Category Archives: Pre WW1

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.

Photograph of Lancashire Fusiliers Officers

This Sunday’s photograph is a rather lovely informal snap of a pair of junior officers, taken around the time of the outbreak of World War One:SKM_C45817083008150Both men are from the Lancashire Fusiliers, as can be seen from their cap badges:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (4)Whilst you cannot see the rank of the left-hand man, the chap on the right has the cuff rank of a lieutenant:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (5)Both are wearing officer’s service dress and the Sam Browne leather equipment set. The waterbottle of the left hand man is very obvious:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (6)A number of different water bottles were available for the officer to purchase, of varying prices, as seen in this period advertisement:imageThe man on the right has both sword:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (8)And a pistol ammunition pouch:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (7)Presumably he is also wearing a holster, but it is obscured by his arm. The officers seem to be on exercise, and their men can just be seen in the background between them:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (9)It is however the small boy muscling in on the picture on the left I particularly like:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (10)Assuming these officers are regulars and the photo is pre-WW1, they were part of the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers- the 1st Battalion being in Karachi at the time. The 2nd Battalion was sent to France and spent the war on the Western Front, in which case it is highly likely these officers were to see service in France.

1888/91 Pattern Slade Wallace Belt

In 1888 the British Army replaced its 1870 pattern Valise equipment with a new design that has been known through history as “Slade Wallace” equipment after its designers Colonel Slade and Major Wallace. As can be expected for a set of leather equipment introduced over 125 years ago it is not easy to find original pieces. The easiest component to find is the belt, many surviving long after the rest of the set had been thrown away due to their smart appearance as parade belts. Last week I was lucky enough to pick up one of these belts:imageI must confess I originally thought that the leather must have been replaced due to the good quality it is still in. The leather is heavy duty and was originally produced in buff, being whitened for parade use. A bit of research has shown that the belt is in fact original, the three buckles at the back of the belt being a good indicator:imageThe design of the buckles dates from a minor modification to the design of the belt in 1891, as illustrated in Pierre Turner’s book on accoutrements:imageThe original design is on the left, the post 1891 modification on the right. By all accounts once the belts were relegated to parade use if the back panel needed to be replaced a plain piece of leather was substituted as the buckles were unnecessary without the rest of the set!

The buckle is made of brass, with the crown of Queen Victoria on the locket:imageThe motto ‘Dieu Et Mon Droit’ means ‘God and My Right’. Originally two chapes were fitted to attach the shoulder straps to, sadly only one is still extent:imageThis belt was originally issued to a Royal Marine, as indicated by the stamps on the back of the belt:imageThe ‘PL’ on his service number indicate he was from the Plymouth depot. The belt also clearly saw service later with the West Riding Territorial Army, as evidenced by their initials on the back of the leather safe:imageIncidentally on long marches the waist belt could be slackened by inserting the locket into the slot on the safe:imageThis belt is a great addition to the collection and they are becoming scarcer. I will display it with my 1913 pattern Home Service tunic which it will complement perfectly.