Category Archives: Inter-War

Troops Disembarking From a Steamer Postcard

This week’s postcard depicts a group of soldiers parading on the quayside after disembarking from a steamer:

The men are dressed in khaki drill and pith helmets:

By contrast they are being inspected by members of the diplomatic corps, who are dressed in white parade uniforms:

The steamer itself can be seen in the background and this seems to be a small vessel, perhaps carrying both freight and passengers. It has a single funnel and seems far smaller than one would expect for a troop ship:

The ship’s officers can be seen, again dressed in white, on the bridge:

Landing in a new country from a ship could be a dizzying experience, here William Pennington describes landing from a steamer in India:

Aboard the ship we troops were assembling, glad that the journey was over. I was full of excitement as I dragged my kit-bag to the landing deck, wearing my Wolseley helmet, to protect me from the blazing sun which, even at nine in the morning, was casting its heat and brilliance everywhere…

And, as we took our first step on the gangway, we were already bathed in sweat and feeling the discomfort we would come to know so well. The stentorian voices of those in command, both aboard and ashore, were clearly heard above the bedlam of noises, as were the martial tunes played by the Royal Artillery band as it marched the length of the docks with its measured tread. Beyond the activities alongside the ship stood the troop-train, black smoke rising from the funnel. It’s drabness was punctuated only by the flashes of colourful headwear and the dress of the bandsmen.

My walk down the gangway added but a few more steps to the countless thousands which had been made by the soldiers of the British Empire since 1857 and the days of the East India Company. I was to join the garrison of some sixty thousand who were presently stationed in India to keep order in the country and to provide protection from potential invaders…

Soldiers on India’s Canals Postcard

Despite the coming of the railways, inland waterways remained an important method of transporting heavy goods well into the twentieth century, not only in Britain but across the Empire. They were a cheap, if slow, way of moving bulky goods and the British military made use of them to transport men and equipment. The Royal Engineers developed an inland waterways division in Mesopotamia during the Great War and they were used extensively in India throughout the first half of the century. India has over 9000 miles of navigable waterways including 2,500 miles of man-made canals. Tonight’s postcard is uncaptioned, but looking at the dress of the natives in the photograph I suspect it was taken in India and shows a group of British soldiers supervising the movement of a barge through a lock:

The barge is sitting in the lock with a heavy cargo and a single bargeman helping guide it through the lock:

Quite what cargo the barge is carrying isn’t clear, it appears to be sacks of some sort and might be grain, fodder or even something like coal. The lock gates can be seen to the left. These are substantial iron structures, with winch gear on the bank to control the sluices necessary to make the lock work:

These structures were built to last and often survive to this day in working condition, an oil and paint being all that is required to keep them running almost indefinitely. The rear gate can be seen behind the barge, with a stream of water cascading over the gates: 

A British soldier can be seen on the left bank, watching on:

While more of his comrades watch on from the opposite side:

They all wear typical military dress for India at this time, khaki drill shirts and shorts and Wolseley helmets.

RAMC Mess Fork

Regular readers will know that I have a fondness for mess china and cutlery and I have collected a small selection over the years to various regiments. Recently I picked up another piece, this time a mess fork from the Royal Army medical Corps:

The Corps’ badge is stamped into the end of the handle, and the crown indicates that this dates to before 1952:

Note also the block saying ‘Vols’, indicating that this fork came from a RAMC Volunteer unit. The fork itself was made by Elkington, whose mark is stamped on the reverse:

The RAMC had officers’ messes just like any other regiment, with individual messes set up across the Empire wherever a sufficient number of officers were grouped together to warrant it:

Set among green lawns and shady trees the Officers’ Mess of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Rawalpindi was a dwelling-place with a personality of its own- a personality of graciousness and charm- which inspired among its members an abiding affection akin to that of a family for its ancestral home…The house was officially described as bungalow no. 57. It was situated on the south side of the Mall…The constructional work included a new kitchen block, complete with pantry and preparation and store-rooms, re-building of several rooms in the Mess and quarters to new plans, new floors, new fireplaces, double teak doors and tiling of bathrooms.. most of the old furniture was replaced by new pieces made of shisham and a refectory table- an exact copy of the XVIIth Century oak tables in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea- was made for the ante room. Messrs. Hayat of Rawalpindi were responsible for the fine craftsmanship of the joinery and cabinet work. Curtains and furnishing fabrics were obtained from London. The electric installation was renewed.

With the Vicar to Cairo Postcard

This week’s postcard is something of a departure as it is not a photograph’ but a hand drawn cartoon of a Royal Navy padre leading an excursion of sailors on a trip to Cairo:

The ship can be seen in the Mediterranean at the top of the drawing:

The Vicar is in the centre leading a mixture of ratings and marines on their excursion:

Whilst at the bottom is a drawing of the pyramids and the Sphinx, sporting a jaunty sailor’s cap:

The back of the postcard reads ‘sky pilots’ trip to Cairo with a few of his “cherubs”‘, 1931:

The chaplain to HMS Hood described the padre’s unique place within the ship’s company:

The Padre is a man apart, in that he has no specific rank and is thus different from the other officers.

The role of the padre was a difficult balancing act:

Avoid anything which might label you an officer’s parson: more than one chaplain has been thus labelled by the ship’s company because he happens to be a keen bridge player, and gets caught up with a section of officers who play in the dog watches and after dinner. Those are the times when the chaplain can wander round the messdecks, or organise some upper deck games or concerts for his parish. If they only see you at Morning Prayers, in the chapel and on Sundays, then you are not doing your job.

By making contact in a quiet way each day, the men will gradually come to realise that (a) you like their company and (b) that you are their friend. The latter must depend upon your own personality and the power to convince them that you never betray their confidence not carry tales aft to the wardroom. A chaplain can easily be thought a spy, and therefore treated with reserve by the ship’s company if the word is passed round that the chaplain ‘only comes for’ard to find out things’…

Physical Training Display by the Royal Air Force Postcard

This week’s postcard shows a group of airmen from the Royal Air Force performing a display of physical training at a tournament:

The band can be seen in the background:

And the men themselves, dressed in white, performing their display of PT:

The arena itself is highly decorated, with blags, banners and streamers:

I suspect this is the Royal Tournament and the Daily Mail in 1935 reported on that years pageant:

This year’s Royal Tournament which the Prince of Wales will open on May 9 at Olympia, Kensington, will be more “Royal” than ever.

For the opening ceremony the Navy, Army and Air Force will provide a combined Guard of Honour 500 strong, and all the regiments and corps taking part in the subsequent programme will be those of which the King or his sons are titular heads…

Other features of the tournament will be massed physical-training displays including rope and ladder climbing by Army athletes, and the ever popular speed drills contributed by the Royal Air Force Training School at Uxbridge.

Boys from the Duke of York’s Royal Military School at Dover have devised a striking display which promises to be worthy of the famous toy soldiers’ drill which they first presented at Olympia some years ago.

Life in the Royal Navy Cigarette Cards (Part 4)

Catapulting a Supermarine Walrus Amphibian

All modern battleships and cruisers include aircraft and catapults in their equipment. In this picture a Supermarine Walrus amphibian is being launched into the air from HMAS Sydney by a catapult which gives it an initial speed of considerably over 50 miles an hour. The first catapult ever used in a British warship was installed in HMS vindictive in 1925. Previously the only method of launching aircraft from ships unprovided with flightdecks or platforms was by hoisting seaplanes out by crane so that they might take off from the water. It is still necessary to use cranes for hoisting in catapulted aircraft on their return.

Cruiser Hoisting in Supermarine Walrus Amphibian

The aircraft which is being hoisted from the water on which it has evidently just alighted is a Walrus amphibian fleet spotter a biplane made by the Supermarine company and carried by most battleships and cruisers. It is propelled by a Bristol Pegasus VI, nine cylinder air cooled engine driving a pusher airscrew. The crew comprises the pilot, navigator, wireless telegraphist and gunner. As the machine is gradually hoisted from the water, an officer signals with a pair of red and green hand flags to the rating who is operating the crane, so that the latter may know when the aircraft is high enough to be swung in for landing in its birth on the ship.

Rating Pilots Donning Flying Kit

Here are seen two ratings qualified or qualifying as air pilots donning their flying kit. Since the Admiralty took over complete control of the Fleet Air Arm, naval ratings have been eligible to qualify as air pilots. They are selected mainly from the seaman, signal and telegraphist branches of the service and must be between the ages of 21 and 24. They are given a thorough training ashore for a year, followed by eight weeks in a training aircraft carrier during which time able seaman are rated as acting leading seaman. As soon as the full period of training has been successfully completed, they are advanced to the rating of petty officer.

Meteorological Device

In order to give aircraft pilots some idea of conditions in the upper air, it is necessary to take observations at heights greater than sea level. The balloon seen in the picture is designed to rise vertically at a known rate so that its height can be accurately measured according to the length of time it has been in the air. Directly it is released, observations are taken at intervals of a minute by means of a compass and sextant as shown in the picture. Having thus ascertained the distance and compass bearing from the ship, it can be quickly calculated by means of a specially prepared diagram what direction the balloon is taking in its ascent, thus giving the force and direction of the wind above.

In the Stokehold

A modern stokehold or boiler room is very different from the grimy inferno of the days when all ships were coal-fired. With oil burning boilers, the fires are seldom exposed to view, small apertures in the furnace doors making it possible to see whether the burners are working properly. In place of shovelling coal and raking out ash and clinker a Stoker today regulates the supply of oil to the fires and the admission of care to ensure combustion. To light up a boiler, the oil sprayers are turned on and a piece of lighted cotton waste inserted. With oil fuel, unlike solid fuel, there is no difficulty either in getting a full head of steam quickly or in maintaining the pressure.

Starting Platform of Cruiser’s Engine Room

In the foreground can be seen an engine room artificer (the figure on the left) and his mate a stoker. The various gauges visible show the pressure of steam in the main boilers, in the four turbines and in various auxiliary machinery such as the steering engine, feed pumps, evaporators and condensers. In the centre of the picture is the bridge telegraph repeating dial, which shows in bold letters each order given from the bridge of the ship. Apparently the artificer’s mate is engaged in opening a valve, possibly to put the engines over to half speed as shown on the dial. The only time when the engine and boiler rooms of HM ships are open to the inspection of visitors is during navy week.

Artificers at Work

The picture shows an electrical artificer (a chief petty officer) and a seaman torpedo man at work in the electrical artificer’s workshop of HMS Ark Royal. Every warship carries engine room artificers, ordinance artificers, and electrical artificers, who are not only the most highly skilled, but also the most highly paid ratings in the Royal Navy. In the picture the two ratings appear to be refitting the armature of one of the many electric motors which are used in HM ships for driving fans, pumps and allsorts of other machinery. The electrical Artificers, assisted by the semen of the torpedo branch (who are also trained as electricians) are responsible for the working of the electrical fittings in a ship.


The picture shows two telegraphists busy in the wireless room, one of the chief nerve centres of a warship. Nowadays there is a constant flow of wireless signals to and from every ship in a fleet so that the telegraphists are amongst the busiest men on board. Boys are selected in the training establishments for transfer to the telegraphist branch. Commencing as Boy telegraphists they can rise by way of the ratings of ordinary telegraphist, telegraphist, leading telegraphist, and petty officer telegraphist to chief petty officer telegraphist. Some of the smartest of these ratings are selected for the rank of warrant telegraphist, whence it is possible to climb still higher to commissioned rank.

Ship’s Butcher

Modern methods of refrigeration ensure an adequate supply of fresh meat to officers and men of the Royal Navy when afloat. Needless to say joints supplied to naval messes are of the best quality obtainable. In the old days, after a short time at sea ships had to fall back on preserved provisions such as the famed “salt horse.” This was beef or pork pickled in brine and packed in casks and probably kept for many years in store at one of the Navy victualling yards. A rating appointed for butcher’s duty is paid 3d. a day over and above his pay. In former days the ship’s butcher was also responsible for slaughtering, as required, the livestock placed on board at the beginning of a cruise.

Ship’s Bakery

The picture shows the bakery of HMS Courageous, an aircraft carrier of 22,500 tons. It will be observed that there are loaves of various shapes to suit individual tastes. This is very different from conditions in the old-time Navy, when the only form of bread available most of the time was ship’s biscuits, very hard and apt to harbour weevils. Every incentive is offered to ship’s bakers to turn out bread of the best quality, there being an annual competition on each station between all ships with bakeries, and a similar competition between smaller vessels lacking such complete facilities, with trophies to those turning out the best bread.

Browning 1910 Pistol

Browning and the Belgian company of FN had enormous success with the Browning 1900 .32 pocket pistol; it was the first slide operated semi-automatic and the principle has remained the most common method of operating a pistol to this day. By 1910 that design was becoming a little long in the tooth and a new pistol was desperately needed and so Browning provided the company with a new pocket pistol design that moved the recoil spring from beneath the barrel to around it, making a much more ergonomic design that would become known as the FN Model 1910 pistol:

This new pistol could be offered in both .320 and .380 (9mm Browning) cartridges, the only change that needed to be made was to the barrel. The .380 version could hold 6 rounds, the .320 held 7 rounds. This example is the .320 version, the magazine being a slim single stack, single feed design:

The magazine was retained by a heel-release magazine catch:

The pistol had three safeties: a magazine safety that meant the magazine had to be fully inserted before the gun would fire, a grip safety that had to be depressed by the operator before firing:

And a manual safety that rotated in the body and blocked the internal mechanism from working:

One of the weakest points of the 1910 are its sights, which by modern standards are very small and hard to read. The sights use a channel, chequered to reduce glare, and a small front post:

Although these are poor by modern standards, it must be remembered that they are typical for the era the gun was designed in.

The cartridges offered for the 1910 were of comparatively low power, so the gun works by simple blowback and without the need for locking surfaces. This makes the gun simple to produce and operate as there are fewer moving surfaces within the pistol.

The 1910 is remembered as the design of pistol used in the assassination of Franz Fedinand in 1914 that triggered the Great War, however it is not usually associated with the British Empire. There was one user at least, however, the Australian Postal Service who bought the pistols to arm their couriers when transporting currency. The pistols were also issued to banks in Australia for protection and remained in service until at least the 1960s.