Monthly Archives: December 2016

Airborne Headdress Book Review

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. s733876465344419401_p547_i12_w800This 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 from 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:s733876465344419401_p547_i7_w1200s733876465344419401_p547_i8_w1200s733876465344419401_p547_i9_w1200Again 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.s733876465344419401_p547_i13_w800This 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.

2″ Mortar Cleaning Kit Case

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:imageOpening it up we can see a number of pockets and securing straps:imageThese hold the various components of the kit; a large tin lined pocket holds the brush head:imageThis has a quick release tab that opens a large flap allowing access to the brush head:imageA long pocket sits next to this to hold the folding cleaning rod:imageAgain 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:imageThis again uses a quick release buckle and has an internal divider within to separate it into two spaces:imageI 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):fullsizerenderThe complete contents can be seen in this diagram from the user’s manual:imageThis mortar cleaning case dates from 1946, and has date, manufacturer and stores code printed on the edge of the top flap:imageThis 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.

Black Nylon Water Bottle and Cup

The enamelled kidney shaped water bottle was to have an extraordinarily long service life with the British military. It’s successor was to be equally long lived and it is the black nylon water bottle and cup introduced in the 1960s which is still in use today. Originally the 58 pattern webbing set did not have a dedicated water bottle- the old enamelled Mk VII bottle was expected to soldier on in service despite it having been obsolete as early as the First World War. It was quickly understood a new plastic bottle was essential and after a couple of different trials models the familiar design was agreed upon in olive green plastic. By the mid-1960s this had been changed to the familiar black:imageThe water bottle holds two pints and comes with a separate cup that fits over the top half of the bottle when stowed in a pouch:imageAs is typical with plastic bottles, a moulded warning is provided reminding the user to keep it away from heat, note also the date for this particular example, 1985, moulded into the side:imageBizarrely the NSN numbers for the bottle allocate a separate code for the bottle, cap and cup! The cap is also dated 1985 and is secured to the collar of the bottle with a flexible plastic strap:imageOnce the S10 respirator was introduced the bottle lid was replaced with a new design that allowed a straw to be attached for use with the new design of mask. The cup provided for the bottle is also made of black nylon, with two folding metal handles:imageThe use of a plastic cup prevented the user form burning his lips when drinking hot liquids, but meant that you couldn’t use the cup to melt snow for a cup of tea- many troops found old 1944 pattern cups and swapped them over! The metal handles are secured to the cup with a riveted plate and fold flat around the cup for stowage:imageThis water bottle remains in widespread use in the British military and water bottle pouches were added to the PLCE and MOLLE systems when they were introduced to carry the same design of bottle. As it is cheap to buy (the stores catalogue prices the bottles at £1.14, the caps at 40p and the cap retainers at 10p each) and held by the military in massive quantities it seems likely that there are many more decades of service ahead for the humble black water bottle set!

REME Field Service Cap

My thanks to Percy Thrower for helping identify this cap as an other ranks version
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 and men are much more affordable, as in the case of this REME Other Ranks example that cost me just £9:imageAs can be expected from a post war cap, the quality is excellent, with the cap made up from red and midnight blue panels, piped in yellow:imageThe buttons on the front are made of staybrite anodised aluminium and feature the regiment’s chained horse badge:imageThe Queen’s crown cap badge also has the chained horse, in front of a lightning bolt and standing on the world:imageThis 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:imageREME’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, they remain popular as they are smarter than a beret and more practical than a peaked cap.

Royal Artillery Battery Staff Satchel

In the 1930s the Royal Artillery had their own, very extensive, set of webbing equipment. This was for the most part declared obsolete in 1939. One element however remained in use and indeed production for many years to come; the Battery Staff satchel:imageAlthough originally made in khaki webbing, this post war example is made of the same lightweight rot proof webbing as the 1944 pattern webbing sets then in production. The front of the satchel is secured with a quick release buckle:imageTurning to the rear of the satchel we can see that the methods of carrying this satchel are very different from most British webbing items:imageThe back of the satchel has two large belt loops:imageAnd a carrying handle on the top:imageI am only speculating here, but the belt loops might have been thought advantageous to artillery staff as it allows the satchel to be worn with just a belt and the satchel could be slid round the belt to move it out of the way if needed. Under the top flap of the satchel are a set of pen loops:imageSadly the markings on the underside of the flap are very faint, but I believe that it was manufactured in 1955:imageThe other marking include a manufacturer and the stores code CN1616. These satchels were to remain in use until 1976 when they were finally declared obsolete. They would have been used to hold maps, notebooks, range tables, message pads and pens for the battery commander in the field so he could make the correct calculations to ensure artillery fire was brought down where it was needed.

Singapore Christmas Card

I hope you have all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. Tonight we come to the last of our festive trio of objects with another Christmas card, this time probably dating from the 1960s and coming from the Royal Navy base in Singapore. The card depicts four children being guided across the road by a Malay police officer:skmbt_c36416111811461_0001The inside of the card has the usual Christmas greetings:skmbt_c36416111811462_0001The notes at the bottom left caption the design on the front A typical cross section in these parts: Malay policeman with two Chinese children, one Malay (girl) & one Sikh boy. The card also indicates that the senders were at the HM Naval Base Singapore.singapore_naval_base_june_1953The Naval Base was officially designated HMS Terror, after the Erebus class monitor that was moored there for a time as an accommodation ship. As well as the usual barrack blocks there was a lot of facilities for families at the base, with many long serving personnel bringing their wives and children with them to live on the base. Amongst the facilities for families was a ‘Wives Guild’ that met every Tuesday in the Dockyard Club, schools, sports facilities and recreational clubs. A fascinating guide (albeit sadly only part of a larger booklet) for families on the base dating from the 1960s is available here.

MEF Christmas Airgraphs

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:skmbt_c36416111715000_0001As 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:skmbt_c36416111715000_0001-copyThe amount of space saved is graphically illustrated by this contemporary poster which indicates that 1600 letters weigh 50lbs, 1600 airgraphs 5oz:

captureAlphabetilately 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.