Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part four

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes. However, Conan Doyle also used his fame to campaign on behalf of British soldiers during the First World War.

Conan Doyle’s conversations with the War Office, in which he suggests equipping the troops with better shields, helmets and body armour, form the subject of this blog series.

In this final post of the series – written by Philip Abbot, Archives and Records Manager at Royal Armouries – we learn more about the response from the British Army and the trials of shields and body armour commisioned by David Lloyd-George.

Part four: The Official Response

When Conan Doyle sent his ideas on body armour and shields to the Inventions Branch at the War Office, the responsibility for the production and supply of munitions was passing from the War Office to the Ministry of Munitions. Papers in the Parliamentary Archives show that the new Minister, David Lloyd-George, took an interest in Conan Doyle’s campaign from the outset.

The_Right_Hon._David_Lloyd_George

The Right Hon David Lloyd-George. Image source: ‘Fighting Starvation in Belgium, 1918’ available on archive.org

The Ministry of Munitions reports on the use and effect of shields and body armour

Between August and November 1916, Lloyd-George asked Ernest Moir at the Munitions Inventions Department to report on the potential use and effectiveness of shields and body armour.

Moir concluded that it was doubtful if shields could be made within a practicable weight and that there would be difficulties manoeuvring them over uneven ground, through barbed wire, or over other obstructions [1, 2]. Similarly, the armours being sold by the Army and Navy Stores not only failed to provide protection, but also posed further risk of injuries being caused by the deformation of the bullet and by pieces of the armour being driven into the body [3].

In January 1916, Lloyd-George instructed Moir’s successor, Colonel Henry Edward Fane Goold Adams, to set up a sub-committee to look into the problem, stating that he was:

“very anxious in the prospects of securing an adequate body-shield which would at any rate reduce by a material percentage the casualties from rifles, machine guns and shells.” [4]

Sir Douglas Haig intervenes and testing begins

However, perhaps the most significant intervention came from Sir Douglas Haig, who had become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in the Field on 10 December 1915. Haig was doubtful that a bullet-proof body armour could be developed, but asked the War Office to supply a portable shield that would resist enemy bullets at close range, and a light body shield that would provide men taking part in trench warfare protection against shell splinters and grenade fragments. [5].

Douglas_Haig_Gw_haig_03

Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Army in the Field from 1915–1918

The personal intervention of the Minister of Munitions, combined with the Commander-in-Chief’s request, produced a flurry of activity. The Munitions Inventions Department conducted tests on the various materials to see which ones offered the best protection. These concluded that 18-gauge Firth, Whitworth, Hadfield or high quality steel should be used to make up a light body shield, that it should be covered in khaki cloth, and that it should be made in plates jointed on the same principle as the Dayfield Body Shield. Further tests were then made, which indicated that Hadfield’s water-cooled (H.W.C.) manganese steel provided the best protection

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Four shrapnel proof body shields were then produced for extended grenade-throwing tests on 23 February, which concluded that the extra protection offered by the two heaviest outweighed the slight drawback caused by their extra weight. Several changes were suggested which reduced the weight by about 2 pounds, and an order was placed for 5,000 of each type on 25 February 1916 for field trials in France along with 1,000 Dayfield Body Shields (Heavy Model).

Shields and body armour are issued to troops

By the time that Conan Doyle wrote to Lloyd George, now Secretary of State for War, in July 1916 the field trials had been completed. The Dayfields were rejected as being too heavy and cumbersome, but Haig asked for 400 modified sets of the MID body shields to be issued to every Division in France and Flanders.

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The MID body shields were used with some success by bombers, patrols and sentries, but in the event they proved too heavy and awkward to be used in major assaults, and in May 1917 Haig asked for 200 sets of a lighter design of body armour to be issued to every Division. This was the Experimental Ordnance Board (EOB) body armour, and appears to have been a development of the Type C armour previously tested. It consisted of front, back and abdomen plates, was made of 18-gauge manganese steel, padded and covered in tan coloured canvas. It weighed 9 ½ pounds, was secured with leather straps and buckles, and offered the wearer protection against pistol bullets, shrapnel and grenade fragments.

Almost 20,000 sets of body armour had been delivered by August 1918 when the deadlock on the Western Front was finally broken. Research continued right up to the end of the war, as did the evaluation of both commercially available body armour and ideas received from members of the public and serving officers.

Progress on the development of a portable or mobile shield was less spectacular. Various designs for mobile shields were examined to protect between 5 and 15 men, but these were invariably too heavy and too difficult to manoeuvre, even with a large crew. A mobile shield was tested in 1917, which was fitted with rifle slits to enable the crew of five to engage enemy targets, and the following year both the British and French used a large mobile shield akin to a three-sided metal box on wheels with a platform on which a soldier could lie with only his legs exposed. However, no satisfactory design was ever produced, and the development of the tank made such shields irrelevant.


