For this week’s photograph from my collection we come a bit more up to date with a photograph of a young soldier from the 1950s, from his age it looks likely that he might be a National Serviceman:In the background can be seen the sign of a London Underground station, indicating that the photograph was taken in the Capital:The young soldier wears a 49 pattern battledress blouse, with open collar, shirt and tie:On his head he wears a midnight blue beret with the cap badge of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers:His webbing is the 37 pattern design introduced before World War Two, but he has the Mk III pouches with quick release buckles:He has the haversack slung at the side, with his rain cape tucked under the top flap:Les Singfield was a National Serviceman who served with REME:
I began my 2 year stint in Feb 1959 with the REME in Honiton Devon, I was 21, married with two young children. Call up for apprentices was deferred until they had completed their trade, (what a crafty way to get tradesmen on the cheap) My first week’s pay was 15 shillings, my wife received £2. 12 6. We applied for a national service grant and eventually my wife received £4. 5. 0d about a third of the going rate. The average wage for a mechanic was £12, we lived in poverty and visits to jumble sales for clothes. A woman across the road helped my wife out financially, her husband was in prison, but she was much better cared for than my family. I went to Borden in Hampshire on a tank course. (A vehicles) What a terrible camp that was, we even got an article in the People or the Pictorial Sunday newspaper about the non-stop bull.
Some lads even slept on the floor to keep their beds and kit tidy. It was at Borden I realized that some regulars would pay to have their guard duty done. I did at least two a week at £1.10s a time, Weekend guards fetched much more, the most I got was £9 10s for a bank holiday, It was the talk of the camp, I was always able to send money home. We would thumb lifts home if we had a 48hr pass. I lived in Liverpool and would often arrive home in the early hours of the morning soaked to the skin. I was posted to Liverpool (Deysbrook Barracks) for 7 months, 3 miles from home!! It was a good camp and the food was excellent, not the pig swill we had at Borden.
My last twelve months I spent a Mathew Barracks in Tidworth Hampshire, I’d passed my Vehicle Mechanic 2 and 1 and my money went up to £3, I still did a few guards for cash, fiddled a bit here and a bit there, I even stole a complete cooked leg of pork from the officers mess Christmas dinner table and thumbed up to Liverpool with it. (It was very nice)
Continuing my slow and steady acquisition of 39 Pattern Leather Infantry Equipment pieces, my latest addition has been the leather belt:Famously used by the prop department of the BBC for Dad’s Army, these belts were not actually commonly issued to the Home Guard but were used with the short-lived 39 pattern set. The design of the belt is based off the webbing 37 pattern example, with two buckles secured to the back of the belt with leather chapes secured by hose rivets. These are designed to allow the shoulder braces to be secured at the rear, however they are open gate examples of the three bar buckle rather than the closed type seen on the webbing version:The belt also uses the brass male:And female buckles of the 37 pattern belt:Note how the belt is noticeably narrow for the buckles, the buckles being designed for a 2” wide belt, and the 1939 pattern belt using leather 1 7/8” wide. This difference is so the belt can use another standard fitting, the brass securing loop and pin that holds it at the right adjusted length:This standard fitting, the Buckle, brass, waist belt, 1 7/8-in, dates back to the 1882 pattern Valise Equipment and the designers of the 39 pattern equipment clearly copied the belt design closely from these late Victorian patterns. Again this sort of clever design indicates the speed of development of this equipment set- apparently the prototype was produced in a single weekend! The pin passes through the belt and then into a slot on the rear:Note how instead of the brass slides used on the webbing belt, two leather runners are used to help keep the belt taught at the buckles, secured on the rear by another hose rivet.
This makes four different components in my collection now- still plenty more to track down!
In today’s world of disposable cheap electronics, it is often easy to forget that at one time electrical devices were well made and had a certain character. Tonight we are considering a wonderful little instrument; a galvanometer used to measure the minute electrical currents in a demolitions circuit:Galvanometers developed from the observation that the needle of a magnetic compass is deflected near a wire that has electric current flowing through it, first described by Hans Oersted in 1820. They were the first instruments used to detect and measure small amounts of electric currents. The name comes from the Italian electricity researcher Luigi Galvani, who in 1791 discovered the principle of the frog galvanoscope – that electric current would make the legs of a dead frog jerk. Sensitive galvanometers have been essential for the development of science and technology in many fields. For example they enabled long range communication through submarine cables, such as the earliest Transatlantic telegraph cables, and were essential to discovering the electrical activity of the heart and brain, by their fine measurements of current.
As can be seen, the main body of the instrument is in varnished wood, with brass screws holding everything together. The dial on the front of the instrument dates it to 1942 and has the /|\ mark:The instrument is described as a ‘Detector Q&IATP’ with a stores code of ‘WA0275’. The instrument was manufactured by W.E.M. Co Ltd. Wemco was the trading name of ‘Walters Electrical Manufacturing Company who had factories at Kensaltown Works in the Kensal Road, London and in Whippendell Electric Works, Whippendell Road, Watford. The rear of the instrument has a printed plastic plate giving instructions on its use, and safety warnings:The ‘I’ and ‘Q’ terminals referred to on this plate are mounted on the top of the instrument, with a large brass ring:The back of the instrument is removable by loosening the screw at the base and sliding it off, inside the internal parts are again made with heavy duty brass:Everything about this instrument indicates the quality of its manufacture and it is as far from the throwaway objects of today as it is possible to be.
One pair of rats can produce 880 surviving offspring a year, and each will eat 10s worth of food.
So explained the 1944 Government publication ‘The Land at War’. With food production so important, a war on the rodents was taking place, every bit as important as the wider conflict. Whilst the problem was most acute in the country, those pests in the house were just as destructive, capable of destroying a family’s food ration in the space of a night and the wise householder took suitable precautions by laying down poison to deal with the problems. Tonight we have a wartime pack of rat poison, with the trade name ‘Rodine’ and packaged in a simple red and black box:As can be seen from the front, this poison cost 7 1/2d a tin and was manufactured in Perth Scotland. The rear of the pack gives instructions on the poison’s use:That this is a wartime pack is revealed by the lettering on the top of the box:Further writing on the inner flaps exhorts the householder to save packaging and not to waste paper:The poison itself is in a small metal tin inside the box:Whilst these small tins of poisons were fine for the householder, different approaches were needed in the countryside:
The land girl rat-catcher (and there were many of them) must be one of the most intriguing personalities the Land Army produced. She took to her job with a determination and lack of fastidiousness which must have astonished many of us with old-fashioned ideas as to a woman’s antipathy to rodents. Some, working entirely on their own, established remarkable personal records. In two days, a 19 year old ex-dress designer from Leicester gathered 327 carcasses from a Yorkshire granary: and 300 rats can eat three tons of wheat a year.
Below can be seen one day’s catch from a Herefordshire barn:
Tonight we have a wonderful officer’s dress tunic that has tentatively been identified as belonging to the Indian Guides Cavalry Regiment- opinion is still out on this one so I don’t want to say for sure but I am fairly confident in the identification. The tunic is made of a very fine light khaki drab coloured cloth, with red facings:The front of the tunic has an elaborate pattern of lacing in a hussars style:This consists of a double row of drab silk lace, ending in two loops with a ball on the end:The lacing is secured up the centre by oval shaped toggles:These do not actually secure the jacket as underneath is an interlocking set of brass hooks and eyes:The quality of this jacket is hard to describe, the cuffs have a Hungarian knot, indicating the wearer was a lieutenant, with the red facing fabric:The rear of the lacework ends in a pair of elegant curls:The red facing is repeated on the collar:The inside of the collar is lined with black silk for comfort:An elaborate set of shoulder straps are fitted, sadly now missing their pips but with the traces of thread left behind:There is the trace of lacework on the back of the jacket but this seems to have been removed at some point:Turning to the inside of the jacket we can see that it is fully lined:And there is a single, vertical, slash pocket:The inside of this has the manufacturer’s label for ‘Ranken & Co’ of ‘Calcutta, Simla, Lahore & Rawal Pindi’:This company had been trading since 1770 when it had been set up in Calcutta and was one of two approved suppliers of an officer’s uniform items in the Indian Sub-Continent- patterns being lodged with the company as they changed to ensure an officer always had the correct pattern of uniform.
I must confess to being delighted to have added this particular uniform to my collection as it ticks all the boxes for me- beautiful quality, Indian, potentially for one of the great regiments of the North West Frontier and it will display really well. If anyone can provide any more details please, as ever, get in touch.
Many period photographs of British troops relaxing in messes or sitting in briefing rooms show the rooms to be furnished with simple wooden folding chairs:These folding chairs are still produced today (IKEA I am told do a very similar example), and were popularly used at the time in schools, churches and village halls. I have recently been fortunate enough to find a War Department stamped example, as used by the military:The advantage these chairs had was that they could be folded flat and stacked out of the way when not needed:Note how the seat has nine slats on it, other examples can be found with eight slats but this seems to have no further significance than being a design change by the various manufacturers. The rear of the chair shows the long metal bar that acts as a sturdy hinge for the various parts of the chair:As can be seen there is a multitude of markings on the underside of the chair, with a /|\ mark indicating military ownership, and a date of 1942:The Royal Cypher ‘G VI R’:And a manufacturer’s stamp ‘J Williams (High Wycombe) Ltd’:There is also a stencilled ‘12’ that may or may not be military in origin:These chairs carried on in use after the war and found new lives in school rooms and village halls for many years. I have been looking for one of these for a while, but this is the first marked example I have found. The chair has had some punishment over the years, as there is clear evidence of period repairs:The 1942 Regulations of Equipment of the Army lists in ‘Section KA (Misc office Eqpt etc)’ Chairs, folding, flat. which may or may not be the chair depicted above. We are on safer ground in the 1946 ‘VAOS J1 (Camping eqpt)’ which lists Chairs, G.S. as we have a photograph:These chairs can also be found with Air Ministry markings and seem to have been used universally across all services. The general soundness opf the design is indicated by the fact that they are still manufactured to a near identical design seventy five years later.