Our community blogs
I am sad to announce that Mervyn Mitton who has been Senior Moderator and friend to many of us on GMIC for several years passed away on Wednesday. He had been ill for many years, but he never let this get in the way of his passion for Militaria and Police Collectables. His knowledge of British Police history and collectables was immense and his death is a tragic loss to GMIC and the wider collecting world. Mervyn was always very proactive on GMIC and a real driving force behind the scenes amongst the staff. I will miss his old world charm, warmth, generosity and guidance. Yes he could be slighlty cantankerous at times, but that was part of his makeup, an old school English Gentleman a dying breed that are irreplaceable. I will miss him.
Earlier today (5-25-13) I attended the Ft. Lee Military Show for the first time. I had a blast… great show, wonderful location; altogether a very worthy effort by the organizers. I’ll certainly go again next year, and I’ll probably have a table of my own then as well.
I primarily went to hook up with two good friends, Kevin Born (one of the show’s organizers- thanks Kevin!) and Ralph Pickard (author of “Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia, Volumes 1 and 2”), as it has been a couple of years since I saw them last. A wonderful reunion ensued, along with some minor buying and selling on my part. Great way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning and early afternoon.
Insofar as content, most of the vendors dealt in artifacts from multiple countries and the country that had the most items on display/for sale was the US. Wars covered began with WW1, although I did see reunion items from the US Civil War. There were a couple of US vendors who also had a smattering of Third Reich items, and a couple who also had Eastern Bloc awards. Kevin and Ralph’s tables were the only tables displaying East German militaria.
The highlight of the day was Ralph’s sharing two unbelievable groupings he has acquired… and when I say “unbelievable”, well, you can certainly take that to the bank. The first group is that of a Hungarian State Security agent who retired a Colonel in the mid ‘70’s. In this group, Ralph has been able to acquire this gentleman’s awards from his own country, which include awards from both the Rakosi and Kadar periods and the documents that go with them; Bulgarian awards and associated documents; East German MfS (“Stasi”) awards and their documents; Soviet awards and their documents including the highly coveted “Outstanding Member of the MOOP” (in absolutely pristine condition) and KGB 50 Year award badge. Also with this group, is a Hungarian classified award document that, by virtue of it not having a copy distribution number, may be the sole copy of that particular document, and an interesting pass that admitted this gentleman to all secure areas in the event of an emergency- a sort of “get out of jail free” pass. There were other documents, such as his retirement document, as well. Suffice it to say I have never seen a grouping so impressive and so complete… then Ralph showed me the next case.
This next group was that of an Armenian KGB agent (rose to Lt. Colonel) who was posted, for obviously a good little while, in Afghanistan. 24 awards with documents (for all but, I believe, 2 of the awards), including the Soviet Order of Personal Courage, Soviet Order of the Red Star, Afghan Orders of the Red Star (2), Afghan Order of Glory, Afghan Orders of the Star (1st and 3rd Class) and Afghan Medal for Valour… this guy saw more than his fair share of action. I have never this many Afghan awards in one place, let alone with nearly all the documents TO ONE INDIVIDUAL. I know that Ralph took a lot of time (and money) to get these groups together so completely and they really are beyond amazing. Such collections allow you to go past the individual medal, as impressive and desirable as it may be, and actually get an insight into the life and career of the individual who achieved these awards. Genuine history. And, what probably goes without saying is my appreciation to Ralph for sharing this with me. Strike two from the “bucket list”.
A great day.
Garrison: Landau (In der Pfalz)
Established: 1 October 1901
Brigade: 3. Königlich Bayerische Feldartillerie-Brigade
Division: 3. Königlich Bayerische Division
Kaserne 12. bFAR Landau
One of twelve active field artillery regiments of the Bavarian Army, 12. bFAR was formed in October 1901 from the III. Abteilung and the 6. Fahrenden Batterie of the Königlich Bayerisches 2. Feldartillerie-Regiment „Horn“ as well as two newly organized Fahrenden Batterien at Würzburg, Bayern. Prior to mobilization in August 1914, 12. bFAR, was garrisoned at Landau in der Pfalz, in southwestern Germany. The Regiment was subordinate to the 3. Königlich Bayerische Feldartillerie-Brigade / 3. Königlich Bayerische Division.
After mobilization, 12. bFAR remained with the redesignated 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division throughout the war; thus earning the same campaign credits as the Division. First World War Campaigns 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division:
The I. Abteilung 12. bFAR was armed with the 7.7cm Feldkanone (FK 96 n/A); II. Abteilung was armed with the 10.5cm leichte Feldhaubitze 98/09. In February 1916, two guns from each of the 1., 2., and 3. Batterie, were given up to form the 21. Feldartillerie-Regiment. In January 1917, 12. bFAR was enlarged with a III. Abteilung. The Stab, 7., 8., and 9. Batterie of the III. Abteilung initially fell under the command of the III. Armeekorps for training. Training was completed at the Truppenübungsplatz Thimougies in Belgium in February 1917 and the new battalion joined the Regiment in the field.
At mobilization, the 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division was part of Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern’s 6. Armee. The 6. Armee was central to the bitter fighting in Alsace-Lorraine during the Battle of the Frontiers at the beginning of the war. Official German reports for August 1914 set casualty figures in the 6. Armee at 34,598, with the number of dead at 11,476. (Herwig) One of those dead was Kanonier Alois Plinganser of 5. Batt. 12. bFAR, who was killed on 24 August 1914. After holding off the French offensive in the south, 6. Armee counter-attacked on 20 August with the objective of capturing terrain south of Nancy, known as the Gap of Charmes. After initial success, the 6. Armee’s attack stalled on 24 August just east of Bayon; the French 1st and 2nd Armies counter-attacked, pushing the line back to its 14 August positions. On 24 August 1914, 12. bFAR and Kanonier Plinganser’s 5. Batterie were located at Remenoville, right in the center the brutal back and forth fighting. Early on 24 August, 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division was given the task to open the route from Mont to Blainville; 12. bFAR was attached to the 5. b. Infantrie Brigade on the right side of the avenue of attack for this task. By early afternoon, 12. bFAR had taken up a position on Hill 251, north of Blainville, but without the 5. Batterie. The 5. Batt 12. bFAR had been fixed in its previous position by enemy artillery fire and was not able to move until the next morning (the morning of 24 August) when it took up a position south of Lamath. Infantry regiments of the 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division continued a slow advance from Blainville toward Remenoville, supported by its own artillery, but under heavy counter-fire from French artillery. Progress was made kilometer by kilometer and by 6pm on 24 August, elements of the Division were outside Remenoville. However, during this advance, II. Abteilung 12. bFAR came under heavy French artillery fire near Franconville, a few kilometers north of Remenoville. The heaviest casualties were suffered by 5. Batt 12. bFAR. II. Abteilung 12. bFAR finally arrived at Remenoville by 7pm in the evening. Almost immediately, the German troops at Remenoville came under heavy French artillery fire and infantry attacks. By dawn on 25 August, Remenoville was in flames and the front line between German and French forces was just outside the village. Kanonier Plinganser, however, had not lived to see that dawn.
The Battle of the Charmes Gap, August 1914
Line of German Attack on 24 August
12. bFAR positions Remenoville, 24 August
Line of French Counterattack on 25 August
With the end of the war in November 1918, the III. Abteilung was dissolved, with the 7. Batterie being completely disbanded, the 8. Batterie moving to I. Abteilung, and 9. Batterie moving to II. Abteilung. The Regiment was demobilized at Ebermannstadt on 18 December 1918 and dissolved in January 1919. Elements of the Regiment became part of Frei- or Volkswehr-Batterie Zacherl, later Heyl; later these elements became 3. Batterie Reichswehr-Artillerie-Regiment 23. In August 1921, this unit became 3. Batterie des 7. (Bayerisches) Artillerie-Regiments garrisoned in Würzburg. The tradition of 12. bFAR was taken up in the Wehrmacht by the II. Abteilung des Artillerieregiments 33 in Landau und later by Artillerieregiment 69 in Mannheim.
Kraus, Jürgen. Handbuch der Verbände und Truppen des deutschen Heeres 1914-1918. Teil IX: Feldartillerie. Band 1. Vienna: Verlag Militaria, 2007. Web (Wikipedia Deutschland). 24 August 2014
Herwig, Holger H. The Marne, 1914. New York: Random House. 2009. Print.
“Les batailles de Lorraine.” n.p. n.d. chtimiste.com/batailles1418/lorraine.htm Web. 24 August 2014
“Pierre’s Photo Impressions of the Western Front.” n.p. n.d. pierreswesternfront.punt.nl/content/2012/10/als-lorraine-gap-of-charmes Web. 24 August 2014
The Prussian and spolei. “Kgl. Bayer. 12. Feldartillerie-Regiment info needed.” GMIC.co.uk Web. 24 August 2014
As the UK prepares for HM The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I've started musing on which milestones various nations commemorate by issuing medals.
In the UK, it is the events relating to the Sovereign's reign: Coronations and Jubilees (along with a few state visits and Durbars, back when foreign travel, even if you happen to be a King, was a very big deal).
In Sweden, another constitutional monarchy, they have a different approach. The milestones they mark with a medal are very personal - significant birthdays of their monarch, weddings and wedding anniversaries... and even funerals. There's nothing about their monarch's connection with the nation. The award of such medals is also more personal: family members and people who organise or attend celebrations for whatever milestone is being marked being the only recipients.
