Part three: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First World War campaign

 

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.

 

The Battle of Jutland: an eyewitness account of the largest sea battle in history

The 31 May/1 June marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. It was the only major First World War fleet action fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, and the largest sea battle in history.

Our Archives and Records Manager, Philip Abbot, uncovers some of the details of this important battle through the journals of Gerald Slade, midshipman on HMS Inflexible.

Gerald Slade was born in Hong Kong in 1899, and entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, as a cadet shortly before his thirteenth birthday. After completing his education and training he joined the battlecruiser, HMS Inflexible, as a midshipman on 8 September 1915.

HMS Inflexible

HMS Inflexible. Source: US Library of Congress. Public Domain.

During the Battle of Jutland he was stationed on the ship’s fighting top high up on the main mast, where he had an excellent view of the action. He left a personal account of his experiences in the form of a journal:

 

May 30th 1916

Proceeded from Scapa Flow ahead of Battle Fleet at 8.15.

May 31st 1916

3.0 PM closed up at action stations.

4.0 PM were given half an hour for tea. Heard that the “Lion” was engaging the enemy. The 5th B.S. Sqn Queen Elizabeth was with them. We were now proceeding at full speed (about 27 kts). It was 3.50 when the “Lion” reported that she was engaging the enemy.

5.29 heard the sound of firing right ahead + a short time later saw numerous gun flashes.

5.40 sighted enemy light cruisers and destroyers. These were all concentrating on the “Chester” + she was having a very hot time of it.

5.55 opened fire on enemy light cruisers + succeeded in sinking at least one. She blew up in a dense cloud of steam.

On the evening of 30 May 1916, the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Hood (flagship HMS Invincible) sailed from Scapa Flow, and steamed south westwards at high speed, followed at intervals by the rest of the British Grand Fleet.

The opening phase of the action was fought between the German battlecruisers under the command of Admiral Hipper (flagship SMS Lutzow) and their British counterparts under Admiral Beatty (flagship HMS Lion), supported by the 5th Battle Ship Squadron, consisting of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships (the most modern and powerful ships in either fleet). Two of the British battlecruisers, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, blew up with heavy loss of life, and a number of the German ships were badly damaged.

Shortly after 4.00 PM, Admiral Jellicoe (flagship HMS Iron Duke), in command of the Grand Fleet, ordered the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron to increase speed and join Beatty’s hard-pressed forces. HMS Chester, scouting ahead of the squadron, was engaged by four German light cruisers, and badly damaged. When the battlecruisers opened fire, the German light cruiser, SMS Wiesbaden, was quickly disabled, but despite Slade’s claim she remained afloat.

Additional entries in Slade’s journal describe the battle:

6.0 check fire. A Torpedo passed under our stern.

6.15 we are to starboard in order to avoid a Torpedo which passed about 10 yds away along out port side. We watched it from the Fore Top + could even see the propellers moving. The Torpedo Lieut was afraid that the Gyro would fail + she might turn + bump us.

6.20 openned fire on a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. We landed one salvo on her fore turret + appeared to have flatenned it out.

6.35 the Grand Fleet openned fire on the enemy. It was a fine sight to see them. They were so formed as to be able to bring every gun to bear. Indom. [HMS Indomitable] and Inflex. [HMS Inflexible] formed astern of the B.C.s.

6.30 the “Invincible” was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + bows and 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 after + I think were all part …

Several torpedos were fired at the British battlecruisers, but they managed to dodge them all. As the main body of the High Seas Fleet under the command of Admiral Scheer (flagship SMS Fredrich der Grosse) were enemy’s observed ahead, Hood ordered his ships to alter course to port, and opened fire at a range of about 8,000 to 9,000 yards. Inflexible’s Gunnery Officer later reported that the first salvo hit the target. The battlecruisers themselves came under heavy fire, and although Inflexible was not hit, Slade later admitted in a letter to his mother that “we had a good many shells bursting pretty close to us & we got a few splinters from one. Invincible was sunk with the loss of all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men. The Inflexible had to alter course to avoid the wreckage.

HMS-invincible-being-blown-

HMS Invincible exploding at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916. Source: Fighting at Jutland: The personal experiences of forty five officers and men of the British Fleet, (London: Hutchinson and Co, Ltd, 1921). Image is available online at Internet Archive.

Battlecruisers were large ships designed to scout ahead of the main battle fleet and find the enemy, to protect the battleships from torpedo armed cruisers and destroyers, and to pursue the enemy fleet and use their guns to damage or slow opposing ships. They were armed with heavy guns (similar to those of the battleships) but were forced to compromise protection in favour of speed. The vulnerability of the battlecruisers combined with the practice of storing shells in gun turrets, ammunition hoists and other working areas to increase the rate of fire poor shell resulted in the loss of three battlecruisers at Jutland.

 

The Inflexible and Indomitable formed astern of the Beatty’s ships as the main body of the Grand Fleet finally appeared and engaged the enemy. Jellicoe ordered his squadrons to alter course in an attempt to bring all guns to bear (in a manoeuvre known as Crossing the ‘T’), and the High Seas Fleet was forced to turn away. Outnumbered and outgunned Scheer decided to break off the action.

… of their Fore Top’s crew (52 4 N, 6 6 E).

7.25 opened fire on a flotilla of German destroyers which were probably going to attack with Torpedoes. They were successfully driven off. Light cruisers + destroyers were now ordered to proceed at full speed + attack with Torpedoes.

7.45 a Torpedo passed 150 yds astern.

8.20 opened fire on Enemy Battle Cruisers + a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. I think we made a few hits but the light was so bad + the mist so thick that it was extremely hard to see any fall of shot. As it was we were only firing at the flashes. We were not firing for very long. But the Indomitable carried on firing at something for about another 10 salvoes.

8.30 check fire. 3 ships appeared to be firing at “Inflexible”.

8.35 a Torpedo missed out bow by about 50 yds.

8.40 there was a violent shock felt under the ship.

8.45 a submarine broke surface? about 100 yds on the starboard beam. She may have been struck by the ship or the ship may have run on some submerged wreckage.

9.30 A/C south.

Was in the Fore Top until 10.15 then on the Bridge…

As the High Seas Fleet headed south at high speed under cover of a smoke screen the German light forces mounted a torpedo attack. The Inflexible had to alter course sharply to avoid being hit, and Slade admitted to his mother that they were “pretty lucky”. The British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts at dusk, and opened fire at 6,000 yards.

HMS Inflexible carried eight 12-inch guns mounted in four twin turrets, one forward (A), one aft (X), and two amidships on either side of the ship (P and Q). The guns fired shells weighing 850 pounds at a maximum muzzle velocity of 2,725 feet per second. They could be elevated to an angle of 13.5 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 18,850 yards. The control of the guns was centralised under the ship’s Gunnery Officer in the Director Tower.

 

HMS_Indomitable

The 12-inch guns on HMS Indomitable. Source: US Library of Congress Bain Collection. Public Domain.

Powerful optical systems (9-foot coincidence range-finding equipment supplied by Barr and Stroud) were used to establish the range and bearing to the target. The results were then fed into a fire-control table (Dreyer table Mark I), a form of mechanical computer, which combined the Inflexible’s and the target’s courses, bearing and speeds, and presented a firing solution. The guns were then trained and elevated on the target, and fired together in a salvo.

 

 

Barr and Stroud Range Finder

9-foot Barr and Stroud Range Finder.

The fall of shot was observed (the shells caused huge splashes) and corrections made in the firing solution until the target was straddled. It was a complicated process, and made more difficult in action by poor visibility, rough seas, the ship’s own violent manouveres, and by the enemy’s fire. The Grand Fleet’s gunnery was much criticised after the battle.

 

… until 12.0. Managed to get 1/12 hours sleep + then closed up at action stations at 2.15 AM.

June 1st

3.15 AM Sighted a Zeppelin on the starboard quarter about 17-18000 yds away. The “Indomitable” fired two rounds of shrapnel at her but they did not burst anywhere near her. She then turned away + very nearly went out of sight but again turned + came towards us. A light cruiser squadron opened fire on her. Most of the shells were short except about two which burst just ahead of her. By the she was going full speed away.

11.45 passed the wreck of a big shop on the starboard side, Name unknown.

2.24 PM Passed a boat of German design marked “V29” (she is on of their latest destroyers).

2-30 – 2.50 passed through a large area of dead bodies (all German I think). Some of them had their part of the watch bade on their shoulders. All had cork life belts on. One lief buoy we passed had the letters S.M.S ____ pn it but a body was lying acorss the name of the ship.

2.45 passed the wreck of the Invincible again + a destroyer was sent to sink it.

