Tonight we are taking a look at one of the books on the market offering a reference guide to WW2 British Army equipment. There have been a number of different books written over the years covering the uniforms, weapons and equipment of the British Tommy and this book, Equipment of the WWII Tommy has been available in its original format for a while now:
This however is the revised and expanded edition and coming it at 658 pages long its certainly one of the longest tomes out there. Length however is not the important factor with military history books, it’s the content we are interested in. The book is written by David B Gordon and is one of a series of three, the other volumes covering weapons and uniforms. I have seen mixed reactions to these books, the reviews on Amazon are glowing but some of my fellow collectors do not rate them so highly.
This book certainly does what it says in the title and goes into detail about many items of British WW2 equipment, starting with webbing and then going on to look at rations and eating equipment, signalling items, optics, load carrying equipment and many more areas. This book certainly covers a lot of ground and it is profusely illustrated with both period photographs of the items in use and modern pictures of surviving artefacts. I will hold my hands up now and say that I certainly learnt a lot from this book and in many cases it seems to be the only thing out there covering the more obscure items. I have never seen details of the 3” mortar carrying harness, dixies, volt- testers and a variety of other pieces of specialist equipment before.
All in all then this book appears perfect…sadly however it never quite delivered for me. The author has clearly gone into a lot of detail about a great many items, but there are annoying and puzzling gaps that frustrate. One instance which might illustrate this is the section on mess tins. The two page spread has a lot of great pictures illustrating the difference between early war aluminium, mid war tinned steel and late war aluminium mess tins, it even has a section illustrating the different forms of securing the handle to the body of the tin:What is therefore frustrating is that, after going into such depth, the author doesn’t provide details of the rest of the mess tins used by British and Empire forces, no mention is made of D-Shaped, Cavalry or Indian oval aluminium mess tins. This is an example of where to me is where the book really falls short, it has a very uneven approach; covering some things in great depth, but ignoring other obvious areas. It also strikes me that a better focus would have done the book great favours, sections on documents and pamphlets and on gliders seem an odd fit with the nature of the rest of the items covered. In this case I feel the author would have been better leaving these bits out and instead concentrating on items more usually worn, carried and used by the Tommy. There are also odd additions, the section on water bottles has the usual 37 pattern cradles you would suspect, however there is no mention of the early aluminium bottles and for some reason a 1940 pattern carrier is included. Again this seems odd as there is nothing on the rest of the 1940 equipment and this seems as if the author just had access to one and decided to throw it in as it was a bit different and quirky.
I suppose after this rather mixed assessment I am left asking myself if I am glad I bought the book, and despite my many frustrations with it, I am. Despite its limitations, the breadth of coverage within is superb and this is the only place you are going to find anything out about many of the pieces covered and the period photographs are superb, with many excellent Canadian ones I have not seen published before. Like all other books on the topic it should be read in conjunction with other sources and the reader’s own research, but it is an useful addition to the book case. I believe the book is now out of print but it is still available from Amazon here, however cheaper copies are also available from Soldier of Fortune.