British troops in the Tirol, 1918-1919

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Compiled by Andy Taylor from (a) Schriftenreihe Philatelistenklub Merkur Innsbruck #6: "Festschrift - 100 years of PKMI"; (b) items from the Allgemeiner Tiroler Anzeiger, found by Hans Moser and translated or paraphrased by Andy Taylor; (c) information supplied by Ms Justine Taylor, the Archivist of the Honourable Artillery Company London; (d) postcards mostly from the Frost collection; (e) information from the British National Archives on-line. We are most grateful to Dr H Moser, Ms J Taylor, Mr G Frost, Mr K Harvey, Mr D Bravery, and the others who have helped.


This article shows and describes several postcards sent by British troops in the Tirol in the period just after the Armistice that ended WWI. A historic background gives excerpts from contemporary Austrian newspapers. Some legends about this period are corrected. Finally, a few of the picture sides of the cards are shown.

On the map, Imst is the left-hand dot in the Tirol and Innsbruck the right-hand one. All four companies (A-D) of the 2nd Battalion (of infantry) of the Honourable Artillery Company were sent from Italy to Imst on 28 November 1918, arriving on the 30th and remaining until replaced by the 22nd Manchester Regiment in February 1919. The posted cards shown here are all from Honourable Artillery Company personnel.

This is a photograph of British troops in Imst. It wasn’t posted, but brought back. On the back is written "Taken 1919 / Mch 1921 / To dear Edith / With all my / love from / Bert / a souvenir of / Austria". The inked X presumably identifies Bert. Careful scrutiny of the cap badges on the original reveals both HAC-type and Manchester-types. The photo must thus have been taken in February 1919, when both regiments were in Imst.

Selected literature gleanings

Kennedy & Crabb, Postal History of the British Army in WWI, page 258.

To emphasise the allied character of the occupation, one British battalion was sent to Austria and was stationed at Imst in the Tirol. The 2nd Bn Honourable Artillery Company (from 22 Brigade) was the unit selected; it was sent there on 28 November 1918. In February 1919 it was relieved by 22nd Manchester (from 91 Brigade), which remained there until April 1919. [...] The occupation battalion does not appear to have beeen accompanied by a Field Post Office; mail is known postmarked at various different FPOs, presumably located in Italy since the postmark dates are usually 3 or 4 days after writing. The censor mark used by 2 HAC was No 430 (type CM8).

The Kennedy & Crabb tabulation of the FPOs and dates is in columns 1 & 2; column 3 is the dates of the cards shown in this article.

FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.1.January 1919Dec 1918, Jan 1919, Feb 1919
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.2.December 1918 - January 1919Dec 1918, Jan 1919
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.3.January 1919Dec 1918
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.4.December 1918 - January 1919 
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.5.December 1918 - January 1919 

Post Offices of the British Occupation Forces in Austria 1918-19 by F.F. Meyer

After the Armistice of November 1918 the British Army in Italy was reduced by 30th December 1918 to four battalions with a few other Divisiona1 troops. In addition, on 28th November 1918, a token occupation force consisting of the 2/1st Honourable Artillery Company was sent to Imst in the Tirol. This was replaced by the 22nd Manchester Regiment on 3rd February 1919, who were withdrawn in April of that year due to the difficulty of supply – which had to be done from Italy, by means of sleighs over the [Brenner Pass]! For a time correspondence for these troops was forwarded to the Army P.O. in Italy and cancelled there (A.P.O. R7): but from about the beginning of January 1919 Field Post Office F.D.3 was used by the troops in Imst.

The date of 3rd February is not supported by any other source. It might be a misprint for 23; or could be the date when the Manchester's vanguard arrived, the rest following on 22 Feb. The "Museum of the Manchester Regiment" web site says "The 22nd Battalion moved into Austria on occupation duty during February 1919"

Honourable Artillery Company war diary

IMST, 22 Feb. 1919: Remainder of 22nd Manch R arrived under Lt Col Adkin. [HAC 2nd] Battalion proceeded to Montecchio [North Italy: see below at "ATA Nr. 25, 30 Jan 1919"] by same train. 12 officers 202 other-ranks arrived Tavernelle 8 PM 23rd and detrained early 24th. The remaining men and officers then left Montecchio by train on 17 March and arrived via France in Lewisham on 23 March.