Norway does both: there are birthday AND reign anniversary medals! Medals were issued to mark King Haakon VII's Coronation (1906), Silver Jubilee (1933), Gold Jubilee (1955) and his 70th birthday. Thailand too marks a mixture of State and personal milestones in their Royal Family's lives with the issue of medals - adding such occasions as the investiture of a Crown Prince to the expected coronations, jubilees and birthdays; along with one to mark 'The Longest Reign' in 1988.
As well as a fine memorial of Royal history, these series of medals give a fascinating insight as to the role of the monarchy in different countries around the world... and probably scope for a whole book not just a blog entry!
When you live , or, work in an old town or city, it is easy to overlook historical buildings and
This happened when I was first posted to Bethnal Green Police Station. The area was a mixture -
tall, ugly concrete blocks of flats - typical for the the late 1960's. Rows of old terraced houses
and and tenement blocks - built-in the 1880's to try and improve the area and cover the shame
and bad publicity that Jack the Ripper's murders had caused. There were also many small and medium sized factories and workshops.
Walking - or, driving in a car on duty, it was easy to see just the people and the streets - however,
once I was on night duty I had the opportunities to really see what made-up this 2000 year old
area of continuous occupation. There will be other occasions when I will be able to go into detail -
however, as an example, there was a short cross street between Brick Lane and Commercial Street
named Fournier Street. Basically, it was a row of joined houses dating back to the 18th Century and
in the style of the 17th Century. Most of them were derelict.
During the time of King Charles 2nd - who was restored to the British Throne in 1660 - his French
counterpart was the 'Sun King' - Louis X1V (14th). Following the urging of Cardinal Richelieu, he
barred the Hugeonots - or, Protestants - from practising their Religion and they were forced to flee
overseas. Many to Britain. My Mother's family name was Bozier - a Hugeonot descendent.
The French silk weaving industry really depended on their skill, and when they left it fell into decline. Their loss was England's gain - the area the silk weavers chose to live was the same Fournier Street in London's East End. Many of the old houses have now been renovated and are
shown as they used to be - workrooms on the ground floor - living accomodation above. There
are several museums and it is an area worth a visit.
General View of Fournier Street
Inside of one of the houses - the marks on the beams were for silk weaving machines
Map of the area - Sever's House is now restored for the public.
THE MECHANICS OF A 1960'S POLICE STATION
I can only talk about the running of a Police Station in the 1960's/70's. I would think little had
changed over the previous 100 years - and, quite frankly, if a system works why keep making
changes. This seem to be the prevailing attitude today - change for the sake of change - or,
is it just me getting old ?
'HB' or Bethnal Green Police Station, was not the Divisional Station - however, because of the large
population in the district it had a complement of some 200 Police and civilian staff.
The commander of the Station was a Chief Superintendent (equiv. to a Lt.Col. in the Army). He
was assisted by a Superintendent.
The CID (Criminal Investigation Department) numbered about 25/30 - under a Det. Inspector.
There was a Process Dept., under an Inspector for dealing with Summonses. When you reported
someone for an offence, the paperwork was reviewed in this Dept. to ensure there was enough
evidence to go to Court. When you made a direct Arrest the Sergeant dealing with the Charge also, had the responsibility of ensuring that it was a legitimate arrest - with the evidence to prove
the Act the arrest was made under.
The Station also had a detachment of Special Constabulary - who at that time were only allowed
2 hours duty a week. I remember one old Special who was an Estate Agent. When on duty he
parked his Rolls Royce in a side street.
We had a fully staffed canteen and after 8p.m. we had facilities in the sitting area to make tea
and light meals.
The uniformed Branch numbered some 120 men - split into 3 Divisions or, Reliefs. These were
identified as 'A' "B' and 'C' Reliefs - each under an Inspector and two sergts.. The system was
changed some time ago, however, the above had existed for very many years.
A 9 week cycle was followed. Early Turn was 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Late Turn was 2p.m. to 10 p.m.
and Night Duty - 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.. You did 6 weeks of alternate Early and Late Turn and then
3 weeks continuous Night Duty.
You paraded 15 minutes early to be told what was happening, receive special duties and who was wanted. You also Paraded Appointments . This was to show you had your whistle, truncheon and report books.
You have to remember that Police are a disciplined Force and subject to the Rules laid down by
Parliament and your Commissioner or, Chief Constable. For example - you don't decide which variation of uniform you will wear - Dress of the Day is shown in Force Orders.
With holidays, sickness, time off and Court appearances the Relief rarely paraded more than twenty men - and sometimes much lower. Just meant we worked harder.
Hopefully, this brief outline will give you an idea of the set-up. With so many people with-in the Station you really worked with your own Relief - and the men on the other shifts. I was on 'B' Relief. Being so dependent on your colleagues for help in an emergency, you tended to become close friends - on and off duty. Although, as often happens you tended to have your own group.
When I finished learning Beats with Jock, my Relief was about to start on 3 weeks of Nights. This
meant I would be Patrolling my assigned area - or, Beat - on my own. Being the East End, away from main roads the back streets were poorly lit.
Let me say right now - you don't know the meaning of ' Being on your Own ' until you have
patrolled for the first time at night - and on a freezing February night....
Radios had only recently been introduced - and we did not have enough to go around. I'm fairly
sure that friends I had made, had ensured I had one that first night. They were Swedish Stornos
and quite powerful. The unit went in your back left pocket and the microphone was fed up to
your tunic or, greatcoat lapel. You could hear all station calls and if you wanted to speak you
pressed a button on the top. Messages went to our Reserve Room or, Communications Room. This
was manned by two PC's and an elderley , retired PC, manned the switchboard.
We were supposed to return by midnight for refreshments - but, in the dark back streets I got
hopelessly lost. It got to about 12.30a.m. and I knew I was a long way from the Station and knew
that people would be wondering where I was. I didn't want to use the radio - I knew I would
never hear the last of getting lost..........
The decision was made for me - I was looking in my A-Z wondering where the 'hell' I was, when
4 drunk yobos found me !
They were very cautious at first - then got 'cheeky'. I wasn't nervous of them - perhaps a little
intimidated. There were 4 of them and I only stood 5' 8". I decided that I'd better call in for
directions - doing so, it slipped out that I was having a little trouble.
Before I could turn round 5 Police cars and the van - plus some 20 police had arrived to see "what I
was 'up to' " The whole canteen had turned out. Very embarrasing - but I knew then that I had
The yobs got a quick lesson in having respect for their local Police - and I got lots of different
lectures in letting people give assistance when it is needed.
I learned a lot from that incident - and of course - with time and experience you become a more
confident person. However, like all of the Services - Military and Civilian - you have to learn that you are part of a team.
Next time - a few more incidents. Some years ago I was asked to write for a local Radio Station,
some humerous memories. Having recently found them in the move from the shop, I will add one
to each future post.
HUMOUR IN UNIFORM
One of the duties of a London Policeman is Reserve Duty. This is where , once in a while, you
man the communications room and make sure that there are always a few uniformed men around the Station.
One quiet Sunday afternoon I had 'pulled' this duty and was thankful as it was a cold, wet afternoon in winter. About 3 p.m. the Duty Sgt. called me into the Front Office, where there were two men who
were covered in mud. They said that in the morning they had been clearing a site (they were building workers) and had found two large iron objects. Thinking to sell them for scrap they had loaded them onto their open flatbed lorry. When they had gone for a drink someone said they looked like bombs and to bring them to the Police.
Needless to say I was very grateful !! One look told me that they appeared to be large shells or, even bombs without fins. Beating a retreat wouldn't have helped - if they had gone-up so
would half the East End of London - I tried Bribery ! Take them to Commercial Street police station I said - they won't take so long to deal with them !! Not likely - they wern't moving an inch
and expected me to deal with them. Eventually we managed to get them into a corner of the station yard and covered them with sandbags - the London Police have always been good at immediate action to to re-assure the public !
The 'bloody' workmen left and we had to evacuate the Station and the surrounding area until the
bomb squad came to take them away.
YES ! They were live and very unstable - had to be detonated in a nearby park. They were 1st
World War 8 inch Naval shells. Heaven alone knows what thay were doing in the East End of London ?
A couple of years ago - in Durban, I was asked to value and identify a deceased estate with militaria. The friend who was with me spotted a mortar bomb and picked it up - ' look', he said
'it's a Chinese one. Oh my God, it's live with it's detonator and it's sweating '.
We retreated very quickly and the SAP bomb squad had to detonate it. Please, please - no-one bring me any more shells or, bombs.
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When Nick first mentioned that he was setting up a Blog for members to post personal militaria related material - I
thought - 'whatever for - this is what GMIC does every day'.
Well, I've given it serious consideration - have read other contributions, which I enjoyed, and have now decided on a subject. I am wondering if it will be interesting enough for members to want to visit regularly - however, like all things in life - if you don't make an effort - you will never know.
- Read more...
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Being a paperwork collector one of the reasons I collect the citations is for the signatures on them and as such have to trawl through books, websites and personally compiled files to find examples to provide a comparison. From what I know there are currently 3 dedicated threads/sections to signatures on the web, those being the one on Axis History, one on Dokumentenforum and the third on World War Militaria. Unfortunately the last one is a quiet forum and as such has a very limited number of people adding their examples (but has still been viewed over 10,000 times) while the one on AHF does have a tendency to stagnate and as good as it is it isn't all encompassing.
