As a collector I am used to picking up very odd items for my collection, tonight’s definitely falls into that category. I was on the second hand market this morning and for some reason decided to hunt through a box of brushes, I was very surprised and pleased when I noticed one of them was Air Ministry marked:Again this was not an expensive item, just £4, which highlights how anyone can have a good and unusual collection if they are prepared to go hunting for things. The brush itself has stiff bristles, bound into two groups with copper wire, these are then fastened to a wooden handle. I believe these were used for paste or whitewash and so would have been used to maintain the buildings of an aerodrome by the most junior of airmen! A close up of the markings on the handle shows the ‘AM’ and crown mark of the Air Ministry, the RAF’s equivalent to the /|\ mark, and a stores number:As can be seen there is also an instruction to soak the bristles before use, presumably to soften them to get a smoother coat. These brushes are identical to examples used by civilian workmen of the period and I would expect the RAF just placed contracts with the same firms and added their identifying marks before issuing. For those interested in all things ‘Air Ministry’ I can heartily recommend this blog https://airministrybybuttons.wordpress.com/ which has a lot of interesting and useful information on RAF marked furniture and equipment. The illustration below is from the 1939 Army and Navy Stores Catalogue:
Good communications between soldiers at the front and their loved ones in the UK was recognised very early on as being as important to troops’ morale and efficiency as good rations. The British Army in the Great War moved millions of letters and parcels in both directions and letters from troops back to their loved ones in the UK were censored to ensure they did not reveal anything that might be militarily sensitive. Naturally this process was lengthy and a way was needed to speed up the process of delivering simple messages back home, especially in the wake of a major battle. The Army came up with a simple form, the Field Service Postcard (Army Form A.2042). This was a simple piece of card that had phrases for the soldier to strike through to let his relatives know he was safe:The opposite side of the postcard had space for an address:These cards were free to send and consequently were very popular. Although the information contained in them was by its nature limited, it could be delivered to the recipient in the UK within twelve hours of being posted as it did not need to be censored. This gave much needed piece of mind to family back in Great Britain- they might not have details, but at least they would know their loved one was still alive. Agatha Chrstie, the novelist, received one from her husband:
It had printed sentences on it which anyone sending a card was allowed to cross off or leave in: such things as AM WELL, AM IN HOSPITAL, and so on. I felt, when I got it, for all it’s meagre information, that it was a good omen.
Some at the time criticised the postcard for damaging the skill of letter writing, but these postcards seem to have been used alongside conventional letters rather than instead of them. This example dates from some point after 1918 as it has an R.A.F. form number on it as well as an Army number, but I have been unable to find a date when the form went out of use; the style of the Royal Coat of Arms is that used in the Second World War:
When this little mirror popped up on eBay last week I very quickly picked it up to add to my 1944 pattern small kit:As can be seen this mirror is made of stainless steel, polished to make it very relective, with two holes fitted through it. These allow the mirror to be hung up for shaving in everyday use, and allow it to be used as a heliograph if circumstances warranted it. The grometted hole in the centre allows the mirror to be lined up precisely for signalling, with a tight beam of light reflecting off the surface. By tipping the mirror back and forth a flash of light can be created that allows signals to be transmitted using Morse code. This method of communicating was both simple and pretty secure and was frequently used in sunnier climes and mountainous areas where other forms of communication would not be as effective.
The mirror is protected from scratches by a green cotton bag:The only markings on the mirror are a War Department /|\ mark and a maker’s stamp of WTL:WTL seems to be quite a common manufacturer’s mark for these mirrors, but this example is missing the date that often appears beneath the /|\ mark. Although the mirror is designed to be used as a signalling device, I suspect it was of far more use to the average soldier as a shaving mirror, with the British Army preferring it’s soldiers to be clean shaven if at all possible, even in the field.
Soldiers in the First World War were only issued three basic medals, the 1914-15 Star, the War Medal and the Victory Medal. After the Second World War the British government issued a much wider selection of campaign medals covering many of the different theatres of war:
- 1939-45 Star
- Atlantic Star
- Air Crew Europe Star
- Africa Star
- Pacific Star
- Burma Star
- Italy Star
- France and Germany Star
Belatedly in 2012 an Arctic Star was instituted as well. These medals were also accompanied by a Defence Medal and a War Medal of circular design. I was pleased to pick up the France and Germany Star for £5 on Tuesday’s second hand market; it was missing a ribbon, but a pound on another stall soon remedied that situation! The medal itself follows the standard design with a six pointed star struck in yellow copper zinc alloy. The medal is suspended from a ribbon passing through a ring at the uppermost point:The reverse of the medal is plain, whilst the obverse has the Royal G VI R cypher with a crown above and a circle describing the medal, in this case France and Germany Star:The ribbon is striped blue-white-red-white-blue:These colours represent the national flags of the UK, France and Belgium. The medal was issued to those who served in Western Europe between June 6th 1944 and 8th May 1945 inclusive. These medals are not hard to find and seem to fetch around £20 each for an original (beware fakes are out there!).
