Perhaps the greatest cartoonist of the First World War was Bruce Bairnsfather, who created the iconic character of ‘Old Bill’, a curmudgeonly old soldier with a walrus moustache. Bairnsfather had been in the military during peacetime, but resigned in 1907 to become an artist. In 1914 he re-joined and was posted as a second lieutenant to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He started drawing humorous cartoons for the Bystander magazine featuring doleful British Tommys and these quickly became iconic characters. His cartoons were rapidly gathered together in a series of books called ‘Fragments from France’ and a range of merchandise based on his characters ensued. Tonight we have a plate that was produced in World War One depicting one of his cartoons:The cartoon itself is in the centre of the plate and is a reproduction of one of Bairnsfather’s more popular designs:This plate was produced by Grimswade and their mark is on the rear:Other Bairnsfather collectables include car mascots, metal ashtrays and model busses as well as jigsaws and film posters. Whilst in the past I have picked up the odd postcard and I have been given a few of the ‘Fragments from France’ booklets, this is my first piece of Bairnsfather china and I am very pleased with it. There is some slight damage in the form of a small chip on one edge, but as it is 100 years old, I think we can forgive it a little damage!
In October 1918 an innovative fund raising campaign took place in London that saw Trafalgar Square transformed into the battlefields of the Western Front. The ‘Feed the Guns’ Campaign took over the whole square and created a ruined farmhouse and windmill as well as trenches and original pieces of captured German equipment. Like many of these exhibitions, postcards were sold as souvenirs and to raise money:The London Illustrated News reported that the square was:
Being “camouflaged as ruined churches, windmills, and cottages. The lamp-posts, even, will figure as shell shattered trees. Investors will be given application forms for War Bonds in a camouflaged military hut, and will be conducted through sandbagged trenches to the great guns in their emplacements.
The Daily Mail reported on the setting up of the exhibition:
The work of transforming Trafalgar Square into a ruined village on the western front in readiness for next week’s “Feed the Guns with War bonds” campaign was begun yesterday. Men of the “Camouflage Corps”, or Army Special Works School were busy making sandbag trenches and erecting a ruined farmhouse.
Seven big guns are to arrive tomorrow, and during next week investors will be able to take their bonds to a gun and “feed” them into the barrel, where they will be stamped with a special device.
One item that could not be disguised was Nelson’s Column, however advertising hoardings were fitted around its base encouraging the purchase of War bonds:The fountain has become a French farm and a windmill covers one of the famous lions:The lion himself can just be seen beneath the fake windmill! The destroyed village can be seen ranged out in the square:The campaign was nationwide, with London as its focus, and lasted a week. £31 million was raised and this event was clearly popular as can be seen by the crowds queuing up for admission:London alone raised over £23 million pounds and much of this money came for the visitors to the ‘Feed the Guns’ exhibition in Trafalgar Square.
Tonight’s object is a rare survivor from a fundraising campaign in the Great War. The YMCA, or Young men’s Christian Association, ran recreation huts for soldiers of all nations serving with the allies. Many of these huts were located near the front, whilst others were in towns up and down the country. They offered somewhere a man could get a hot drink and meal and relax for a few hours. Pen and paper were available to write to loved ones, beds at some huts for servicemen to snatch sleep and books to read. These huts obviously cost money to provide so various fund raising activities were set up. Tonight we have a small piece of printed silk bearing the logo of the YMCA and the description ‘Hut Day’:Now very fragile, this little piece of silk would have been sold to the general public as a fund raising gimmick, a penny or sixpence being donated in exchange for this little memento. These sort of ‘flag days’ were common ways for charities to raise money during the Great War.
The role of the YMCA hut was rarely in question, and this report comes form the Times newspaper on 21st December 1915 describing the scene in a London hut:
The hut was at its busiest on the evening when I saw it first, for a fog had come down outside and slime squelched away from the omnibus wheels and splashed my skirt as I groped my way to it out of the untempting street. Moreover, the day boat train was in, and the night one had not yet drawn out from the railway station opposite, so there were men with Flanders mud still on their clothes and others with the reflection of farewells still upon their faces, as well as the crowd of those who were on their way to or from some camp at home.
The air smelt of wet cloth and leather and food. The tap of billiard cues came from the far end, and the blows of a finger striking “Tipperary” out of a piano. The smoke of Woodbines was so thick that this made a background of sound rather than sight for the groups round the stoves half way up the room. The centre of one of these was a man wrapped up to the ears in his trench coat of goat-skin, which was steaming from the heat. He looked in it like a being from another age and country. By the opposite fire only one man sat, so still that you would have thought he was asleep if his eyes had not been open, staring on the ground. When he had been there perhaps an hour without stirring someone went down to him from behind the canteen counter (there are a good many jobs for a woman to do in a YMCA hut besides ladling out “sausage and mashed”). She asked him if there was anything he wanted. “no,” he said, and then, since she did not go away, “I only got home tonight. I got a chap to write that I was comin’, but there weren’t nobody at the station.”
“And you’ve had nothing to eat?”
“Don’t fancy anythin’ thank you Miss.”
“Oh, nonsense. I expect they never got your letter. I’ll fetch you some coffee.”
It was something to get him to shift his eyes off his boots anyhow, and when the coffee had gone down he tugged a post-card out of his pocket.
“She must’a’ got my letter, miss. It went to the address all right.”
Hurried reading of post-card, though with very faint hope that it could turn this tragedy into comedy. It did, however.
“But she says here she is moving-going down to the country, look- to this address.”
“Lor’ bless yer, Miss. Yer don’t tell me! I never was much of a reader and I didn’t get that bit spelt out.”The same level of care was administered nearer the front, the Chaplain of the 21st Division recalls the coming of the YMCA in 1915:
the Division of which I am in charge marched into camp about 17,000 strong, and with the exception of the canteens there was not a single place for a man to spend his leisure. The nearest town […] kindly offered all it had – a parish room and two Sunday schools. Things looked very ugly until about five days later, when Mr Johnson arrived with his big tents and corps of assistants. There was an immediate rush, and the first Sunday saw nearly 5,000 postcards, letters, and parcels dispatched, and from that day forward the huge tents […] were filled to overflowing with Kitchener’s men in their thousands. The little band of YMCA helpers wrestled with the multifarious needs of the British soldiers. Tobacco – piles of it – hundredweights of cake, buckets of coffee, lemon-squash and all sorts of popular eatable and drinkables at the counter; then the post office counter with its money order department, savings bank, library, postcard and general arrangements. At the other end of the tent a sing-song would be in progress; every square inch of space was alive with humanity’.
Boots the Chemists remains a familiar high street brand in the UK to this very day. A hundred years ago it was equally as popular and alongside the traditional range of medicines, potions and lotions, the shop also stocked what were referred to as ‘fancy goods’. Fancy goods was a term in common use in the early part of the twentieth century for small decorative gifts or knick-knacks. Tonight we are looking at an example of one of these sold by Boots in 1914, a small china jug:The design on the jug is typical of the china items brought out to celebrate the outbreak of war, with six different flags:Left to right these are Belgium, Japan, Great Britain, France, Imperial Russia and Serbia. The base of the jug has the mark of the chemists and that it was purchased from the Fancy Goods Department:It is interesting to note that the mark clearly indicates that the item was made in Britain. This was common in the early days of the Great War as people boycotted German goods, of which Britain had been a major importer. Boots went so far as to take out an advertisement indicating that they had replaced their German Eau de Cologne lines with local alternatives:Even in 1914 Boots was one of the largest retail companies in Great Britain but during World War One their retail business was supplanted to some extent by contracts with the government. They were the main government supplier for vermin powder, anti-gas cream, water steriliser, anti-fly cream (flies were a big problem on the front), iodine tubes, matchless tinder lighters, peppermint, compressed medicines and quinine. The company was also instrumental in producing aspirin and saccharine in the UK which up until that point had been imported from Germany.
