These men were half way through five unforgettable years.
Who: The poster they're holding identifies them as 'The famous "Number Nines" concert party of the 25th Middlesex Regt'.
They live up to their name - each man wears a nine on each shirt collar, and a natty 'number nine' hat on his head.
In their day jobs they were soldiers in the 25th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.
Where: The poster says their show is held 'At the Grand Palace of Varieties'. If we take it literally, they'd be performing in a music hall in Clapham. (The building still exists as a theatre today, the Clapham Grand. )
But the note on the back of the photo identifies the photo's location as Hong Kong. The performers are wearing chinese-styled shoes, so I'm happy to believe it:
The mention of the Grand Palace of Varieties was just a reminder of home to the soldiers in the audience.
What: The poster advertised the show as a 'concoction of original Middlesses at 9 p.m. A cure for all ills, why take pills'.
It may have been a show to the public, or more likely part of the Christmas show for their fellow troops.
When: A timeline for the battalion helps pin down the date:
- 1915. The 25th was one of four 'Navvie Battalions' raised by Colonel John Ward. The other three battalions ended up in the trenches of France, or dying of disease in Salonika, but the 25th seemed to have had good luck . As far as I can see they remained in England until late 1916, when they were ordered to set sail to the Far East .
- Feb 1917, Mined at sea. On their way around the southern tip of Africa, their transport ship, Tyndareus, hit a mine. The men stayed calm, and all were rescued by other ships that steamed to their aid. The incident, and especially the conduct of the men, was reported around the world . Locally, a stone and plaque near the Peak commemorated the incident, until it was removed to England in the 1990s .
- 1917-18, Singapore & Hong Kong. Newspaper reports tell of a leisurely time for the troops. Surely a welcome break after the threat of joining the western front, then shipwreck.
April 1: Governor of Singapore inspects the troops. Half stay, and the other half continue on to Hong Kong.
April 30: The St John's Ambulance invite 400 men of the 25th to a Chinese meal at the To Yuen restaurant, West Point, Hong Kong. "The men were conveyed to the restaurant in seven special tramcars. [...] The novelty of the entertainment evidently appealed to the men, who struggled gallantly with chopsticks."
July 3: The Saiyingpun school visited the Mount Austin Barracks, and trounced the soldiers (13.5 - 2.5) at chess.
July 18: The Middlesex Band play a public concert at the Victoria Theatre.
Aug: The Rambling section report 865 individual trips made by troops in July.
- July 1918 The party's over. The ship Ping Suie brought the troops of the 25th from Singapore to Hong Kong. There the rest of the Battalion boarded, then they all sailed to Vladivostok.
- Aug 1918. The troops arrived in Vladivostok on the 3rd August, and were soon digging trenches. Initially, the worst enemy was the local mosquito, that descended on them in hordes . Later there would be fighting. (In an odd twist of fate their allies were the Japanese, fighting together against an army of Bolsheviks, Hungarians and Germans. The Middlesex Regiment had soldiers in Hong Kong again in 1941, but then the Japanese soldiers were the enemy.)
- Sep 1919. Ward, their commander, finally returned to England on 3 September 1919 . I'm guessing the troops returned at around the same time.
So, the photo was taken some time between April 1917, and their departure in July 1918. It was a Christmas show, so that pins us down to 1917. And as a final confirmation, this type of photographic paper (see the 'Velox' stamp box with a diamond in each corner) was manufactured from 1907 to 1917 .
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or corrections.
- The Clapham Grand
- Chapter 21 of 'Navvyman'
- Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, 1914-18
- New York Times: 'Battalion of Middlesex Regiment Face Death Lined Up And Singing Popular Songs'
- Tyndareus Stone
- The Siberian Sojourn Volume II- Chapter 18
- John Ward
- Playle's Real Photo Postcard Stamp Boxes