Read more on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First World War campaign in the following earlier posts:


References

1: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/1 Preliminary report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 13, 1915;
2: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/2 Further report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 19, 1915
3: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/3/25/1, Report on armour, November 16, 1915;
ditto, Report on armour, appended note, November 19, 1915
4: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/3/2/35, Memo, January 12, 1916
5: National Archives, MUN 4/2749, Letter to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, December 26, 1915

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part three

 

Part Three: Private Companies

Written by Philip Abbot  Archives and Records Manager for the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

At least eighteen designs for armour using steel plate, mail and even textiles were manufactured commercially in Britain during the First Word War, and no less than forty patents for helmets and armour were taken out in Britain between 1914 and 1918. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that Conan Doyle also received letters from a number of private companies who were already producing armour for private purchase.

John Pullman, the retired owner of R. and J. Pullman Limited, leather-dressers of London, Godalming and Woodstock, sent Conan Doyle an improved version of his A1 Shield, which was on sale for 25 shillings at the Army and Navy Stores, Harrods and Selfridges.  Pullman’s shield was made of steel, “Government tested and found proof against shrapnel bullets at 700 feet per second velocity, and enemy service revolver at point-blank, and against bayonet or lance”, and weighed just less than 3 pounds. It provided protection to the chest and abdomen, and consisted of four overlapping steel plates, which were attached to one another by means of canvas webbing, and secured by adjustable straps at the neck and the waist. Each individual plate measured 12 inches by 5 inches, was curved to fit the contours of the body, and riveted to a stout canvas backing. When not being worn it folded up neatly into a canvas or leather case, which could be carried over the shoulder in the same manner as a haversack.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-1A Pullman 1 and DOY1-1B Pullman 2.

Conan Doyle also received an example of the Dayfield Body Shield, which was made by the Whitfield Manufacturing Company. The Dayfield was probably the most popular of all of the privately manufactured body armours, and was widely advertised in newspapers and magazines as “an invaluable gift to send to your soldier father, brother, husband, son or friend”, and claimed to be proof against bayonet, sword, lance, spent bullets, shrapnel, shell splinters and grenade fragments.

Dayfield Body Shield Heavy Model 1916

Credit: Royal Armouries. Dayfield Body Shield, Heavy Model, 1916.

Its advertisements and promotional literature certainly carried an impressive number of unsolicited testimonials. One Lieutenant Colonel recalled:

“When wounded on March 17th I consider that the Dayfield saved me from a very ugly wound in the back or right shoulder. I was going along a front line trench when an officer immediately behind me was killed outright and something hit me hard on the right, below the shoulder, knocking me on my knees. Some splinters from a bullet casing got in above the steel plate, causing small wounds.”

DOY 1-9B Dayfield 3

Credit: ROyal Armouries. DOY 1-9B Dayfield 3.

The original version of the Dayfield Body Shield was fairly simple, and consisted of a breastplate and a backplate, each composed of four steel plates, sewn into a canvas waistcoat with metal bands taped over the unprotected seams, but it was quickly modified so that the front plate was extended up to the shoulders and shaped at the neck. It could be purchased as either a single shield to protect the chest only (weighing 3 pounds) for 21 shillings, or a double shield to protect the front and back (weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces) for 52 shillings and 6 pence.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-9A Dayfield 1 and 2.

Roneo Limited drew Conan Doyle’s attention to two designs for body shields that they had produced in association with the Miris Steel Company, which were then being tested in the field by 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Martin Archer Shee, MP. The first was a breastplate shaped to cover the left side of the body, which was more often exposed by an advancing soldier than the front, and provided protection to the heart and abdomen. The second was a large breastplate with shoulder straps and belt, which covered the whole of the chest. Both shields were made of Miris steel, a 1/3 inch (about 7.5mm) thick, which it was claimed would stop a Mauser rifle bullet at 40 yards, and were padded to help absorb the shock of impact.

DOY 1-8B Miris steel

Credit: Royal Armouries. Miris steel.

Conan Doyle was a keen rifleman, and tested the armour and shields he had been sent in his garden at Crowborough with his own service rifle. His younger sons, Denis and Adrian, were forbidden to come close, when their father was engaged in his experiments, but could hear the sounds of bullets being deflected or thudding into their target. He probably included a summary of the results of his experiments in his letter to Lloyd George on 8 August.

 

In the Archives: The Chilwell Crest

In May 2016, the First World War Archives project welcomed two students from Leeds University’s MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies Course. During their placement, Hanlun Ren and Yan Liu undertook a research project to digitise and research a small archive of material held by the Royal Armouries relating to Shell Filling Factory No.6 at Chilwell. They have been kind enough to write a bilingual blog for us based on an area of their research that particularly interested them – the Chilwell Crest.

This blog can be seen below, following a brief introduction the factory’s history.

A Short History of Shell Filling Factory No.6 – Chilwell

In 1915, the ‘Ministry of Munitions’ was created to deal with the rapidly worsening shell crisis. Godfrey John Boyle (8th Viscount Chetwynd) was appointed to set up a factory for making High Explosive Charges, and improving methods of producing and filling shells with Amatol. Chilwell in Nottinghamshire became the site of Shell Filling Factory No.6. Officially beginning to fill shells in March 1916, it had reached 7,000 shells per week by April. By September 1916 Chilwell had generated over a million shells, many of which were used at the Battle of the Somme, which ended on the 18th of November that year.

