Category Archives: WW1

Kithchener’s Army Training Postcard

At the outbreak of the Great War men flocked to the colours in unprecedented numbers. This sudden increase in numbers put great strains on a military used to a steady trickle of new recruits in peacetime. As well as being short of trained NCOs to instruct these new recruits and billets to house them even simple things such as uniforms and weapons were in short supply. It was not as simple as just ordering more uniforms- khaki cloth would take time to produce in large quantities and needed to be prioritised for troops on active service rather than training.

To solve this problem the War Office placed orders for 500,000 suits of blue serge as a stopgap measure for troops under instruction. This week’s image shows a unit kitted out in Kitchener’s Blues undergoing rifle drill early in the First World War:SKM_C45817082408030The men wear simple single breasted jackets, trousers and field service caps in the dark blue serge:SKM_C45817082408030 - Copy (2)In the case of the Bradford Pals, uniforms were supplied by the city with men issued two of the navy blue uniforms with caps. The local MP supplied the men with silver buttons emblazoned with the city’s coat of arms to sew on. As befitted a city built on the woollen trade the uniforms were made of the finest quality wool with good, colour-fast dyes used in their manufacture. The men of the Bradford Pals were delighted to hear that the blue dye in some Lancashire regiment’s uniforms had run as a result of cost cutting!

Returning to our postcard we can see that the men are armed with obsolete Charger Loading Lee Enfield rifles rather than the more modern SMLE:SKM_C45817082408030 - Copy (3)Again the latest service rifles were being sent to the front line so older rifles were pressed into service for training.

Despite the shortages of uniform, officers were still kitted out in khaki uniforms (at their own expense) and an officer can be seen standing in front of the men:SKM_C45817082408030 - CopySadly I have no context for this interesting image and I do not know where it was taken or which regiment is represented.


Book Review “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”

As a collector of military ephemera I was very pleased to learn that a book had been published on collecting war publications, and indeed had been out for a couple of years. I am not quite sure how I had missed this particular book, but I quickly ordered myself a copy of Arthur Ward’s book “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”. The book soon arrived and I settled down for a much anticipated read.imageThe book is published by Pen and Sword on high quality glossy paper and is profusely illustrated. The book is divided up into chapters covering The Home Front, Entertainment, Children, Civilian Militias and Military Manuals. These are bookended by chapters putting the materials into context and how to care for them. The text is well written and flows well making the book pleasurable to read and I found the opening and closing chapters very interesting. imageThe author starts by looking at the state of propaganda in both the UK and Germany during the Great War, with an interesting discussion of the artistic merits of German posters of the time. Unfortunately although many of these posters are described, very few are illustrated and I felt that for something relying so heavily on visual media the actual posters would have helped get across the thrust of the argument.imageI found the thematic chapters highly frustrating. I recognise that context is very important, but I felt the emphasis was too heavily weighted towards context and there was not enough about the publications themselves. There are many books about life on the home front: what I wanted from this book was a look at the printed materials used on the home front: how heavily were they censored, how were supplies of paper maintained, did people respond positively or cynically to the materials they were presented with? Unfortunately nearly all of each chapter was devoted to context and very little to substance which was disappointing.

The book ends with some very useful information on preserving the documents and I learnt a lot from this. A set of useful appendices are included including one on Penguin books in wartime. Again I feel the author missed a trick here as there was clearly much more of a story to tell here and perhaps this should have been a full chapter of the book itself rather than tucked away as an appendix.imageOverall there is a lot to recommend this book, it is lavishly produced and there is much to learn from it, however I came away from it feeling rather unsatisfied and that is something of a pity for what should have been an important addition to the study of the period.

Copies of the book are available from Amazon here.

Entente Cordiale Pin Badge

To modern eyes commemorative souvenirs for diplomatic alliances seem a little odd. However in the First World War there was a steady stream of commemorative items for the alliance between the British and the French, the Entente Cordial. Previously we have looked at a small piece of commemorative china here for the triple entente, and tonight we have a small enamelled pin badge for the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France:imageThis badge not only reflects the partnership between the two countries, as witnessed by the flags, but would also have been popular amongst buyers as a symbol of personal friendship between two people, as the phrase had entered the general population as a popular term for friendship.

Relations between Britain and France had been fractious for many centuries, but with the signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904 the British went through a phase of Francophilia with popular revues, exhibitions and talks celebrating the link between the two countries.

The Daily Mail published a prescient editorial on the Entente on April 17th 1914:

The British People and the Entente

The French public is right in attaching special significance to the official visit of the King and Queen to Paris next week. It is not merely the return of President Poincaré’s visit to London last year; it is also a direct and emphatic affirmation of the permanence of the Entente. Ten years have passed since the Anglo-French Agreement was concluded, and seven years since the understanding was completed by the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Ministries have changed; new questions have arisen; yet the Entente Cordiale and the Triple Entente remain the solid and abiding guarantee of European peace. Again and again in the immediate past the strength of the tie which unites Great Britain and France has been tested. It has never been found wanting, and three times at least- in 1905, 1908 and 1911- it has prevented the outbreak of European War.

Yet the remarkable letter which eminent French historian M. Lavisse has published in The Times suggests that educated Frenchmen are not altogether happy as to the attitude of the British people. M. Lavisse thinks that he perceives in this country “a dispersion, a pulverisation of public opinion… a sort of apathy, a disinclination to dwell upon unpleasant ideas, to foresee grave events, to entertain anxiety,” and believes that this attitude is weakening British policy on the Continent. Now it is no doubt true that for the moment British opinion is intensely preoccupied with internal questions. But that is a condition which would instantly vanish were any great emergency to arise, and we believe that the energy and unanimity of our people would be just as great tomorrow, in an hour of danger as of old. It would be a very real mistake to interpret our preoccupation, or dispersion of opinion’ as a sign of decadence. Neither morally nor physically is the present generation of Britons inferior to its ancestors…

World War One Postcard of Soldiers Posing in Pith Helmets

This week’s postcard is an intriguing image with an unusual selection of kit on display. Dating from the time of the Great War, this postcard shows four soldiers standing in the mud outside a set of wooden barrack huts:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (5)The men are wearing woolen service dress, but three of them are also wearing Wolseley helmets which seem a little incongruous:SKM_C45817062711520 - CopyThe fourth man retains his service dress cap:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (2)The cap badges are clearly Royal Artillery, and this would also explain the 1903 bandoliers being worn:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (3)These were commonly issued to mounted and troops who were not infantry. The second man from left is wearing the double breasted mounted great coat:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (4)So what is happening in the photograph? I suspect that the men are about to go overseas and have just been issued with their new pith helmets, and like young soldiers of all generations they couldn’t help but pose for a photograph with their new headgear. Generally before shipping overseas, often for years at a time, a soldier would receive fourteen days leave and on his return would be issued his pith helmet and tropical kit before heading to the docks and a ship to foreign climes. Here we see men from the 2nd Battallion Grenadier Guards a few decades later being issued with Wolseley helmets before heading to Egypt in 1936:12002975_1058049424205637_7928923749095364454_n

Captured German Guns Postcard

On Monday 11th January 1915, The Daily Mail published a letter from a Violet Bryce that read:

Sir- I see an announcement that about 150 of the captured German guns, including field guns, machine guns, howitzers and mortars are at present stored at Woolwich and that the authorities intend distributing them through the country as marks of appreciation of local success in recruiting.

An exhibition of these trophies of war before distribution would attract an immense number of visitors, and if a moderate entrance fee were charged a very large sum of money might be collected for the benefit of our soldiers and sailors.

Miss Bryce was actually very prescient, and in October 1916 the same paper reported, arrangements are being made for some of the guns captured form the enemy to be exhibited at home.

Tonight we are looking at a postcard of some of those German artillery pieces, captured and on display for the public:SKM_C45817041112510This card was an official photograph by the Daily Mail and was presumably sold at the location where the guns were on display as a souvenir for visitors.

It seems the British government were slow off the mark in displaying captured guns, but once they had realised the public interest it became commonplace to show off this booty and indeed after the war many towns and villages were presented with examples. Most of these are sadly long gone, scrapped in WW2 for their metal. Guns were allocated based on the size of settlement- the bigger the settlement the larger the gun they were presented with. A 1922 publication recorded:

“The War Trophies Committee was formed in November, 1916, the terms of reference being “to deal with all questions in regard to the distribution of trophies and watch the interests of the Imperial War Museum.” ~

When a claim for a gun etc, had been substantiated, the unit in question was asked its views as to the destination of the trophy, with the proviso that it went to a Regimental Depot, a recognized public body, or museum; up to present some 3,595 guns, 15,044 machine guns, 75,824 small arms and 7,887 other trophies had been distributed.

Large numbers of applications were received for allotment from County Authorities, Mayors and Corporations of cities and towns, Urban and Parish Councils and other communities. The Committee decided that allotment of the trophies to which no claim had been substantiated, had to be recommended by the Lord Lieutenant of the County.

A small number still exist and after years of neglect are now being appreciated once more. This example of a German trench mortar at Honing in Norfolk has recently been restored:_85246254_85244222

WW1 Postcard of Troops outside a Barrack Hut

This week’s postcard is a fine group shot from the Great War of soldiers posing outside a barrack hut:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (2)I suspect that this photograph was taken as part of a training course as the soldiers display a wide variety of cap badges. Three officers are seated in the centre:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (3)Regiments represented include the Royal Berkshires:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (4)Royal Army Medical Corps:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (6)Northumberland Fusiliers:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (5)Machine Gun Corps:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (7)And The Royal West Kent Regiment:SKM_C45817051611140 - CopyThe men display an interesting assortment of belts including leather 1914 pattern examples:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (8)And 2” wide webbing belts:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (9)I particularly like the jack russell dog being held by the chap on the front row:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (10)Other features to note are the duckboards the men at the front are sitting on:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (12)And the corrugated iron used in producing the hut behind them:SKM_C45817051611140 - Copy (11)Note also the palm frond and large sack leaned up against the hut. The essential role hutted accommodation played in the Great War is often overlooked, but it was the only way to quickly house recruits and men and hutted encampments sprang up all over Britain and France. These huts are largely all gone now, but many have survived as WI Halls, Scout Huts and Community Centres. A dedicated team of volunteers down south has been saving these buildings as they become earmarked for demolition and restoring them to their original splendour. Take a look here for more information on this fantastic project.

4th West Yorkshire Regiment Mess Table Knives

A few weeks back we looked at a mess table sauce bottle holder marked to the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment here. Tonight we are looking at a set of six knives marked to the same regiment:imageAs before my thanks go to the East Yorkshire Regiment Living History Group and Mike Lycett for their help in adding this to the collection. The knives are marked in a couple of ways. Three of them have a stamp on the blade saying ‘4th West York’:imageWhilst the other three have a cypher impressed into the bone handle, these are unfortunately rather indistinct:imageHere we can see the Prince of Wales feathers and the initials ‘WY’ for the regiment. The knives were made in Sheffield, as indicated on the blades:imageMost cutlery in the country was made in Sheffield in the first half of the twentieth century, the city having a worldwide reputation for quality and output. These knives predate stainless steel so have suffered from rust far more than later knives would. Again I suspect these date from around the time of the First World War.