Category Archives: Souvenir

King George V in Admiral’s Uniform Commemorative Plate

We have discussed the craze for commemorative china before. In the years between 1880 and 1930 many people collected china with various designs on it in simple transfer prints. Some pieces were made by the big companies, with their logo emblazoned on the bottom and were pitched at the better quality end of the market. Cheaper, unbranded products also existed that were affordable enough for nearly all in society. For the purposes of this blog, the transfer designs we are most interested in are those with a military connection and tonight we have a handsome plate with a transfer print of King George V in naval uniform:imageThis style of plate is known as a ribbon plate as pieces of brightly coloured ribbon could be woven in and out of the cutouts around the plates circumference. These could be used just for decoration or tied into bows to allow the plate to be hung on a wall. Apparently it was also popular to attach them to a heavy curtain, which to me at least implies a high rate of breakages!

The design in the centre of this plate depicts a youthful king George V in his Royal Naval admiral’s uniform, complete with a healthy array of medals and honours on his chest:imageFrom his age here and other examples of the same design we can determine that this plate was produced for his coronation in 1911 and the transfer design was possibly copied or inspired by this portrait of the king:imageThere is no maker’s mark on the rear of the plate, indicating that this was probably produced for the lower end of the souvenir market. Despite that, and the wearing off of the gilding around the edges, this remains a handsome plate and like so much royal memorabilia it was a very cheap piece: I picked it up for £2 in a charity shop. It is now hanging on my living room wall, just as it was designed to be used 108 years ago.


WW1 Internee Made Royal Naval Brigade Jewellery Box

In 1914 1,500 Royal Naval sailors of the 1st Royal Naval Brigade marched into Holland and internment rather than be captured by the Germans. The Dutch set up a large internment camp at Groningen with barrack huts, recreation facilities and a parade ground in accordance with international law. These men were to spend the rest of the war on neutral territory as effective prisoners and was quickly nicknamed ‘HMS Timbertown’ by the sailors imprisoned there. To help keep off boredom various activities and schemes of work were set up for the men including language lessons, theatre shows and sports. Even with all this there was a need for more distraction and various forms of paid employment were offered, earning the men between 10 and 50 extra cents a day. One of the most popular was carpentry and eighty men were involved in making small trinkets such as photo frames and jewellery boxes. These were sold in the UK to raise funds for books, instruments and other goods for the internment camp with many being retailed through large department stores. It is one of these jewellery boxes, made by internees at Groningen that we are looking at tonight:imageThe box is made from a honey coloured wood and despite suffering damage over the last hundred years was clearly very competently made, with neat dovetails at each corner as one would expect from something that was to be sold in a posh department store like Selfridges:imageThe inside of the box has a green padded silk liner:imageWhat is of particular interest though is the markings on the top of the box:imageAs well as the initials ‘AB’ in one corner, there is a large naval crest with the legend ‘1st Royal Naval Brigade’ in the centre of the lid:imageOriginally the box would have had a paper label pasted to the bottom indicating it had been made by an internee at Groningen, sadly this has become lost over the years so my thanks go to Nathan Phillip and Taff Gillingham for identifying the origins of this fascinating piece.

The British internees were to spend the rest of the war in Holland and although it was often boring, they probably got off lightly compared to the horrors suffered by many during the conflict as the Dutch treated them extremely well and they were afforded a lot of freedom despite their internee status- even being allowed to visit the local pub and marry local Dutch girls.

Know Your Navy Card Game

The Royal Navy still encourages sailors to be proficient in ship and aircraft recognition. Despite modern electronic aids the Mk 1 human eyeball is often still just as useful as any radar and identification beacon. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the Royal Navy combined recognition practice with a bit of a recruitment gimmick and released a set of playing cards called ‘Know Your Navy’. This set of playing cards came in a dark blue box with details of the Royal Navy careers service printed on the front:imageInside is a series of 52 cards, each depicting a silhouette of a Royal Navy ship, submarine, aircraft, helicopter or missile:imageThe back of each card gave a series of statistics on the particular vessel or craft:imageI have come across at least two distinct print runs of these cards with different ships and aircraft in each run depending on the year of production. My set is a later example as it includes Type 42 destroyers, Type 22 frigates and Invincible class aircraft carriers. The earlier production run seems to predate this by about ten years and includes ships such as HMS Eagle and Centaur who went to the breakers in the early to mid-1970s.

Two rule cards are included, with suggested games that could be played with the set of cards:imageA joker is also included in the shape of a jolly rating:imageThis set of cards was a fun way of encouraging sailors to spend time brushing up on their ship and aircraft recognition. Playing games such as this was more interactive and fun than sitting men in a class room and lecturing them and it was hoped that they would retain the information better if they were competing with one another in a more relaxed environment. I suspect these cards were also given out as a promotional item at recruitment events and ship open days to members of the public. As such I doubt they are particularly rare, but they are a nice little set and I might have to challenge my father to a game as these warships are more his era than mine.

What is sobering today is to look at how many different classes and types of vessel were used by the Royal Navy at this period- a glance at today’s Royal Navy shows only a fraction of these numbers in service today!

WW1 Embroidered Silk Postcard

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:SKM_C284e18020615370 - CopyThese 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:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - CopyIt 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:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - Copy (2)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.

HMS Seahawk Fiftieth Anniversary Mug

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:imageThe mug depicts the ship’s badge along with the dates 1947 and 1997:imageRNAS 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:imageThe 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:YOC_3_263edThe 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!

Trench Art Button Hook

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:imageThe 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:imageA hook has been soldered into the tip of the bullet itself:imageAnd a British Royal crest, taken from an old button, has been carefully cut out and applied to the body of the casing:imageIt 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.

HMS Ark Royal Warrant Officers’ and Chief Petty Officers’ Mug

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:imageThis example was given out by members of the Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers’ Mess on HMS Ark Royal:imageThe original printers mark is on the base of the mug:imageThis 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:

  1. 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:HMS Ark RoyalI 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:standard