Protecting WWI Troops…

One of our Library Student Interns, Hugh Osborne investigates a letter written by J.B Forster detailing a new idea to protect soldiers in the First World War.

In 1915 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the well known Sherlock Holmes series, sent a letter to The Times newspaper stating the need to protect soldiers fighting in the trenches in the First World War. Following the publication of his letter in the paper, Doyle received a number of responses from inventors, metal workers and engineers detailing their various ideas and solutions. One of these responses is particularly interesting, if however a little farfetched in terms of how effective it would be.

J.B. Forster of J.B. Forster and Co. wrote to Doyle, on 4 August 1916, detailing his idea for a woven steel net/mail to be attached to the barrel of a soldier’s rifle to catch bullets, using ‘the same principle as the cricketer’.[1] The idea was to catch shrapnel, ricochets and other low velocity projectiles. It is unlikely however that it would have caught a rifle or machine gun round which would have probably gone straight through. The net was to be mounted on the barrel using a steel frame, which could be removed and folded for storage and transport. This would have made the weapon very heavy (the net alone would have weighed at least 10lbs). The barrel resonance would have also been adversely affected, as the barrel wouldn’t have been able to flex and move in its normal way, reducing accuracy. Also visibility would have been greatly reduced making aiming the weapon all the more difficult.

For all its flaws the idea demonstrates that inventors were willing to try anything to solve the problem of how to protect soldiers. Captain Boynton’s gun shield idea is worth a mention but suffers from similar drawbacks to J.B. Forster’s design as it was also attached to the rifle’s barrel, though this time with a hinge. Gun shields weren’t a new idea; from as early as Henry VIII’s reign there are examples of shields fitted with pistols. Gun shields are still used today particularly on mounted weapons such as heavy machine guns and grenade machine guns mounted on vehicles, giving their users more protection.

Blogger: Hugh Osborne, Library Student Intern


[1] J.B. Forster, quotation taken from J.B. Forster’s letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

This letter from the Royal Armouries archives contains an eyewitness account of the battle of Jutland fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet on 30May – 1 June 1916.

HMS Invincible sinking

HMS Invincible sinking

It was written by George Slade, a seaman aboard HMS Inflexible, to his mother ten days after the battle to reassure her that he was safe. HMS Inflexible came through the action without any casualties and undamaged, although Slade describes one dangerous moment when ‘four torpedoes were fired at us. One passing across our stern, another passed along our port side about 10 yds away + the fourth actually went under us!! Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

Wartime letters were normally censored, and Slade intended to give no more details of the action, but he was then allowed to write a fuller account (presumably as reports of the battle had been published in the press) which he does so in the form of a journal or log.

During the battle Slade was stationed in the foretop and on the bridge, and so he had an excellent view of the action. He records all of the major events, including the dramatic loss of HMS Invincible:

‘6.30 The Invincible was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + her bows + stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P+Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up afterwards + I think were all part of the Fore Top’s crew. (52 4 N, 6 6 E)’

George Slade's letter

George Slade’s letter

His account is unusually precise and it is likely that Slade copied the main details from the log kept on the bridge of HMS Inflexible during the action, and then added his own personal observations. The result is a fascinating description of one of the great battles of the First World War.

Blogger: William Longmate, Student Work Placement – Archives Department

Collections Up Close – Remembrance Special

The Royal Armouries Archives contain a collection of letters between Jack and Gert Adam, written during the First World War. The letters poignantly show their loving and often humorous relationship, including letters from their three young children. However, in August 1918 Gert’s letters to Jack, posted overseas to France, began to be returned unopened and the remainder of the letters reveal Gert’s endeavours to find out exactly what happened her husband, who never returned. Official records of the war, photographs and War Office correspondence surrounding the events reveal the true impact of war on his wife and family back in Doncaster, an experience undoubtedly shared by thousands of families at this time.

Jack and Gert Adams

Jack and Gert Adams

The letters have their own remarkable story, after being purchased form a house sale by the Museum in 2006 they were written into a play performed at the Royal Armouries. One day an audience member recognised the names and it transpired the family were living in the area. Once in touch the family were relieved the letters had been found as they had been accidentally lost during a house move. Later, in 2009, the family found a further collection of letters between Jack and Gert and kindly donated them to the Museum to be kept with the rest of the collection.

A short film about these archives can be found here on YouTube, the film was previously shown by the BBC for Remembrance in Trafalgar Square.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Battle of Mons, 1914 – a Personal Account

The First World War erupted in August 1914, as German troops drove across Belgium meeting the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) based around Mons on the 23rd. The battle raged for several days as British and French forces were initially driven back until they held the Germans in early September and regained some lost territory.

The cover of the diary; ‘In case of accidents please forward to: - Mrs. E. Stone, 4 Lansdowne Place, Blackheath, London’.

The cover of the diary; ‘In case of accidents please forward to: - Mrs. E. Stone, 4 Lansdowne Place, Blackheath, London’.

Housed in the Royal Armouries archive’s collection in Leeds is the diary of Captain Edward Stone. Captain Stone began the war as second-in-command of B Company 2nd Dragoon Guards one of the cavalry regiments that were part of the BEF, but soon rose to commanding officer. His diary covers the period of 14 August – 28 October 1914 and vividly portrays the fast-paced action of the early weeks of the war.

A page from the diary of Captain Edward Stone

A page from the diary of Captain Edward Stone

The German army drove French troops to the right of the BEF into retreat and the British were forced to withdraw to ensure they were not outflanked as the Germans advanced. Stone coveys the confusion of the withdrawal as the BEF pulled back from the enemy:

‘On arriving at Le Cateau the place was swarming with infantry and artillery and cavalry, and there was absolute chaos. Finally we pulled off the road and camped in another wet turnip field; the horses and men were just about done in and wet through…’

Stone goes on to describe the British counter-attack at Le Cateau, and following actions at Nery, Aisnes and Messines as the German advance was gradually halted and the battle front stabilised into the lines of trenches that remained in place until 1918; the Western Front was born.

Officers of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, Captain Stone is on the front row, third from the left. This picture was taken in August 1914, only a few days before the Regiment went into action.

Officers of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, Captain Stone is on the front row, third from the left. This picture was taken in August 1914, only a few days before the Regiment went into action.

Edward Stone survived the horrors of the First World War. He was promoted to Major in 1917 and after a long career retired in 1926.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

Collections Up Close November

Pte. Thomas Queenan. Image ©Royal Armouries.

Pte. Thomas Queenan

Our Leeds Museum houses items which belonged to Private Thomas Queenan, who was killed on 4th June 1916 while serving in France. He lived near the site of our Leeds Museum and several of his belongings were donated by his family, including his 1914 Star, War and Victory medals, and his Queen Mary’s Christmas Box which contained a souvenir handkerchief of his West Yorkshire Regiment. Queenan was just one of many thousands of men from the region who lost their lives during the war who will be honoured in our Remembrance Day service.

Pte. Thomas Queenan is standing on the right in this image. Image ©Royal Armouries.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher