This week’s postcard is dated on the back 1913 and was sent from a Boy’s Brigade summer Camp in Grange over Sands. The image on the front though is clearly inspired by the summer camps operated by the Territorial Army before the Great War.The postcard is entitled ‘Camp Life, The Daily Post’ and has a cartoon of soldiers in khaki rushing to get their letters, with bell tents in the background. The Daily Mail in 1909 recorded the summer camp for London Territorials:
There was a great exodus of Volunteers from London on Saturday for the annual camp training.
Most of the London corps are being gathered in camps on the South Coast, and a very large proportion of them in Sussex, where for the time they come under the direction of General Lord Methuen, a large portion of whose regular troops of the Eastern command are already gathered for manœuvres in the country.
The Sussex camps for the London Volunteers have been formed at Brighton, Seaford, Worthing, Bexhill and Newhaven; while in Kent there are an extensive camp for London men at Shorncliffe and smaller ones at Sheerness, Lydd, and near Canterbury. In Hampshire a very large body of metropolitan Volunteers have gathered in camp in the New Forest, become in recent years an increasingly popular training ground; and Essex has London corps at Shoeburryness, Harwich, Clacton and Frinton.
In all the paper recorded that 25,000 men had left the capital for their annual training that August.
This week’s postcard is a lovely tinted image of a pair of Corporal Majors of the 1st Life Guards:Happily this card was posted, meaning we can date it easily, the post mark on the back indicating it was sent in September 1907:The Life Guards are photographed in their ceremonial dress, with polished breastplates over red tunics:Plumed helmets:White breeches and high black leather boots:And carrying swords:The rank of Corporal Major is unique to the Household Cavalry and is equivalent to a warrant officer rank. The ranks in the household cavalry are as follows:Non commissioned officers in the Household Cavalry do not wear badges of rank when in ceremonial dress, instead wearing a series of aiguellettes to indicate their rank:Very soon these elaborate dress uniforms were to be packed away as the regiment became one of the first to be sent to France at the outbreak of World War One, here we see the men in rather more sombre attire at Hyde Park Barracks as they prepare to leave:Soon after the declaration of war, one of the squadrons was detached to help form the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, which moved to France with 4th Cavalry Brigade and saw action at Mons and in the subsequent withdrawal to and beyond the Marne, the decisive battle of the Marne, and later at Ypres. The Composite Regiment was broken up on 11 November 1914, and the squadron rejoined the regiment, which was by now itself on the Western Front.
The main body crossed to Belgium, landing on 8 October 1914. Other than in the first two weeks when it was used in the traditional cavalry, for mobile reconnaissance, it fought most of the war as a dismounted force.
The regiment was heavily involved at the First Battle of Ypres (October – November 1914); Second Ypres (April-May 1915); Loos (September-October 1915) and Arras (April 1917). At other times, it took its turn in holding various sections of the front line trenches, and at other times prepared to exploit breakthroughs in battle, but opportunities rarely presented themselves.
Pre-WW1 Home Service uniforms are some of the most overlooked pieces of military history out there. They are fairly inexpensive, beautifully made, completely iconic and often available in stunning condition. Regular readers may recall we looked at a scarlet tunic from the Buffs here a few years back. Tonight we have another Home Service tunic to consider, but this time for the Army Service Corps:This uniform is virtually mint, has never been issued and is absolutely stunning! It is made of a heavy dark blue wool with white collars which when issued would have been fitted with a pair of brass collar dogs. Each cuff has a white cord Hungarian knot and two small brass general service buttons:The tunic is secured with brass buttons up its front and there is an elaborate set of buttons and white cord making up ‘false pockets’ on the tail of the tunic:Rather than shoulder straps, this tunic has two white cords on the shoulders:The tunic has a white woollen half lining, and unusually this has no mothing at all, looking as good as the day it was made:A ‘WD’ and /|\ stamp is marked inside the sleeve:The tunic retains its paper label on the inside, revealing it was manufactured in April 1914:These tunics were part of the pageantry of pre-WW1 British Army life, as seen in this postcard of the Army Service Corps where a private can be seen wearing the uniform, with two long service stripes on his sleeve, on the right:This cigarette card from Ogdens also shows an Army Service Corps private wearing the uniform with the spike home service helmet:This has to be one of the nicest tunics I have ever picked up and is a beautiful and historic addition to my collection. Compared to the combat uniforms of World War one, these pre-war uniforms are largely ignored by collectors and offer a very affordable way of adding something beautifully made and over a century old to the collection.
This week we have neither a postcard nor a photograph for you, but rather a late nineteenth century etching. This etching depicts two pieces of contemporary ordnance:The upper illustration is an Armstrong 12 pounder field gun:This gun was introduced in 1859 and the gun incorporated some advanced features for its day. It was one of the first breech-loaders: shell and gunpowder propellant were loaded through the gunner’s end of the barrel, rather than through the muzzle as in previous guns, allowing a higher rate of fire. The shells were coated with lead, which engaged spiral grooves cut inside the barrel (“rifling”) and caused the shell to spin rapidly in flight and hence imparted far greater accuracy and range than previous guns. The lead coating effectively sealed the gap between shell and barrel and eliminated the wastage of propellant gases, previously known as “windage”, and hence only half the amount of gunpowder propellant as previous was required.
The barrel was of wrought iron, “built up” of a tube with additional layers heated and then shrunk over it as they cooled. The result was a “pre-stressed” barrel: the interior of the barrel was under compression from the layers shrunk over it, so that the heat and pressure of firing did not stretch it. Hence the barrel was smaller and lighter than previous guns.The lower illustration is of an older and more conventional 32 pounder, unrifled gun and carriage:This is a much older principle and similar to the cannon used during the Napoleonic era. The carriage and weight of this gun indicate it was designed to be emplaced on a fortification rather than used in the field. It has however been updated form early designs by having cast iron wheels to the carriage rather than wooden ones:It is also worth noting that the gun fires shell rather than solid shot. This design of gun carried on in service for heavy weapons for longer than the lighter field pieces. Early breach loaders were not always very safe at the breach end with heavy charges- metallurgy at the time being limited. The heavier and more solid breach end of a muzzle loader was far safer for heavy charges. This illustration comes, I suspect, from a contemporary book or journal. I would like to get this one framed up at some point as it would look rather nice on the wall but my ‘framing pile’ seems to just get larger!
This week’s postcard takes us back to the Royal Navy in the Edwardian era with a very striking ‘oilette’ painting of HMS Diadem:HMS Diadem was the lead ship in her class of 11,000 ton protected cruisers, launched in 1896. She was a member of the last protected cruiser class built for the Royal Navy, the type being replaced by armoured cruisers. The ships were designed for trade protection and were supposed to be more economical than the preceding Powerful class of ships. The ships had an indicated horsepower of 16,500 provided by Belleville boilers giving the ships a reputation for good steaming, the four funnels clearly being seen in the postcard:The ships had a mixed armament that was considered too light even when they were introduced. The main armament was 16 single quick firing 6 inch guns in ‘double deck’ casemates, the most forward of which can be seen just behind the bow, the hull being cut back to allow forward fire:Although the design allowed large numbers of guns to fire in broadside, the guns on the lower deck were unusable in all but the calmest conditions. Other armaments included 14x 12 pounder QF guns, 3 x 3 pounder QF guns and 2 x 18 inch underwater torpedo tubes.
Like most ships of the late Victorian era, she has an open bridge, with large bridge wings either side of her charthouse:Diadem was to have a long, if fairly uneventful career. She served in the Easter Division of the Channel Squadron under the command of Captain H. S. F. Niblett, and was briefly docked at Chatham in January 1900 to make good defects.
In March 1901 Diadem was one of two cruisers to escort HMS Ophir, commissioned as royal yacht for the world tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York , from Spithead to Gibraltar, and in September the same year she again escorted the royal yacht from St Vincent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In January 1902 it was announced that she would be put out of commission due to “defects which will take some time to remedy”. She was paid off at Chatham on 11 February 1902, and in May transported to Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Glasgow for repairs to her hull and machinery.
The ship was reactivated and sent to China Station where Diadem became the flagship of the vice-admiral until 1907. The vessel then returned home and was paid off in April 1907. She was then assigned to the Home Fleet based at Portsmouth from 1907-1912 before transferring to the Third Fleet. The ship was refitted in 1909.
Diadem served in the First World War with her sisters. In 1914 the vessel was used as a stokers’ training ship, and was placed in reserve in October 1915. She was returned to being a stokers’ training ship in January 1918, and survived the war to be sold to Thos W Ward of Morecambe for breaking up on 9 May 1921.