Sometimes an object comes up that you just fall in love with, this happened to me yesterday when I was accosted in 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:The 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:A triangular wire loop is soldered to the back of the whistle to allow it to be attached to a chain:Inside 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:This 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!
Sport has always been an important part of army life, but it has often divided along rank lines. The other ranks enjoyed football and boxing, the officers preferred tennis, polo and golf. Tonight we have an interesting commemorative tankard from 1950 and a golf tournament held by FARELF Command:The tankard was presumably given out as a prize to the winners of the cup; FARELF stands for the Far East Land Forces and the tankard has their badge engraved on the front:Sadly I am unable to discover who won the regimental foursomes in 1950, but the winner of the 36 holes scratch medal that year was a Major DAW Lochhead MC of the Seaforth Highlanders. Charles Harold McVittie was a keen golfer who served with FARELF, his son relates the following anecdote:
In the run up to the fall of Singapore in February 1942, after my mother and brother had been evacuated, my father decided, along with several others, to bury some valuables including his binoculars and his Leica camera. He chose a bunker at the 9th hole of the Royal Singapore Golf Club. After he was released at the end of the war in August 1945 he had no regard for his valuables and after three and a half years as a prisoner he was just keen to get home to his wife and son. In 1951 my father was posted back to Singapore as the Director of Ordnance Services, Far East Land Forces (DoS FARELF). Once back in Singapore he enquired at the golf club as to whether he could recover his belongings from the bunker on the ninth hole. He was told by the Secretary of the Club that he could not. Apparently the Golf Course had been vandalised in 1946/47 by individuals doing precisely what my father wanted to do and all such excavations were forbidden. However, a little later the committee of the club were looking for a new chairman and my father was approached and asked if he would like take up the post as he was a Brigadier and well known as a good golfer. He agreed and once firmly in post he directed that the 9th Hole should be restructured and during that his aluminium screw top box was recovered and inside he found his valuables including his camera.
Before his abdication in 1936, the future Edward VIII was a popular royal, largely because of his military service during the Great War. Tonight we are looking at a cheap souvenir plate depicting Edward, then Prince of Wales, in his military uniform:This plate is completely devoid of manufacturer’s markings and is decidedly at the lower end of the quality spectrum for these sort of items. The picture of the prince is a transfer applied image and it shows him in his military uniform, but it hard to make out any details:When the First World War broke out in 1914, Edward had reached the minimum age for active service and was keen to participate. He had joined the Grenadier Guards in June 1914, and although Edward was willing to serve on the front lines, Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener refused to allow it, citing the immense harm that would occur if the heir to the throne were captured by the enemy. This clearly frustrated the Prince as he complained in a letter to his friend Captain Faussett:
‘As you may imagine mine is a most rotten position in wartime.
‘I hold commissions in both services and yet I’m not allowed to fight.
‘Of course I haven’t got a proper job which is very painful to me and I feel I am left too much in a glass case.
‘I long to be taking my chance in the trenches with my brother officers and in fact all able bodied Englishmen.
‘But both seem to be impossible, so I have to carry on here at GHQ, attached to Divisions from time to time when all is quiet. It’s a dull, monotonous life.
‘This is a most rotten war unless you are actually fighting.He did eventually get to serve on the front line in a limited capacity, and was awarded the Military Cross for his frequent visits to the trenches. He did not however feel he was worthy of such a reward:
‘My best thanks to you and Mrs F for your kind congratulations; no, I can’t say I feel I have earned the MC at all, but that’s nothing to do with me!’The controversy surrounding deploying the Prince to the frontlines was mirrored in recent years by Prince Harry’s desire to serve in Afghanistan. Like his ancestor he did eventually reach the front lines, however he was used less as a figurehead and more as a regular officer. Like Edward, he has become a more popular figure in part due to his wartime service.
In 1978 HMS Ark Royal undertook her last operational tour, sailing to the United States of America. From 23rd June to the 8th August 1978 the ship was at the Mayport Naval Base in Florida. Whilst there a number of the crew bought themselves commemorative T-Shirts, of which this is one:The screen printed logo on the front has a palm tree, Union Flag and the words ‘HMS Ark Royal, Final Deployment, Mayport, Florida, USA, 1978’:The ship’s newsletter gives some more details about the visit to Mayport:
The main purpose of the visit to the American Naval Base at Mayport was to put the ship through a Contractors Assisted Maintenance Period (CAMP). As we all know, the Marine Engineering Department had experienced many problems whilst we were at sea, and it was hoped to rectify these during the period alongside. The work involved was far more extensive than at first envisaged and the department worked around the clock to get it completed in time…Other departments too were busy doing their own maintenance and repair work and the never ending tasks of cleaning and painting the ship continued daily. By the end of the CAMP the outside appearance of the ship was vastly improved… During the stay at Mayport, the ship worked Tropical Routine and this gave everyone the chance for sport and recreation. From an official sporting view point there was a full and extensive sports programme which was enjoyed by those who took part. The ship produced teams to represent us in many sports against local opposition and we enjoyed a varied amount of success… As well as these events, many of the ship’s company got leave and Disneyland proved a popular choice:I am left wondering how many of these t-shirts from Ark Royal’s last deployment survive, mine is a little worn but in good condition and I suspect it is probably a rare survivor.
