Letter from Field Marshal Haig

For the average collector who does not have a huge budget, items with a direct link to famous military leaders do not come up very often. Normally these are the reserve of collectors with deep pockets, however occasionally items do appear with a direct link to a famous historical personage. Sometimes this is a little tangential, like this bag used by one of TE Lawrence’s officers, other times it is a more direct connection. Tonight we have an original letter sent by Field Marshal Haig:imageI added this letter to my collection completely by chance. I bought a regimental history of one of the battalions of the Duke of Wellington Regiment during the Great War for a few pounds on the market, in itself a very good find:imageIt was only when I examined the book closely that I found the above letter pasted into the inside cover. The letter reads:

Dear Colonel Howat

In reply to your letter of 6th inst: very much regret to say that my time is so fully taken up trying to help our ex-servicemen, that I am unable to write a foreword to your book.

With hearty wishes for the success of the History of the 1/4th Battalion Duke of Wellingtons Regt.

The letter is then signed ‘Haig. FM.’:imageI have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this letter, having compared it to other known letters from Haig the hand writing is consistent, and the letterhead for the note paper is for Fairfield House, St Peters-In-Thanet:imageThis was the address of Haig in 1920 and with the content of the letter relating directly to the book it all appears correct.

Field Marshall Douglas Haig was the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France from Late 1915 until the end of the First World War. Following the end of the Great War Haig devoted himself to service charities, pushing for the amalgamation of charities and stopping a plan for a separate charity for officers, his efforts saw the foundation of the British Legion in June 1921. His Haig Fund and Haig Homes Charity continue to perform sterling work today.

It would be fair to say that following his death Haig has become a controversial figure. During his lifetime and at his funeral he was lauded as a great military commander, however during the 1960s this opinion was changed to portray him as a cold and unfeeling leader, unable to adapt to the new forms of war. This portrayal was most famously seen in the 1960s film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ when he was played by Sir John Mills- the film saying as much about 1960s attitudes as about the Great War. Modern historiography is kinder to the Field Marshal, but the popular myth of him as a butcher remains in many quarters.Field_Marshall_Earl_Haig_(2)Regardless of Haig’s reputation, this letter is a wonderful find and something I feel very privileged to have in my collection; a real and tangible links to one of the most important men of the First World War.

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RE Staff Sergeant’s Fawn Barrack Dress Shirt

The British Army has long had an order of dress known as ‘barrack’ dress. This is a uniform that is smarter than combat uniform, but more comfortable and less formal than a dress uniform. For many years this consisted of a fawn short sleeved shirt with green lightweight trousers, often worn with a regimental stable belt and a peaked blues cap, however regimental distinctions can arise (such as this regiment’s choice of trousers!):barrack_dressThe shirt however remains consistent and is a fawn coloured poly cotton shirt of a conventional design:imageThis comes in a wide range of sizes, as indicated in the stores catalogue:CaptureButtoned patch pockets are fitted to each breast, with curved bottom corners:imageButton down straps are fitted to each shoulder for officers to display their rank insignia:imageIn this case however the original owner of this shirt was an NCO, so his insignia is sewn onto the sleeve:imageThis is the distinctive rank insignia of a Staff Sergeant in the Royal Engineers. As is typical, a label is sewn into the back of the shirt with sizing, NSN number and a space for the soldier to write his name and number:imageThe sizing includes a collar size, here 45cm and in this case we can see that the shirt was originally worn by a soldier named ‘Pascoe’.

30mm Aden Practice Round Shell Casing

The 30mm Aden cannon was a very successful post war aircraft gun, and we covered much of its history when we looked at an example of the links used to join cartridges here. Tonight we have the casing from one of those rounds to look at:imageSadly this is just the casing and is missing the head, but it can be seen that it is a brass case, with a large extraction groove at the base. The primer has been struck as one would expect from a fired round:imageThe markings for the Aden round are marked around the circumference of the case, rather than on the base:imageThe markings indicate that this is a 30mm practice round, manufactured by Radway Green in 1973. I have found this very useful diagram that shows what the various markings mean:GAERGHRE_croppedThe empty brass casings were ejected out of the underside of the aircraft, falling to the ground below. This could sometimes be a little disconcerting to friendly forces on the ground:

