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Ship’s bell from HMS Africa, first ship to successfully launch an aircraft, estimated at £2000-3000 at Charles Miller’s November 6 auction.

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First successful launch of an aircraft from a ship

The arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in New York this week embodies the very latest development in British aircraft carrier design. Meanwhile, a lot coming up at Charles Miller’s auction on November 6 back in the UK signifies a very different stage.

Estimated at £2000-3000 in the sale held at the auctions collective of 25 Blythe Road in West Kensington is the ship’s bell from HMS Africa, built at Chatham Dockyard and launched on May 20, 1905.

Despite displacing nearly 16,000 tons and being given an impressive armament lead by four 12in guns, she was rendered all but obsolete by the revolutionary Dreadnought which completed just a month later.

However, Africa’s place in military history was assured on January 10, 1912, when she became the first ship from which an aircraft was successfully launched.

In January 1912 the Admiralty (sensing that aircraft may have an important future role with the navy) needed a ship to adapt for their experiments, and the already outdated Africa was available. Anchored in the River Medway, she was fitted with a 100ft downward-sloping ramp extending from foredeck to bow and tested for strength by the crew jumping up and down on it.

Lt Charles Samson (1883-1931) climbed into the cockpit of a Gnome-engined Short Improved S.27 pusher seaplane and, on January 10, successfully completed the world's first powered flight from a ship.

The aircraft moved quickly down the runway, dipped slightly after leaving it, but then pulled up and climbed easily. Samson circled Africa several times to the cheers of the crew and, after a few minutes, landed safely at an airfield ashore.

It was a tentative start, but shipborne aviation had begun and by 1917 was an important part of naval operations.

Africa survived the Great War (although 52 of her 800 crew were lost to Spanish Flu in September 1918), was placed in reserve in November 1918 and broken up at Newcastle in 1920.


Florence Nightingale connection

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This mid-19th century bowed cylindrical beaker carved with Scutari Hospital 1855 is estimated at £600-900 at Derby saleroom Bamfords’ October 31 auction.

Why would a very simple, basic 12cm high mid-19th century bowed cylindrical beaker be estimated at £600-900 at Derby saleroom Bamfords’ Centuries of Conflict Militaria Auction on October 31?

The naive carving on this item gives the game away: Scutari Hospital 1855.

This beaker is reputedly to have used by the residents of the hospital when Florence Nightingale was working there during the Crimean War. Bamfords states that The Army Medical Services Museum believes it to have been the personal beaker of a resident and also carved by one, rather than military issue.

When Nightingale arrived in Turkey in November 1854 with a group of 38 nurses from England, conditions in the Crimean hospitals were awful. As Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East, she started to tackle the terrible medical and sanitary arrangements – and opposition from doctors to the nurses working there – and set about improving the situation.

Accounts since have questioned her exact contribution, and she was controversial in her time, but the enduring image of ‘the lady with the lamp’ has lived on regardless.


Back to body armour

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German First World War body armour estimated at £1500-2500 by C&T Auctioneers in its November 6 sale.

Along with the new-fangled technology of the First World War such as aircraft, submarines and tanks, the conflict paradoxically threw up some very old military solutions to the horror.

On November 6 Kent saleroom C&T Auctioneers is offering the German third and final model of the Imperial German Body Armour, reminiscent of Medieval protection against swords and spears rather than machine guns and heavy artillery.

It is being sold in the third part of the Michael Baldwin imperial German militaria collection, included in an overall Great War Auction. The estimate at the Tunbridge Wells auction is £1500-2500.


The rising power of Japan

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One of 13 woodblock prints showing Russo-Japanese War scenes in an album estimated at £7500-8000 in Lyon & Turnbull’s November 7 auction.

Alarm bells were ringing ahead of the Russian Revolution. Political turmoil in 1905 was one thing, but the state of the Russian Empire militarily was starkly revealed by war with the rising might of the Japanese which kicked off in 1904.

As the British found in the Second World War, patronising and disregarding the Japanese military had dire consequences. The Russians were trounced – not least in the Battle of the Tsushima Straits (1905) when their Baltic Fleet was largely sent below the waves.

One of the woodblock prints included in a lot on offer at Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull displays the naval side of the war (shown here).

While Western auctions normally throw up the classic prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige and so on, with views of villages amid stunning landscapes or perhaps famous actors, this album of images is about the 1904-05 conflict.

It comprises 13 woodblock prints, mostly triptychs, joined in panorama (recto and verso), by various artists, including 'Illustration of Russian and Japanese Army and Navy Officers' by Watanabe Nobukazu (c.1872-1944) and 'Regimental Commander of the 1st Imperial Guards Artillery - Kumamoto Masaji' by Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915).

The album, from a private German collection, is estimated at £7500-8000 on November 7.


Sweet emotion

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HMS Grasshopper 1915 sweetheart brooch estimated at £200-300 in the Woolley & Wallis November 1 auction.

The hordes of troops leaving Britain to fight in the First World War on land, sea or air would never know when or if they would return.

A popular form of gift or memento to loved ones as they left was a ‘sweetheart brooch’. Despite the name, these were not only given to wives or girlfriends but also to parents, children, sisters etc – the people they were leaving behind.

The brooches often came in the form of a regimental badge or service crest. However, a more unusual design is on offer at Salisbury saleroom Woolley & Wallis on November 1 estimated at £200-300.

This is a Royal Navy gold and enamel brooch for HMS Grasshopper, mounted with a realistic gold grasshopper with green enamel decoration and diamond eye, dated below 1915, 3.5cm wide.

Grasshopper was one of 16 'Beagle-class' destroyers launched at Fairfield in 1909 and served in the Gallipoli Campaign. She was sold for breaking up on November 1, 1921.