Monthly Archives: April 2016

Sten Loaders

The springs in Sten gun magazines make them particularly difficult to load by hand, as explained in the user’s manual issued at the time:

Owing to the powerful spring it is not possible to fill it quickly by hand. A filler is, therefore, provided.

A number of different sten loaders were produced, the first of the two we will look at tonight, the Mk 2 is a metal box with a brass lever to depress the spring of the magazine:imageTo give it it’s full title this is the ‘Filler, Magazine, 9mm Machine Carbine, Mk2’. The loader fits over the end of the magazine:imageThe brass lever has a finger hole that allows the operator to move the lever up and down and feed the rounds into the magazine:imageThis loader is marked E & Co +:imageA second and simpler loading tool is the Mk 4:imageAgain this is officially known as ‘Filler, Magazine, 9mm Machine Carbine, Mk4’ and this clips onto the side of the magazine:imageThe lever on the top helps depress the spring of the magazine to help with loading. The Sten Manual gives troops guidance on using the Mk 2 loading tool:

Place filler on the top of magazine and press home so that the filler catch engages in the recess on the side or back of the magazine.

Hold the magazine in one hand, groove in the magazine away from the body. Place the forefinger in the loop of the brass handle, thumb on the forward knuckle, second and third finger in the recesses provided.

Press the rear of the lever downwards, thus depressing the platform and leaving an opening into which rounds can be inserted. Take a convenient number of rounds in the other hand and insert one at a time, base first, under the claw of the filler.

As each round is inserted, raise the lever smartly and then press it down again. A full motion of the lever must be made in both directions, otherwise faulty filling may result. This action takes the round under the lips of the magazine and forces it down.

Ensure that the ammunition is kept clean and count the number of rounds; the number may also be observed through the holes in the rear of the magazine.

Remove filler by pressing the flat spring catch outwards and lifting off.

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Cap, Cold Weather, DPM

Tonight we are looking at one of the more ridiculous items of headgear from the British Army, amongst a long list of ridiculous hats. The ‘Cap, Cold Weather, DPM’ is a particularly warm hat, designed for use in the Arctic , Norway and other sub-zero temperatures. It is fur lined with two ear flaps that fasten above the head and a synthetic fur inner to keep the wearer warm:imageThe whole of the inside of the cap is pile lined with a khaki green shade of fur, described by Arrsepedia as the “world’s most itchy substance (developed at Porton Down to be smuggled into Russian issue underwear factories, thus adding an interesting paragraph to the Russian equivalent of the chemical safety rule)”:imageA peak is attached to the front that can be worn either turned up or down, note the multiple rows of stitching to reinforce and stiffen the fabric:imageThe crown of the hat is made of a number of pieces, sewn together and meeting in the centre:imageThe disruptive pattern material used in the making of the cap is the temperate green colour with the shade being typical of that used in the late Cold War. The earflaps are secured either above or below the hat with Velcro:imageA label is sewn into the hat, giving size and contract numbers:imageThe hat has received a number of nicknames over the years including the ‘Dangerous Brian Hat’, ‘Deputy Dawg Hat’ and the ‘Fozzie Bear’ hat. Whilst the hat is very effective in cold climates, it is generally regarded as making the wearer look particularly ridiculous, therefore this photograph of a WRAC wearing one on arctic training in Norway is particularly rare in showing someone pulling off wearing the hat successfully:image

British Army Tokens

In 1946 the British Military introduced a new system of paper money for its troops to use on bases at home and abroad. These replaced both local and UK currency and encouraged soldiers to spend their wages on base where those in command could keep an eye on them, ensuring they used the NAAFI rather than local bars and establishments of less reputable natures. The NAAFI was subsidised and produced tea, cakes and beer at a cheap price, ensuring it was always a popular destination. The main advantage of using military currency though was that by producing paper money locally, the British military did not need to ship heavy metal currency to bases around the world, or lose money buying local currency through exchanges. The denominations 3d, 6d, 1/-, 2/6, 10/- and £1 were issued in note form, but smaller currency, such as the 1d and 1/2d were produced in the form of a laminated card token produced by Thomas De La Rue in England:imageThese are reddish brown and match the size of 1d and 1/2d coins from the UK:imagePrinted on the coins are a repeating pattern saying ‘British Armed Forces 1d’:imageOr British Armed Forces 1/2d:FullSizeRenderThe NAAFI was an essential feature of military life, and was often the only source of female interaction for young servicemen, Rhoda Woodward worked in one of these NAAFIs

I was given the relevant forms and literature to join the N.A.A.F.I. Having passed my medical, I then had to get a passport photograph for a special identity card, that would allow me to gain entrance to military camps. My first posting was to a Royal Air Force camp about eight miles from home. I arrived on my bicycle at about ten o’clock, and was then issued with a cap, overalls, sheets and blankets and told to make my bed. I was rather dubious when I found that it had lost a leg. It was propped up with a biscuit tin, but tins were tins in those days and it did the job.

I reported to the kitchen, a small Nissen hut, on the side of a larger one, which turned out to be the W.A.A.F. canteen. Morning break had just finished and it was now the staff coffee break. It was a very large kitchen with four large sinks, two on each side. In the centre was the biggest kitchen range I had ever seen. There were also, two large scrubbed top tables, and a smaller one with an aluminium top. This was called the beverage table. It was used for making tea and coffee etc. It was one of my many jobs to keep that table top highly polished with whitening. I was just finishing my coffee and getting to know Nellie, the other assistant and the cook, when this voice seemed to come from nowhere saying, “All R.A.F. personnel will assemble in the W.A.A.F. canteen, at 1930hrs. The bar will remain closed.” This was my first experience of the Tannoy. It was something I would soon to get used too, as in all military camps, we were never too far away from a speaker. They were even installed in the bathrooms. Our manageress laughed. “You will have an easy night tonight.” she said. Nellie looked up and answered. “Yes. We’ll have to keep the kettle boiling, just in case we have any bodies.” I kept quiet, not liking to ask what was going on. I soon found out what they were talking about. A couple of young airmen were brought into the kitchen. They had passed out during what I thought in my innocence, was a first aid lecture. I was then informed that it had been a men only lecture on Venereal Disease.

At the lunch-time break, I was shown how to weigh the tea and coffee into white cloth bags, ready for putting into the tea urn and coffee pans. I began to adapt and was soon out on the bar serving. In the mornings, I had to be up at 0700hrs, to rake out the flu’s, clear the ashes and get the fire lit. The kettle had to be boiling on the big old range, so the girls could have a morning cuppa at 0730hrs The cook would have breakfast ready for 0800hrs. Then there was the bar and our billet to clean. The cook had to get about 200 cakes ready for morning break. Everything was done on those ranges. There was always a constant supply of hot water for the tea urns and large pans of coffee. The only electricity we used, was for the lights. After morning break, there would be more cleaning to do in readiness, for the lunch break. During this time, the cook would be making pies and puddings for the evening suppers.

One of my jobs, was to make sure that the big yellow boiler was kept stoked up with coke. “Watch the dial.” I was often warned. “Watch the dial.” Nobody told me why, until one night I found out for myself. It began rumbling like thunder and spat all the hot water, out onto the roof. It didn’t stop until it had completely emptied and filled with cold water again. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very popular that night. It was nearly closing time and we still had all the washing up to do.

We used to serve about 200 suppers a night. Each one having to be carried from the kitchen through to the bar. We also sold beer. It came in quart bottles and there was a special way to tip the glasses, so that each one, held a full pint. You could soon hear the loud complaints, if someone had a short measure.

Sweets, soap and cigarettes were all rationed. We had to collect special coupons. We were sent an assortment of brands which were quite unheard of: Robins, Walters and Sunripe are three that I remember. I think that the ration may have been 40 each, twenty of the more popular brands like Players, Craven A, or Senior Service and twenty of whatever else we had. Most of the girls would just take the well known brands, so we used to keep the rest in a box for the lads. We got into trouble one day when the supervisor was paying us a visit, as she’d heard one of the airmen asking for cigs off ration. I told her, that we had already collected the coupons. She knew what was going on, and told us to make sure that we sold them to the W.A.A.F.’s. first. Then the lads could have them.

Occasionally we got a consignment of cosmetics. The girls always had first choice, but after a week, they would be available to the airmen, to buy for their wives. It was always very hard work. Some of the larger N.A.A.F.I.’s had more staff, but the girls often got posted or left. We really needed our three hours off in the afternoon; although we had to take turns in starting back half an hour early to get tea.

We had one day off a week and one weekend a month. There were no modern aids or washing up liquid. We just used to use soda or dry powders like ‘Freedom’, ‘Vim soap’ and scrubbing brushes, but as the saying was then “There’s a ruddy war on”, so we just had to get on with it. Most of us hadn’t got mod cons at home anyway, so we really appreciated having the luxury of a bathroom and hot water; at least most of the time. We did have some hard winters though, when the pipes froze and burst during the thaw. We really were flooded out.

