Brothers In Arms

These two German soldiers, photographed here in the Aisne departement of France in April 1918, may not actually be related. However, like the photograph featured last week, it was common practice to immortalise the moment when family members became part of the same unit.

The older of the two, on the right, is certainly more experienced and we can see the ribbon from an iron cross second class in his button hole. His tunic seems to be a bit too big for him and may well have something to do with the limited food rations which the Germans experienced in the latter half of the war. Both men are seen clasping their belts which sport the ‘Gott Mit Uns’ (God With Us) motto on their buckle.

The younger soldier looks like he is a more recent arrival at the front. His almost comically oversized boots also hint at the supply problems which bedevilled the army by 1918. His cap features roundels of national and state colours is completely unshaped by wear and the fact that he isn’t wearing gaiters suggests that he has not had the dubious pleasure of actually serving in the trenches yet. It’s also noteworthy that his tunic has fewer buttons since metal was in terribly short supply by this point.

What both do have in common is the bayonet hanging from their belts. These were normally pushed away from the side to the back of the hip to stop them knocking into things so we can see that the new recruit has at least picked up one trick from the veterans.

A Moment’s Peace

Bought at the Market last week is this evocative photograph of two British ‘tommies’ during the Great War. Bought by a fellow dealer, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military, he was also kind enough to give us his informed view of what we can learn from this century old primary source.

The ‘Carte Postale’ on the reverse tells us it was taken in a French studio with standard props of a chair, backdrop and unlit cigarette. It’s possible that the two are related, even brothers, and the fact that their uniform pockets are bulging and that they have uncleaned boots might well mean that the pair were taking advantage of a break from the front line when this was taken. Also significant perhaps: neither of them are smiling.

The characteristic snake belt both men are wearing was part of the 1914 leather pattern equipment issued to early Territorial’s and Kitchener battalions. The standing soldier’s cap bears the badge of the Ulster Rifles along with pioneer collar badges of crossed pick and rifle. It’s therefore most likely that he was a member of the regiment’s 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd County Down) (Pioneers). They landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as pioneer battalion for the 36th (Ulster) Division in October 1915 for service on the Western Front.

His seated companion is wearing a cap badge of the Finsbury Rifles along with the typical black buttons of a rifle regiment. An educated guess would be that he quite probably belonged to the 2/11th battalion  of that unit which moved to France in February 1917 where they served on the western front for the duration of the war.

Next week, we’ll have a look at a similar photograph from the Great War, also taken in France but featuring two soldiers from the other side of No Mans’ Lead.

Cute as a Button

Not one but two famous names at the market recently.

Meet Jenson Button, a 14 week old Cockapoo who visited the market recently along with his owner, Russell Grant. Although neither of them has won the 2009 World Formula One Championship or appeared on Strictly, what we do know is that one of them was here because of his interest in collecting Boy Scout memorobilia. Russell is probably more of stamp buff.

The market has always been proud to welcome enthusiasts of all kinds, even if they have double the number of legs we might usually expect. Indeed, possibly the most prestigious position in London – after the PM – is that of Market Dog. That role is currently filled by Dougal but his predecessors (Bart, Headley, Charlie and Matty) were equally adept at wandering round looking for biscuits and a scratch behind the ears.

Kings of Sling

The classic cloth triangle to immobilise or elevate an injured limb has been a staple of first aid for centuries. Arguably though, no organisation better demonstrated its versatility than the Saint John’s Ambulance Association.

Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has recently obtained this model of medical efficiency from the early 1900’s. Showing two dozen practical applications from tourniquets to splint braces, the illustrations are so clear and easily understood they could have been drawn up by IKEA.

Business As (Un)usual

After our week off last Saturday, we’re back!

Curious browsers, experienced dealers and committed collectors alike can be found every Saturday at Charing Cross Market. Rare postcards, stamps, coins and militaria abound in a unique indoor location at the heart of Central London. Come and see what makes the market one of the Capital’s best kept secrets – because everybody knows all the best treasure is kept underground…

Whistler’s Mothers Day

Artistic licence is normally understood to be the painter’s prerogative but not where the US Postal Service is concerned. Whistler’s iconic painting from 1871 is a study in maternal patience. He was characteristically coy about the painting to friends saying ““One does like to make one’s mummy just as nice as possible.” Regardless, it has attained a sacred place in the American artistic pantheon, in part because of Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for what he took as its sentimentalism.

However, in 1934 the USPS saw their opportunity to use it as a way of celebrating Mother’s Day, another American creation. Reproducing the whole painting would have meant the matriarch was too small so the stamp version crops a lot of detail from the top and left side. At the same time, her pensive gaze which in the original invited us to imagine what she was thinking now fall on a vase of flowers.

Coining It In

Imagine if you didn’t spend any of the change you received in coins. Instead you put it into a ‘sovereign’ size champagne bottle holding 25 litres (equivalent to 33 standard bottles). It takes you five years but in the end you do fill it up. How much money have you saved?

While the answer might be slightly different if you’re using UK currency, one Austrian user of the social media platform, Reddit, has given us a guide. He photographed his haul and invited others to guess the total value of all the euro, two euro and various cents he’d amassed. Their estimates varied between €430 and €2,500 were way off. The actual amount was roughly €7,000 or £5,900.

This is partly because several coins are worth more than face value. A number are special commemorative coins and others (from the Vatican City State or San Marino) are comparatively rare.

A chance to cash in on the cashless society? Possibly. You might need to save up for that 25 litre champagne bottle first…

A Post Officer And A Gentleman

Very much a case of déjà vu, a recent set of six British postage stamps harks back to six of its classic stamps from a generation ago. It is the first time the Royal Mail has dedicated an entire issue to a designer of its commemorative stamps.

For over 50 years, Keith Gentleman has produced some of the Post Office’s most iconic designs. The now commonplace practice of using a small cameo of the queen’s head in one corner of the stamp was one of his most enduring contributions. However, he has had the privilege of seeing over one hundred of his designs turned into stamps. Some of them, such as the designs of Concorde or the series dedicated to British social reformers are instantly recognisable. The latter, along with the ones he created to commemorate the Battle of Hastings, are among his personal favourites.

DIY War Crimes Tribunal

Another fascinating find by Michael Burroughs this week. Hidden away in an old shoe box for seventy years was this macabre piece of propaganda allowing you to ‘hang’ prominent Nazis on a piece of string. Originally made in the US in 1942, at some point they were brought to England and have barely seen the light of day since.

There are four uniformed figures easily identified as Hitler, a corpulent Herman Goring (with military baton), Joachim von Ribbentrop and Josef Goebbels. In the end all but one of them escaped the rope. Hitler and Goebbels committed suicide before they were captured. At the Nuremberg trials after the war, Goring and von Ribbentrop were sentenced to death but Goring took a potassium cyanide capsule just hours before his execution.

The champagne toting Joachim von Ribbentrop alongside Nazi Minister for Propaganda, Josef Goebbels

On a lighter note, we were delighted to be able to send a donation of £700 to the British Red Cross who are doing such sterling work with their Humanitarian Appeal for the war in Ukraine.