Category Archives: Pre WW1

Sailors Sleeping Around a Gun Postcard

This week we have an Edwardian picture card of Royal Navy sailors sleeping around a warships gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2)This is clearly a posed photograph, but does depict a common event when action was expected, by sleeping next to the gun, a crew could be on hand to fire the weapon within seconds if an enemy ship came into sight.

The gun itself seems to be a small quick firing model, mounted on the waist of the warship:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyThis suggests it is the secondary armament of the ship and was of the light type of weaponry designed to protect a ship from attack by small, fast craft such as torpedo boats. These weapons were designed to fire rapidly and blow these lightly armed attack vessels out of the water before they came close enough to launch torpedoes that could damage or sink the larger ship.

The men are depicted sleeping on the deck covered simply in a blanket each to protect them from the chill of the night:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyAnother sailor stands next to the gun awake and alert. It seems likely that he is representing the member of the gun crew who would remain awake in order to rouse his shipmates if needed:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (5) - CopyA selection of shells sits on the deck next to the gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2) - CopyAgain these seem to be posed, in reality they would be safely stowed in a ready use locker, far safer than being loose to roll around the deck or be detonated by enemy fire.

Although obviously posed, this is a fascinating and atmospheric image, with a great view of the working parts of the quick firing gun’s breach and elevating gear.

Postcard of HMT Rewa

This week’s postcard is a fine pre-World War One study of a troop ship, the HMT Rewa:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (3)HM Troopship Rewa was built by William Denny for the British India Steam Navigation Company, and launched in 1905, completed 1906. This postcard was sent in 1908 by a soldier setting off on board her for India. The postcard is franked on 16th December 1908 in Southampton, presumably just before she set sail:skm_c30819010312450The sender has written

This is the troopship Rewa which is taking us to India

In the days before telephones and instant communications, postcards were a quick and cheap way of sending short messages. This card, posted in Southampton on the 16th at 10pm could well have been delivered to the address in Nottingham the next day.

The ship, named after a region of India, was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and pressed into service as a hospital ship. She served in this role for a number of years until she was sunk by a German torpedo in the Bristol Channel in January 1918. The Daily Mail printed a letter from a Stoker on board the Rewa indicating the gallant rescue of the ship’s crew and patients:

Sir- At the request of several naval patients form the hospital ship Rewa, torpedoed and sunk in the Bristol Channel about midnight on January 4, I am writing this letter so that our thanks may reach the fleet surgeon and all the surgeons who acted in such a gallant manner towards the helpless.

As regards L lifeboat, we had a very eventful and serious experience. The lifeboat, which contained the black crew and also patients, had been lowered halfway to the water, when the after-fall jammed. The forward fall was let go, and the lifeboat swung upright, with her fore half under water and the after end hanging in the air.

The petty officer- himself a patient- who in boat drill was to take charge of the boat in the event of a disaster, climbed up on board Rewa, we think to clear the after-fall as the boat did not lower. I asked for a chopper, and, thank heaven, one of the coloured men found it. You can understand the awkward position when trying to chop three parts of rope. Being lowered with a bang, the lifeboat, which was already submerged forward, became three-parts filled. We saw no more of the petty officer and an army officer in the boat asked me to take charge and coxswain the boat.

One of the coloured men lost the tops of three fingers. Nobody else was hurt, though everybody was wet. Three patients were hard at work bailing the boat while we got along with four oars. I should like to thank the three Army officers and all the rest of the men, black and white, for carrying out the orders under trying circumstances. There are four men in particular I should like to shake hands with again, and one is a nigger [in the parlance of the time].

I think that during all this excitement I forgot I had a fractured knee till I was taken out of the boat after reaching the trawler three hours afterwards

JOSPEH HEWSON, Stoker

The sinking could have been far worse and in the end just two men died. The ship sits today on the seabed, sadly now collapsed in on itself.10568898_442692619204656_4614221515875929475_n10494569_442692645871320_4758843788378380908_n10383898_442692562537995_225179446605090653_n

‘1871 Pattern’ Rifle Sling

1871 saw a new pattern of buff leather rifle sling introduced alongside the new 1971 Pattern Valise Equipment and this pattern and minor variations of it were to remain in service until the 1960s. Originally used for combat, by the twentieth century it had been relegated to ceremonial use and in this form was to remain in use until the demise of the No4 rifle. The 1871 pattern rifle sling is made from buff leather and measured 42 inches in length:imageThe sling has been pipeclayed White, the remaining pipe clay now rather fragile and liable to come off as dust in your hands if you manipulate the sling too much. Two pairs of holes are punched through the leather at one end to allow the sling to be secured around the rear sling swivel of a rifle:imageSadly the leather thong that was used to secure this is missing on my sling and so I have substituted a piece of string until I can find some leather strapping of the correct type:imageAt the opposite end of the sling are a pair of leather beckets:imageThe end loop is sewn to the sling, whilst the other is loose and free to slide up and down:imageThe end of the sling is passed through the front sling swivel of the rifle, doubled back on itself and passed through the two loops:imageThe free end is now passed back along the rifle and secured with the leather thong (or sting in this case) as illustrated above. The sling can then be adjusted to take up the slack to present a smart parade ground finish:imageMy apologies for the Gahendra but I do not own a Martini Henry and this is the closest equivalent in my collection, it does however show the concept nicely.

The buff sling was retained long after the webbing rifle sling was introduced and was used for ceremonial parades such as the guards around Buckingham Palace right through until the SLR rifle was introduced when a white nylon sling was issued instead. Here a guardsman in the early 1950s can be seen to be using the buff sling with his No4 rifle in London:imageI don’t believe my sling is an original 1871 example as it is missing a third pair of holes for the leather securing thong, instead it was probably made up as part of a small batch for ceremonial duties in the twentieth century to broadly the 1871 pattern.

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.