Vintage Saturday: Desert Watch

Observation post in Palestine
Back when pom-poms on hats were cool.

British soldiers manning a post  somewhere in Palestine. The Lewis gunner is adjusting his sights, while his A-gunner is ready with a new magazine. Three men in the background looking at something else, and using SMLE rifles. Thoughtful of them to top the rock walls of the post with sandbags so as not to scratch up the Lewis! Photo provided by Ruy A. – thanks, Ruy!


  1. Great photo. Too bad it’s not in color so we could guess which highland regiment that is. If those are red hackles it would be the Black Watch; royal blue = Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (79th Regiment). (IIRC)

  2. I’m thinking they could have set up that Lewis so that it would have been more stable rather than simply resting it’s barrel jacket on a convenient sandbag, unless this was some sort of emergency drill or action response.

  3. Typical British Empire! The tam o shanter machine gunners must be Scots while the riflemen are obviously from somewhere in India.
    Both of these men were from conquered nations now fighting for the English.

    But THE SCOTS were full citizens in the British Empire and no Indian could easily aspire to English citizenship. What if all notable ‘colonials’ were granted British citizenship?

    Nonethe less, the fighting quality of Indian troops in the Afrikan, Eritrean, Desert campaign (where they certainly showed the :white’ were not ‘that brave’ should have been a wake up call.

    The Romans did make ‘colonials’ very proud of being Roman ciTIZENS AND EVEN bECOMING sENATors
    and EMPERORS.

    WhaT IF THE hOUSE OF lORDS HAD A A HALF DOZEN Tribal chiefs from Nigeria (Historical precedent is Claudius allowing some Gaulls into the Roman SenatE)
    aH WELL, THE ‘franchise’ of being in the British Empire was not offered to the ;natives and so it passed away.
    Don’t be too smug Amerika. Read about the Amerikan-Fhilippino war of 1898 +
    and consider the long sTRING Of LOSSES SINCE Vietnam.

    goers werwe a bit

    • These debates often turn historically-political and you cannot really avoid it, unless you purposely cut yourself off of visible and obvious connection. I have understanding for what you are saying and in fact to some degree sympathize with you view.

      Lymmies (no offence meant, just being colloquial) for some hard to conceive reason thought they had God given right for far away territories and in process they had involved bunch of other nationalities to do the job for them. Your observation on right on: they used Scots (or Indians with Scottish headgear who they beat to submission during previous history in order to use them for their purposes. Consequently, neither really loved them, although they pretended false loyalty. Now (as the picture shows) they are in “their own” Palestine defending it against ‘strange and uncivilised’ Turks; what a bloody irony!

      The picture is good, but it would be even better if it could be enlarged to see more of detail. Thanks anyway!

    • Thomas, what is your point? Do you know how to use a keyboard? Can you read an Oxford Dictionary? Do you read history? Empires of many persuasions have come and gone and will continue to do so. Can you give us an insight of the Russian, German, French, Italian, Ottoman, empires etc., etc., which have come and gone over the centuries? Please enlighten us with your extensive knowledge!

    • Oh dear, a straw house of grievance, built on sand.

      go back and read your history books;

      a Scottish Stuart monarch on the English throne, uniting the crowns in 1707

      1715, The Scottish state, bankrupt (nothing new there)from, amongst other mercantilist idiocies, the folly of attempting to start an empire, with a colony in a yellow fever infested swamp on the Pacific coast of Panama.

      That bankrupt state was in search of OPM (Other People’s Money – a drug far more dangerous and corrupting than opium)to spend itself, and to pay off its cronies (nothing new there either).

      to an extent, the resulting act of union has statists in Scotland as over equal partners in the British state – with smaller Scottish constituency sizes resulting in an over representation of Scottish statist interests in Westminster, as well as having their own subsidized talking shop in Edinburgh,

      and for an economy and population smaller than say the ridings of Yorkshire and in which 25% of the workforce is in state employ (and over 50% of the population on state welfare), the Scottish statelet continues to receive disproportionate wadge, per capita of OPM, and of populist legislation (the late 1990s handgun bans affecting England and Wales were to buy votes for Scottish politicians)

      Grievance would be easy, if we stupidly allow ourselves to make the mistake of conflating the state with the individual people who live within a line drawn on a map – rather than the gangs of thieves who claim to “lead” us.

  4. A very good lesson for all peoples and all nations, regardless — complete inclusion, fairness and equality are of paramount importance for long-term success, stability and longevity.

    To be fair, the British did a lot for their colonies in spite of certain exclusions and inequities. Some salient examples were the establishment of an excellent education system, a parliamentary system of government with checks and balances, an efficient civil service, proper public utilities ( water, electricity, sewage, etc. ), a strong public healthcare system and a Commonwealth that still has many strong internal ties to this day. The British also set many examples for what it means to persevere in the face of the enormous responsibility involved in leading that Commonwealth for many years.

    • You first sentence Earl, reflects on what is essential to American identity and what changed the world – literally. The ideas of inclusion, fairness and equality and (I add) right to self-determination are the ultimate ones. That’s why the American Constitution is such a great document, unsurpassed and to this day just partially fulfilled.

      As for British and their Great Empire – let them sleep their sweet dream.

    • Earl,
      I’d respectfully suggest that your second paragraph contains a pretty relevant list of the bad things left behind by the departing imperialists – including:

      the idea that some have a “right” to legally lord it over others

      an education system adapted from the Brahmin system for indoctrinating the lower castes into remaining docile and ignorant

      Cleptocratic and coercive apparatus of state, including a positivist legal system.

      and inefficient, inflexible centrally planned (and politicized) state monopolies in almost all fields of activity.

      In almost any part of the former empire, when you see a cop coming towards you, you don’t wonder what you might have done wrong (stupid laws abound – he’ll get you for something), but how much it’ll take to bribe him.

      • Thank you for your take and counterpoint regarding my second paragraph. While I agree that there were many issues associated with colonial policies and the inequities thereof — which were especially evident in the case of the Indian sub-continent as well as South Africa and their peoples — I was referring to the Commonwealth as a whole, which covers a much broader spectrum than India and South Africa. I was born in Singapore in 1958 and spent my formative years growing up there as well as in Malaysia, where my family had a small farm. I therefore grew up at a time of transition between the end period of colonial rule and independence in both countries, and was privy to both aspects and how they interacted or interposed with each other. I can honestly tell you that, based on my own experiences as well as those of the two generations before mine, that the British Colonial Service did do a lot of good for the multi-ethnic people of Singapore and Malaysia, and were actually reasonably inclusive, not subscribing to the use of the Brahmins ( in the case of the immigrant Indian population ) or any similar subterfuge to consolidate their rule. Of course, the BCS did work closely with the Sultans of the individual states within Malaya ( later Malaysia after independence ) to gain political and economic influence, but there was no oppression and they did strongly encourage education and free thinking while still respecting local customs and religious tenets. No entirely self-serving, totally-exploitative government would do this for the general populace at all levels because it would mean eventual loss of control.
        Generally, all people of all races and backgrounds were treated fairly and equitably. When the time came for self-determination, the BCS actually tried to encourage free and fair elections. There were also not the sort of police or military actions designed to maintain the status quo as too often seen in India and South Africa.

        Many cynics will tell you that the British only gave up their overseas colonies because of the fact that the world situation had changed so much after World War Two. While this may have been true to a large extent, they should still be given credit for trying to do so in an orderly manner and leave a sound infrastructure behind for most of the newly-independent nations to build upon.

        Over the years, I have had discussions with many friends from other Commonwealth countries who are of the same opinion, and they are from all backgrounds and walks of life, many of which were of very humble origins or of the working class — hardly “Brahmin” or upper-class material with the potentially vested interests and obviously-favorable outlooks that go with it.

        I am not disagreeing with you about India or South Africa. In the case of those two countries, things were very different. The colonial administrations, with the backing and collusion of Whitehall, consolidated their grip on the local socio-economic and military fabric pretty much as you describe by co-opting the ruling and upper classes because this was seen as the most cost-efficient way to achieve the desired goals. This was, of course, done at incalculable expense to the welfare of the ordinary people, and the repercussions are still being dealt with to this day. The numerous large-scale incidents of police and military brutality, along with the continual exploitation of the lower classes and castes, as well as the denial of the right to self-determination, has long since been well documented.

