RAF Woolly Pully

The woolly pully has been an enduring item of clothing for the last half century or more and remains popular with all three services. Tonight we are looking at an example of the RAF woolly pully. Although they all conform to a broadly similar design there are distinct differences in the details between the jumpers worn by each force. The RAF example is of course made in the typical RAF blue grey:imageThis example is unbelievably small so I suspect was for a cadet rather than a serviceman, it is still however referred to as an ‘RAF’ jumper on the label:imageNote the V neck of this jumper, this is the more formal version designed to be worn with a tie, other round neck versions were used at various points in the garment’s history. As with other woolly pullies, the shoulders have the usual fabric reinforcement and velcroed shoulder straps:imageElbow pads are sewn to the sleeves:imageAnd on the left sleeve is a pen pocket:imageThis opens up to reveal space for two or three pens or pencils:imageReduction knitting is used at the cuffs:imageAnd waistband:imageThis draws the garment in and helps keep a layer of air trapped between the jumper and the shirt, this air heats up and keeps the wearer warm.

One airman recalls the first issue of the woolly pully back in the early 1970s:

Ha-ha. The first woolly pully. A mate of mine gave his a wash, and being a singlie, he simply bunged it in with the rest of his dhobi. What came out was, shall we say, not the same as what went in. I was lucky I was married, 2 days after getting it I caught it on drain plug at work and put a hole in it. Went back to stores for another and they said feck off that’s got to last 4 years and threw some darning wool at me.

The woolly pully was quite well received:

When the Woolly Pully was introduced in the RAF it was a true Godsend.  Finally a true working uniform.  All previous styles involved a high-waisted trousers and bum-freezer blousen type jacket.  OK for parades, but not OK for working in.  There are the two neck styles round or crew necked and V necked.  The V necked were of course designed for wearing with a tie…All of mine wore out at the elbow and it wasn’t till I was leaving the RAF that they introduced Pullys with elbow patches.


1941 Diary-Calendar

Tonight’s object is a small diary-calendar from 1941. This little book is just 1”x 1.5” in size and features a photograph and quote from Antony Eden on the front about Dunkirk:imageThe back cover reveals that it was sold to raise money for a charity, the St John’s Guild for the Blind:imageThis charity had been formed in 1919 to help blind people in a Christian context and like most charities would have found itself being called upon to help more and more during wartime. Charities always struggled for cash, however in wartime with resources tighter and demands higher, this problem would have become more acute. Various fund raising schemes were popular in the 1940s including selling small tokens such as badges, flags or in this case a little diary. The cover is filled with a suitably stirring quote for the period and the flags of the services and the price of 2d made it easy for people of all walks of life to afford to purchase one.

The front page of the book indicates its purpose as a Diary Calendar for 1941:imageEach month has a double page spread, with a line for each day:imageThe centre of the book has excerpts from speeches from the King, Prime Minister:imageAnd other politicians of the day such as Hore-Belisha:imageThe back page includes a handy reminder of the holidays and saints’ days for the year ahead:imageThe small size of the book would have allowed it to be easily slipped into a wallet or purse, and with a small pencil stub gave the owner access to somewhere to jot down appointments whilst out and about without taking up much room. These little items of ephemera are not worth much today, but are actually quite scarce as most would have been thrown away after the year was up. This little book is a nice survivor and has been in my collection for many years now, I cannot recall where I got it or how much I paid but I suspect it won’t have cost me more than 50p.

Bull’s Head Can Opener

Tonight’s object is not actually military, however there is evidence to suggest it was used quite extensively by troops in a number of wars so I hope you will find it as interesting as I do.

The development of canning in the early 1820s was to revolutionise the delivery of rations to troops in the fields. Cans kept meat fresh and edible for long periods and although heavy they were relatively easy to transport. The only problem with early canned foods was opening the tins themselves! Instructions on the labels invited the consumer to use a hammer and chisel, for soldiers bayonets were also likely implements to open the tinned goods! Tinned goods did not start becoming common on the civilian market until the 1860s and by this point can openers had been developed. The most common design for the next sixty years was made of cast iron in the shape of a bull:imageThese were often painted red and the front of the opener includes a spike and a blade along with a stylised bull’s head:imageThe back of the can opener had a bull’s tail:imageThis example is a civilian opener, but GR marked examples have been seen. Although soldiers carried a tin opener on their jack knives, this larger can opener would have been much easier to use, especially on some of the large 7lb tins of bully beef that were supplied to feet larger groups of men. Archaeological evidence has found examples of these bull head can openers on American Civil War battlefields, Boer War battlefields and on the Western Front indicating they were indeed used. Here an example was found in South Africa:

I found the head and half the handle of one in Mooi River(South Africa) whilst leveling sites for house construction. The site was camp to a division of the red coats during the Anglo Boer war 1899. The site was riddled with rifle cartridges, cavalry buckles, ink wells etc.

Tinned goods really came into their own on the Western Front in World War One and corned beef, commonly known as ‘Bully Beef’ became synonymous with the British Tommy. Strict guidelines were issued to manufacturers to detail what should go into a tin:

The carcasses of cattle in prime condition not under two or over four years of age… Each 12oz. tin to contain not more than ½ oz., and each 24oz. tin not more than 1oz., of clear jelly made from soup stock and soup bones.

As well as corned beef, men were issued tins of ‘Machonochie’s stew’, a somewhat dubious meat and vegetable stew tinned and sent out to the front. This was designed to be eaten hot and contained a large amount of animal fat, unfortunately there was seldom time to heat the tins so they had to be eaten cold and this turned them into a greasy solid mass that was not popular. Tins could also go off if not correctly canned, the best way to detect this was to puncture them with a bayonet- if the tin hissed then it was best to leave it well alone!

A private serving in the Middle East recalls:

One of the features of the night marches was the frightful stink. The Maconochie’s stew ration gave the troops flatulence of a particularly offensive nature. So we marched along on air released by hundreds of men breaking wind.

There is still debate as to how widespread the use of the bulls head tin opener was by World War One, however if not widespread there is certainly indication that some carried and used them and this example will be joining my other personal kit in my 08 pattern haversack._74383704_q1580_iwm_soldiers_eating

Osprey Mk II Collars

This week we are looking at the collars that can be attached to an Osprey Mk II set of body armour. The osprey Mk II was designed to be scalable, meaning that soldiers who needed extra protection, but were less mobile than normal infantry, could add extra pieces of soft armour to the basic vest. This applied to troops such as gunners on vehicles where they were not moving about, but were more vulnerable to enemy fire. In this case extra collars and arm brassards were issued:Osprey_body_armour_basrahTwo types of collars were issued, a full depth example, and a half depth version:imageEach of these collars divides into two halves, with Velcro at the centre:imageThis allows a ballistic filler to be fitted inside, a small flap opening at the wider end to allow it to be fitted:imageI don’t have the filler, so I have used cut up yoga-mats to fill out my collar and give it some stiffness. I can’t speak for the actual filler, but in this case it was a real pain to pit the yoga-mat filler as it was hard to get it to the end of the cover and I had to resort to a long wooden spoon to get it to sit correctly! Each half of the collar is separately labelled:imageThe collar fits to the vest with both Velcro and lift the dot studs:imageA loop is also fitted to the rear that loops around the carry handle on the back of the neck of the vest:imageOnce fitted the collar fits securely to the vest:imageA Velcro tab is included to secure the front of the collar around the wearer’s neck:imageThe neck armour was never popular amongst British troops, but it was noted by one army surgeon that the lack of uptake of the armour led to British troops having three times as many neck wounds as their American counterparts whilst on active service in Afghanistan. It has been suggested that their unpopularity was due to the uncomfortableness of wearing them, the difficulty of aiming a rifle when wearing a collar and that they interfered with other equipment soldiers had to wear. As few as 4% of officers who had served in front line operations had worn the collars, despite them being available.

Having tried my collar attached to my Osprey, I can confirm it was bulky and the weight with the proper fillers would be quite high so it is perhaps unsurprising they were not more widely adopted, despite their potential to save lives.

Inglis Diamond, The Canadian Hi-Power Pistol Book Review

The Browning Hi Power is one of the most successful post-war 9mm military pistols of all time. Although the vast majority of these automatics were manufactured by the FN company in Belgium, during World War Two production was started in Canada at the Inglis factory with plans reconstructed from memory by FN employees who had escaped the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Production at Inglis was relatively short lived, but numerous variations within the basic design of the pistol abound and the pistol was to have a profound influence on post-war commonwealth militaries in finally persuading them to drop revolvers in favour of automatics.

The story of the Inglis manufactured Browning therefore is a fascinating one and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully detailed book on the subject “Inglis Diamond: The Canadian Hi-Power Pistol” by Clive Law, released in 2001 by specialist weapons publishing company Collector’s Grade.K1391A_a9bb7e78-000e-4340-b0c3-1e4a0e7d334cFor such a specialist topic this book is quite lengthy, coming in at 312 pages and starts with a brief overview of the pistol’s design and how Canada came to be manufacturing it. The book is profusely illustrated and covers all the contracts for pistols produced at the factory, alongside variations in design, sights and markings. Detailed photographs are provided of many different pistols as well as close ups of markings and slight mechanical changes to the design. The book also covers experimental models, prototype lightened pistols, presentation fire arms and even mentions illegally manufactured pistols created by Inglis staff who pilfered components from the assembly line! Added to this is a detailed study of the pistol’s accessories so different holsters and magazine pouches are covered which for someone who is fascinated by Canadian webbing as I am was very interesting! It is not just the Inglis made Hi-power’s career with the Canadian military that is covered, but also its service overseas with everyone from the Chinese to the Dutch. It is particularly interesting to see the weapon in its global context.image

imageimageThe book is very well written and packed full of original source documents to illustrate the political wrangling surrounding the pistol’s adoption and continued production; indeed the quantity of information in this book is astounding and if you are a collector of Hi-Power pistols then you will definitely want to get a copy; the more casual enthusiast might find the level of detail a little overwhelming however. Do not let that put you off however as it is an eminently readable book and although it has been out of print for a long time, copies are still available: Jeremy Tenniswood Militaria have copies available for £44.95 here.

