gallipoli for tending to the wounded under fire after his pipes were shattered by enemy fire. Another piper, Daniel Laidlaw, from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers won the VC at Loos in 1915. He describes his own actions as follows:

On Saturday morning we got orders to raid the German trenches. At 6.30 the bugles sounded the advance and I got over the parapet with Lieutenant Young. I at once got the pipes going and the laddies gave a cheer as they started off for the enemy’s lines. As soon as they showed themselves over the trench top they began to fall fast, but they never wavered, but dashed straight on as I played the old air they all knew ‘Blue Bonnets over the Border’. I ran forward with them piping for all I knew, and just as we were getting near the German lines I was wounded by shrapnel in the left ankle and leg. I was too excited to feel the pain just then, but scrambled along as best I could. I changed my tune to ‘The Standard on the Braes o’Mar’, a grand tune for charging on. I kept on piping and piping and hobbling after the laddies until I could go no farther, and then seeing that the boys had won the position I began to get back as best I could to our own trenches.

His citation adds more information to Piper Laidlaw’s modest account:

For most conspicuous bravery prior to an assault on German trenches near Loos and Hill 70 on 25 September 1915. During the worst of the bombardment, Piper Laidlaw, seeing that his company was badly shaken from the effects of gas, with absolute coolness and disregard of danger, mounted the parapet, marched up and down and played company out of the trench. The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed out to the assault. Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes until he was wounded.” London Gazette, 18 November 1915 , Loos, France, 25 September 1915, No. 15851 Piper Daniel Laidlaw, 7th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers.