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Friday, 16th May 2008
A far off field..

Cigarette cards came out of cigarette packets and cigarettes were predominately smoked by men during the period of card production. Cards therefore reflected men's interests more than they did womens. Cigarette card collecting was very much a male dominated hobby but more and more women are being attracted to it as time goes by. This I consider a good thing of course.

In 1914 the world was faced with its first Great War. It is almost impossible now to imagine how people thought of this war. The British Empire had been created and maintained by warfare to a great extent so it was nothing new to most people. However the ferocity and sheer devestation that armies could unleash upon one another was something very new. It became horrifying as men too weak struggle sank forever into mud blasted constantly by shell-fire. The scale of the slaughter could never have been imagined, uniforms turned from bright red tunics worn by proud upright men to mud coloured uniforms worn by men hiding in holes in the ground as tens of thousands died for a 100 yards of land the ownership of which was in almost constant dispute month after month after month.

There could well have been other conflicts in which the generation gap was so evident. Generals used to a different sort of war sent men to their deaths in a style of warfare they knew nothing about. Marching towards enemy guns at a slow pace might have put the fear of God into an enemy that did not have machine guns. As it was, it shocked the opposition that so much killing could be done with such ease. Greater accuracy and rapidity of gun fire meant you never got close enough to see the whites of their eyes. It is a simple fact that any war is going to be fought with tactics that are at least one generation out of date. It takes you that long to get from being a soldier to being someone in high enough command to control vast numbers of soldiers. World War One commanders were horribly out of date for the most part.

represents an act of bravery which almost beggars belief

Despite all this the basic raw material for warfare remained men.

I wonder why there were a lot of cigarette card issues during the First World War that depicted Victoria Cross Heroes?

Taddy's were very quick of the mark, actually a bit to quick for my theory as they were issuing a large series of VC Heroes in 1901-1902 with a fill-up in 1904, but that was the Boer War for you. Gallaher comes to my rescue though with an issue of 8 sets each of 25 cards from 1915-1918. Copes expanded the theme for its two sets (the first of 50 the second of 25) by having VC & DSO Naval & Flying Heroes in 1916. Cohen & Weenan took a different route with one of the three sets it issued as it did a silk issue of 16 cards in 1915.

I could go on, but I have done enough of that.

I hate war and if I had any say on the subject such things would not exist. Violence (mindless or otherwise would not exist). We would all walk about in togas in a sunny climate just like all peaceful societies do in Star Trek and I would get rid of that dark secret about killing anyone over the age of 24 and eating them while I was at it. I don't have any say on the subject and nobody is asking me so in the meantime we will have to accept war is a fact of life. I mean when peace protests can erupt into violence what hope is there. No we have been fighting since the beginning of time and we will be fighting till the end of time.

All these are worthy sets but not what I am going to concentrate on in this article. For me it is the Players, Victoria Cross [1915] series of 25 cards. It is probably the most readily available set of cards covering this theme and also has the added bonus of being very colourful, well produced, informative and you do not need to speak to your bank manager before purchase.

For the record the VC is the highest award for bravery the British army has to give. It was actually introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 (well it is the Victoria Cross) but it was not until King Edward in 1902 decreed that VC awarded postumously should be delivered to the relatives of the deceased. Before that date, they were 'gazetted' but the medal was not actually awarded.

The Players series is organised in chronological order and the first six cards relate to actions before 1856. This is because Queen Victoria decided the award could be post-dated.

Details from Card 1
Midshipman (afterwards Rear-Admiral CD Lucas RN at Bomarsund 1854)
The Royal Navy enjoys the proud distinction of having earned the first Victoria Cross ever awarded. Three British warships under Admiral Napier, were bombarding the Russian port of Bomaersund, on one of the Aland Islands, in the Baltic. During the action a live shell dropped upon the deck of HMS Hecla. Lucas who was on duty close by, at once ran forward, picked it up, and coolly dropped it overboard.

The first card almost has a comedy aspect about it until you realise what a shell represented back then.

At the time the canons were muzzle loaded with shells and steel balls which were heated to red-hot. The shell was hollow and filled either with molten lead, pitch or hundreds of steel balls which scattered on impact. Not so jolly to rush forward and pick one of them up.

Every single one of these cards by definition represents an act of bravery which almost beggars belief and really I could construct 25 articles out of this set without any trouble what-so-ever. There is something about this set which demands respect beyond the norm. I like to think Players made an extra special effort to get the illustrations just right, the colours just so and the wording as it should be.

Players, Victoria Cross [1914]

Card 8, the 'Deathless Nine.' Tells a tale of the nine men who defended the Delhi, magazine. Against all the odds they locked themselves into the fortified magazine and defended it for five hours. Realising the situation was impossible they then blew the magazine up. Only three of the nine survived to wear the VC.

Somehow different things seemed to matter then, men would die to defend the colours in a very literal way. The regimental standards were taken into battle and men would defend those colours to the very last for if they were lost, all was lost. Although the regimental colours remain a very important aspect of modern warfare you are not likely to see a man marching through the battlefield waving them until he is cut down by enemy fire at which point someone else would take up the honour of carrying colours. Card 2, Lieut RJ Lindsay (afterwards Col. Lord Wantage K.C.B) at the Alma 1854. The British line had crumpled and Lindsay together with the colour escort tried to rally the men. The colour escort remained firm as all about them men fell from the Russian onslaught. Lindsay and another officer stood back to back defending themselves with revolvers until the regiment reformed and the colours were saved.

Card 22 somehow belongs to another time of that stiff-upper lip. Piper G. Findlater, Dargai, India 1897. Despite being shot through both ankles he pushed himself up to the sitting position and continued to play his pipes until the Dargai heights were taken. These are stories which send chills down your spine.

Deep down everyone likes to think there is a little bit of them that given the circumstances would have stood shoulder to shoulder with these men.

It was this very thought that sent so many brave men to their deaths, cut down in so many ways long before they had a chance to prove their bravery beyond the very fact they were there, each one is a hero in my book because most were just like you and me and really would rather have stayed at home and been safe and warm.