Postcards sent by troops of the Honourable Artillery Company

The HAC’s censorship cancel was a violet frame containing a crown and PASSED BY CENSOR / 430. All cards bar the first have "O.A.S." handwritten at the top; this will be "On Active Service" to justify the absence of franking. For each, the date of the canceller is at the top; the (earlier) date of writing below.

FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.1. / 7 Dec 1918
To Mrs Win Something (Appleton?), South Devon.
4-12-18: Having a jolly good time here at present in the Austrian Tyrol, plenty of tobogganning, we get up a fine speed too. Will send some more news later on. Cheerio Love from Charles.
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.2. / 9 Dec 1918
To Mrs A G Billingham, Northampton.
Imst (Tyrol) 6/12/18 Love to all. Had a nice walk along this gorge yesterday. Reg.
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.2. / 13 Dec 1918
To Mrs Smyth, Essex
Dec 11th/18. My dear old mother, package containing gloves etc arrived yesterday. Thanks very much indeed. Please do not worry as things are quite alright. Your loving son Bas.
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.3. / 20 Dec 1918
To Mrs Shaury, Brighton.
18/12/18 Many thanks for Reg rec’d safely yesterday. Will write letter today Cheerio
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.3. / 22 Dec 1918
To Miss M A Richards, Llandaff, Wales
Dec 15th 18 Much love
[Initalled not signed, but it’s from Percy Gribble. See later.]
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.2. / 7 Jan 1919
To Miss M A Richards, Llandaff, Wales
Jan 4th 19 This is another of the places we went through on our way here. Much love darling.
Percy Gribble.
ARMY POST OFFICE / R.7 / 14 Jan 1919
To H.J.Edwards Esq / 86 South View Road / Hornsey / London N8.
Imst, Austria 11th Jan 1919 / Dear Edwards / Thank you very much for your letter of the 1st. I am sorry I have not time to write you a letter just now, I am expecting to leave for Blighty any day now. A lot of our chaps have gone home already, the names you mentioned are all in Blighty now. I got my leave too soon, didn't I? Perhaps you have met Harrison by now, he went about a month ago. We get very little time for winter sports now so many fellows have gone. I hope to see you one day after I get back. I hope you and your wife are quite well. Yours sincerely Claude Boursot (?)

[Post office R.7 is believed to have been in north Italy]
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.1. / 18 Jan 1919
To Miss M A Richards, Llandaff, Wales.
Jan 14th 19. No mail again today darling, will write tomorrow certain. Much love.
Percy Gribble
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.1. / 9 Feb 1919
To Miss M A Richards, Llandaff, Wales.
Feb 6th 19. No news of you darling, but may hear something tomorrow. Much love.
[Scribbled signature in L margin, possibly "Gribble Pte" ie Private.]
FIELD POST OFFICE / F.D.1. / 21 Feb 1919
To Mrs A G Billingham, Northampton
Imst (Tyrol), Austria, 17th Feb 1918 [this must be a mistake for 1919!]
My dear mother, I am coming home at last. D.V. I shall leave here tomorrow by the 4‑16 train. It'll probably be a week or two before I get home. I will wire you when I arrive in London. Au revoir. Love Reg.
[Address side signed R.S.Billingham Sgt].

The British Archives of births/marriages/deaths reveal that Percy Glynn Gribble was born in St Austell (Cornwall) on 10 Jan 1888, and died there in the 4th quarter of 1969. Mary Augusta Richards was also born and died there, on 20 July 1894 and the 4th quarter of 1988. They were married in the Glamorgan registration district (this included Cardiff, where she was then living) in the first quarter of 1921. There is no other couple with these names who were married in the early 1920s. Gribble is recorded on the appropriate Army form B103 as passing through Le Havre on 28 Feb 1919 on his way to the UK for demobilisation.

Reginald Starmer Billingham was born on 11 Feb 1893 in Kislingbury, Northants and died in the first quarter of 1970. He married Mary A Howes (born 6 April 1884) in the first quarter of 1912 and enlisted in the HAC on 22 Nov 1915, giving his home address as Regents Park, London. He moved to the front in September 1916. Serving in Belgium, France, Italy and Austria, he rose to the rank of Sergeant, having been awarded the Military Medal on 7 May 1917 at Bullecourt, south of Arras, while a Corporal (see Goold Walker pp 310-311). He was demobbed during February 1919. By 1939 he’d returned to Northampton.

Austrian newspaper references

The main source is the Allgemeiner Tiroler Anzeiger, copies of which may be consulted by visiting the Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck; it is not as yet available on ANNO (ie "Austrian Newspapers On Line". Allgemeiner Tiroler Anzeiger will be abbreviated as ATA below. References found by Dr Moser are:

ATA Nr. 276, 2 Dec 1918. English troops on the way from Innsbruck

ATA Nr. 282, 9 Dec 1918. Italians and English in Imst

Bozner Nachrichten Nr. 282, 10 Dec 1918. English troops in Upper Inntal: from Imst comes the news that instead of the Italian occupation a unit of English soldiers has been billeted on the town.

ATA 10 Dec 1918. Imst. 8 Dec: Italian and English occupying troops have been here for several weeks. An Italian Divisional Headquarters is established in Landeck under General-of-Cavalry Arrighi Giovanni; in Imst are subordinate group headquarters, two Italian Alpine companies as well as an English infantry company, the Honourable Artillery Company from London. The Italian troops will remain here until 15 December then return home for demobilisation on the 20th. Most of the Italians are from Piedmont and Udine. The English Colonel is to give his men a celebratory Meal, preparations for which are already under way. They are well provided for: white wheaten bread, high-quality meat, cheese (these we do not have), fish, excellent vegetables – all they need to requisition is hay and wood. In their free time the English go tobogganning with our young people. They have a regimental band, and give frequent concerts. They have taken over the Gasthaus Zur Krone and Gasthaus Zum Eggerbräu. Their evening Retreat ceremony is interesting. Relations between the local populace and the foreign occupiers are first class.

ATA Nr. 284, 11 Dec 1918. Tension between the Italians and the Allies…

Bozner Nachrichten Nr. 284, 13 Dec 1918. (Repeats almost word-for-word the ATA article of 10 December.)

ATA Nr. 11, 14 Jan 1919. It has emerged that the Italians have told the International Commission in London that 70% of the inhabitants of Vinschgau are Italian. Research in the local court archives of Glurns and Schlanders has shown that the area has been wholly Germanic for centuries.

ATA Nr. 12, 15 Jan 1919. Yesterday General Diaz (head of the Italian Army in this area) paid Imst a visit, and in the evening the Italian troops left, heading for Innsbruck.

ATA Nr. 25, 30 Jan 1919. Imst, 28 Jan: The largest part of the initially 600-strong English occupying troops, nearly all Londoners of the Honourable Artillery Company, have now returned to their homeland. Their demobilising is done such that those urgently required in their civilian jobs are released first. Teachers, professors, employees of large transport firms, bankers etc, who volunteered to join the HAC, have left Imst, travelling via Bozen & Trient to a collecting point at Monteccio, between Verona and Vizenza. Monteccio is especially interesting to the English as the [supposed] setting for Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet".

ATA 24 March 1919. Yesterday afternoon the ex-Kaiser and his family drove from Eckartsau to the station at Kopfstätten. Boarding a special train at 7pm, they proceeded non-stop towards Switzerland. The train is scheduled to cross the frontier at 3pm tomorrow.

ATA 26 March 1919. The ex-Kaiser and his family are now in Switzerland, having crossed the frontier at 5pm in a problem-free journey.

ATA Nr. 94, 24 April 1919. After a 5 month stay the English garrison has left Imst. On 29 November last year the 800-strong Honourable Artillery Company with its general staff and baggage train arrived. The troops, recruited from volunteers from London, were much liked by the locals, whose innkeepers and shopkeepers were sorry to see them go.

[There is no mention in ATA of the replacement of the HAC by the Manchesters!]

ATA Nr. 106, 9 May 1919. Imst is now a garrison town - of the Austrian Army.

Legends and realities

Legend 1: The book "The Honourable Artillery Company in the Great War" by G Goold Walker (London, Seeley Service & Co Ltd, 1930) has on pages 367-8 a translation from "the Tiroler Doniger of 10th December 1918" about the 2nd Battalion troops based at Imst:

"Already at the station life takes on interest from the sight of the well-grown, slender boys in their practical khaki uniforms, for Imst is full of English soldiers ... with clear water-blue eyes and straight noses. The Italians all have something passionate and pathetic about them; the English show self-assurance and cool self-control, but are naturally vivacious. If one looks an Englishman in the face, he smiles and tries to open up a conversation. They are beyond everything true children of the City of London. They take pride in their regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company of London, indicated by the letters H.A.C. ... The Englishman ... presents arms ... with such faultless precision that one would believe he was a wire doll worked by inward clockwork. A military service and a drill such as neither we ourselves nor yet a Prussian Guard Regiment have known."

However, neither "Austrian Newspapers On Line" [] nor the Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck nor the British Library in London have any record of a newspaper entitled "Tiroler Doniger", and "the name isn’t Austrian". No such paragraph has been found in the Allgemeiner Tiroler Anzeiger or the Bozner Nachrichten.

Legend 2: "The Last Habsburg" (1968, by Gordon Brook Shepherd; Pub. Weidenfeld & Nicolson) relates at page 245 an episode during the train journey of 23-24 March 1919 that took Kaiser Karl and Kaiserin Zita from Eckartsau to exile in Switzerland. The main paragraph is from the diary of the British Colonel Strutt, who masterminded the trip (and much else); the starred footnote is either his or Brook Shepherd's.

"At Imst we stopped to put on a mountain engine. The platform was completely cleared and two pickets of British troops held the Fern Pass road about 200 yards east and west of the station. On the platform stood a fine British guard of twenty five men**), and as the train moved out this guard presented arms to their Majesties [ie Kaiser Karl, Kaiserin Zita], who were standing at the window of their saloon - the only official honour paid to them on leaving their country, and that at the hands of their "enemies". I was in another saloon with the rest of the party, who were immensely touched, poor old Ledochoffski bursting into tears. These troops were, as I ascertained later, from the H.A.C, and were as smart as Guardsmen. I heard later from the Empress that it was on this occasion that the Emperor broke down, for the first and last time. On the Emperor's instructions I sent a warm telegram of thanks to the Officer Commanding at Imst when we got to Switzerland ....
**) They were from the Honourable Artillery Company - an odd coincidence since their Colonel at that time, Lord Denbigh, was from the Fielding family which claims relationship with the Habsburgs."

Unfortunately for the tale, the Honourable Artillery Company had been replaced by the 22nd Manchester Regiment on or before 22 February 1919. The HAC Archivist states that they have no record of any HAC troops in Imst after that date; and Goold Walker remarks on page 366 "by March, the 2nd Battalion had ceased to exist". He does say on page 365 that "guards and duties - principally with the object of impressing the native Tyrolese - throughout made a great claim on the time of the N.C.O.s and men. In particular there was a strong guard mounted at Imst railway station, which turned out on the approach of every train…" Presumably the Manchesters continued this task, or tradition.

WIKIpedia: The 2 Aug 2016 Wikipedia entry for the Honourable Artillery Company has at the end of its First World War section "In 1919 Lt-Col Edward Lisle Strutt commanded a detachment of HAC soldiers that escorted the family of Charles I, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor-King, to safety in Switzerland in 1919, after having served as the family's protector at Eckartsau on the personal initiative of King George V.[25][26]". Both references are to books by Gordon Brook-Shepherd. However the actual books (Wiki’s ref 25 page 144 and 26 page 41) make it clear that the escorting detachment was one sergeant and six men, supplied by the British Military Police in Vienna; they are referred to as Military Policemen throughout. The HAC isn’t mentioned. When Kaiser Karl and Kaiserin Zita were at Eckartsau, their security was provided by Austrian police from Vienna.

Picture postcards

Finally, the other side of three of the cards shown above, just to show how beautiful the scenery was - and still is.

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