It is always nice to be able to add another book to the reference shelf and Military Mode publishing can normally be relied upon to produce something rather special. The latest addition to the bookcase is Daniel Fisher and Oliver Lock’s book British Airborne Headdress. This is a lavishly produced book covering the berets, helmets and other sundry headgear worn by the Parachute Regiment and other airborne units such as Glider troops and units attached to airborne divisions. The book starts with a detailed look at the famous red beret and there is a nice run down of its history and plenty of photos of different examples form the last seventy years. These are mainly taken from the collections of the Airborne Museum and museums in Normandy and Arnhem so there is a focus on wartime examples, but post war examples are also illustrated, albeit in far smaller numbers. Of particular interest are a number of relic beret fragments dug up in archaeological digs at Arnhem which show how the berets were modified by troops at the time.
The second main area of the book is on specialist helmets used by airborne forces. Many examples are shown, all beautifully illustrated and covering many subtle variations:Again the focus is on the Second World War, where much of the early development was undertaken- the basic design then remaining unchanged until the late 1970s. The book does cover later developments, and there are some interesting examples of helmets modified by Paras for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The book ends with a brief look at other headdress worn by airborne troops- pith helmets, FS caps, jungle hats and cold weather gear. Again the thing one is struck by is how much effort is put into modifying these to give them a unique ‘airborne’ identity.This book is a tour-de-force by the authors and the subject is unlikely to be covered in such detail again. It must be remembered however that this is a very specialist book, more so I would argue than the Denison book we looked at earlier in the year. I must confess I am not a huge expert on airborne troops and their equipment and some of the subtleties described were rather lost on me. Nevertheless it is an excellent addition to the pantheon of British militaria books and if airborne kit is your thing I heartily recommend it. For the more lay reader I would suggest thumbing through a copy and deciding if it really appeals before splashing out your cash; like all Military Mode books it is not cheap, however as ever for the quality of production and content I feel it is money well spent.
Copies of the book can be bought here.
A few weeks back we looked at the 2” mortar cleaning brush here. Tonight we are taking a look at the accompanying cleaning case for the 2” mortar, which holds the brush amongst other items. The cleaning kit is housed in a large webbing wallet with a shoulder strap attached:Opening it up we can see a number of pockets and securing straps:These hold the various components of the kit; a large tin lined pocket holds the bush head:This has a quick release tab that opens a large flap allowing access to the brush head:A long pocket sits next to this to hold the folding cleaning rod:Again the lid of this is secured with a tab and staple quick release buckle. The third and final set of pockets on the cleaning rod are a two part affair, the lower section holds the oil bottle, the same square one seen in the Bren spares kit, whilst a second pocket is sewn above this:This again uses a quick release buckle and has an internal divider within to separate it into two spaces:I believe this would have held a small wrench used to take the mortar apart with. The case and its contents laid out looks as follows (minus the a few bits which I don’t have yet):The complete contents can be seen in this diagram from the user’s manual:This mortar cleaning case dates from 1946, and has date, manufacturer and stores code printed on the edge of the top flap:This is one of the simpler cleaning kits, especially compared to those for the automatic weapons, with relatively few parts to it, however what it lacks in components it makes up for in size and weight as this is a fairly substantial bit of kit. At some point I will need to add a 2” mortar to my collection, but for now it has been fun getting the cleaning kit together.
I am rather fond of the coloured FS cap, whilst war time examples are fetching good money today, especially for the smaller regiments, the post war examples privately purchased by officers are much more affordable, as in the case of this REME example that cost me just £9:As can be expected from an officer’s cap, the quality is excellent, with the cap made up from red and midnight blue panels, piped in yellow:The buttons on the front are made of staybrite anodised aluminium and feature the regiment’s chained horse badge:The Queen’s crown cap badge also has the chained horse, in front of a lightning bolt and standing on the world:This badge was introduced after the end of the Second World War as King George VI was not overly impressed with the design of the wartime one. The symbolism of the badge design is apparently that the chained horse represents power harnessed, the lightning bolt emphasises the electrical nature of the corps and the globe indicates that its members serve worldwide. The badge was designed by Mr Stephen Gooden, the Royal Academician and was approved by the King on 14th August 1947.
Returning to the cap, the inside is lined with a soft chamois leather headband that absorbs sweat and keeps the cap comfortable:REME’s official dress regulations indicate that the side cap may be worn with No 7 (Warm Weather Barrack Dress), No 13 (Temperate Barrack Dress) and No 14 (Shirt Sleeve Order) dress. As with all of these coloured caps this would have been privately purchased as they have never been issue items, these days however they are almost exclusively used by officers as they are smarter than a beret and more practical than a peaked cap.
Merry Christmas! Exactly a year ago today we looked at a Christmas airgraph here, tonight we have two more examples, however these are visually more elaborate than the last one. Whilst the last example was sent to a soldier overseas form England, these examples are sent the other way form a serviceman in the Middle East back to the UK. The first is from Christmas 1943 and was sent by Private Rowland Mann of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to a relative (his brother) in Hunslet, Leeds:As can be seen the design is fairly simple with the army’s crest in the centre and a simple pre-printed message wishing the recipient greeting and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
The following year’s design is more striking with the silhouette of a camel and this year he has added a message to the airgraph:The amount of space saved is graphically illustrated by this contemporary poster which indicates that 1600 letters weigh 50lbs, 1600 airgraphs 5oz:
Alphabetilately has more information on the airgraph system:
The original forms were 11 x 8¼ inches. These were microfilmed onto 100-foot rolls of 16-millimetre film, which was sufficient for approximately 1600 forms. The film plus aluminium container weighed 5½ ounces and measured 4 x 4 x 1 inches. The equivalent quantity of ordinary letters would have weighed approximately 35 pounds and filled two mailbags.
Two copies of each film were made, one to be sent, the other to be held until it was certain that all letters on the film had been delivered.
Films and forms were official documents, classified as confidential and were normally destroyed as confidential waste but one or two reels of film have surfaced over the years.
The end product of the service, a letter delivered to the addressee, was a photographic print, 5⅛ x 4¼ inches, approximately one quarter the size of the original, in a crude brown envelope measuring about 3¾ by 4¾ inches.
For more information on the entire operation please look here.