Category Archives: WW1

Z.18 Certificate of Employment During the War

My thanks go again to Michael Whittaker who gave me tonight’s document for the collection. At the end of World War One men were demobilised and returned to civilian life and naturally began looking for employment. In 1918 references were essential for employment, with former employers writing a testimonial for leaving staff to help them acquire a new position. It would of course be impractical for commanding officers to write a bespoke reference for every soldier under their command, so the army prepared forms that could be quickly filled out and authorised before being issued to leaving soldiers. The use of the form, officially known as the ‘Certificate of Employment During the War, Army Form Z.18’, was described as:

The object of this certificate is to assist the soldier in obtaining employment on his return to civil life. The form will be complete as soon as possible in accordance with Demobilization Regulations.

As soon as signed and complete it will be given to the soldier concerned and will remain his property. He should receive it as early as is compatible with making necessary reference in order that he can either send it home or keep it in his possession.

One form will be issued to each man, and no duplicate can ever be issued.

This particular form was issued to an infantryman, Private Gershom Albert Davy of the 51st Battalion Sherwood Forresters:

His employment before he joined the army is listed as a ‘cotton pattern hand’. The rear of the form gives the testimonial which states that Private Davy is:

Very reliable, trustworthy and conscientious. Has performed his duties in a satisfactory manner.

The form is signed by the captain commanding B Company, 51st Battalion, Sherwood Forresters. These forms were obviously important documents to men seeking work and have survived in boxes of family papers up until the present day. They are useful for historians in identifying men’s professions when they joined up, although the level of detail on the forms varies depending on how conscientious the officer filling them out was.

WW1 Souvenir Anvil

Thomas Owen Ambler was born at the turn of the twentieth century in either late 1899 or early 1900. He joined the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment during the First World War and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal before being discharged to the class Z reserves on the penultimate day of December, 1919. During his time in the army, Private Ambler produced a small memento of his service in the form of a small anvil and hammer:

This is made from a white metal, probably pewter, and Private Owen has recorded his details of the front, with his name, rank, service number, regiment and that he was in France:

The top of the anvil is marked ‘souvenir’:

The rear has the date of 1919:

This was probably a commercially cast little anvil that was sold to soldiers to add their own embellishments to. It is accompanied by a small cast hammer, somewhat cruder and less well finished than the anvil itself:

My father picked up this little souvenir on a charity stall in Halifax for a pound about twenty five years ago and it has sat on his mantle shelf ever since, a small token of this man’s service. My thanks go to my father for permission to include this little piece on the blog.

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.

Supply of Railway Wagons and Sheets Document

The amount of traffic carried by Britain’s railways rapidly increased during the First World War as additional military traffic was added to the network. As well as troop trains, special goods trains were run to supply the armies on the continent with materiel, coal trains ran to the north of Scotland to refuel the Grand Fleet harboured there and other goods were taken too and from munitions factories to feed the insatiable war demand. The railways quickly found themselves short of goods wagons to transport these items with.

Legally when a wagon was dropped off in the sidings of a private company, that company had 48 hours to unload the wagon before incurring fines of 1s 6d a day for a standard wagon, up to 10s a day for a wagon of 30 tons capacity or more. This was usually incentive in peacetime to empty the wagons and get them back into service. During wartime however companies explained that they had such a manpower shortage that they could not empty the wagons in time and in the autumn of 1914 one company reported a 160% increase in companies holding onto wagons beyond the allotted time- one company owed £6000 in these charges and was threatened with legal action by one railway.

The Ministry of Munitions in Scotland alone had 560 wagons waiting to be unloaded and could only unload seventy a day and over 800 wagons were waiting at Carlisle to be moved onto their final destination for unloading, stuck until capacity could be found at the final destination.

The Railway Companies issued a circular to traders and industries in February 1916 to encourage them to unload wagons and release them and their tarpaulins as quickly as possible:

This seems to have been at least partially effective as the log jam had largely cleared by 1917 and the railways were running far more smoothly in the final two years of the war.

My thanks to Michael Whittaker for kindly giving me this document for my collection.

Children’s Royal Navy ABC

In today’s politically correct world it seems odd to some how proud people were of their country and military in the past and how this message was used in everything from advertising to children’s books. Whether this is jingoism or well placed pride in the nation’s accomplishments is not for this blog to say, however it has left us some absolute corkers when it comes to surviving artefacts and tonight we have a wonderful child’s book of the alphabet from the Great War that celebrates the achievements of the Royal Navy:

The inside cover has a little verse:

Hurrah for the British Navy! Hurrah for our sailors bold!

The great gray ship’s of Britain, the lads with hearts of gold-

They bravely breast the billows; they keep us safe and free;

No foeman can affright us while they are on the sea.

While we are sleeping soundly, their sleepless watch they keep;

While winter winds are howling, they plough the stormy deep.

Their roaring guns are ready with steady hands to guide.

God bless the British Navy, our bulwark and pride.

What follows is a profusely illustrated ABC, with some truly excellent artwork:

The references to Jutland and the German Navy suggest that this book was published in 1917 or 1918. The rear cover shows a small child dressed as a sailor and a patriotic little verse:

The poetry in this book is hardly brilliant, but it’s patriotism is rather fantastic and it is done without a trace of irony. This has to be one of my favourite little finds of the year and might just get an outing teaching my three year old daughter her ABC!

Fat Stock P14 Rifle

Tonight we are looking at the so called ‘fat boy’ stock on the P14 Enfield Rifle. The P14 series of rifles were produced in the USA in the First World War for the British and were produced by three manufacturers; Winchester, Remington and Eddystone (a subsidiary of Remington). We have previously looked at the rifle here, that example having the standard stock. Tonight we have an opportunity to compare the standard stock with the ‘fat boy’:imageAs far as I can ascertain, the ‘fat boy’ was only used on Eddystone rifles, and then not all of them, both the rifles in the above photograph are Eddystone rifles, but the upper is the ‘fat boy’ and the lower is the standard model. The ‘fat boy’ differs in two ways, firstly the hand grooves in the fore stock have been deleted:imageSecondly, this whole area has been thickened:imageThis is particularly apparent when compared with the standard model:imageI have not found a definitive reason for this variation, but one theory is that it strengthened the stock at a weak point that then allowed the rifle to be used for firing rifle grenades with less chance of cracking. Incidentally, the wood used in the stocks is apparently American Black Walnut.

Amongst collectors, the standard rifle is generally regarded as being the more ergonomical of  the two patterns, but I cannot find any hard evidence of when the change occurred or why and it may just be a manufacturing variation, although the rifle grenade story is intriguing.

Deccan British War Hospital Postcard

In the First World War it became clear that for troops injured seriously in the fighting against the Ottomans in places such as Mesopotamia, the journey back to England was too great. The authorities decided that India was a better place to evacuate soldiers to and a number of hospitals were set up on the subcontinent. Tonight’s postcard depicts one of these, the Deccan Military Hospital:The rear of the card captions the image and dates this picture to 1918:Pushkin Sohoni, writing in the Pune Mirror, describes the history of this building:

On Ganeshkhind Road (University Road), at the intersection of Ferguson College Road is the College of Agriculture, which was founded in 1907. The main building is set about half a kilometre inside from the main gate. While it continues to serve the function for which it was built, few know that between 1916 and 1919, it was transformed into a hospital serving convalescing soldiers from the theatre of war in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) during World War I. The patients came from the front by ship and were treated in multiple hospitals across British India, including the 34th Welsh Hospital at Deolali and the Deccan British War Hospital in Pune. The latter was the main building of the College of Agriculture, which was expanded to have over a thousand beds serving soldiers and prisoners of war. The doctors and the orderlies were English, but interestingly, the nurses came the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)…