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Military Motors

At the risk of boring everyone stupid, a quick story. A friend of mine accumulates military vehicles, tanks and the like. It is difficult to say this is a collection as the idea of collecting such things seems a bit mind-boggling.

Anyway he has a variety of these vehicles distributed about museums around the country and a good time is had by all driving these things about. I have reason to be happy he does as there was the day one had to tow my car back when I managed to affect a breakdown in some manner or another. A unique experience for me (at least I hope it is).

Anyway this page has been inspired by my chums love of the military vehicle rather than my own. The idea of finding and replacing the tracks of a Chieftain tank has all the appeal of jumping into the sea for a swim, ie none at all, but thankfully we are all different. He cannot understand my interest in cigarette cards which only makes him all the more strange in my eyes.

Despite his interest in things large he does not have any of the vehicles depicted in Wills, Military Motors [1916]. World War One was in full swing and not going entirely to plan if we had the thought the allies were going to win it. This set comes in two variations; those passed by the censor and those not passed by the censor.

Basically a lorry is converted by taking off the back

Not passed by the censor cards are not exactly trading in military secrets as they are exactly the same cards as the censor passes.

Not content with just listing British efforts in the motor front the set also details French Belgian, Indian, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, African, Russian, Italian and Serbian motors. You would hardly think there was room for them all in a 50 card series. Hope the censor was thinking of their best interests as well as he handed the information over.

Whereas the machinery of war has become rather to purposeful nowadays this set represents a period of transition which is always fascinating. The possibility of a mechanised war was only just becoming reality and we still had very little idea what we were going to do with the machinery we were inventing.

Aircraft were only really used for looking at the enemy at first, then pilots carried pistols to shoot at one another. Then they dropped the grenade by hand and so things developed in a very ad-hoc sort of way.

Now I always have an uneasy relationship with the cards which depict warfare, as a male being aggressive has basically been bred into me and then reinforced by life. I have no real comprehension of what dying in a shell hole in a muddy field in France could possibly be like. The horror is basically beyond comprehension or description and probably with very good reason.

It is easy to poke fun at the efforts of these cards which are doing the best they can in a world where warfare has not yet be reduced to the level of a video game on live newsfeeds. However the only level of wit I ever really managed to develop was the lowest form, ie sarcasm so you will have to bear with me.

Card One starts with the Anti-Aircraft gun and explains the shooting down of planes is difficult because of the speed and height at which these planes fly. 'Range-finding shells and other clever methods of calculating distances will, we hope, materially assist our marksmen in the future.' Announces the card reassuringly.

Now card three has 'lunatic inventor' stamped all over it. A really simple idea an armoured tricycle, encased in bullet proof armour it has a machine gun mounted on it. The card is very complimentary about the abilities of these things but the phrase 'death trap' springs to mind.

Card 7 deals with a slightly less well armoured version, actually the rider is protected by a thin layer of cloth. He is a dispatch rider and the card explains, 'many a brave dispatch rider has been warmly thanked for getting his message safely though to its destination after thrilling and hairbreadth escapes.' More likely to have been stopped by warm lead methinks.

Card 5 starts with such an outrageous claim you almost read it without thought, 'Every possible care is taken of the health and comfort of our brave soldiers.' It shows a Motor Bath. It goes on to attribute the rude health of our fighting forces to the wholesome food supplied.

No wonder the censor was passing these darn things. Presumably marching slowly across no-mans land as the enemy tore into our brave soldiers with automatic weapons was number one in the safety manual.

Is anyone in there?

Card 13 might have part of the reason the chaps were so well fed, the 'Motor Restaurant'. Baths, restaurants, comfort, hairbreadth escapes, warm thanks, show me the dotted line I want to get me some of that cozy-livin'.

Card ten gets off to a more impressive start. 'In France, during the early stages of the war, it was quickly recognised by the authorities that exceptional arrangements would have to be made to cope with the great mortality that was taking place...' What is this some sort of reality sneaking past the censor? Not a bit of it, the sentence ends, '...amongst the wounded horses.' The card is a motor horse ambulance. Even the horses were only ever wounded.