3.15 we passed through a large track of oil which was probably from the Invincible + a large amount of wreckage probably from a destroyer.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night action, and ordered his fleet to steer a course that would intercept the High Seas Fleet at dawn. However Scheer altered course during the night to cross the wake of the Grand Fleet, and although the British light forces made a series of torpedo attacks throughout the night, they failed to receive support from the main body. By daylight the High Seas Fleet had escaped.

Both sides claimed victory after the battle, but the result was inconclusive. The Imperial German Navy had hoped to surprise and destroy a portion of the British fleet, but although it inflicted heavier losses in both men and ships, Scheer was forced to withdraw. The Royal Navy had hoped for a decisive battle, but Jellicoe was unable to prevent the enemy from breaking off the engagement, and lost contact with the enemy during the night.

The Inflexible sustained no damage or casualties during the battle, other than a small indentation in the ship’s out skin cause by the collision with the underwater wreckage (Slade’s report of a submarine is not confirmed), and a crack in the right gun of “Q” turret, which had been caused during the gun’s calibration and was enlarged.

Gerald Slade continued to serve aboard the Inflexible until March 1918 when he volunteered for the submarine service. He served in submarines until 1935, when he became the Fleet Photographic Officer in the first the Mediterranean and then with the Home Fleet. He retired in 1944 with the rank of Commander.

Meet the horses: Ocle

12835056_1107887065922427_640288587_nAge: 8

Breed: Andalusian

Sex: stallion

Height: 15.2

Speciality: airs above the ground

12825325_1107887079255759_127032007_nOcle is a bold and confidant stallion. With extensive experience in film work and live performance, his courage and intelligence is easily admired! Trained to strike shields, gallop through flames and leap high off the ground in graceful airs above the ground, Ocle is a perfect example of the qualities desired in a war horse.

During the Royal Armouries Easter tournament, you will have the chance to see Ben of Atkinsons Action Horses working Ocle in ‘liberty’ (as seen below) which means he is controlling the horse without any reigns or restraints.To see this, purchase your tickets to the Easter Tournament here.

12822238_1107887052589095_229824826_n

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12047686_1107887099255757_69483076_n

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The Curator @ War: 19 October 1915 “Bananas & Battleships”

Entry for the execution of Fernando Buschmann in the Tower of London Prison Log.

Entry for the execution of Fernando Buschmann in the Tower of London Prison Log. It reads “19: Brazilian spy shot”.

Fernando Buschmann was the seventh of 11 spies shot at the Tower between November 1914 and April 1916, and at 25 years old the second youngest. A Brazilian, with German father and Danish mother, he was educated in Europe.  The failure of his French aviation enterprise saw him back in Brazil. From 1912 he returned to Europe working in partnership with Marcelino Bello in a business importing food from Germany and England and exporting Brazilian bananas and potatoes. He met a Dresden girl, married her in London and all looked set for a rosy future.

Photograph of Fernando Buschmann

Photograph of Fernando Buschmann

In 1913 the Hamburg office of Buschmann and Bello opened, and Fernando travelled between Brazil and Europe. Success was short-lived – by September 1914 the German office had closed and Buschmann’s name was removed from the firm’s title as it was perceived to be bad for business. Leaving his family in Dresden, he travelled throughout Europe and arrived in London in April 1915. With spy fear and anti-German sentiment at their height, this was to prove fatal.

Buschmann’s commercial interests had widened to include boots, mules, and guns for the French government. Despite this, he was perennially short of money, and it was his begging telegrams to a Dutch contact Flores that alerted British Counter-Intelligence. Buschmann claimed that he had no idea that Flores was in fact a German spymaster, but having attracted the attention of the authorities his business activities were closely monitored. In June 1915 he was arrested. During questioning he claimed his business in England was to sell picric acid (an explosive), rifles and cloth. He admitted to formerly selling flour and potatoes “but not cigars” – a number of the other spies captured at the time had been involved with the latter, and the use of tobacco products as code words was suspected. In Buschmann’s case, fruit fell under suspicion as Major Drake commented in his review of the evidence:

“…should we be far out in suggesting that bananas and battle-ships are interchangeable terms?”

Buschmann was cautioned in both French and English and faced 4 charges under Section 48 of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations 1914 – in other words he was accused of espionage: a capital crime.

 

The first page of Buschmann’s censored charge sheet – sensitive information has been cut out.

The first page of Buschmann’s censored charge sheet – sensitive information has been cut out.

Court martialled in September and unable to satisfactorily explain his dealings with known German agents, as well as his woeful business record, his trips to Southampton and Portsmouth and the presence of invisible ink in his record books, he was found guilty. In his defence, he argued:

“I was never a soldier or a sailor, and I am absolutely ignorant of all military matters.  I am not a good businessman as I am more wrapped up in my music than business.”

Buschmann was sentenced to death by firing squad and transferred to the Tower on 18th October. He was permitted the solace of his violin which he played throughout the night.

Sentence was carried out at 7:00am on the 19th October at the Tower Rifle Range.

Fernando Buschmann's death certificate

Fernando Buschmann’s death certificate

The medical officer officiating at Buschmann’s execution was Francis Woodcock Goodbody (1870- 1938). In civilian life he was a researcher in chemistry and medicine at University College, London. During the 1914-18 war, he was commissioned Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

To learn more, have a listen to Daniel Hope’s radio documentary “A fiddler in the tower” about Fernando Buschman.

 

‘Scotland for Ever!’: the story behind Lady Elizabeth Butler’s iconic painting

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Butler was amongst the foremost battle painters of her time. Her earlier works on the Crimean War had already seen her win praise from the public, art critics and royalty. Butler always did her utmost to accurately render the details of her military subjects. Whenever possible she interviewed veterans and sourced genuine period equipment. This proved problematic when portraying the events of Waterloo, some 66 years earlier.

The Roll Call

‘The Roll Call’, Lady Elizabeth Butler – an archetypal picture of the Crimean War. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

It is testimony to her diligence that only four small errors of uniform appear in her Waterloo work, as seen below: the addition of braided epaulettes on the lead officer, the inclusion of full-dress shabraques and regimental standard and the omission of the bearskins’ oil-skin covers.  However, Butler’s choice to inaccurately portray the horses at the gallop suggest that what could be read as errors were probably deliberate artistic choices to enhance the drama of the piece. Butler’s research also involved observing the Scots Greys on manoeuvres at Aldershot in 1879, twice having the regiment charge towards her to fully understand the effect she sought to capture.

LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6x194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; (add.info.: charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815;); English.

Currently on display at the Royal Armouries: LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6×194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; ( charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815) English. Bridgeman Images.

This research, dedication, and attention to detail, created the painting ‘Scotland for Ever!’ – capturing the moment just before the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons crashed into the column of the French 3rd Infantry Division. The combined charge of the 2,500 men of the Household and Union Brigades – the entirety of the British heavy cavalry – totally shattered the first French attack of the day.  General D’Erlon’s 1st Corps had been pushing back General Picton’s 5th Allied Division, until the British cavalry crested the rise and thundered into the unsuspecting French.  Eyewitnesses recorded that some of the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders called out ‘Scotland for ever’ as the cavalry charged.

Although a great triumph in which two French Eagles were captured (one by Sergeant Ewart of the Greys), 15,000 infantry were dispersed and 3,000 prisoners taken, the charge did not end with the defeat of D’Erlon’s Corps and the supporting Cuirassiers.  Most of the British heavy cavalry regiments were inexperienced, with the Greys not having seen active service in 25 years.  Flushed by their initial success, the two brigades charged on to the French Grand Battery and overran the enemy artillery.  Disorganised, and on tired horses, the British fell prey to counter-attacking French Lancers and Cuirassiers as they belatedly tried to return to the Allied lines.  The Greys suffered particularly, unusually having more men killed than wounded, amongst them their four most senior officers. The two British brigades sustained almost 50% casualties, including their commander Major-General William Ponsonby who was killed by a lance thrust.  Although on balance a success, the impetuosity of the charge, so well captured by Butler, led to unnecessary causalities and robbed the Allies of an effective heavy cavalry reserve for the rest of the battle.

Below are two images of a Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword belonging to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys), which Lady Butler therefore incorporated into her work above. To find out more about the sword and it’s development, please click here.

DI 2014 3811

DI 2014 3812

DI 2014 3811 & DI 2014 3812: A heavily modified Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword with an acute spear point and with the inner guard ground down. The sword is marked to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys).’

To see this iconic painting alongside other key artefacts of Waterloo, be sure to visit the Royal Armouries museum’s ‘The Art of Battle’ temporary exhibition in Leeds. To find out more about the museum’s full events programme of commemoration, please visit our website.

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.”

 

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.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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Before

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After

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 enquiries@armouries.org.uk.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator