Field Telescope – the real deal

You may have read a post I wrote ages ago about an inexpensive Indian-made “training” telescope? Well, here’s the real deal. A while back I was lucky enough to acquire a very nice 1917-vintage old-timey brass military telescope to use alongside my 1900-ish deer stalker’s telescope, and of course the half-sized, Indian-made “decorative” telescope.

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1917-vintage Broadhurst, Clarkson & Co Sig., Tel (MkIV) in its natural environment, being used as an aid for field panorama sketching. Seen here a couple of months back on a mid-winter swag walk in the mountains west of Sydney.

Here’s a tip if you’re ever looking at one of these old telescopes online or at a second hand store with a view to buying it – If the seller says it must be broken because it won’t focus, then you’re probably very close to getting yourself a bargain. Why is that? These multiple draw telescopes won’t focus if you just twist the eyepiece. In fact, if you do that with this particular model, the eyepiece will unscrew and fall off! Nope, to focus these you must push in or pull out the last draw tube until the image comes into focus.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to my telescope. The telescope is a World War One era British signalling  and general service telescope. It was used by signallers before radio communications became commonplace. Flashing electric light or signal mirror Morse code or perhaps semaphore flags were used to send messages over long distances and the message was received by an observer with a telescope.

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Trainee signallers at a South Australian army camp circa 1915. Two heliograph (signal mirror) units on tripods are the “transmitters”. A telescope on a tripod  is the “receiver”. Until well into the 1940s, this was the most common use of the military telescopes – on land at least.  SLSA B46130/235

Probably more famously, these were used by British and Commonwealth snipers in the First World War and while they were replaced in British service by a lighter model, this particular model of telescope soldiered on with Australian reconnaissance parties, intelligence officers and snipers during the Second World War too. In fact, I can’t lay my hand on the photo, but I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of an Aussie sniper spotter using one of these obsolete telescopes during the Korean War of the 1950s.

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Simply captioned “Snipers 5th L.H., one firing and other pointing with telescope.”, I believe that this image shows famous Australian Light Horse sniper Billy Sing and one of his two main spotters, “Jack” Idriess on Gallipoli in 1915. The spotter here is seen using one of the telescopes in question which has been camouflaged with hessian strips. Idriess of course would later become well known as the author Ion L. Idriess. AWM P10522.024.003

The telescope is marked with the following –

“TEL. SIG. (Mk IV) also G.S.
BROADHURST, CLARKSON & Co
LONDON
1917
22084”

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The Low Power eyepiece is shown above its leather pouch. With a relatively narrow field of view, sometimes it’s easier to use the telescope with this lower power 20x eyepiece fitted.

As far as I can tell, it’s a variable 20x to 40x telescope with a brass body and has a leather covering on the barrel and the extending sun shade. It has two leather end caps, a shoulder strap and a small tubular leather pouch threaded onto the shoulder strap which holds the low or high power eyepiece – whichever isn’t fitted to the telescope at the time.

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The telescope extended. It’s over a metre long and in fantastic condition for a 100 year old piece of equipment.

I bought it online from overseas with very little info from the seller. The pictures supplied by the seller were promising, with the 100 year old leather components looking almost pristine. I figured that if the leatherwork was in such great condition, then the rest of the telescope would be too. Sure, there was a risk that the objective lens may have been infested with fungus or smashed, but it was worth the risk and I was not disappointed. It’s a truly beautiful instrument.

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If you look closely you can see the markings.

The weight was a huge surprise to me. I’ve taken the telescope along on several overnight bushwalking and swagwalking trips and you definitely notice the extra weight of the telescope and tripod.

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The telescope is carried by the shoulder strap. The tripod seen here is not original to this telescope, it’s actually a few decades older and was originally a deer stalker’s or target shooter’s tripod since it came with a rifle rest attachment as well. When strapped up in this fashion, the tripod can also be carried on the telescope’s shoulder strap.

I’ve been using it for field panorama sketching and it really helps with the details. You could use binoculars for this purpose, but I think that to get the same sort of powerful magnification as with this telescope, the binos would be huge and prohibitively heavy for this sort of work.

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When all closed up with both leather end caps fitted the telescope is very well protected and quite compact. Still very heavy though!

This is a powerful telescope – really powerful. Last full moon I set it up in the backyard to check out the moon. The image was spectacular. Clearly defined raters and debris trails from the meteor impacts. Due to full time auto focus on my phone’s camera I unfortunately I haven’t yet worked out how to take a photo through the telescope, but when I do I’ll take a whole lot and post them. It has to be seen to be believed.

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