Monthly Archives: November 2015

Tabby Equipment Box

As early as the 1920s the British had been experimenting with infrared to see what military applications could be made with it. The discovery that infra-red cameras could see in the dark was an unexpected off shoot of the development of the Farnsworth TV camera and it was quickly classified by the military as it had obvious military applications. Scientists began experimenting and a number of different scopes and viewers were created, under the generic code name ‘Tabby’ so named because a tabby cat can see in the dark! These devices were still secret into the Korean War, with troops told to bury them rather than allow them to be captured by the enemy.

Sadly I haven’t been able to add any of the actual infra-red equipment to my collection, but I did find a rather nice equipment case for some part of the Tabby system on Tuesday’s market:imageAs can be seen it is a wooden crate, heavily reinforced with wire and metal fixings:imageThese all suggest the original contents were particularly heavy and the box needed to be equally heavy duty. The handles are made of metal rather than the more usual rope seen on wooden ammunition boxes and crates:imageThe front of the box has extensive stencilling including ‘Tabby Eqpt’ and a British Army radio code of ‘ZA23131’:imageThe radio code is a reminder that infra-red equipment was used more for secure night time signalling than as a night vision device in the early days. The back of the crate has more stencilling, although I have not worked out the significance of ‘Gold 0-2-7’ yet:imageThis side also has two hinges that would have been attached to the lid originally:imageI need to find some suitable timber to construct a new lid to finish off the box. The interior of the box has some intriguing wooden runners, a metal hoop and some metal studs on the bottom- presumably these had some significance in the stowing of the original contents:imageFor those more interested in the history of infra-red signalling these articles are very interesting:Tabby Tales Part 1 Tabby Tales Part 2 Tabby Tales Part 3 Tabby Tales Part 4

Photograph of Rewat Camp India, 1916

It is back to India tonight, for a World War One photograph of an army camp:SKMBT_C36415112415140_0001The back of the photograph dates it to 1916 and says that it is Rewat Camp, in the Murree Hills in India:SKMBT_C36415112415150_0001The camp itself consists of a large number of white tents, well secured down with guy ropes:SKMBT_C36415112415140_0001 - Copy (2)These look to be headquarters and administration tents rather than accommodation tents which would normally be bell tents in this period. The tents are centred around a large open space, where a number of troops are stood wearing shorts, loose shirts and pith helmets:SKMBT_C36415112415140_0001 - CopyThe whole encampment is surrounded by trees and the high Murree Hills:SKMBT_C36415112415140_0001 - Copy (3)These hills meant this region was considerably cooler than the plains of India during the summer and so the region became a popular spot for those with money to retire to during the summer to escape the oppressive heat at lower heights. In winter the region becomes more alpine in climate, with heavy snows. Major General White in his book Regimental History of the 4th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles described arriving at the camp a year after this photograph was taken:

However we were destined for Rewat, in the Murree Hills, the idea being to segregate us as we were all malaria carriers. After the wilds of East Africa, the wilds of the Murree Hills did not sound very attractive.

After spending a night in the rest camp at Rawal Pindi, we were taken up in lorries to Sunnybank, and marched from there to Rewat, which lies about 12 miles from Murree, on the old track to Kohal…The battalion remained in the Murree Hills until the end of December 1917, the latter month being spent in Kuldana Barracks, entirely surrounded by snow.

From this account we can see that the camp was at least a semi-permanent affair, occupied over a number of seasons, despite the temporary looking nature of the tents. This region of India is now part of Pakistan and a number of Pakistani military units are still barracked and trained in the region- its climate clearly being conducive to military life.

Bren Gun Carrier Ammunition Grab Bag

Tuesday’s market brought up a number of nice finds, including this very nice large leather bag:imageThis bag is designed to carry Bren gun magazines inside a Bren Gun Carrier, the bag being designed to be grabbed quickly if the crew needed to dismount quickly with their weapon. The official designation is “ Pouches, detachable ammo, filled mags, Bren, Thompson, Grenades” and the interior of the pouch is large and roomy for ammunition:imageThe back of the case has a metal bracket riveted to the main pouch:imageThis allows the bag to be securely fixed to the side of the vehicle, as in this preserved example where leather pouches can be seen stowed down the right hand side:carrier%20046Eight of these pouches were carried on each Bren Carrier, to be positioned at the commander’s discretion. According to the stowage diagram they were to contain between them ‘25 Mags, Bren .303 MG Mk II* (Filled); 8 mags, Rifle Boy’s Mk II (Filled); 12 Grenades, Hand…Case, Spare, WT, Parts 5c.’  Some suggested stowage positions are indicated in the diagram below, highlighted in red:carrier%20mk%202There are a number of different versions of this bag, some made of canvas or fibre (which seem to be Canadian) and some with two fasteners, this example though has just a single strap and metal buckle to secure the top:imageThere is a short leather carrying handle attached:imageThis is marked with a /|\, date of 1943 and the stores code 14076 which is a generic code used for all variants of this pouch: imageMy best guess is that the pouch held six or eight magazines originally, possibly in an inner canvas liner with subdivisions. Information on these pouches seems rather limited. Whilst this pouch is a nice item, unfortunately I haven’t got a Bren Gun Carrier to go with it!

