Of the Highest Quality…

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on July 7th, 2014 by Administrator

Two of the most interesting eras in American military history (in my opinion) are the two inter-war periods between the end of the Spanish-American War and the beginning of World War One and that between the end of World War One and the beginning of the Second World War.

Both time periods saw the downsizing the U.S. military forces to ridiculously low levels and numerous small but little heralded military actions in Central America, the Caribbean and the Far East. And while the military changed drastically during both these eras since there were no major wars being fought it receives far less attention that it should.

This real photo postcard come from the first of these time periods and depicts a private from the Michigan National Guard. He wears a 1902 pattern service hat which was creased fore and aft with blue infantry hat cords. His uniform is the cotton khaki 1908 summer service uniform. He seems to be wearing a version of the 1907 web field equipment which was possibly a variation particular to the Michigan National Guard. He is armed with the M1903 Springfield Rifle and associated M1905 bayonet.

The photograph it of superior quality and we owe a debt to the unknown photographer who created it circa 1910. It is of remarkable clarity and contrast and in many ways harkens back to the finest quality of photographic images created during the glass plate days of the American Civil War. The painted backdrop may actually date to the earlier period and when examined closely the base of Civil War era cast iron head rest stand be seen behind his feet. In fact the image appears more like a high quality tin type that it does a paper photographic post card.

During the American Civil War the tin type and carte de visite photographic formats became almost ubiquitous and during the early 1900s the real photo post card tended to fill the same niche low cost and affordable photographs. Generally they are not of the highest quality suffer in composition often having a look of careless rushing on the part of the photographer. This image bears all the hallmarks of a superior studio image and belies an otherwise mundane format.  

 

Politically Incorrect Fireman

Posted in Artifacts, Uncategorized on April 21st, 2014 by Administrator

 

First off this little Art Deco artifact has nothing to do with firefighting even though the term “fireman” is used in the title. Politically incorrect? Well that has to do with the fact that the item in question is an ashtray and to some these days anything having to do with tobacco is pure and unadulterated evil. I suppose the word “fireman” is in these same people’s minds just as bad since it is sexist and should read “fireperson”.

 

The object here at hand is actually one of those little gems that once I saw one for the first time it was inevitable that I would end up buying one. Produced in the late 1920’s and early 1930s the “Iron Fireman” ashtray was a marketing premium offered by the firm Iron Fireman (still in existence) which produced coal fired (gasp – more political incorrectness) furnaces and heaters for homes and businesses. This ashtray was used to promote an automated coal feeding system which offered a much welcome alternative to heaving coal by hand is the basement during cold winter months. The little robotic stoker – the Iron Fireman – was the personification of this patented system.

 

The Iron Fireman is reminiscent in some ways of the Tin Man from the classic 1939 film The Wizard of OZ and there is something from the Steampunk genre in him too. Actually quite small the streamlined Art Deco base measures about six inches wide (approximately 16 cm) with the Fireman himself being a separate piece attached to the base via two small bolts. Both the base and the Fireman are cast in a zinc based alloy. This example while oxidized to a certain degree does not appears to have ever been used for its original intended purpose. I have seen examples for sale which have a fairly bright polish to them but I suspect that this finish has been applied recently and it not how they appeared originally.

 

  

 

 

That Which Was Lost…

Posted in Despatches, Uncategorized on March 27th, 2014 by Administrator

Above: A period photograph of T. E. Lawrence’s base in the desert of modern-day Jordan. Note the Rolls-Royce armoured cars and their British crews which were used to great effect against the German-allied Turks. Also note the distinctive conical hill in the background which proved vital in pinpointing the camp’s location.

Utilizing a long lost map drawn by a long forgotten British RAF pilots roughly sketched map researcher John Winterburn has located the camp from which T. E. Lawrence – known to history as Lawrence of Arabia – launched his attacks on Turkish forces during his World War One desert campaign.

Winterburn made use of such varied sources as Google Earth, that old 1818 vintage hand drawn map and photographic forensics to pinpoint the precise location of camp that Lawrence himself only described as “behind the toothed hill facing Tel Shahm station”.

Above: A recent photograph of the conical hill which also appears in the photograph at the beginning of this post.

 

The full story can be found here at the Daily Mail Online:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2587193/Secret-desert-camp-used-First-World-War-hero-Lawrence-Arabia-discovered-intact-rum-jars-campfire.html

 

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on March 15th, 2014 by Administrator

Germany, like all major powers in the late 19th Century joined in the scramble for overseas colonies albeit rather lately when compared to the old hands at empire building like Britain and France.