The leather jerkin was frequently and popularly used as an additional layer of warm clothing in the European theatre during World War 2. This however was not its primary purpose; it was actually designed as a protective layer to prevent damage to a soldier’s uniform when doing heavy work such as using artillery or fixing engines. Tonight we are looking at an Indian made jerkin which is very much designed as purely work wear. My thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for tipping me off to this one on eBay. The jerkin is made of leather like its UK equivalent:Where it differs is the lack of any sort of lining, hence the lack of any thermal properties:Note how the jerkin is made of a number of odd pieces of leather, again copying the UK version. The leather is simple machine sewn together like cloth. The collar of the jerkin is reinforced and a leather loop is stitched in to allow it to be hung up:The armpits on the jerkin have extra crescents of leather to help reinforce a weaker area:The original buttons on this jerkin were missing so I have replaced them with the removable plastic buttons used on denims and other clothing requiring them to be removable, these match a photograph of an example in the Imperial War Museum:According to Brayley’s Khaki Drill and Jungle Green the buttons were held on by a leather thong originally, these however have small brass split rings:This jerkin is quite a bit smaller than my British example, but they did come in a variety of sizes and many Indians were smaller than European soldiers due to the poor diet and conditions in the country during the first half of the twentieth century. Despite this, the jerkin is still perfectly useable, even for someone 6’ tall like myself:
Right back at the start of this blog we looked at a number of British and South African Army cigarette tins, tonight we are looking at another little army issue tin. This example was issued to individual troops to give them somewhere safe to put their cigarettes when issued their share with rations and would have held around twenty cigarettes. The tin itself is a small pressed metal container, painted dark green, with ‘CIGARETTES’ printed across the front:As can be seen it is very badly faded, the base of the tin reveals its original colour:The difference in colour is striking! Note also the corrugations impressed in the base of the tin. This is a popular feature of tobacco tins of the first half of the twentieth century and acted as a striker for the matches of the period. The lid of the tin is hinged, with a simple length of wire:The importance of cigarettes to the armed forces in the Second World War is illustrated by a story from 1940 in the wake of Dunkirk, told by L R Childs, a child at the time:
There must have been a signal since the driver applied the brakes and in a flurry of dust and steam the train squealed to a halt. The engine now well over the bridge began panting and puffing as it paused in the sunshine reflecting the exertion of pulling a large number of carriages.
The housewives came out from under the bridge and with us lads and a few more passers by together we looked up at the stationary train.
The carriage windows were down obviously the passengers needed the cooler air, and to our surprise a soldier appeared. A head of unkempt hair, a grimy face and a scruffy army tunic. Eyes blinking from the sunshine he looked down on our silent group.
The youngest of the housewives called up to him, “Are you all right?”
The soldier looked at us, at the houses and shops as if in a dream. He struggled to reply, then said, “I’m gasping for a fag.”
“Cigarette? Yes I’ve got one.” The young lady opened her handbag and extracted a packet.
She lifted her arm as if to throw the packet up to the soldier but realised that it would be futile, the bridge perhaps 30-feet up, a lightweight packet couldn’t be thrown that far. Thinking quickly she called, “I’ll bring these up to you,” and she walked over to the side of the bridge and tried to climb the steep embankment. A daunting task.
She looked at us boys. “You lads, come over here and help me up.” It was a command. We moved quickly but then I paused since nailed to the wall of the embankment was a notice.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
“Don’t just stand there. Come on.” She was very determined and I obeyed.
But others had also moved over to the young lady. They were offering packets of cigarettes.
“Take these.” A packet of Players thrust into her bag.
“And these.” Woodbines, Craven A, Park Drive, a dozen packets for the soldiers. So we heaved, pulled and tugged and to the cheers and encouragement of many soldiers now leaning from windows we got up onto the track.
That lady didn’t stop, she moved onto the bridge with us lads in close pursuit, to where our first soldier was leaning from the carriage window. Taking a packet from her bag she reached up, he opened the carriage door and gratefully took the cigarettes.
The remaining packets were distributed in a flash.
The Mk 6 helmet was the standard combat helmet in the British Army from 1986 to 2009 and is still in widespread use by secondary forces such as cadets, the Royal Navy and RAF. The helmet was the first British design to use bonded ballistic nylon and was a major departure from the traditional steel helmet used up until that point. Tonight we are looking at an A4 leaflet issued on its introduction giving troops more details about their new helmet, its care, use and fitting (as ever click on the image for a larger version):As can be seen the front of the leaflet emphasises the increased protection the helmet offers and the fact that it is not made of steel so should not be used as a hammer, shovel of water container! The cut away diagram is particularly interesting and shows many of the features of the new helmet:The reverse of the leaflet gives more information on sizes, fitting and wearing the helmet with NBC equipment:I am unsure if these leaflets were only issued with the first batches of the helmets (which the reference to the earlier steel helmet would imply) or if they continued to be issued throughout the production life of the Mk6. Having worn the Mk 6 on quite a few occasions I have found that if it’s my own helmet and adjusted carefully then it is comfortable and easy to wear. If however it is a helmet from a pool then it is always a challenge to find one of an appropriate size and quickly adjust the chin strap for comfort as the adjusters are not brilliant for use in a hurry. Normally it is best to have an oppo help to get a good adjustment.
These helmets gave the British Army sterling service for many years, with the Mk7 which replaced them being very similar, only lighter and designed to work better with body armour which had not been an issue when the Mk 6 was introduced. The helmets themselves are easily available and this leaflet accompanies the example in my collection nicely.