Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

Bleatings from the Tower: Sheep may safely graze…

Spring is upon us. As the grass in the Tower moat begins to perk post – Poppies and in the countryside lambs are rushing towards adolescence, this year London too has its very own personalised Spring flock.

Shaun in the City features 50 bespoke statues of Aardman’s cheeky lamb scattered about the metropolis gathering funds for Wallace and Gromit’s children’s charity and two have come to rest on Tower Hill.

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

At first sight there might seem little to link sheep to the Tower but as so often delve a little deeper and out pops a historical precedent. The oldest connection lies with the Constable of the Tower and his right to claim any cattle passing the Tower by means of the Thames as his own. Unlikely as he is to exercise this privilege one of the privileges of a Freeman of the City of London today remains the right to drive sheep across London Bridge.

Moving forward to the 19th century  in 1845 the Tower moat was finally drained on the orders of the Constable – at the time the Duke of Wellington –  as it had become more a stagnant cesspit than defensive barrier and  the resulting ditch was turfed.


John Warrender’s oil painting from about 1870 views the Tower from the gardens NW of the site.  11 sheep graze or loll about the moat while a 12th stands, feet squarely planted as if on guard, under Legges Mount.  Further down the moat adjacent to the Beauchamp Tower a disproportionally large horse rests from bringing in stone to repair the outer wall.

Odd as it might seem, our ovine friends on Tower Hill are not the first.

Come July a further 70 Shauns will colonise Bristol until October when the whole flock is due to be auctioned to raise funds to support children in hospital.


The Curator @ War: 20 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part II)

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

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Battery Sergeant Major William Henry Noble Buckingham of the Royal Field Artillery was laid to rest with full military pomp and ceremony on the afternoon of Saturday 20th March 1915 in Ilford County Council Cemetery.  His death while training volunteers at Peterborough was not in the heat of battle as he may have imagined, but at home where he had been sent three weeks earlier to recover from a chill.  The fact that the official records give the cause of death as phthisis or tuberculosis suggests there may have been a pre- existing condition or that he had contracted the disease after re-enlisting at the outbreak of war in 1914.

The general consensus seems to have been that he was a good chap –both as Foreman of the Tower Armouries and as an Artilleryman – and his colleagues were warm in their praise of him. His death was announced locally – in the Ilford Recorder and The Stratford Express – and nationally in the Daily Telegraph.

The funeral attracted much local interest, and an enormous accompanying crowd. The Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes representing HM Office of Works had already written to Mrs Buckingham to say that he would be attending, and that he would walk with the military part of the procession (at the time he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, manning London’s air defences). His predecessor Lord Dillon also attended, as did a number of local military representatives. The procession was lead by mounted policemen and included a firing party of 22 men, while the band of the late Essex Volunteers provided musical accompaniment.  A dummy gun and carriage to carry the coffin had had to be hastily assembled as all functioning ordnance had been commandeered for active service, and ffoulkes had had to pull some strings with the War Office to overcome the deficiency.  It went on to do further service for other families requesting a military funeral.

Among the floral tributes were those from the Yeoman Body and Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, and another from “his fellow workmen A.O Corps, Tower of London”.  His sisters Nellie and Louie had sent wreathes as had his mother Ellen.  His wife’s scrapbook had a picture of the grave taken three days later showing it buried under an impressive mountain of flowers including a wreath in the form of the Royal Artillery insignia– unfortunately we only have a rather faded and blurred photocopy of the original in the Armouries archives, but it is still spectacular.

Interment had been announced for 3.30 but had to be delayed as the cortege was so large that it was past 4.00 o’clock when it finally reached the cemetery.

Mrs Daisy Buckingham survived her husband and lived through another world war, dying in 1952. Today Buckingham’s memorial has lost its Celtic cross which originally rose out of the three step plinth and now lies in front of it, and some of the metal lettering has become detached. But viewed in the spring sunshine, sprigs of early white blossom above, it provides a tangible link with the First World War and the Tower Armouries of a century ago.  I hope that Buckingham would approve of our commemorative exhibition in the South West corner of the first floor of the White Tower which this year has showcased some of his memorabilia gifted to the museum in 1997.

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Catch it while you can – it will be changing soon.  2015’s topic will be  “The Enemy Within”, with  material relating to Fernando Buschmann, the Brazilian convicted of spying and shot at the Tower in October 1915.


