Tonight’s object is unusual in being a professionally modified version of an already scarce piece of webbing. The parachutists’ Sten ammunition case was a webbing bag designed to be used by paratroopers to carry extra ammunition into battle. It was strapped to the leg when jumping out of a plane, then released and allowed to dangle beneath on a string for a safer landing. It used quick release tabs and had a special pocket for the 20 foot cord that attached it to the soldier:A removable harness was fitted to the back to allow it to be strapped to the leg:This piece of webbing was never popular and withdrawn from service pretty quickly, which possibly explains tonight’s modified version of the case:This piece has been professionally modified, I suspect at a unit level, and is now designed to be carried over one shoulder. The modifications include replacing the quick release fasteners on the top flap with webbing buckles and straps to make it harder for the case to accidentally come open:The pocket for a static line has been removed and a webbing carry handle fitted to allow the case to be carried ‘briefcase’ style:Note the pen lines for the original pocket, part of the construction process when the case was first made. Two 1” twig buckles have been fitted to the top sides of the case, allowing a standard shoulder brace to be used as a shoulder strap so it can be slung over the body:On the rear the metal loops for attaching the case to a leg harness have been removed and the holes covered over with small pieces of webbing:All the sewing for the modifications is expertly done on a machine and is as good a quality as any webbing manufacturer’s work. The case itself opens up and has space inside for fifteen Sten magazines:The bottom of the case is permanently sewn in to provide support for the magazines, the top half is covered by an internal flap:The underside of the top flap indicates this case was originally made by MECo in 1942:I suspect it will be very hard to get proof of who made this modification to the ammunition case, or exactly why. I suspect it would have been done semi-officially to make use of a spare piece of equipment and was probably a unit authorised conversion. Certainly the case is far more suited to ground operations with a shoulder strap than a leg harness and it is a convenient, if heavy, way of carrying fifteen Sten magazines around to resupply troops with.
Update: My thanks go to Rich for providing us with some reminiscences of actually wearing these socks, and his impressions of them.
In the early post-war period polyester was seen as something of a miracle fibre. It was easy and cheap to produce, didn’t crease and was completely rot proof. The British army recognised these traits and quickly adopted polyester for army issue socks:The army had already been using rot-proofed socks in the jungle, but these were never very effective and polyester seemed an affordable and workable solution. These socks date from 1966 and are made from knitted dark-green polyester thread. The base of the socks have the date, foot size, stores number and /|\ mark printed on in white lettering:These socks have clearly never been issued or worn as this lettering would very quickly flake off with wear and washing. The design of the socks are entirely conventional, with an elasticated top to them to help hold them up:It is fair to say that these polyester socks were never popular. Soldiers complained that they were hot, scratchy and made the wearer’s feet sweat excessively. Indeed many accounts of footwear in the sixties and seventies comment on the likelihood of getting athletes foot from wearing these socks in combination with DMS boots!
If of questionable utility in their original guise, the humble sock was repurposed by squaddies for a variety of things. The tops were often cut off them and sewn into the ends of the sleeves of a combat smock to create a knitted cuff to keep the draughts out. I also have an example of a commando bergan where old army socks have been used to make padding over parts that might dig into the soldier’s back.
And they never wore out. I still had three pairs in the early 1990s, although this in part was due to my discovery of Socks, Men’s, Arctic in 1984, and then shortly afterwards civilian ‘Commando Socks’ prior to their issue. They were too warm for summer use, and didn’t provide any insulation in winter; this, combined with a strange sliding effect of your feet in the boot caused by ‘shredded wheat’ insole which was also nylon (informed that this was to reduce blisters), meant that they were consigned to barracks only use when alternatives were unavailable.
There was no worse feeling than having slept in these socks in an issued down-filled sleeping bag to find after donning your DMS boots and puttees that some of the feathers had migrated from the bag and worked their way into the weave of the socks; meaning that the shaft of the feathers would scratch your feet all day with no chance of respite by removing your boots.
Another use I have seen for one of these socks was as a ‘cosy’ for a 44 pattern water bottle. Purpose? To deaden noise; camouflage; insulation or to aid cooling; to use as a hot water bottle – who knows?
The other failings for these socks were: the stitching used at the heel and the toes was quite abrasive; the socks never really took to the shape of your feet which meant that they tended to ruck especially when wet or sweaty; provided no cushioning whatsoever, and when wet the top of the sock chaffed your lower calf badly. The only ‘positives’ were they were fairly quick to dry, and were extremely hard-wearing which is probably why they were procured; that and possibly the hope that you would seek to purchase alternatives, thereby saving the government money.
These socks are now starting to get quite rare, especially in a nice unissued condition like this pair. Most have been worn and thrown out so if you do come across a pair it would be well worth picking them up to add to a Cold War load out- just don’t bother trying to wear them!
It has been a while since we looked at a piece of sheet music on the blog, and tonight we have one of the biggest hits of the Second World War, ‘There’ll Always be an England’:This song was written in April 1939 by lyricist Ross Parker. Apparently his publisher rang him up and said that as the song ‘God bless America’ was doing very well in the states, perhaps he could write something similar for the UK? Parker sat down with his composing partner Hughie Charles and came up with ‘There’ll always be an England’. The song went down well and was chosen to be used as the finale of a film called ‘Discoveries’, a film based on a BBC talent-spotting show. The film needed a big patriotic finale and ‘There’ll always be an England’ was chosen as the piece of music to end the film with, sung by a ten-year old boy Glyn Davies with chorus, military band and hundreds of uniformed extras- as seen on the cover of the sheet music.
The film was released as war broke out and although the movie itself has largely been forgotten, the song was to become a hugely popular anthem of the war years. 200,000 copies of the sheet music were sold in the first two months of them war alone.
Its lasting popularity though was to come through one young female singer, Vera Lynn, who made it one of her two signature tunes and it is her version that will be forever associated with the Second World War. Ironically modern sensibilities have seen this track removed from a modern album of her greatest songs as it is no longer deemed politically correct to express pride in England as an entity!
The inside of the sheet music has the tune and words printed on it:
The words of the song read:
I give you a toast Ladies and gentlemen
I give you a toast Ladies and gentlemen
May this fair land we love so well
In Dignity and freedom dwell
While worlds may change and go awry
There’ll always be an England
While there’s a country lane
Wherever there’s a cottage small
Beside a field of grain
There’ll always be an England
While there’s a busy street
Wherever there’s a turning wheel
A million marching feet
Red, white and blue
What does it mean to you?
Surely you’re proud
Shout it loud
The Empire too
We can depend on you
These are the chains
Nothing can break
There’ll always be an England
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me
The song became a proud anthem of the war years, sung by men and women throughout the conflict. When HMS Barham was sunk, the survivors kept their spirits up singing the song whilst waiting rescue and despite modern sensibilities it will be forever associated with the war years.
This week’s photograph is a nice study of the battle class destroyer HMS Barfleur:The ship’s pennant number, D80, is painted on her hull making identification easy:Barfleur was the first commissioned Battle class destroyer and the only ship of her class to see action during the Second World War. She was present in Tokyo Bay when the official Japanese surrender was signed on USS Missouri.
In 1946, Barfleur deployed to the Far East along with the rest of the 19th Destroyer Flotilla, performing a variety of duties, including visiting many ports on ‘fly-the-flag’ visits. Barfleur returned to the United Kingdom with the rest of her flotilla in 1947, and was subsequently placed in Reserve.
In 1953, Barfleur took part in the Fleet Review at Spithead in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Barfleur was positioned in the middle of the destroyers St. Kitts and Crossbow.
Barfleur also became Captain (D) of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, which served in the Mediterranean. While there, Barfleur picked-up survivors from a Handley Page Hastings that had crashed in the region. Upon the completion of her task, Barfleur returned the aeroplane’s crew to Malta. In 1954, Barfleur moved back home but was returned to the Mediterranean the following year.
The destroyer was involved in the Suez War in 1956, taking part in the Allied landings in early November. Barfleur returned home later in the year for the last time to join the Home Fleet.
In 1958, Barfleur was put in Reserve before being placed on the disposal list and broken up at Dalmuir in 1966.
Barfleur’s main armament was two dual 4.5 inch guns on the fo’castle:Barfleur was a fast ship, capable of making up to 35.75 knots, and this speed was achieved through her fine lines, with a bow capable of cutting through the water:And two steam turbines capable of giving 50,000 shp, venting through a single central funnel:Barfleur was home to 268 sailors and one dog, the ship’s mascot Gozo, a Maltese terrier:Gozo considered himself superior to all other pets in the ship; he had his own papers, kit bag, hammock, kit list and a conduct sheet (with many offences written therein) and S264, and many letters and signals of his activities. His rate was A/B Dog. He had a Crossing-the-line certificate and also claimed the honour of being the first allied dog in Tokyo. He met and talked to more than twenty Admirals, lunched with Commodores and taken leave in New Zealand.
His overall length was some 12 inches, his height almost six inches and his displacement some 3-lbs. The colour scheme was pure white, or at least for almost two minutes after bath time, after which he takes on a real battleship grey for camouflage purposes.
It has been a while since we last looked at one of the DDPM MOLLE pouches on the blog. Tonight we have one of the largest pouches produced for this system, the triple ammunition pouch:This pouch has three separate pockets, each of which can hold two SA80 magazines (I only have the one magazine to hand, but you get the idea!):Each of these pockets is secured with heavy duty Velcro and a press stud:As with all modern pouches, drainage holes are fitted to each individual pocket:The pouch attached to a waistcoat or plate carrier using the standard heavy duty straps, secured with press studs, that pass through the ladder straps to hold the pouch securely:This particular pouch was produced in 2007, as indicated by the label on the rear:I am struggling to find out how popular these pouches were, I suspect however that three individual ammunition pouches would have worked better than this single large pouch- they would offer more flexibility when setting up the load bearing equipment and six full magazines would be a lot of weight to have supported by just two straps on the rear, as in this pouch. Three individual pouches would have six straps to support the same weight and would presumably be more secure. Either way these pouches are easily available on the surplus market and this one cost me just £5 which seems very reasonable for such a large piece of web-gear.
