‘They shall have music wherever they go!’ – Lieutenant Cyril Raymond Tobitt’s Decca ‘Trench’ Gramophone

RICHARD MADDOX

TODAY IT WOULD PROBABLY BE MUSIC STREAMED FROM A MOBILE (CELL) PHONE VIA WIRELESS BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES.

During the First World War it was the Decca ‘Trench’ Gramophone, a ‘portable’ music system – in this case packed into an old ammunition crate for ease of transport of the record player and the discs.

DECCA TRENCH GRAMOPHONE, a selection of the 32 records accompanying the gramophone and the converted ammunition box that housed both the records and the player. Image © IWM copyright, IWM catalogue reference EPH 7660. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30087341

DECCA TRENCH GRAMOPHONE, a selection of the 32 records accompanying the gramophone and the converted ammunition box that housed both the records and the player. Image © IWM copyright, IWM catalogue reference EPH 7660. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30087341

 

AN ADVERTISING POSTER FOR THE DECCA GRAMOPHONE SHOWING AN OFFICER IN BRITISH UNIFORM carrying the gramophone and walking past a bare-foot sailor from 'HMS Mars' and two soldiers, one in khaki uniform. The other soldier wears 'Hospital Blues' - the blue, red and white uniform worn by soldiers in Military Hospitals and while convalescing. Artefact © IWM. IWM catalogue PST 13691. Original image source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31665

AN ADVERTISING POSTER FOR THE DECCA GRAMOPHONE SHOWING AN OFFICER IN BRITISH UNIFORM carrying the gramophone and walking past a bare-foot sailor from ‘HMS Mars’ and two soldiers, one in khaki uniform. The other soldier wears ‘Hospital Blues’ – the uniform worn by soldiers in Military Hospitals and while convalescing. Artefact © IWM. IWM catalogue PST 13691. Original image source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31665

 

According to IWM’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ website, Lieutenant Cyril Raymond Tobbitt was born at Wyefold Court (sic) in Oxfordshire, England in November 1891. (1) 

This may be a geographic error. According to the 1871 Census his father did live at Wyford Court (where he was a Farm steward). Wyford Court – which has had a variety of  uses including a psychiatric hospital – still stands. (2)

Albert and his wife Fanny moved to Neals Farm near Checkendon (about 2 miles or 3km from Wyford Court) in south Oxfordshire in 1873.

It was at Neals Farm where Florence – the first of his 13 children from three wives – was probably born. Fanny died the same year and there is a suggestion that she may have died in childbirth.

Albert became a widower on two occasions. Like Wyford Court Neals Farm is still in existence and is currently on a working farm.

Cyril was the last child to be born , his mother being Laura Mary Heard-Tobitt who Albert married after the death of his second wife in 1887.  (3)(4) 

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) in 1915, before joining the Royal Engineers the year later where he served with No.62 Field Company.

The gramophone would accompany the Company in a variety of locations as the war progressed. These would include Ypres, Arras and Saint Quentin. (5) 6) 

At THE END OF THE WAR NO. 62 FIELD COMPANY, RE WAS DISBANDED.

IT APPEARS THAT LOTS WERE DRAWN FOR PRIVATE ITEMS – THAT IS THOSE NOT ISSUED BY THE BRITISH ARMY.

CYRIL TOBITT BECAME THE PROUD OWNER OF THE GRAMOPHONE, SOMETHING THAT HAD PROVIDED ENTERTAINMENT AND LIFTED MORALE THROUGHOUT THE FINAL YEARS OF THE CONFLICT.

The Decca poster has some interesting information – both in the text and the accompanying visuals. As can be seen, the gramophone was available in three finishes the most expensive being almost twice the cost of the basic unit.

In 1914 an engine driver on the rail network would earn on average between 35 shillings and 50 shillings a week. Without accounting for inflation this translates as between £1.75p and £2.50p a week.

With the top of the line machine costing eight shillings and eight pence (twelve pence would equate to one shilling and twenty shillings would be one pound), this represents a relatively high proportion of a skilled working man’s weekly wage. (7) 

The fact that the officer carries the record player could also indicate its relatively high price.

The illustration of the army officer shows a Lieutenant wearing his rank badge on his tunic sleeves. This method was first introduced in 1902. However in the trenches many officers removed these and wore their rank insignia on their shoulders, believing that this made them less of a target for enemy snipers.