#Gallipoli100: Captured moments from the campaign

One of the major events of the First World War to be commemorated this year will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. The Allied plan was to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow straights between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and re-open the southern supply route to Russia, which had been cut after Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers. An attempt to force the narrows by warships of the Royal Navy and the French fleet ended disastrously in the loss of three battleships sunk, and three more disabled by mines and gunfire, and so an expeditionary force was hastily put together.


The troops, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs), the 29th British Division and the Royal Naval Division, landed on Gallipoli on 25 April but they failed to capture the key heights dominating the rocky peninsular, and were restricted to two narrow beach heads some 15 miles apart. The Allies soon found themselves engaged in the same kind of trench warfare as on the Western Front. A second landing by three further divisions on 6-8 August was followed by a co-ordinated attempt to break the deadlock, but this also failed and in January 1916 the force was evacuated.


The Royal Armouries archives contain a rare photograph album containing photographs of the Gallipoli campaign. It begins with a number of pictures showing the troops arriving at Port Said in Egypt, and there subsequent training at El Kantara on the Suez Canal, as well as photographs of visits to Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo and the Pyramids – please see the images below.

The scene then shifts and there are dramatic images of the warships and troop transports off Gallipoli dated April 1915, and of troops being landed on the rocky shores of the peninsular from small boats at W Beach (Lancashire Landing). There follow several photographs of trench scenes captioned ‘Near the White House’, ‘Lancaster St’, ‘Fig-tree Dug out’, ‘Backhouse Post’ and ‘Essex Knoll’ and several of troops behind the lines.


The name of the photographer is not known, but there are several photographs of the same young man in the album, and the dates and locations would indicate that he was in one of the battalions forming the Royal Naval Division.

  • When the Division landed in Egypt the 2nd Brigade (Howe, Hood, Anson and Nelson battalions) were sent to El Kantara on the Suez Canal – there are photographs of troops at El Kantara in the album.
  • On the 25th April the Division made a diversionary landing at Bulair in the Gulf of Xeros. – there are photographs of two of the transport ships, the Franconia and the Minnetonka, landing troops.
  • On the 29th April the Hood Battalion, the Howe Battalion, the Divisional and Brigade Head Quarters landed on W Beach – there are close up photographs (as if taken from a small boat) of W Beach.
  • On 6th May the Hood Battalion, the Anson Battalion and A Company of the Howe Battalion took part in the Second Battle of Krithia, and Hood captured a section of the line known as the ‘White House’ – there is a photograph captioned ‘near the White House May 15’.

The Royal Armouries purchased this amazing photograph album from an antiquarian book dealer in September 2010.


The Curator @ War: 15 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part I)

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

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Buckingham’s departure for war had been recorded in the Minute Book entry of 5th September 1914.  Technically he had retired from the Territorial Army in April 1912, but on the outbreak of war he re-enlisted aged 45 and his eighteen years experience as a Volunteer Artilleryman – including a year’s active service in South Africa in 1900 – were to be put to good use training volunteers. Bidding farewell to his wife of 3 years, Buckingham set off to serve King and Country in Peterborough.  As Dillon commented in his appreciation of Buckingham published in the Ilford Recorder of 26th April 1915 “He was a most enthusiastic soldier and devoted much time to the making of soldiers”.

Buckingham fell sick in February 1915 and was given 3 weeks home leave. He died on the “very hour” he should have returned to duty according to one newspaper account. Cause of death? Phthisis – for keen scrabble players a useful archaic term for tuberculosis (apparently pronounced Tie-sis for those of us not fluent in classical Greek).

Dillon, Curator of the Tower Armouries from 1892 to 1913, was fulsome in his praise of his former colleague. “As a servant of the Government he was essentially one of the “Queen’s good bargains”, and his place will not easily be filled up” Dillon told the press. “As Foreman of the Armouries he displayed much zeal, and his intelligent and tireless work materially assisted in the classification and instructive arrangement of the treasures of the national collection.  He became a good judge of the genuineness or otherwise of objects in his charge and was a most willing pupil of those who could instruct him”.   Above all else he was innately a “gentleman”. The latter judgement was re-enforced in Dillon’s letter of 29 May 1915 to Buckingham’s widow, Daisy (formerly Miss Clarke) where he assured her “I knew your husband for some 20 years and always had the warmest regard and respect for him” adding “I’m sure that anyone whom he married would be of the same high standard as himself” – not perhaps a judgement one would expect to find openly expressed today.