Royal Irish Regiment Helmet Cover

The Royal Irish Regiment was formed in 1992 by the merger of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment. The regiment originally had nine battalions but following various mergers and the draw-down of forces in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process and today just two battalions remain. The regiment has seen service in both Iraq as part of Operation Telic and in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick. Tonight’s object comes from one of those operational tours and is a desert DPM helmet cover with a tactical recognition flash for the regiment:imageThe TRF takes the form of a green shamrock on a black square and is machine sewn to one side of the helmet cover:imageIt was common in the regiment to sew the badge onto the side of the helmet cover, here we see an example of this type of cover with the TRF from 2008 in Afghanistan:183934There is an interesting story relating to this from 2010 as related by a member of the regiment, Corporal Tommy Creighton:

I saw a round hit the ground in front of me. My reaction was to lower my head, tilting it forward, and then I felt the thud against my helmet as the round struck me. When we got back to the patrol base, the lads were all saying how lucky I was. The round had struck me right on my ‘shamrock’ regimental badge, which I guess is kind of symbolic!

My helmet cover belonged to a Ranger called ‘Booysen’, and he has written his name in black marker on one of the elastic straps on the front of the helmet:imageThis helmet cover is a large/outsize version and this is indicated on the internal label:imageThis is just as well as the Mk 6 helmet I have is massive and anything smaller would have struggled to go over the dome!

Here we see a Ranger holding the later Mk 7 helmet, although the helmet and cover are different, the tradition remains and the TRF can be clearly seen sewn onto the side:ARMY'S Mk7 HELMET SAVES LIFE, AFTER LIFE, AFTER LIFEI have seen a number of units who wore TRF patches sewn to the sides of their helmet covers, but the Royal Irish Regiment seem to have embraced the use of this insignia to a far greater extent than most other units. It certainly makes for a most attractive helmet cover and as it is the first badged example I have been able to add to my collection, I am very pleased to have got hold of it.

Highland Light Infantry Pipers Postcard

This week’s postcard is another of those delightful ‘oilette’ postcards that were so popular during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This example depicts the pipers of the Highland Light Infantry:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - CopyThey are wearing the full home service dress worn before the outbreak of World War One with scarlet tunics, kilts and glengarries:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - Copy - CopyBehind the pipers can be seen the drum section and the rest of the regiment marching along:SKMBT_C36416070110020_0001 - Copy - Copy (2)Pipers were not only used for parades, they also had an important role raising morale on the battlefield and offering aid to their wounded comrades. One piper from the highland light infantry, Kenneth McLeman was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Gallipoli for tending to the wounded under fire after his pipes were shattered by enemy fire. Another piper, Daniel Laidlaw, from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers won the VC at Loos in 1915. He describes his own actions as follows:

On Saturday morning we got orders to raid the German trenches. At 6.30 the bugles sounded the advance and I got over the parapet with Lieutenant Young. I at once got the pipes going and the laddies gave a cheer as they started off for the enemy’s lines. As soon as they showed themselves over the trench top they began to fall fast, but they never wavered, but dashed straight on as I played the old air they all knew ‘Blue Bonnets over the Border’. I ran forward with them piping for all I knew, and just as we were getting near the German lines I was wounded by shrapnel in the left ankle and leg. I was too excited to feel the pain just then, but scrambled along as best I could. I changed my tune to ‘The Standard on the Braes o’Mar’, a grand tune for charging on. I kept on piping and piping and hobbling after the laddies until I could go no farther, and then seeing that the boys had won the position I began to get back as best I could to our own trenches.

His citation adds more information to Piper Laidlaw’s modest account:

For most conspicuous bravery prior to an assault on German trenches near Loos and Hill 70 on 25 September 1915. During the worst of the bombardment, Piper Laidlaw, seeing that his company was badly shaken from the effects of gas, with absolute coolness and disregard of danger, mounted the parapet, marched up and down and played company out of the trench. The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed out to the assault. Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes until he was wounded.” London Gazette, 18 November 1915 , Loos, France, 25 September 1915, No. 15851 Piper Daniel Laidlaw, 7th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers.