HMS Despatch Sailor in Rickshaw Postcard

This week’s postcard dates from the 1920s and is part of a larger grouping of images related to HMS Despatch, a Delhi class cruiser laid down in the Great War. She was to spend much of the Inter-War period in the Far East as part of the China Station where she took part in a number of operations against warlords and pirates (see my book British Empire Uniforms 1919-1939 for more details on these). Today’s image, however, is of some of the crew messing about with a miniature rickshaw in front of one of the cruiser’s guns:

Although the man pulling the rickshaw appears to be a native at first glance, closer inspection suggests it is in fact another member of the crew in ‘blackface’ and larking around for the camera:

Equally the rickshaw itself is very insubstantial and appears to be mounted on a couple of small bicycle wheels, probably made by the crew themselves for japes:

The sailor sitting in the rickshaw wears the white tropical uniform used in the South China Seas at the time, together with a broad brimmed straw sennet hat:

He holds a small parasol and his rate badges indicate that he is a leading seaman.

Sailors aboard ship and away from home for many years at a time formed close units and had to rely on each other for entertainment so different sports and social functions were a part of shipboard life. Most decent sized ships had a band, the larger ones having more than one to cover different musical genres, there would also have been various social events such as sports days, rowing teams etc. The men could compete with their ship mates, or when a fleet was in port against teams from other ships with the sport being watched by the rest of the crews and cheered on accordingly. Smaller pastimes included craft work such as embroidery, making model ships and small trinkets for loved ones and the traditional ‘sod’s opera’ was another way for men to let off steam.

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