Tonight my thanks go to Owen Thompson who very kindly sent me this lovely silk scarf through the post:This piece was made as a souvenir for someone with a connection to the cruiser HMS Belfast and the ships badge and name is neatly embroidered on one end:Each end has an attractive tasselled finish and this is clearly a craft produced item, but one of excellent quality:I suspect that this scarf was worn by one of the ship’s crew as a decorative piece on a night out, the wearing of such scarves was quite common in the 1940s and 1950s with evening wear so it might well have been purchased by one of the officers aboard this vessel.
HMS Belfast is a Town-class light cruiser that was built for the Royal Navy. She is now permanently moored as a museum ship on the River Thames in London and is operated by the Imperial War Museum.Construction of Belfast, the first ship in the Royal Navy to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of ten Town-class cruisers, began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939, Belfast struck a German mine and spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Belfast returned to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment, and armour. Belfast saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943 and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944, Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945, Belfast was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before Belfast entered reserve in 1963.
In 1967, efforts were initiated to avert Belfast‘s expected scrapping and to preserve her as a museum ship. A joint committee of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the Ministry of Defence were established and then reported in June 1968 that preservation was practical. In 1971, the government decided against preservation, prompting the formation of the private HMS Belfast Trust to campaign for her preservation. The efforts of the Trust were successful, and the government transferred the ship to the Trust in July 1971. Brought to London, she was moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge in the Pool of London. Opened to the public in October 1971, Belfast became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978. A popular tourist attraction, Belfast receives over a quarter of a million visitors per year.
Embroidery kits were very popular during the Second World War with both civilians and members of the military. Special booklets were prepared with designs in them that were then sold in hospitals exclusively to members of the armed forces as a form of occupational therapy. These came in a small paper envelope and included fabric, needle, coloured cotton and instructions. Some designs were of landscapes and animals, however a perennial favourite were kits featuring the cap badges of various regiments and services. Tonight we have an example of an RAF badge embroidered in coloured thread on a piece of linen:The quality of the embroidery is excellent and the badge is still as bright as the day it was made:This piece has clearly been framed at some point as the fabric has been tucked behind and taped in place:It was noted that embroidery was excellent therapy for wounded soldiers, it being an activity that could be performed seated or stood up depending on a man’s disability and in small groups or alone. The materials needed were cheap and readily available and the task absorbed a man’s concentration giving him a moment’s respite from his thoughts with a physical result from the activity that could be presented to a loved one. After the First World War a number of soldiers came together to form the ‘Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry’ (DESI) that promoted the recovery of the wounded and found them employment by producing embroidered items for sale. Queen Mary gave the movement her support and they presented her with an embroidered altar cloth that was used in the private chapel in Buckingham Palace. The company continued into the 1960s and produced many intricate pieces of embroidery for public buildings such as banners and chair covers.
Tonight we have another example of World War One crested china, this particularly magnificent piece is in the form of a miniature howitzer:Designs such as this were very popular in the Great War and remain some of the more sought after pieces of crested china amongst collectors today. Although Goss were the biggest of the companies producing these pieces, other factories produced cheaper alternatives and this howitzer was manufactured by Arcadian:The howitzer has a transfer printed crest for the seaside town of Filey on one wheel:This seems entirely appropriate as these crested pieces of china really became popular as seaside souvenirs in the run up to the outbreak of war in 1914. Indeed it never travelled far in the hundred years since it was made as I found it just down the coast in an antique shop in Scarborough. The opposite wheel just has the spoke effect, but picked out in gold:Note the blocks around the edges of the wheels, in the real howitzer these were used to help prevent the gun from digging in on soft terrain when it was fired, acting much like a caterpillar track. Sadly this piece has suffered some damage at some point and the barrel has broken off just above the breach block and then been repaired, happily the repair is a neat one and the gun still looks the part:This particular design appears to have been popular and I have found a number of identical models online, but bearing different crests for different towns. These pieces are getting harder to find, and even though it is damaged this example retains the charm it had when new. It is currently sat on my mantelshelf in pride of place, making me smile every time I pass by.