Category Archives: Pre WW1

Kasouli Barracks in the Snow Postcard

This week’s postcard takes us back once more to the sleepy hill static of Kasauli and a different view of its barracks, this time under a dusting of snow:SKM_C30819040507550Despite being over 6000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Himalayas, Kasauli does not usually have temperatures in the winter lower that 2 degrees Celsius, so this must have been taken in a unseasonably cold snap. The mountains can be seen in the background, looming over the cantonment:SKM_C30819040507551The barrack blocks can be seen in the foreground, each an elegant brick building with high ceilings to encourage the circulation of air and keep the interiors cool for the off duty soldiers:SKM_C30819040507551 - CopyMost of these face onto the parade ground, which sits as a large snow covered flat space to the right of the image:SKM_C30819040507551 - Copy (2)In the background can be seen the tower of the local Church of England (now Church of India) church, Christ Church:SKM_C30819040507551 - Copy (3)This attractive sandstone building with a green copper roof was built in 1853 and was the subject of an interesting story set during a rebellion by Gorkahs. The story goes that the rebelling Gorkahs  had raided a treasury and secured loot of Rs. 20000. Somehow some British troops got hold of this loot and fearing for its safety buried it under a tree in the church yard…where it subsequently became lost as happens in all good treasure stories and despite searching has still not been found to this day.

In the foreground can be seen a set of wooden poles with a cross piece:SKM_C30819040507551 - Copy (4)From other views taken at different angles, it seems that this was part of an assault course, with ropes for the troops to climb, bars for balancing on etc.

In the immediate foreground are a pair of galvanised tin baths:SKM_C30819040507551 - Copy (5)Quite what these are doing in the snow isn’t clear- perhaps an officer felt that a hot bath in the snow would be an invigorating experience or perhaps they had just been washed and left out to dry when the snow fell…

This postcard has been marked up as a Christmas greetings and was printed in England for Moorli Dhur & Sons of Umballa. It is impossible to date these kind of images, but I suspect from the style of the reverse that it dates to the Edwardian Era.

Painting Ship Postcard

Since the dawn of metal ships, naval vessels have needed constant painting to keep them serviceable. Painting ships, outside of refits in a naval dockyard, was a task given to the crew. Painting the ships served a number of purposes. Sea water is incredibly corrosive to iron ship hulls, painting the ironwork provided a protective barrier that helped keep the hull intact. Painting helped keep the ship smart and gave a quick visual indicator of the efficiency of the captain and his crew. Finally chipping off old paint and applying fresh coats was a useful way of keeping men employed during quiet times that prevented them from loafing about below decks getting into trouble.

This week’s postcard is an Edwardian image of sailors painting the side of their vessel:SKM_C30819032512200The men are suspended over the side of the hull in bosun’s chairs:SKM_C30819032512200 - CopyA bosun’s chair was simply a plank of wood, with ropes attached to each end, that gave a temporary platform for a sailor to sit or stand on whilst working on the side of a ship.

Here the men are observed from the deck above by officers and Royal Marines, wearing their dark blue service uniforms:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (3)The vessel itself is still painted in the Victorian colour scheme of black hull, with white or buff superstructure. The bow of this particular ship has an elegant gold scroll work clearly visible:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (2)This colour scheme was dropped in about 1907 and ships were progressively repainted into grey, the colour offering far better camouflage at sea than the dark hulls of the old scheme. This postcard was sent in 1909, but may well be based on an image taken several years before. The ship in question is unknown, but had a white superstructure, just visible to the right of the image:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (4)Even today, a century on from the Edwardian Navy and with far more resilient paints available, repainting the ship remains a constant chore for a ship’s crew and observers are quick to pass comment on a rust stained vessel!

Sailors Sleeping Around a Gun Postcard

This week we have an Edwardian picture card of Royal Navy sailors sleeping around a warships gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2)This is clearly a posed photograph, but does depict a common event when action was expected, by sleeping next to the gun, a crew could be on hand to fire the weapon within seconds if an enemy ship came into sight.

The gun itself seems to be a small quick firing model, mounted on the waist of the warship:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyThis suggests it is the secondary armament of the ship and was of the light type of weaponry designed to protect a ship from attack by small, fast craft such as torpedo boats. These weapons were designed to fire rapidly and blow these lightly armed attack vessels out of the water before they came close enough to launch torpedoes that could damage or sink the larger ship.

The men are depicted sleeping on the deck covered simply in a blanket each to protect them from the chill of the night:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyAnother sailor stands next to the gun awake and alert. It seems likely that he is representing the member of the gun crew who would remain awake in order to rouse his shipmates if needed:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (5) - CopyA selection of shells sits on the deck next to the gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2) - CopyAgain these seem to be posed, in reality they would be safely stowed in a ready use locker, far safer than being loose to roll around the deck or be detonated by enemy fire.

Although obviously posed, this is a fascinating and atmospheric image, with a great view of the working parts of the quick firing gun’s breach and elevating gear.

Postcard of HMT Rewa

This week’s postcard is a fine pre-World War One study of a troop ship, the HMT Rewa:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (3)HM Troopship Rewa was built by William Denny for the British India Steam Navigation Company, and launched in 1905, completed 1906. This postcard was sent in 1908 by a soldier setting off on board her for India. The postcard is franked on 16th December 1908 in Southampton, presumably just before she set sail:skm_c30819010312450The sender has written

This is the troopship Rewa which is taking us to India

In the days before telephones and instant communications, postcards were a quick and cheap way of sending short messages. This card, posted in Southampton on the 16th at 10pm could well have been delivered to the address in Nottingham the next day.

The ship, named after a region of India, was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and pressed into service as a hospital ship. She served in this role for a number of years until she was sunk by a German torpedo in the Bristol Channel in January 1918. The Daily Mail printed a letter from a Stoker on board the Rewa indicating the gallant rescue of the ship’s crew and patients:

Sir- At the request of several naval patients form the hospital ship Rewa, torpedoed and sunk in the Bristol Channel about midnight on January 4, I am writing this letter so that our thanks may reach the fleet surgeon and all the surgeons who acted in such a gallant manner towards the helpless.

As regards L lifeboat, we had a very eventful and serious experience. The lifeboat, which contained the black crew and also patients, had been lowered halfway to the water, when the after-fall jammed. The forward fall was let go, and the lifeboat swung upright, with her fore half under water and the after end hanging in the air.

The petty officer- himself a patient- who in boat drill was to take charge of the boat in the event of a disaster, climbed up on board Rewa, we think to clear the after-fall as the boat did not lower. I asked for a chopper, and, thank heaven, one of the coloured men found it. You can understand the awkward position when trying to chop three parts of rope. Being lowered with a bang, the lifeboat, which was already submerged forward, became three-parts filled. We saw no more of the petty officer and an army officer in the boat asked me to take charge and coxswain the boat.

One of the coloured men lost the tops of three fingers. Nobody else was hurt, though everybody was wet. Three patients were hard at work bailing the boat while we got along with four oars. I should like to thank the three Army officers and all the rest of the men, black and white, for carrying out the orders under trying circumstances. There are four men in particular I should like to shake hands with again, and one is a nigger [in the parlance of the time].

I think that during all this excitement I forgot I had a fractured knee till I was taken out of the boat after reaching the trawler three hours afterwards

JOSPEH HEWSON, Stoker

The sinking could have been far worse and in the end just two men died. The ship sits today on the seabed, sadly now collapsed in on itself.10568898_442692619204656_4614221515875929475_n10494569_442692645871320_4758843788378380908_n10383898_442692562537995_225179446605090653_n

‘1871 Pattern’ Rifle Sling

1871 saw a new pattern of buff leather rifle sling introduced alongside the new 1971 Pattern Valise Equipment and this pattern and minor variations of it were to remain in service until the 1960s. Originally used for combat, by the twentieth century it had been relegated to ceremonial use and in this form was to remain in use until the demise of the No4 rifle. The 1871 pattern rifle sling is made from buff leather and measured 42 inches in length:imageThe sling has been pipeclayed White, the remaining pipe clay now rather fragile and liable to come off as dust in your hands if you manipulate the sling too much. Two pairs of holes are punched through the leather at one end to allow the sling to be secured around the rear sling swivel of a rifle:imageSadly the leather thong that was used to secure this is missing on my sling and so I have substituted a piece of string until I can find some leather strapping of the correct type:imageAt the opposite end of the sling are a pair of leather beckets:imageThe end loop is sewn to the sling, whilst the other is loose and free to slide up and down:imageThe end of the sling is passed through the front sling swivel of the rifle, doubled back on itself and passed through the two loops:imageThe free end is now passed back along the rifle and secured with the leather thong (or sting in this case) as illustrated above. The sling can then be adjusted to take up the slack to present a smart parade ground finish:imageMy apologies for the Gahendra but I do not own a Martini Henry and this is the closest equivalent in my collection, it does however show the concept nicely.

The buff sling was retained long after the webbing rifle sling was introduced and was used for ceremonial parades such as the guards around Buckingham Palace right through until the SLR rifle was introduced when a white nylon sling was issued instead. Here a guardsman in the early 1950s can be seen to be using the buff sling with his No4 rifle in London:imageI don’t believe my sling is an original 1871 example as it is missing a third pair of holes for the leather securing thong, instead it was probably made up as part of a small batch for ceremonial duties in the twentieth century to broadly the 1871 pattern.

HMS Buzzard on the Embankment Postcard

This week’s postcard is a fine image of the Embankment in London, looking down the River Thames:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8)The large stone walls of the Embankment can be seen on the left of the image:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyOf rather more interest though is the sloop, HMS Buzzard, moored a short distance away:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyHMS Buzzard was a Nymphe-class composite screw sloop and the fourth ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name. Developed and constructed for the Royal Navy on a design by William Henry White, Director of Naval Construction, she was launched at Sheerness Dockyard on 10 May 1887. The Nymphe-class sloops were ideal for service in the far distant outposts of the British Empire, and Buzzard was employed on the North America and West Indies Station. In early April 1902, under the command of Commander L. F. G. Tippinge, she left Bermuda for home waters, calling at Faial Island, before she arrived at Devonport on 20 April. She was paid off at Chatham on 13 May 1902. In 1904 she was converted to a drill ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Blackfriars, London as reported in the Daily Mail:

HMS Buzzard arrived on the Thames yesterday and took up her new station at Blackfriars, there to form a training depot for the Metropolitan Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers, called by the irreverent the “Blackfriars Buccaneers.”

Large crowds lined the bridges to watch the passing of the warship, and thousands were on the Embankment during the mooring operations.

The Buzzard, which was launched in 1887, would in the ordinary course have been sold out of the Navy, but she has now been thoroughly modernised and equipped with quickfirers.

The Captain of the Buzzard described the training on the refitted ship:

In the training given on board the Buzzard each company in turn furnishes a ship’s crew, whose duty it is to carry out the routine of the ship for a fortnight at a time. During this period the men live on board, going ashore daily to their occupations in office or workshop. Thus some idea of life on the lower deck is gained and the men are familiarized with the different parts of a man-of-war. Coming on board after his day’s work, the amateur sailor is taught to man a boat over the lower boom; he becomes familiar with such commands as “Away starboard whaler,” or in the case of an imaginary fire, “Pipe fire quarters,” and last but not least “Stand by Hammocks,” “Clear lower deck,” and “Pipe down,” when your clerk or workshop hand has a chance of learning how to sling a hammock and, with a little practice, how to sleep in one. In the morning comes the least popular command, “All hands lash up and stow,” and the men turn out to “Scrub and wash decks” before going on shore.

In 1911 Buzzard relieved HMS President (formerly HMS Gannet of 1878) as headquarters ship, being renamed HMS President on 1 April 1911. As President she served until 23 January 1918, when she was lent to the Marine Society. She was sold to C A Beard for breaking on 6 September 1921, and was later re-sold to Dutch ship breakers.

hms_buzzard_(1887)

RAMC Memorial Aldershot Postcard

This week’s postcard depicts the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Boer War memorial in Aldershot:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7)This memorial was unveiled in 1905 by King Edward VII and consists of a central, granite obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7) - copyA small bronze sculptural plaque is fitted to the front of the obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyramc_memorial_aldershot_groupThe names of 314 officers and men of the Corps are recorded on 14 bronze name plaques arranged in a semi-circle behind the monument:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyThe memorial was designed by Robert Weir Schultz, whilst the sculpted group was by the Welsh sculptor William Goscombe John. In 2010 the memorial was listed, the reasons for this designation being given as:

The Royal Army Medical Corps Boer War Memorial of 1905 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Design Interest: As an elegant memorial of good quality workmanship and materials by a known sculptor and known architect. * Historical Interest: As commemorating the fallen of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Boer War, and as a remembrance of the work of the Corps and as a visually distinctive reference for those who serve or have served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, embracing the tradition of service and the regimental bond.