  5. I don’t quite see the excuse for Brit bashing here..

    All the soldiers in the picture are most certainly Scots – Indian troops would be wearing their own headdress.. as for beating Indians into submission.. you really do need to check your history – I would gently suggest that most Indian bashing in the 19 & 20th Centuries was not done by Brits – and not done in India!

    I would think that the photo could have been taken as the late 40s, probably in Palestine, and that the “opposition” was more likely to be the Stern Gang..!

    Lewis guns and SMLE continued to be used throughout WW2 and into the immediate post war period, particularly by support troops in far flung corners of empire…

    • I have seen recently historical documentary on war operations between British and Turkey during and immediately after end of WWI in Europe and events leading to creation of Turkish republican democracy. It was eye opener and motivator to further study. I venture to say that ‘we’ as a general populace are couched into seeing ‘facts’ as official doctrines tell us rather than learning of past realities and filtering gained knowledge by our own judgement. To me, quite frankly, Brits and any other Western foreigners had no business in that area, whatsoever. The results of such (colonial) attitudes only leads to continuous chain of tragic events, detrimental to development od indigenous cultures of Middle East. Being ‘western’ does not automatically mean superior in any sense of the word.

      The phrase “beating to submission” was intended primarily with reference to Scots themselves. Irish managed, for better part, to go their own way. Good for them!

      • The British state is unfortunately still there in six little counties in the north of the island of Ireland.

        far better the individuals there were allowed to go their own good way – free from any state.

        • True Keith, less state = more real freedom to citizens. I sincerely believe too into this universal formula for self-sufficiency and true suffrage.

          As I have read your posts in past, I gathered that your base is of a healthy conservative sort and now, thankfully again, I am finding that you are a man of broader vision of life, the kind all free people should have. I find it quite encouraging.

          I may sound bit naïve, I am aware of it, blame the idealist in me – I cannot help it. But at the end, past is something to learn from; the future is something to look up to together and share our views and experience in open-minded manner and positive attitude. And that’s what we do here, albeit in case of mine in perhaps bit clumsy way. I thank you for your objectivity and tolerance.

          My respect goes to Editor for his patience as he is allowing this activity on expense of those who are here for more pertinent subject discussion. For my part I promise to curb non-gun related posting in the future.

  6. I know the British reissued the Lewis during WW2. But, what year did the British remove the Lewis from active service for ground troops before WW2?

    • Hi, Martin :

      That’s a very good question. I haven’t been able to find a source that specifically states the date for removal of the Lewis from British Army service prior to World War Two.

      However, it is known that the first Bren LMG came off the production line in September 1937 and that 300 guns per week were being manufactured at Enfield by July 1938. This figure rose to 400 guns per week in 1939, and by June 1940 30000 Bren’s had been produced for general service issue. Assuming that the Army kept the Lewis in service and gradually replaced it as the Bren became more available, we seem to end up with a period of time between late 1937 to late 1939 or early 1940 when the Lewis was finally removed from general front-line ground service and re-issued to Home Guard units, airfield and base defence units, the Navy, second-line troops, and a handful of special operations units ( such as the LRDG ).

      Perhaps someone else may have more specific information pertaining to this topic. Hope this helps a little, anyway.

  7. And just what the hell does all this jaw-jacking, ego polishing have to do with the subject of FORGOTTEN WEAPONS??? There are hundreds of “blogs” for expressing personal opinions. At least Martin is on subject.

    • While you are quite correct about the rest of us having gone off-topic, I don’t think there is any “ego polishing” involved in this discussion — just an intelligent exchange of views, some more strongly held than others, but without personal recrimination.

      • Yea right .. “just an intelligent exchange of views, some more strongly held than others, but without personal recrimination.” History seems to indicate otherwise .. as does the words that were used. A lot people have died due to an “an intelligent exchange of views”.

        • I don’t disagree with the precedents of history you mentioned….however, what I am referring to is simply the context of the discussion among FW members, which is hardly related to that other “intelligent exchange of views” you are alluding to that caused so much suffering and death.

          • Earl .. As a Russian General said after the Cuban “discussion” facts and truth mean nothing or a best very little, it is one’s PERCEPTIONs of what is true that is everything in politics, war and marriage.” Lets get back to simple things like GUNS!!

