The Roof of the World

I acquired this small watercolor a number of years ago. At first, it may not appear an outstanding work of art, but in its own very special context it is a rather remarkable historical document.

Briggs Watercolor

Above: Its paper yellowed with age but with unfaded colors, Captain David Briggs’ study captures a view of what is probably the Arun Valley in Nepal. The painting measures approximately 12 1/2 inches wide by 9 3/8 inches high (31.9cm x 23.7cm). c. 1857 Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

The painting depicts an idyllic if dramatic mountain landscape replete with two travelers in the foreground and a hilltop village in the middle distance. Unsigned, the painting bears a period pencil inscription on the reverse which reads: “China, drawn from
memory by Captain Briggs on board the Oriental for me.
”  Also inscribed in another hand are the words “Tibet?” and “Arun Valley”. At some point, someone seems to have been trying to determine the precise location that Captain Briggs had chosen to paint.

Briggs Inscription

Above: Although faint, the pencil inscription on the watercolor’s back is legible enough to read. It provided key information in researching the origins of the work. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com.

This inscription is what led me to purchase the painting since it seemed to indicate that it may have been drawn by a British officer of the Indian Army during his passage home. Exactly when was an initial mystery although the style of a work seemed to indicate the 1850s to the 1860s time period.

At this time my research seems to identify the artist as then Captain David Briggs of the 17th Native (Bengal) Infantry which was part of the British East India Company’s army. Briggs served while a Lieutenant and later Captain as the Superintendent of Hill and Mountain Roads in Bengal during the 1850s. Although nothing of Briggs educational background has come to light he must have studied more than a modest amount of engineering since positions such as the one he was appointed to would at a later date been held by officers of the Royal Engineers.

David Briggs was born around 1825 to Colonel Briggs possibly at Fifeshire, Scotland. Hewas appointed Ensign on 11 June 1841 and was promoted as follows: Lieutenant, 8 September 1843; Captain, 27 July 1855; Major, 11 June 1861; Lieutenant-Colonel, 11 June 1867. He was promoted Brevet Colonel at an as yet undetermined date and promoted Major-General on 23 January 1875. Briggs saw active service in the field during the Indian Mutiny during 1857 as Superintendent of the Army Transport Train and was present at the siege and capture of Delhi. He also served during the Bhutan Campaign of 1865. He was married to Miss Elizabeth Sleeman at Jabbalpore, India on 29 September 1849. Briggs died in 1908 at Fifeshire, Scotland.

After examining the painting at some length I thought it possible that Briggs was depicting from memory the mountain that in 1857 would become known as Mount Everest. Briggs held the rank of Captain from 1855 to 1861 so the painting must date from that time period. Given that Briggs did the watercolor from memory it could very well be a view of the mountain from the Arun Valley in Nepal. If this is the case then this painting is one of the earliest European artistic representations of the worlds highest peak I have personally seen.

I posted this image on my original but now defunct solidersofthequeen blog some time ago and received the following information from Peter G:

“I walked up the Arun Valley in 1986 following the original Everest expedition route used by Tilman in 1950. On this trek, I learned that Everest was not visible from the Arun Valley due to it being blocked from view by the extensive Chamling Ridge. If the painting depicts a view from the Arun Valley in Nepal as you suggest, then the mountain in the painting is very likely to be Makalu – 5th highest mountain in the world. Makalu dominates the Arun and appears like a beacon to the north as you progress up the valley, very much as is represented in the painting. I recall such a view from the village of Tumlingtar.

However, if the painting is from the Tibetan reaches of the Arun, then it is possible it is Everest, although I feel the foreground depicts a very Nepali scene rather than a more barren Tibetan landscape.”

arun-valley

Above: A present-day view looking up the Arun Valley towards Mt Makalu. Captain Brigg’s painting was apparently rendered from memory and there is no way to know his precise vantage point from which he originally viewed the scene. Given that, this view does bear more than a passing resemblance to that shown in his watercolor. Photo courtesy of gorkhaadventure.com.

Given the evidence such as it is, my guess is that Captain Briggs’ painting does indeed offer us a view of Mt. Makalu from the Arun Valley in Nepal. The original owner’s guess that the locality was in China was in error since the widely traveled Captain Briggs never visited China. The “Tibet?” guess is also out of the question since that remote kingdom was closed to Europeans until it was forcibly opened by the 1903-04 expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband.

 

The Mystery of Peg Leg Pete

There are many mysteries great and small from World War Two that remain unanswered to this day. This patch is one of the admittedly smaller ones that have perplexed historians and collectors for quite a few years.

This hand-painted canvas squadron patch bears the emblem of the 603rd Squadron, 398th Bomb Group of the mighty 8th Air Force that was officially approved on October 25, 1943. As was popular at the time, the 603rd choose a popular cartoon character – in this case, Disney’s Peg Leg Pete – to grace their unit patch. As a concession to his wartime duties, Peg Leg was rendered wearing appropriate flight gear and had his trademark cigar replaced with a bomb. Walt Disney actually encouraged the use of his famous cartoon characters in this manner by the U.S. Army Air Forces during the war. He even set up a special art department at his studio to fill requests for such designs by units serving both in the U.S. and overseas.

603rd Patch

Above: Walt Disney’s character Pistol Pete as interpreted by an unknown staff artist at Max Berman & Sons Costumes and Props for RKO Radio Pictures. The hand-painted canvas squadron patch measures about 5 1/4 inches in diameter. Patches such as this would have been sewn to the flight gear of members of 603rd Squadron, 398th Bomb Group during World War Two. c.1940s Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia

The mystery surrounding this patch and others like it begins with its place of manufacture – RKO Radio Pictures.  The first question that is often asked is why RKO would be producing patches with Disney characters on them. Actually, this is not that big a stretch since RKO was the original film distributor for Walt Disney so there was a history between them.

The second question that arises is exactly when and why were these patches made. There is apparently no surviving record in the RKO archives that mention the patches being made. Some people theorize that they were made as film props after the war but this seems hardly likely since there were patches for hundreds of units made by RKO many of which were extremely obscure. Also, patches for many of the now famous Tuskegee Airmen units were included by RKO in their effort and it is a sad sign of those times but one can hardly picture any studio producing a film about or featuring these all-black units in the 1940s or 50s.

603rd Patch Back

Above: The reverse side of the Peg Leg Pete patch showing the stamps of RKO Radio Picture Studios (in brown) and Max Berman & Sons (in blue) both of Hollywood California. c. 1940s Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia

It should be noted that all of these patches bear two stamps on their reverse side. One is that of RKO Radio Pictures Studio Costume and Props Department and the other is of Max Berman & Sons Costumes and Props – a costume/prop house closely associated with RKO for many years. At first, these stamps may lead one to believe that they are simply old movie props but it has been proposed that RKO produced the patches as part of their contribution to the national war effort. There is no evidence that these patches were ever distributed to the military.

Actually, the RKO stamp offers a clue to the date of manufacture. RKO Radio Pictures dropped the “Radio” part of their name in 1950 after being bought by Howard Hughes which means that these patches were all made prior to that date. So they could not have been made for film use before that date as many propose. If they were mere props one would assume that they would have been used in films but to the best of my knowledge examples of these RKO patches have never appeared on the silver screen.

It has also been proposed that these patches were intended as a wartime collectible/premiums that were to have been distributed to the public by the studio in some manner.

616th Patch

Above: Another example of the squadron patches produced by RKO/Berman. This example was for the 616th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 477th Bombardment Group, 3rd and 1st Army Air Forces. The 616th was a training unit staffed by African American pilots and aircrew. c. 1940s Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia

Personally, I believe that these canvas patches were produced by RKO and Max Berman as part of their contribution to the war effort – probably as a premium – but for one reason or another the patches were never distributed and remained in storage for many years. Then sometime during the 1970s or 80s these old stocks were sold off and entered the resale market.  At the time many of the major studios while undergoing restructuring and reorganization sold off their vast costume and prop collections as did some of the major costume shops such as Western Costume.

 

Revolt at Taranto

Inscribed “Yours very faithfully, Walter Alves.” This c. 1918 real photo postcard provides us with an outstanding portrait of a member of the British West Indies Regiment.

Walter Alves Front

Above: Private Walter Alves of the 3rd Battalion, the British West Indies Regiment photographed while in southern Italy at the end of World War One. The only uniform concession to the warm Mediterranean climate is the quilted tropical service helmet that Alves wears. The rest of his uniform is of the heavy wool pattern issued for wear in France and Belgium. His cuff band indicates that Alves was a member of the regimental military police. c. 1918 Source: Edward T. Garcia/soldiersifthequeen.com collection.

Often confused with the long establish West India Regiment, the British West Indies Regiment (B.W.I.R.) was raised specifically for duty during World War One and was made up of black volunteers from the British West Indies as well as British Honduras and British Guiana. With the regiment eventually increasing to ten battalions in strength the B.W.I.R. saw its 1st and 2nd Battalions serve in Egypt and Palestine against the Ottoman Empire with the other battalions seeing service in France, Flanders, and Italy.

While often relegated to secondary roles, the B.W.I.R. drew a mention from Field Marshal Douglas Haig in France who said: “[Their] work has been very arduous and has been carried out almost continuously under shell-fire. In spite of casualties the men have always shown themselves willing and cheerful workers, and the assistance they have rendered has been much appreciated by the units to which they have been attached and for whom they have been working. The physique of the men is exceptional, their discipline excellent and their morale high”.

Equally, General Edmund Allenby, commander of British forces in Palestine lauded members of the B.W.I.R. who served under his command: “I have great pleasure in informing you of the gallant conduct of the machine-gun section of the 1st British West Indies Regiment during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations”.

By war’s end the regiment had been recognized with the award of five Distinguished Service Orders, nineteen Military Crosses, eleven Military Crosses with Bar, eighteen Distinguished Conduct Medals, as well as 49 Mentions in Despatches.

The end of the war found the entire regiment concentrated at Taranto in southern Italy for demobilization. Discontent began to arise with the B.W.I.R. when a post-war pay raise being granted other British troops was denied them. Also contributing to the rising ill-feeling was the endless fatigue duties that were assigned to the regiment. These included the loading and unloading of cargo ships in Taranto’s harbor to the cleaning of latrines for the Italian Army. Resentment finally boiled over when members of the B.W.I.R.s 9th and 10th Battalions refused to do any additional work until their grievances were addressed. These points were put forward in a letter signed by some 180 sergeants of the regiment. Violence broke out which lasted three days before being put down by elements of the Worcestershire Regiment which were also in Taranto at the time. One white British officer – the very one who had ordered his men to clean the Italian latrines – was attacked and one black sergeant shot and killed a private of the B.W.I.R. in self-defense before what became known as the Taranto Revolt was suppressed.

In the wake of the revolt, some 60 members of the regiment were court-martialed and received prison terms ranging from three to twenty years. One man faced a firing squad.

The animosities and resentments that brought about the Taranto Revolt and the circumstances of its aftermath would centrally figure in the Caribbean independence and self-rule movements that began to spring up not long after the end of the war.

Above: A short but outstanding documentary commemorating the Caribbean’s contribution to the Allied cause in the Great War. Produced by the West India Committee.

Not much has come to light concerning the soldier in our photograph. His regimental number being 2443, Private Walter Alves was a member of the B.W.I.R.s 3rd Battalion which did not take part in the revolt. As a member of the 3rd Battalion Alves would have served in France and Flanders prior to the end of the war and being transferred to southern Italy. Alves’ service records have not been found (possibly destroyed during WWII) but his medal index card, as well as his entry in the British War and Victory Medal Roll, have. These two sources confirm his service number and battalion and state that he was entitled to both of these medals. Interestingly both of these official sources show Alves’ medals going unclaimed and being returned to the War Office. Of the twenty members of the B.W.I.R. listed on the same page of the medal roll, seven show their medals going unclaimed. Is it possible that there may have been a statement being made by these men?

Alves himself cut quite a soldierly – and very young – appearance in his photograph. He wears the regulation uniform of the British Army at the time a sports a quilted tropical helmet on his head which reflects the warm and sunny Mediterranean climate of southern Italy. On the cuff of his left sleeve is an armband which shows he had been appointed to the regimental military police. In his hand, he holds the ubiquitous “walking out stick”. Often called a swagger stick and associated with officers, these were in fact carried by all ranks with the main purpose being to keep a soldier’s hands busy – nothing was considered more unsoldierly as a soldier with his hands in his pockets.

Walter Alves Reverse

Above: The reverse side of the postcard, Alves dedicated it to “Mrs. Pennington, with compliments.” The said Mrs. Pennington has not been identified. The postcard’s label is in Italian which coincides with the B.W.I.R.s station at the end of the war. C. 1918, Source: Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com collection.

Ace Pilots & Candy Bars

An incredible rarity in that it survived at all, this 1930s vintage gouache painting is the original artwork for one card of 50 in the Famous Aeroplanes, Pilots & Airports series that was produced by Mars Confections Ltd which were quite similar to so-called cigarette cards popular during the same era. This specific set of cards were offered inside the wrappers on Milky Way candy bars. The original artwork actually quite small and measures 5 ¼ inches high by 2 ½ inches wide (13.3cm x 6.5cm) while the card on which the artwork was reproduced at half that size.

J A Mollison

Above: The original gouache illustration of James “Jim” Allan Mollison (left) as rendered by a now-forgotten artist and use to produce the collector’s card at right. The original artwork measures a diminutive 5 1/4 inches high by 2 1/2 inches high, about twice the size of the card. c. 1937 Source: Both items from the collection of Edward T. Garcia.

James Allan “Jim” Mollison (born in 1905) was a well-known record-setting Scottish aviator who was married to equally well-known aviatrix Amy Johnson. Both Mollison and Johnson spent their careers attempting to set new aviation records and taking part in various competitions. In many ways, Amy Johnson outshone her husband in the media and in the public imagination. She was created a Companion of the British Empire in 1930. The couple divorced in 1939. She was killed during World War Two in a crash while serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary. Mollison also served with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war and later, after leaving flying, an opened a public house in London. He died in 1959.

J A Mollison Amy Johnson Cards Front

Above: Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison as both appeared in the Mars Confections Ltd. issue of Famous Aeroplanes, Pilots & Airports. c. 1937 Source: The collection of Edward T. Garcia.

J A Mollison Amy Johnson

Above: Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison pose in flight suits in front of their long-distance racer, a de Havilland DH.88 Comet named “Black Magic”. At the time the couple was taking part in the 1933 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. They were forced to drop out at Karachi due to engine trouble. The couple was known to an adoring British public as “the flying sweethearts”. This photo, which originally appeared in The Aeroplane magazine obviously served as the model for the above-pictured cards.

J A Mollison Amy Johnson Cards Back

Above: The reverse sides of Johnson and Mollison’s Famous Aeroplanes, Pilots & Airports cards which a short biographical sketch of each pilot. The latest date – 1937 – helps to date the cards. c. 1937 Source: The collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Jimmie Allen Flying Club

From the thrilling and golden age of radio come these three premiums that were the prized possessions of the young fans of The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen, a 15-minute radio serial that was originally broadcast from Radio station WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri between 1933 and 1937. These premiums were distributed by the show’s commercial sponsors such as Skelly Oil Company or Hickok Oil Corporation and were made available at any of the companies automobile service stations – all the kids had to do was to get their father to drive them to the station to sign them up as members of The Jimmie Allen Flying Club. At the height of the show’s popularity, 600,000 copies of the Flying Club’s newsletter were being mailed out each week.

Jimme Allen Patch

Above: About three inches in diameter, this silk-screened felt “squadron” patch let everyone know that the wearer was a proud cadet of the Jimmie Allen Flying Corps. This version was made available to listeners of the show by Be-Square Motor Oil. c. 1935 Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

While entertaining to the show’s young target audience, the scripts always portrayed the show’s stars as models of good, honest and decent behavior. Radio shows targeted to young audiences without exception always sought to teach their young fans something about character and good behavior – the good guys were always good, the bad guys always bad and the good guys always bested the bad guys but did so honestly and fairly.

Jimme Allen Postcard

Above: A postcard-sized Jimmie “High Speed” Allen Flying Cadet membership card c. 1935 bearing the photograph of 16-year-old Murray McLean who leaned a face to the otherwise unseen radio character of Jimmie Allen. This particular card was mailed out by the Hickok Oil Corporation and promoted their “High Speed” brand of gasoline. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia. 

The character of Jimmie Allen was written as a 16-year-old and he was portrayed on the radio by the show’s 40-some-year old director John Frank. For personal appearances and for publicity photographs – such as the Flying Cadet membership card show above – 16-year-old Murray McLean stood in for Jimmie. The show was created by Bob Burtt and Bill Moore both who had both been pilots during World War I. After the show came to an end in 1937 Burtt and Moore continued to collaborate with their next “air adventure” being Captain Midnight.

Jimmie Allen Wings

Above: Measuring about two inches wide and made of stamped bronze colored metal, these Jimmie Allen pilot’s wings were one of the popular premiums available to loyal fans of the radio serial. This set of wings was made available by Richfield Oil and promoted that company’s “Hi-Octane” brand of gasoline. c. 1935. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Jimmie Allen Map

Above: measuring an impressive 28 inches high by 65 inchs wide, this full-color map was made available by Skelly Oil. Kids (and probably many parents) could spread the map out in front of them and follow Jimmie Allen’s aerial adventures all the while receiving an unsuspected lesson in geography and current events. c. 1935 Source: David Rumsey Map Collection.

 

 

Sergeant Holden’s Squad

The three U.S. Army infantrymen standing at the right side of the photo were – according to a very faint caption on the lower edge of the photograph – members of Sergeant Holden’s squad. Holden appears at the far left of this image which was taken at Camp Columbia, Cuba sometime between 1899 and 1902, not long after the end of the Spanish-American War. The dates are based upon the time period when elements of the 7th U. S. Cavalry was stationed at Camp Columbia. An unidentified trooper or officer of the 7th compiled the album in which this photograph originated.

Sergeant Holdens Squad

Above: Sergeant James Holden of “F” Company, 8th U.S. Infantry (left) with the three mysterious Obnan brothers at Camp Columbia, Cuba c. 1900. Photo: soldiersofthequeen.com/Edward T. Garcia collection.

This sergeant appears to be Sergeant James Holden of Company “F”, 8th United States Infantry. Holden was born about 1870 in Kilkenny, Ireland and was a resident of New York City when he enlisted in the 8th U.S. Infantry on 5 June 1896. He was honorably discharged with the rank of corporal at Havana, Cuba on 4 June 1899. He reenlisted the following day and served until 4 June 1902 when he was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant. At the time of both discharges, his character was listed as “excellent”.

Sergeant_Holdens_Service Card

Above: Sergeant James Holden’s New York State, Spanish-American War Military and Naval Service Card from his second term of enlistment. Souce: Adjutant General’s Office. New York State Archives, Albany, New York. 

After army service, Holden would marry Miss Hannah Cochrane in 1905. The couple would have two sons, Joseph, born around 1910 in Manhattan, and William Thomas, born around 1914 in Brooklyn, New York.

Interestingly a somewhat shaky handed ink inscription on the photograph’s reverse side reads: “Obnan brothers, Liberty Pa.” My assumption is that all three of the soldiers with Sergeant Holden were in fact brothers – they do bear resemblances to one another to a certain degree. The photo may have been something of a novelty if indeed tree brothers were serving in Holden’s squad. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any records of anyone, let alone two or three brothers by the name of Obnan serving in Cuba at the time or living in Liberty, Pennsylvania in the time periods before or after the approximate date of the photo.

Sergeant_Holdens_Squad_Detail

Above: A detail of Sergeant Holden’s photograph. Photo: soldiersofthequeen.com/Edward T. Garcia collection.

All four men are armed with either Model 1896 or Model 1898 U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifles. Sergeant Holden and two of his men wear dark blue, double-looped Mills Cartridge Belts while the Private second from right wears a khaki version of the same belt. All four men seem to be wearing Khaki service tunics of the type adopted in August of 1899. Additionally, all four men wear U.S. issued M1889 tropical service helmets.

Spitting Fire

Submitted for your perusal is a vintage gouache and ink rendering of a British Spitfire fighter plane that was painted not long after the Spitfire gained its worldwide and enduring reputation during the Battle of Britain.

Dated 1941 and signed by the artist whose name appears to be Deitesfeld the illustration shows an early mark Spitfire diving at speed. The rendering is done in the style that seems to indicate it having been used in a magazine or similar publication.

Spitfire 41

Above: Cornelius Deitesfeld’s dynamically rendered depiction of an early Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane. The rendering measures 9 1/2 inches wide by 10 5/8 inches high was probably intended to be used in a magazine article. Source: Edward T. Garcia collection.

The artist appears to have been one Cornelius C. Deitesfeld who was a syndicated newspaper artist during the 1920s through the 1940s. Dietesfeld was born in Ohio on March 20, 1889, the son of Phillip and Mary Deitesfeld. He is mentioned as deceased in a newspaper article in the Kentucky New Era dated November 11, 1947. The article features a story about his son Donald who with the help of his late father had amassed a very large collection of original newspaper cartoon art.

Deitesfeld

Above: Cornelius C. Deitesfeld is pictured third from left in this advertisement for the Landon School, a vocational art school located in Cleveland, Ohio that appeared in a 1920 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine. Deitesfeld was employed with the Newspaper Enterprise Association at the time this advertisement was taken out. Source: google books.

The reverse side of the illustration bears the stamp stating that the painting was one in the graphic art collection of Murray A. Harris of North Hollywood, California. It also bears Mr. Harris’ initials and the date of June 14, 1963, when he must have acquired it for his collection. I have not found much information on Mr. Harris other than that he was an accomplished graphic designer/illustrator himself and also held a very impressive collection of original illustration and cartoon art which was sold off a few years ago.