Category Archives: Pre WW1

HMS Buzzard on the Embankment Postcard

This week’s postcard is a fine image of the Embankment in London, looking down the River Thames:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8)The large stone walls of the Embankment can be seen on the left of the image:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyOf rather more interest though is the sloop, HMS Buzzard, moored a short distance away:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyHMS Buzzard was a Nymphe-class composite screw sloop and the fourth ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name. Developed and constructed for the Royal Navy on a design by William Henry White, Director of Naval Construction, she was launched at Sheerness Dockyard on 10 May 1887. The Nymphe-class sloops were ideal for service in the far distant outposts of the British Empire, and Buzzard was employed on the North America and West Indies Station. In early April 1902, under the command of Commander L. F. G. Tippinge, she left Bermuda for home waters, calling at Faial Island, before she arrived at Devonport on 20 April. She was paid off at Chatham on 13 May 1902. In 1904 she was converted to a drill ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Blackfriars, London as reported in the Daily Mail:

HMS Buzzard arrived on the Thames yesterday and took up her new station at Blackfriars, there to form a training depot for the Metropolitan Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers, called by the irreverent the “Blackfriars Buccaneers.”

Large crowds lined the bridges to watch the passing of the warship, and thousands were on the Embankment during the mooring operations.

The Buzzard, which was launched in 1887, would in the ordinary course have been sold out of the Navy, but she has now been thoroughly modernised and equipped with quickfirers.

The Captain of the Buzzard described the training on the refitted ship:

In the training given on board the Buzzard each company in turn furnishes a ship’s crew, whose duty it is to carry out the routine of the ship for a fortnight at a time. During this period the men live on board, going ashore daily to their occupations in office or workshop. Thus some idea of life on the lower deck is gained and the men are familiarized with the different parts of a man-of-war. Coming on board after his day’s work, the amateur sailor is taught to man a boat over the lower boom; he becomes familiar with such commands as “Away starboard whaler,” or in the case of an imaginary fire, “Pipe fire quarters,” and last but not least “Stand by Hammocks,” “Clear lower deck,” and “Pipe down,” when your clerk or workshop hand has a chance of learning how to sling a hammock and, with a little practice, how to sleep in one. In the morning comes the least popular command, “All hands lash up and stow,” and the men turn out to “Scrub and wash decks” before going on shore.

In 1911 Buzzard relieved HMS President (formerly HMS Gannet of 1878) as headquarters ship, being renamed HMS President on 1 April 1911. As President she served until 23 January 1918, when she was lent to the Marine Society. She was sold to C A Beard for breaking on 6 September 1921, and was later re-sold to Dutch ship breakers.

hms_buzzard_(1887)

RAMC Memorial Aldershot Postcard

This week’s postcard depicts the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Boer War memorial in Aldershot:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7)This memorial was unveiled in 1905 by King Edward VII and consists of a central, granite obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7) - copyA small bronze sculptural plaque is fitted to the front of the obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyramc_memorial_aldershot_groupThe names of 314 officers and men of the Corps are recorded on 14 bronze name plaques arranged in a semi-circle behind the monument:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyThe memorial was designed by Robert Weir Schultz, whilst the sculpted group was by the Welsh sculptor William Goscombe John. In 2010 the memorial was listed, the reasons for this designation being given as:

The Royal Army Medical Corps Boer War Memorial of 1905 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Design Interest: As an elegant memorial of good quality workmanship and materials by a known sculptor and known architect. * Historical Interest: As commemorating the fallen of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Boer War, and as a remembrance of the work of the Corps and as a visually distinctive reference for those who serve or have served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, embracing the tradition of service and the regimental bond.

Mannlicher 1886 Rifle

In 1886 the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a new five shot repeating rifle firing a large black powder 11.15mmx58mm rimmed round. This rifle, designed by Mannlicher, was cutting edge technology when it was purchased and used an innovative en-bloc loading system that allowed five rounds to be loaded at once, rather than individually. This dominance was to last just a year as the French introduced smokeless powder with their new Lebel rifle that made the old large bore Austrian design obsolete overnight. Today this large 11.15mm cartridge has been designated as an obsolete calibre in the UK which means that the rifles that fire it are legal to own as complete firearms with none of the butchery that deactivation normally requires.

I recently picked up one of these M1886 rifles in what was described as Grade 3 condition. I was expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised to find that although a little rough around the edges, the rifle I received was actually in remarkably good condition for a 133 year old firearm:imageimageThis rifle is a straight pull design which means the bolt does not need to be rotated in order to charge the rifle. The bolt is just pulled straight back and then pushed forward again to chamber a fresh cartdridge, the bolt running in a milled channel at the rear of the receiver:imageNote the safety catch that blocks the bolt and prevents the rifle from firing. As the bolt is not rotated, it does not have conventional locking lugs of more modern designs, instead there is a single locking wedge on the underside of the bolt:imageThis was perfectly adequate on slow moving black power but would be a weak point when some of the rifles were converted to small bore smokeless powder cartridges. The bolt itself has a spring extractor and a central firing pin, still extant here due to its obsolete calibre status:imageCartridges were supplied in sprung metal en-bloc clips that, unlike later chargers, were held inside the rifle during firing, the clips providing the feed lips for the cartridges. The clip was inserted into the top and a sprung arm inside the rifle pushed the cartridges up from below:imageOnce the last cartridge had been chambered, the now empty clip was free to fall away out a slot in the base of the large magazine under the rifle:imageA large sight is fitted at the rear of the barrel with the sights graduated in schritt- an obsolete Austrian measure of distance equivalent to a pace. The normal ranges are marked on the left side of the sight:imageThe right side is for use with the volley sight. This was the fashionable rifle feature of late Victorian era rifles and on this case a small V-Notch sight can be pulled out the right hand side of the rear sight:imageThis is lined up with this forward pointer on the right hand side of the barrel band:imageNote also the front sling swivel, a rear swivel is fitted to the butt of the rifle:imageThe front end of the rifle incorporates a front sight blade, a bayonet lug and a stacking rod to make a rifle tee-pee with:imageThe 1886 pattern rifle was sold to a number of other countries, including Chile and I believe that this is an export pattern rifle rather than one produced for the Austro-Hungarians as it lacks the Austrian proof marks and hasn’t been upgraded to an 8x50R smokeless round which was pretty much universal for those in the service of the Habsburg empire.

Is there any link then between this rifle and the blogs usual British Empire content? Yes, although I confess it is a very tenuous link. Anecdotally,  it seems that the British volunteers to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War were issued Mannlicher 1886 rifles to practice with before being handed more modern arms to fight the fascists with.

Whether the story s true or not I don’t know, this is however a fascinating historic rifle with a mechanically very interesting action that happily is legal to own in live condition in the UK. World Wide Arms seem to have imported a large quantity of these recently and it is from them that I obtained this rifle for what I felt was a very reasonable sum.

Salvaging a Warship Postcard

Raising a sunken warship, even in shallow water, has always been a very difficult affair. Even today this remains one of the most difficult tasks facing any navy, as witnessed by the difficulties the Norwegian navy are currently having raising the sunken frigate KMN Helge Ingstad which sank last year. Modern technology definitely helps in the salvage of sunken warships, but even a century ago there were commercial companies who specialised in salvaging ships and despite the work being dangerous, the rewards could be substantial. The Royal Navy did not really have any established salvage equipment or expertise until the First World War and so commercial companies were used when a ship needed salvaging. This image dates, I believe, from the Edwardian era and is printed on extremely heavy card stock. It shows a warship being raised by means of ‘camels’:SKM_C284e18121008500The camels appear to be a set of flotation bags. Divers would have placed cables under the keel of the ship attached to these bags. Compressed air would then be flooded into the camels which would rise and lift the ship with them:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3)This action appears to have been successful and tugs are waiting to pull the stricken vessel to safety:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4)Whilst the flotation bags have lifted the ship, the freeboard remains miniscule and water is washing over her decks:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (5)A large gaggle of workers stand, watching the operations from the vessels upper deck:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (6)Sadly I have no context on this image, I am pretty sure it is a British warship and the style suggests it is a late Victorian or early Edwardian warship of a decent size, but beyond that I have no information. Which vessel it is and where and when it was salvaged are a mystery and as ever if you can offer up more information please get in touch.

Indian Army Pith Helmet Case

My thanks go to a friend and fellow collector who kindly gave me tonight’s object. Pith helmets were expensive but fragile purchases for officers at the turn of the twentieth century. They were easily crushed and so it was customary to purchase a special travel case for the helmets that protected them when not being worn. For the officer with money it was possible to purchase a very nice storage tin, with one’s name and posting sign written onto the outside. Tonight we are looking at an example of one of these tins purchased by a Major Berry before he went out to India:imageThe tin is oval in shape and made from tinplate that has been stamped, bent and then riveted and soldered into shape. Sadly this example has suffered over the years and when first discovered had a large dent on one side that has been carefully straightened out. It is by no means restored to new, but does look attractive enough to display now.
The top of the box lid has a carrying handle riveted to it:imageA metal hasp is fitted to the front of the box to allow the lid to be padlocked shut, a sensible precaution in early twentieth century India where the perception was that thievery was rife:imageThe exterior of the box is enamelled in a light brown shade, the interior though is painted a shade of blue:imageThe box is sign written in two places and the quality of this is first rate, suggesting that this was an expensive item when new. On the lid in black shaded white lettering is the owner’s name ‘Major Berry’:imageThe front is also marked, this time in red shaded gold lettering saying ‘Calcutta India’:imageThis was presumably Major Berry’s posting and this case would have accompanied him out to the Raj and back again. Until 1911 Calcutta was the capital of British India and I suspect this box dates to before the Great War so the Major would have been part of the military presence here.

 

West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteer’s Button

Late Victorian militaria does not come up too often, but occasionally a piece comes out of the woodwork like tonight’s object which is a little white metal button, marked up to the ‘4th Administrative Battalion, West Riding of Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers’:imageThe central feature of this button is a Tudor rose for the county of Yorkshire and the white metal was commonly used for volunteer regiments rather than the brass/gold coloured insignia of regular regiments. The rear of the button indicates that it was manufactured by Firmin of London:imageThe Rifle movement grew out of an invasion scare in 1859 which led to thousands flocking to locally formed Rifle Volunteer Corps. A large number of independent RVCs were raised in the West Riding of Yorkshire, including the ‘Barnsley Rifles’ and the ‘Rotherham Rifles’ and in August 1860 some of these were grouped into the 4th Administrative Battalion, Yorkshire West Riding RVCs, based at Doncaster (dates are those of the first officers’ commissions):

  • 18th (Pontefract) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 2 March 1860
  • 19th (Rotherham) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 29 February 1860
  • 20th (Doncaster, Great Northern Railway) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 5 February 1860
  • 21st (Doncaster Burgesses) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 5 February 1860
  • 36th (Rotherham) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 19 October 1860, joined 4th Admin Bn 1862
  • 37th (Barnsley) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, 21 November 1860, transferred from 3rd Admin Bn 1863
  • 40th (Wath-upon-Dearne) Yorkshire West Riding RVC, March 1863, based at Hoyland Nether until 1866

The 20th RVC was recruited largely from employees of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) at Doncaster Works and was commanded by the railway’s locomotive superintendent, Archibald Sturrock. The other units in the battalion were mainly recruited from coal mining and related industries. A Rotherham Rifle Band was formed and by August 1861 it was competing in brass band competitions.

Walter Spencer-Stanhope (1827–1911) of Cannon Hall and Horsforth Hall, a Captain in the 2nd West Riding Yeomanry, who had raised the 36th RVC, was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the 4th Admin Bn on 11 February 1863. He later became Member of Parliament for the Southern Division of the West Riding (1872–80).

A drill hall was built at Wharncliffe Street, Rotherham, in 1873, prior to which the 18th and 36th RVCs had used the Court House and Corn Exchange in the town.

The RVCs in the 4th Admin Bn were consolidated as the 8th Yorkshire West Riding RVC at Doncaster in 1880, still under the command of Lt-Col Stanhope.

This then dates this little button to before 1880 and after 1860 so we have a nice twenty year window in which it must have been manufactured and used.

Life Guard’s NCO’s Mess Postcard

A mess is a social space in an army barracks where men can gather off duty to relax, drink and socialise together. Different ranks have their own separate messes, with one for officers, one for NCOs etc. These have been an essential part of barracks life for many centuries and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully evocative postcard of the mess of the NCOs of the Life guards, the country’s premier cavalry regiment:SKM_C284e18102411420This image probably dates from the Edwardian era, but many features would be familiar to men of today. A large and well stocked bar is still a necessity:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (4)As is the provision of recreation facilities, today a pool table has probably replaced one for billiards, but the principle is the same:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (2)Other features, such as the gas lighting, have long since disappeared:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (3)This large and opulently furnished room is heated by a single, large fireplace at one end. It is surrounded by various trophies won by the mess:SKM_C284e18102411420 - CopyThese trophies also appear on the large central table, along with potted plants:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (6)This table served a number of purposes. It allowed members of the mess to write and do work at it, but was also used for formal dinners in the mess when wives and senior officers might be invited for a night of food, drink and enjoyment.

Other details to note include a small letter rack by the bar, criss-crossed ribbons providing places for correspondence to be tucked into until collected:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (5)Interestingly NCO’s messes were often held in higher regard than those of the officers. The author GM Fraser writing in 1970 commented:

The ignorant or unwary, if asked whether they would rather be guests of an officers’ mess or sergeants’, would probably choose the officers’. They might be motivated by snobbery, but probably also by the notion that that the standards of cuisine, comfort, and general atmosphere would be higher. They would be dead wrong.

A 1956 publication highlighted the importance of a well-run mess:

The prestige of a regiment or unit depends to a great extent upon the tone of the Sergeants’ Mess. A well-run Mess will ensure contented and hardworking members. A slack and bad Mess leads to general slackness and inefficiency amongst its members as well as getting the regiment a bad name outside from people who come as visitors.

The standards of the mess in the above photograph are clearly very high, as one would expect from a regiment as prestigious as the Life Guards. It has been suggested that it could be taken at either Hyde Park Barracks or Combermere in Windsor. Sadly both these barracks were demolished and redeveloped in the post-WW2 era and so this fine mess no longer exists.