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Antique Military Firearms
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This is an historically significant Webley “WG” Army Revolver that was the personal sidearm of John Charles Temple Gaskell, who served in the British and Indian Armies from 1902 up through World War One, where he was seriously wounded at Gallipoli, and where he was ultimately killed in action fighting the Germans in East Africa in 1917.

 

The Webley firearms manufacturing company began in 1835 when brothers Philip and James Webley began producing firearms in Birmingham, England.  After James Webley’s death in 1856, coupled with the closing of Colt’s London factory a year later, Philip Webley and his two sons Thomas William and Henry began to focus on the manufacture of handguns with interchangeable parts.  It took Thomas William Webley until the mid-1880s, however, before he could obtain sufficient machinery to mass produce handguns with sufficiently close tolerances that interchangeability of parts was a reality. 

One of Webley’s most successful late 19th century designs was known as the Webley “WG” Model and was produced in a Target and Army model. The model made minor improvements upon the action and locking systems of the prior Pryse and Kaufman models, but Webley held all pertinent patents. The first “WG” models were introduced in 1885 and were manufactured in .476 for a black powder cartridge, but subsequent models would be designed for new British military cartridges. The first model to bear the actual marking “WG” on the gun was introduced in 1889.  In 1892, Target and Army variants of the “WG” were introduced, primarily in .476/.455, capable of utilizing both the older .476” black powder military cartridge and the newly introduced .455 Mk1 cartridge of 1891, also a black powder round. The “WG” revolvers produced circa 1892-1895 had birds head shaped grips. In 1896 the “WG” Target model was introduced, with a 7” barrel, 6-shot fluted cylinder, adjustable sights and checkered wood grips with a square butt, replacing the bird’s head profile. To the causal eye it was not significantly different than any of its immediate predecessors, but again included some very minor improvements in action and locking systems. Interestingly Webley had experimented with a frame-mounted firing pin on the “WG” models circa 1893, but with the Target model the firm returned to the conventional firing pin on the hammer face. The companion model to the “WG” Target was the “WG” Army Model, which is this revolver carried by Major Gaskell. The Army model had a 6” barrel, fixed sights and was intended for sale to army officers who had to provide their own uniforms, equipment and firearms. These were the last of the revolvers to be produced under the P. Webley company name, as the acquisition of W. & C. Scott in 1897 resulted it the creation of the Webley & Scott company, and all arms produced after that merger would be so marked.

The Webley “WG” Model 1896 was an important revolver as it bridged the gap between the older black powder .476” Enfield military cartridge, the newer black powder .455 Webley Mk I of 1891 and the newly adopted .455 Webley Mk II of 1897 using cordite instead of black powder. Although the designations do not really indicate this, all utilized a .454” bullet with a .476” neck diameter and had a nominal base of .480” with a .535” rim. Even the truly obsolete .450 Adams (or .450 Tranter) was for all practical purposes interchangeable with the newer cartridges. The Mk I had the longest overall length at 21.7mm, the old .476 had a 21.65mm overall length and the new Mk II had a 19.3mm overall length. The Mk II round would be the primary British military handgun cartridge from 1897 to 1898 and from 1900 to 1912. The Mk III was only in use temporarily, as the hollow point bullet design was a violation of the 1899 Hague Convention. The Mk II utilized a 265 grain solid lead round nosed bullet, propelled by 6.5 grains of cordite and traveling at about 650 fps and generating about 250 ft/lbs. of energy, making it comparable to a modern .45 ACP target load.

The "WG" Army Model was widely purchased from Army & Navy Cooperative Society stores and other retailers by British officers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. A total of about 22,000 WG pattern revolvers were made, with the “standard” 1896 model appearing around s/n 10,000.  observed serial numbers were 10,300 to 22,126.  This revolver was manufactured in 1902 and was purchased by John Charles Temple Gaskell that same year.

John Charles Temple Gaskell (known as Charles) was a career soldier. His education included a year at The King’s School, Canterbury, from January to December 1896, followed by three years at Haileybury School, which he left in 1900. On January 15, 1901 he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst from where he graduated a year later in January 1902.

Gaskell was the third son of Reverend Thomas Kynaston Gaskell and his wife Horatia Octavia (nee Hugo). He was born at Peterborough on June 24, 1883 and baptized at St. Helen’s Church, Folksworth, near Peterborough on July 29, 1883. One of his sponsors was Bishop Frederick Temple, his mother’s uncle and a future Archbishop of Canterbury.  Gaskell had five siblings, three brothers and two sisters; his older brother, Lieutenant Commander Gerald Bruce Gaskell, was lost in action when HMS Good Hope was sunk at the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914.

Gaskell attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, entering on January 15, 1901, and graduated from Sandhurst in January 1902.  On October 22, 1902, Gaskell was commissioned into the Northamptonshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant, at which point he lived in Ealing, West London. Three months later he set sail for Bombay. He was to spend several years in India. He learned to speak four Indian languages and moved up the ranks becoming a Lieutenant in January 1905 and a Captain in October 1911. By the time he was promoted to Captain he was with the 69th Punjabis and from March 1904 he had served with the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry.

In the summer of 1914 he was at home and married Mary (Mamie) Agatha Folds at St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church in Woking on July 7, 1914. They had two daughters, Harriett Mary, born in 1915 and Elizabeth Mary, born in 1916. Harriett died as a child. Elizabeth married Louis Thornley King; they lived in Cheadle Hume and Prestbury. Gaskell must have seen very little of his family as soon after the outbreak of war he was assigned to the 69th Punjabi Regiment and his regiment was sent to Quantara on the Suez Canal on November 20, 1914.  Gaskell and his regiment defended the Suez Canal for six months, defending against a Turkish attack from across the Sinai desert on February 3, 1915.

Gaskell and his regiment, as part of the 29th Brigade, sailed for Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.  Gaskell landed at West Beach in Gallipoli on May 1, 1915.  The 69th Punjabi’s remained in reserve for the two weeks they were on the Gallipoli Peninsula with only the regiment’s machine gun section actively engaged.  Despite this, the regiment had 10 enlisted soldiers killed in action and Gaskell, then a Captain, and another officer and 21 other soldiers wounded in action.  Gaskell was severely wounded by shrapnel to the chest on May 13, 1915.

After recovering from his wounds in India, Gaskell was attached to the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis on February 27, 1917, specifically the 4th Battalion, and joined the British Expeditionary Force to East Africa. At the time of the regiment’s deployment to East Africa in early 1917, the regiment had a field strength of six British officers, eleven Indian officers and 386 enlisted other ranks. 

Here, Gaskell became part of the difficult and drawn out campaign against the German East Africa force under General von Lettow-Vorbeck. German East Africa was comprised of modern-day Rwanda, Burundi and the continental part of Tanzania, bordered to the north by British East Africa, now, Uganda and Kenya. The German General understood that he could not defeat the British and Imperial units outright, so he operated a guerrilla campaign to suck in more and more Allied troops and in so doing prevent their use elsewhere. He was successful in that he tied up almost one million men.  

It was during this period that Captain Gaskell led units against German forces and set up a post for follow-on operations at Mwengei and Mbindia.  Shortly afterwards, with General von Lettow-Vorbeck concentrating German forces at Lindi, Gaskell became acting commanding officer of his battalion.  During this period, the regiment was split up into smaller units to engage in reconnaissance, patrols and security of supply lines.

Gaskell’s regiment was reunited and reorganized starting on July 21, 1917, at Rumbo.  With reinforcements, the regiment now had a strength of six British officers, sixteen Indian officers, and 450 other ranks, along wit 7 machine guns.  At 5 pm on August 4, 1917, the regiment marched out of Mssindy with orders to attack the German forces at Nanyati.  At this point, Gaskell was acting commander of the 129th Regiment.  Initial reconnaissance reports indicated only 30 German soldiers with some local troops and 3 machine guns were present Nanyati, with no entrenchments.  Little did Gaskell and his soldiers know that, in fact, there was a considerable force of Germans in the area that included cleared fields of fire and vast entrenchments. 

Early on the morning of August 5, 1917, and moving towards the suspected enemy lines, Gaskell and his troops encountered only sporadic fire, which indicated that the small number of Germans had retreated from their positions.  Gaskell thought the position would be taken easily and stated, “Well, thank goodness this show is over without any casualties.  Send up and tell the advance-guard commander that we shall be having breakfast soon.”  Not long after Gaskell uttered these words, German heavy machinegun and rifle fire opened up on the advance guard of Gaskell’s regiment.  The regimental history of the 129th is a little critical of Gaskell at this point for it notes, “…Captain Gaskell, who was in command of the regiment, threw his men into action too quickly, and having committed himself against an enemy of at least equal numbers in a prepared position was compelled to take the great risk of reinforcing the firing line by sending up all his reserves, even to the extent of leaving Headquarters almost unguarded.”

