Category Archives: WW1

A British Heavy Gun in Action Postcard

This week’s postcard is another from the Daily Mail’s War Picture series, this time of British heavy guns in action:SKM_C30819043011190This image was actually used in at least two series of these cards and can also be found in a black and white version. This example is however colourised. The main focus of the image is of course the gun itself:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (2)I am not actually sure which gun the image illustrates, but it certainly seems to be particularly large and may be something like a breach loading 60 pounder. Shells for the gun can be seen being prepared to the left of the image, the shells and their propellant charges can be seen being prepared for firing:SKM_C30819043011190 - CopyAn officer and a couple of gunners stand to the right watching proceedings:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3)A curious item sits on the ground in the foreground. I suspect that this is some sort of device for cleaning out the barrel of the gun, but I am not entirely sure so if you recognise it please comment below:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (4)The Daily Mail’s postcard series was hugely popular, as the paper was keen to report at the time:

The popularity of the Daily Mail Official War postcards was manifest yesterday. They met with a ready sale in the shops and won enthusiastic praise from the public.

Wherever the cards were displayed they attracted groups of people throughout the day, and there were many favourable comments on the extraordinary wide range of subjects, the clearness of detail, and the wealth of human and historic interest in the series.

A Chaplain’s Discovery

An interesting incident occurred at on the large West End Stores. An Army chaplain came in to see the postcards. Suddenly he came upon the postcard entitled “An Army Chaplain Tending British Graves.” With a look of surprise he bent forward and examined it more closely. The he turned to the attendant:

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “that’s myself!”

He had recognised the little field cemetery with his own figure bending over a grave in the foreground of the picture. He belonged to a famous Highland regiment. They had buried their adjutant in the field cemetery that morning, he said. He pointed to the little crosses laid on the heroes’ graves and spoke of the tender care with which the soldiers had fashioned them.

Gordons Bringing in a Wounded German Postcard

Returning British troops with captured enemy prisoners seem to have been a popular topic for the Daily Mail’s series of war postcards in World War One. These images instantly conveyed the idea of victory and the cheerful Tommy overcoming the enemy and tonight we have an example entitled ‘Gordons’ Bringing in a Wounded Prisoner’:SKM_C30819043011190 - CopyThe Gordons are of course the Gordon Highlanders and again Scottish regiments were a popular choice for postcard manufacturers with the traditional Scottish dress of the kilt being seen as more exotic than the drab khaki worn by other troops:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy - CopyThis was a continuation of the Victorian interest in all things Scottish, when the Royal Family’s love of the highlands, tartan and traditional Scottish garb had been copied by the public at large.

The German prisoner rest so an wheeled stretcher cart, the single pair of wheels being at the balance point in the centre to allow it to be pushed along by a single man much like a costermonger’s barrow:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy - Copy (2)The chap pushing the prisoner is probably the regimental stretcher bearer, and around his neck can be seen the webbing strap used to support a stretcher when it is being hand carried:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy - Copy (3)This is obviously unnecessary in this instance and just lies draped conveniently round the body.

Generally speaking injured enemy soldiers were treated well on capture, men realising that it could just as easily be them lying injured behind German lines and relying on the comfort of the enemy for survival as the German soldier in front of them.

The Royal Flying Corps at X…X Postcard

The development of powered flight before the Great War was to change the world forever and the general public quickly gained an insatiable appetite for anything to do with aircraft. This was an obvious subject matter for postcard manufacturers and together with the public’s natural patriotism made the Royal Flying Corps and obvious choice to produce postcards about.

This week’s image dates from the very start of the First World War and is titled ‘The Royal Flying Corps at X….X’:CaptureIn the foreground can be seen a soldier keeping guard of the aircraft:Capture - Copy (2)Behind can be seen a pair of aircraft:Capture - Copy (3)These have been identified by a friend as being most likely BE2 aircraft. This was a single engined, two man crewed training aircraft introduced in 1912 and used throughout the First World War. It was initially used as a front-line reconnaissance aircraft and light bomber; modified as a single-seater it proved effective as a night fighter, destroying several German airships.

By late 1915, the B.E.2 was proving inadequate in defending itself against German fighters such as the then new Fokker Eindecker, leading to increased losses during the period known as the Fokker Scourge. Although by now obsolete, it had to remain in front-line service while suitable replacements were designed, tested and brought into service. Following its belated withdrawal from operations, the type served in various second line capacities, seeing use as a trainer and communications aircraft, as well as performing anti-submarine coastal patrol duties.

Behind these aircraft can be seen a large airship:Capture - CopyThe white ensign flying beneath shows this airship belongs to the RNAS rather than the RFC. Britain never used airships to the same extent as Germany and its Zepplins, however they saw sterling service patrolling the channel and on anti-submarine patrols.

HMS Devonshire Postcard

This week’s postcard is an image of the protected cruiser HMS Devonshire:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3)This cruiser was laid down in 1904 and served with the Royal Navy during the First World War. She had a displacement of 11,000 tons and measured 473 feet from bow to stern. Her bow had a typical cruiser shape with a distinctive pointed slope:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (5) - CopyHer stern was also traditional in shape, with the rounded shape seen on many turn of the century cruisers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (6) - CopyThe ship was powered by two four cylinder triple expansion engines that used fifteen niclausse and six cylindrical boilers, the smoke from which exited via the ship’s distinctive four funnels:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3) - CopyThe ship had a crew of 610 men and was commanded from a large open bridge just forward of the main mast and boilers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (4) - CopyThe ship was armed with four 7.5 inch guns on the main deck, one fore, one aft and two amidships. Her secondary armament was six 6 inch guns, four carried in case mates on the ship’s hull.

She was launched on 30 April 1904. She was completed on 24 August 1905 and was initially assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet. She was transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet in March 1907 and was then assigned to the reserve Third Fleet at Devonport in August 1909. In 1913 the ship was assigned to the 3rd Cruiser Squadron of the Second Fleet together with most of her sister ships.

The squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet in mid-1914 as the Navy mobilised for war. It spent much of its time with the Grand Fleet reinforcing the patrols near the Shetland and Faeroe Islands and the Norwegian coast where Devonshire captured a German merchantman on 6 August. She was refitted in September and again in February. Despite numerous sorties with the main body of the Grand Fleet, she did not see combat. She patrolled the Norwegian coast in April 1916 and was then assigned to the Nore. Devonshire was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet before she was transferred to the Atlantic to protect Allied shipping in December. She remained there into 1919 and was listed for sale in May 1920. Devonshire was sold for scrap on 9 May 1921 and broken up at Barrow-in-Furness in 1923.

Our First Prisoners Postcard

This week’s postcard is another of the Daily Mail’s War Pictures series. These cards were produced during the First World War for sale to the British public. The paper paid £25000 for exclusive rights to a set of official photographs that were produced as a highly successful series of 176 postcards. Tonight we are looking at card number 56:CaptureThis card is captioned “The glorious first of July 1916”- our first prisoners. It depicts German prisoners of war being passed down the lines after their capture on the first day of the Battle of the Somme:Capture - CopyThe ruins of a farmhouse are visible in the background:Capture - Copy (2)Whilst in the foreground British soldiers watch on curiously:Capture - Copy (3)These men wear the distinctive soft trench cap with its top strap. The standing man also carries a gas mask, possibly a PH hood, in a small pouch slung across his body:Capture - Copy (4)Unusually for this series of cards, this image was not taken by an official army photographer, but rather by a member of No 1 Printing Company, Royal Engineers. The series of cards carefully played up the few successes of the Somme battles and missed out the disasters and horrendous loss of British life, the images being carefully chosen and captioned to portray the battle in a better light with those back home. The Germans were to lose 400,000 men during the Somme fighting, including 40,000 taken prisoner. Basil Clarke was a reported for the War illustrated and described the German prisoners coming in:

On each side of the marching column were the British guards in khaki ‑ looking wonderfully spick and span both in walk and appearance compared with the untidy slouch of the prisoners. I spoke with many of [them] and asked if they were comfortable … it was much better, some said, than being in the trenches.

This card makes the third or fourth in this series I have in my collection and I am quite curious to see how easy it would be to build up a set of these cards, I have acquired another couple recently; so do not be surprised if more cards appear in the future.

WW1 Telephone Magnetos

When used in telephony, magnetos are small hand cranked devices that are used to produce a small electric charge. These are used to send a current down the line to ring a bell at the opposite end to inform people that there is a call for them. By rotating an armature inside a set of horse shoe magnets an AC charge of between 50 and 100 volts. These magnetos could be housed inside the telephone itself, or as a separate unit. Tonight we are looking at a pair of telephone magnetos from the First World War:imageAlthough one of these cases magnetos is dated 1918, I cannot find a /|\ mark on either one so it is impossible to say if they are military or civilian in origin; they are however interesting objects from a century ago and worthy of closer inspection. The smaller of the two magnetos is a free standing unit, with rubber feet, a hinged lid secured with a small screw and a large winding handle on the side:imageInside the case is a set of magnets and a large brass cog wheel which is part of the gearing used to spin the armature and generate current:imageThe second magnetos is designed to be mounted on a wall or bulkhead and has a backing plate with a series of brass reinforced screw holes for attaching it vertically:imageTwo large brass screw terminals are fitted to the top of the box to attach the telephone wires to:imageThe front of the box is hinged and this was originally lockable, with a small lock escutcheon visible:imageNext to this is the date 1918 and the maker’s mark for ATM Co. The initials are repeated on the magneto inside the box:imageThese are the initials for the Automatic Telephone Exchange Company of Washington. This company had set up a factory in Liverpool in 1889 but quickly distanced itself from its American parent company. During World War One the company produced shells for the military but continued its core business, manufacturing telephone equipment for both the War Office and Admiralty, producing private exchanges for both. Whether this is one of the pieces of equipment bought by either the Admiralty or War Office is unclear, but I suspect it is likely as investment in 1918 was far more heavily skewed to the military than to civilian infrastructure projects but it is impossible to be certain.

Sailor and Daughter Postcard

This week’s photograph is a very charming World War One photograph of a sailor with a young girl, presumably his daughter:SKM_C30819031209080This card was posted in 1917 and it is hard to tell if it was a commercial image in the sentimental style of the day or a genuine portrait of a sailor and his daughter. I hope it is the latter, but of course it is impossible to say now. One item of interest however is the cap tally on the sailor’s cap worn by the girl:SKM_C30819031209080 - CopyThe name of the ship has been unpicked, just leaving the outline of the embroidery, whilst the initials ‘HMS’ remain. The reasoning behind this is unclear and again would be dependent on whether this is a genuine sailor’s issue cap or a photographer’s prop. If it is the latter then it has probably been unpicked to allow it to be used in portraits without any obvious connection to a vessel which could have proven awkward to the sitter. The alternative is that this is a wartime expedient for security issues, much like sailors in the Second World War had simple ‘H.M.S.’ cap tallies. If this is the case, which I suspect might be the real story, then the sailor becomes far more likely to be an actual sailor, the girl becomes his actual daughter and this is a sweet picture taken to send to relations- a far nicer story than a twee image taken just to sell postcards!