After some resistance, this practice was accepted by the Army authorities with officer’s sleeve rank insignia being discontinued in 1920. (8) 

The bare-foot sailor wears a cap tally showing he is serving on HMS Mars. This ship was built in 1894 and commissioned in 1897. When war broke out, the ship was serving as a guard ship on the Humber River in Yorkshire in the north of England before joining the Dover Patrol in December 1914.

In February 1915 Mars was converted to a troop ship and the ship’s main armament removed. The ship served in the Dardanelles area in 1916. (9) 

The first of the two soldiers depicted wears a khaki uniform while the second depicts a wounded soldier either in a British Army hospital or military convalescent home. (10) (11) 

Music and musical theatre  – also called ‘music hall’ was very popular both in Britain and behind the lines in France. It was seen as good for morale, keeping soldiers in touch with things that were familiar to them.

A popular song of the time ‘Take me back to Dear Old Blighty‘ written in 1916 has as its theme a  soldier thinking about ‘Dear Old Blightly’ – Britain – playing a song that reminds him of home on a gramophone. (12) (13)

Jack Dunn, son of a gun, somewhere in France today

Keeps fit doing his bit, up to his eyes in clay

Each night after a fight to pass the time along

He’s got a little gramophone that plays this song

NOTE

The Science Museum Blog has a very interesting story of another Decca Gramophone (on loan from IWM) written by photographer Judit Gyula. Entitled ‘The Gramophone that Soldiered On’ this can be found at:

https://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/the-gramophone-that-soldiered-on/

SOURCES

(1) https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4460122 -retrieved 143 November 2018

(2) http://www.pjlivesey-group.co.uk/wyfold-court-henleys-lasting-legacy/ -retrieved 14 November 2018

(3) http://familystories.shancjackson.com/tobitt_Albert.html – retrieved 14 November 2018

(4) http://www.nealsfarm.com/ – retrieved 14 November 2018

(5) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30087341 – retrieved 14 November 2018

(6) https://www.reubique.com/62fc.htm – retrieved 14 November 2018

(7) https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/written-answers/1919/aug/01/wages-1914-and-1919 – retrieved 14 November 2018

(8) https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/9660-please-help-british-wwi-sleeve-rank/ – retrieved 14 November 2018

(9) https://www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk/hms_mars.htm – retrieved 13 November 2018

(10) https://www.qaranc.co.uk/Army-Hospital-Blues-Uniform-WW1.php – retrieved 13 November 2018

(11) https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/192140-blue-uniform-worn-by-hospital-patients-soldiers/ – retrieved 13 November 2018

(12) https://genius.com/Florrie-forde-take-me-back-to-dear-old-blighty-lyrics – retrieved 13 November 2018

(13) https://www.fredgodfreysongs.ca/Songs/Take_Me_Back_To_Dear_Old_Blighty.htm  – retrieved 13 November 2018

”I don’t think a six-foot-five black man would’ve got very far in Pomerania, somehow.” Pilot Officer John Henry Smythe, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

RICHARD MADDOX

PILOT OFFICER JOHN HENRY SMYTHE Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, from Sierra Leone, West Africa photographed while undergoing training at No 11 Operational Training Unit, RAF Westcott, Buckinghamshire, England. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 10739. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125592

PILOT OFFICER JOHN HENRY SMYTHE Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, from Sierra Leone, West Africa photographed while undergoing training at No 11 Operational Training Unit, RAF Westcott, Buckinghamshire, England. Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 10739. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125592

IT IS THE NIGHT OF 18 NOVEMBER 1943 AND THE RAF’S BATTLE OF BERLIN IS ABOUT TO BEGIN. More than four hundred Avro Lancaster bombers would be pitted against the defences of the ‘Big City’.

But of course war has always been as much about wrong-footing the enemy as much as direct attacks against them.

And this was no exception.  Almost as many RAF bombers were sent on diversionary raids to Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

Of the four hundred and forty Lancasters and four De Havilland Mosquito aircraft sent to attack Berlin only nine were lost.

By contrast the diversionary force – composed mainly of Handley Halifax and Short Stirling aircraft – lost 23 bombers from a total of 395 attackers to Luftwaffe defenders. (1)

One of those lost was Short Stirling Mk III, serial LJ454 (coded IC – E) serving with No.623 Squadron RAF. It had been accepted onto the squadron on 20 September 1943. (2)

The crew were commanded by Flying Officer Charles Raymond Bennett Royal Australian Air Force and included John Henry Smythe as navigator. (3)

Smythe was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa on 30 June 1915. A civil servant before joining the Sierra Leone Defence Corps in 1939 he would become a sergeant. At some point in 1940 he volunteered to join the RAF and travelled to Britain. (4)

After specialist navigator training he and the rest of the crew joined No.623 Squadron RAF at RAF Downham Market, Norfolk, England on 10 September 1943 from No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) RAF based at RAF Stradishall, Suffolk. (5)

Heavy Conversion Units formed a bridge between Operational Training Units (OTU) and front-line squadrons. Here crews – who would have formed-up at the OTU – would refine their skills still further on the type of aircraft they would fly operationally.

Bennett’s crew had been posted from No.11 OTU RAF to No. 1657 HCU on 29 August 1943. (6) 

They were on their fifth operation with No. 623 Squadron RAF when they took off at 1715 on 18 November 1943 as one of seven aircraft from the squadron assigned to the diversionary raid.

Only three of the squadron’s aircraft would return having attacked the target. Two would turn back with engine oil problems and two more – including Bennett’s – would be lost.

The returning crews from No. 623 Squadron RAF (who appear to have been in the first wave over the target) reported only light resistance, making the losses perhaps even poignant. (7)

Cloud obscured the target area and the bombing of Mannheim was scattered through the north of the city where four industrial sites were destroyed and a further seriously damaged. More than 600 other buildings were hit including two churches, three schools and four military barracks. Twenty one people died, 154 were injured and some 7,500 were rendered homeless. Away from the city nearby farms suffered bomb damage. (8)

There has been some debate as to whether Bennet’s aircraft was brought down by flak or a nightfighter within the target area. It suffered damage (judging from photographic evidence on Steve Smith’s very informative ‘No. 623 Squadron RAF Bomber Command August – December 1943 “A Short War”‘ website) to at least the outer starboard engine. (9)

Recalling the event Smythe (who appeared to believe that they were initially attacked by nightfighter aircraft) stated: (10)

“We were flying at 16,000 feet when the fighters came out of nowhere. They raked the fuselage and there were flames everywhere. Then the searchlights caught us. I was hit by shrapnel.

Pieces came from underneath, piercing my abdomen, going through my side. Another came through my seat and into my groin. I heard the pilot ordering us to bail out…”

Although injured he and the rest of the crew were able to escape from the crippled Stirling.

According to a report written by RAF Bomber Command’s Operational Research Section dated 2 February 1944 which examined the emergency escape provisions from a number of operational bomber aircraft there was a less than 5% (4.2%) chance of all seven crew members surviving the loss of a Stirling(11)

The report focused on the period January and June 1943 when 6498 airmen failed to return from night bombing operations over Germany. (12)

Although crew positions in the individual types affected the results, it was found that the 161 crew members flying in the Stirling – the oldest design – had a better chance of surviving that those of the more modern Halifax and Lancaster aircraft.

As a Stirling navigator Smythe had a 19.8% chance of surviving. If he had occupied the same position on Halifax and Lancaster aircraft his chances would have been 36.2% and 13.8% respectively. (13)

Luck may have played a further part in so far as the same report notes that in 5 of 11 cases studied involving the Stirling the crew intercom was not working. (14)

Despite all the crew having baled out, Bennett’s aircraft appears to have continued onwards until it belly-landed at Kothausen near Mönchengladbach, around 150 miles/241km from the target. (15)

Smythe hid in a barn but was captured and after initial interrogation he was sent to Stalag Luft I near Barth in Western Pomerania – approximately 135 miles/217 km from Berlin.

“Men in uniform came into the barn where I was hiding behind some straw. Then they opened up, raking the place with automatic fire.

I decided to give in.

The Germans couldn’t believe their eyes. I’m sure that’s what saved me from being shot immediately.

To see a black man – and an officer at that – was more than they could come to terms with. They just stood there gazing.”

Stalag Luft I was liberated by Soviet forces on 1 May 1945. Smythe recalls the aftermath. (16)

“I was fêted because I was black.

They took me to a town near the camp and I watched as they looted.

A pretty German woman was crying because they had taken all her valuables. I wanted to help her but the Russians wouldn’t listen.

I had hated the Germans and wanted to kill them all, but something changed inside me when I saw her tears and the hopelessness on her face.”

Post-war, Smythe studied law, becoming a Queen’s Council and later Solicitor General of Sierra Leone. He moved to London with his wife and five children in 1993. He died three years later and is buried in the town of Thame in Oxfordshire, England. (17)

At least one of his grandchildren has followed him into the legal profession. (18)

NOTE

As will be seen from the references below, Steve Smith’s website dedicated to No. 623 Squadron RAF has provided much valuable information for this post.

