Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Volunteering at The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum

Volunteering at The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum

As mentioned in my May post since June last year I’ve been volunteering at the The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum (RHF). However, I've recently left the RHF museum to move down to England so I thought I'd memorialise my time there in one last blog post. 

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Regimental Headquarters and Museum is located near Charing Cross on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and it’s a hidden gem stuffed to the gunnels with all sorts of historic military paraphernalia. The Royal Highland Fusiliers were formed in 1959 by the amalgamation of two of the British Army’s most distinguished Regiments The Royal Scots Fusiliers and The Highland Light Infantry

Me holding a medal

I found the RHF Museum shortly after graduating from my Museum Studies course and I’ve spent the last year volunteering there in various capacities. Volunteering at the museum has been a really great way of building my CV and getting some much needed ‘hands on’ curatorial and archival experience that’s much needed -and expected- these days before even hoping to find paid work within the cultural heritage sector. Tasks at the RHF museum have included everything from organising display cases, conducting archival research and handling enquiries from veteran’s families seeking information on relatives who once served with the Regiment. This placement has also involved assisting in the digitisation of WW1 related documents and artefacts and managing the museum’s dreaded electronic database system (Modes).

For this month's post I thought I’d share some of the interesting artefacts kept in the collection that have really caught my eye over the last year. Up for discussion are the WWI gas masks and a 'Dead Mans Penny'/Memorial Scroll donated to the museum by the family of RSF Pte Walter Rumph.

The P helmet and the PH helmet
Probably the most distinctive items currently on display are the two nightmarish First World War gas masks kept in the RHF museum's Gallery Five. The masks on display are the P helmet and PH helmet and are worth seeking out (see picture's below).

Machine Gunners in gas masks during the Battle of the Somme in France, July, 1916.

Gas masks used in World War One were made as a result of poison gas attacks that took the Allies in the trenches on the Western Front by surprise. Early gas masks were crude since no-one had thought that poison gas would ever be used in warfare as the mere thought seemed too shocking. The P helmet, PH helmet were early types of gas masks issued by the British Army during the War to protect troops against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases. Rather than having a separate filter for removing the toxic chemicals they consisted of a gas-permeable hood worn over the head which was treated with chemicals.  The P (or Phenate) Helmet, officially called the Tube Helmet, appeared in July 1915, replacing the simpler Hypo Helmet.

The "P" helmet introduced in 1915
The Phenate or "P" helmet was made of two layers of flannelette (Cotton) with an added mouth piece. The inner layer of flannelette is usually, not always, striped pajama flannelette. "P" stands for Phenate. These stayed in service until Jan 1916 as Primary defense. It featured two mica eyepieces instead of the single visor of its predecessor, and added an exhaust valve fed from a metal tube which the wearer held in his mouth. It had flannel layers of cloth-dipped in sodium phenolate and glycerin and protected against chlorine and phosgene, but not against tear gas. Around 9 million were made.

The "PH" helmet introduced in 1915
Phenate-Hexamine or "PH" helmet is almost identical to the P helmet. The real difference was in the dipping solution. PH Helmets are usually stamped PH with a number (Lot number). The PH Helmet introduced in October 1915, with added hexamethylene tetramine, greatly improved protection against phosgene and added protection against hydrocyanic acid. Around 14 million were made and it remained in service until the end of the war by which time it was relegated to second line use.

'Dead Man's Penny' and Memorial Scroll donated to the museum by the family of RSF Pte Walter Rumph
Also on display in the same gallery is a selection of Memorial Plaques and Scrolls. For this post I've specifically focused on a memorial Plaque that was given to the next of kin to Private Walter Rumph and subsequently been donated to the RHF museum.

These Memorial Plaques were made of bronze and often referred to as ‘Dead Man’s Penny’s’ due to their similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin. The Memorial Plaques where issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. 

Dead Man’s Penny commemorating the death of RSF Private Walter Rumph
It was decided that the design of the plaque, about 5 inches (120 mm) in diameter and cast in bronze, was to be picked from submissions made in a public competition. Over 800 designs were submitted and the competition was won by the sculptor and medallist Edward Carter Preston with his design called Pyramus, receiving a first place prize of £250.  This token includes an image of Britannia holding a trident and standing with a lion. The designer's initials, E.CR.P. appear above the front paw. In her left outstretched hand Britannia holds an oak wreath above the rectangular tablet bearing the deceased's name cast in raised letters. The name does not include the rank since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals. Two dolphins swim around Britannia, symbolising Britain's sea power, and at the bottom a second lion is tearing apart the German eagle. The reverse is blank, making it a plaquette rather than a table medal. Around the picture the legend reads (in capitals) "He died for freedom and honour", or for the six hundred plaques issued to commemorate women, "She died for freedom and honour".
The plaques were issued in a pack with a commemorative scroll from King George V. The scroll was printed on high quality paper, size 11 x 7 inches (27cm x 17cm).
The committee found the choice of words very difficult and asked for advice from numerous well-known writers. Among those approached for suggestions was Rudyard Kipling, whose only son John was missing in action, believed killed, at the Battle of Loos in late September 1915. However, even with this help the committee couldn't make a decision on the words. Dr Montague Rhodes James, Provost of King's College Cambridge, was then asked if he would write a draft for the wording. 

The accepted wording agreed by the committee was:

He whom this scroll commemorates
was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them
endured hardnedss, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty
and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.

Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

The text was to be printed in calligraphic script beneath the Royal Crest followed by the name of the commemorated serviceman giving his rank, name and regiment individually written in calligraphic sc.

Scroll for RSF Private Walter Rumph

During my time at the RHF Museum I helped cataloging many of these plaques and scrolls. I became quite attached to these items that belonged to Pte Walter Rumph’s family as I was put in charge of listing and cataloging them when they where recently handed into the museum. Among the collection of items handed in with Pte Rumph’s death penny and scroll was a selection of embroidered postcards from the front, a series of photographs and many other personal belongings and trinkets.

Pte Walter Rumph with his wife Helen and daughter Gracie
 Tragically, Walter died on October 31st, 1918 just a week before the war ended, leaving a widow and a small daughter, Gracie.

Postcard reads: 'With compliments and kind rememberance of 28 sept 1913, 5 years of the best with love Dear from your loving husband Walter xxxx'

The postcard above was sent to his wife on their five year wedding anniversary. Just over a month later Walter Rumph was killed on the Western front on October 31st 1918 a week before the war ended.

Here's a segment about The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum filmed recently by STVGlasgow for the Riverside Show -look closely enough and you can see me 30 seconds in standing in the background of the main gallery.


Nemo Me Impune Lacessit 
(No One Assails Me With Impunity)


No comments:

Post a Comment