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Remembered Today:

Naval binoculars


nicole
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My Grandfather served in the navy during WW1. I believe that up to 1915 he was in West Africa. He served on HMS Broke and I understand that he was present at Jutland. He also appears to have served in Roumania at some time during the war as he has a medal presented by the Roumanian govt. He was a signaller and I have a pair of binoculars that according to family tradition he was given by a German sailor. The binoculars are ivory and brass with a leather case and are of the Galliean type. The makers name is Watkins and Hill London. This seems to contradict the German story. I understand that during the war there was a shortage of binoculars and they were obtained from various sources. To me these binoculars look more like opera glasses. I wonder if anybody can clear up this mystery?

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Nicole.

I'm no expert in the area of naval binoculars but am curious. This website here appears to have some info, though judging from the wording of your post, you may have already seen it.

http://www.oldbinoculars.com/index.html

No mention of Watkins and Hill, as far as I can see. Perhaps contact the site owner? There doesn't seem to be any shortage of German makers listed there, although not sure about WW1.

I've always imagined naval binoculars to be bigger than opera glasses but perhaps those used by signallers were different to the binoculars used by, for example, lookouts scanning the horizon for ships.

With the family story, was the suggestion that it was during war time, i.e. that he came into contact with a German sailor when prisoners were taken? You may be able to check the histories of the ships listed in his service record to try to establish if any are likely candidates, i.e. situations where prisoners were taken aboard.

I imagine that prior to the war, the German navy may possibly have sourced some of their equipment from the UK and vice versa, so I don't think just because it was made by Watkins & Hill, London, that necessarily discounts the theory it was once owned by a German sailor.

regards,

Martin

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Dear Martin,

Sorry to have not replied sooner but I was keen to grab a small window of weather and go sailing! Managed a nice bbq on the beach last night and glimpses of a meteorite shower through the night sky!

I sail from Mylor Harbour in Cornwall and it was here that my Grandfather was based as a boy sailor on HMS Ganges aged 14. I tell you this because I can see from your profile the personal interest that you have. It is why I am so keen to know more about my Grandfather Jack's bino's. However, I accept that I will never really know.

I did look at the site you mentioned and others and they look very similar to opera glasses made in Vienna. Watkins and Hill ( the makers) ceased trading in the 1850's and were taken over by Elliot Brothers. I am sure that these glasses are old, but how the glasses and the story match I do not know. I am aware that the British army lacked bino's and that a public appeal was launched but I doubt that a Royal Navy signalman would be issued with glasses in this way.

I think that I do need to take time to look at Grandfather Jack's service record and to seek clues there. I wish that I had listened more carefully as a little girl when stories were told. I do remember being able to translate parts of a citation in German for him which he had recieved but had never understood. This was about rescuing seamen, I think, but i was in my early teens at the time and had no real grasp of the language.

I think that for most of us with an interest, we ask ourselves " If only we had......" The questions remain!

Kind regards,

Nikki

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Hi Nicole.

You mean you have a life outside of this forum?! I'll have to check but I'm sorry, I think that disqualifies you from membership of this forum. Just kidding ;) Your sailing trip, evening beach bbq and meteorite shower sounds great. Sailors at sea down through the years must have seen many wondrous things at night (many frightening things as well).

Let us know if you do find out anything more on the story behind your grandfather's binoculars. You know, I know there's standard issue for various types of equipment for the various navies but I'm sure sailors also used some of their own equipment, so the German sailor may very well have owned those binoculars personally and they pre-dated the era.

Just to clarify on your grandfather's awards - he received one Rumanian one and another German one, is that correct? You may find mention of these either in the London Gazette or, if you have access, The Times Digital Archive where many of the LG announcements were published. If you advise his name, someone may find something on him. Alternatively, if you'd prefer not to do that, you could send me a PM and I can search The Times for you.

On wishing we'd listened more, yes it's a common theme you hear, isn't it, and I have to admit to falling into that category myself recently. But at least we are "listening" now and investigating and bringing to light things that will be remembered after we've gone.

regards,

Martin

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Hi Nicole

Have you got his service record? Does that give clues to the awards?

As for the binoculars, if they were a personal gift they would not necessarily be used by him for his signalling work.

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The glass sounds like a civilian opera glass of modest power (probably not more than 3x) and was almost certainly a private purchase - as you say from before 1857 when Eliott's acquired the Watkins & Hill business. They could very likely have been passed as a gift to the departing serviceman by his family, and the German story is still quite possible.

There were large trawls for binoculars and telescopes on the British civilian market, especially in 1914 - 15, to attempt to supply military requirements. These were donated, or purchased using the Roberts and Strachey Funds. If your binoculars found its way into service that way, it will be marked S.3, S.4 or S.5 (depending on what Tommy thought of its usefulness), with a Broad Arrow and a register number. I have to say, I've never seen an ivory-covered glass marked up in this way, but I don't know enough about the acceptance criteria to be sure.

Regards,

MikB

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Did the Admiralty have a similar scheme, or was it a War Office drive for binoculars?

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Did the Admiralty have a similar scheme, or was it a War Office drive for binoculars?

Dunno. There are some documents about 'Optical Munitions' at the PRO that I hope to examine someday which may throw more light.

I have a super-duper, top-of-the-range civilian big-game telescope - one of the best I've seen - that only got graded as S.2, so I want to find out what the criteria were for telescopes as well as binos. Galileans couldn't score higher than S.3.

Regards,

MikB

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