Another souvenir piece tonight, this time a commemorative spoon for HMS King Alfred:This little spoon is about four inches long with the ship’s crest in enamel on the end:As is often the case the colours on the crest are simplified for ease of manufacture, the full crest should look like this:This spoon looks brand new, but actually dates back at least 75 years. Although there is a current HMS King Alfred, this RNR unit in Portsmouth didn’t open until 1994. Earlier units with this name include a Drake class cruiser in service from 1901 to 1920 and a training establishment in Hove that was in use during the Second World War. It is this unit that I think is most likely to be associated with the spoon.
In 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War, the Navy was searching for a site for a training depot for officers of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). The Sussex Division of the RNVR was based in Hove and its motor launch, ML 1649, was called HMS King Alfred and near to the divisional base was a new leisure centre that was just finishing construction. The Admiralty immediately requisitioned the leisure centre and on 11 September 1939 commissioned it as HMS King Alfred under the command of Captain John Pelly.The first trainees arrived the same day and by May 1940 1,700 men had passed through the base. Most of these were members of the pre-war Royal Navy Volunteer (Supplementary) Reserve (RNV(S)R) (The RNV(S)R had been formed in 1936 for gentlemen who are interested in yachting or similar pursuits and aged between 18 and 39).
With the mobilisation of the members of the RNV(S)R being completed, the role of HMS King Alfred changed to training new officers of the RNVR. This required a longer course as many members of the RNVR had no experience of either maritime pursuits or the “officer-like qualities” required. Longer courses needed more space so the Admiralty requisitioned two further premises: Mowden School, also in Hove and Lancing College near Lancing. Mowden School, taken over in 1940, became known as HMS King Alfred II or HMS King Alfred (M) while Lancing College, taken over in 1941 became HMS King Alfred III or HMS King Alfred (L). The Hove site continued to be referred to as HMS King Alfred or sometimes HMS King Alfred (H).
A training course consisted of ten weeks, the first two weeks at HMS King Alfred II, then six weeks at HMS King Alfred III and the final four weeks at Hove. Upon successful completion of the course, the men emerged as Temporary Acting Probationary Sub-Lieutenants and attended further training at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich before being posted operationally.
Training ended in December 1945, HMS King Alfred II had closed in October that year and HMS King Alfred III closed in December 1945. In January 1946 HMS King Alfred moved to Exbury near Southampton and the Hove site became HMS King Alfred II. This only lasted a short time as the Hove site was returned to civilian use in June 1946 and the Exbury site was renamed HMS Hawke in August 1946.
During its six-year existence, over 22,500 officers graduated from the ship.
This spoon was liekly sold to those officers and thier families as a souvenir of their time at the base.
It always amazes me the weird and wonderful events our ancestors felt worthy of commemorating in souvenir form. As well as the usual things such as Royal births, marriages and public occasions like the Great Exhibition they also produced souvenirs for political and military events. The wealth of WW1 related china being good examples we have looked at before. Tonight we are adding another, slightly different piece of commemorative china to that story. Rather than commemorating the outbreak of war, this little transfer decorated pot celebrates the diplomatic alliance between the three great allied powers of Europe; France, Russia and Great Britain:This is a cheap white vase, standing about 3” high, the transfer decoration on the front consists of three shields; on bearing the French flag, one the Union Flag and one the two headed Imperial Russian eagle. A scroll beneath reads ‘The Triple Entente’:The Triple Entente was a complicated series of treaties in the run up to the Great War for mutual assistance in case of German aggression, simply the treaties were as follows:
Franco Russian Alliance, 1894 (France & Russia)
Entente Cordiale, 1904 (France and Great Britain)
Anglo Russian Convention 1907 (Great Britain and Russia)
The alliance was not necessarily a military one, but did provide a ‘moral obligation’ for each country to support the other in time of war. The system of alliances created a house of cards that only needed a trigger point to pull Europe apart. This was to come in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia. Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Serbia turned to its ally Russia for support. The French than had to support Russia, this in turn brought Germany in to uphold their treaty obligations with Austro-Hungary. Germany enacted their Schlieffen Plan and invaded France, however this violated Belgian neutrality that Britain had agreed to uphold in the London Treaty of 1839 and so brought Britain and the Empire into the conflict…Yes it’s complicated and I have missed a lot out but I hope this gets over the bare bones of the outbreak of the Great War!
India has been rightly famous for its brass trinkets for many centuries. Craftsmen in the sub-continent can produce many elegant and richly decorated items with the most basic of tools. These objects have been popular souvenir items since the British first landed in the region in the seventeenth century. By the early twentieth century a cigarette case was a very popular gift to buy, especially by soldiers who had limited access to markets and indeed cash to pay for things. Cigarette packets of the day were flimsy, and with everyone smoking a metal case to safely hold and protect a smoker’s cigarettes was a safe bet as a gift. They were also easy to post due to their small size, fairly cheap to buy and as in this example could be highly decorated:This cigarette case is decorated with an engraving of what I believe to be an Ibis, standing in a river. The inside of the case has space for the cigarettes, which are held in with a simple piece of elastic:What makes this case particularly nice though is the inscription on the inside:This reads “To my brother Will with best wishes from Sgt. George Goodswen, RAF India”. The RAF had a presence in India from as early as 1913 and during the 1920s and 1930s saw extensive service on the North West Frontier. The use of bombers to take out tribal villages was welcomed by London as they were cheaper than conventional ground forces. The nascent RAF also encouraged their use as it helped justify their own existence in the financially constrained inter war period. The actual results of the air war on rebellious tribesmen is less clear and it seems whilst they had a terrifying effect on the natives, they did not actually achieve very much that was concrete due to the primitive nature of aircraft and bombing at this time.