In the immediate post-war period, the uniforms and equipment of the British armed forces underwent a period of transition as lessons learnt during the Second World War and conflicts immediately after were absorbed and influenced designs. There was also a definite American influence- seen for instance in the adoption of US style parkas, sateen uniforms etc. This is perhaps understandable considering the close co-operation between UK and US forces in the Korean peninsular, where British troops acquired US equipment, wore it and fed back positive opinions up the chain of command. Tonight we are looking at a peaked cap used by the RAF in the 1950s and 1960s, showing a definite US influence:The cap is made of KD cotton fabric, with a pair of metal grommets on the front to pass the loops of a cap badge through:The broad peak is designed to shade the wearer’s eyes and is reinforced with rows of stitching:Two metal ventilators are fitted to each side, near the crown:Inside the cap a draw string allows a degree of adjustment:The cap has a faint manufacturer’s stamp, with a /|\ mark, date of 1956 (I think) and a size of 7 ½:These caps were an attempt to find something better to protect air crew’s heads from the sun whilst working in tropical climes. The pith helmet was obsolete by this date and the beret worn in the UK was clearly of no use. These hats provided shade for the eyes, but were still far from perfect as they left the vulnerable area at the back of the neck unprotected from the danger of sun burn. Sadly I am really struggling to find much more information on this cap, or indeed any period photographs of it being worn. As the RAF phased out KD uniform in 1972, the cap must have been used in the late 1950s and into the 1960s.
As the Second World War progressed British and Empire forces became increasingly better equipped for fighting in the jungle, with new tactics, uniforms and equipment being introduced to give the fighting man a better chance against the Japanese. One innovation was to dye webbing equipment green so it blended in better with the jungle environment. Initially Indian made 37 pattern webbing was vat dyed after it had been made, but as the war progressed the material itself was pre-dyed before being made up into the items of webbing. Those items that were dyed after being assembled have stitching that matches the colour of the webbing; those made from pre-dyed webbing have distinctive tan stitching, as in the case of this pair of Indian made cartridge carriers:The stitching is very visible, as are the different shades of green showing various components of the cartridge carrier were made from different batches of webbing cloth, this is especially obvious on the rear:The metal fittings are typically Indian brass, rougher than UK manufacture but still perfectly serviceable:There does not appear to be any manufacturer’s marks on the two carriers, but there is a code of what I believe says ‘OZA2’ inside one of the flaps:The flaps themselves are secured with Newey studs and there are three different designs of fastener across the two carriers, one fastener has a star pattern:One has a swirl design:And the remaining two are more conventional pebbled designs:As ever with these carriers, there are two male fasteners allowing the securing of the pouch to be adjusted depending on whether it is filled or not:These carriers have finally allowed me to assemble a complete skeleton set of pre-dyed jungle green Indian webbing:
At the outbreak of World War 2 the British Army issued its troops with glass jars containing Anti-Gas ointment:These jars are made of a glass like pot, in either white or brown, and have a pressed metal lid with details and instructions printed on the top:
Inside the jar is a white cream:This is a mixture of Chloramine-T and a vanishing cream (stearic acid, an alkali, polyol and water). The government provided information on the anti-gas ointment to troops:
Anti-Gas ointment No 2. Consists of a vanishing cream base containing Chloramine T.
It is effective against both mustard gas and lewisite. In both cases speedy application is essential, and this is of even more importance for lewisite than for mustard gas. In the case of lewisite contamination, immediate application is necessary to ensure complete neutralisation of the effects, but later applications will still mitigate the severity of any burn which may develop.
The ointment should be applied to the contaminated area in small quantities and thoroughly rubbed in until it vanishes. It should be rubbed in for at least one minute.
It is possible to use No. 2 Ointment as a prophylactic against the vapour of mustard gas or lewisite (i.e. it can be applied to the skin before exposure to blister gas vapour occurs) but it has some irritant effect if repeatedly applied, especially on areas covered by clothing. It should therefore only be used in this manner by someone who knows that he is about to enter an area where he will be exposed to mustard gas or lewisite vapour.
Since the ointment is made with a vanishing cream base containing water, it tends to dry during storage, therefore containers must be airtight and should not be opened until required for use.
There should be a filling date on the underside of the jar lid, but it is obscured on this example and I am not about to start scraping off the ointment to find it. These jars were replaced by lead tubes of ointment for frontline troops (see here), but continued to be issued to civil defence and police personnel throughout the war. Frequently early war photographs of troops have a tell tale circle visible on their gas mask haversacks where the jar is being carried:
It has been a while since we last looked at a pair of goggles, tonight we are looking at a pair commonly worn by dispatch riders, tank crews and other British and Empire troops:The outer frames are made of metal, with shatterproof orange tinted lenses within:The orange tinting was supposed to cut down the glare from the sun and prevent eyes from becoming strained or damaged. The sides are sprung and have a padded section where the goggles touch the skin:Two leather tabs are attached, one at each side, for the straps to be fastened to:The straps on this pair have been modified to be secured by lengths of sting. The straps themselves are elasticated and adjusted by two small slider buckles:I can find no official markings on these goggles, and precious little in the way of imagery online. There are however a couple of nice period photographs showing them being worn such as this dispatch rider:And these Poles are using them to protect their eyes from snow blindness:These goggles seem pretty common and crop up every so often, often looking virtually unissued.