Interwar Recruitment Pamphlet

I have quite a few recruiting booklets for the various services over the last few decades, however tonight we are looking at my newest addition and possibly my favourite. This recruiting pamphlet for the Army dates from 1934 and has a red cover with a young chap in football kit with a cap and service dress jacket over:SKMBT_C36415112409390_0001The inside cover has a list of contents:SKMBT_C36415112409400_0001The first page highlights the sports aspect of the service with the king inspecting an inter-regimental football final: SKMBT_C36415112409400_0001 - CopyNote the stamp for a Lt Colonel White in the corner. Turning the page and we have another picture, this time of a regimental institute:SKMBT_C36415112409401_0001The text starts after this and sets out the conditions of service and benefits for joining the army (as ever click on the image to get a larger, readable version):SKMBT_C36415112409401_0001 - Copy

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SKMBT_C36415112409410_0001The centre of the book has more period photographs, here PT:SKMBT_C36415112409410_0001 - CopyA recruits’ reading room:SKMBT_C36415112409411_0001A billiard room:SKMBT_C36415112409411_0001 - CopyAnd a corporals’ room:SKMBT_C36415112409420_0001The text continues with details of specific regiments and trades:SKMBT_C36415112409420_0001 - Copy

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SKMBT_C36415112409432_0001The final two images are of a RASC Workshop:SKMBT_C36415112409432_0001 - CopyAnd the Army Navy Rugby Match:SKMBT_C36415112409440_0001

The inside back cover has details of different places a recruit could sign up:SKMBT_C36415112409440_0001 - Copy

This page also allows us to date the booklet as teh printers code on the bottom of the page has the date 8/34 included in it. It is interesting that the photographs emphasise the social and sports side of the army, and there are no actual pictures of any weapons or military training and the text is keen to emphasise the pay and benefits of the army. It is sobering to think that those who signed up as a result of this pamphlet would be thrust into WW2 just five years later.

Signal’s Satchel

The Second World War saw the first man portable radios, with the British adopting the WS18 set and WS38 set amongst many others. Despite being small enough to carry, these radio sets were still heavy and bulky and need to have extra accessories carried separately. Items like headsets, microphones, spare valves and junction boxes were held in a separate signals satchel, a simple shoulder bag and strap made of the ubiquitous pre-shrunk cotton webbing:imageThe bag is secured with a single buckle and strap:imageInterestingly the fittings on this bag are a very white shade of brass. The flap covering the bag has sides and a front to it, offering more protection than a simple piece of cloth:imageA faint stores number can be seen printed on the front of the satchel:imageThe strap passes through two metal loops, one at each side, and the length is adjusted by a pair of toothless Twigg buckles:imageThe inside of the satchel is lined with cotton drill to protect the contents:imageThis cotton is also passed over the ends of the bag for reinforcement, note how it has frayed where the wire from the junction box to the radio set has rubbed:imageThe strap has another stores number printed on and a /|\ mark:imageIn this period image the signals satchel is clearly visible hanging down:42d91198ed805a00281b2b97c47ff88dInterestingly my bag is made of a dark green webbing rather than tan and I think it is probably post war rather than of wartime manufacture, these bags being used for other purposes long after the original wireless sets had been withdrawn.

1944 Service’s Diary

Sometimes an object is interesting on a number of levels. Tonight’s artefact is one of these. On a purely physical level this diary is interesting, however it is what is written inside that elevates it to a truly special item in my collection. The diary contains an eyewitness account of the allied advance across Europe in 1944 by an ambulance driver who wrote it as it happened. We shall look at this account at a later date though, tonight we are focussing on the diary itself. This diary is a small pocket sized volume, bound in blue leather with an embossed logo on the front in gold:imageThe logo combines the anchor of the Royal Navy, eagle of the RAF and crown of the Army. Opening the volume reveals a portrait of the King, and that it is a ‘Services Diary’ for 1944 (hence explaining the logo on the front):imageThe opening pages of the diary have useful information for service men including a comparative table of officers’ ranks:imageRank insignia of the US Army:imageSome helpful knots:imageDecorations for Valour and Gallantry:imageAnd Semaphore:imageThe rest of the book is a fairly standard diary, however each day has listed famous battles and conflicts from British history:imageIt is interesting that many of these are from the preceding five years of conflict. This little volume was sold at the NAAFI and could easily be slipped into a pocket allowing it to be taken with the soldier anywhere he went, as in this case. Although soldiers were officially prohibited from keeping diaries, many did and this archive of material is now a gold mine for historians looking to explore the everyday life of soldiers in the Second World War, interestingly the growing literacy of Britain is evident from the much greater numbers of OR diaries from WW2 when compared to WW1.

1940 Pattern Greatcoat

Nearly a year ago we looked at the 39 Pattern greatcoat here. Tonight we are looking at the successor to this design, the 1940 pattern. From the start it was clear that there were shortcomings with the 39 Pattern greatcoat, the main ones being the coat was too tight to be worn over equipment and that it used more material than desirable. From the front the great coat looks very similar to its predecessor:imageAlthough it is hard to tell without a direct comparison, the new pattern is 2” shorter than the 39 Pattern and a warmer lining was fitted. There are still two pockets with flaps:imageAnd a steeply stepped collar that is ¾” narrower than the 39 pattern coat and can button across in inclement weather:imageThe most striking change is that the brass buttons have been replaced with green ‘vegetable ivory’ (plastic!) buttons:imageInside the coat a printed white label gives manufacturer’s details , D Joseph, sizing and a date of 1945:imageThe size is repeated in white paint on the material itself:imageWhilst the lining of one of the pockets has a /|\ and WD mark and a ‘Z’ date code:imageThe ‘Z’ code again equates to 1945. Turning to the rear, a large vent has been added to the coat allowing it to expand over any equipment worn, giving a more comfortable fit:imageThe half belt at the back remains the same, except for plastic rather than brass buttons:imageA vent at the base of the back allows the coat to be unbuttoned for greater freedom of movement:imageDespite these greatcoats being to a new pattern, the old 39 Pattern was never withdrawn and the two were worn concurrently throughout the war. It has been suggested that the older pattern was relegated to Home Guard duty as they had less need to wear them over equipment, but I have not seen any evidence for this yet.tumblr_ndd27yqd271rfehtgo1_1280