Between 7:30 and 7:45 am that morning of August 5, 1917, after the advance guard had pushed up the slope towards the German trenches, and after having been reinforced by Gaskell, the regiment started receiving heavy small arms fire.  Gaskell ordered Captain Gover forward with two platoons from A Company.  These platoons got bogged down within 30 yards of the German positions and Gaskell then threw in the last two reserve platoons, leaving his regimental headquarters with no reserve or protection except for a picket line of seven soldiers with one Lewis gun. 

Captain Gover tried to move his two platoons to their left to cover that flank but was unsuccessful.  Govern heard movement and firing off to his left and thought the German might have turned that flank, but his platoons were pinned down and unable to secure the left flank.  Gover sent several runners to the regimental headquarters where Gaskell was, but these runners were never heard from again.  Only later that day did Gover learn what happened.

Gover was correct that the Germans were attempting to turn the regiment’s left flank.  An estimated 50 German soldiers made its way through the dense brush on the regiments left and, after encountering an Indian platoon and inflicting numerous casualties, continued on towards the regimental headquarters.  Upon seeing the 129th Regimental Headquarters, virtually unguarded, the Germans attacked the regimental headquarters and wiped it out.  Captain Gaskell was shot through the head at his headquarters and killed instantly.  Captain Steel, the acting regimental adjutant, was shot through the heart and killed.  Captain Newton, the regimental surgeon, had his arm severed and many other regimental personnel were shot dead.  Only a few survivors managed to escape the onslaught through the low brush.  Captain Newton was captured but died shortly afterwards when the Germans refused to bandage his heavily bleeding stump. 

The column commander requested reinforcements to continue the attack but, when it was learned that Gaskell and his headquarters had been annihilated, the request was denied and the unit was ordered to break contact with the Germans and withdraw, which the survivors did the next morning, August 6, 1917.  All of the dead were recovered prior to withdrawing.  The regiment suffered 25 percent casualties, with the officers particularly hard hit.  Of the British officers, all were casualties except Captain Gover.  Four of the nine Indian officers were killed or wounded.  The day before his death he had been promoted to acting Major.

Gaskell was originally buried in Kilwa Kivinje Cemetery (a port in Tanzania to the south of Dar Es Salaam) but was brought to the Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery (1.AA.7) in the early 1970s when maintenance of smaller cemeteries could no longer be guaranteed. He is also commemorated with his father and brother, Gerald, in St. Bodolph’s Church, Longthorpe, now part of Peterborough and at Haileybury School as well as in Weybridge.

Gaskell’s parents and two sisters had lived in Princes Road, Weybridge in 1911 and after his father’s death in Cobham in 1915 his mother lived at Oakley, Windsor Walk also in Weybridge. His address at the time of his death was ‘Ashdale’, Cleardown in Woking. Gaskell’s widow did not remarry and died at Prestbury, Cheshire on June 6, 1966.

This revolver, which is engraved on the bottom of the barrel, “J. C. T. GASKELL / SANDHURST 1902,” is listed in the Army & Navy CSL, London (Co-operative Society, Limited) record book, by serial number, has having been sold as a “W.G. Woodstock plain Revolver,” on February 25, 1902, to Captain Lovett of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.  Captain Lovett is listed as purchasing two “WG” revolvers, this revolver, serial number 18318, and an identical one, serial number 18324.  Lovett purchased 18318 on behalf of Gaskell and, shortly afterwards, Gaskell had his name and year of graduation from Sandhurst engraved on the barrel.  British officers had to purchase their own sidearms and uniforms and this was Gaskell’s personal sidearm during his service, up to and including the action that led to his death.  As a personal effect, Gaskell’s revolver and his other personal items, including the belt, holster, ammunition pouch, compass and compass pouch, were collected and shipped back to Gaskell’s family.

Overall, this Webley WG Army Revolver is in fine condition, retaining 75% plus of its original blued finish.  The lower frame retains 90% of its original blued finish. The right side plate has the serial number stamp “18318.”  On the top, rear of the right side plate is a British proof stamp.  The Main Spring remains in the white and remains very strong.  The lower left side of the frame, at the grip, has the matching serial number “18318.”  There is evidence of old corrosion on the frame under the grip panels.  The rear grip strap exhibits a largely plum patina.  There are a few scratches and dings on the strap.

The original Butt Swivel and Ring are present and exhibit generally a plum and pewter patina.  The front grip strap retains the majority of its original blued finish that exhibits a plum patina in places.  The Trigger Guard Bow retains 90% of its original blued finish on the inside and is largely worn to a pewter patina on the outer surface.  Both the left and right Cylinder Guards are present and are the first style without lightening holes and they both retain 98% of their original blued finish.   The left side of the lower frame has the winged bullet Webley & Scott symbol over “W&S.” and the sans serif “WEBLEY / PATENTS” stamp.  The original Recoil Shield is present and still retains considerable original blued finish. 

The Hammer is in very fine condition, retaining the majority of its original polished silver finish with very crisp checkering all around.  The Hammer strike point is in fine condition.  The Stirrup Fastener, also known as the Barrel Catch, retains considerable original blued finish that exhibits a plum patina on the top portion.  The checkering on the left side of the Stirrup Fastener remains crisp.  The Stirrup Fastener Screw retains virtually all of its blued finish.  The Trigger remains correctly in the white as polished and the sear release is still very crisp. 

The Barrel Assembly retains 85% of its original blued finish with two small areas of isolated pitting on the right side adjacent to the swivel point and the muzzle.   The nose of the Barrel Assembly has the matching partial serial number “318.”  The Cylinder Axis is in fine condition, retaining considerable original blued finish in the lower surfaces.  The bore is still very shiny with strong rifling and only small areas of frosting and pinprick pitting towards the muzzle. 

The left side of the barrel, on the web, has the “455/476” caliber designation stamp.  The upper left side of the barrel extension has the crisp “’WG” ARMY MODEL” stamp.  The top of the barrel has the sans serif “ARMY & NAVY C.S.L.” stamp, indicating it was sold through the Army & Navy Co-operative Society Limited in London.  The top, rear of the barrel, on both sides of the central rib, have proof stamps.  The original Front Sight is present and is still tightly secured to the barrel.  The front sights on “WG” models were finished in the white.  As noted previously, the bottom of the barrel has engraved “J. C. T. GASKELL / SANDHURST 1902,” and it retains considerable original blue finish that is largely a plum and pewter patina.

The original Cylinder is present and is in fine condition, retaining 90% of its slightly fading blued finish with wear noted on the sharp edges.  The original Extractor Lever and Cylinder Cam both remain correctly in the white.  The extractor lever screw and cylinder cam screw both retain the majority of their original bright blue finish.  Each cylinder, on the scalloped surface, have proof stamps.  The Cylinder Extractor Nut and Cylinder Extractor Spiral Spring remain correctly in the white.  The Cylinder face has the matching serial number “318,” and the caliber designation “476.”  The star Extractor portion works perfectly. 

Both original Grip Panels are present and are in fine condition.  The checkering is fine with minor flattening.  The inside of both panels are stamped “13613.”  The original Grip Screw is present and has an unmarred slot.  Both grip panels fit tightly with no movement.

Major Gaskell’s revolver also comes with his original private purchase officer’s belt, ammunition pouch and holster as well as his private purchase marching compass and leather pouch.  The holster is in very fine condition with all of the original stitching remaining intact.  The holster still has its original oil-quenched steel revolver cleaning rod stowed in the back of the holster.  The flap and body, as well as the attaching strap, all still remain supple.  Both original leather belt attaching loops are present on the back of the holster with all original stitching still intact.

The original brown leather officer’s belt with brass buckle remains in fine condition.  All of the stitching and the leather keepers are present, and the leather is still very supple.  The back of the belt is marked “BKR / 455.”  The original private purchase brown leather ammunition pouch is also present and is in fine condition.  Both belt loops are present and are still tightly secured with the original brass rivets.  The stitching on the pouch remains solid and the leather is still supple.  The flap closure on the front is still present as is the original brass stud.  The six cartridge loops on the flap are still present with all original stitching still intact.  The inside of the flap has a “61” stamp and the front face of the pouch, under the flap, has the stamp “MARTINS BIRMINGHAM / 1903.”

Also included is Major Gaskell’s original officer’s marching compass and brown leather compass case.  The compass is in very fine condition, retaining the majority of its original blued over brass finish throughout.  The top of the compass has the maker’s stamp, “J. H. STEWARD / 406 STRAND / LONDON.”  The sight bearing post and wire is still present.  The bearing loop still works perfectly with a crisp image.  The compass face is in fine condition and it still reads true.  The accompanying leather compass case is also in fine condition.  The carrying strap and lid strap are both present along with their original buckles.  The interior of the case is still line with the original, though slightly faded, red velvet.

This revolver also comes with exhaustive research on Major Gaskell, to include records related to his regimental service, the purchase of this revolver, his personal and family relations, and his death.

This is a very rare and historically significant Webley “WG” Model 1896 revolver that was privately purchased by John Charles Temple Gaskell in 1902, upon his graduation from Sandhurst, and which was carried by him during his service in the Indian Army, up to and including his fighting at Gallipoli, in which he was wounded, and in East Africa, in which he was killed in action while wearing this revolver in 1917.    This revolver still functions perfectly.