By 1918 the factory employed around 10,000 workers and was filling tens of thousands of shells a day. By this time a few small explosions had already occurred at Chilwell resulting in a low number of fatalities, but on 1st July 1918 the factory experienced a much larger explosion during the evening shift, damaging the factory and nearby buildings and killing 134 people.

The rebuild began the very next day and by end of shift on 3rd July over 27,000 shells had been filled despite the damage. By September 1918, Chilwell reached its highest ever productions figure, filling 275,000 shells in one week with the rebuild of the factory still ongoing. In total Chilwell produced over 19 million shells during World War One; a figure claimed to account for 60% of combined wartime production by the seven shell filling factories. This high production rate helped maintain the pressure on the German Armies, eventually breaching the Hindenburg Line and allowing the allies to move swiftly across Belgium and France to secure victory.

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Lord Chetwynd and senior production staff with the production figure for Chilwell 1915-1918. Credit: Royal Armouries

The History of the Chilwell Crest, researched by Hanlun Ren and Yan Liu

“切威尔之冠”(Chilwell Crest)的故事

The logo of National Shell Filling Factory No.6 (commonly known as ‘Chilwell’) is depicted as two crossed ‘Cs’ beneath a crown, and was known as the Chilwell Crest. As the pictures below show; at first sight, the logo bears a similarity to the logo of fashion brand Chanel, but they have very different histories.

英国国家弹药六厂的创始标志由象征英国皇室的皇冠图案以及下方的交叉“C”形图案组成,因此也被称之为“切威尔之冠”。正如下图所示,虽然这个标志与著名时尚品牌“香奈儿”的品牌标志在外形上十分类似,但是“切威尔之冠”诞生的背后有着深厚的历史背景。

pic 3 Chilwell.jpeg

The Chilwell Crest and the Logo of Chanel. (图为“切威尔之冠”的双“C”标志与“香奈儿”的品牌标志)

The crossed C’s of the Chilwell Crest are often taken to stand for Chetwynd of Chilwell. This is because the eighth Viscount Chetwynd, Godfrey John Boyle, founded and served as managing director of National Shell Filling Factory No.6. However, this is not the case. The real story was revealed by Eve Chetwynd, daughter of the eighth Viscount, who said that the crossed C’s dated back to the time of Charles II. King Charles gave peers whose family name began with the letter ‘C’ permission to have a crest with intertwined C’s in order to signify allegiance to the king. Above each crest was the individual family’s coronet.

在英国历史上,“切威尔之冠”中的双“C”通常被认为是是切威尔(Chilwell)的切特温德(Chetwynd)子爵的代表标志。这是因为第八切特温德子爵,约翰·博伊尔( John Boyle),创立并担任了英国国家弹药六厂的管理者。但是这并不是双“C”第一次作为切特温德家族的代表标志,据参与皇家军械博物馆第一次世界大战数字化项目的研究员刘岩考证,第八代切特温德子爵的女儿艾娃·切特温德(Eve Chetwynd)曾经对双“C”标志的起源做出过这样的表述:双“C”标志的历史可以追溯到英国历史上的查尔斯二世时代(Charles II,1630年5月29日-1685年2月6日),当时的英国国王查尔斯二世赐予一部分以字母“C”为姓氏开头的英国贵族在家族徽章上使用皇冠图案以及字母“C”的许可,以彰显他们效忠皇室的荣耀。在当时的贵族族徽设计中,在皇冠图案上方往往还会加入诸如动物形象等象征家族标志的图案。

The Chetwynd Family crest was based on a goat’s head emblem, but on succeeding to the title the Eighth Viscount took the crossed C’s as his personal badge. When he built the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell, he needed a distinctive badge for the senior members of his staff, which would give them unimpeded access to every part of the site. He adapted the crossed C’s by adding the Royal Crown to signify the association with the National Shell Filling Factory and thus the Chilwell Crest was born.

如下图所示,在查尔斯二世时代之前,切特温德家族的族徽设计由上方的家族图腾动物的羊的造型以及皇冠图案组成。而在获得查尔斯国王的敕封之后,新族徽加入了象征这个苏格兰贵族家庭与皇室联系的双“C”标志,随后的第八代切特温德子爵将已经成为个人徽章设计之中一部分的双“C”标志,加在了他领导创办的英国国家弹药六厂的厂徽标志之中,而这一设计成为工厂的管理层员工特别通行证的特殊标志,使他们能够凭此自由出入于工厂的各个车间,而这也正是英国国家弹药六厂双“C”标志的初始设计。

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Front Cover of a Photograph Album bearing the Chilwell Crest. Credit: Royal Armouries

Whether such an adaptation to the original concept of the crossed C’s was ever officially approved is not known. However, Eve Chetwynd, whilst conceding that her father was very good at by-passing bureaucracy, felt that in such a matter he would have been very correct.

这种带有皇家性质的标志设计在当时是否来源于官方的许可今天已经无从考证,但是据八代切特温德子爵的女儿艾娃·切特温德(Eve Chetwynd)的表述,他的父亲认为诸如在标志设计上未经许可加入皇室元素这样绕过政府的行为对他个人而言是率性而为的正确之举。

As time went on, there were several further changes to the composition of the Chilwell Crest. On 1st July 1918, a great explosion occurred in Chilwell National Shell Filling Factory. 134 people were killed and a further 250 were injured, with Lord Chetwynd claiming sabotage. Despite the explosion, the workers returned to work the next day and in a speech reported in The Times on 9 July 1918, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions speculated that, as the French had apparently given an honour to the Citadel of Verdun perhaps the factory should be awarded the Victoria Cross. He described Chilwell Shell Filling Factory in a happy phrase as the ‘V.C.Factory’, and though no official medal was awarded, the name stuck.

随着时间的推移“切威尔之冠”在设计上发生了几次演变。1918年7月1日,英国国家弹药六厂发生了一次严重的爆炸事故,134人在爆炸中丧生,250人受伤。弹药厂的管理者切特温德子爵事后声称这场爆炸是一次有预谋的“破坏行为”。在爆炸发生的第二天弹药厂的工人便返回了工作岗位。据皇家军械博物馆第一次世界大战数字化项目研究员任汉伦的考证:在1918年7月9日的泰晤士报的报道中,当时英国军需部议会秘书在爆炸事故发生后的一次讲话中提到,就像法国向凡尔登要塞在一战中的贡献授予荣耀一样,英国国家弹药六厂也应获得英联邦中的最高级军事勋章“维多利亚十字勋章”(Victoria Cross)荣誉的奖赏,而英国国家弹药六厂也因此获得了“维多利亚十字勋章弹药厂”(V.C.Factory)的特殊别称。这一原本玩笑式的称谓也被正式用在了弹药厂的官方名称上。

pic 5 chillwell.jpeg

Credit: Royal Armouries

Above, see a workers tally disc from 1918 stamped with ‘The V.C. Factory’ and the Chilwell crest. Also featured is the the factories founding date, 1915, and the year of the explosion, 1918.

如下图所示,在一枚1918年英国国家弹药六厂的员工牌设计上,工厂的标志中已经加入了“维多利亚十字勋章弹药厂”的英文简写标识,在这一标识的下方是原有的皇冠与双“C”标识,两侧分别刻印有“1918”的标识。pic-6-chilwell.jpeg

Part of the Factory after an explosion. Credit: Royal Armouries

After the end of the war in 1919, the shell factory became a Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Depot and the Chilwell Crest was again adapted. The 1982 souvenir crest of the factory shows its amalgamation with the crest of the RAOC, displaying two Medieval French proverbs ‘Sua Tela Tonanti’ (literally ‘His missiles to the one who is Thundering’, but commonly translated as ‘To the Warrior his Arms’) and ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (‘Shame be to him who thinks evil of it’). The two C’s have been entwined and added on each side of the crest to represent Chilwell and its founder Viscount Chetwynd.

在1919年第一次世界大战结束之后,英国国家弹药六厂的原厂址成为了皇家陆军军械陆战队的一个兵站。在1982年关于英国国家弹药六厂的纪念标志上,我们看到了弹药厂标志的再一次变化:在设计上采用了代表弹药厂原始设计的“切威尔之冠”与皇家陆军军械陆战队的标志的结合,分别代表了弹药厂的两个特殊的历史阶段。标识上的两句铭文‘Sua Tela Tonanti’,‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’分别代表了“他的导弹如雷霆万钧”、“为邪恶之人感到羞耻”。

pic 6 chillwell.jpeg

The RAOC crest (图为英国皇家陆军军械陆战队的标志)

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The souvenir crest created by Captain Mike Haslam for ‘The Chilwell Story’ upon the factories closure in 1982 (图为1982年的“切威尔之冠”). Credit: Royal Armouries

The Chilwell crest and its origins were almost lost to history, however the founder of Chilwell is continually acknowledged in the area by ‘Chetwynd Road’ which remains today, and the crossed C’s in the Garrison crest, which will survive as the Chilwell station crest.

今天,“切威尔之冠”已经更多的被认为是家族的族徽,他原本的承载意义已经逐渐消逝在历史的长河之中。但是切特温德公爵的贡献并没有被人们所遗忘,直到今天在当地仍有一条公路以他的名字命名,而那曾经代表家族荣耀与英国国家弹药六厂历史的双“C”标志,也早已融入在了切威尔站“Chilwell station”的标志设计之中。(作者:任汉伦,刘岩,本文为二零一六年英国皇家军械博物馆第一次世界大战数字化项目的一部分)pic-8-chillwell.jpeg

A view of Chilwell Shell Filling Factory in November 1916

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part two: “Cranks and Lunatics”

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better body armour on the Western Front, part two. (See previous post here.)

Written by Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries.

DOY 1-7 Walker 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-7 Walker 1.

David Lloyd George noted in his wartime memoirs that when he became Minister of Munitions that he was deluged with letters from “cranks and lunatics” who had some new invention to propose. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own letters to The Times and The Observer resulted in a number of responses from private individuals who shared his concerns, many of whom had their own ideas on saving the lives of British soldiers.

