It has been a long time since we last looked at an embroidered card on this blog, back here. That example was in the form of a greetings card, tonight we have another example, but this one has been produced as a postcard:These cards were made from hand embroidered pieces of silk mesh. French and Belgian refugees would embroider them on a long strip of silk, with as many as 25 on a single piece of backing fabric. These were then cut up and added to card mountings to sell to troops. This example has a movable flap on the front of the card that would allow a tiny greetings card to be tucked inside. These cards were hugely popular amongst British and American troops and it is estimated about 10 million hand embroidered cards were produced. This example is presumably for the American market as it features the flags of France, Belgium and the USA but not the UK on the front:It was typical to send these cards home in envelopes rather than directly through the post so few are encountered with stamps and writing on the rear. There are literally thousands of different designs of these cards, each hand sewn, but most have a patriotic theme to them, featuring flags, war personalities or national symbols. The use of flower motifs is equally common, helping to provide colour and very much in vogue amongst the civilian population the cards would have been sent to:The cards themselves were not cheap, certainly when compared to more conventional postcards, but were still well within the budget of the average soldier. This suggests they may well have been chosen to send home to a sweetheart or mother and perhaps to commemorate a special occasion such as a loved ones birthday. The silks were highly prized and are often found today faded and discoloured form being displayed on the mantelpiece above a coal fire for many years; this example though is still in lovely condition.
A few weeks ago we looked at a commemorative mug from HMS Ark Royal. At the same time I picked that up, I also bought this example commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of HMS Seahawk at Culdrose in Cornwall:The mug depicts the ship’s badge along with the dates 1947 and 1997:RNAS Culdrose, also known as HMS Seahawk was and indeed still is one of the biggest employers in this part of Cornwall and has an essential part to play in the local economy, even down to such mundane things as getting the orders to produce these commemorative mugs:The Golden Jubilee celebrations were clearly a source of great pride to the base and the local area, the March 1997 issue of the Navy News reported:
RN Air Station Culdrose is planning a host of events to celebrate its Golden Jubilee this year.
HMS Seahawk, to use its other name, opened on April 17 1947, when a Fairey Firefly made the first official landing.
Today the air station is the largest helicopter base in Western Europe, but plans are afoot to capture the spirit of its early days.
On April 17th an exhibition of historic photographs will be opened by the Commanding Officer, Commodore Simon Thornewill, followed by a fly past by Culdrose’s modern aircraft.
On the same day, a Buccaneer, will be flown into the air station by a Chinook helicopter where it will remain on display.
And on July 25 a special ‘veteran’s day’ will be held for all ex-Seahawk personnel and their families when more than a dozen historic aircraft will be on display.
Two of the veterans who visited on that day in 1997 were twins Malcolme and Alf Jones who had been the two escorts for the colour on the initial parade in 1950 when the base was given the freedom of the old Helston Borough nearby:The base has now been open for over seventy years and I am sure big plans will be made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening in a few years’ time- no doubt commemorative mugs will again be produced for that milestone!
A button hook is a long wire hook with a handle used to help fasten small buttons. Garments of the Edwardian era commonly used long rows of buttons to secure them, as did gloves and boots. The button hook was a popular way of securing these buttons when their size made using one’s hand difficult. They quickly became a popular souvenir item, with the handles made of a variety of decorative materials. Inevitably they were also a popular choice for trench art, the design being simple enough that a well-made product was easily produced. Tonight we have an example of one of those trench art button hooks:The main body of this button hook is made from a German 8mm Mauser round, sadly there are no remaining markings on the base to give us an idea of when the case was made:A hook has been soldered into the tip of the bullet itself:And a British Royal crest, taken from an old button, has been carefully cut out and applied to the body of the casing:It is very hard to say whether these objects were genuinely made in the trenches or not. Certainly soldiers could engrave small trinkets in the front line, and those in the rear had ample opportunity to make little souvenirs, but many of the small objects we find today may well actually date form the 1920s and 1930s. In the interwar period there was a booming tourist market in Belgium and France as British families toured the battlefields where their loved ones fought and died. To meet the demand for souvenirs local craftsmen produced small pieces of trench art form left over shells and cartridge cases that littered the country. I suspect that this is probably one of the latter as it lacks any sort of engraving of a personal nature which seems more common on Great War objects. Nevertheless it is an interesting and attractive little piece and a great addition to my tiny collection of trench art.
