Category Archives: Pre WW1

4th West Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers Spoon

Over the last few years we have looked at a number of items of cutlery with a military connection, whilst it is normally easy to identify a unit dating can prove trickier. Most military units were long lasting and this makes it difficult to pin down a date. Tonight however we have a marked spoon that is a little easier to date:imageThe back of the spoon indicates it is made of electro-plated nickel-silver (EPNS):imageMost importantly though, this spoon is marked ‘4th W.Y.A.V.’ on the handle:imageThis stands for the 4th West Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers. This dates the spoon to before 1907, when units stopped being referred to as ‘volunteers’ and became part of the territorials. The various volunteer artillery units in Yorkshire have a convoluted history:

In 1860, as the British government feared invasion from the continent, the Secretary at War recommended the formation of Volunteer Artillery Corps to bolster Britain’s coastal defences. The following Corps were raised prior to 1880:

  • 1st Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteer Corps raised at Leeds on 2 August 1860
  • 2nd Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteer Corps formed at Bradford on 10 October 1860
  • 3rd Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteer Corps formed at York on 9 February 1861 4th Corps formed at Sheffield on 6 February 1861
  • 5th Corps formed by 1864, but disappeared from the Army List in November 1874
  • 6th Corps formed at Heckmondwike by June 1867 (from members of the 2nd Corps)
  • 7th Corps formed at Batley on 2 October 1866 (disbanded in August 1877)
  • 8th Corps formed at Halifax on 19 May 1871

They began as Coastal Artillery with 32 pounder guns. In 1868 the 5th Corps won the Queen’s Prize at the annual National Artillery Association competition held at Shoeburyness. The following year the 7th Corps won the competition, with the 4th Corps winning it in 1872. By 1871, the 1st had grown to eight batteries and the 2nd had become the 1st Admin Brigade, Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteers, containing five Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteer Corps, numbered the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th. By 1880, a number of these Corps had been disbanded or absorbed and the batteries were distributed as follows:

  • Numbers 1 to 4 at Bradford
  • Numbers 5 and 6 at Heckmondwike
  • Numbers 7 and 8 at Halifax

Various reforms from 1889 resulted all the corps being classed as ‘Position Artillery’ and armed with 40 pounder RBL guns. In 1892 the Corps were organised as part of the Western Division Royal Artillery and were titled 1st, 2nd and 4th West Riding of Yorkshire Volunteer Artillery, with headquarters at Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield respectively.

After 1902, they became the 1st, 2nd and 4th West Riding of Yorkshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers) and were re-equipped with 4.7-inch QF Guns drawn by steam tractors.

In 1903 the 4th West Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers were the subject of questions in the House of Commons about their ability to work with cavalry as well as infantry formations:

  1. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

To ask the Secretary of State for War under what circumstances orders have recently been issued by the Adjutant General to the 4th West Yorkshire Artillery (Volunteers) that no greater mobility than that of infantry shall be required of them, and that not more than two horses per gun shall be employed during their annual training; and whether, in view of the fact that this corps consists of four batteries equipped with field guns, and has been efficiently trained for many years past as field artillery, he will have the orders in question rescinded and give the necessary financial assistance to enable the corps to be properly horsed during its annual training.

(Answered by Mr. Secretary Brodrick.) The Commander-in-Chief holds that all Artillery Volunteers, whatever armament they may now be in possession of, are not to be trained to manœuvre with cavalry, but that it will be sufficient for them to move at the same pace as infantry. As regards the allusion to the employment of two horses per gun, no such instruction has been issued.


Training Ship Fork

Tonight we have a delightful little fork, dating back to the Victorian era:imageThis fork has a large naval crest engraved into the end of the handle:imageThis has the angular crown of Queen Victoria and the letters ‘TS’ around an anchor. Note also the small /|\ mark indicating military ownership. Unusually this is stamped into the front of the handle rather than the rear. The fork itself is made of Electro Plated Nickel Silver (EPNS) as indicated by the initials on the back:imageQuite what the ‘TS’ stands for is unclear, but the most likely explanation is that it indicates the fork came from a ‘Training Ship’. Due to the quality of the engraving I would imagine that this fork was used by the officers instructing on the ship, rather than by the cadets themselves. Training ships were old warships that were used to train cadets and boy sailors in basic seamanship skills needed before sending them out to join the fleet. Two types of training ship were used, some were still operational ships and would go to sea to provide practical training in real life conditions. Others were older ships that were permanently moored in harbours and acted as floating classrooms, often extremely old sailing ships were used for this purpose.

The Royal Navy’s own first training ship was HMS Implacable at Plymouth in 1855 followed by HMS Illustrious at Portsmouth. They aimed to give a training in naval life, skills, and discipline to teenage boys (or ‘lads’ as they invariably called) and, of course, provide a ready source of recruits for Her Majesty’s ships.

Boys typically joined the ships at the age of eleven or twelve and stayed until they were fifteen or sixteen. Discipline aboard the ships was strict and the birch often used to enforce it. Food was limited in quantity and variety — biscuit, potatoes, and meat were the staples, with occasional green vegetables. Many of the new boys could not swim and needed to be taught — unfortunately some drowned before they mastered the skill! Sleeping accommodation was usually in hammocks, which could be comfortable in the summer but icy-cold in winter. As well as learning nautical skills, boys on training ships were often taught other useful crafts such as tailoring, shoemaking or carpentry.

Training ships were often used to educate boys taken in by the workhouse and give them a trade. A 1904 report extolled their virtues:

The Poor Law authorities, who directly and indirectly encourage and support a training ship like the Exmouth are performing a great national service. The question which next arises is whether from the point of view of the boys themselves the Guardians are not doing the best that can be done for them in sending them to the Exmouth.

In the first place the life is a healthy one for the boys, their physical development is carefully attended to, their education from an intellectual point of view is adequate, and they receive at the age at which they can most readily profit by it that technical training which at any rate as far as the sea is concerned, can only be properly acquired at an early age. More than all, the so-called stigma of pauperism is removed, and the boys are sent out into the world with a profession of national utility and under the aegis of the name of their training ship, and, when the training ship has an established position, it is an enormous advantage to a boy in after-life, to be able to claim association with it.

The advantages of the Navy as a career can hardly be over-estimated. Quite apart from the great traditions of the service and the universal respect which the uniform inspires, there is the substantial fact that a boy who goes from the Exmouth into a naval training ship can at the age of 40 secure a pension of over £50 for life. What is more, there are few, if any, recorded instances of a blue-jacket receiving relief from the poor law.

In the Merchant Service the career is not quite so satisfactory, but a boy once launched into any of the first-class lines has only to do his work well and his worldly success is assured.

HMS Implacable was still being used as a training ship into the Second World War when this photograph was taken:large_000000

Royal Artillery Territorial Army Officer in Camp Postcard

This week’s postcard is a delightful image from before the First world war depicting an officer with a party of ladies at a summer camp:SKM_C284e17110814270The officer is wearing the 1902 pattern Officer’s Service Dress with a high rise and fall collar, with the flaming bomb collar dogs of the Royal Artillery:SKM_C284e17110814270 - Copy (2)The cap badge is again that of the Royal Artillery and he has the pips on his cuffs for a lieutenant.

Behind him can be seen a number of white canvas bell-tents:SKM_C284e17110814270 - Copy (4)The officer is surrounded by a large number of ladies and young girls, presumably his mother, sisters and aunts. They are wearing typical dresses for the Edwardian era and are clearly fairly wealthy by the high quality and fashionable nature of their clothing:SKM_C284e17110814270 - Copy (5)It was quite common for pre-World War One summer camps to have an open afternoon when the friends and families of the soldiers and officers would visit and be shown what the men were doing. This tradition continued after the war, as reported by the Daily Mail in 1928:

Friends Day in Camp

It was “Friends Day” at the big Territorial Army training camps yesterday, and in most cases fine weather succeeded Saturday’s downpour.

Thousands of wives and mothers inspected with interest the cooking arrangements made for their menfolk, while sons and brothers watched the sports and examined the weapons of the various arms of the Service.

It is interesting that the paper assumes the women were only interested in the cooking facilities and the men in the sports and weapons!

HMS Theseus Sailor and Family Photograph

This week’s photograph is a delightful family grouping including a naval rating:SKM_C45817091209230 - CopyThis photograph was taken at the very end of the nineteenth century and the women are wearing particularly fashionable dresses that first come into vogue about 1895. They are clearly a family of means and they would seem to be a middle class or at least upper working class group. The sailor has a cap tally for HMS Theseus:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - CopyThis enables us to date the photograph to after 1896 when this cruiser was commissioned. It is highly likely that the subject of this photograph was on board the ship when it was involved in a punitive expedition to Benin in a now forgotten colonial spat.

The Punitive Expedition to Benin lasted nine days and was to see the end of the Benin Empire and the burning to the ground of Benin City. The origins of the expedition are complex, but came down to a number of factors:

  • A trade embargo imposed by Benin on the lucrative supply of palm oil.
  • An increased military presence by Benin on her borders.
  • The rulers of Benin had a reputation for treating slaves harshly and displaying large quantities of human remains in public. This gave a moral ‘justification’ for any campaign.

The trigger point for the Benin Expedition came after a British column, ostensibly on a trade mission, were ambushed and massacred leaving just two officers alive. In response to this a punitive expedition was sent to the country under the command of Rear Admiral Harry Rawson. The force consisted of a naval element of which HMS Theseus was a part and the country was soon subdued. The crew suffered badly from malaria whilst on campaign and when HMS Theseus was refitted in Chatham later that year the opportunity was taken to disinfect the ship thoroughly. It is certainly tempting to imagine the sailor in our photograph as part of this expedition.

Also of note in this photograph is the small boy sitting in the foreground:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - Copy (2)He is dressed in a miniature replica of the sailor’s suit, complete with collar and cap. This style was particularly popular for children of the middleclass at the end of the nineteenth century, illustrating the pride the country felt for its navy and the self-confidence of the later Victorian in his nation, Empire and military- it would also likely to have been even more popular if a family member was in the Royal Navy.

Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Postcard

This week’s postcard is a fine colour study of three Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from just before the Great War: SKM_C284e17103010000The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had been formed in 1881 by the merging of the 91st (Argyllshire Highlanders) and 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) regiments. This regiment would go on to have an illustrious career until finally being merged with other regiments to create the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. The regiment though had expanded to fifteen battalions during the Great War and nine during the Second World War.

In this postcard the highlanders are wearing the full dress uniform in use before World War one. Each wears a kilt of Government Sett (Government No 2A) tartan: SKM_C284e17103010000 - CopyNote also the bayonet in the white leather frog. The men wear a Scottish style regimental doublet in scarlet with yellow facings: SKM_C284e17103010000 - Copy (2)Again it is worth noting the white leather ammunition pouches being worn on the waist. Their feather bonnets are in black, with a red and white diced band and a white plume: SKM_C284e17103010000 - Copy (3)The other rank’s sporran is made of black horsehair with six white tails, known as the ‘swinging six’: SKM_C284e17103010000 - Copy (4)White spats are worn with red and white diced hose:SKM_C284e17103010000 - Copy (5) All the men appear to be carrying Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles, indicating the postcard dates from no earlier than 1903: SKM_C284e17103010000 - Copy (6)This postcard was manufactured by Valentines and very brief information on the regiment is printed on the back: SKM_C284e17103010001It is clear from the style of the postcard, they were trying to emulate the hugely successful ‘oilette’ postcards from Tuck.

Pre-war home service dress uniforms are always very impressive, and Highland regiments doubly so. It is easy to see why so many mourned their loss in the wake of the Great War, practicalities though would have to triumph over aesthetics.


Pre-WW1 Officer and Motorcycle Photograph

This week’s photograph is unusual in having a date attached to it; this rather fine photograph of an officer and his motorcycle dates to June 18th 1914 just before the outbreak of war:SKM_C45817083008150 - CopyThe officer is stood at the top of an embankment:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy - CopyNote the white band on his arm indicating he is probably taking part in a military exercise. At the foot of the bank is his motorcycle and sidecar:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy - Copy (2)Motorbikes were very popular with young men before the war. Although still expensive, they were far more affordable to a man of reasonable means than contemporary automobiles. When war was declared the military took advantage of this pool of trained motorcyclists and encouraged them to enlist as dispatch riders, the bikes being far quicker than going on foot or by horse and much more manoeuvrable than a car.

One motorcyclist recalled how he enlisted:

Early in the morning I started for London to join them, but on the way up I read the paragraph in which the War Office appealed for motorcyclists. So I went straight to Scotland Yard. There I was taken to a large room full of benches crammed with all sorts and conditions of men. The old fellow on my right was a sign writer. On my left was a racing motorcyclist… The racing motorcyclist and I were passed one after another, and, receiving warrants we travelled down to Fulham. Our names, addresses, and qualifications were written down. To my overwhelming joy I was marked as “very suitable”. I went to Great Portland Street to buy a motorcycle, and returned home.

He was destined to spend the war as a dispatch rider, and despite the dangers was probably luckier than if he had been in the infantry.

HMS Warrior Postcard

Today we are familiar with the 1860s HMS Warrior, moored up as a museum ship in Portsmouth Harbour. However after this ship was decommissioned another vessel bore the same name and this cruiser was to take part, and be fatally hit, in the Battle of Jutland. This week’s postcard is a fine image of this cruiser:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (2)The ship displaced just over 13,500 tons and was laid down at Pembroke Dock in 1903, being launched in 1905. The ship had a length of 505 feet and was powered by four cylinder, triple expansion steam engines which gave her a maximum speed of 23.3 knots. These engines were powered by 19 Yarrow water tube boilers and six cylindrical boilers, venting out through four central funnels:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (6) - CopyThe ship was armed with six breach loading 9.2 inch Mk X guns, one on the centreline forrard:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (2) - CopyOne on the centreline aft:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (3) - CopyAnd four on the corners about the funnels:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (4) - CopyHer secondary armament was four 7.5 inch guns in turrets, between the four centrally mounted 9.2 inch guns, two per side:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (5) - CopyThe weight of this armament made the ships of this class very stable for gunnery purposes. As with other ships of her era, the deck of Warrior is fairly sparse, with an open bridge to conn the ship from:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (7) - CopyBoats are carried amid-ships:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (8) - CopyWith a derrick on the rear mast to move them if required:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (9) - CopyNote the spars for the anti-torpedo netting along the side of the hull:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (10) - CopyThe back of this card reveals it was sent by one of the ship’s crew from Invergordon- then a major naval anchorage:SKM_C45817091209240 - CopyWarrior was ordered as part of the 1903–04 naval construction programme as the first of four armoured cruisers. She was laid down on 5 November 1903 at Pembroke Dockyard, launched on 25 November 1905 and completed on 12 December 1906. On completion, Warrior was assigned to the 5th Cruiser Squadron in the Channel Fleet until 1909, when she was transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. On 15 September 1909 one of Warrior‘s boiler tubes failed during firing practice, and she was repaired at Devonport Dockyard. In 1913 the ship was transferred to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. She was involved in the pursuit of the German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau at the outbreak of World War I, but was ordered not to engage them. Warrior participated in the Allied sweep which led to the sinking of the Austro-Hungarian light cruiser SMS Zenta during the Battle of Antivari in August 1914. A few days later she was ordered to Suez to defend the Suez Canal against any Turkish attack and remained there until 6 November when she was ordered to Gibraltar to join a squadron of French and British ship to search for German warships still at sea off the African coast. This was cancelled on 19 November after the location of the German East Asia Squadron was revealed by survivors of the Battle of Coronel.

Warrior joined the Grand Fleet in December 1914 and was assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot. At the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, the 1st Cruiser Squadron was in front of the Grand Fleet, on the right side. At 5:47 p.m., the squadron flagship, HMS Defence, and Warrior spotted the German II Scouting Group and opened fire. Their shells felt short and the two ships turned to port in pursuit, cutting in front of the battlecruiser HMS Lion, which was forced to turn away to avoid a collision. Shortly afterwards they spotted the disabled German light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden and closed to engage. When the two ships reached a range of 5,500 yards (5,000 m) from Wiesbaden they were spotted in turn at 6:05 by the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger and four battleships who were less than 8,000 yards (7,300 m) away. The fire from the German ships was heavy and Defence blew up at 6:20. Warrior was hit by at least fifteen 28-centimetre (11 in) and six 15-centimetre (5.9 in) shells, but was saved when the German ships switched their fire to the battleship HMS Warspite when its steering jammed and caused Warspite to make two complete circles within sight of much of the High Seas Fleet.

Warrior was heavily damaged by the German shells, which caused large fires and heavy flooding, although the engine room crew – of whom only three survived – kept the engines running for long enough to allow her to withdraw to the west. She was taken in tow by the seaplane tender HMS Engadine who took off her surviving crew of 743. She was abandoned in a rising sea at 8:25 a.m. on 1 June when her upper deck was only 4 feet (1.2 m) above the water, and subsequently foundered.