Just below its ‘shoulders’, where the leading edge of the wings meets the fuselage, the hunter had two large bulges called Sabrinas (they were named after a popular actress of the time who also had two large bulges just below her shoulders). The Sabrinas were there to accommodate the empty links from the 30mm ammunition belts that fed the Aden cannon. Simply letting the link belts shoot out of a slot behind the aircraft’s nose might have allowed the belts to foul the aircraft’s control surfaces. There were no such fears, however, about the spent shell cases. They were ejected from two holes immediately above each Sabrina- and even a quick three-second burst meant that at least 240 30mm brass shell cases came tumbling down. If just one of those caught you on the head it would be enough to lay you out. As soon as the brass rain started, we were under cover with Alfie quicker than you could day ‘concussion’…

RAF Association Banner

Tonight’s object proved one of the more challenging pieces to photograph for you as it is an eight foot long RAF Association banner:imageThe RAF Association was formed in 1929 to offer welfare and support to serving and ex members of the RAF. Originally it was an old-comrades association, but during the Second World War its remit was expanded due to the huge numbers of men (and women) in the RAF and the Association was steered into becoming more of a welfare charity after 1945 with welfare officers, employment officials and legal advisors appointed to help ex-airmen. The RAF Association set up branches across the country to support members on a local level and this banner comes from the Airedale and Wharfedale branch of the RAFA and would have been used at fund raising events to advertise the branch. The banner is made of a loose weave fabric and seems to have been craft-produced, albeit by an experienced seamstress. The letters are formed of tape, machine sewn to the fabric:imageTapes are sewn to either end to allow the banner to be tied up to display it:imageAn RAF roundel is sewn onto the banner, here made of three separate (almost) circles of fabric:imageThe RAFA logo is a professionally produced badge, that has been stapled to the banner:imageAs can be seen the printing on this badge has discoloured badly over the years. It is difficult to date these sort of hand-produced items, but my guess is that it would date from the 1960s or 1970s. The RAFA has continued being a successful charity right up to the present day, and according to their website :

 In a typical year, these are just some of the ways that we help our servicemen and women, past and present. You can find out more information about all of this great work on this site.

  • – Over 65,500 members offering friendship and support to one another
  • – Over 540 volunteer welfare officers with professional accredited training
  • – Our network of volunteer welfare officers make over 102,200 welfare visits and calls offering personal support to meet each individual’s and family’s needs
  • – We give expert advice and professional assistance on War Pensions and the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, achieving more than £540,000 in pension and compensation payments
  • – We help 2,500 people enjoy a much needed Wings Break
  • – Our Storybook Wings initiative has supported 2,300 RAF children who struggle when their parent is not at home – whether on deployment or working away during the week
  • – We fund the refurbishment of 30 comfortable contact houses on stations where, for example, a separated parent can spend a precious weekend with their children
  • – We assist around 50 RAF veterans or their widows/widowers to lead safe, independent lives in our sheltered and supported housing
  • – Through the RAF Families Federation we give RAF personnel and their families the chance to influence future policy
  • – We distribute more than £1.8m in welfare grants to serving and ex-serving personnel
  • – We work with Alabaré and The Soldier’s Charity to help homeless ex-military personnel to rebuild their lives

92 Pattern DPM Temperate Trousers

My thanks tonight go to Jon Kempson for his help in identifying the specific pattern of tonight’s object that allowed me to go away and research it for you! Prior to the introduction of CS95 combat clothing in 1995, a new pattern was introduced in 1992. This replaced the woefully inadequate designs the army had been using since 1984 (this pattern was notorious for the pockets dropping off at a glance!). This intermediate pattern was used as a test bed for some of the features that would be rolled out in CS95 clothing but also to replace the earlier 84 pattern garments as maintenance stocks. One of the first areas that the new clothing addressed was the printing of the DPM fabric itself. The 84 pattern clothing had used the traditional method of printing the DPM camouflage on white cotton, however as the garments were now unlined this presented a potential hazard if the interior of the fabric were to become visible to the enemy. The 92 pattern was thus printed onto pre-dyed fabric, the shade chosen being the lightest tan colour of the four colour pattern. There were problems getting the dyes entirely correct for this initial production run, so the early garments have a distinctive ‘yellowish’ tinge to them. It is an example of these early production trousers we are looking at tonight:imageThe interior of the trousers reveals the tan-yellow shade the fabric was pre-dyed in:imageThe trousers themselves are pretty conventional, having a button and tape waist fastening, and a zip fly:imageTwo slash pockets are fitted, one on each hip:imageEach leg has a large button down patch pocket:imageButton down belt loops are fitted and a small degree of waist adjustment is catered for by two button tabs on the waist band:imageTies are fitted to the bottom of each trouser leg so they can be drawn in, and bloused if required:imageThe label has the sizes in metric, but at this date manufacture was still in the UK, unlike today where it is more cost effective to get the Chinese to make them for us:imageThis pattern of clothing seems to have first appeared amongst troops at Warminster in 1992 and saw extensive use during the peacekeeping in Bosnia in the early to mid-1990s, with a second production run in 1993-1994 correcting the colour issues with the early production run. With the introduction of CS95 clothing, the pattern was slowly superseded and replaced with the newer design. The development of British camouflage uniforms is sadly very under-researched and there is little published information out there on the development and variations of the classic British DPM uniform, as ever I will keep tracking down pieces like this and hopefully we can continue building up the history on the blog.

German Navy Humorous Postcard

This week’s postcard is a little different from our usual photographic images and is a cartoon of a German battle ship called the ‘Stikphastz’ (Stick fast), moored up and covered in weeds and cobwebs. It has the tag line “The German Navy Taking Root! ‘And the green grass grew around me boys’:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (6)The image is poking fun at the Kaiser’s Navy which spent much of its time in port, as compared to the Royal navy who sent ships out into the North Sea and Atlantic to take part in operations. The card could also be referencing the SMS Königsberg which was chased up a river in East Africa by the Royal navy and blockaded there from September 1914 until a British attack forced her to be scuttled in July 1915. The back of the postcard is in some ways just as interesting as the front:SKM_C284e17120515450 - CopyThe card was sent from a girl called May to a marine called Jack who was serving aboard HMS Mars. HMS Mars was a pre-dreadnought Majestic class battleship who spent the first part of the war as a guard ship on the Humber and then as part of the Dover patrol before transferring to Belfast to pay off on 15th February 1915, just four days after this card was sent:HMS_Mars_LOC_ggbain_16923She spent the rest of the war as an unarmed troop transport and as a depot ship.

At first glance the stamp on this card seems to be very badly applied, being distinctly ‘wonky’:SKM_C284e17120515450 - Copy - CopyThis however may be deliberate as there was a ‘language of stamps’ used by young people at the time to impart hidden messages. According to this guide from World War One, it would indicate the postcard was sent with a kiss:STAMPS3[1600x1200]_jpg_opt683x437o0,0s683x437

Bowman Man-Pack Data Terminal Carrying Case

The modern battlefield is now full of electronic devices, with specialist radios, computers and tablet computers in use. These differ considerably from their civilian counterparts, being far more rugged than the relatively delicate mobile phones and IPads we are used to. The British Army use a system called ‘Bowman’ which in addition to having individual and unit radio systems, also has battlefield tablet computers called ‘LTDTs’ and a light weight man-pack data terminal produced by a company called L-3 Communications, called an ‘LMDT’:imageThe Army’s website describes Bowman as:

BOWMAN exploits the latest developments in radio and computer technology to meet the needs for services well into the 21st century.

Designed to provide an integrated digital communications network interfacing with higher level systems and networks such as ISDN, Skynet V,Cormorant and FALCON.

Commanders at all levels are given secure voice and data communications as well as an integrated Global Positioning System (GPS).

Tonight we are looking at the carrying case for one of the LMDTs:imageThis is made of DPM camouflaged Cordua nylon, and is fitted with a large belt loop on the rear to allow it to be attached to a webbing set:imageA small handle is fitted to the top of the case:imageA heavy duty shoulder strap is fitted, securing at two points on each side of the case:imageA heavily padded section is attached to make the LMDT more comfortable to carry (presumably it is a fairly heavy bit of kit!):imageThe front of the case opens up, it is secured with two black plastic Fastex fasteners:imageUnderneath this are a further pair of velcroed flaps that add protection to the screen of the LMDT when it is stowed away:imageFinally when the case is fully opened up it looks like this:imageTwo elasticated straps help hold the LMDT secure, even when the case is open. NSN details are printed on the underside of the top flap:imageThis is a beautifully well made case, and clearly very carefully designed, with openings and flap[s all over to protect the instrument, whilst still allowing it to be easily used. At this stage it seems unlikely I will find an LMDT to fit inside the case any time soon, but these things have a habit of appearing on the surplus market in due course as equipment is upgraded so perhaps something for the future…