One group of items that women always struggled to find during the Second World War were cosmetics, with production of what were often seen as frivolous vanity items severely curtailed. In 1940 the British government introduced the Limitation of Supplies Order that reduced production to just 25% of its pre-war capacity. Companies that had previously made cosmetics were put over to war production, making foot powders for the military. With such shortages, it is unsurprising that makeup, or lack of it, became a common problem for many women. It was recognised that beauty products did help boost morale, and could help disguise how tired and drab a female workforce was feeling working long hours. Despite this, there was never enough supply to meet demand. In 1942 to save metal it became illegal to make powder compacts from metal (plastic had to be substituted). Before this date however most manufacturers enjoyed some success with compacts that featured regimental badges on the front, either as a transfer or as a separately attached badge. Tonight we have an example of one of these compacts:This features the badge of the Royal Artillery:These compacts were popular keepsakes to be bought by servicemen for their wives and girlfriends, the appropriate badge for their branch of service being chosen. The largest regiments such as the Royal Artillery and RASC are the most common of these compacts to find today due to the larger volume of production in the 1940s. Opening up the compact we can see a mirror and a small hinged lid:This opens up to reveal the powder compartment:Engraved on the outside of the lid is the trade name ‘Vogue Vanitie’ and that it was made in England:Daphne Crisp recalls some of the details of wartime makeup and hairdressing:
I was a young woman working as a hairdresser in the shop, “Dancers” in Braintree. Dancers was a large store with both a barbers and a hairdressers selling expensive cosmetics by Elizabeth Arden and Yardley. There was always great excitement when some make up came in and everyone would be desperate to get it.
There were just young apprentices like myself and older women working as hairdressers there, as all the women aged eighteen and over were doing essential war work. We had only basic soft soap to wash the hair and gum tragent, a really harsh setting lotion which we mixed ourselves. My customers ranged from local ladies, nurses working at Black Notley and prostitutes coming down from London. These were really good tippers and liked to have their hair swept up and clipped at the sides, showing a bare shaved neck.
A number of different DPM and Desert DPM smocks have appeared on the blog over the years, but tonight we have the first example of a windproof smock in MTP:In design this is externally very similar to the DDPM example we looked at here. The front of the smock fastens with a concealed zip, and a tab for a rank slide is positioned centrally on the chest, along with two small zipped pockets:Further large patch pockets are sewn to the skirts of the smock, secured with a button flap:These pockets are actually fleece lined, as can be seen on the inside of the smock:Two further patch pockets are fitted, one on either breast, opening the left hand pocket reveals pen lops and a small inner pocket with a button hole:This is designed to hold a small compass for field work. Finally pockets are sewn to the upper sleeves of the garment, with a small union flag sewn to the pocket flap:When wearing multiple layers of clothing ventilation can become important, so under each arm pit is a zippered hole to allow air in to this sweaty part of the body if needed:To help make the smock comfortable, a mesh liner is sewn to the upper half of the jacket:A drawstring waist is also provided inside the smock, below the mesh liner:As with the DDPM version, this smock has a hood, with an integral wire to help stiffen it and let it hold the shape the wearer wants:As ever this can be rolled up and secured to the collar with a button tab.
The cuffs of each sleeve have a large Velcro tab allowing them to be drawn tight to get a warm seal and prevent cold air form entering the smock:The smock uses the familiar plastic buttons secured with cotton tapes, as seen on all British Army field uniforms since 1995. Spares are sewn into the inside of the lower skirt of the smock:A standard label identifies the smock, gives sizing and NSN number and care instructions:This particular pattern of smock seems to have first been issued about 2009 and was popular amongst the men who received it:
They are warm in the winter, even in just a t-shirt or norgy, and cool in the summer (especially when the side vents are opened up). The fleece pockets are good too…
Another user said:
The smock is actually very good, I’ve never been told to do press ups for having my hands in those fleece pockets, in fact I haven’t seen anyone told to do press ups for that “offence” since I left the regulars, perhaps this jacket should be arketed to TA bods only! The mesh on the pockets doesn’t snag on anything, it’s under the actual pocket, and the stuff on the inside does its job really well. Overall, it’s a very good bit of kit.
The only criticism was it could be a bit heavy, especially when wet, but most users seem to have liked the smock and it was fetching high prices on the surplus market when first issued. Prices have dropped now that it has been on issue for eight or nine years and examples can be found for around £25 each.