George Seaborne, a former colliery owner from Hengoed in Glamorganshire, wrote to him recalling how during the South African War he had suggested to the War Office that British troops fashion shields made from old boilers in the gold mines to protect themselves from Boer rifle fire. He also observed how the Japanese had used shields with some success during the Russo-Japanese War, and wondered whether photographs showing their use in the attack on Port Arthur might help Conan Doyle in his endeavours.(See below).

DOY 1-16 Seaborne

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-16 Seaborne.

Miles Walker, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, brought to Conan Doyle’s attention his idea for a large portable shield (see first image above and below), which he had tested the previous year with the aid of the Royal Engineers at Buxton, and then demonstrated in the presence of Major Richard Oakes, the Inspector of Iron Structures at the Department of Fortifications and Works with the help of the 90th Brigade at Manchester. Walker had already tried to persuade the Ministry of Munitions to conduct trials of his shield without success, and when in frustration he wrote to The Times on the subject his letter was “struck out by the censor” because it revealed information on experiments with military equipment. He hoped for better success by appealing to a number of MPs in the hope that they would bring pressure to bear on the Government to look into his ideas.

DOY 1-7 Walker 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-7 Walker 2.

Conan Doyle had discovered that at least one design for a large mobile shield developed by Lieutenant Cyril Aldin Smith of the Royal Naval Armoured Car Service had been tested in France, and Mr. A. Middleton of East Grinstead in Sussex wrote to him with a similar idea. It consisted of two armour plates fixed together at an angle, and mounted on a frame with a single wheel to enable it to be turned in any direction, and “easily trundled over rough ground” (see below).

DOY 1-14 Middleton

Credit: Royal Armouries museum, DOY 1-14 Middleton.

One of the more unusual ideas came from Mr. J. B. Forster, a shipping broker from Sunderland. He suggested that a steel net (presumably made of interlinked metal rings in the same way as medieval mail armour) might be fitted to a lightweight steel frame and attached to the end of a service rifle. The net would be mounted on springs in such a manner that it would give slightly on being struck by a bullet, reducing its velocity and preventing any ricochets from wounding neighbouring troops. It would be fine enough to enable the soldier to see through it, and have a small hole in the centre to allow him to fire his weapon. Forster was evidently no rifleman. One of the features of modern military rifles is a heavy, floating barrel, which increases the accuracy of the weapon by allowing it to vibrate freely and consistently. The floating barrel is able to expand and contract without contacting the stock and interfering with the alignment of the barrel and the sights.

Conan Doyle also received a number of letters following up his suggestions for armour. George Wakeman of Sparkhill in Birmingham wrote enclosing not only a detailed design for armour, consisting of breastplate, backplate, abdomen plate, arm and leg defences, which he described his armour as “simple, light, effective & cheap” (see first image below), but also a projectile for destroying barbed wire entanglements (second image below). Wakeman admitted that his suggestions, “did not take root in the official mind”, but noted that a sergeant in the trenches had “heartily approved” of his ideas for armour, and an experienced gunner had commented favourably on his suggestions for a wire entanglement destroyer.

DOY 1-13A Wakeman 1

Wakeman’s concepts for steel armour sent to Conan Doyle. Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-13A Wakeman 1.

DOY 1-13B Wakeman 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-13B Wakeman 2.

It was not just in Britain where well-meaning ideas to reduce the casualties being suffered on the Western Front were being frustrated. Arthur Rotsaert, a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Belgian Engineers, wrote to Conan Doyle claiming that he had, “made a type of shield giving full and effective protection against the German rifle bullet and shrapnel splinters to the chest and abdomen of the soldiers when they are marching upright and covering them completely when lying flat”. Rotsaert’s armour was made of 7mm thick steel and weighed less than 17 pounds. The Belgian Board of Inventions had spurned his suggestions, declaring that his armour was too heavy, but he remained convinced that the special circumstances of trench warfare made this criticism irrelevant. He argued that they need only be carried during an assault, and if the troops had to march any great distance, they could simply be left behind and picked up by the rear echelons. He offered to send his armour to Conan Doyle, but asked him not to publicise his name or rank in the Belgian Army as this might lead to trouble.

Mademoiselle Marthe Durand of Paris had also read Conan Doyle’s article in The Times, and contacted him regarding the bullet-proof armour she had developed, which had saved the lives of two members of her family, one of whom had been hit in the chest, and the other in near the heart. The armour weighed only three kilograms (six pounds ten ounces), but although she had sent samples to the French Army, she had not yet received a reply. She offered to send Conan Doyle one of her armours to see if he could persuade the British Army to try it out.

Many of Conan Doyle’s correspondents recognised the problem of the weight of bullet proof armour, and looked for alternative solutions to the use of steel. Ms Janet Peck, who lived in fashionable Mayfair in London, another writer appalled by “the sickening obstinacy with which every obvious necessity is met in the War Office” had an interesting idea. She sent Conan Doyle a sample of vulcanite, a hardened rubber made by the vulcanisation of natural rubber with sulphur, which she had come across during her investigations into the use of waterproof paper to make smocks for Indian and Canadian troops before they were issued with great coats. She thought that, “a shield could be made of this composition still hardened by greater pressure”.

Conan Doyle himself investigated the use of different materials in association with the inventor, industrialist and entrepreneur, Herbert Frood. His company, Ferodo, based in Chapel en le Frith in Derbyshire, specialised in the design and manufacture of friction products, and made brake linings for armoured cars, motor vehicles and tanks during the war. A surviving minute book in the Derbyshire Record Office reveals that on the 9 August he produced a bullet proof fabric for Conan Doyle, that was made of asbestos die pressed from 1/4 to 3/16 of an inch, and boiled in black wax with a 20% carnauba palm wax content (https://recordoffice.wordpress.com/tag/ferodo/).

Conan Doyle also received letters from a number of private companies who were already producing armour for private purchase… find out more about this in part three of our series.

Somme 100 – Huddersfield Drill Hall Commemoration

On the 1st July 2016 a commemoration was held by the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire at Huddersfield Drill Hall to honour the Yorkshire Regiments that had been engaged in the Somme Offensive 100 years earlier.

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Somme 100 commemoration

After the presentation of the colours a traditional Drumhead service was held by Canon David Wilkes (Chaplain to the Yorkshire Regiment) and moving letters from the front were read by current members of the Yorkshire Regiment.

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Return of the Colours after the Drumhead Service

The band of the Yorkshire Regiment played the regimental marches and members of the Light Infantry Buglers Association performed a fanfare for the Colours, and later the Last Post. The commemoration ended with a poignant Volley Salute by two soldiers using Lee Enfield Mark III rifles; each shot marking the death of 2,000 soldiers on the Somme.

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Volley Salute using historic Lee Enfield rifles

The First World War Archives Project team from the Royal Armouries museum and partners from Bankfield Museum, Clifton Park Museum, Doncaster Museum and York Army Museum, were invited to present displays of archive material relating to the Somme offensive and to share upcoming events commemorating World War One. Reproductions of Battalion Orders, personal accounts, Battalion War Diaries, Trench Maps, recruiting material and other contemporary items were displayed to give a fuller picture of the ‘Big Push’. The displays and material provoked a great amount of interest, with many attendees sharing their own Somme connections.

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First World War Archives Project Display

Our thanks go to Angela Clare from Bankfield Museum, Lisa Broadest from Clifton Park Museum, Steve Tagg and Victoria Ryves from Doncaster Museum, and Major Graham Green and Hannah Rogers from York Army Museum for their hard work.

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Victoria Ryves with the Doncaster 1914-1918 Display Stand (Photo used courtesy of Doncaster 1914-1918).

The Curator @ War : April 1915 –An exercise in equine detection.

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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After the traumas of March 1915, the Minute Book has a single entry for April dealing with the more humdrum concerns of everyday life in the Tower Armouries.  The continuing fight against woodworm and decay has featured in this blog before, and this month a further three wooden horses succumbed. Only one of them is readily identifiable thanks to Ffoulkes noting its association with James II.

James II reigned from 1685 – 1688 and archival records suggest that he was actively engaged with exploiting the line of kings’ display at the Tower commissioning new horses for the figures of his brother, Charles II (1685) and his father (1686). He may also have had a hand in initiating the ordering of 17 new horses and 16 new figures with faces received into Store between 1688 -1690, but he did not remain long enough to reap the reward.  In December 1688 James fled the country with his wife and 6 month old son whose birth had precipitated the crisis.  His son in law and usurper, William, was the beneficiary, using the revamp of the monarchist display to bolster his position.

James would not have satisfied the criteria (never fully defined) for inclusion in the early line, but he did leave behind a very fine harquebusier’s armour.

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By 1826, the antiquarian Sir Samuel Meyrick intent on making a more historically accurate display of this line of equestrian figures had no compunction in including James together with a new horse as can be seen in the accompanying illustration of 1830.

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The 1827 guide book noted that James’s abdication was reflected by his position leaving “the company of his brother sovereigns and the enclosure assigned to them … stealing cautiously along, close to the wall… with his horse’s head towards the door”. As none of the horses are coloured, the new steed may indeed have been white, but it is distinguished by its odd posture.

Unlike the earlier 17th century beasts who give the impression of solidity in their stance even with the occasional leg lifted, James’s mount is poised on the tips of three of its hooves with only its offside foreleg extended to meet the ground more firmly. Unfortunately 2 illustrations of the figure published in 1842 seem to show a completely different horse – the Penny Magazine one having also changed its colour.

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A photograph in a private album of the 1870s shows James back in line with his fellow kings reunited with the impractical prancing white steed in the New Horse Armoury.

With the clearance and subsequent demolition of the New Horse Armoury in 1881, the equine figures moved into the White Tower colonising the top floor.  Once again James found himself displayed adrift from the parade, riding across the south wall of the gallery while his fellows processed northwards along the length of the floor.

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Interestingly, the magazine engraving of the display from the Graphic of 1885 has reversed James and omitted the splendid electrical globe lighting installed by the Royal Engineers in 1884.  It does however show the decoration of the roof light surrounds in great detail.

