Category Archives: Pre WW1

King George V in Admiral’s Uniform Commemorative Plate

We have discussed the craze for commemorative china before. In the years between 1880 and 1930 many people collected china with various designs on it in simple transfer prints. Some pieces were made by the big companies, with their logo emblazoned on the bottom and were pitched at the better quality end of the market. Cheaper, unbranded products also existed that were affordable enough for nearly all in society. For the purposes of this blog, the transfer designs we are most interested in are those with a military connection and tonight we have a handsome plate with a transfer print of King George V in naval uniform:imageThis style of plate is known as a ribbon plate as pieces of brightly coloured ribbon could be woven in and out of the cutouts around the plates circumference. These could be used just for decoration or tied into bows to allow the plate to be hung on a wall. Apparently it was also popular to attach them to a heavy curtain, which to me at least implies a high rate of breakages!

The design in the centre of this plate depicts a youthful king George V in his Royal Naval admiral’s uniform, complete with a healthy array of medals and honours on his chest:imageFrom his age here and other examples of the same design we can determine that this plate was produced for his coronation in 1911 and the transfer design was possibly copied or inspired by this portrait of the king:imageThere is no maker’s mark on the rear of the plate, indicating that this was probably produced for the lower end of the souvenir market. Despite that, and the wearing off of the gilding around the edges, this remains a handsome plate and like so much royal memorabilia it was a very cheap piece: I picked it up for £2 in a charity shop. It is now hanging on my living room wall, just as it was designed to be used 108 years ago.


HMS London Postcard

This week’s postcard is a lovely pre-WW1 image of the Battleship HMS London still in her Victorian naval colours rather than battleship grey:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3)HMS London was a pre-dreadnought of the Formidable class and had been laid down in 1898, being completed in 1902. She displaced 15,000 tons and had a top speed of 18 knots. She was driven by two vertical triple expansion engines fed by water tube boilers. These vented through two central funnels:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3) - CopyHer armament consisted of two twin 12” gun turrets, one fore and one aft:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (4) - CopyThese were supplemented by twelve 6” guns of secondary armament located in a belt along the side of the shipSKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (6) - CopyShe was still very Victorian in design and had two slender masts fitted:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (5) - CopyHMS London commissioned at Portsmouth Dockyard on 7 June 1902 for service in the Mediterranean Fleet, She left Portsmouth in early July, stopping at Gibraltar, and arrived at Malta on 14 July. While in the Mediterranean, she underwent refits at Malta in 1902–1903 and 1906.

In March 1907, London transferred to the Nore Division, Home Fleet, at the Nore, then to the Channel Fleet on 2 June 1908, serving as Flagship, Rear Admiral, Channel Fleet. She underwent a refit at Chatham Dockyard in 1908, and paid off there on 19 April 1909 to undergo an extensive refit.

Her refit complete, London commissioned at Chatham on 8 February 1910 to serve as Second Flagship, Rear Admiral, Atlantic Fleet. Under the fleet reorganisation of 1 May 1912, she became part of the Second Home Fleet at the Nore, reduced to a nucleus crew and assigned to the 3rd Battle Squadron. She collided with the merchant steamer SS Don Benite on 11 May 1912. She transferred to the 5th Battle Squadron and was used in experiments with flying off aircraft from May 1912 until 1913, employing a ramp built over her forecastle which had been transferred from the battleship Hibernia.

Upon the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the 5th Battle Squadron was assigned to the Channel Fleet and based at Portland. Their first task was to escort the British Expeditionary Force across the English Channel. A number of experimental paint schemes were tried during the first month of the war but these were quickly abandoned in favour of battleship grey.

It was briefly planned to deploy the squadron to replace the ships lost during the Action of 22 September 1914 but the orders to transfer to the Medway were rescinded.

The squadron transferred to Sheerness on 14 November 1914 to guard against a possible German invasion. While there HMS London was present when HMS Bulwark exploded and London’s crew joined in the attempts to rescue survivors. The enquiry into the explosion was carried out aboard HMS London. The squadron returned to Portland on 30 December 1914.

On 19 March 1915, London was transferred to the Dardanelles for service in the Dardanelles Campaign. She joined the British Dardanelles Squadron at Lemnos on 23 March 1915, and supported the main landings at Gaba Tepe and Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.

London, along with battleships HMS Implacable, HMS Queen, and HMS Prince of Wales, was transferred to the 2nd Detached Squadron, organised to reinforce the Italian Navy in the Adriatic Sea when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. She was based at Taranto, Italy, and underwent a refit at Gibraltar in October 1915 during her Adriatic service.

In October 1916, London returned to the United Kingdom, paid off at Devonport Dockyard to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels, and was laid up. While inactive, she underwent a refit in 1916–1917.

In February 1918, London moved to Rosyth and began conversion to a minelayer. The conversion included removal of all four of her 12-inch guns and her antitorpedo nets, replacement of her after main-battery turret with a 6-inch (152-mm) gun, and installation of minelaying equipment on her quarterdeck, including rails for 240 mines, and of a canvas screen to conceal the entire quarterdeck from external view. The conversion was completed in April 1918, and on 18 May 1918 London recommissioned at Rosyth for service in the Grand Fleet’s 1st Minelaying Squadron. Before the war ended on 11 November 1918, London had laid 2,640 mines in the Northern Mine Barrage.

In January 1919, London was reduced to reserve at Devonport as a depot ship. As part of a post-war fleet organisation, she was assigned to the 3rd Fleet there. London was placed on the disposal list at Devonport in January 1920, and on the sale list on 31 March 1920. She was sold for scrapping to Stanlee Shipbreaking Company on 4 June 1920. She was resold to Slough Trading Company, then again resold to a German firm. She was towed to Germany for scrapping in April 1922.

The Battle March of Delhi Sheet Music

In the nineteenth century it was very common to commemorate major victories in battle with pieces of music. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was no exception and in 1857 after the British had successfully recaptured Delhi from the mutineers a march in honour of this accomplishment was written by John Pridham, a school teacher from Taunton. The piece of music was published with a wonderfully engraved cover depicting the triumphant entry into Delhi by the British commander, General Wilson:SKM_C284e18053008222The general sits astride his horse, with troops surrounding him, the flag of the United Kingdom prominent in the centre of the image and the oriental towers of Delhi hidden in the smoke behind. The image is both romanticised and triumphant and would have appealed the nineteenth century British mind-set. It is hard to date this exact piece of sheet music, as the music was republished several times over the latter half of the nineteenth century. I suspect my copy dates from one of the later print runs, but I cannot find any date of printing on the work at all.

Jeffrey Richards in his book ‘Imperialism and Music: Britain 1876-1953’ provides this description of the piece of music:

The descriptive fantasia for piano of a battle or other military event became a stock item of the nineteenth-century musical repertoire. John Pridham’s zestful piano fantasia The Battle march of Delhi (1857), a military divertimento ‘descriptive of the triumphant entry into Delhi’, boasted a sheet music cover picture of the victorious general entering the Indian capital with kilted Scots troops. Each separate element of the scene is signalled in the score. It opens with the clock of the Palace of the Great Mogul striking four, and then a gentle pastoral interlude to suggest the break of day. This is interrupted by the rumble of distant drums- a repeated low-toned trill- and then a return to the pastoral theme broken by the morning bugle call. The rumbling notes of the drums indicates the mutineers in possession of Delhi, and an Indian air which sounds more like an English country dance than an Oriental melody.  SKM_C284e18053008230Then a bass drum, and trumpet call, and ‘the Mutineers are alarmed at the approach of the British cavalry’- jaunty, jogging, horse riding music. The spirited cavalry march culminates in ‘General Wilson’s arrival at the Cashmere Gate’: drums, gunfire from the mutineers, trumpet call for troops to form order of battle (‘General Wilson orders an immediate attack’) and there is a charge in musical form, the rumble of cannon and mortar, and the flight of the mutineers: musical notes indicate ‘Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, they fly’, and then there are successive passages from “Smile on in Hope”, “Old England” and the trumpets leading to “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” (marked ‘majestic’) and, after more trumpets, “The Campbells are Coming”. Vividly, stirringly and economically, it told in musical form the story of the capture of Delhi. It was originally issued in 1857, re-issued in 1858, 1859, 1880, 1902 and 1904, and was still current in the 1940s as a veritable old war-horse of the parlour piano repertoire.Capture_of_Delhi,_1857I do not suppose that this piece of sheet music is particularly rare considering the number of reprints it went through, but it is an attractive and interesting little addition to my collection and only cost me a pound.

1867 Envelope to a Captain in India

On this blog we occasionally step back before the First World War, however items do not come along as frequently as more modern objects and are frequently out of my budget. Tonight though we have a delightful little envelope from 150 years ago that came off eBay for just 99p. It still astonishes me that something so old and interesting can go for so little money, however I am not going to complain and it is of course great to have something like this in the collection and available to share with you.

This envelope is addressed to Captain George Conaught (I think) of the 35th Native Infantry at Saugor:imageThe 35th Native Infantry, I believe, refers to the 35th Bengal Native infantry, who had been reformed after being disbanded during the Indian Mutiny. Saugor is today called Sagar and is in Madhyar Pradesh in Central India. Saugor was a military cantonment at this period and had both British and Indian regiments stationed at it. Captain Conaught would have been one of the English officers in the employ of the Indian Army. Interestingly a receipt of some sort has been written on one end of the envelope:imageQuite what this was for is unclear, especially as I struggle with Victorian handwriting, but the sum of 79/9/6 whether in rupees or pounds, was not an insignificant one at this period!

The envelope has a stamp affixed to one corner indicating it was sent from Calcutta in April 1867 and the postage paid was 2 annas:imageThere were internal postal systems within Indian states and longer distance mail was under the control of the British Raj. Delivering the post in India was not without its hazards:

With the exception of such parts as may be infested by tigers, the post seldom or never fails of arriving within an hour of its appointed time, except, as has been observed, when the waters are out. In this case, many circuitous roads must be followed, whereby the way is considerably lengthened. Taking the average, a hundred miles per day may be run over by the dawk, or post, in fair weather. Each mail-bag is conveyed by an hurkaru (or runner) who is attended by one or two doogy-wallahs, or drummers, who keep up a kind of long-roll, as they pass any suspicious place

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.

HMS Adventure Rating Studio Portrait

This week we have a cabinet card depicting a sailor and a young lady dating from the Edwardian era:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (3)The sailor is wearing traditional rating’s uniform:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (3) - CopyHowever of most interest to us is his cap tally which reads ‘HMS Adventure’:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (4) - CopyHMS Adventure was the lead ship of the Adventure class of two scout cruisers. She displaced 2,670 tons and was armed with ten quick firing 12 pounder guns:HMS_Adventure_(1904)The ship was launched in 1905 meaning the photograph can be no earlier than this. The lady’s fashion however was popular in the first half of King Edward’s reign:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5) - CopyThis suggests the photograph was taken in 1905 or 1906, right at the start of the ship’s service. Note also the dog by the sitters’ feet.

The photograph is what is known as a ‘cabinet card’ these replaced the earlier ‘carte de visite’ and consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a piece of heavy cardstock, usually measuring 4 ¼” x 6 ½”. This style of photograph was introduced in the 1860s but really became popular from the 1870s onwards as people appreciated the larger size of the image. Early images were in sepia, but by the time our photograph was taken black and white was more common. By the start of the twentieth century the format was declining in popularity as people favoured either larger images they could have framed for their walls, or smaller un-mounted photographs they could paste into an album. The style did not lend itself to work outside of a photographer’s studio and the growing desire for outdoor photographs or more naturalistic poses and settings all aided in its decline. This particular image was taken in a photographer’s studio in Pudsey, near Leeds:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6) - CopyThis style of cabinet card soldiered on into the 1930s but by that point its heyday was long gone.

Happily for us, the thick card stock the photographs were pasted to makes these images very robust so they survive in good condition down to the present day, most remaining images being formal studio portraits like this example.

Victorian Family Portrait

This week’s photograph is a delightful family group from the late nineteenth century:SKM_C284e18032911530The patriarch of this family sits front and centre:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (3)Surrounded by his daughters and sons, two of whom are serving their queen. The soldier on the left is wearing Highland dress and under magnification it can be seen that his collar dogs are those of the Cameron Highlanders:SKM_C284e18032911530 - CopyThe other soldier seems to be a member of the Army Service Corps with that corps’ distinctive dark blue uniform faced in white:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (2)For once we can get a fairly accurate date on this photograph from the ladies clothing. They wear a slender ‘leg of mutton’ sleeve on their dresses and this particular fashion choice was only really seen between 1893 and 1895:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (4)After this date the sleeves of fashionable ladies’ dresses grew larger and larger before the fashion disappeared altogether in about 1906. It is perhaps surprising that both these young men are serving as private soldiers at this date. The family are clearly reasonably well to do and there remained a stigma towards soldiers at this period of history. Soldiers were seen as drunks, illiterates and degenerates, it was not until the Boer War that attitudes started to change towards the common British Tommy. It was therefore often those on the lower rungs of society that joined the army and it was not unheard of for mothers to burst into tears at the shame their sons had brought upon the family by enlisting. Kipling perhaps expressed the late Victorian sentiment most accurately:Capture1