Category Archives: Inter-War

Postcard of Dalhousie Barracks, Calcutta

This week we return to India again for our weekly postcard, which this week is a fine study of Dalhousie Barracks in Calcutta:skm_c30819010312060I believe this postcard dates from around the time of the First World War and the building still stands today as part of the Indian Army’s Fort William. This description comes from a book called ‘Fort William Calcutta’s Crowning Glory’ by M.L. Augustine:

As soon as one enters the Fort through the East Gate, a massive structure of a four storeyed building captures one’s attention. Constructed during the period of Lord Dalhousie (Between 1848-56), this triangular building is named after him. It is the only building of its type in India that can accommodate an entire infantry battalion with its stores, arms, ammunition, and officers. A thousand bodies live, eat, sleep and train themselves for war on its premises. On the ground floor there is a temple. Ironically, next to the temple are the Quarter Guard, the armoury of weapons and the prisoners’ cells. It is said that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was once incarcerated in this building before he fled to Japan, though there is no documentary evidence to support this in any manner.

It was reported that when it was built, Dalhousie Barracks allocated 2000 cubic feet per man inside its building, equivalent to 111 square feet per soldier- at the time this was highlighted as being particularly generous compared to the overcrowded barracks used up to this point. It was also noted that as built ablution rooms and urinals were situated at the ends of the building on each floor for the use of the men, something that was again novel and new in military architecture.

The building has no doubt been refurbished many times over the century, but it remains in daily use by the Indian Army and is still a large and impressive building:capture

Artillery Column in India Photograph

This week’s photograph is a magnificent study of a British Army column on the move through rural India between the wars:skm_c30819010312040The column appears to be a light artillery unit and is entirely mounted, the officers leading on their chargers:skm_c30819010312040 - copyA small group of mounted troopers follows close behind:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (2)Whilst the main column trails behind. There appears to be a succession of guns and limbers, each pulled by four or six horses, with the gun crews either riding pillion or on the limber itself:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (3)The column stretches away into the distance, curving round behind the bridge and shrouded in dust from the horses’ hooves:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (4)In the background a native village sits next to the road, its peaceful slumber rudely awoken by the passing troops:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (5)Behind this column would have trailed a large gaggle of hangers on, everything from cooks and servants to prostitutes and acrobats, all trying to part the soldier form his cash. Marches typically set off early in the morning before the sun became too hot and an advance part was sent ahead of the main column to prepare the following night’s camp. The camp was usually pitched near a small village or town and by the time the slow moving column reached it, hot and dusty, it would be ready for them. Apart for a few sentries, most men were then free to relax and visit the shops if the settlement was small enough. Any large town usually led to an order to remain in camp overnight. The following morning the camp was squared away and the process repeated until the column reached its final destination.

Indian Army Molar Extractors

I am never surprised at the wide variety of equipment that was taken into military service and marked as such. If I can find something weird and wonderful that is marked for the Indian Army as well then so much the better. Tonight’s object definitely falls into this category and is a pair of Indian Army marked molar extractors:imageThis dental tool has a large pair of jaws to clamp around the tooth for extraction:imageThe handles are deeply grooved to aid grip and this tool is specifically designed for the left upper molars, as marked on the inside of the handle:imageNote also the /|\ over ‘I’ mark showing it was accepted into Indian Army service. The tool appears to be dated 1929, If I am interpreting this mark correctly:imageA circular maker’s mark is stamped onto the inside of the opposite side and indicates that this instrument was manufactured in England, before being shipped out to India:imageThis is typical for the interwar period where manufacturing in India was not sufficiently developed to allow these items to be sourced in the sub-continent. The Second World War would see a massive increase in the capacity of the region to produce high quality medical equipment and by the time of independence India would be self-sufficient for this type of simple tool.

Visiting the dentist could be traumatic in the early twentieth century, as described by trooper Tom Canning:

Whilst in training with the Royal Armoured Corps in Barnard Castle, I broke a tooth which necessitated a visit to the Dentist.
Now I have disliked all forms of dentistry as it appears to be filled with people who enjoy hurting other people when there have been many ways of preventing pain of all sorts for many years past.
There was no escape however, and I started the trudge towards the 59th regts. camp some two miles away along the road to west Auckland, hoping that some strange disease had overtaken the Dentist, and that the appointment would be cancelled.
No such luck as I was ushered into the torture chamber. Sure enough I was now one tooth short of the establishment for fighting an enemy. ” I can rectify that” said the chief torturer ” I shall give you a new tooth”, and he proceeded to level off the offending left front incisor.
When he was finished he then suggested that I reappear – same time – same place next week.
The walk back to Streatlam camp was spent in musing how this Dentist could grow another tooth in my head, with no full understanding of how he was to achieve this miracle.
The next visit made it abundantly clear when he started drilling – upwards to-wards my brain ! After six weeks of this torture he then, like a third rate magician, produced this tooth on what appeared to be a very long spike. He then glued this “tooth” into my head – remember that this was way before the advent of “crazy glue” and other forms of adhesives.
On completion of this task he then handed me a mirror. ” but the tooth is blue” I remarked – ” not a problem ” he replied – ” it will be white as snow very soon”!
This I thought, was a ‘porkie” of great dimension which after four years overseas without the benefit of another dentist – the tooth remained blue.
Finally attaining civilian status, this blue thing finally fell off leaving this spike unadorned, much to the amusement of my Dentist who then established that in the course of my wanderings through Europe this spike had moved and affected many of my top teeth. The consequences of this were a complete overhaul of my mouth which left me in the position that should anything stressful occur in my mouth, all I have to do is to mail my dentures to the nearest dental mechanic for his attention and return mailing! No more Dentists for me!

25 Pattern Cartridge Carriers

Tonight my special thanks go to Andy Dearlove who very kindly let me photograph tonight’s object from his collection. All 25 pattern RAF webbing is scarce, but the rifle cartridge carriers are particularly difficult to find, and like Andy I have been looking for a pair for over ten years and last year he got lucky and found a pair at a militaria show in Belgium. The 1925 pattern cartridge carriers are a development of the 1908 system, with individual pockets each holding three five round chargers of Lee Enfield ammunition. With four pockets a side, the pair of carriers can hold a total of 120 rounds:
imageEach of these pockets is reduction woven, just like the earlier 08 design, but obviously produced in blue-grey cotton:
imageEach pocket is secured with a tab and a Newey stud:
imageInside a small strip of webbing prevents cartridge carriers from accidentally falling out when the pouches are opened:
imageUnlike the earlier designs however, the 25 pattern pouches are worn with a back belt rather than a full belt and have the buckle built into the pouches themselves:
imageThe opposite end of the pouches have a C hook for fastening to the back belt and a loop for securing any excess belt left loose after correct sizing:imageThe design becomes particularly apparent when a pair are shown face down, with the two fastenings for the back belt visible at either side and the buckle in the centre:
imageThe attachment of the top buckle is also unusual as it is attached to a small piece of webbing that has a brass chape attached, this in turn is fastened around a wider brass buckle sewn to the pouches themselves that allows a degree of articulation:imageThis seems a very complicated method of attachment compared to later designs and reflects the time and money that can be expended in peacetime for a limited production of a design that would only see limited service.

These pouches were used by airmen in the Royal Air Force armed with rifles such a sentries and those marching between establishments carrying rifles. They remained in use and production until about 1941 but as they were not compatible with 37 Pattern equipment in the way the pistol equipment was they seem to have been disposed of very quickly and don’t survive in any great numbers. These pouches are not a matched pair and are dated 1935 and 1941- sadly it proved too difficult to get a photo of the markings.

My thanks go to Andy for letting us look at this rare piece of interwar webbing and I look forward to finding my own set of these pouches in the not too distant future!

Indian Made Mess Dress Trousers

A couple of weeks ago we looked at an Indian Army mess dress jacket. As promised, tonight we follow up that post by looking at the matching pair of mess dress trousers, also commonly called ‘overalls’:imageThese are produced in a very fine dark blue wool, with a wide red stripe down each outside leg:imageThese trousers were produced in India in 1920, as witnessed by the large circular acceptance mark stamped on the inside:imageThese trousers are of superb quality and not at all what we would later come to associate with Indian production. I am fairly confident however that they were produced in India rather than imported from Britain and then stamped on arrival. The buttons used throughout the mess dress are japanned stamped metal designs and although the japanning is too thick to be able to read a makers mark, they feel very ‘Indian’ to me:imageThe base of each trouser leg is cut to fit over a pair of dress boots, and a strap with a button to secure it is sewn on to pass under the instep and prevent the trousers from riding up:imageThe fly is secured with a row of the same buttons:imageThe waist of the trousers is lined with a striped shirting material, the rear being cut into a ‘fish-tail’ back and having buttons (on the reverse) to attach a pair of braces to:imageThese are very fitted trousers and as such the only pocket provided is a small change pocket inside the waist:imageAs officers would be expected to purchase their own mess dress, the acceptance stamp is a bit of a mystery. My best guess is that these trousers were produced for issue to a senior NCO who would have received his mess kit form the government. At some point though they were acquired by an officer for use with his mess dress jacket and thus the pair have come down to us together. I am pretty confident that the jacket and trousers have been together for a very long time as Indian produced mess kit is rare and the chances of a collector or a surplus shop just happening to find them as separate entities and then matching them up seems slim to me.

Either way these trousers are in remarkable condition considering they are now 98 years old and they look like they could have been manufactured yesterday!

Indian Army Used Spoon

Tonight we are looking at a metal spoon produced in the UK for use by the Indian Army:imageWe can tell that this spoon was destined for India as it is marked with an /|\ over an ‘I’ mark on the rear:imageThis was the military acceptance mark for India and is seen on a variety of British and Indian made military items used by the forces in the sub-continent. This spoon though was made in Sheffield and is marked with the makers stamp ‘SSPC&Co’:imageThis stands for the Sheffield Silver Plate and Cutlery Company Ltd, of Priestlet Street Sheffield. A 1921 dated advert by the company shows some of the designs of flatware they offered:Im19211203IM-SheffieldSilverPlateI suspect that this spoon was manufactured between the wars, as by the Second World War India was increasingly reliant on domestic manufacture to meet the needs of its military forces, as described in this exert from ‘The History of the Supply Department’

This industry, has been pursued on a small scale by the village blacksmith from times immemorial. In recent times larger units of production have come into being owned by enterprising smiths or others. The lines of production largely conformed to the rural requirements—namely, knives of various kinds, spoons, butcher’s implements, farm implements like sickles etc. Factories worked with steam or electric power were also started and these made cutlery of the modern type and surgical instruments. But such production continued to be small for long and the large proportion of the pen-knives, table knives, scissors, razors, spoons and forks etc. used in cities and towns was imported.

Production is scattered throughout the country but there are certain areas which enjoy notable hereditary skill; for instance, Aligarh and Moradabad in U.F.: Nizamabad and Wazirabad in the Punjab. The bigger factories are located in cities like Calcutta, Lahore and Bombay. The industry was mostly dependent on imported steel.

The war created a large demand for spoons, which gave a fillip to the industry. The Supply Department dealt with some of the larger producers. In other cases orders were placed with contractors who purchased partly wrought articles from rural areas and got them finished in workshops maintained by them. The production enormously increased and the total military demands in 1943 came to 5,800,000 pieces valued at Rs. 96 lacks. The Supply Department mostly purchased knives clasp, knives table, forks, spoons, locks and padlocks, The purchases of all kinds during 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945 were Rs. 10,300,000, Rs. 4,100,000, Rs. 6,200,000 and 4,750,000 respectively.

The goods now made to meet Defence demands are also suitable for civilian markets except that a greater variety may be required.

Postcard of the Edith Cavell Memorial

This week’s postcard is a view of the Edith Cavell memorial in London:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (2)This monument was unveiled in 1920 and this card was posted in 1921, just a year later. The monument was designed by Sir George Frampton and is situated just outside Trafalgar Square. Frampton adopted a distinctively Modernist style for the memorial, which comprises a 10 feet (3.0 m) high statue of Cavell in her nurse’s uniform sculpted from white Carrara marble, standing on a grey Cornish granite pedestal:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (2) - CopyThe statue stands in front of the south side of a larger grey granite pylon which stands 40 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The top of the block is carved into a cross and statue of a mother and child, sometimes interpreted as the Virgin and Child:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (3) - CopyOn the pedestal beneath the statue of Cavell is an inscription which reads: “Edith Cavell // Brussels // Dawn // October 12th 1915 // Patriotism is not enough // I must have no hatred or // bitterness for anyone.” The last three lines of the inscription quote her comment to Reverend Stirling Gahan, an Anglican chaplain who was permitted to give her Holy Communion on the night before her execution. These words were initially left off, and added in 1924 at the request of the National Council of Women.

The face of the granite block behind the statue of Cavell bears the inscription “Humanity”, and higher up, below the Virgin and Child, “For King and Country”. Other faces of the block bear the inscriptions, “Devotion”, “Fortitude”, and “Sacrifice”. On the rear face of the block is a carving of a lion crushing a serpent, and higher up, the inscription, “Faithful until death”.

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was working in German occupied Belgium in the first World War. She was responsible for helping up to 200 British soldiers escape capture by the Germans and when this was discovered she was executed by them as a traitor. This naturally made her a martyr to the British and her remains were repatriated to Great Britain after the war and following a service in Westminster Abbey buried in Norwich Cathedral.

The site chosen for the statue had previously been occupied by a monument to General Gordon which was relocated to Khatoum. The design of the memorial did not receive universal praise with the author Osbert Sitwell describing the memorial in his 1928 book “People’s Album of London Statues” wrote that:

with its absurd babies and all its apocryphal tackle of quite meaningless and sentimental allegory, further vitiated by a mistaken effort at German modernity, is an eyesore and atrocity of the most infamous kind.

The monument still stands near Trafalgar Square and is the site of pilgrimage for devotees of Edith Cavell on the anniversary of her death when floral tributes are laid for her.The_Edith_Cavell_Memorial_(5992690965)_(cropped)