The imperial pickings had grown rather thin by the time this photograph was taken and Germany had only managed to acquire areas a Southwest and East Africa, a few concessions in China and some remote Pacific islands. This remarkable uniformed solider was a volunteer for service in Deutsch Südwest Afrika or German Southwest Africa. These troops were known singularly as schutztruppe and schutztruppen in the plural. Schutztruppe can be literally translated into “Protection Troops”.

This photograph bears the caption “Auh Wiedersehn!” and is typical of the images taken of these volunteers just prior to their departure to Southwest Africa with this specific example dating from the 1904-07 time period. This coincides with the rebellion of the Herero people against their German overlords which was suppressed with great brutality by Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha.

Wearing the Shutztruppe’s characteristic gray 1896 pattern Kord Waffenrock uniform which was piped and trimmed in blue. On his head he wears a gray felt Südwester hat with it distinctive upturned right hand brim which was held in place by a large cockade bearing the Imperial German colors of red, white and black. Since all schutztruppe’s acted as mounted infantry his boots are outfitted with spurs. Held at the ready is his Mauser Infanteriegewehr 98 rifle, an outstanding weapon versions of which had been used to great effect by the Boers against the British during the recently end Anglo-Boer War and by the Spanish against the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898. His ammunition pouches are leather and of the pattern common with troops deployed as reinforcements to Southwest Africa in 1904.

The painted backdrops depicts a rather romanticized view of Southwest Africa and shows what appears to be Herero warriors at left beginning an attack on a German encampment. The painted stone bears the name of the colonial capital of Veste Windhoek. The numbered card to the right of the soldier was probably a reference for the photographer which allowed him to match the photograph to a specific client. The photographer was R. Schubert of No. 3 West Potsdamersrtasse, Berlin.

 

When The Highlanders Took Tacoma

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on February 26th, 2014 by Administrator

While it is a historical fact that the United States and Canada did nearly come to blows in the Pacific Northwest once upon a time, the title of this post in actuality simply notes the rather unusual combination of subject matter and location exhibited together in this early 20th Century photograph.

Dating from sometime after the turn last century the photograph depicts a member of what was in all likelihood a Canadian Highland Regiment who at some point in his career managed to find his way across the border of the United States, in uniform, to have his portrait taken in Tacoma, Washington State. My assumption as to this soldier being Canadian – besides the photographer’s proximity to Canada – is the lack of collar badge on his uniform. All Highland regiments associated with the British Army had and still have (in the case of todays single Royal Highland Regiment) very distinctive collar devices.

The Canadian Highland regiment raised closest to Washington State are the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada which where first organized at Vancouver, British Columbia in 1910. This photograph dates from around that time even if the soldier’s uniform looks a bit earlier than that, perhaps the 1890s. In some ways the photograph looks like an older image that may have been re-photographed by Tacoma based photographer F. J. Lee. If this the case this soldier could have been a member of another Canadian Highland regiment or battalion who had relocated after his years with the colours to western Canada or even the United States. If F. J. Lee had the soldier pose facing the other direction all of this pondering would be a moot point since we would be able to see the regimental badge on his glengarry cap.

This soldier appears to be wearing a scarlet, seven button tunic with what was probably a dark blue or black collar, He also appears to be wearing his whitened buff leather equipment harness which may have been of the Valise or later Slade-Wallace pattern. On his head is a regulation glengarry ace with a red and white diced band which probably also sported a standard red pom.

I performed a rather cursory online search and have decided that this photograph could not be the result of a long forgotten Canadian invasion of Tacoma, Washington. A good number of geographically impaired Americans think Tacoma is in fact located in Canada so one could understand its invasion having gone unnoticed.

A. G. Bell (not ALexander Graham)

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on February 17th, 2014 by Administrator

As the title of this post might suggest, the name of this old sergeant of the Singapore Volunteer Rifles posed a somewhat unique problem since any online search turned up hundreds of hits for the inventor of the telegraph and telephone Alexander Graham Bell and not much else.

This trimmed carte de visite which is dated 14 August, 1902  depicts a old veteran sergeant of one of those obscure colonial units that were raised throughout Victoria’s far flung empire during the last half of the 19th Century. The Singapore Volunteer Rifles were typical in many ways of these military units that were often modeled after the Rifle Volunteer battalion that became all the range in Britain in the 1850s. The Singapore Volunteer Rifles had their origins in 1854 in the wake of an outbreak of violent riots between Chinese Secret Societies in Singapore. The colony had been stripped of its garrison of regular British troops due the conflict with Russia in the Crimea and local authorities created the Singapore Rifle Volunteer Corps to fill the gap in security. it was one of the earliest officially sanctioned volunteer units the British Empire. The Corps lasted until 1887 when it was disbanded due to a serious drop in membership. Having dwindled to half a company these few but still eager members were reformed the following year into the Singapore Volunteer Artillery. The Singapore Volunteer Artillery (SVA)  would have the singular distinction of being the first military unit in the British Empire to field the Maxim Machine Gun – thanks to the Sultan of Jahor who personally funded the purchase of the new weapons.

Membership in the SVA continued to increase and my 1901 it was re-designated the Singapore Volunteer Corps with four battalions: the SVA remained and the Singapore Volunteer Rifles (SVR), the Singapore Volunteer Infantry and the Singapore Volunteer Engineers. Membership in all of the battalions was limited to Europeans except the Singapore Volunteer Infantry which was made up of residents of Asian ancestry.

With history seeming to repeat itself the SVR after establishing a record of some note in the colony soon found it membership falling to the point that in 1903 it found itself disbanded by the Colonial Government. The other battalions of the Corps soldiered on and helped but down the blooding Sepoy Mutiny of 1915 when elements of the Indian 5th Light Infantry rose in rebellion. The 5th was predominantly a Muslim regiment and Britain’s declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire of one of a number of contributing factor in the rising.

The Corps would contributed to the defense  of Singapore during World War II and would eventually be absorbed in the Singapore Defense Forces in 1965.

So far I have been unable to find any records mention Sergeant A. G. Bell. Records for Colonial Volunteers units like the SVR simply don’t exist and other sources have to be consulted. I have found dozens of announcements for drills, meetings and other functions of the SVR in The Straights Times between 1900 and 1903 that mention officers and NCOs of the battalion by name but nothing for an “A. G. Bell” If he had signed his name in full I may have been able to find mention of him someplace. Bell’s rank is actually that of Colour Sergeant with this being evidenced by the double horns, crossed sword and crown above his sergeant chevrons. The diamond shaped badge and stars on his cuff give us some idea as to the length of Bell’s career in the Volunteers. These are efficiency badges and were awarded attending all required training, drills and musters for a give time period. The diamond was for the most recent completed year of service and each star represented five years of service which did not necessarily have to be consecutive. Bell had at least 20 years effective service with the Volunteers by the time he had this portrait taken. One must assume that his career included a good portion of time with other elements of the Singapore Volunteers and not just the Rifles.

 

I can tell by your outfit…

Posted in Artifacts, Photographs on February 3rd, 2014 by Administrator

This American carte de visite sized tintype photograph dates from between the late 1870s and the early 1880s. It seems to depict – mostly based on the clothing the subjects are wearing – two western types, possible cowboys who posed for an itinerant photographer around that time period.

The man seated at left with his legs crossed wears a wide brimmed hat of the style and manner very commonly seen in Western subjects with its front brim turned up and pushed back on his head. He wears a scarf or bandana around his neck and beneath his jacket one of the hallmark pieces of clothing most often associated with the American West – a bib front shirt. The cuffs of his checked or herringbone trousers are turned up showing off a good portion of his single piece front boots. His trousers appear identical to those worn by Billy the Kid cohort Dan Dedrick in a similarly dated tintype.

The man on the right is more generically dressed but sports a rather angry expression on his face in spite of  the red tint applied to his cheeks by the photographer. The photographer had tinted both men’s cheeks in a manner common at the time but the tinting has bled on the surface of the image and covers the better parts of their respective faces. Both subjects appear more than a little rough around the corners and one assumes that both had tried their best to look sharp for posterity.

The image in unmarked which led to my conclusion that the photographer was of the traveling sort. Additionally that very plain setting of the image lends to this possibility. In fact under close examination the “studio” setting may have been the inside of a wagon with a plain canvas backdrop behind the men.

By this time tintypes were well on the way of being replaced by paper type photographic prints and the cased images of the Civil War-era were for the most part a thing of the past. Tintypes were very commonly housed in carte de visite sized paper mounts such as that seen with the image. With the passage of time the delicate paper mounts tend to become separated from the metal plate image and lost.

