This post marks four years since the first post on the Tales From the Supply Depot blog was published. We have covered a lot of ground since then with nearly 1400 posts and items covering British, Empire and Commonwealth military history from the 1870s to the present day. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts and learnt something along the way- I certainly have! Here’s to the next four years…
It has been a while since I last covered a kit bag on the blog, this is not because I haven’t come across them but rather because I have a number of them now so I am only picking up the more interesting varieties. One thing that always gets me interested though are nice period markings and tonight we are looking at a recent acquisition that is very nicely marked by its original owner. Unlike many of the examples we have covered, this is actually a post war bag and as such has a couple of subtle changes to some of the earlier bags we have looked at:The most obvious change over earlier designs is the addition of a heavy duty green carry handle to one side of the main body:This presumably makes the kit bag a little easier to carry and throw onto and off of transport. The neck of the bag is secured with a heavy duty draw string:A weather flap is included, and here we can see the /|\ mark and a manufacture date of 1949:What makes this bag interesting though are the markings, which were clearly added at two separate dates. Firstly we have the original owners name, Bottomley, and his number 22836224 stencilled onto the side of the kit bag in black paint:Underneath this is a free hand shipping notice that informs us that the soldier was a member of the HQ Company of the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he was shipping out to the Middle East Land Forces. The two battalions of the Inniskilling Fusiliers had been merged together in 1948, but the 2nd Battalion was briefly resurrected in April 1952 to see service in Egypt and in Cyprus against the EOKA insurgents, the battalion lasting until 1956. This allows us to date the use of this kit bag to a quite small four year period. The battalion was disbanded ostensibly due to difficulty recruiting, the fact that it had spent four years overseas being seen as a major factor in this. The government of the day explained that when the second battalion had been formed there was a shortage of front line troops with many commitments across the globe and this was a way of solving that shortfall, by 1956 much of this pressure had gone and so it was felt suitable to draw down the size of the regiment as explained by the Undersecretary for War Fitzroy Maclean:
It might be useful if I were to recall the circumstances in which it was decided, in 1952, to raise eight new second battalions. In 1950, hostilities had begun in Korea, and it had become a matter of urgency to increase the Regular Army without delay. National Service was lengthened from eighteen months to two years, Regular Army reservists were recalled, and Regulars were retained with the Colours. In the winter of 1951–52 China entered the Korean War, and additional problems faced us in Persia and Egypt.…Those were the circumstances in which it was possible to raise the eight new second battalions. Without them it would have been impossible to meet our overseas commitments. At that time we had almost no reserves in this country. Today the situation for the Army is very much easier for a number of reasons. Redeployment of our forces in the Middle East, the reduction of our forces in Korea, the withdrawal of the garrison from Trieste, all mean that we can reduce the active army to the minimum which is required to enable us to fulfil our commitments in Europe and to meet our considerably reduced commitments elsewhere; and, finally, to provide a strategic reserve.
During the Second World War Britain tried to produce as much food at home as it possible could, but in a small island with lots of mouths to feed it would never be possible to be completely self-sustaining. This meant that some food had to continue to be imported and with shipping space needed for munitions and essential war materials anything that could reduce the bulk of food as well as extending its shelf life was used. One of the most notorious of these space saving methods was drying and canning eggs and it is a tin of wartime dried egg we are looking at tonight:This tin was originally gold, with black lettering, but the gold has largely flaked off now. As can be seen from the front, this egg was canned in the USA and the tin holds the equivalent of 12 eggs:An adult was allowed one tin of dried eggs every eight weeks under rationing, costing 1s9d per tin and cooks had to come up with inventive ways to use the product. Instructions on how to prepare the egg are printed on the can and government leaflets also advised how best to use the product:One tablespoon of powder, mixed with two tablespoons of water was equivalent to one egg. The product was clearly at risk of being tainted by strong odours and flavours, so instructions advised storing away from anything with a strong smell:The scale of dried egg production in the US during World War Two was staggering, between 1942 and 1946 the average yearly production of dried egg was 209 million pounds! Despite this the British housewife never warmed to the product and the government spent a lot of time persuading people to use dried eggs. The Ministry of Food was busy encouraging house wives to use the new product and advised:
This dried egg is pure fresh egg with no additions, and nothing but the moisture taken away. It is pure egg, spray dried.
Eggs are a highly concentrated form of food. They contain first class body-building material. They also help us to resist colds and other infection because of their high protective properties.
Eggs are easily digested, and for this reason are especially good for children and invalids.
Dried eggs are just as good as fresh eggs and should be used in the same way. They are very useful for main dishes.Powdered egg could lead to some unusual stories, such as this one related by Win Watson:
There was food rationing of course, but we always had enough to eat, though there were very unpleasant things like dried eggs and dried milk. When I was harvesting once, we girls were taking it in turns to cook and one day we were going to have bacon and dried egg made up into a sort of omelette. The bacon was cooked first, but when the dried egg was put into the pan it began to behave in the most extraordinary fashion. It began to foam, rose up and came over the sides of the pan. It turned out the girl who had been cook thee day before was tidy and had put the soap powder into an empty dried egg tin!
Powdered egg has a shelf life of between 5 and 10 years, so these are well past their sell by date and I for one have no intention of opening them to sample what they taste like after 75 years!
