As with many items of Indian equipment in my collection, my thanks got to Andrew Dearlove for his help with tonight’s object. India produced its own Short Magazine Lee Enfields at the Ishapore Arsenal, it also produced its own ammunition and accessories for the rifle including a webbing sling, closely modelled on the British design from the Mills Company:The webbing has a looser weave than that produced in the UK and the fittings are notably cruder, as can be seen when comparing it with a British made example (lower):The ends are made of brass, but the stampings are not well defined and it is not easy to push them through the sling loops on a Lee Enfield, a pair of copper rivets secure them to the strap:An inspection code is very faintly stamped on one end:And another faint black number is stamped onto the webbing:Again these are too indistinct to be read. These rifle slings are available in the UK, but are of course less common than the British produced examples. The quality is far poorer and certainly if this example is anything to go by they do not fit rifle slings as easily as British made examples, they are however the perfect accessory if you are lucky enough to have an Ishapore produced SMLE.
Good eyesight is a requirement for pilots today as it was during the Second World War. Therefore all prospective recruits to the RAF during the war were subjected to eye tests to ensure that pilots had 20/20 vision. These were performed by RAF doctors, using eyesight charts. If they needed to take a closer look at a patients eyes however they could use an opthalmascope, a small instrument to look into the back of a person’s eyes to see if there are any defects. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to come across one of these instruments, in an elegant leatherette covered box:As can be seen this has an embossed crown and AM indicating Air Ministry ownership. Opening the case we can see it is fully lined and holds the opthalmascope in a purpose made fitting:A maker’s mark is printed on the silk on the underside of the lid:The contents themselves are the body of the opthalmascope, the head, and three spare bulbs:The body would hold several large cell batteries, the head attaches to the body, with a small screw to hold it tight:The head consists of two overlapping discs, one of which can be rotated to change the size of an aperture used to look through into the patient’s eye:On the rear can be seen where the small bulb fits, giving illumination straight into the retina to check for damage:This is clearly a high quality medical instrument and was almost certainly bought off the shelf by the RAF, as the only ownership markings are on the case. For instruments such as this it was not worth the Air Ministry putting in their own specialist contracts considering that comparatively few were required, therefore only the case is marked as this was easily done by the manufacturer.
As might be expected some men were desperate to fly and a way around an eyesight test could be found, Martin Lunn describes how his father Sergeant Denis Lunn managed to get through:
My father, in his early twenties, was desperate to join the RAF, but was very much afraid that he would fail the eye test as he was considerably short-sighted. He therefore asked someone to copy out the eye chart for him so that he could learn it off by heart. He passed the eye test and went on to be awarded the Defence Flying Medal for rescuing nine Allied airmen in the Messina Straits in the first air-sea rescue operation from Sicily since the day of the invasion.
Regular readers may recall we looked at some paperwork from a Major Norman Stevenson here who was in Simla in the Second World War. In addition to this paperwork I have a large photograph album from his time there and a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to pick up his traveling bag:The bag is made of a light green canvas, synonymous with officer’s personal equipment, with large leather reinforcements in the corners and a large leather flap that passes over the top of the bag, with a hole cut through for the handle to pass:This then secures with three leather straps and metal buckles:This side of the bag is stencilled with ‘Major N Stevenson R.A.O.C.’:The opposite side has his name repeated, along with his service number and the words ‘wanted on voyage’ struck through with the words ‘CABIN’ stencilled below:At this period, before long distance air travel, most long voyages were made by ship and two classes of baggage were taken on board. Most items went in the hold and would be inaccessible for the several weeks the journey could take. A small amount of baggage was permitted in the cabin for use on the voyage and this bag is marked as such. It would contain toiletries, a small selection of clothes and maybe a few personal items for the voyage.
The bag is surprisingly roomy, with a fibre board base to help support the contents:These bags were not issued by the military, but purchased from independent sellers, despite this they had to meet certain regimental and army requirements and are fairly similar to one another. We end with a portrait of Major Stevenson himself, having safely made the journey out to India and settling into his office in Simla:
Generally the 51 pattern webbing set was a well thought out system that drew on the best practices of both Britain and the US, it did however have some weaker design features and amongst the poorer design choices were the shoulder braces:In basic form these are clearly heavily inspired by Mills designs for the 19, 25 and 37 pattern sets, with one of the two having a small loop for the other to pass through:They have the same one inch ends, increasing to 2” over the shoulders but instead of being made from a single reduction woven strap, or separate components, the shoulder braces are instead produced from a piece of 2” wide, thin webbing which has been folded over and sewn on the ends:This then gives the required strength at both ends, where the tips are finished with a blackened brass chape:However the middle part of the strap, where it passes over the shoulder, is only a single layer of thin webbing:This seems a particular weak point of the set as this area is flimsy and would wear out far faster than if a more robust design, such as that used by Canada in WW2, had been chosen. One does wonder why this design choice was made, and the only reason I can think of was to save money, as this must have been a cheaper design to produce, even if it was far weaker structurally.
Update: My thanks to Michael Fletcher and Sean Featherstone for helping correctly identify the material used in this smock as being a special fire resistant fabric.
A few months back we looked at the desert DPM field jacket here. At the time we mentioned in passing the windproof smock, with a user commenting:
Windproof smock – all the advantages of the 94 smock, and is bloody excellent in dry cold. Not so clever in wet, muddy conditions. The fabric’s just too thin, and the ingrained dirt that goes with infantry trench-living will abrade it like feck, so it disintegrates, suddenly (a characteristic of all 100% cotton clobber). The hood’s a pain in the arse, even in Noggieland, where (for all the usual good tactical reasons) it was seldom used, except in the most severe cold (like -40).
Tonight we are looking at the said windproof smock, here in desert DPM fabric:One thing to notice throughout all the photographs on this post is the material the smock is made from, it is obviously a very different weave to that used in the field jacket and this is a special fire resistant fabric used for smocks issued to aircrew, pilots and others who might be exposed to fire as part of their daily duties.
Some features of the smock are clearly common across the CS95 system, so we have the usual centrally mounted rank slide:And large pockets secured with the typical sewn on buttons:Other features of note are the strips of Velcro on the sleeves to allow insignia to be added or removed, these help easily distinguish the smock from more conventional patterns:The most distinctive feature of the smock however is the hood, this has a piece of wire across the whole of the front, allowing it to be adjusted and set to a degree:When not in use it is rolled up and secured behind the neck:A cotton tape and button preventing it from unravelling:As with most items of British Army clothing a large white label is sewn into the inside of the smock with sizing, care instructions and a space for the owner to write his name and number:Note the ‘FR’ on the label indicating that the smock has been treated to make it fire resistant. As with so much of this kit, desert DPM smocks are easily available and cheap- being surplused off in large numbers following the switch to MTP clothing. As has been said many time before on this blog, if you are a new collector, this is an ideal area to start with- it’s cheap, available and its likely that in years to come the ‘War on Terror’ will become ever more collectable.
This week’s postcard is dated on the back 1913 and was sent from a Boy’s Brigade summer Camp in Grange over Sands. The image on the front though is clearly inspired by the summer camps operated by the Territorial Army before the Great War.The postcard is entitled ‘Camp Life, The Daily Post’ and has a cartoon of soldiers in khaki rushing to get their letters, with bell tents in the background. The Daily Mail in 1909 recorded the summer camp for London Territorials:
There was a great exodus of Volunteers from London on Saturday for the annual camp training.
Most of the London corps are being gathered in camps on the South Coast, and a very large proportion of them in Sussex, where for the time they come under the direction of General Lord Methuen, a large portion of whose regular troops of the Eastern command are already gathered for manœuvres in the country.
The Sussex camps for the London Volunteers have been formed at Brighton, Seaford, Worthing, Bexhill and Newhaven; while in Kent there are an extensive camp for London men at Shorncliffe and smaller ones at Sheerness, Lydd, and near Canterbury. In Hampshire a very large body of metropolitan Volunteers have gathered in camp in the New Forest, become in recent years an increasingly popular training ground; and Essex has London corps at Shoeburryness, Harwich, Clacton and Frinton.
In all the paper recorded that 25,000 men had left the capital for their annual training that August.
With the possible exception of the AK47, most firearms do not function well when they are covered in dirt and grit. Unfortunately the internal parts of a gun need to be oiled for them to function properly, and this oil in turn attracts dust and seizes up the action. This problem becomes more acute in arid conditions such as the North West Frontier or the deserts of Northern Africa. Whilst there is no substitute for regular cleaning of weapons by soldiers, physical covers over the working parts of a weapon can help reduce the level of dirt significantly and therefore breech covers were produced for the Lee Enfield rifles. Most of these covers were produced in the UK or Canada and use press studs to secure them, as described in this list of changes from 1915:
“The Breech cover is fully described in LoC 17368, 24 June 1915.
“the Cover is made of Double texture waterproof drill, and is fitted with 3 press studs on the left side of the rifle. Two eyelets are fitted in the cover for a lace which is knotted on the inside to retain it in position:
The cover is attached to rifle by means of the lace as follows-
Rifles Short MLE– To the guard sling swivel, or through the swivel screw hole in the lugs on the trigger guard.”
Tonight however we have an Indian produced example that uses a staples and a cloth strip to secure it:My thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for helping me add this one to the collection. As can be seen the cover fits tightly over the bolt and action of the rifle, the opposite side to the fastener has a double thickness area around the bolt handle to prevent this area from wearing too quickly:The cover is wrapped around the action, the staples are pushed through holes in the breech cover on the opposite side, and the whole assembly secured with the long cotton tab:This allows the cover to be easily removed by quickly pulling on the tab and this allows the assembly to fall away. A pair of leather ties are fitted:These secure to a ring in front of the magazine on the rifle to prevent loss of the cover:The cover is made of the same rough cotton drill as Indian made gas mask bags, inside are a couple of stamps: one has a date of 1943 and a number ‘2’:The second stamp is a faint purple marking with the letters ‘F.S.A’:Quite what this stands for is unknown now. We end with a nice illustration of a breech cover being used in the trenches of World War One to keep mud out of the action of a ‘jock’s’ SMLE: