Category Archives: Photograph

Mystery Photograph of a Piper

Tonight’s photograph is something of a mystery and has generated much enjoyable debate on one of the Facebook collector’s sites. This photograph depicts a piper in Scottish dress:SKM_C284e18070313140The debate arises from which unit he derives from and the insignia and dress have a number of confusing features. His sporran has two tassels and what appears to be the stag’s head of the Seaforth Highlanders:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (2)The cap badge is at an angle that makes it hard to be sure, but the consensus is that it is possibly the distinctive badge of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3)This badge is circular with the wildcat of Sutherland rather than the more usual stag’s head badge of the other battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders. s-l300So far then this piper is looking as though he comes from the Seaforth Highlanders, however the 5th Seaforth highlanders had their own distinctive sporran, different from that worn by other battalions and different to the one shown in this photograph. It becomes even more confusing when we look at the cross strap:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (4)This is not a Seaforth’s pattern, but rather the same design as used by the Black Watch. The plaid brooch is again more characteristic of the Black Watch than the Seaforths:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (5)The belt buckle however is of a generic design that was worn by a number of Scottish regiments in the early twentieth century:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (6)All this is very confusing and it thus becomes very hard to pin down which regiment this piper belongs to, if indeed he belongs to any. Many civilian pipe bands of the early twentieth century dressed their members in surplused military equipment and it has been suggested that this might be one of those. Equally in many early territorial and volunteer units there were not official funds for such niceties as a regimental band so they were funded by the men and officers themselves and had to purchase their own uniforms and pipes. This therefore led to a wide variety of semi and non-official uniforms that bore only a passing resemblance to the official dress regulations.

In truth it is probably impossible to say either which unit this man belonged to, or even if he is from a military rather than a civilian pipe band. It does however encourage lively historic debate and is a great little mystery for those who enjoy the intricacies of period uniforms.

Dockyard Creek, Malta Photograph

Not every image I come across is of the highest quality, and tonight’s is a rather poor but interesting shot of a harbour:SKM_C284e18051511411Happily for us the original photographer was kind enough to label this so we know that this is a shot of Dockyard Creek on Malta. In the back ground ships can be seen at their moorings:SKM_C284e18051511411 - CopyAnd the buildings of the harbour can be seen on the shore:SKM_C284e18051511411 - Copy (2)The dockyards in Malta are in Valetta, the island’s capital and were first founded by the Knights of Malta to service their galleys. When the British took over the running of Malta in the nineteenth century they started a dockyard for the Royal Navy to help maintain their Mediterranean fleet. They centred this around the existing buildings in Dockyard Creek and massively expanded what was there so that by the mid nineteenth century the dockyard boasted storehouses, a ropery, a small steam factory, victualling facilities, houses for the officers of the Yard, and most notably a dry dock which at the time was the first provided for the Royal Navy outside Great Britain.

The dockyard remained in used for over a hundred years, its toughest test coming during the Second World War when the island was virtually under siege. William Andrews was in the Royal Navy and describes being in the dockyard under enemy fire:

I had just arrived from Gibraltar on board HMS Dido a cruiser, I was to join HMS Aurora light cruiser which was unfortunately lying in dry dock No:5 in Malta harbour with damage to her bows. After a few preliminaries I finally went on board Aurora. I soon became part of the crew. Apparently she had run into a mine field after a patrol beyond the Maltese boundaries. HMS Neptune cruiser was sunk, HMS Penelope had been damaged although she managed to make it to the USA for repairs and Destroyer Kandahar was beached. Aurora made it back to Malta but worse was to happen as the enemy were determined to finish her.
The bombing was incessant. Our captain Bill Agneur ordered that all personnel not concerned with the defence of the ship to proceed ashore to air raid shelters within the dock yard area. There was heavy destruction around us, we were trapped in the dry dock with only our guns for defence. Other anti-aircraft batteries were within the area and gave us good support.
One day during a heavy raid, the dock gate received a direct hit and within minutes we were floating as the harbour waters rushed into the dock. Finally the damaged gates were dragged away and we got out into the harbour.

Today the area has been gentrified and is used to moor luxury yachts, a far cry from its time in the Second World War.

Stereoscope Card of the Military Procession for Queen Victoria’s Funeral

I always like finding stereoscope cards (one day I will get a viewer to be able to appreciate the 3D effect), and there are a number of different military cards out there to find. As well as the cards depicting the battlefields of the Boer and First World Wars, cards of Royal occasions often have many military personnel featured on them. A few weeks back we looked at an example form the coronation of King Edward VII, tonight we have another example from shortly before at the funeral of Queen Victoria:SKM_C284e18070313140 - CopyLooking at just the single image we can see that it depicts the Royal family and other crowned heads of Europe:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - Copy (6)In detail we can see King Edward VII in his dress Royal Navy uniform:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - CopyAnd the German Kaiser with his distinctive moustache:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - Copy (2)Alongside the royal family marches British guardsmen in home service dress with white Slade Wallace equipment:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - Copy (3)They are holding their rifles reversed, a typical sight at a funeral:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - Copy (4)Troops line the street with their rifles at present arms:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy - Copy (5)Queen Victoria had requested a military funeral as befitted the daughter of a soldier and so the military were out in huge numbers. The day was sombre, but the Daily Mail’s report of the funeral itself comes across as particularly florid and elaborate:

Looking from the organ loft, down the nave, and through the door into the open space beyond, we witness such a spectacle as human eyes shall never witness again. A light cloud of smoke is blown athwart the opening, and below in the distance we discern the soldiers, who line the path with downcast eyes and arms reversed. Then the Guards in their scarlet coats slowly mount the steps, followed by the dragoons of the Victoria’s German Regiment. Then come the heralds, the guardians of our pomp and state; then the Crown and sceptre, symbols of Sovereign power are carried by the Queen’s trusty and well beloved servants. Meanwhile we have caught a far glimpse of the gun carriage, whereon the coffin rests, and the blue-jackets who have pulled it to the door of the chapel. Suddenly the coffin borne shoulder high, appears in the line of sight. As it is carried up the stairs it dips and rises like a ship on a stormy sea. There is an instant of suspense, but already the Grenadiers, their precious burden on their shoulders, are slowly following the Archbishops up the nave, the organ is pealing, the noble service for the dead begins.

Photograph of HMS Dido’s Main Armament

This week’s photograph has a naval theme as it depicts HMS Dido, however unlike typical three-quarter point views of a ship at sea, this image is taken from the foc’stle looking aft and shows the ships guns and superstructure:SKM_C284e18070313140 - CopyThe ship’s three gun turrets can be clearly seen:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - CopyEach turret housed a pair of 5.25 inch dual purpose guns and in this view it can be seen that they are encased in plastic. Some writing on the back of the photograph helps explain this as this indicates the photograph was taken in 1954. At this date the ship had been decommissioned and was in Fareham Creek in reserve. As such many of her critical systems were cocooned to prevent them rusting and deteriorating. This was common practice in the early 1950s when large fleets were being decommissioned but no one was sure if war with the Soviets was on the horizon and they might be needed again at short notice. As such relatively modern ships were put into deep storage like HMS Dido just in case they would be needed again. Dido would not be called on again and in 1957 she would be sent to the breakers.

Above the three gun turrets can be seen the ship’s bridge:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy (2)Like many cruisers of the era, her bridge is open and above can be seen various directors and the base of her mast. In the foreground we can see capstans and anchor chains that filled her fore deck:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy - Copy (3)The Dido was the lead ship in her class and the eleven ships of the Dido class and five of the Bellona sub class were well regarded during the Second World War where their heavy armament and anti-aircraft capability meant they were well suited to operations in the Mediterranean. Having been laid down in 1937 Dido was the oldest member of her class but was only commissioned in 1940 meaning that she saw just fourteen years of active service before passing to reserve status and subsequently going to the scrap-man.

3″ Mortar Team in Mandalay Photograph

This week’s photograph is a rather nice action shot of a 3” mortar being fired:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3)This image is marked ‘Mandalay, Burma, 1945’ on the back and is probably either staged for the camera or taken during training as the mortars are not dug in and the camera man would be very exposed in this position if they were being fired in anger. In the centre of the photograph is the 3” mortar itself:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3) - CopyOne of the crew can be seen having just dropped the bomb into the tube, indeed the bomb can be seen half way in the barrel:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (5) - CopyThe second crewman is kneeling next to the weapon:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (4) - CopyA set of cardboard ammunition tubes for the bombs is on the ground a short distance behind them:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (7) - CopyA second mortar team is in the background:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (8) - CopyAs is a Bren gun carrier:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (6) - CopyThe following detailed description of the 3” mortar comes from ‘Militaryfactory.com’:

The design was characterized by its major components – namely the launch tube, baseplate, bipod, sighting equipment and ammunition. The system was 81mm (3.2″) in precise caliber (despite the 3″ used in the official designation)) and cleared to fire a standard High-Explosive (HE) projectile as well as smoke and illumination rounds. The mortar measured in at 1.295 meters long while the barrel made up 1.19 meters in length. When made ready to fire, the system weighed in at 126 lb while, when broken down for transport, the weapon required at least three personnel – each charged with transporting one of the major pieces into combat. The weapon’s elevation as limited from +45 to +80 degree angles of fire and traverse was 11-degrees in either direction. Elevation and traverse controls were mounted on the bipod assembly while the sighting device was identified along the barrel, towards the muzzle end. The 81mm projectile weighed in at 10 lb apiece.

Operation was conventional with personnel sighting the weapon against the intended target area. One member then dropped the ready-to-fire projectile in through the muzzle to which the projectile fell down the launch tube and struck a firing pin at the baseplate, igniting the internal charge propellant. This explosion forced the projectile out of the tube and along a rudimentary flight path. Crews could then revise the traverse and elevation based on where the previous round fell and repeat the process all over again. The heavy baseplate served to retard the inherently violent recoil of such a weapon while also serving as a third support leg in conjunction with the bipod assembly. As an “indirect fire” weapon, the object of the mortar was to target areas as opposed to individual enemy forces. Its High-Explosive projectiles were very useful against concentrations of enemy personnel. Smoke rounds could be used to shield friendly tactical movements while illumination rounds were used in low-light settings to mark enemy positions.

Typically, the 3-inch mortar system was carried into position by mortar team personnel but it was not uncommon for the British Army to make use of their nimble little “Universal Carrier” tracked vehicles in transporting the weapon at speed (note that the 3-inch mortar was not designed to be fired from the vehicle itself and had to be unloaded and setup to fire on the ground). This speedy transport allowed mortar teams the capability to reach a given area quickly, complete with ammunition supply in tow, and disembark to setup the mortar and make it ready to fire. A crew could also dig out the surrounding land and create a ground depression from which to fire from, providing the crew with basic protection from enemy return fire. So long as the ammunition supply was forthcoming, the mortar team could supply a steady rate-of-fire over the heads of friendly troops

Indian Princes at the Coronation Stereoscope Card

It has been a while since I looked at a stereoscope card on the blog, but tonight we have a delightful example entitled ‘Coronation Procession of H.M. the King: Indian Princes’:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (2)As a stereoscope card, the same image is repeated, each being slightly different to allow a 3-D effect when viewed through a suitable viewer:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (2) - CopyIn the centre of the image are the princes themselves, riding on horseback:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (2) - Copy - CopyI believe that this image was taken at the Coronation of King Edward VII and the arrival of Indian royalty aroused much interest in the press, as reported by the Daily Mail on November 12th 1901 where one of the princes in attendance, and most especially his wealth, were described in great detail:

One of the most impressive features of the Coronation will be the attendance of Princes and chiefs from various States in India.

Few European courts surpass the splendour with which on great occasions the native Indian ruler surrounds himself. Usually of striking personal appearance, he adds to his impressiveness by wearing a costume as rich as it is picturesque and tasteful.

Among those who have accepted the King-Emperor’s invitation is the Nawab of Bahawalpur, whose portrait appears on this page. The crown which his highness is wearing weighs nine pounds, and is one glittering mass of diamonds, with a row of very large pear-shaped pearls around the base.CaptureThe great stones about his neck are rubies and uncut emeralds of extraordinary size, depending from chains of smaller gems. Fifteen of the rubies have the names of the Mogul Emperors engraved upon them, each gem measuring one and a half inches in diameter. The Nawab occasionally wears a sword the jewelled scabbard and hilt of which are valued at £100,000. As a rule his Highness carries three gem encrusted watches. Indeed, one of his hobbies is the collecting of dainty and novel timekeepers and he possess no fewer than eighteen hundred.

The pomp and colour of Indian princes was clearly of interest to the general public, but the British military were not to be left out and the soldiers lining the route are dressed in scarlet home dress tunics, with blue spike helmets:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (4) - Copy - CopyFrom the rear we can see that they are wearing minimal equipment, presumably to make it a little more bearable for them to be stood there for many hours:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3) - Copy - CopySadly the emulsion on this stereoscope card has faded a little over the last 116 years so the image is more washed out than it would have looked when new, but the sight of Indian princes marching in all their finery is as impressive today as it was when the card was first produced over a century ago.

Troops in India with Their Pet Dog

This week’s photograph is a delightful photograph that I believe was taken in India between the wars. It depicts a small group of soldiers, relaxed and off duty and posing with one of their pets, a small dog:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (3)The dog looks to be some sort of mongrel rather than a pure breed, but it is wearing a collar and seems very relaxed in the arms of one of the group so is presumably a well-loved companion to these men:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (3) - CopyIt was often said that British soldiers made friends with the dogs and children of anywhere they were posted and this seems to have been especially the case in India where one author in the 1890s observed, “as a rule, the canine breed comes in for a large share of attention and patronage from British troops.” Perhaps it was because dogs and children had no fear or hatred of the soldiers that they took them to their hearts so readily, both treating British soldiers with a benign curiosity and growing friendship in a way in which many adults of native populations did not.

The men in this photograph, despite being off duty continue to wear their sun helmets, both the older Wolseley pattern:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (5) - CopyAnd the newer, lighter but more bulky ‘Bombay bowlers’:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (4) - CopyThe 1930s Woodbine’s guide for troops going to India warns soldiers:

Don’t go into the blazing sunshine without your Topee or Helmet, whether it be Summer of Winter time, the Summer especially, between the hours of 9-a.m. and 5-p.m.

It is interesting to note that all the men wear collarless shirts, most with their sleeves rolled up and khaki drill trousers or shorts, except for one man on the extreme right who has a startlingly white pair of shorts on:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (6) - CopyQuite why he is wearing these is a mystery, but they are certainly distinctive! The men are standing in a courtyard in front of what appear to be quite elderly brick built barrack huts:SKMBT_C36416062110411_0001 - Copy (7) - CopyIt is hard to be sure, but I suspect that these would be at one of the older military cantonments in India, the buildings themselves erected in the Victorian era and still seeing service fifty years later when this photograph was taken.