Category Archives: WW1

Three West Riding Regiment Soldiers in Paris

This week’s postcard is quite nice in showing a group of soldiers as they looked on active service in World War one. Most studio postcards are taken of men in their best uniforms, all polished and ironed but in France it was not uncommon for a group of men to have their pictures taken in their everyday uniforms and this helps paint a more accurate picture of what soldiers actually looked like in the field. This postcard then was taken in Paris at some point in World War One:SKM_C284e18020615370 - CopyIt shows three men of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment and they are definitely on the scruffy and dishevelled end of the spectrum. They are each wearing the utility version of service dress, with simple patch pockets and a less fitted cut, the presence of items in their pockets adds to the crumpled and dishevelled look:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - CopyOther features to note include the use of five buttons up the front of the uniform, the lack of protective rifle patches on the shoulders- this simplified pattern was introduced in late 1914 to speed up production of uniforms. The caps are also distinctive as the stiffening wire has been removed so they have a much softer and less structured look than pre-war service dress caps:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - Copy (2)This made them far more practical as they could be folded up and put in a pocket, worn over a balaclava or under a scarf etc. Note also the lack of any brass shoulder titles in the picture above: brass was a strategic supply so efforts were made to reduce its use in non-essential items. The intricate lettering of shoulder titles was also lengthy to produce so quantities of shoulder titles went into decline and often men were not issued them and either had to scrounge some from somewhere or go without.

Boots in the postcard are again indicative of this being taken on active service, they are not polished and are merely waterproofed:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - Copy (3)These boots look well used and worn and the supply of army boots was a constant problem to the British Army. Although supplies never dried up, many new manufacturers were accepted and often the quality was far less than would have been acceptable in the pre-war military.

This postcard, despite being a studio photograph, ha some interesting features that make it a little more unusual than the normal examples of this genre.

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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.

Military Huts Postcard

This week’s postcard dates from the First World War and depicts a pair of pre-fabricated huts, with soldiers posing outside them:SKM_C45817032308110 - Copy (4)Fifteen men are stood outside a large wooden prefabricated hut:SKM_C45817032308110 - CopyThis hut is quite a substantial affair and is built of wooden lap boards, with windows and a corrugated iron roof, with the chimneys of stoves poking out:SKM_C45817032308110 - Copy (2)These huts were madeof a prefabricated fram that was clad and fitted out by contractors- the firm of Mcalpine’s Builders being heavily involved in fulfilling War office contracts. This photograph from the excellent ‘Great War Huts Project’ gives a flavour of what construction might have looked like:26219749_1749047121795315_1815801021651645191_nThe second hut is of the Nissen type:SKM_C45817032308110 - Copy (3)This type of hut was designed by a Canadian called Captain Peter Norman Nissen and as the ‘Picturing the Great War’ blog explains:

Constructed from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel, and underpinned by a skeleton of steel ribs and wooden purlins, Nissen huts were versatile, light and easy to construct. Devised by Nissen in April 1916, by August the huts were in production. Moving swiftly from drawing board to the production line, the speed at which a Nissen hut could be assembled once in location was also significant. A Nissen hut could be packed in a standard 3 tonne Army wagon, and erected by six men in four hours. Portability was a key factor; as well as ease of transportation on army wagons, the corrugated iron shells could easily be nested on top of one another for shipping.

Nissen huts were hugely successful, being cheap, strong and quick to put up. Their use continued in the Second World War and even today examples can still be found, a century after the design was first thought of!

Goss Crested China Royal Artillery Vase

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:imageThis little pot is based on a vase found near Swindon, as indicated by the writing on the base, that also includes the Goss trademark:imageThe 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:imageIt 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.

British Infantry Practicing an Attack Postcard

Following on from the Daily mail war postcard we looked at a few weeks back here, tonight we have another card form the series, this one showing ‘British Infantry practicing an attack’:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (4)This postcard is notable for the dramatic photography used in the image, with the image taken from a low vantage point in a trench whilst the men leap over. There is a nice contrast between the dark of the trench sides and the men in mid-leap above:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (4) - CopyThe artistic standard of this postcard is unusual and makes an attractive image out of a serious topic.

Training was essential for trench warfare, but could never fully replicate real life in a front line trench which combined monotony with moments of true terror. William Albert Hastings was a Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders and in 1915 he sent this letter to a friend describing life in the trenches:

Very pleased to receive your letter, like yourself I find my correspondence voluminous for me at times, especially since I have taken on the duties of Platoon Sergeant which takes up more time than one realises at first. We are still in the trenches and have been in action twenty four days consecutively and I don’t know long we shall keep it up. Had a dirty time yesterday morning dodging damned great bombs the blighters were presenting to us without exaggeration they were eighteen inches to a two feet long and made a hole about ten feet deep and fifteen feet diameter at least we did not wait to see them burst. They can be seen descending through the air and then a scoot is made to get as far as possible round the corner, the iron and dirt seem to be falling for a minute afterwards, they are disturbing. Dicky Gilson has not been with us the last twenty four days, he broke his glasses and would not buy new ones (went to the doctor and all that and worked the oracle and was left behind with the Transport, don’t know whether he worked the ticket properly and got a safer job farther back, should not blame him if he has, his nerves have been in a shocking state, he’d brood a lot as you know that is absolutely fatal when you have a dirty job on like this. I have not seen either Frost or Kemball out here, do not seem to meet anybody fresh as we are always in the same district and relieve the same crowds generally.