SOURCES

(1) http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706055341/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/nov43.html – retrieved 24 October 2018

(2) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/short-stirling-ef156/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(3) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/flying-officer-c-r-bennett-raaf-crew/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(4) https://blackpast.org/gah/smythe-john-henry-1915-1996 – retrieved 24 October 2018

(5)  https://623squadron.wordpress.com/flying-officer-charles-raymond-bennett-raaf/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(6) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/flying-officer-charles-raymond-bennett-raaf/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(7) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/october-1943/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(8) https://www.jankersten.nl/williamuyen/19431118.html – retrieved 24 October 2018

(9) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/flying-officer-charles-raymond-bennett-raaf/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(10) http://www.sierraconnection.com/people.htm – retrieved 24 October 2018

(11)  Escape of crews from Damaged Bombers. Table II Missing aircraft classified according to number of  survivors – File Air 14/1880, UK National Archives, Kew, England

(12)  Escape of crews from Damaged Bombers. Summary and conclusions, paragraph 1  – File Air 14/1880, UK National Archives, Kew, England

(13)  Escape of crews from Damaged Bombers. Table I Surviving Aircrew for each Aircraft Type – File Air 14/1880, UK National Archives, Kew, England

(14)  Escape of crews from Damaged Bombers. Intercommunication System, paragraph 22  – File Air 14/1880, UK National Archives, Kew, England

(15) https://623squadron.wordpress.com/flying-officer-charles-raymond-bennett-raaf/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

(16)  http://memorialgates.org/history/ww2/participants/african/johnny-smythe.html – retrieved 24 October 2018

(17)  https://blackpast.org/gah/smythe-john-henry-1915-1996 – retrieved 24 October 2018

(18)  https://www.switalskis.com/charlie-smythe-admitted-to-the-roll-of-solicitors/ – retrieved 24 October 2018

More than just a game – a little about football and the beginning of the First World War

RICHARD MADDOX

THE AIM OF THE GAME is to manoeuvre a ball bearing through the maze of the German trenches to score a goal in the Kaiser's 'mouth'. On the way the ball passes a number of German and Turkish characters. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EPH 2579. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30084297.

THE AIM OF THE GAME is to manoeuvre a ball bearing through the maze of the German trenches to score a goal in the Kaiser’s ‘mouth’. On the way the ball passes a number of German and Turkish characters. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference EPH 2579. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30084297.

THE CHILD’S GAME SHOWN ABOVE was produced by the R F and S company during the First World War. It manages to combine a simple (but often frustrating) game with patriotism, propaganda and the increasingly popular game of football.

A small metal ball (representing a football) is manoeuvred by tilting the game from the ‘Kick Off’ circle at the bottom of the frame through the network of ‘trenches’, past a series of caricatured characters connected with the German high command and their long-standing Turkish ally.

The ball had to be steered to avoid the holes that would send it back to the start.

Although the game proudly proclaims the fact that it is British designed and made, there is no date for the game’s manufacture although it appears to be focused on German and Ottoman commanders active on the Western Front and in Gallipoli. This indicates that it was produced after Britain declared war in August 1914 and before July 1916.

There are also clues in the ‘rules’ on the reverse side of the game – really a brief description of the characters encountered in the game part propaganda. These indicate that the game was probably between the middle and end of 1915.

Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia was in command of German troops that entered Northern France and the instructions hint at a story of the Prince being involved in looting from a chateau. (1)

The same instructions also go on to advise ‘You have a feeble opponent in “Little Willie” ‘ and that the player passes the Prince ‘with the contempt he deserves’.(2)

Helmuth von Moltke was replaced as Army Chief of Staff and effectively sidelined after the German advance was halted at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914.

Indeed the rules talk of von Moltke being ‘a poor substitute of the Great Von Moltke has greatly subsided since his quarrel with the goal keeper, and it is unlikely that he will in any way retard the attack‘. (3)

After inflicting early defeats on the French, the performance of Feldmarschall Karl von Bülow in September 1914 was seen as a decisive factor in the German failure to capture Paris.

The inclusion of the Ottoman Empire’s Minister of War Ishmail Enver Pasha, Feldmarschall Wilhelm Leopold Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz and General Otto Liman von Sanders all point to the alliance of the Ottoman Empire with Germany against Russia and the deployment of German military advisers (many of whom would lead Turkish armies) and the Dardenelles Campaign of February 1915 to January 1916.

The game describes General von Sanders as ‘a comparatively new man of unproven merit‘ perhaps an indication that the game was designed at the time of the Dardanelles Campaign. (4)

Feldmarschall von der Goltz had been Military Governor in Occupied Belgium where he had cracked down on any show of resistance, declaring that villages near where acts of sabotage had occurred would suffer severe reprisals whether they had carried out the act or not.

The appointment was only for four months as in December 1914 he became a military adviser to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople.

The game describes him as ‘never been able to think clearly since the Belgian International outwitted him(5)

Refining this information further it is possible to come up with a production date of mid-1915 to early 1916, as the following commanders were out of office shortly after that date.

Grossadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz (note the misspelling of his name on the game, although it is correctly spelled in the ‘Rules’ on the back) is depicted sitting astride a German submarine. He resigned in March 1916.

General Alexander von Kluck was badly wounded in March 1915, retiring the following year. The game notes that ‘in an important match of recent date he lost his nerve and broke down badly as when within shooting distance of goal‘. (6) This may be a further reference to the Battle of the Marne where his forces were expected to capture Paris.

Von Goltz died of typhus in Baghdad the following month.

 

The choice of football for this game is an interesting one – the same company produced a similar game where the aim was to get the small ball to ‘Berlin’ avoiding the holes that would send it back to the beginning.

With the English Football League founded in 1888 and professional players being officially paid some three years later, football was an increasingly popular sport at the time of the First World War. (7) 

However there was a feeling that although it had some benefits to those who played, football was a distraction for spectators, taking him away from his work and family.

As the chances of war increased football was seen as preventing men from enlisting, so clubs were seen as having an obligation to change this – even to the point of encouraging their own players to join up. (8)

A POSTER PRODUCED IN 1914 AND AIMED AT SUPPORTERS OF MILLWALL FOOTBALL CLUB in South London. It plays on the association between the club's emblem of a lion's roar. It also uses football terminology such as 'THE FINAL' and 'KICK OFF'. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM PST 0970. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/40984

A POSTER PRODUCED IN 1914 AND AIMED AT SUPPORTERS OF MILLWALL FOOTBALL CLUB in South London. It plays on the association between the club’s emblem of a lion’s roar. It also uses football terminology such as ‘THE FINAL’ and ‘KICK OFF’. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM PST 0970. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/40984

Five months into the war the Army founded the first of two Footballers’ Battalions, based on the same idea as the Pals Battalions which brought together men from the same town or area. In all a total of 1500 men would die serving in the two units. (9)

On 1st July 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme – Captain Wilfred Nevill – Billie – led his men of ‘B’ Company, 8 Battalion, East Surrey regiment into the attack.

They followed two footballs kicking them across No Man’s Land. They achieved their objective – but at a high cost. Wilfred Percy Nevill was among the dead. (10)

Today an identity disc inscribed ‘W.P. NEVILL 8 EAST SURREY REGT 15 Montpelier Rd. Twickenham C of E’ is in the IWM collection. (11)

ALL THOUGH NOT PRODUCED DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR this 1919 poster builds on sporting themes as well as the camaraderie of a team. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM PST 7686. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/24794

ALL THOUGH NOT PRODUCED DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR this 1919 poster builds on sporting themes as well as the camaraderie of a team. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM PST 7686. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/24794

SOURCES

(1) https://blog.maryevans.com/2013/05/patriotism-in-the-nursery-toys-of-war.html – retrieved 10 November 2018

(2) (3) (4) (5) (6) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/REL/10090/ – retrieved 10 November 2018

(7) https://spartacus-educational.com/Fwages.htm – retrieved 10 November 2018

(8) (9) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/the_last_pass – retrieved 10 November 2018

(10) https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/community/stories/remembrance/sport-remembers-captain-nevill-s-incredible-football-charge/ – retrieved 10 November 2018

(11) IWM catalogue reference EQU 5258.  https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30112050 – retrieved 10 November 2018

NOTE

The following links provide more information on football (soccer) and the Great War, there are of course many others:

https://www.footballandthefirstworldwar.org/ – retrieved 10 November 2018

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/9-facts-about-football-in-the-first-world-war – retrieved 10 November 2018

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/the_last_pass – retrieved 10 November 2018

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zxsfyrd – retrieved 10 November 2018