        • Speaking of getting back to the specific topic of firearms, perhaps you could use your extensive knowledge to help answer Martin’s question, or at least point him in the right direction as well?

          Incidentally, what that Soviet general said in 1963 was nothing new. The Germans articulated this same concept long before in the phrase, “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung” — “The world as will and idea”.

          • Earl and Martin .. You can google “Lewis Light Machine gun” and History. The Wilipedia history; is very informative and well referenced. //

          • Sorry, Thomas, but that was the first thing I did in trying to help answer Martin’s query and, unless I missed something, there was no definitive information on a formal date of the Lewis’ withdrawal from front-line British Army service. A search of other knowledgeable on-line historical resources didn’t turn up anything either. So, I went back to Ian Hogg’s “Machine Guns” and put two and two together ( per my reply to Martin ) to at least provide a starting point. If you can add anything to this, it would be most helpful.

            Perhaps Keith, Leszek Erenfeicht, Denny, Big Al, Max Popenker, Dimitris, Kevin R.C. O’Brien and other highly-knowledgeable contributors could help answer this question too.

          • Earl.. this is as far as I’m concerned the date I use. “The Lewis was officially withdrawn from British service in 1946, but continued to be used by forces operating against the United Nations in the Korean War. It was also used against French and US forces in the First Indochina War and the subsequent Vietnam War.
            I personally fired a Lewis chambered in 7.92×57 in Aug 1961 on Taiwan… didn’t even think about checking manufacturer; just enjoyed firing a lot of weapons they had at the time in A Class storage… 1919A4’s A6’s; .50 M2’s a few Boys .55 (which is not something to do just because your bored and an Airborne SGT! hahaha)and 75 and 57mm recoilless rifles. Little bits and pieces on the Lewis are in a multitude of books.

          • Okay, it looks as if we’re stuck with the official post-war date for withdrawal from ( British Army ) service, although the Lewis soldiered on for a lot longer than that. Come to think of it, perhaps there wasn’t an actual original formal withdrawal date prior to World War Two ; per my initial reply to Martin, the progressive transition to the Bren from late 1938 to late 1939 or early 1940 may have been all that occurred due to the advent of the war, although I am perfectly willing to accept that I might be remiss as to the existence of said formal date.

            You are fortunate to have had the opportunity to try out the Lewis in that particular caliber — I assume that the 7.92mm x 57 Mauser caliber was a left-over from the Nationalist Army’s somewhat diverse inventory ( prior to eventual standardization on U.S. weapons after the retreat to Taiwan and its consolidation as the Republic Of China )? Same with the Boys’ 0.55″ AT rifle. Either way, thanks for sharing your experiences!

            I’ve used the other weapons you mentioned at one time or the other in the past, but then again, they were more commonly issued at the time in the inventories of a lot of countries, and most have persisted to the present day.

  8. Found some related additional articles here on the subject of the Lewis gun while trying to find the answer to Martin’s inquiry. None of them actually answer the specific question, but the historical perspectives are both deeply intertwined and related in their own way. At any rate, they provide very interesting reading and add to the common pool of knowledge.


    2. [ this includes a link to “Harry Patch,Last Post ( 2005 )”, a personal account by famed World War One veteran and Lewis gunner Henry (“Harry”) Patch, who died at the age of 111 on July 25th, 2009, one of the last living survivors of World War One ]

    3. ( about the story of Henry Willis Rudd, who backed the manufacture of the Lewis gun when production was shifted from Belgium to England in 1914 ; Rudd’s ambitions, foresight and ultimate ruination were inextricably tied to the history of the Lewis, which patent he held during the war years ; in addition, there is an extensive bibliography at the end of the article that you can refer to if you choose to pursue the subject more deeply ).

    • Earl .. Thank you very much.. wonderful. You know Earl.. when I look at pictures of Civil War, Indian War campaign, WW I, WW II Korea etc .. I am as interested; maybe more, in the men. Regardless of nationality .. they were all soldiers .. with the same fears, needs, hurts, families and miserable conditions to try and do what was ask and expected of them. That’s why I collect and shoot only battle weapons. I have a Smith .54 Carbine certified to the unit assigned to protect Gen Sherman. A Spencer from Gettysburg. A SAA .45 from the 5th Cav 1877. I have German, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc. All carried by soldiers in battle. As I alluded to before, and forgive my rudeness please, when we get down to the “dirt-ball” level, leaning forward in a foxhole .. politics don’t mean diddly.

      • Thomas, I could not agree more — and thank you so much for your honesty, empathy and sensitivity in discussing this often difficult and painful subject. Based upon what I have seen over time, I think most, if not all, of the FW contributors are of a similar mind. If anyone disagrees with what I have said, I duly apologize for my presumption.

        What was that “Hoot” Gibson’s character said in “Blackhawk Down” — “You know what I think? It don’t matter what I think…once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that s**t goes out the window” ; and “There’re still men out there….when I go home, people ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it, man, why? Are you some kind of war junkie, why?’ I won’t say a G*****n word. Why? They won’t understand…they won’t understand why we do it…they won’t understand it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it…that’s all it is”.

        How true, throughout the ages, regardless, as you said, of creed or nationality.

        • Earl.. just bought a cy of Green Armour on Amazon.
          My son Erick .. was just back from Iraq (101st), after dinner talking with his Mom and older brother (160th SOAR), who had gotten back two months earlier, and Suzie said “like you dad .. why you like doing this??” Erick grinned and looked at Mike and I and said “MOM this is what we do !!”

          • Hooah! Please keep in touch and remember to share with us your impressions of “Green Armour” as you choose — especially PV and our Australian friends, but everyone else too.

            More importantly, I am grateful to know that both your sons are alive and doing well. I hope that it will always be so.

  9. I wonder if the book ‘The Belgian Rattlesnake’ by Collector Grade Publications may have an answer to the questions about Lewis gun service. Maybe someone here has a copy.

    As for the Lewis in Australian service, it was used in combat as late as the battle of Isurava on the Kokoda Track (New Guinea) in mid 1942. When units of the single Australian militia battalion were initially sent to meet the Japanese advance down the track, they were armed only with SMLEs and one Lewis gun with ONE drum of ammunition! Such was Australian preparedness at that time. Bren guns became available to them later during the campaign. A few years ago the corroded remains of a ground pattern Lewis were discovered at Isurava, and are now on display at a local museum. The Lewis was also used in an anti-aircraft role in the defence of the city of Darwin, and photos of these are often displayed.

    • Wow, PV — thanks for sharing that incredible bit of history! Even famed Australian war correspondent Osmar White who, along with fellow war correspondent Chester Wilmot and war photographer Damien Parer, lived and suffered with the diggers through much of the New Guinea campaign, didn’t specifically mention this particular vignette although he covered the details of the Kokoda Trail Campaign extensively, including the Lakekamu and Eola River crossings, Isurava, Eora, Kagi Ridge, Dead Kukukuku, Dead Chinaman Camp, Skin Dewai, Mubo Gorge, Templeton’s Crossing, Deniki and a myriad of other forgotten places that once mattered so much, but which so few remember or understand today.

    • Just to clarify my previous reply, Osmar White reiterated the woefully under-manned and under-resourced attempts to initially resist the Japanese advance across the Owen-Stanley Range. However, the closest he got to actually mentioning the Lewis was a passing observation about the troops being armed with rifles and “a few antiquated machine guns”, presumably a reference to the Lewis gun. Ultimately, it was the very nature of this incredibly rugged and jungle-covered terrain that sapped the Japanese advance of its momentum and logistical resources to the point where it was too weak to sustain a real offensive against Allied forces ).

      • Obviously, Earl, you are well-read on this subject. As you say, the Kokoda campaign is not well known outside Australia, whereas here it is sometimes referred to as ‘Australia’s Thermopylae’, perhaps a bit overdone but a great story nonetheless. A hard, brutal campaign with no mercy on either side. I recently read a US book, ‘The Ghost Mountain Boys’, which I thoroughly recommend to US readers. Nothing about Lewis guns though.

        • Thanks, PV, and it’s been great to read your informative posts about New Guinea. Surprisingly, one can still get a copy of Osmar White’s “Green Armour” ( copyright 1945, Corgi Books First Edition 1975 ), his personal front-line account of the New Guinea Campaign, from It is a very enlightening and factual record of those dark, desperate days as seen through the eyes of a front-line type.

          You have probably already read the book, but on the off-chance you haven’t done so and have problems finding a copy, please let me know and we’ll try to get something over to you.

  10. PV and Earl hope you don’t take offense at my butting in .. but to me New Guinea Campaign was one of the greatest tragedies and most forgotten of WW II. The slaughter, suffering and tenacity of both sides at the very least equals Guadalcanal or Leningrad or my wife’s home of Okinawa. (She lived through the battle at 8 years of age. In 1964 I crawled in the caves she hid in.) You are so right when you talk about the Owen Stanly Stanley mountain and what occurred. In relation to weapons’ I often set and think “how in the world did they manage to keep them operating?” Not only the individual solders weapon but the ammunition. I have spent time in desert and real jungle and can only imagine their problems. If your interested in the truth about one each Gen Douglas MacArthur who should have been fired and dismissed from the service, read The Ghost Mountain Boys by James Campbell, Crown Publishing. It is New Guinea campaign from first hand accounts, both sides and interrogation reports of Japanese POW and battle records. Prepare to feel a burning in your eyes.

    • Thomas, as far as I’m concerned, welcome! I think we are on the same page here to a very large degree, and thank you for becoming a part of this side discussion. It was a terrible campaign for all concerned ( Allied Forces and Japanese alike — I don’t think anyone really wanted to be there, but were forced by the war and circumstances to endure this tribulation ), and the sheer waste and suffering beggar description. Have you read Osmar White’s poignant first-hand account of this campaign, “Green Armour” ? A truly unforgettable book that draws upon the deepest wells of human endeavour and despair all at once. If you are not able to obtain a copy for yourself for any reason, I will be glad to send you one.

      PV doesn’t write as much to FW as some of us do, but what he does send in is always significant and telling — worth much attention and expanding upon.

      Your wife’s war experiences as a child on Okinawa are something so few can really understand or appreciate today — a most unfortunate aspect of the human condition and the relatively short racial memory of humankind. However, rest assured some of us, at least, will not let it lapse. I can only imagine what you must have felt when you explored the same caves she hid in as a child, especially when you mentally expanded upon what had come to pass, and the fear and horrors it must have entailed.

      • Thank you Earl. As a soldier I often looked at her, so small, even tiny, and yet how strong she was. No child on this earth deserves to see or go through what all children in war see and endure. She passed away 30 Jan 2011; after 49 yrs together. Just before the first time I deployed after we were married, she said “Mikee .. I know you are ground soldier .. but please promise me you never lose your heart and your soul.” I knew at that moment seeing the sadness in her little eyes exactly what she meant.
        Earl .. It is truly a fallen world.

        • I am very sorry to hear of your recent loss — she must have been a truly remarkable woman, to say the least. And she was so right. Forty-nine years together is still a wonderful blessing that can never die, an interlude in life that will always be. A reflection of that rare quality of survival where goodness, awareness and empathy resist extinction in spite of all.

          The world today is generally regarded as less empathetic and sympathetic than it was, yet in so many ways it is actually more so, as witness the true feelings and attitudes of most of the younger generation. They might be guilty of ignorance in many ways, but their hearts are where it matters — in the right place. It is up to us, with our hard-won and often bitter knowledge, to steer them in the right direction.

          • You know Earl .. for what I believe you to be; “An Ole fart”, (I’m 74)you got it down pretty darn good. As a friend in 65 said “Fair-dinkum!” Glad to meet you.

          • Likewise, in the best possible way. Unfortunately, I’m “only” 55 — but I’m hoping that age doesn’t matter, only what is in the mind, heart and soul. Thanks!

          • There seems to be that something that crosses all time and all armies. It is I believe because of what we have done, shared, and in the words of that great philosopher SFC Erick to his mother “it’s what we do!” that many have not. Let’s keep in touch “young man” hahahahaha

    • Thomas,
      I agree, MacArthur should have been fired…and he was. History records…it’s always a bad idea to keep your boss waiting. Does not much matter if you’re a five star general and your opponent is a lowly former Lieutenant…if he’s the current President, you’re going to loose that one.

  11. @ Thomas / August 12, 2013 @ 5:01 p.m. :

    And also what bonds all soldiers of every generation and every stripe in that special way few others can understand.

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