It is common practice for officer and senior rate’s messes to have a selection of commemorative items to give away as gifts to eminent visitors to their establishments. In a naval setting these can take the form of the ship’s badge on a presentation plinth with a commemorative plaque or for less distinguished guests a mug with the ship’s badge on:This example was given out by members of the Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers’ Mess on HMS Ark Royal:The original printers mark is on the base of the mug:This would have been part of a small privately purchased run bought out of mess funds, rather than having been procured through official channels. A CPO and WO’s Mess has strict rules of membership, set out in Queen’s Regulations:
- Warrant Officers’ and Senior Rates’, and Senior Non Commissioned Officers Messes 1. Every Warrant Officer and Chief Petty Officer is to be a member of a Warrant Officers’ and Chief Petty Officers’ mess or combined Senior Rates’ mess at their place of duty, where such a mess is available. Every Petty Officer is to be a member of a Petty Officers’ mess or combined Senior Rates’ mess at their place of duty, where such a mess is available. In exceptional circumstances Commanding Officers have discretion to exempt WO’s CPO’s and PO’s from mess membership or to allow them to hold membership at an alternative mess, should use of the mess be proved to be impracticable for an individual. Similarly, when a WO, CPO or PO is accommodated in a ship or establishment different from his/her place of duty, and messes exist at both places, consideration should be given to waiving or reducing subscriptions depending on the circumstances, so that the total amount paid by the rating is not excessive. 2. All mess members are to pay monthly mess subscriptions as determined by the mess committee and as stated in the mess rules. When WOs, CPOs and POs are temporarily detached from their normal place of duty, they will become temporary or honorary members of their respective messes at that temporary place of duty. Temporary members are those who are detached from their parent unit for periods of more than 14 days and are to pay subscriptions at their temporary place of duty. For periods up to 14 days, honorary membership is to be granted, with mess subscriptions being paid at the normal place of duty 3. Honorary mess members may be subject to a temporary mess fee charge at their temporary messes and in such circumstance they should expect to pay the same pro rata daily subscription as a full mess member.
Judging by the style of the mug and the printing, I suspect this example was manufactured in the 1980s or 1990s so this would have been the Invincible class carrier:I have been unable to find a picture of the CPO’s and WO’s Mess on HMS Ark Royal, but this is their Mess on the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Edinburgh which was of the same vintage as Ark Royal and gives a flavour of what the mess would have looked like:
In the first couple of decades of the twentieth century there was a collecting craze for small pottery souvenirs produced by ‘Goss China’. Goss had been founded in 1858 by William Goss to produce vases and scent bottles out of porcelain. In the early 1880’s Williams son, Adolphus, joined the firm. Adolphus had been brought up surrounded by antiquities in his father’s home and had developed an interest in heraldry. He suggested to his father that by combining the two interests they could corner the growing souvenir market. The company started by producing miniature copies of Roman and Greek vases in white porcelain, with a town’s crest on the front which could then be sold in seaside towns as souvenirs. The designs were hugely popular and were soon being sold all over the country, not just by the seaside. The company produced thousands of designs and crests, including those with a military design, such as the miniature vase we have tonight:This little pot is based on a vase found near Swindon, as indicated by the writing on the base, that also includes the Goss trademark:The style of the writing on the base indicates this vase dates from between 1887 and 1916. The badge on the front is that of the Royal Artillery and it is marked up as being from Salisbury Plain:It seems likely that the vase was sold to troops training here as a souvenir they could send back to their loved ones. Looking on line it seems that the designs with the regimental crests are far rarer than those with crests from towns and cities. The style of Goss china was widely copied and many WW1 related pieces exist from other manufacturers, only those marked ‘Goss’ are genuine however. The craze for Goss China lasted until the end of the 1920s before falling away. Interest revived in the 1960s and 1970s and today it is still very popular. The common pieces only fetch a few pounds, rare designs though can easily make £100 each.
One group of items that women always struggled to find during the Second World War were cosmetics, with production of what were often seen as frivolous vanity items severely curtailed. In 1940 the British government introduced the Limitation of Supplies Order that reduced production to just 25% of its pre-war capacity. Companies that had previously made cosmetics were put over to war production, making foot powders for the military. With such shortages, it is unsurprising that makeup, or lack of it, became a common problem for many women. It was recognised that beauty products did help boost morale, and could help disguise how tired and drab a female workforce was feeling working long hours. Despite this, there was never enough supply to meet demand. In 1942 to save metal it became illegal to make powder compacts from metal (plastic had to be substituted). Before this date however most manufacturers enjoyed some success with compacts that featured regimental badges on the front, either as a transfer or as a separately attached badge. Tonight we have an example of one of these compacts:This features the badge of the Royal Artillery:These compacts were popular keepsakes to be bought by servicemen for their wives and girlfriends, the appropriate badge for their branch of service being chosen. The largest regiments such as the Royal Artillery and RASC are the most common of these compacts to find today due to the larger volume of production in the 1940s. Opening up the compact we can see a mirror and a small hinged lid:This opens up to reveal the powder compartment:Engraved on the outside of the lid is the trade name ‘Vogue Vanitie’ and that it was made in England:Daphne Crisp recalls some of the details of wartime makeup and hairdressing:
I was a young woman working as a hairdresser in the shop, “Dancers” in Braintree. Dancers was a large store with both a barbers and a hairdressers selling expensive cosmetics by Elizabeth Arden and Yardley. There was always great excitement when some make up came in and everyone would be desperate to get it.
There were just young apprentices like myself and older women working as hairdressers there, as all the women aged eighteen and over were doing essential war work. We had only basic soft soap to wash the hair and gum tragent, a really harsh setting lotion which we mixed ourselves. My customers ranged from local ladies, nurses working at Black Notley and prostitutes coming down from London. These were really good tippers and liked to have their hair swept up and clipped at the sides, showing a bare shaved neck.
Although I do not smoke, I do occasionally pick up bits of militaria with a smoking connection, the ubiquity of this habit for much of the twentieth century ensures there are many interesting military related items of tobaccanalia out there. Tonight’s object is a heavy carved ashtray:This is made from a piece of grey marble, nicely finished and polished smooth:What interests us however is the inscription around the edges that indicates it was made as a souvenir for the Royal Engineers during their campaigns in Northern Africa in 1942 and 1943:In the centre is a carved formation badge for the First Army:This badge consists of a shield, with a crusader cross on it and a sword superimposed upon it, this formation was assembled for the allied landings in Operation Torch.
Ronald Sargeant was an engineer in North Africa, with the Eighth rather than the First Army, but his experiences give a good indication of the sort of work the Royal Engineers were involved in during the campaigns here:
On October 23 Montgomery mounted an attack against the German line at Alamein. He had received reinforcements from Britain of tanks, guns, etc and the guns (900) were massed on the front and for the start of the battle fired a barrage the like of which had never been seen before. Our job in the battle was to remove mines in the German minefields to make gaps for the infantry and tanks to pass through safely.
The Germans had roughly 20-30 different types of mines, which we had to learn how to defuse. The most famous was the Tellex mine, which was for use against tanks and when it was laid could be booby trapped. Another was the anti-personnel mine which when trodden on jumped up about 3 feet in the air and exploded. All that showed above ground were three small antennae, which were very difficult to see but both types were picked up on the mine detection which was very much like a vacuum cleaner.
The Battle of Alemein in 1942 was the turning point of the war in the desert and the German and Italians were pushed back past Tripoli. We had a victory parade in Tripoli marching down the main street behind bands of bagpipes, but after that it was on to Tunis (capital of Tunisia). Before that the 1st Army and Americans landed in Algeria so the Germans were pinched between two armies, 8th in the east and 1st in the west and it wasn’t long before the Germans and Italians surrendered and the war in North Africa was over.
Here we see a sapper clearing mines in Tunisia in 1943: