This week’s postcard came from Huddersfield Secondhand Market on Tuesday for £1. It is getting harder to find postcards from WW1 for such small sums of money- even fairly typical portrait postcards are starting to fetch £3 or £4 now so it is always nice to find a more affordable card for the collection. Incidentally I store my WW1 postcards in a period postcard album and after nearly ten years it is almost full so I will need to keep my eyes open for another one…Back to this postcard however, this fine image depicts a soldier on horseback:I would date this image to around the time of the Great War. The subject is wearing a service dress cap, sadly it is no possible to get a clear enlargement of his cap badge to determine the regiment:He is wearing standard service dress, complete with puttees:And spurs:Note the hobnails of his boots, clearly visible. In his hand he holds a riding crop:There is no obvious signs of rank, so my guess is he is a private but sadly there is not a lot in this image to work with! The photograph seems to have been taken on the drive of a house, with the main road in the background. Unfortunately this image highlights many of the problems faced with interpreting these photographs. Without a message on the front or back of the image to place it and with the camera too far away to pick up the detail of the cap badge we are left with a lovely photograph we can say very little about! Whilst this is frustrating, it is a point worth making sometimes that further research is not always possible and we are left to enjoy the image for its own sake.
Possibly the most important piece of equipment for a soldier is his spoon! World War one era military issue spoons are quite distinctive and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully marked example that has seen at least three users. My thanks go to Taff Gillingham for his help in filling in some of the blanks with this object. This spoon is particularly large, equivalent to a modern tablespoon, and has what is known as a ‘fiddle back’:This pattern of spoon was introduced in 1894 under pattern 3910/1894 and is made of cupronickel. It was to remain in service throughout the Great War, although it was supplemented by a new pattern in 1917 that more closely resembles the ‘teardrop’ handle of today. It is common to find one edge of the spoon sharpened and ground down, as in this example:This made it easier to get the spoon into every part of a D-Shaped mess tin and acted as a simple knife for cutting up food with. Soldiers tended to discard knives and forks and just carry a spoon, often to be seen tucked into their puttees:Veterans recalled that in the trenches the preferred method of cleaning a spoon after use was to push it into the ground two or three times until it was clean! Having said that if the mud was particularly thick then the spoon was often carried in the breast pocket for ease of access. This example belonged to various members of the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment as witnessed by the service numbers stamped into the front of the fiddle back:Further numbers are to be seen on the back, these are different and its seems this spoon went through the hands of at least three different men:Whilst this is unusual, it was not unheard of as kit tended to get recycled and reused. This spoon was a lucky find on eBay for 99p and is definitely a favourite of mine. It will be going into my wash roll with my WW1 kit and may well see service again!
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 I believe it shows him in his Welsh Guards 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.
At the start of the First World War the Canadian Expeditionary Force was armed with an indigenously produced rifle, the Ross. This rifle was to be problematic and was eventually dropped in favour of the SMLE, however it remained in use for snipers and saw further service in WW2 with the British Home Guard. As with nearly all military rifles in service at the time it was supplied with a bayonet and tonight we are looking at the second model of bayonet issued for the rifle:This bayonet is particularly attractive, with a definite weight to it, it has a much shorter blade than that used on the SMLE, but the blade is thicker in cross section and feels sturdier:This shorter length made it a popular choice for a trench knife due to its handiness in the trenches of the First World War during raids and examples were modified by removing the muzzle ring and shortening them even more to tailor them for this use. The pommel on the bayonet is marked ‘Ross Rifle Company, Quebec’ on one side:And has a number of marks on the opposite side including a /|\ within a ‘C’ Canadian acceptance mark, the date 08/16 (August 1916) and a ‘11’ indicating this is a MkII pattern bayonet first introduced in 1911:The Mk II differed from the earlier pattern which had an extended muzzle ring and a larger quinion , this was changed in the second pattern which provided the right sized muzzle ring and slimmed down the quinion:The bayonet was fitted to a ‘T’ shaped lug on the underside of the rifle’s barrel, with a channel provided for this to slide into. Sadly this bayonet is missing the sprung catch that would have allowed the bayonet to be secured, and removed from the rifle:Here we have a fine study of a young Canadian soldier in Canada holding his Ross rifle, complete with the bayonet attached:A generation later and we see the bayonet in use by the Home Guard in Britain, training with their Ross rifles:I have a number of bayonets in my collection now, and this one is competing with my No7 for the title of my favourite. It is a really nice piece to hold in your hand and beautifully made…now I just need a Ross to go with it!
