Other Arms Rucksack

My thanks go to Michael Fletcher  who helped fix me up with tonight’s object, The Other Arms Rucksack:This rucksack was designed to be issued to non-front line infantry in place of a bergan. It has a large capacity, seventy litres, and can be used in a number of ways. A large flap is provided over one side of the rucksack:Opening this reveals a pair of shoulder straps that allow it to be worn on the back:These allow the rucksack to either be worn in the conventional manner, or for the carry straps to be stowed away for flight on board aircraft- the straps otherwise getting in the way and catching on things. Two large carry handles are fitted at the top for when the rucksack is being carried by hand:This combination has given rise to the rucksack being nicknamed the ‘Combat Handbag’ or the ‘REMF Handbag’ or ‘Turtle Pack’ due to the way they looked like a turtle shell when worn. Typically, as these nicknames suggest, troops tended to try and ditch the other arms rucksack as soon as they could and replace it with a standard bergan as it was more ‘ally’ and didn’t show to all that the user was a support troop rather than an infantryman.

The back panel of the rucksack, in addition to the shoulder straps, has a green panel to allow the owner to write his name and number:Zips and fasteners are provided down each side allowing a pair of supplementary rucksack pouches to be attached to either side to increase the carrying capacity:The rucksack fastened up with a large zip and has a Velcro fly over it; the inside of the rucksack is pretty much open, but there is a single divider on the shoulder strap side and a button down pocket that would allow a metal bergan frame to be fitted to improve the comfort on long transits:These rucksacks have proved particularly popular amongst cadets as they are far cheaper on the surplus market than standard bergans, the design and size being ideal for short weekends away rather than a full sized bergan. Adult users report that the pack is actually very comfortable to wear and the large capacity makes it practical, but that it is not ideal for wearing for long periods of time in the field. Ironically it seems to be more popular on the secondary market than it ever was with the troops who were issued it!

The following is the stores catalogue description of the rucksack:

Home Guard Anti-Aircraft Commemorative Certificate

It is often forgotten that the Home Guard had a front line role to play in the defence of Britain during the Second World War. As well as patrolling their local area, the Home Guard were increasingly used to man fixed anti-aircraft sites to free up fitter men for more mobile and front line roles. The weapons manned consisted of both traditional artillery pieces and rocket projectors known as Z Batteries. Like much of the Home Guard’s work, this job has gone largely un recognised and indeed at the time all the men got was a small card expressing the thanks of General Pile, head of Anti-Aircraft Command:This little card is a rare survivor and has printed at the top the black bow on red background of the command’s formation patch:For more information on the badge please look here. One Home guard member who served on Z-Batteries has left us this account:

I was working on electrical repairs in the many textile mills and engineering factories and foundries in the area when I was conscripted into the home guard.

Not the usual infantry but a newly formed Anti-aircraft battery firing rockets. These were new weapons in addition to the many conventional 3.75 AA guns in the area. These new rocket projectors were to be manned and operated by the Home Guard.

The individual rocket projectiles were made of strong sheet metal welded into the shape of a pipe about six feet long and four inches in diameter. In the last foot of length at the business end was a high explosive AA shell, with a fuse in the nose cone, operated by air pressure at any selected height. This was adjusted with a special spanner before the rocket was loaded onto the launcher (projector). There were four stabilising tail fins (quite sharp to the touch) at the rear end. There were eight rockets, each loaded by hand on to their own guide rails on the projector. It was like handling a heavy awkward length of household rainwater pipe, and you had to slide it up the guide rails, then pull it back on to the electrical firing contacts. There were eight projectors in a battery… For the first few times we trained on dummy machines with dummy rounds in the Huddersfield Territorials’ drill hall. We practised loading the rockets correctly and aiming the projectors by means of two-man teams operating large hand wheels whilst standing on either side of the roofed over platform. One man controlled the bearing read off on a dial marked in degrees, indicated by a pointer. The elevation was similarly controlled and set by the number two man on the other side of the platform. Communication was by earphone and microphone to each other and from the Control Centre… Then we went operational. Duty at a battery three nights a week. We carried on practising with the dummy rounds but the real ones were stored in a bunker near each projector, which were about 30 yards apart. We never fired in anger, though we stood by with enemy planes overhead several times. The reason was that the area for miles around was residential and to fire over the houses would have caused a lot of damage as the empty metal rocket fuel containers fell from the sky on to the rooftops…

We did practice live fire once. It was a glorious ‘summer’ day in November and we were taken by train and lorry to Hornsea on the North Yorkshire coast. Each platoon went in turn to the projectors lined up on the cliff top and loaded live rockets (I was worried about my fingers) and fired a salvo into the sky over the sea. I was never more scared in my life. Great 30 foot long sheets of flame past our heads and a roar like an express train in a tunnel, and the flimsy metal structure of the platform of the projector shaking and resonating; and us too shocked and deaf to hear the commands to check for misfires and turn to a neutral bearing.

64 Pattern Entrenching Tool Cover

Continuing our on-going study of the Canadian 64 pattern webbing set, we come to a piece that was not on my original kit layout. My thanks go to ‘Dean O’ from Canada who kindly sent this one over the Atlantic for me. The 64 pattern set used the same folding entrenching tool as the earlier 51 pattern set we discussed here. Like the other elements of the 64 pattern set, the entrenching tool cover is made of a plasticised cotton fabric:Like the earlier design, this cover has a hole at the bottom to allow the handle of the entrenching tool to stick out below the carrier. The back of the carrier is very simple, with just the belt attachment:

This is the same large velcroed loop that fits over the belt as other copmponents of the set:As with the canteen carrier, I am doubtful how effective this Velcro would be with a heavy component like the entrenching tool. I suspect that like other components of the set, the entrenching tool carrier would have been particularly susceptible to dropping off! The maker’s mark is also stamped on the rear of the carrier:This example was made by Textile Industries Ltd, a company who seem to have made all the components of the set for the Canadian Army. The cover fastens on the front with a plastic quick release buckle with a webbing tab:The edges of the entrenching tool could be sharp and potentially could damage the cover so a couple of leather reinforcing patches are sewn to the top lip of the cover:I am not convinced many of these covers were ever issued, most accounts suggest they were not in widespread use and this example certainly looks in mint condition.

Royal Navy Tropical Shorts

During the Second World War British naval ratings in tropical regions normally wore a uniform of white shorts, white cotton flannel, black socks and black ankle boots:

Tonight we are looking at an example of a rating’s white cotton shorts:The white shorts worn by ratings, senior rates and officers were all very similar and there are a number of patterns based on where and when they were manufactured, with ‘bazaar’ made examples also thrown into the mix. I suspect that from the RN’s point of view, as long as they were white and looked roughly in line with the proper pattern they weren’t too worried about minor detail differences! It is normally the waistband where differences can be found, many using a pair of brass friction buckles to secure them. This example however uses two white plastic buttons:White buttons are also used to secure the fly:Button down belt loops are provided around the waist to hold an RN money belt:The belt worn with this uniform was usually white as the blue example rubbed dye off onto the shorts. Slash pockets are provided on each hip:This example has a small label sewn into the inside of the waist band indicating it was made by Harrods in 1943 and is a 34” waist:Shorts had long been in use with the British military and no-one thought too much about them. It was therefore a shock to British sensibilities when complaints were received in Florida of all places. GS Guinn in his book “British Naval Aviation in World War II: The US Navy and Anglo American Relations” explains:

In Florida, the Royal Navy’s standard tropical white shorts were frowned upon as being offensive to local tastes and so, unless cadets were in their formal whites, they spent most of their time in khaki trousers and long sleeved khaki shirts. British trainees were unable to understand the nature of the offence to which shorts could give rise. They expected Americans to behave and think like British citizens and were surprised when they did not.

Victorian Artillery Etching

This week we have neither a postcard nor a photograph for you, but rather a late nineteenth century etching. This etching depicts two pieces of contemporary ordnance:The upper illustration is an Armstrong 12 pounder field gun:This gun was introduced in 1859 and the gun incorporated some advanced features for its day. It was one of the first breech-loaders: shell and gunpowder propellant were loaded through the gunner’s end of the barrel, rather than through the muzzle as in previous guns, allowing a higher rate of fire. The shells were coated with lead, which engaged spiral grooves cut inside the barrel (“rifling”) and caused the shell to spin rapidly in flight and hence imparted far greater accuracy and range than previous guns. The lead coating effectively sealed the gap between shell and barrel and eliminated the wastage of propellant gases, previously known as “windage”, and hence only half the amount of gunpowder propellant as previous was required.

The barrel was of wrought iron, “built up” of a tube with additional layers heated and then shrunk over it as they cooled. The result was a “pre-stressed” barrel: the interior of the barrel was under compression from the layers shrunk over it, so that the heat and pressure of firing did not stretch it. Hence the barrel was smaller and lighter than previous guns.The lower illustration is of an older and more conventional 32 pounder, unrifled gun and carriage:This is a much older principle and similar to the cannon used during the Napoleonic era. The carriage and weight of this gun indicate it was designed to be emplaced on a fortification rather than used in the field. It has however been updated form early designs by having cast iron wheels to the carriage rather than wooden ones:It is also worth noting that the gun fires shell rather than solid shot. This design of gun carried on in service for heavy weapons for longer than the lighter field pieces. Early breach loaders were not always very safe at the breach end with heavy charges- metallurgy at the time being limited. The heavier and more solid breach end of a muzzle loader was far safer for heavy charges. This illustration comes, I suspect, from a contemporary book or journal. I would like to get this one framed up at some point as it would look rather nice on the wall but my ‘framing pile’ seems to just get larger!