Ffoulkes in his autobiography Arms and the Tower (John Murray, 1939) ascribed Buckingham’s death to “a chill caught in drilling Territorial Artillery”, and provided practical help when the family made enquiries as to the arrangements for a military funeral. It transpired that there were no suitable guns left in London to bear the coffin – all serviceable ordnance was in action on the Continent. However ffoulkes pulled some strings, and although he was vague as to which department of the War Office obliged “with commendable speed a dummy gun and carriage were made” which went on to be frequently used for funerals in the early war years.

Buckingham’s funeral was set for Saturday 20th March 1915, arrangements with Messrs Dyer & Sons of Forest Gate and Ilford, with the interment announced for 3.30 pm. Look out for part two of this post – coming next week – to learn more of the event, which according to the local press aroused much interest and attracted an enormous crowd of spectators.

Siborne’s Waterloo model: Reuniting soldiers with their swords

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is underway at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in advance of the bicentenary of the battle. The model is in fairly good overall condition considering its age (about 170 years), but it has understandably suffered damage over the years.

Some of the soldiers’ weapons have been bent, detached or, in some cases, lost completely. While conserving a section of the model I came across a row of cavalry who had lost their swords. This seemed a shame, as it detracted from the visual message that the soldiers were in the heat of a hard-fought battle. I wanted it to be obvious that they were in the midst of a battle, particularly as they were on the front line.


Sadly, their swords were nowhere to be found on the surface of the model, so I decided to make the soldiers new weapons. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis revealed that cavalry swords on the model are made of silver, so I decided to use a different metal for my replica swords to avoid confusion regarding which swords are originals and which ones are replacements.

I started by polishing a thin sheet of copper with fine wire wool and cleaning it with acetone.


I then cut it into 1mm x 15mm strips to match the size of the real swords, and snipped the tips to form points.Fig_3


The swords were then coated with a clear adhesive to lend them strength and to protect the surface.


After the adhesive had dried the next step was to paint the replica swords with acrylic paints so that they would blend in better with the figures on the model – shiny copper would stand out too much.


Next I attached the replica swords to the cavalry figures with a tiny drop of cellulose nitrate adhesive and allowed it to dry. The end result is shown below.





The goal of this treatment was to restore the weapons to the soldiers, thereby maintaining the drama and overall visual effect of the scene. I wanted the swords to look similar enough to the originals that at first glance they look original and the eye passes over them, but upon closer inspection it is obvious that they are replacement parts. I used different materials than the original swords on the model deliberately, so if they are examined in the future it should be clear that my swords are replacement parts.

The restoration of the swords was not necessary for the conservation of the model (as opposed to treating corroded figures, stabilising cracks, and so forth); it was a choice that was made for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. That is to say, I felt that restoring the swords not only looked better, but the presence of the swords in the hands of cavalry helped to tell the story of the battle depicted on the model.

Conservation of the model is ongoing. Through April 2015, weekday visitors to the Royal Armouries can meet the me, the Conservator, discuss the conservation programme and watch conservation of the model taking place. Capacity is limited, so for more information on how to take part please ring the Royal Armouries on 0113 220 1999 or email

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator


The proposed attack of the ‘Easter bunnies’ was clearly intended – though very well thought out and well planned – as an April Fool. Making this a 100 year old joke!

The Letter was sent to the War Office and was opened by a Major C.P Deedes of the Kings Own Light Infantry, who was working as a General Staff Officer (Grade 3) at the time. Major Deedes wrote in his diary in response to the letter:

Rabbits - Diary Entry

Major Deedes clearly saw the funny side of this correspondence, indeed the letter was found within a collection of his belongings, meaning he had kept it ever since.

General CP Deedes_RabbitsGeneral C.P Deedes, as the Major later became, was a respected figure of his regiment. During the war he was awarded a D.S.O (Distinguished Service Order), mentioned in Dispatches on multiple occasions, and made a ‘Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.’

For more information about the papers and life of General C.P Deedes contact the Museum and Archives of the King’s Own Light Infantry. Their Website can be found here.