Of course we got to know quite a few of the W.A.A.F.’s and airmen, as they spent their evenings in the canteen. A couple of the camps I was stationed at, had a piano and one or two good pianists. Once a week we would have a camp dance, when we’d serve refreshments until 2130hrs. We were convinced, that we would be too tired to go to the dance afterwards but we went just the same. The manageress would usually let our dancing partner’s come and help with the last of the washing up, while we got ourselves dressed and ready. We were lucky, we were allowed to wear Civvies. Our hair had to be kept above our collars on duty. We used to make a head band out of the top of an old stocking and roll our hair round the band. This style was known as the ‘Victory Roll’. Afterwards, when brushed out, our hair turned under into a pageboy style quite easily.

These evenings, were very romantic affairs, with aircraft lights in the corners of the room, that shone onto a large mirrored ball in the centre of the ceiling. The coloured reflection used to flicker amongst, us as we danced to the R.A.F. Band. Although we were not in an area suffering the air raids, we watched a lot of the devastation they were causing, on the Pathe News at the local pictures house. We heard of boys we had grown up with being wounded, killed or taken prisoner. At one camp, there was a lot of Polish personal. Often, the new arrivals, had come straight from the Concentration Camps where they had suffered terrible injuries from the torture. Many of them didn’t have any hair. It was surprising though, how after a few weeks they looked years younger and were wanting all the best makes of shampoo and even hair nets. Their one burning ambition was to train as air crew in order to return to the fighting. Some were just boys when they were taken prisoner from their school. Probably because of their parents politics.

We hardly saw the air crews, it was mainly at the dances. It was a strange feeling seeing these young lads enjoying themselves, knowing that maybe they would soon be flying off and getting killed within a short time. We used to lay awake in bed listening to the planes taking off or going over from other bases. I can still see so clearly in my mind, how I sat up one night with the manageress, listening to them flying overhead for the D.Day landings. During those times there were laughter and tears. We seemed to live for the post as we waited for letters from home, bringing news of brothers, boyfriends and husbands. I can also remember how we all felt one morning, when one of our staff received the sad news that her brother had been killed. At last, it all ended. We all gathered on the airfield, Officers, Airmen and W.A.A.F.’s for an open air service, and as the camps closed, we all went back to a very much changed, ‘Civvie Street’. Things would never be quite the same again.

Golok

In the 1950s the British Army started to move away from the machetes that had been in use since the Great War and adopted a shorted blade known as a golok as the standard brush clearing tool. The name ‘golok’ comes from Indonesia and describes a blade that tends to be shorter and heavier than a traditional machete and generally does not get suck as easily in green wood. This example is typical of the type used in the 1980s and comes in a green cloth scabbard:image

The blade is made of steel with a distinctive, slightly curved blade:imageThe handle is made of wood, painted olive green:imageThe blade is marked as having been made by Martindale:imageMartindale made machetes for the British Army for decades, as ever these days though manufacture has been shipped out to the far east. This golok is dated 1980:imageNote the /|\ marking. The scabbard is green cloth with a metal reinforcement on the throat:imageA wire hanger allows it to be attached to a belt:imageThe following, wonderfully irreverent, description of the golok comes from Arrsepedia:

The machete could often be found painted in camouflage colours; partly to prevent the crude 13″ steel blade rusting, but mainly for effect. Carriage of this tool on one’s belt kit marked the wearer as a man amongst men and one who’d survived the rigours of the ‘J’. He was to be respected, for he was ally as feck. Many beers were to be purchased for said wearer, and (if possible) young virgins sacrificed for his pleasure.

Unfortunately – like most things – it was not to last. Someone in their infinite wisdom decided that this nailsest of blades needed replacing and thus a ‘new & improved’ golok was introduced in the mid-’90s.

The latest issue machete is gay by comparison to its predecessor – and is significantly shorter by three inches (or so). It comes in a butyl PLCE-compatible sheath that is available in either olive green or DPM.

Though the old pattern golok is no longer a 1098 item, it is still commercially available and would be the ideal tool for impressing young nigs, officers and the ladies. It would also be the weapon of choice for whipping turnips off should it all go Pete Tong in amongst the Zulus.

Imperial Yeomanry Photograph

Last week, once again Huddersfield second hand market proved that you don’t need deep pockets to find attractive additions to the collection, when this delightful photographic card showed up for just a pound. My thanks go to Toby Brayley, Robert Barnes and Martin Brayley for their input in identifying the interesting features of this photograph. Dating from the Edwardian period, this intriguing image has a soldier and his ‘girl’ in a typical studio portrait:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (9)The woman in the photograph is wearing typical Edwardian dress, with a long and fairly staid dress and a large flowered hat:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (6)The soldier is wearing service dress, dating the photograph to after 1902, the shoulder straps seem to be removable:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (5)This feature was deleted in 1904 so it would appear that regardless of the date of the photograph, his jacket must be a very early example. On his head he wears a slouch hat with what appears to be a large feather:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - CopyThis suggests he is a member of the Imperial Yeomanry, who saw service in the Boer War, as indicated by the medal ribbon on his chest that looks like the Queen’s South African Medal:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (2)Note below the medal ribbon the chain running from his button holes to the breast pocket- this presumably is attached to either a watch or a whistle. In his hands he carries a walking cane with a head made of what appears to be two spritzer rounds:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (4)He has a single long service and good conduct chevron on his lower sleeve:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (3)As ever with the service dress uniform it is worn with black ankle boots and puttees:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (8)The photograph is mounted on heavy card, with a photographer’s name on the bottom:SKMBT_C36416041913050_0001 - Copy (7)This indicates the photograph was taken in Oldham, and it is possible the man is a member of A Squadron, Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry who were based in the town and the unit participated in the Boer War, before being transferred to the Territorial Army in the 1908 army reforms. If anyone can shed further light on this then please, as ever, get in contact.

Mk 5 Helmet

Following the Korean War, complaints started to be received about the liner of the Mk 4 helmet (see here). Soldiers complained that the liner and shell span around each other due to the central lift the dot fastener. As the helmet was used, the rubber shrunk slightly, losing its grip on the helmet shell so if the soldier turned his head suddenly and then stopped, the helmet shell carried on spinning independently! A new liner was designed and introduced in 1956 and the ‘Mk 5’ helmet was created:imageTechnically the term ‘Mk 5’ was never an official designation, the helmet remaining a ‘Mk 4’ with an upgraded liner. However the nomenclature seems to have been universal enough that when the steel helmet was replaced, the army called the new ballistic nylon helmet the ‘Mk 6’. The steel shell of the helmet is identical to the earlier Mk 4 and Mk III helmets, but a new liner with foam padding and a knitted nylon stockinet liner improved comfort:imageThe Mk 5 liner, the name adopted in 1959, was held securely by a series of rubber pads:imageThe same simple elasticated chin strap was retained:imageThis example is in typical cold war condition, painted a matt mid green with a helmet net and nylon fabric scrim:imageA number of accessories were developed for the helmet, including a torch which clipped onto the rim and was powered by a separate battery pack and a riot shield for use in Northern Ireland. The helmet liner was generally well regarded as being comfortable, indeed having tried this one I have found it far more comfortable than the later Mk 6 I was issued in the RNR, but there was a danger of overheating in warmer climates that was never satisfactorily resolved. This was the last steel helmet to be used by the British Army and had a long service life, not being phased out until the late 1980s.Mk IV Hessian

Mk IV Respirator with Early Filter

A year ago we looked at the Mk IV Respirator here, this example being the most common World War two type with the brick-red type E Mk V canister. Since then I have been lucky enough to find the earlier, and much scarcer, version of the mask with a tan canister on Huddersfield second hand market:imageAs we have already covered the face mask in the earlier post I will not go into details again, except to highlight the very early date of this mask, 1937:imageThe canister is a ‘Type E’ and is painted in a tan colour:imageTwo vents are cut into the sides of the canister near the base:imageAir passes through these vents and into the main body of the canister, passing through the first of two diaphragms and a set of asbestos fibre pads. After passing through this, air travels through a charcoal layer and then into the breathing tube and up into the mask:SKMBT_C36416042012200_0001The filter tin is marked with a black printed /|\ mark on the top:image

The top piece is also dated 23/3/38:imageThe base of the filter is marked as having been made by Barrington, Wallis & Manners Ltd of Mansfield:imageThis company had been producing canisters for British gas masks since the First World War. The date ‘1938’ is again visible stamped on the base, the 4A refers to the tin type not the contents.

This filter was the one issued to troops at the start of the war and through the Battle of France, many thousands being lost when the BEF evacuated from Dunkirk. The filter itself was withdrawn from service when it was realised by scientists at Porton Down that German gas masks were better at filtering arsenic based gasses and it was feared these might be used and British troops would have no protection from them- the new brick red filter being designed to resolve this problem. As the filter was updated most masks were returned to stores and upgraded, making examples of the earlier filter much less common.