QARANC Male Nurse’s Jacket

In 1992 there was a restructure of army medical services in the British Army and male nurses were transferred from the Royal Army Medical Corps to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Male nurses are still relatively uncommon, but are a growing part of the corps and they have certain items of specialist clothing for their work. Tonight we are looking at a man’s nursing jacket from the QARANC:This is a white cotton tunic, secured up one side and to the neck with removable white plastic buttons:These buttons are secured in with small split rings to allow them to be removed easily for washing. The design of the button itself is very similar to those used on World War 2 era denim uniforms, again these were designed to be easily removable for laundering. The back of the jacket has a sewn in half belt to provide a more structured fit:A single patch pocket is sewn on the breast and on this is affixed an embroidered patch showing the Corps’ cap badge in red on a grey field:The only other insignia on the jacket is a red on grey patch with a lance corporal’s stripe on it on one sleeve, this indicates a healthcare assistant- all qualified nurses are ranked at least a full corporal:Inside the tunic is a label indicating size and NSN number with a space for the owner to write his name and number:In recent years the QARANC has been involved in every conflict the British Army has fought in, offering vital medical support to Britain, her military allies and civilians in theatre. The British Legion’s website gives us one case study of a QARANC nurse, Ben Poku:

After signing up, Ben did three months of basic training which came as a shock. It was unlike anything Ben had experienced before.

“It’s tough, but it prepares you so that you’re ready when you go to a new or hostile environment.”

It was when Ben started passing the basic infantry tactics that he knew he was ready to become a soldier. Though he’d joined up to be a nurse, Ben found himself in the artillery doing an infantry role before he knew it.

But the desire to help those in need hadn’t gone away though. After three years in the artillery, Ben took the chance to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse. So in 2003, whilst Ben was training on artillery guns in Germany, he started the process of transferring over to the prestigious Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps. As the nursing branch of the British Army, QARANC can trace its origins back to Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Ben went ahead to study at the Defence School of Healthcare Studies, getting his nursing degree while he was also being deployed in Iraq. While there he treated multi-nationals, such as Iraqis and Americans, as well as British troops.

“It was a challenge to go over there in a nursing role and apply the training I was doing, but it was a great introduction into becoming a nurse.”

Ben’s childhood dream has come true. He’s been a nurse for over a decade. In that time he’s worked abroad as well as around the UK.

He’s currently posted at Headley Court where he works on the neurological ward helping injured soldiers get back to Service or leave to become civilians.

Embarkation Tag

The business of loading a troop ship to transport a regiment to a foreign theatre was always fraught with difficulties. Large numbers of men had to be brought aboard the ship, taken to the correct location and checked to ensure no one was missing or should not have been there. In order to sort this task, as ever, the army bureaucracy swung into action with a variety of forms and check lists. Tonight we are looking at an example of the embarkation tags issued to individual soldiers before they reached the ship:This two part tag was filled out by the individual soldier and as explained on the front of the tag, on boarding the ship the soldier gave the front half of the tag to those organising the embarkation:This ensured that the embarkation officer knew who was on board the ship and could check the names off against a list of who was supposed to be there to see if anyone was missing. These tags were issued to all ranks, and strict instructions warned troops not to board without handing over the front half of the tag:The second half of the tag was retained until the end of the journey, when the same process was repeated to ensure everyone who was expected to be disembarking had done so:The military forces were aware that circumstances could change, so the bottom half of this piece of the tag allowed troops to be disembarked early if there was an emergency or so forth:This particular tag was partially filled out, but never used. Although we don’t know when it was used, a printing date is marked on the front which shows it was produced in May 1944:The following description relates life on board one of these troop ships for the men being transported:

In mid March 1943, the troopship Windsor Castle”, once luxury liner of the Union Castle Line, slipped down the Clyde to join convoy KMF 11. Over 2,500 men were packed on board. When the ship began to heave, side-slip and wallow in the Bay of Biscay, we on “E” deck, the lowest habitable quarters for troops, dripping with sweat, some sea-sick, would compete for the small air vents fixed in the deck roof. Fortunately we were not confined below decks all the time, but would come up for PE and boat drill. Soon we could find our rafts stations with the minimum of disorder. None on E deck saw the Rock of Gibraltar because we had been ordered below. We then knew that our destination was North Africa and we spent the earlier part of the night packing our kit ready for disembarkation. After that we lay back in our hammocks, slung over the mess tables, some of us contravening orders to spend the whole voyage fully clothed. The atmosphere was sweltering. Some removed boots, others jackets and a few undressed completely. Towards midnight “E” deck grew quiet. I lay in my hammock trying to read Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” , until the heat made even reading an effort. My boots came off. I loosened my battledress jacket and dozed off