Regular readers will know I have quite a lot of ammunition boxes! Tuesday’s market brought up yet another one:This has been painted silver at some point so I need to strip it down and repaint it in service brown. The markings on the top date it to 1942:And indicate it is a P59 box:These boxes measure 19.15”x7.85”x8.5” and were used for carrying a number of different items:
25-pr. Q.F. gun Shell, H.E.
Number Packed: 4
Gross weight: 115 lbs
25-pr. Q.F. gun Shell, Chem
Number Packed: 4
Gross weight: 96 lbs
25-pr. Q.F. gun Shell, Smoke
Number Packed: 4
Gross weight: 104 lbs
Grenades No. 68
Number Packed: 17
Number Packed: 24
Gross weight: 46 lbsThe box lid is secured by two wire clasps:The rubber grips on the handle are indicative of early production runs of ammunition boxes:In this image the P59 boxes can be clearly seen as Female worker Pauline Renard stencils a case of 25-pounder shells ready for shipment at the Cherrier or Bouchard plants of the Defense Industries Limited. “July 1944 Montreal, Quebec:
These boxes are very easy to restore, I attach a wire brush to my drill and remove any loose particles, before giving it a coat of paint (always a messy job). I will update with further pictures when this one is looking a little less dishevelled.
One of the first stops a British soldier made when being stationed to a far flung station of Empire was often to the local photographic studio to have a souvenir postcard taken to send back to his loved ones. This postcard, from my collection, dates from the inter-war period and shows a soldier, proudly wearing his tropical kit, sat in a chair in some distant land:The postcard has ‘To Dearest Mother’ written in the bottom right hand corner:The soldier himself wears a uniform of a khaki Drill high necked tunic, secured by brass buttons and with a stand and fall collar:He wears this with shorts and an 08 pattern belt:On his head he wears a Wolseley helmet:And a (sadly unreadable) metal shoulder title is fixed to the shoulder strap of the uniform:Despite his youthful looks, the ring on his finger indicates he is married:And he is clearly a pipe smoker:His puttees display either a personal or regimental touch in having a distinctive ‘criss-cross’ pattern:This pattern is not that easy to achieve, as this guide shows:His hob-nailed ammunition boots are clearly of WW1 pattern as they lack a toe cap:Sadly there is no indication of an exact name, regiment or date with this postcard; this is not uncommon I’m afraid. Nevertheless it remains a very evocative reminder of a forgotten world between the wars.
As anyone who has watched ITVs ‘Homefires’ (I will leave you to form your own opinion on the merits of the drama!)will have realised, the Women’s Institute had a vital part to play on the home Front in World War II. They were to organise the knitting of socks for service men, bottling of fruit and supporting the evacuation of children amongst many other tasks. The W.I. had been set up in the UK during World War One and was based on a similar, earlier organisation in Canada. By 1939 the WI had 328,000 members and was a predominantly rural organisation, with meetings taking place in village halls across the country:Members of the Women’s Institute often wore this enamelled badge throughout the period to identify themselves:The design of the badge itself was an adaptation of a Canadian WI badge designed by Laura Rose, who came up with the motto ‘For Home and Country’ in 1901. The Canadian badge had two maple leaves:When its British equivalent adopted the design, it modified it by changing one of these leaves to a rose to represent the UK better. The rear of the badge has a pin fastener to allow it to be pinned to the owner’s clothes:As women did not always wear jackets with button hole lapels, the standard button hole fastener of the period common to men’s badges was unsuitable. Hilary Clarke has given us this description of the breadth of work carried out by Longstone W.I.:
The war proved how resourceful members of the W.I. could be. By October 1939, they had acquired an allotment and organised meetings to advise on the importance of homegrown vegetables. A jumble sale was held to raise money for blackout curtains for the school. Members helped with the collection of waste paper scrap iron and aluminium, and knitting groups were formed to knit socks, balaclavas and mittens for the troops. The W.I. helped with the evacuees and organised a joint Christmas party for them and the village children.
As the war progressed and food became scarce, a canning system was organised in the grounds of Longstone Hall. Members brought along surplus plums, damsons and apples to be canned.
The W.I. monthly meetings took on a practical nature with demonstrations of wartime cookery, hay-box cooking, the re-footing of lisle stockings and dress renovation. Ministry of Information films were shown including ‘The Danger Of Invasion’ and ‘The necessity Of Saving For the War Effort’.
W.I. members diligently gave of their best to help the war effort by any means at their disposal.