With such things in mind what are the views of members here to setting up a Pinned thread in the German Third Reich Document Section for the posting of recognised German signatures to build up and provide a database of such like for current and future collectors and not just restricted to Divisional Commanders or Luftwaffe Aces, or just military for that matter? The signatures could be members of all the various paramilitary & civil organisations, members of the 'Valkyrie' plot, as well as officers down to the Kompanie level - basically an all encompassing thread. We have all types of collectors here: TN, Polizei, Feldgendarmerie, OT, HV etc so the potential for building up a great database covering all such signatures is there.
Signatures could be from award citations, soldbucher, wehrpasse, ausweis, war time letters etc although I would shy away from post-war letters and photos due to the change of signatures due to age and the difficulty in corroborating them - but that is just a personal opinion and if the majority view it differently then so be it. All I would stipulate are threefold:
1) the person posting the signature must be the owner of the item and definitely no scans from books.
2) the signature should be shown in context (i.e. an image of the whole document is shown or at least partially shown to enable a date, location &/or authorising unit to be seen, with the owner's watermark on it somewhere obviously)
3) items published are NOT up for discussion in the thread - the idea is to build up a database rather then a discussion. If members have doubts about any that are posted then a PM to the Moderator with their views can be passed and regulated that way (or maybe an entry via this blog).
Basically if you have a signature on some paperwork and know who it belongs to then post it with some amplifying information on the signer, however basic, to build up a comprehensive database.
So with that in mind, please let me have your views and opinions.
Well, my enthusiasm totally overrides my ability to get these badges organised. It's such a big job and I get a little lost just trying to sort through them. Although I have been quiet here, I have been noting a lot of posts and have identified a few of my pieces just from others' photos......so thankyou!
I'm also reading "Tobruk" by Peter Fitzsimons. It's heavy reading....very interesting, but I read in bed at night, generally crime novels that you don't have to pay too much attention to, but THIS book!! I find that I have to reread the previous page every time I pick it up. I just don't want to miss anything and I'm taking notes as I go so I can try and match up some photos to the events. So, while I can knock over a cheap thriller in a few nights, this one is taking a lot of time. I've learned a lot though.
I will tell you a funny story, a little embarassing, but it will give you an idea of exactly how much of a beginner I am at this military stuff (some might even say I'm a real girl!)... So, I'm going through the badges one night, putting aside ones that have words on them so I can google.. I come across one that is just one word, curved like a badge that goes on a sleeve (I have Harry's Australian one so I'm thinking I know what I'm doing here). Anyway, this one says "LESTINIAN"..... I'm thinking French...it sounds French right? So I Google....nothing. I go to Google translate....nothing. Now I'm getting frustrated. It seems it should be the easiest one of all to find, but no, nothing! So I give up on that one, I'll deal with that later, maybe post it on GMIC....
Then, I'm browsing a few days later, and I see a post, with a picture, and it hits me..... I look at the badge again, taking a close look at the end, right before the "L"...two little nubs.....
Yep, that's right, I'm sure you guessed it..... It's "PALESTINIAN"..... the "PA" has just broken off !!!
So, be warned (again)... I'm new to this !!
Here are a couple more of Harry's photos, just a few random ones from the album.
Kind regards to you all
Tuesday I thought I was going to buy a Finnish Liberty Cross 3rd Class 1918 , a real scarce award
Ok , since I didn´t want to raise the price before the last day I stayed cool and planned to give my bid on the way to Finland where I was going on a business trip tuesday-thursday .
Yep , the cell phone died in the wrong moment and then I was on the plane , no connection and so on........
It went for 180 Euros wich was way too low .....
Lessons learned ? If you want it - Buy it , bid early , bid high and stay at home at your computer
Nice weekend all
Some of you may remember my situation with my Mom. Due to health reasons I moved her from Austin, Texas to West Richland, Washington on May 28th. She has a house now with my daughter living with her as a primary care giver. We had not been able to finalize the sale of her house in Austin so that has been hanging over us for the last 4 months.
Well-Saturday (10/22) I fly to Austin to close on the house on the 26th and THEN, get to have my RAV 4 back! Of course, I then have a week or so to drive back to Washington (but just think of the opportunities to collect more "stuff" along the way as well.
Just wanted to share. Hope I can get a few more shots to enter before the contest closes.
Have a GREAT weekend folks
God Bless (and thanks for your continued prayers for me and my Mom [she is doing much better])
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Over on another forum, the cry usually goes up three weeks before the actual date of the medal auction: "The catalogue is online!"
The first thing one does, if one happens to live in Canada, is check the five-hour time difference between here and the UK, to make sure that most of the British collectors are safely in bed and won't be using up all the website's bandwidth.
Then the apprehension starts: What will they have up this time? Will there be anything for me on there? What if there's *too much* for me on there this time? Do I have enough money in the Fund to pick up something shiny?
I open the search function on the catalogue and enter my terms. Then I click and wait. The list of items within my interests shows up and I start scrolling down. That's nice; so is that ... then one particular listing catches my eye.
I know those medals. I've seen them before. Not just once, but twice, offered for sale from various medal dealers. Every time I've gotten the money together to snag them, they end up being sold, only to reappear a few months later in another shop window. The price, oddly enough, has stayed somewhat constant, allowing for time, inflation, and expenses.
There's nothing wrong with the set, or so I think. Those medals which are named are named properly. Those which aren't are authentic. The pictures all appear to be of the same medals, just taken in different environments, showing the whims of the individuals to photograph them in their own way. The dealers are reputable, as is the auction house.
I've got a canny bid in on this set and would like to win it. But even if I don't, I have a feeling I'll be seeing them again shortly...
But why do they keep coming back?
I've seen this happen before, with Rex Cosh's set of 10. They went through two or three auction houses and a dealer before I snagged them. I've seen it with some other sets. One dealer sells to another, who sells the set. Then they appear a year or two later on E-bay, only to wind up across the pond in the UK, for sale again from yet another dealer, now all nicely mounted together rather than loose.
What keeps some sets in the purgatory of cycling around and around?
The Battle of Crecy conclusion:
As we discussed in my last blog the Battle of Crecy was a disaster for the French and an undeniable victory for the English. For the English it could be said that they had fought a flawless battle. Just how badly did the French suffer in this defeat? It has been said that they were unable to support Calais when the English laid siege to the city following their victory at Crecy. On the face of it this sounds reasonable, just having been crushed by the English. However, when you look at this siege a little closer you find that the English laid siege to Calais for a full year. It really brings home the realization just how badly the French had suffered.
It would be wrong to assume that the English longbow was the only factor in the French defeat. On the other hand it would be just as wrong to underestimate its value. All through this engagement English arrows rained down on the hapless French. The English also had the high ground and were in a position where the French could not outflank them. Added to this there were trenches, pits, sharpened steaks and rows of caltrops strewn out in front of the English defences. Caltrops were multi-spiked devices that were thrown out in rows, much like modern day minefields. These were effective in stopping mounted knights and cavalry. If you think of a horse’s hoof being like your fingernail. A horse actually runs on the tip of a modified digit, or finger, with the nail being thick to provide a tough resilient material on which the horse walks and runs. A caltrop is designed to puncture the soft part of the horse’s foot not protected by the hoof. This would be the same as you taking a needle and, if it were possible, pick the end of the finger nail, no real problem. Now move the needle back to the soft fleshy part of the finger and you may very well discover words you would never use in front of Mom.
The English also had cannon, which were huge and cumbersome to move, but none the less delivered salvo after salvo of iron balls into the Genoese crossbow men, mounted knights and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in their way. Even if the cannon balls of the day were unable to penetrate full plate armour of that period the blunt force trauma would kill as easily as if the knight had been shot by a modern firearm. To make my point using a modern example, think of the bullet resistant vest worn by police officers. NOT bullet “proof” as is often the term used but merely bullet “resistant”. While the vests will withstand the impact of a .357 handgun projectile a high power rifle bullet will zip right through them, and the wearer. Just to add a little more about bullet resistant vests, they are NOT puncture proof or even resistant for that matter. A demonstration during my training brought this point home (no pun intended). A vest placed over two supports, leaving the section between the supports unsupported was struck with a stick pen, like a Bic brand ball point pen, and it passed straight through. The lesson learned was simple enough; the vest is no substitute for caution. Fact – complacency kills.
Back to my point about blunt force trauma; a blast from a .357 pistol round may be stopped by the vest but you will be knocked off your feet, suffer sever bruising, perhaps broken ribs and if the bullet hits just right it could stop your heart. So the point of French knights wearing full plate armour is rather moot when it comes to cannon balls at any velocity.
Another factor which made English victory easily was that the French did not co-ordinate their different sections, such as mounted armoured knights, foot soldiers or light cavalry. Instead each group attacked pretty much as the individual commanders saw fit. This allowed the English to move out and deal with each component as it was offered for annihilation rather than each French component being supported by other ranks.
I have one more factor to propose; a theory of my own and not one gleaned for the work of others. Medieval battles fall into one of two categories; open field and siege. The open field battles, such as the English fought against the Scots, was a fluid movement style of warfare. Siege warfare was fought with one side behind the walls of fortified cities or castles, while the other side encamped around the fortification and used a combination of probing for weakness in the defences and starvation of the inhabitants. At Crecy the English had created a fortified position albeit without stone and mortar; while the French had arrived with the intention of attacking in a more open field, or fluid, style attack. As we have discussed this was impossible due to the terrain and heavy defences offered by the English. The French certainly had the superior numbers required for a sit and wait siege style campaign yet threw away their forces piecemeal. We were to see a similar tactic used over and over again by the French and later their allies during the First World War. Wave after wave was thrown against heavily fortified positions. This is not to insinuate this is a French trait as all combatants, including the later entry into the war by the United States, followed this strategy. It was not until around 1917 that tactics changed, but that is not a topic for this blog. Had the French realized that they were using the wrong tactics against a position that was, in essence, needing a more static siege style, then tactically withdrew to more favourable terrain things might have been much different. Could have, should have...didn’t.
I followed the basic design as closely as possible to examples of original light to medium crossbows of the 1300s. I did substitute professionally made steel prods (bows) in place of composite or wooden prods of the period. This decision was made for several reasons, the least of all not being safety. A broken prod while under draw of 150 pounds can launch the broken end into the side of your head and or face with deadly consequences. Steel prods are safer and besides after several attempts at making wooden prods, all ending in dismal failure I gave in and ordered steel prods. The other factor was that the experiment had little to nothing to do with shooting the crossbow as much as removing the string without the use of special tools as sited in almost all accounts of the Battle of Crecy. I also used modern string, polyester, for the same safety concerns. Again I was not interested in whether the string, when wet, would stretch or not, but rather could I get it off the prod. Another point I doubted was the claim in almost all accounts of the Battle that the bow strings could not be adjusted once they stretched. Construction of the bowstring was identical to the original in everything including the jig I used to build up the ¼ inch thick bow string. My first attempt looked good but was too short. Once I had the correct length I used a secondary colour to give the end connectors and the middle area where the string and bolt (arrow) met a little added style. The stirrup at the front of the stock (or “tiller”) and the tickler (trigger) were both made for me by an armour maker who lives a few miles from my home. This gave the finished product a very authentic look and feel, which is what I was going for. The nut (the revolving catch for the string) was made of mild steel at a local machine shop; again a safety issue. The stock itself is made of white oak and the total weight of the finished crossbow is 11.2 pounds, the draw weight is 150 pounds with a 7 inch draw. This draw is right at the maximum suggested by the prod manufacturer which I felt was within safety parameters.
The range we set up for testing our crossbows was at 50 yards, which we found out was far too close especially when we initially over shot the target. To be honest neither Brian nor I had as much faith in our bows as they proved to warrant. A search for our missed bolts showed a range of 80 yards; perhaps the bolts we were unable to locate reached even farther distances. We both found that hand drawing the string was exhausting after an hour. We finally used the system of hooks on a length of leather fastened to our belts to draw the string. This involved bending over; attaching the hooks to the string and then standing straight this pulled the string back to engage the nut. This method was used in the 1300s so met the criteria for authenticity. Even with this mechanical advantage we were exhausted well before we had enough fun with our new weapons so we have met several times since to play William Tell; anyone for an apple?
I was not concerned with distance or accuracy for the purpose of the experiment however, I was impressed with both. Getting the correct range was our biggest problem but as far as the right/left issues we mastered that very quickly. To my way of thinking this upholds the theory that even village idiots can be taught to fire a crossbow with a reasonable degree of accuracy in a fairly short length of time. We found that the length of the tickler (trigger) gave a great deal of mechanical advantage and allowed the bow to fire with very little pressure. Considering the power of these bows and the shocking ease of launching the bolt (arrow) one needs to be as respectful toward them as a modern firearm. Think of a high powered rifle with a “hair trigger” and no trigger guard; deadly. One of the things we discovered, which I have never encountered in research material, was concerning the length of the tickler. Once the bolt is fired the nut spins and if you let go of the tickler right away the weight of this lever will engage the hut so as to be ready for the next loading procedure. In essence the long ticklers serve two purposes, one to allow ease of launching the bolt and secondly reengage the nut to allow fast reloading.
Removing and Adjusting the String:
Here is what we discovered. First of all we decided that with the assistance of Brian’s son, Mike we would see if three grown men (two of us retired old guys) could take the string off and put is back on easily. Remember at the Battle of Crecy there were 2,000 Genoese, all of whom were proficient with the use and care of their crossbows. By placing the butt of the crossbow on the ground and Brian and I standing with the side of our foot against the tiller and grasping the prod end on our side then pushing down, Mike could take the sting off and replace it with no problem what-so-ever. We tried this with two people and while a bit more difficult it was by no means impossible. So what about a one man effort? Let’s say that the Genoese were self-serving jerks and refused to help one another; perhaps they were all jerks or just had a death with, I don’t know but let’s look at a one man effort. To string a longbow, and I have done this, you place the outside of the bow against the outside of your left foot with the bow behind your right leg. With the string attached to the lower tip of the bow bend the top of the bow toward you and attach the string.
So what about a crossbow? Palace the crossbow with one tip on the ground in a position much like you would find if you were using a pick axe to dig a hole. With one foot against the back of the lower arm of the prod push toward the ground. With the right hand on the back of the upper arm pull upward and at the same time use the stock like a pick axe handle and push down with your left hand. This takes the weight off the right hand a bit allowing you to slip the string off the prod. To replace the string simply repeat the exercise but replace rather than remove the string. What if the string had gotten wet in the first place, how would you adjust (shorten) a stretched string? We now know you could remove the string so simply twist the string one of two turns and, Robert’s your father’s brother, you have a proper length string.
After nearly a thousand dollars of investment, hundreds of hours of research construction and testing over the course of two years I can confidently say that the history books and documentaries have it wrong on this point. Proof positive and you read it first right here on the Gentleman’s Military Interest Club.
I'm sorry but having pressed our man at work as to whether the real names could be published, his Granny (the Widow of the Author), has changed her mind and would rather that nothing be published. I've therefore honoured her new wishes and have deleted everything.
Really sorry guys but that's that
Best and all
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Enhancing Your Collection
It’s been a while since I have written and since we last talked I have moved my study and with it the Home Office into new surroundings; same address just a new and better location. This involved new cabinets and displays so it was a lengthy process. In addition to this I decided to retire from public service and the past six months has been spent attempting to wrap up my projects. Although to get them all completed would take another two years as new road connections through forests are limited by budget and in our country a short construction season. Still all has finally come to pass with a few more touches to the study and the unfinished work projects in the capable hands of my replacement I am free to do what I want to do with rest of my life.
Reading the posts on the GMIC lately I noticed one by Robin talking about the addition of a new Crimea Medal, I’m still envious, and in addition to this the addition of a cigarette card of this medal featuring the same bar. I believe Mervyn mentioned that some members are adding cap badges and other insignia to their medals and medal groups. This is something I have been doing for some time now and I wanted to talk about this interesting augmentation to medal collections as well as other military collectables.
Below is one drawer of medals where I have added the cap badges to the medals
I find myself; or rather catch myself, boring family and friends with my collections and constant droning on about history and this battle and that battle and how the breakdown of diplomacy led to one conflict or another. Most of my medal collection is housed in shallow drawers and if there is one thing I’ve noticed is that the average person’s eyes will start to glaze over after the third, and if I’m lucky, the forth drawer of what is perceived as one medal or group of medals after another with little to no differences. In fact I too start to think that there is a certain monotony about a sizable collection of just about anything after a while. If you are at all like me this “monotony” somehow imparts a warm feeling of comfort and security, as does the knowledge that I am a student, of sorts, of history and how these artefacts are in concert with the events they commemorate.
For most of us, we collect for ourselves and not for others, nor do we seek to garner praise for our efforts from the few upon whom we may bestow the honour of viewing our treasures. I suppose that is somewhat a joke in the average person’s opinion as many would think even an hour going over someone’s collection, their passion as it were, to be a total waste of time. However, they are simply members of the great unwashed masses so let’s not give them any more consideration here.
I’ve seen several collections where the owner has framed their collection, breaking the medals up into specific themes or a grouping to one recipient. For the most part I really like this, however in my case; wall space is and always has been at a premium. Framed documents and larger photos have always taken precedence in allotting wall space so medals were placed in shallow drawers out of necessity as much as anything else.
In this blog I am speaking more about additional items to enhance the experience for someone viewing a collection and even to make it more interesting for the collectors themselves. Some of those additional items could be the cigarette cards mentioned earlier which could be of a soldier in uniform as much as the particular medal. My Bahawalpur collection has a cigarette card featuring a soldier from that country in full uniform, which I think is quite interesting. In addition to this I have added a post card commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1st Bahawalpur Regiment, 1834-1934, and their battle honours.
Other additions to collectables, that comes to mind; could be the addition of nipple, or hammer protectors to a black powder rifle or musket, or an authentic muzzle plug for the same type of weapon. A small word of caution here; it might be best not to make the announcement around the water cooler, in the office, that you are awaiting a shipment of vintage nipple protectors. Nasty rumors could be forthcoming. Of course rifle slings either authentic or reproductions dresses up a rifle or musket quite nicely. A discussion on reproductions, “to use or not to use”, is a topic for another time.
Examples of additional items for a musket are shown below. The nipple protector and muzzle plug are on an 1853 Enfield and the sling is an original on a Pattern 1842 Brunswick Rifle marked as belonging to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR).
Swords too have accessories such as wrist straps and sword knots that can be added. Sadly my Japanese sword collection has no such accessories, yet, but who knows, perhaps in the future. The only one with any such strap is missing the all important knot.
The British sword shown below, with original leather sword knot, is the Pattern 1895 Infantry Officer’s Sword displaying the cipher of King George V.
As always I hope this short dissertation will give the reader pause to think about alternatives to simply adding yet another item to the collection and enhance the specimens you already have.