Category Archives: Pre WW1

Victorian Artillery Etching

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!

Cut Down 6 pounder Blank Shell Casing

A few weeks back I looked at a Second World War blank 6 pounder shell casing. Tonight I have another 6 pounder casing used as a blank, but this one is much earlier, and although I cannot provide an exact date, my gut is suggesting it dates to before the Great War:The first thing to notice about this casing is how short it is. It was typical to cut down spent full size cartridges into shorter version to use for a blank round- the lower power needed less propellant so a shorter case would suffice. The rough edge is typical of these cut down blank rounds, the modifications being done at a unit level. The base of the casing has a profusion of markings:My thanks go to Jeremy Churchill for his help in interpreting the markings:I suspect that this cartridge was originally for a 6 pounder quick fire naval gun such as this one:These guns were obsolete by the end of World War One, but continued in use as saluting guns, for which a cut down blank cartridge such as mine would have been ideal.

Late Victorian Royal Artillery Whistle

Sometimes an object comes up that you just fall in love with, this happened to me yesterday when I was accosted on Huddersfield Market by a man asking if I collected military kit. Strangely this is not such as unusual occurrence as you might think! From his pocket he produced this whistle and I instantly knew I wanted it for my collection:fullsizerenderaThe whistle is made from tin sheet, silver soldered together with a pair of Queen Victoria crown Royal Artillery buttons making up the two sides of the main chamber:fullsizerenderbA triangular wire loop is soldered to the back of the whistle to allow it to be attached to a chain:fullsizerendercInside the main chamber is a (very) dried pea. A lip has also been soldered onto the mouth piece to give something to rest the teeth again to hold it steady if you can’t hold onto it:fullsizerenderdThis piece is clearly handmade rather than being factory produced, but the quality of the work is excellent and I wonder if it might have been a show piece by an army tradesman to show his skill at tin-smithing. I don’t have an exact date for the whistle, but with the Queen Victoria’s crown buttons I would guess it dates from the late Victorian period, possibly the 1890s. It is a delightful little piece and despite costing me more than I would normally pay for this sort of thing, I am absolutely smitten with the little whistle and it has to be one of my favourite purchases of the year!

HMS Diadem Postcard

This week’s postcard takes us back to the Royal Navy in the Edwardian era with a very striking ‘oilette’ painting of HMS Diadem:skmbt_c36416120208081_0001-copy-4HMS 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:skmbt_c36416120208081_0001-copyThe 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:skmbt_c36416120208081_0001-copy-2Although 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:skmbt_c36416120208081_0001-copy-3Diadem 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.

Life Guards Trumpeter Postcard

Happy New Year and a warm welcome to 2017 to all our readers old and new. As today is a Sunday we have our obligatory Sunday postcard to look at and tonight we have another fine image from Tuck’s series of oilette postcards of military subjects. This one depicts a trumpeter of the 2nd Lifeguards in state ceremonial wear:


The date of the postcard can be determined by the style of Royal Cypher, here for Edward VII:skmbt_c36416070110020_0001-copy-2This dates this particular card to between 1902 and 1911. In his hand he carries a silver state trumpet.skmbt_c36416070110020_0001-copy-3These instruments are pitched to ‘E Flat’ and as they are valveless there is a limited range of notes they can play- making the work of composers difficult when coming up with new fanfares! The style of uniform dates back to Stuart times, when the Household Cavalry was raised by Charles II in 1660. The only major change was in the late eighteenth century when cocked hats were introduced, but the traditional jockey cap was reinstated in the nineteenth century and remains with us to the present day:skmbt_c36416070110020_0001-copy-4Today the state trumpeters form part of The Band of the Household Cavalry, the only mounted band left in the British Army, following the amalgamation of the Band of the Life Guards and The Band of the Blues and Royals in September 2014. The Household Divisions website explains:

The Band continues the tradition of playing as a mounted band at occasions such as the Queen’s Birthday Parade, State Visits, Beating Retreat and the Lord Mayor’s Show. On occasions when a member of the Royal Family is present, or when they are in attendance on the Lord Mayor of London, the trumpeters and musicians wear state dress, comprising a gold state coat with the royal cipher at the front and rear, with a blue ‘jockey’ cap.

Diamond Jubilee Victorian Soldier Postcard

This week’s postcard is a particularly early example, dating from the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and depicts a young soldier:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001This style of commemorative postcard was very popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, indeed I have another one from Dublin in 1916. The photographers studio developed teh portrait onto a preexisting design the sitter could chose from. The design around this soldier is clearly very patriotic with a large Royal crown and cypher:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copyRoyal Coats of arms:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-2And standards:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-3The soldier himself is dressed in a typical uniform of the period:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-4With a pill box hat:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-5Elaborate lace frogging to the tunic:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-6White facings to the collar:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-7And a white sash:skmbt_c36416111509090_0001-copy-8The white facings and the frogging on his chest indicate that this soldier was a member of the 13th Hussars- the frogging would have been yellow but early photographic techniques mean it appears as being black. The regiment had been raised in 1715 and fought in the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean and Great War before being amalgamated with the 18th Royal Hussars in 1922 to form the 13th/18th Royal Hussars. The following potted regimental history comes fomr the National Army Museum’s website:

On 23 July 1715, less than a year into his reign as king of Great Britain, King George I authorised 11 noblemen to form dragoon regiments. One of these regiments was Richard Munden’s Regiment of Dragoons, named after its founder, who had command experience from the War of the Spanish Succession 11 years earlier.

The new unit saw its first action on 12 November 1715 against a Jacobite roadblock in Lancaster during the Battle of Preston. It was given the numeral 13 in 1751 and by the end of the 18th century it had become a light dragoon regiment, fighting the forces of Napoleonic France at Albuera, Vittoria and Waterloo.

It then took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea in 1854 – its personnel there included Lance-Sergeant Joseph Malone, who won the Victoria Cross for his actions, and Troop Sergeant Edwin Hughes, who became the oldest survivor of the Charge, dying in 1927. Its Crimean engagements also included Inkerman and Sevastopol.

Soon afterwards, in 1861, it was renamed the 13th Hussars. It then served in India, where it was the first regiment ever joined by Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement and later its regimental colonel.

Later it served in the Boer War and on the Western and Mesopotamian fronts in World War One – at Sharqat it made a mounted charge and then a dismounted one, less than a month before the Armistice. In 1922 it merged with the 18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) to form the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own).13h7

The Buffs Collar Dogs

You may remember that last year I picked up a 1913 pattern home service tunic (here). It had seen post war use and as well as replacing the buttons with brass General Service buttons, I have been keeping an eye out for a pair of collar dogs to finish it off. As the jacket has buff facing, it was the ‘Buffs’ or Royal East Kent Regiment collar dogs I needed. I was therefore very pleased to find a matching pair that had apparently been found in a Birmingham factory as unissued ‘new old stock’ after it had closed down.imageThe collar dogs are a mirror pair of pressed brass dragons, with the regimental name on a scroll beneath:The design of these badges is the same as the regiment’s cap badges, but with a dragon facing the left as well as the right so that when worn on the collar they face each other. The dragon is believed to have been adopted in commemoration of Elizabeth 1st who was supposed to have founded the regiment in 1572- the dragon was one of the supporters of her coat of arms. The use of the buff facings and the name ‘The Buffs’ were standardised by a Royal Warrant of 1751. The buff colour and dragon badge had been dropped in the 1881 army reforms, but the colour of the facings was restored to the regiment in 1887 after the standard white infantry facings had proved unpopular; the dragon badge was readopted in 1894. The back of the badges have two loops on each, which pass through the material to be secured by a split pin on the rear:imageThe badges were worn on the 1913 pattern uniform on the collar, a half inch from the edge:imageI am very pleased to have found this last piece of the puzzle and my uniform is now looking far more complete than when I first bought it.