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will have realised that I rather like World War One postcards, and they are a regular item on our Sunday night image slot. The number of postcards produced during World War One is quite staggering and they range from the very common to some really rare cards that were produced in tiny numbers. I am an incidental collector of these postcards, I pick them up if I come across them but I am not actively seeking them out. Despite this, reference books are always useful to have and so I was pleased to recently pick up a copy of ‘Til the Boys Come Home, The First World War through its Picture Postcards’ by Tonie and Valmai Holt.This book was first published back in 1977, but a revised edition was released in 2014 by Pen and Sword and it is this copy I have. The book is surprisingly weighty for its size and this is due to the high quality paper used in its printing, this being a necessity in a book with over 700 reproductions of postcards in full colour inside. The quality of reproduction is superb and the selection of images excellent with many rare and unusual cards included from all the belligerent nations of World War One. These images are accompanied by captions for each one and a traditional body text that approaches the Great War thematically. The authors look at topics such as the machines of war, humour, women and the home front and that great love of the era, sentiment. Splitting the book thematically makes a great deal of sense and one of the things that struck me was the similarities and differences between the various nations approach to topics. This is perhaps most apparent in humour with the British publishing self-deprecating humorous cards reflecting on the conditions in the front such as the illustrations by Bruce Bairnsfather and the adaptation of many seaside comic characters to the wartime situation (the large and overbearing wife, the hen pecked husband etc.). By contrast German humorous cards seemed to have a love of toilet humour, bare bottoms and chamber pots!For me however the main problem I had with this book is the dated nature of much of the supporting text. Originally written in the 1970s the book perpetuates the ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ and ‘Mud, blood and Poppycock’ portrayal of World War One. The historiography of the conflict has moved on since then and historians have been increasingly challenging this view of the war with research showing that actually junior officers led their men well and suffered disproportionate casualties as a result whilst Generals were far more innovative and open to new ideas (even if the execution of them was limited) than had been previously believed. If the book was a direct reprint of the original I could accept this far more readily, but the authors make a point of saying that the book has been revised and updated for the Twenty First century and I found some of the supporting text quite jarring.This criticism aside, the book is a wonderful coffee table book that is packed full of illustrations and background information and I have no hesitation in recommending it to collectors of wartime postcards or just those who are interested in how the war was portrayed through one of the most popular mediums of its day. I have certainly learnt a lot from this book and it is currently available from Naval and Military Press for just £4.99, instead of the cover price of £24.99 here.
Update: My thanks to Richard Aixill for providing some more information on these trousers which has allowed an update.
Most militaria collectors tend to focus on combat clothing or other distinctly military items of clothing. Alongside these though, are a large number of pieces of work clothing that look very similar to their civilian counterparts, but are purchased for military use. Items such as specialist clothing for medical use are normally identical to their civilian counterparts but have labels and markings that indicate they were part of the military stores systems. Tonight we have an example of just this sort of item with a pair of medical technician’s trousers:These are made of heavy duty white cotton and are simple, loose fitting trousers. The waist and fly are secured with white plastic buttons:And a metal slider is included for waist adjustment:Simple slash pockets are included at each hip:And a buttoned rear pocket is fitted to the seat of the trousers:The label in the waistband of the trousers shows they are military issue as they have an NSN number and gives details of sizing:The 22G code indicates they were issued to the RAF and they date from around 1979. They were manufactured by Remploy, a government owned factory that offered employment to disabled men and women and a firm that won many contracts from the military in the post-war period.
I have struggled to find much information on medical technicians in the Army during this period, I have got a description of what an ‘Operating Theatre Technician’ was expected to do in 1979:
Operating Theatre Technicians are selected from RAMC trained soldiers. They prepare operating theatres and assist surgeons, anaesthetists, and hospital sisters during operations in hospitals and field units both at home and abroad…
A medical technician though was a more general term for any other rank member of the armed forces in a medical role and these trousers were probably worn by both these and those with a more specific role in military healthcare of the period: the white colour indicating their use in a ward or hospital rather than in front line service.
Last week I was lucky enough to pick up a quite sizeable collection of documents relating to a National Service Signaller who served in Malaya at the end of the 1940s. There are plenty of interesting papers here and I will pick out some of the more interesting items with ‘a tale to tell’ to post on the blog:We start tonight with a small card for the British Other Ranks Holiday Home in Penang, known as Sandycroft:In the 1940s it was impossible for British soldiers to return home to the UK for their leave and officers were very keen to ensure their men did not spend their leave in some of the less salubrious flesh pots of East Asia. To solve this problem, holiday homes were set up that provided accommodation, bars, sports and recreation facilities within a day’s travel of the more far flung corners of empire and the one in Malaya was at Penang. It consisted of a number of chalets, swimming pools and a bar and was next to a large beach and the sea for men to swim in:Not only was the holiday home there for servicemen, but also their families if they happened to be living in the country so many wives and children were able to take advantage of the facilities. Before going on leave, a man needed to have a leave pass signed by his unit, with details of where he intended to go so he could be recalled if needed. In this case we also have this leave chit for our National Serviceman, Lance Corporal W Proctor:On arrival at the Sandycroft Holiday Home L/Cpl Proctor was issued with a card that included details of his room on the front and the various times of meals, assistance available to him and other information a holiday maker might need printed inside:At some point in the early 1950s Sandycroft holiday home was renamed Sandycroft Leave Centre and it was to remain in use for the next twenty years.
Roger Mereweather took his leave at Sandycroft a few years later:
I was based at R.P.O.Malaya in Singapore (Nee Soon) from June 1956 to December 1957 and us poor national servicemen could just about afford Sandycroft Leave Centre for the two breaks we earned while in Asia. I didn’t know it as an RAF leave centre and the only women we encountered were the NAFFI Girls who took care of our every need (almost) I remember one of them as Molly but being a virgin soldier I had to behave myself.. In those days it took 24 hours to travel by train up to Penang and now I can do it in 12 from the UK and what a place it still is, well worth going to.
After the British withdrawal from Malaya, Sandycroft was taken over by the Dalat International School in 1971.