Compared to the usual postcard sized images we look at on a Sunday, tonight’s photograph comes in at a pleasing 8” by 6” and dates back to the First World War. Despite the carnage on the Western Front, the British Army still needed to garrison the Empire, and this photograph was taken in 1915 in India, with some of the British troops in the sub-continent posing in front of an impressive waterfall at Chakrata:A British Army cantonment had been set up at Chakrata in the Dehradun District if the United Provinces in 1866, the nearby Tiger Waterfalls are the highest in India and I am guessing that this is where the photograph was taken- they were clearly as popular a tourist attraction in 1915 as they are in 2017! The men in the photograph wear typical British Army KD uniforms of the period:With puttees:And solar topees:Many of these have a regimental flash on the puggaree, but I have not been able to identify it yet. Chakrata was one of two military establishments in the region, a few miles apart as described in this 1891 report on Enteric Fever:
The troops here consist of two bodies of men. A whole regiment is quartered upon two hills known as Chakrata proper. On an adjacent hill, called Kailana, which is about two-and-a-half miles from Chakrata , some 750 men (small detachments from several regiments and batteries), known as “details” are located. The “details” generally march up some ten or twelve days later than the regiment.
The Black Watch took up garrison duties in Kaliana in 1933:
550 men of the 1st Black Watch spent three months at Kailana in 1933. The first part of the journey from Meerut to Kailana was made by train to Dehra Dun. From here the trip uphill was by bus, to Kalsi via Jumnipur. Kalsi rest camp lay in a perfect setting at the bottom of the thickly clad lower slopes of the Himalayas. Kalsi was also well known for its bat like mosquitoes. All of the baggage would be offloaded from the buses on to A.T carts and then in the cool of the evening a route march was begun to Saiah. Saiah rest camp was besides an ice cold stream, which had its source in the Pindari glacier. An early start the next day brought the troops to the bottom of the infamous “Short Cut” – a narrow and very steep hill road leading to Kailana camp.
As usual sport dominated the activities here along with Khud walks but there was unfortunately only one football pitch. Soldiering was confined to route marches and musketry, which were often interrupted by torrential rain or made impossible by the terrain. Other amusements were few. The Bazaar was indifferent and the Soldiers Club many weary miles away which was made worse by the complete absence of the “tat”.
It is likely that at least some of these route marches would have been to the Chakrata Falls where no doubt similar souvenir photographs would have been taken. Due to its pleasing size, I have actually had this photograph framed up and it looks particularly fine hanging on the wall.
This week’s postcard is a nice studio shot of a soldier from, I believe, the Great War:From his cap badge he appears to be a member of the Royal Engineers:And he is wearing a greatcoat over his service dress:He has the three stripes of a sergeant on this great coat:These are repeated on the opposite side with a crown and bomb in brass above them:The brass bomb was a distinctive feature of Royal Engineers in the Great War, whilst the crown above three stripes was used to indicate company, battery, squadron and troop sergeant majors. Below this rank insignia, and virtually obscuring the last stripe, is a two coloured arm band. It is hard to tell its original colours, but my best guess is that it would have been blue and white indicating a signaller:Signallers were amongst some of the most vulnerable troops in the Great War, as described in this extract from an article in the Bradford Telegraph and Examiner:
In the First World War, being a signaller usually meant you were close to the frontline troops, providing signals communications back to your Battalion HQ…Second Lieutenant Thomas Maufe from Ilkley was awarded the highest honour of all, the Victoria Cross, for the action he took on June 4, 1917, at Feuchy in France. Maufe wasn’t even a signaller.
He was serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery. During an intense German bombardment of high explosive and shrapnel, Maufe single-handedly repaired a damaged telephone wire connecting the front line and the rear, which enabled the British to return enemy fire.
Three years before at the start of the war telephone wires were few and far between. Flags were still being used for signalling but this practice quickly died out as the war years advanced and the technology of war changed rapidly. Where possible wired telephones were used but this involved laying landlines which was a hazardous job due to enemy shelling, mines and the risk of being picked off by a camouflaged sniper.
Tricia Platts, Secretary of Bradford’s World War 1 Group, said: “Where it was not possible to lay landlines then many forms of visual signalling were used which made use of light either from sunlight flashed by mirrors in day time or by Lucas lamps at night. “Messages were sent in Morse code, one man operating the signalling device and one man using a telescope (where distances were great) to read the message sent back. “The standard field telephone used with landlines consisted of a wooden box containing two dry cells, a magneto generator, polarised bell, induction coil testing plug, and a Hand Telephone C Mk.1. Towards the end of 1916 these were being replaced by the Fullerphone.
“Signallers were also used in forward positions with the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) to relay information on enemy targets and assist the artillery in ranging the guns. “In these, often isolated, positions the signaller became vulnerable to enemy sniping and machine gun fire, and many signallers lost their lives.”
An old joke from the period reflects the gallows humour of the front line, necessary for survival. A front line officer dictates a message to be sent back, perhaps by Morse, to staff officers at the rear.
The message was ‘Send reinforcements, we are going to advance’. The message received was rather different: ‘Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance’.
I would argue that the Lee Enfield is the best combat rifle of the early twentieth century (controversial viewpoint I know from those who love Mausers). There are a number of reasons for this, but the main thrust of my argument would be its superior magazine capacity (ten rounds as opposed to the five on a Mauser) and the speed with which it could be fired accurately and reloaded. The speed of reloading was due to the use of charger clips, often seen referred to as stripper clips. A charger clip holds a number of rounds in a sprung metal clip that allows rapid reloading of a bolt-action rifle. The Lee-Enfield used five round clips holding .303 ammunition and we are looking tonight at the most easily found example of these, the Mk4:The clip is made of a stamped blackened steel, with three circular and one oval hole on each side:Note how there are two pressed pips on the bottom of the sides to help with the stiffness and that the model number ‘Mk4’ is stamped into the metal. At either end the sides bend inwards and are sprung to help hold the rounds in place:A series of four staggered holes on the base allow the user to check how the rounds are seated:This was vitally important as the base of the rounds needed to be in the sequence ‘down-up-down-up-down’ (DUDUD) in order to feed correctly into the rifle to prevent stopages, as illustrated in the Lee-Enfield weapons manual:As mentioned earlier, this clip is the Mk4 version, various changes being made to the clips over the years, as recorded in the LoC:
Mark I LoC 11753 16th Jan 1903
Mark II LoC 13465 24th April 1906, said to be strengthened by the addition of three ridges on the base.
Mark III LoC 18973 15th Feb 1916, “…having circular pips and lightening holes and no ribs across the bottom.”
Mark IV LoC 19786 20th Oct 1917. “Differs…in having four holes in the side instead of five, which leaves more room for the spring on the lug end, and makes it less stiff.”
The clips were made from simple stampings and so were cheap and viewed as more or less disposable. Ammunition was frequently issued ready packed into clips which in turn were packaged in fifty round disposable cotton bandoliers. The charger loading system, along with the well designed ergonomics of the Lee family of rifles ensured a soldier could maintain rapid accurate fire in the field, such that when coming up against rifle equipped British soldiers of the Old Contemptibles the German army thought they were equipped with machine guns.