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The final image of the group so far identified is this postcard dated 1903 showing the later configuration of the displays issuing out from the walls towards the central light wells with their surrounds of Land Transport Corps swords.  The latter were gleefully disposed of by ffoulkes in February 1914.

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Perhaps James’s horse pined with the destruction of the Victorian displays and weakened, crumbled under the dual assault of worm and fungus.

Dismounted, James’s  armour was shown near to the  Stuart Prince’s armours according to the Guidebook of 1916.  As the guide notes the more highly decorated armours had “recently been placed under glass owing to the injurious effects of the river mists upon their surfaces”. It was only rehorsed – using one of the original 17th century stallions – in July 2013, complete with new 21st century body, and original wooden head of Charles II. Today the full figure can be seen in all its glory on the East side of the Entrance floor – cased of course to guard against mists and visiting fingers.

James’s armour will be on its travels again this autumn, moving down river to Royal Museums Greenwich to appear in the exhibition “Samuel Pepys and the Stuart Age” (November 2015 – April 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diary of Private Holden: Part Three – The Journey up the Line (1st July – 7th July 1915)

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden. In our last post Holden described his time in the Rouen camp, and here he goes onto record his journey to the front line.

The train to the line carried 2 men and 8 horses to a compartment, with the men sleeping at the horses’ feet. A precarious place to be one would think, but not Private Holden.

“most people would think this very uncomfortable, but it was much better than riding in an ordinary French 3rd Class Compartment and the truck we had was a fairly large one and that journey was the best railway journey I have ever had”

Holden diary entry 3

The frequent stops made by the train allowed the men to jump out and stretch their legs from time to time. Though the hazard was that the train might move off again without you, as Private Holden found out:

 “ a few of us got some hot water from the engine behind, intending making some tea, but when on the way back to our own trucks, the engine whistled & started off, but we did not like the idea of leaving our tea (we had none since the Thurs morning), we ran along with the water in our mess tins, but the train began to move quicker, so we had to throw the water away, & run for all we were worth, just as we got on again, & settled down the train stopped.”

Album of Thomas Maugham

Soldiers making tea by a train – From the Album of Thomas Maugham © Green Howards Museum (Ref 2005.66.1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Travelling through France and along the coast, the train journey is made to sound almost idyllic with the French people waving and cheering as the train passed along the line. Passing Bethune however, the mood changes as the sound of the shells and the vision of the damage caused by the Germans is seen for the first time.

Arriving at Aire the train was met by the 7th Dragoon Guards who had come for the horses but knew nothing about the men accompanying them.

“here was a fine how do you do, brought eighteen horses all the way from Rouen, & then no one to own us, so whilst waiting we had some breakfast, one of the chaps going after a loaf and another got some hot water and we cleaned ourselves up to try and look our best and make a good impression when we did reach the regiment”

Holden diary entry 3.5

Finally arriving at the squadrons base near Dellettes, Private Holden was issued with a horse, and put to work caring for the horses and carrying out guard duty before moving out for the trenches on 6th July.

“What part of the line we were going to we did not know, as was the case in all the moves we had, we never knew how long we should be or the name of the place until we got there”

A working party in the trenches_from the Photograph Album of the 1_5th Battalion

A working party in the trenches – from the Photograph Album of the 1/5th Battalion © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/7/5/5)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Holden’s diary shows that his life at the front settled into a monotonous mixture of drills, horse care and digging parties, broken only by the odd mishap or annecdote. Coming back from a stint on the work gang one evening he was surprised to find that the regiment had moved billets in his absence and that his kit was nowhere to be found.

 “next morning we had to look round for our kits that we had to leave behind, but my friend’s and my own was missing & was never found. Among my things was my great coat, & I never had another one given me, & all the nights that I spent in the trenches, I was without great coat”

Arrangement of Kit for Inspection

Arrangement of Kit for Inspection © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

 

 

One Man’s War – Major Tom Goodall’s Papers

Earlier this year, the First World War Archives Project was at the Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum in Halifax continuing to scan material from their collection.

In a stroke of luck the project’s first visit to the museum occurred just after a suitcase brimming with material had been deposited by a member of the public. Looking through the suitcase it was found to contain the amazingly detailed personal archive of Major Tom Goodall. The papers and memorabilia follow Goodall from his enlistment in 1914 as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2/5 Battalion (Territorials) Duke of Wellingtons Regiment, all the way through the first world war and his time as Major in the Home Guard during the second world war.

WWI case

Goodall’s collection is a goldmine of information comprising of his personal journals, trench maps, aerial photographs, battalion orders, medals, certificates, press cuttings, items captured from German Trenches and other ephemera. The collection is an invaluable new resource into the history of the 2/5 Battalion, in particular ‘D’ Coy, and the day to day running of the British Forces.

A personal favourite from the collection has to be this note found pinned at the Entrance to a German Dugout near Achiet-Le-Petit 17th March 1917.

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‘Good Neight Tommy! Auf Wiedersehen!’

Get Involved

Can you read Shorthand or German? If you can then we need your skills!

Tom Goodall’s Archive contains 4 small diaries written primarily in shorthand along with a few bits of correspondence also in shorthand. We would welcome volunteers who would be willing to transcribe these diaries for us so that we can make this resource accessible to all.

The archive also contains a book captured from a German trench which appears to contain a list of code names and some sort of journal or company diary. This is a fascinating item and would be an exciting transcription project for a volunteer.

Volunteers do not need to live in West Yorkshire and anyone interested should contact caroline.walter@armouries.org.uk

And Finally…

I’ll leave you with a few examples of the Battalion Orders which made the British Army the pride of the empire. Each one is a genuine order issued to the 2/5 Duke of Wellingtons Regiment during their time on the Western Front.

Battalion Order 293: Each company having been issued with a Flat Iron, Officers commanding companies will arrange that ironing of the seams of S.D. Clothing is carried out once a week and will forward certificate to Orderly Room every Saturday by 9 am stating that this has been done.

Battalion Order 294: Companies will arrange to inspect their sick before coming down to hospital and see that their men are properly washed and shaved.

Battalion Order 397: The practice of cutting down trousers to turn them into ‘shorts’ is prohibited. ‘Shorts’ are not to be worn in the VI Corps Area. (Vide. C.R.O. 2486 of 8-8-17)

Battalion Order 686: Companies will ensure that Haircutting is carried out as quickly as possible. All men must be completed by 9am 8-12-17.

The Diary of Private Holden: Part One, a journey to France

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden

Unlike those who joined the army to become career soldiers, Private Holden was part of the Special Cavalry Reserve. Volunteers or conscripts who enlisted after the start of the war served with the reserve regiments in England, undergoing basic training before being sent overseas to supply drafts to their affiliated regiments.

Though it has not been possible to locate him in the surviving WW1 records, Private Holden most likely belonged to the 4th Reserve Regiment, based at Tidworth, which was the regiment that supplied drafts to the 7th Dragoon Guards until 1917.

Private Holden does not seem to have taken naturally to soldiering and his diary has few place names or dates and very little mention of enemy action. It does however give a wonderful picture of his everyday worries and wishes and the various mishaps that befell him.

The Journey out (22-23 May 1915)

 “It was on May the 20th, when, along with ten more men, I was warned for France, but it was not until two days later, that we were told the day for leaving. On the evening of the 22nd we got orders to parade at 8 A.M the following morning, when, I should say, about forty eight men & two NCO’s turned out, we marched down to the station, but unlike all other drafts we had no band, at the time they were on leave. At the station we were given a good send off, by our own men & also the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, they were also sending men away and we were all on the same train, & we steamed out of Tidworth station, which to most people, was a thing to be remembered, the two bands of the 9th and the 18th were playing , & the chaps wishing us all good luck, & a few wondering if they would ever see their chums again, then all was left behind and the future talked about”

Cavalry Troops at southampton docks

P.269/2 Cavalry Troops at Southampton Docks ©Southampton Archives

 

Arriving at Southampton Docks, Private Holden had to wait for the troop ship to be prepared for embarkation and spent his time watching the boats come in.

“During the time we were waiting for the order to fall in, we saw a few hospital ships come in dock, then the question how long should we be out before we should stop one, as it is called. About 4:30 we got the welcome order fall in, then we marched on the boat, the name I have forgotten, it was some Irish name, & was an old cargo boat, & was fitted up for cattle, we all marched on, & three hundred horses were taken on. At 5:30 the boat steamed out, but, unlike the pictures of a ‘departure of a troopship’, all was quiet, no cheering and goodbyes. No one was on the dock, only workmen, & a few soldiers, & many looked longingly at old England’s shores as we went slowly down the channel”

Private Holden Diary Entry

Newsreel films of the departures of troop ships from Britain and Overseas were common during the early years of the war and presumably it is one such film that Private Holden refers to within his diary. Examples of such films can be viewed in the British Pathé online Archive, including this film of Russian Relief troops departing from London.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/look-out-trotsky-departure-of-russian-relief-force/query/troop+ship

Many of the ships used to carry British and colonial troops during the war had been requisitioned and were fitted up as best they could be for the process of carrying large numbers of men and horses across the sea. Horses were often winched onto the ships and confined in small quarters for the voyage, with many dying from disease and injury.

Even the short journey across the channel was dangerous for both man and beast, with submarines targeting the troop ships. Only a month after Private Holden’s voyage, in June 1915 the SS Armenian was torpedoed off the British coastline and 1,400 mules and horses were left to perish while the remaining men abandoned ship.

Conditions on the troop ship were cramped and most of the soldiers took the welcome chance to sleep while they could but Private Holden stayed on deck watching the sunset.

 Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia


Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

I smile often when I think of the crowd, & picking your way over them was a very difficult task, for with the swaying of the boat, & the different positions of the men, you had a hard task, & more than one man had a rude awakening, through someone falling on the top of him.”

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Passing Le Havre signalled the completion of the channel crossing and the ship turned to sail down the river towards Rouen.

“We passed several villages on the river side, some of the people seemed to be just getting out of bed, but the noise made on the boat, was enough to awake the dead, & before we reach Rouen, half the chaps could not shout, the people cheered us all the way down, but when nearing Rouen, we had to cease shouting, to give the sailors a chance to hear the orders given from the bridge.”

 

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.