Private Frost of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was another who wrote home from the trenches:

It has been a quiet place for two months, until two days after our occupation, when the British exploded mines under some workings of the Germans near their trenches, to prevent them blowing our trench up. Well! That woke them up and the following Saturday they retaliated by opening rapid fire early in the morning.

However we were ready for them and quickly replied, so they then bombarded us, which to say the least of it was a noisy business. That eventually ceased and rapid firing was quickly in process again, followed by another shelling, which our guns again put a stop to. The whole affair lasted an hour and ten minutes, and although we believe an attack was intended, the Germans didn’t leave their trench, opposite to us. After putting our trench in order again which took some time, as the parapet was blown down for about three yards near me, and a shell burst amongst a lot of beef tins, scattering them and the contents in all directions, besides the bottom of the trench being littered with hundreds of empty cartridges, we proceeded with boiling water for tea, also to show the Huns by the smoke that we were still there. Only a hundred yards separated the two trenches, so it was always a case of “bob down” and the enemy were good shots, as we found out to our cost when they smashed the top glasses in two periscopes within half an hour one morning.

Worcesters Going into Action Postcard

In 1916 the Daily Mail started releasing a series of postcards for sale to the general public depicting scenes of the front, having paid £2500 to war charities for permission to produce the images. Eventually 22 series of 8 card sets were produced, with accompanying albums to store the cards in. The newspaper touted described the first run of cards as:

The first selection of pictures numbers 40, and these represent all phases of the new warfare. They are up to date, for they depict scenes in the great  Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1. They will form a precious record of the gallantry and devotion of our soldiers in the great advance.

As might be expected, these cards are still very common and the images they show are far more exciting and historic than many postcards of the period and so they are a great place to start collecting Great War cards. I have a small number of these cards and will bring you them on an occasional basis going forwards. Tonight we start with an image entitled ‘The Worcesters Going into Action’:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (3)The photograph is clearly posed, but interesting nonetheless. The men are waving their helmets in the air:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (4) - CopyAnd one at least seems to be carrying a massive wooden mallet:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (3) - CopyEach man is carrying his full equipment including 08 webbing, PH hood respirator case and SMLE rifle:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (5) - CopyThe combination of helmet and PH Hood bag indiates the image dates from 1916 and suggests it is from one of the earlier runs of cards. The Daily mail’s series of postcards was unbelievably popular and their main tabloid rival, the Daily mirror, got in on the act by producing a series of their own based around the Canadian Army.

Letter from Field Marshal Haig

For the average collector who does not have a huge budget, items with a direct link to famous military leaders do not come up very often. Normally these are the reserve of collectors with deep pockets, however occasionally items do appear with a direct link to a famous historical personage. Sometimes this is a little tangential, like this bag used by one of TE Lawrence’s officers, other times it is a more direct connection. Tonight we have an original letter sent by Field Marshal Haig:imageI added this letter to my collection completely by chance. I bought a regimental history of one of the battalions of the Duke of Wellington Regiment during the Great War for a few pounds on the market, in itself a very good find:imageIt was only when I examined the book closely that I found the above letter pasted into the inside cover. The letter reads:

Dear Colonel Howat

In reply to your letter of 6th inst: very much regret to say that my time is so fully taken up trying to help our ex-servicemen, that I am unable to write a foreword to your book.

With hearty wishes for the success of the History of the 1/4th Battalion Duke of Wellingtons Regt.

The letter is then signed ‘Haig. FM.’:imageI have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this letter, having compared it to other known letters from Haig the hand writing is consistent, and the letterhead for the note paper is for Fairfield House, St Peters-In-Thanet:imageThis was the address of Haig in 1920 and with the content of the letter relating directly to the book it all appears correct.

Field Marshall Douglas Haig was the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France from Late 1915 until the end of the First World War. Following the end of the Great War Haig devoted himself to service charities, pushing for the amalgamation of charities and stopping a plan for a separate charity for officers, his efforts saw the foundation of the British Legion in June 1921. His Haig Fund and Haig Homes Charity continue to perform sterling work today.

It would be fair to say that following his death Haig has become a controversial figure. During his lifetime and at his funeral he was lauded as a great military commander, however during the 1960s this opinion was changed to portray him as a cold and unfeeling leader, unable to adapt to the new forms of war. This portrayal was most famously seen in the 1960s film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ when he was played by Sir John Mills- the film saying as much about 1960s attitudes as about the Great War. Modern historiography is kinder to the Field Marshal, but the popular myth of him as a butcher remains in many quarters.Field_Marshall_Earl_Haig_(2)Regardless of Haig’s reputation, this letter is a wonderful find and something I feel very privileged to have in my collection; a real and tangible links to one of the most important men of the First World War.