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29.02.2016
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. This real photo postcard come from the first of these time periods and depicts a private from the Michigan National Guard.
The photograph it of superior quality and we owe a debt to the unknown photographer who created it circa 1910.
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.
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. Wearing the Shutztruppe’s characteristic gray 1896 pattern Kord Waffenrock uniform which was piped and trimmed in blue.
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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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. 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 Corps would contributed to the defense  of Singapore during World War II and would eventually be absorbed in the Singapore Defense Forces in 1965.
This American carte de visite sized tintype photograph dates from between the late 1870s and the early 1880s. 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 image in unmarked which led to my conclusion that the photographer was of the traveling sort.
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. Their shoulder strap badges cannot quite be made out although they may be those of a light infantry battalion. 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. Both men are armed with Long Lee rifles and their single buff leather ammunition pouches and belts are of the Slade-Wallace pattern.
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.
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. 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. 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. The image bears a fairly long inscription on it reverse side that appears to identify the subject as Acting Bombardier W.
When I purchased this carte de visite online there were two possibilities as to which campaign this medal wearing private of the Somersetshire Light Infantry had taken part in. During this time period each of the regiment’s two battalions had taken active part in campaigns – the 1st Battalion (then still the 1st Battalion of the 13th Regiment of Foot) in South Africa during the final Cape Frontier War (1878) and in the Anglo-Zulu War (1879). The two medals in question: the 1877-79 South Africa Medal (issued for both the Cape Frontier and Zulu War) and the 1854 India General Service Medal (issued for the Burmese War of 1884-87) look virtually identical in photos such as this. The photograph was taken in India but this was initially of little help since both battalions served in India with the 1st Battalion deploying there beginning in 1891 and the 2nd Battalion serving there from 1877 until rotating back to England in 1892. So here we have a fine period photo of a Private of the 2nd Battalion, Prince Albert’s (Somersetshire Light Infantry) taken sometime around 1887.


He wears a 1902 pattern service hat which was creased fore and aft with blue infantry hat cords. 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. 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 remarkable uniformed solider was a volunteer for service in Deutsch Sudwest Afrika or German Southwest Africa.
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. On his head he wears a gray felt Sudwester 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.
This photograph dates from around that time even if the soldier’s uniform looks a bit earlier than that, perhaps the 1890s. On his head is a regulation glengarry ace with a red and white diced band which probably also sported a standard red pom. A good number of geographically impaired Americans think Tacoma is in fact located in Canada so one could understand its invasion having gone unnoticed. 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 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. His trousers appear identical to those worn by Billy the Kid cohort Dan Dedrick in a similarly dated tintype.
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.
Tintypes were very commonly housed in carte de visite sized paper mounts such as that seen with the image.
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. 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 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. The seated soldier wears a single Good Conduct stripe on his tattered cuff and his Foreign Service helmet sports a khaki cloth helmet cover. 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. 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.
Wilmot of the 7th Battery, 5th Brigade of the Royal Artillery and as having been taken at Tonghoo, British Burma, East India.
Dating from the 1880s or early 90s this soldier’s regiment was not in question since I could make out the distinctive collar badges of the regiment – a horn surmounted by a mural crown with a scroll bearing the battle honor of “Jelalabad” above.
Both bear the same young portrait bust of Queen Victoria, both used the same ornate medal suspender and both utilize the same style and shaped clasp on the ribbon. 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.
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. This image bears all the hallmarks of a superior studio image and belies an otherwise mundane format. Since all schutztruppe’s acted as mounted infantry his boots are outfitted with spurs.
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. 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.
In some ways the photograph looks like an older image that may have been re-photographed by Tacoma based photographer F. 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 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. 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. With the passage of time the delicate paper mounts tend to become separated from the metal plate image and lost.
Their single ammunition pouches also lend me to believe they may have been serving as garrison troops.


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.
The oil that still leaks from her fuel oil bunkers can be clearly seen in the recent photograph. 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 eccentricities of Victorian handwriting not withstanding first impressions were that the soldier’s name read “H.
Sometime just looking at the details of the campaign medal will settle the issue of which war a given soldier had taken part in but this was not the case here.
While the pattern of ribbon differed on each medal at this small scale it is usually for to indistinct to differentiate between the two. From a purely collector’s standpoint it would have been preferable had he been a veteran of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 since images of veterans of that campaign are much rarer than those of veterans of active service in India. He seems to be wearing a version of the 1907 web field equipment which was possibly a variation particular to the Michigan National Guard. In fact the image appears more like a high quality tin type that it does a paper photographic post card. 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. 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.
Records for Colonial Volunteers units like the SVR simply don’t exist and other sources have to be consulted.
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.
His ammunition pouches are leather and of the pattern common with troops deployed as reinforcements to Southwest Africa in 1904.
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. The 2nd Battalion was deployed to more central, southern and eastern Indian location such as Madras and Belgaum in 1887 – the very location of where this photo was taken. 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. Parker created the commemorative cachet of Lincoln and hand applied the light coloring used to accent the image. Having dwindled to half a company these few but still eager members were reformed the following year into the Singapore Volunteer Artillery.
Bell” If he had signed his name in full I may have been able to find mention of him someplace. 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. 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. 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. 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. The diamond shaped badge and stars on his cuff give us some idea as to the length of Bell’s career in the Volunteers.
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. These are efficiency badges and were awarded attending all required training, drills and musters for a give time period. Parker would continue to serve at San Diego until transferred to the Naval Training Center at Los Angeles, California on February 14, 1942.
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. Navy throughout World War II and during the Korean War retiring a Chief Warrant Officer after 31 years of service. One must assume that his career included a good portion of time with other elements of the Singapore Volunteers and not just the Rifles.



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