Getting hot rations up to troops in the field has always been difficult and one of the constant complaints by men in the First World War was that by the time soups or stews reached them they were cold. By the Second World War insulated containers had started to be introduced that helped alleviate this problem however the weight of a full container raised its own problems. These containers were cylindrical and did not have any handles so were particularly awkward to transport so a couple of different webbing carriers were developed. There were double carriers to hold two insulated containers and this type that held just a single example:This heavy duty carrier is worn on the back in place of the small pack and worn in rucksack fashion with a pair of shoulder straps, that could be attached or detached at the base using a large pair of brass hooks to make it easier to don the heavy pack:These straps could be adjusted with a pair of small buckles on each strap:Further adjustments could be made by using a pair of 2” Twigg buckles at the top of the pack:A chest strap is included that helps distribute the load across the upper body:The only date markings are on the shoulder strap where there is a faint date of 1945 marked:The carrier itself is a large webbing bag, with a flat back containing a fibre board for rigidity:The base of the carrier has a small set of metal feet that help protect it from damage when it is taken off and placed on the ground:It was recognised that the weight of the full carrier would be uncomfortable for the wearer, so large pads were fitted for comfort; one at the top:And another at the base:These carriers were never personal issue pieces and were instead kept at unit level for distribution as and when needed for those who were picked for ration duties. As such they were never blancoed and it seems that few were ever used as nearly all examples that turn up are 1945 dated and completely unissued. I do have an insulated container, however this is one of the taller post war types and so doesn’t work with this carrier. The post war containers seem to be much easier to find than the wartime type, but I will keep my eyes out for one as it would be nice to match it up with this carrier.
In 2007 under a regimental restructure a number of infantry, light infantry and rifle regiments were merged together to form a single, seven battalion regiment (Five regular and two TA battalions) called ‘The Rifles’ this regiment was formed from:
- 1st Battalion The Rifles (formed from the 1st Battalion, Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, and the 1st Battalion Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment)
- 2nd Battalion The Rifles (formed from the 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets)
- 3rd Battalion The Rifles (formed from the 2nd Battalion, Light Infantry)
- 4th Battalion The Rifles (formed from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Green Jackets)
- 5th Battalion The Rifles (formed from the 1st Battalion, Light Infantry)
- 6th Battalion (TA) The Rifles (formed from the Rifle Volunteers)
- 7th Battalion (TA) The Rifles (formed from the Royal Rifle Volunteers minus the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment Company but with the surviving two Companies (F and G) of 4th (V) and 5th (V) Battalions of the Royal Green Jackets within The London Regiment)
The regiment adopted the rifle green beret as its headgear and tonight we are looking at an example:This beret is made from a dark green wool, with a leather sweatband. This is adjustable using a drawstring. Once the beret has been correctly adjusted, these are tied off and tucked inside the sweatband to make a neat appearance:The Rifles adopted a traditional light infantry/rifles bugle as their cap badge, here topped by the Queen’s St Edward’s Crown:Surprisingly the cap badge is of white metal, but it is not anodized aluminium stay-brite, however this seems to be the case for all of the regiments cap badges and must have been a conscious decision of the regiment when it was formed:The label inside indicates that this beret was specially made for the regiment, and is of very recent manufacture, dating back just a few years to 2015:What is really nice is that this beret has clearly been issued and used as it has the rifleman’s number and name written inside on the label:The rifles have had an eventful time over the last decade since they were formed, seeing regular deployment on active service. The 2nd Battalion, the 3rd Battalion and the 4th Battalion were all deployed in Basra in Iraq during some of the worst fighting of the Iraq War including the withdrawal from Basra Palace in September 2007.
The 1st Battalion undertook a tour in Afghanistan between October 2008 and April 2009 mentoring the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province. The 5th Battalion was one of the last British Army units to leave Iraq in May 2009. The 4th Battalion provided reinforcement cover for the elections in Afghanistan and to take part in Operation Panther’s Claw in Summer 2009. At the same time the 2nd Battalion was deployed to Sangin and was relieved in due course by the 3rd Battalion. The 2nd and 5th battalions of the Rifles returned for a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan serving in the Nahri Saraj District in October 2011. In March 2018 the 2nd Battalion returned home after a six-month operational deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Shader.
I have slowly been working on building up my Canadian 37 pattern webbing collection over the last few months, I have a British set and an Indian set, whilst South African and Australian are a little trickier to find so for now the Canadian set is the one I am working on.
Recently I have picked up a pair of basic pouches and they have a number of distinctive Canadian features that are worth examining closer:It is worth reminding ourselves of the description from the 37 pattern webbing manual:
Basic pouches- These are interchangeable, and are rectangular in shape to contain two Bren Gun magazines each, or a number of grenades, or S.A.A. A buckle is provided at the top of each pouch for attachment of the brace; this buckle has a loop at the top which serves for connecting the hook on the shoulder strap. Two double hooks are fitted to the back of each pouch for attachment to the waistbelt.
Compared to British made pouches the strap securing the box lid is 1″ wide compared to 3/4″ of the standard pattern:Early Canadian basic pouches had the same 3/4″ wide strap, but seem to have swapped over to the wider pattern in around 1941. Despite these pouches late date of manufacture, the underside of the lid still retains three loops to hold Ballistite cartridges for grenade launchers:The second major difference is the top brass buckle on each pouch, which is of a completely different design to that used in other parts of the Empire:The rear of the pouch has a pair of ‘C’ hooks:This pouch is particularly well made, as is typical of Canadian manufacture. This pair was made in 1943 by Zephyr Loom and Textile:The Canadian acceptance mark of a /|\ inside a ‘C’ is stamped on the underside of each pouch lid:Like much Canadian webbing found today, this pair of pouches is in almost unissued condition and is another great addition to my little set. I find collecting up the Empire variants of 37 pattern and the various pack fillers to be great fun and hopefully I can continue to fill out my collection.
In the immediate post war period the British military started reviewing the extreme cold weather clothing it had available and introduced several new garments based on wartime experience. The Royal Navy had found itself gaining much experience of operating in sub-zero temperatures during the convoy runs to Murmansk and Archangel in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Ironically the emerging threat was not the USSR and with this being the case there was the clear possibility that future combat might occur in the frozen wastes of the Arctic. New extreme cold weather clothing was rapidly developed for the RN including specially padded trousers:These are made from a closely woven dark blue cotton and filled with a very thick layer of insulation for warmth. The insulation is indeed so thick that the trousers have special expansion cuts on the knees to allow the wearer to even bend his legs!A single large pocket is seen to the front of the left leg, secured with one black plastic button:The flies fasten with further plastic buttons:The waist is adjustable with cotton straps:And corresponding white metal buckles (as these trousers are unissued they are still wrapped in tissue from when they were made):The end of each trouser leg has a tab and two buttons allowing the leg to be wrapped around the ankle and fastened tight before the wearer slips his feet into boots:The label inside indicates that this pair was manufactured in 1952 and the term ‘Vocab’ shows they were naval issue, this being the RNs store’s code system:It is hard to identify the use of these trousers from period photographs but I think I have found a couple of images where they are being worn. In 1949 the RN undertook Arctic trials on board HMS Vengeance and here we see sailors wearing heavily padded trousers which look to be the same pattern as the set above:
This week’s photograph is a magnificent study of a British Army column on the move through rural India between the wars:The column appears to be a light artillery unit and is entirely mounted, the officers leading on their chargers:A small group of mounted troopers follows close behind:Whilst the main column trails behind. There appears to be a succession of guns and limbers, each pulled by four or six horses, with the gun crews either riding pillion or on the limber itself:The column stretches away into the distance, curving round behind the bridge and shrouded in dust from the horses’ hooves:In the background a native village sits next to the road, its peaceful slumber rudely awoken by the passing troops:Behind this column would have trailed a large gaggle of hangers on, everything from cooks and servants to prostitutes and acrobats, all trying to part the soldier form his cash. Marches typically set off early in the morning before the sun became too hot and an advance part was sent ahead of the main column to prepare the following night’s camp. The camp was usually pitched near a small village or town and by the time the slow moving column reached it, hot and dusty, it would be ready for them. Apart for a few sentries, most men were then free to relax and visit the shops if the settlement was small enough. Any large town usually led to an order to remain in camp overnight. The following morning the camp was squared away and the process repeated until the column reached its final destination.
We have looked at the Mk II helmet on the blog before, here. Tonight we are looking at another example, specifically one with period scrim and camouflage on it:This helmet was given to me by the grandson of its original owner and has been stored in an attic for many decades, as such I am confident that the cover applied to it is genuine and wartime rather than a later re-enactor’s addition. The helmet is covered firstly in a layer of painted hessian sandbag material and then a finely woven net, with pieces of cord zig-zagged through to attach extra cover to:The two layers are more apparent on the underside of the helmet where the net’s drawstring has been pulled tight and the hessian backing can be seen at its perimeter:The method of camouflaging the helmet exactly complies with the army pamphlet on field craft which advised troops:
Put a hessian cover on your helmet to dull the shine, a net on top of that to hold scrim etc. and garnishing in the net to disguise the helmet’s distinctive shape, particularly the shadow under the brim.
The helmet is a shiny metal object with lines unlike anything in nature, it therefore stands out against a natural background. The layers of camouflage applied here serve different purposes. The hessian removes any potential shine from the helmet by covering the metal in its entirety. The net then breaks up the outline and allows further pieces of burlap or natural vegetation to be threaded through to reduce its ‘helmet’ like appearance and better blend into the background. This could be highly effective, but troops were warned not to take it too far as a moving bush was not realistic either!
Here troops form the Royal Scots Fusiliers clear a village during Operation Epsom in June 1944, each wearing the Mk II helmet, appropriately camouflaged and scrimmed:
Part of the Osprey Mk II and Mk III body armour set included a pouch holding a helmet bag. The helmet bag is designed to give a soldier a safe place to stow his helmet when it is not needed, somewhere it will be secure, out of the way but easy to access if it needs to be quickly donned. A lot of troops issued with the PLCE sets used a climbers carabineer usually attached to one of the shoulder straps or the waist which was used to clip the Mk 6 helmet to. The Osprey system gave troops a dedicated bag for this and although I do not have the pouch it is stowed in, I do have the mesh bag:The bag is designed to be large enough to fit a Mk 6 helmet in reasonably snuggly so that it doesn’t rattle around:The neck of the back has a drawstring and an adjustable strap allows it to be attached to the Osprey system:As well as the drawstring, two large Velcro panels are also provided to help secure the neck:I am not sure how popular this helmet bag was in service as I have struggled to find much information on it, one thing I did find referenced was its use as a dump pouch for used magazines. In combat there often isn’t time to carefully stow used magazines away, but equally a soldier does not want to just drop them on the ground where they might get damaged, lost or stolen by the enemy. A dump bag is just an open bag that used magazines can be dropped into until there is a lull in combat when they can be put back into pouches. This large open mesh bag would probably be well suited to this role and would obviously not be needed for its primary purpose when contact with the enemy had been made.
My thanks got to Michael Whittaker for kindly letting me have this piece.