Category Archives: postcard

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.

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.

Officer’s Hill, Dagshai Postcard

For this week’s postcard we go back to the Indian hill station of Dagshai and this image of the officers’ bungalows as seen from the hospital:

The bungalows themselves can be seen arrayed across the hillside:

Traditionally in India, unmarried officers lived in their regimental messes, such as this example at Landsdowne described in Charles Allen’s book “Plain Tales from the Raj”:

It was completely jerry-built, with bricks, wood, bits of stone, and without architectural merit whatsoever, designed by the officers and built by the troops themselves. And it was furnished similarly, with every sort of local-made jerry-built furniture. One entered the mess through a foyer which was furnished with rapidly decaying heads of animals which had been stuffed. On one side was the billiard room, the walls of which were adorned with stuffed animal heads…

John Morris explains:

Here the unmarried officers spent a great deal of their time and had their meals and in particular, dined together every night.

However once an officer had married it was typical for him and his wife to rent a bungalow at whichever cantonment or station he had been deployed to and set up home together. In the cooler climates of an Indian hill station every effort was made to make an officer’s bungalow resemble an English cottage as possible. Lady Wilson espoused the delights of a hill station near Sind in what is now Pakistan:

Blessings on the man who dreamt of Sakesar and made it an English home. I am delighted with our new quarters. You can’t imagine the kind of material pleasure one has in material things that simply look English. The roof of this house enchants me, merely because it slants instead of being flat; the ceilings, because they are much lower than those at Shahpur and are plastered, so that beams are concealed. The woodwork is actually varnished: the bow-windows are really windows, not doors: the fireplaces are in the right place; and now our pictures, piano and general household goods have arrived, we are cosy as cosy could be and feel as if we had been established for centuries, instead of five weeks.

HMS Royal Oak Postcard

My thanks go to Owen Thompson who very kindly sent me this postcard of HMS Royal Oak:

HMS Royal Oak was a Revenge class battleship launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1916 in time to see service at Jutland. The fact that this postcard warns that the image has not been passed by a censor suggests that the postcard dates from early in the warship’s career when she was still a classified system. HMS Royal Oak is of course most famous for being torpedoed in Scapa Flow in the early months of World War Two. Before that however she had served in the Atlantic, Home and Mediterranean fleets in the interwar years and she came to worldwide notice in 1928 when she was part of the Mediterranean Fleet.

What began as a simple dispute between Rear-Admiral Bernard Collard and Royal Oak’s two senior officers, Captain Kenneth Dewar and Commander Henry Daniel, over the band at the ship’s wardroom dance, descended into a bitter personal feud that spanned several months. Dewar and Daniel accused Collard of “vindictive fault-finding” and openly humiliating and insulting them before their crew; in return, Collard countercharged the two with failing to follow orders and treating him “worse than a midshipman”.

When Dewar and Daniel wrote letters of complaint to Collard’s superior, Vice-Admiral John Kelly, he immediately passed them on to the Commander-in-Chief Admiral Sir Roger Keyes. On realising that the relationship between the two and their flag admiral had irretrievably broken down, Keyes removed all three from their posts and sent them back to England. Since this was on the eve of a major naval exercise, he was obliged to postpone it, which allowed rumours to fly around the fleet that the Royal Oak had experienced a mutiny. The story was picked up by the press worldwide, which described the affair with some hyperbole. Public attention reached such proportions as to raise the concerns of the King, who summoned First Lord of the Admiralty William Bridgeman for an explanation.

For their letters of complaint, Dewar and Daniel were controversially charged with writing subversive documents. In a pair of highly publicised courts-martial, both were found guilty and severely reprimanded, leading Daniel to resign from the Navy. Collard himself was criticised for the excesses of his conduct by the press and in Parliament, and on being denounced by Bridgeman as “unfitted to hold further high command”, was forcibly retired from service. Of the three, only Dewar escaped with his career, albeit a damaged one: he remained in the Royal Navy, but in a series of more minor commands. His promotion to rear-admiral, which would normally have been a formality, was delayed until the following year, just one day before his retirement. Daniel attempted a career in journalism, but when this and other ventures were unsuccessful, he disappeared into obscurity amid poor health in South Africa. Collard retreated to private life and never spoke publicly of the incident again.

Someone who knew the admiral later in life gives a greater insight into his character, which perhaps explains how the incident arose in the first place:

When I was growing up (if I ever did) during the war the long-suffering (I should think) Mrs Collard used to come round collecting money for savings stamps. A pleasant woman, goodness knows how she put up with her husband. She and ‘Sammy’ Collard lived about a quarter of a mile up the A3 from my home and latched onto the idea that I was going into the RN. I remember at age about 24 and a Lt he still used to lean out of his car and roar at me ‘When are you going to Dartmouth m’boy?’ He never had the patience to wait for an answer which saved me having to think up a polite one! Like all good gunnery officers he was deaf as a post anyway.

When he left the sea he sent for an architect (Ernest Emerson, father of one of my godmothers). Emerson duly knocked on Collard’s door. ‘Want a house built, like a ship!’ Emerson asked if the admiral could explain that. ‘Want a house built, like a ship, with a forecastle and a quarterdeck of course!’ Emerson: ‘What you need, sir, is a jobbing builder’, turned on his heel and walked away.

At the R Oak Court Martial it was said that one of the lawyers asked ‘Is it true, sir, that you called the bandmaster a b@gger?’ ‘Yes it is, and what I want to know is, who called the b@gger a bandmaster?’

Collard had already had one mutiny under his belt – as a Lt he had the duty watch turned out in RNB in Portsmouth for whatever. In order to tell them what was wanted he gave the order (perfectly good drill book order) ‘Front rank, On the knee!’ thus ordering the front rank down so that the rear rank could better take in what was to be said. Unfortunately the watch included stokers who were not up with this and thought they were being treated less than courteously. Result a mutiny. Other result, corrugated iron sheets attached to the RNB railings on Queen St so that the general populace wouldn’t be treated to another circus like that. These plates only came down fairly recently. Bet most Pomponian passers-by didn’t know how they got there.

Staff College, Quetta Postcard

In the opening years of the twentieth century it was recognised that there was a need for a staff college in India to instruct officers in the duties and requirements necessary to effectively command at a high level within the Indian army. In 1905 a staff college was founded in Deolali and in 1907 this moved to Quetta in Baluchistan. A series of buildings were constructed in which to instruct the officers and it is a postcard of these that is the subject of this week’s post:

These buildings survived a major earthquake in 1935, but following this it was decided to replace them with more robust structures. The main range of buildings in this view were therefore demolished over the years with the exception of the central tower:

This still exists today, albeit with the addition of an extra floor, however it is now isolated and stands alone as the college’s Memorial Tower:

Many famous soldiers passed through the college at Quetta, one was Claude Auchinleck and in his biography of the man, the author Phillip Warner describes the future Field Marshall’s time at the college:

In 1919 Auchinleck was given a vacancy at the Staff College, Quetta. He was thirty-five, a lieutenant-colonel, and considerably more experienced than many of his instructors. Attendance on a course of any type can often be a strain on the temper of experienced officer. Much of the time he feels is being spent on outmoded doctrine, and the sheer tedium of being instructed day after day tempts the pupil to be a little cynical, if nothing more. There is a tendency for classes to behave like naughty schoolboys. Quetta, founded by Kitchener along the lines of Camberley Staff College, was a thoroughly efficient college, but there as a feeling that the course at Camberley must be nearer to the heart of things and probably more progressive.

The links to Camberley College were strong throughout the interwar years, indeed both Quetta and Camberley shared the same entrance exams throughout this period. When Pakistan was formed after partition, the nascent nation kept Quetta as its staff college and many of its alumni would serve in senior positions in the armed forces of the new nation, a role the college has maintained to the current day.

HMS Holland 1 Postcard

Holland 1 was the Royal Navy’s first submarine in 1900. She was a tiny vessel weighing just 105 tons and with a crew of 8, but was used to give the RN its first experience of submersible vessels and as she was at the cutting edge of technology at the time, she naturally featured on picture post cards for the public to purchase:

The image itself is a very famous one, and has been seen in black and white in publications from the turn of the twentieth century until the present day, it is more unusual to see it colourised as in this example. The vessel was just 63 feet long, and when surfaced the top of the casing barely broke the surface of the water. Here two of the boat’s company can be seen on the top of the submarine, with an open hatch to the interior and various masts:

The tiny vessel was armed with a single torpedo tube, the main weapon of submarines throughout the technology’s lifespan.
The back of the card indicates that it was sent in 1907:

HMS Holland 1 remained in service until 1913 when she had been replaced by far more capable designs. She was being towed to the breakers in that year when she floundered in heavy seas, thankfully without loss of life. She remained on the seabed until rediscover and recovered in the early 1980s. After extensive restoration she is now on display in a purpose built facility and I was lucky enough to see her in person a few years ago. It is striking just how tiny she is, especially compared to HMS Alliance sitting just outside the building.