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MBrockway

Lord Roberts' loan scheme for private telescopes & field glasses

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MBrockway

There are a few posts here on the forum mentioning the scheme started by Lord Roberts in 1914 encouraging the public to lend telescopes, binoculars and field glasses to the Army for the war effort.

 

Several of them query how such instruments might have been marked, Government broad arrow, or not, for example.

 

I have just found this in the Routine Orders for 1st Division dated 16 Feb 1919 covering the return of items supplied under the scheme.  It seems they were marked up with N.S.L. above a serial number ...

5a19c511ba8b5_LordRobertstelescopeloanscheme-returns-01(1stDivDRO37916Feb1919).jpg.b11d0d678aaf7eb2e0dc72ea4820dece.jpg

5a19c517a7eee_LordRobertstelescopeloanscheme-returns-02(1stDivDRO37916Feb1919).jpg.d889b6f730239d54ad2522851d2b5da7.jpg

 

If this is not already known, it should be useful for collectors of these devices.  Even if already known, it's interesting hearing how the scheme was wound down.  I wonder how many instruments actually got back to their original owners?

 

Mark

 

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MikB

I've never seen, either directly or in photographs online, any telescopes or binoculars with the 'N.S.L.' marking described. 

 

The Lord Roberts scheme was not the only one operating - I understand there was also a Strachey Fund, though perhaps that purchased instruments rather than accepting them on loan.

 

Instruments accepted for service were given a registration number separate from any manufacturer's serial number, and graded with an 'S.<n>' number indicating their type and quality. All those I've seen also have the Broad Arrow. Fred Watson's booklet 'Binoculars Opera Glasses and Field Glasses' ISBN 0-7478-0292-0 describes this for binoculars, and I would dearly like to know how the grading system worked for telescopes - but have not yet found any valid leads.

 

Considering conditions at the front, I'd guess that only a tiny minority of instruments survived for several years to be returnable in good condition - and in view of the complication of doing so I wouldn't expect that many actually were returned.

Edited by MikB

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voltaire60

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MBrockway
53 minutes ago, MikB said:

Instruments accepted for service were given a registration number separate from any manufacturer's serial number, and graded with an 'S.<n>' number indicating their type and quality. All those I've seen also have the Broad Arrow. Fred Watson's booklet 'Binoculars Opera Glasses and Field Glasses' ISBN 0-7478-0292-0 describes this for binoculars, and I would dearly like to know how the grading system worked for telescopes - but have not yet found any valid leads.

 

Considering conditions at the front, I'd guess that only a tiny minority of instruments survived for several years to be returnable in good condition - and in view of the complication of doing so I wouldn't expect that many actually were returned.

 

The DRO does not specifically mention the broad arrow, but that of course does NOT imply these items did not also have the broad arrow and the classification/grading marks you mention.

 

In fact, thinking pragmatically, it would be difficult for the Army to handle non-standard stock like this without some sort of additional registration codings.

 

Mark

 

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voltaire60

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MikB
11 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 ...

(And a small sub-text that British industry was no competitor in either quantity or quality on field glasses to Zeiss-Jena, which may have been the background to the Lord Roberts scheme in the first place)

According to Fred Watson's booklet on binoculars, there was actually an approach by British distributors to the German government early in the war for supplies of binos!

 

However, the quoted statement isn't quite true with respect to telescopes - the British marine and game-hunting/spotting telescope makers were able to ramp up their production during the war - and some authorities, like the sniper Hesketh Prichard, considered the telescope far superior to binoculars despite its greater bulk. 

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voltaire60

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MikB
2 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

     ...The lesson of both the world wars was that the Germans had better technology, better kit and better weapons   - and it costs many tens of thousands of  British lives in both wars.-...

 

...All well and good to remember the Professor Brainstorms of the world who "invented" things- but some stunning and costly inadequacies paid for with British lives.. 

 

I think yer openin' a can o'worms there that goes a very long way beyond binos, and really doesn't have a simplistic answer.

 

Of course counterexamples of outstanding British and abject German developments could be found, and the arguments would never end.

 

I speak as one with a grandfather on each side... :D

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voltaire60

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MikB
1 hour ago, voltaire60 said:

 

      It's a can of worms that's lurking in the corners (Hmm- should have stayed awake in English to find out what mixed metaphors are). But agreed.   Is it just me or was the advent of the tank as a weapon marred by a lot of mechanical unreliability??  

 

   Pip,pip

     Mike

 

Yes - they were horribly unreliable and almost beyond human endurance to crew. It was an entirely new development of tracked vehicle design and, of course, being used in the worst conditions a capable enemy could create!

 

But the German response was the A7V - 18 months later and almost incapable of traversing anything but the flattest ground. No wonder they only built 20-odd of them.

 

Both sides, in both wars, were eminently capable of producing diamonds and lemons in more-or-less equal measure, IMO. It's sometimes been fashionable to decry British technical failures, but there were plenty on the German side too. Innovation always carries risks - in peace those cost money and careers, but in war they cost lives.

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voltaire60

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MikB
9 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

  Up to a point, Lord Copper.   Yes, plenty of duds on both sides- but qualititavely, developed weapons coming into front-line service were usualy better for the Germans. Not keen on their standard infantry rifles-but the SMLE went into the war and came out the other side in time for the next war.  Good German weapons were like Susie-when they were good, they were VERY good.

 

I don't get the Lord Copper bit. We're going way off the OP's topic now, and I suspect we could probably continue this indefinitely without agreeing.

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MBrockway
8 hours ago, MikB said:

 

I don't get the Lord Copper bit. We're going way off the OP's topic now, and I suspect we could probably continue this indefinitely without agreeing.

 

And the OP's showing remarkable restraint B)

 

This was intended to be a small, short vehicle to share an apparently useful original source document on how the loan scheme instruments were marked up and which may not have been known to the specialist collectors.

 

'"N.S.L." being the National Service League, with the address confirming that, was an excellent addition, for which Thanks.

 

MikB - as one of those specialists, if you think it's run its course, I can lock the topic before it ranges even wider.  Do you think anything more about markings is likely to emerge?

 

Mark

 

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MikB
6 hours ago, MBrockway said:

 

And the OP's showing remarkable restraint B)

 

...

 

MikB - as one of those specialists, if you think it's run its course, I can lock the topic before it ranges even wider.  Do you think anything more about markings is likely to emerge?

 

Mark

 

 

Indeed you did. Thread drift is a pretty common phenomenon, though.

 

I hope I've indicated that I'm not going to participate (further) in wider discussions.

 

I don't know what the chances are of anybody coming up with 'N.S.L.' marked instruments, but I'd've thought it's worth leaving the thread open on the off-chance. As I said, I'm not aware of ever having seen this - but that may be due to centring my interest on the Broad Arrow marked instruments accepted by WD, and perhaps instruments on loan were not so marked.

 

Certainly I thank you for posting the cutting - I'd not been aware previously of any attempt to return the loaned instruments. Of course, whether the Divisional Order was promulgated through out the services, and whether it drew any significant response, could be an entirely different matter... :D 

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voltaire60
38 minutes ago, MikB said:

Certainly I thank you for posting the cutting - I'd not been aware previously of any attempt to return the loaned instruments. Of course, whether the Divisional Order was promulgated through out the services, and whether it drew any significant response, could be an entirely different matter..

 

    Good luck- the news gobbet sets a target that there were 30,000 glasses,etc. sent in- so happy hunting.  It is possible that there is a bit more detail out there- most likely in British Newspaper Archive, which I will hit later today.

      I cannot track a single corpus of NSL papers, though the papers of Lord Roberts are likely to have something.  It was set up-unusually for a pressure group- as a company in 1906 and ended in 1921- I should be at Kew tomorrow and will look at the liquidators' papers just in case. The League also published a journal, Nation in Arms, but holdings are sporadic, which is a surprise, but this is likely to be the main source in the end- 30,000 contributors had to be contacted somehow.

    I note your interest in "engineering history". There has been another thread about a kindred subject- the Amateur Ordnance Volunteers. Yes, part of a larger theme of goodwill and voluntary effort at home, so we will leave it at that.