Card 11 though mentions the possibility humans might be wounded as well. Still in the unlikely event of being wounded you are in good hands. You will not be left to bleed to death in no man's land, or desperately trying to pop your mates internal organs back into their owners body.

No the card says, 'The whole medical organisation on the battlefield is a marvel of perfection.' Which is quite amazing as the modern world seems have somehow fallen from this pinnacle of perfection in the last 80 years or so.

I might have missed a trick but card 24 is part of the Indian contingent and for the first time the set mentions the possibility of dying (or rather the Indians were fearless of death, and I will leave you to consider what difference that might make to battlefield planning).

Now by card 29 we have moved onto the French Flying Corps and this has to be the greatest bit of absurdity yet.

Details from Card 29
Flying Corps Motor
Nothing is left to chance by the French Flying Corps. Each of their aviators is followed as closely as possible by a skilled mechanic in a motor car. A spare engine, a delicate set of propellers, as well as many other spare aeroplane parts, are carried on the car, and the mechanic is always ready to execute any repairs that may be necessary in case of accident or breakdown, to the aeroplane.

Now this really would stretch the mind of any surrealist. It is a darn good car though. Presumably the enemy did not have the same idea otherwise the anti-aircraft gun the Brits were struggling to perfect could have been rendered much more useful if they just shot the bloke that was following the aircraft in his car.

The French just could not help themselves it seems. Not content with having a car following each of their planes they devised a Motor Ambulance of such fiendish design you were more likely to survive by getting out and walking.

Basically a lorry is converted by taking off the back and fixing a framework which is a three storey bed design. Injured people could be placed on these shelves (the top shelf is fully ten foot of the ground and getting a chap on a stretcher up there would seem to be no mean feat) and they could be secured by clipped springs. A loose covering is then thrown over the entire shuddering edifice.

Card 31 is a similar contraption but this time 'harmonised with the country' because the enemy were 'shooting at the Red Cross vehicles despite the Geneva Convention.' Clearly this is not playing by the rules.

It seems the French are obsessed with different ways of moving wounded people about, card 35 has a motor cycle ambulance. Basically the side car has been replaced by a board where the injured person lies on. War would have to be hell before you entrusted any of these vehicles for getting you out of it..

Other French ideas:

Card 34: Motor Bus: Parisian Motor buses packed full of live sheep and driven to the front lines to provide soldiers with fresh meat.

Card 37: Motor Pigeon-Cote: Again converted motor buses used to transport pigeons about for us as messenger carriers.

This was one of the better French efforts, a car to cut through barbed wire.

Card 38 and those barmy French are at it again, the Motor Railway Engine. The card admits the battlefields etc are so extensively shelled vehicles just are not effective (no mention of the fact people just sank into the mud never to be seen again though).

The answer was obvious, light railways with motor cars and specially adapted wheels. Tricky if you are a mechanic following your aviator though.

Card 42 is perhaps the most bizarre of all the cards in the fact that it shows 'King Victor's Car.' It is an Italian military motor but quite why it is in the set is tricky to fathom, I'm glad it is though. Turns out King Victor was a regular visitor to the front line to cheer on his troops and generally be a good egg. I am sure the enemy shook in their shoes as they heard the distant rumble of King Victor's Car.

Card 48. The Russians: An X-Ray Ambulance. Again the Russians are doing the best they can, 'no army has better provision...for their comfort.' Presumably the Eastern Front was just such a provision, I'm glad the British Army at least lacked this particular 'comfort.'

Anyway if a Russian was unlucky enough to be injured then there was a possibility he would end up being zapped by Rontgen ray apparatus. Something of a mixed blessing by the sound of it.

This is a good set though and a very serious one with serious intent. The Allies were on the brink of defeat in 1915 and there was no real evidence we were going to be on the winning side. Indeed of the US had not thrown in a good quantity of manpower and machinery at the event things could have been different. This war is just about lost to us all now as the last people to have fought in it are now old and frail but once they were young and willing to die for their countries and regardless of what side they were on all of them bled red blood and left friends on battlefields.