Peachy and Danny

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on January 22nd, 2014 by Administrator

A recent addition to the soldiersofthequeen.com collection, this cabinet photograph dates from around 1900 and depicts two British privates in khaki field service dress. Both look as if they had just stepped off the battlefield although the Bombay location seems more in keeping with them being part of that city’s garrison as opposed to them being part of an active field force. Their single ammunition pouches also lend me to believe they may have been serving as garrison troops.
Their shoulder strap badges cannot quite be made out although they may be those of a light infantry battalion. When I look at these two privates I cannot help to call to mind Kipling’s most memorable duo – Peachy Taliaferro Carnehan and Daniel Dravot, Esq. In John Huston’s film adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King the two rouges so aptly played by Michael Caine and Sean Connery were made out to be two former sergeants of light Infantry although if I remember my Kipling correctly in the original story they simply state that amongst the many trades they had plied they had once been soldiers.
While in reality these two men may never had the opportunity or desire to become kings of Kafiristan they may have actually had just recently arrived in India from their own adventures in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. In fact under high magnification the seated soldier’s uniform shows a considerable amount of fraying around the cuffs and one pocket which is hardly something one would expect to see on the uniforms of garrison troops.
Both men are armed with Long Lee rifles and their single buff leather ammunition pouches and belts are of the Slade-Wallace pattern. The seated soldier wears a single Good Conduct stripe on his tattered cuff and his Foreign Service helmet sports a khaki cloth helmet cover. The standing private’s helmet has no cover and the cloth “puggaree” is plainly visible.
While comparison to Peachy Carnehan and Danny Dravot is fanciful these two soldiers are perfect representations of defenders of the Victorian Empire at its height. The photograph was taken by the Bombay photographer L. Hormusjee of Kalbadavi Road.

 

Postmark – U.S.S. Arizona

Posted in Art, Artifacts, Photographs on December 7th, 2013 by Administrator

Seventy-two years ago today the battleship USS Arizona was sunk by Japanese bombs during the infamous surprise attack that launched a reluctant United States into World War Two.

This commemorative postal cover harkens back to a happier time on the great ship in 1938 while the Arizona was stationed at San Pedro, California along with the entire U.S. Navy Pacific battle fleet.  The cover was issued by American Naval Cancellation Society and postmarked San Pedro on board the Arizona on February 12 1938. The recipient was a Mr. Paul Bilsland of Wenatchee, Washington.

While postmarked on board the Arizona, the cover actually commemorates President Abraham Lincoln and bears a short quote from his Gettysburg Address: “That these dead shall not have died in vain.” The quote is especially poignant in an almost surreal way when one considers the terrible fate the ship and her crew would suffer just a few short years later.

The reverse side of the cover bears two large stamps from the American Naval Cancellation Society as well a small one that bears reads:  M. M. Parker, USS Arizona, San Pedro, California, (A.N.C.S. 450). Parker, actually Melton M. Parker created the commemorative cachet of Lincoln and hand applied the light coloring used to accent the image. While obviously a member of the Naval Cancellation Society Parker also appears to have been a member of the ship’s crew, possibly its acting postmaster. He is probably the same Melton M. Parker who held the rating of SK2c (Store Keeper, 2nd Class) who shows up on the muster sheet for San Diego Naval Air Station in 1939 having transferred there from the USS Arizona on May 8, 1939. Parker would continue to serve at San Diego until transferred to the Naval Training Center at Los Angeles, California on February 14, 1942.  Parker would serve in the U.S. Navy throughout World War II and during the Korean War retiring a Chief Warrant Officer after 31 years of service. Parker died at San Antonio, Texas in 1977.

Chief Warrant Officer Melton Murry Parker in a photo taken sometime after World War Two. Photo: Parker/Stickland Family Tree/ancestry.com

The USS Arizona in happier times and heavy seas off the coast of California in the 1930s. U.S. Navy/National Archives.

Still bleeding – the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor. The oil that still leaks from her fuel oil bunkers can be clearly seen in the recent photograph.

 

Wilmot at Longhoo

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on November 18th, 2013 by Administrator

 

This 1870s vintage carte de visite is rather unusual in that it depicts an “other rank” of the British Army outfitted in his mess dress uniform. Mess dress was and still is worn only for the most formal occasions such as regimental balls and other events that in civilian life would require the wearing of evening wear. While it is much more common for period images of officers in mess dress to be encountered in the collector’s market similar images of enlisted men (in this case a Bombardier of the Royal Artillery) just don’t show up all that often probably because not many of them had the opportunity to wear such formal attire very often.

The image bears a fairly long inscription on it reverse side that appears to identify the subject as Acting Bombardier W. Wilmot of the 7th Battery, 5th Brigade of the Royal Artillery and as having been taken at Tonghoo, British Burma, East India. The eccentricities of Victorian handwriting not withstanding first impressions were that the soldier’s name read “H. Hilmot” but I could not find one example of anyone named Hilmot in British Army service papers at all while there were a fair number of Wilmots (and variations thereof) to be found – unfortunately none of them seem to match this specific artilleryman. Records do confirm that No. 7 Battery, 5th Brigade of the Royal Artillery was stationed at Longhoo in March of 1876.

Above: The reverse side inscription of the carte de visite of Bombardier W. Wilmot of the Royal Artillery.