  

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MBrockway

History and documentation of the National Service League would indeed be very interesting and highly relevant to our period, but could I ask it go into a new topic and probably not in this Other Equipment sub-forum?

 

Any further NSL material uncovered on the Lord Roberts/Lady Roberts telescope etc. loan scheme would be a most appropriate addition here.

 

In the hopes of voltaire finding same, or others posting some actual examples of NSL marked instruments, I'll leave the topic unlocked.

 

Thanks Pals!

Edited by MBrockway

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MBrockway
56 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

    Good luck- the news gobbet sets a target that there were 30,000 glasses,etc. sent in- so happy hunting.  It is possible that there is a bit more detail out there- most likely in British Newspaper Archive, which I will hit later today

  

The Morning Post would be a good start point at the BNA - very sympathetic to the aims of the NSL and Countess Bathurst, proprietress, was a prominent NSL supporter.

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voltaire60

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MikB

Well, I just did a quick look on the Bay  to see whether looking for WW1 binoculars turns up any marked 'N.S.L.' and turned up item 282750080985 almost immediately.

 

They're Galileans, and don't appear to have a Broad Arrow, 'S' grade or plain registration number. I'm thinking maybe the Roberts Scheme operated separately in parallel to the WD's civilian optics procurement.

 

Thanks for identifying this additional path - I had no clear ideas about it before. Of course, we can wonder whether these ever got back to their loaner.

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MBrockway
17 hours ago, MikB said:

Well, I just did a quick look on the Bay  to see whether looking for WW1 binoculars turns up any marked 'N.S.L.' and turned up item 282750080985 almost immediately.

 

They're Galileans, and don't appear to have a Broad Arrow, 'S' grade or plain registration number. I'm thinking maybe the Roberts Scheme operated separately in parallel to the WD's civilian optics procurement.

 

Thanks for identifying this additional path - I had no clear ideas about it before. Of course, we can wonder whether these ever got back to their loaner.

 

Here is that item ...

5a1d4956b3ea5_s-l1600c-Copy.jpg.106128e325d0ea79141e18d3ebb70739.jpg

 

 ... with a close-up of the markings ...

5a1d4955dd47e_s-l1600-Copy.jpg.bd5bb727637ab66fc30fc68c1903fae4.jpg

 

I not that the marking is N.S.L. over a number prefixed with a letter - not quite as described in the 33rd Division Routine Order at the top of the topic.

 

However this does marry well with this item from The Times 03 Jul 1919 ...

 

5a1d4a1789342_NLSFieldGlassFund-returnsrequest(TheTimesThu03Jul1919p.19).jpg.164e03c7547d2e15650e57f12af12635.jpg

© Times Newspapers Limited

 

As MikB says, none of this fleaBay seller's other images show a Government broad arrow, but not all angles are included.

 

Mark

 

Edited by MBrockway

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MikB
44 minutes ago, MBrockway said:

 

As MikB says, none of this fleaBay seller's other images show a Government broad arrow, but not all angles are included.

 

Mark

 

 

I think if it was there we'd see it. Usually the arrow's fairly conspicuous - sometimes large - and sellers aren't generally shy about showing it in photos, because it shows that somebody at one time took the item's function seriously...  

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voltaire60

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MBrockway
3 hours ago, MikB said:

 

I think if it was there we'd see it. Usually the arrow's fairly conspicuous - sometimes large - and sellers aren't generally shy about showing it in photos, because it shows that somebody at one time took the item's function seriously...  

 

Yep - I agree.  99% sure there's no broad arrow on this item.

 

Useful additional info too from The Times that the NSL marking was usually on the barrel or under the shade.

 

 

There are a lot of references to the Field Glass Fund in The Times 1914-1920.

 

There are also appeals by the National Service League for loan donations of prismatic compasses, which would be a good fit with the field glass/telescope scheme and were presumably marked in a similar way, and also for sweaters!  Unsure if the NSL were expecting these to be returned after use though!

 

 

There are also a handful of mentions of consignments of instruments bought abroad lost due to enemy submarine activity, including one onboard the Lusitania.

 

Mark

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