Category Archives: Pre WW1

1902 Pattern Clasp Knife

In 1902 the British Army updated its standard clasp knife to a new specification that had either buffalo horn grips (116a/1902) or black horn (4563a/1902) in place of the Boer War era pattern that had used bone grips. This pattern was to be very short lived, being replaced with a new design in 1905 that introduced a can opener into the design for the first time. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to find a black horn gripped version of this 1902 clasp knife, that despite a hard life is still in reasonable condition bearing in mind it is nearly 120 years old:

The design features both a flat ‘sheep’s foot’ style blade:

And a Marlin spike on the rear:

A lanyard loop was fitted to one end of the knife. Sadly this example has lost its original loop and had it replaced with a piece of wire:

The grips are also damaged and the horn has shrunk and delaminated over the years:

The blade is marked up on one side with the letters WD for War Department and the /|\ mark:

The opposite side has the stamp of the manufacturer, Atkinson Brothers:

This company was based at the Milton Works and Britannia Steel Works in Sheffield and was in existence from the 1890s onwards specialising in cutlery and knives.

Despite being made obsolete in 1905, these clasp knives would of course have remained in service for a number of years afterwards as stocks were used up. This is the earliest clasp knife I have so far found for my collection and despite its less than stellar condition, I am very pleased with it.

Boer War Teapot Stand

We have covered a lot of commemorative China from the First World War on the blog over the years and these items still crop up occasionally to add to the collection. Of course there was another war fought by the British fifteen years previously in South Africa and this conflict also saw a selection of commercially produced commemorative ware produced for sale to the public. These pieces were just as popular as their later counterparts, but do not come up for sale with the same regularity so I was very pleased recently to be able to add my first piece of Boer War commemorative China to my collection in the form of a tea pot stand:

This has a couple of nice transfer designs on it, at the top is a stylised crest with Lord Roberts in the centre, the crest being flanked by a pair of soldiers:

The soldier on the left is clearly meant to be a colonial as he is wearing a slouch hat, whilst the man on the right is a volunteer from England. Both are dressed in khaki and carry Long Lee Enfield rifles. The motto along the bottom has suffered over the years but should read “colonies” “supporters of the Empire” “volunteers”. Opposite this motif is a wreath with the names of the different British commanders and war heroes in:

This transfer design seems to have been very popular and other examples I have seen have it marked on cups and saucers, bon-bon dishes and mugs amongst other things. In all cases the pieces were made by a company called Foley Wileman and they seem to have been the owners of this particular design. Although this piece is a little worn, for a 118 year old item of porcelain it is remarkable it has survived at all and is a great addition to the collection. Now is there a matching tea pot…

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.

Military Prison Trimulgherry Postcard

This week’s postcard is of the military prison at Trimgherry:SKM_C30819051607450 - CopyThis prison was constructed in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny in Secunderabad. The following, highly detailed description of the gaol draws heavily on an article published by the ‘Hans India’:

The Military Reformatory Trimulgherry Gaol was built in 1858 spread over 5 acres at a cost of Rs 4,71,202. The building has a central watchtower:SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - CopyThe entire building structure and its four wings were covered in 360 degrees–facing 0 and 360 degrees is Lal Bazaar, 90 degrees is Moulali, 180 degrees is West Marredpally and 270 degrees is Bowenapally.
Lightening absorbers were laid on the top of the building and to all the wings to prevent shock and damage to the building. On the third floor of the tower is the gallows room where the prisoners were hanged. The prisoners who were sentenced by hanging were offered a choice of last lunch and were made to pray in a hall according to their faith and to ascend the 36 narrow wooden steps leading the gallows. The dead bodies were later buried in the cemetery within the prison premises. There is a separate cemetery for the British officers and soldiers who died in normal circumstances by diseases and aging. Records also reveal that nearly 500 prisoners were executed at the prison.

From the central tower, four wings branch out in four different directions and house a total of 75 cells– 40 on the ground floor and 35 on the first floor. The verandas of the building are adorned with Gothic arches whilst the rooms are approached through a flight of steps from the central tower.SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - Copy (2)Each wing has two rows of cells with each cell facing the rear of the other, so that the prisoners in no way could see or communicate with each other. Each has a solitary ventilator at a great height above the ground, each cell has three strong iron door and the cells have an arrangement in which particularly difficult prisoners could be chained to the walls. Each cell has a small window type hole which would allow the prisoner to see only what is directly in front of him. However, if one were to peep inside the cell from outside, one would get a full view of entire cell to enable the authorities to observe the prisoner. The construction and the design of the gaol was made in such a way that any time in the day, from dawn to dusk, the sunlight never falls on any cell, which ensures dim lighting.

The whole building is fortified by a towering perimeter wall with medieval gateways, and the entire gaol was protected by a wide and deep canal filled with water with large number of crocodiles moving around:SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - Copy (3)Any prisoner who succeeded in escaping the gaol walls had to pass through the canal and would have fallen prey to the crocodiles. The prisoners were so secluded from any contact with the outside world that if they had to be medically treated at the adjoining Military Hospital, they were transported, treated and brought back through an underground tunnel. A warden office would monitor the gaol administration. A work shed was erected in 1881 to cater to the needs of infrastructure.

After Independence, the gaol was handed over to the Indian Army. However no records about prisoners were handed over by the British. Post-Independence, Indian Military prisoners were lodged in it under the supervision of Corps of Military Police. After operation ‘Blue Star’, Sikh army men who had mutinied at Ramgarh Regimental Centre were also lodged at the Military Reformatory. They seem to have been the last of the Army men to undergo punishment at this place. According to the local people, the prison was very active during the Second World War when captured prisoners were lodged there. The prison was disbanded in 1984 and it now houses the Territorial Army.DVCnGKUU0AAxabB

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.