Monthly Archives: December 2018

Royal Navy Foul Weather Trousers

Earlier this year we looked at the Royal Navy’s foul weather jacket here. This jacket is commonly issued to all sailors as a protective layer for inclement weather. Far less frequently seen is the accompanying pair of Gore-tex foul weather trousers and it is these that are the subject of the blog tonight:imageThese trousers are made of moisture vapour permeable of MVP fabric that keeps the larger drops of rain water out, but allows moisture from perspiration to escape from the inside. All the seams of these garments have been taped to prevent water from entering here:imageThese trousers are designed to be worn over the standard uniform, so the pockets are merely openings, secured with Velcro, that allow access to the uniform pockets beneath:imageAs it is probable that these trousers will get saturated, a loop is provided at the back of the waist so that they can be hung up to dry:imageThey are fastened with a zip fly and Velcro tab and a drawstring allows a degree of size adjustment:imageAs it is likely that these trousers will be put on and taken off whilst the sailor is still wearing his boots, the bottom of each leg has a zip and a Velcro tab allowing them to be opened right up to make donning and removing them easier:imageA standard label is sewn into the inside of the trousers with sizing and care instructions. The size of these trousers is small, however they are very generously cut to fit over uniform, so will fit someone who is normally a larger size:imageAs best as I can work out, foul weather coats are on general issue to all Royal Navy personnel either on land or sea, whilst the trousers are just issued to those aboard ship. This make sense when one considers how rough it can get at sea and that crew still need to perform duties outside in any weather:Capture

Postcard of Victoria Place, Hartlepool, after German Bombardment

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a postcard depicting the destruction of the Baptist chapel in Hartlepool, however it was not just public buildings that were damaged in this naval bombardment. Much civilian property was also destroyed and tonight’s postcard depicts the ruins of housing in Victoria Place Hartlepool:SKM_C284e18110611560 - CopyVictoria Place is on the headland at Hartlepool and this row of Victorian houses suffered heavy destruction at the hands of the German attackers. At 8.15 at the same time the Baptist chapel was being hit by shellfire, the houses of Victoria Place were hit and Salvation Army Adjutant William Gordon Avery was killed and buried beneath the rubble of the houses.

Censorship of newspapers had not yet been rigorously enforced, so the following day the Daily mail was able to run a detailed story outlining the attack on the town:

Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, two of the most thriving ports on the east coast, had today the unenviable distinction of being among the first English towns to suffer from a German bombardment.

They were attacked shortly after 8 a.m., and for forty minutes were subjected to a rain of heavy shells. Twenty-nine people were killed and 64 wounded, some very severely. Some damage was done to the town.

Official information is not to be obtained, and those who were manning the trenches and saw most of what occurred have been prohibited from giving any information, but the above figures are the nearest estimate I can make from careful inquiry in the two towns.

As near as can be made out, firing commenced at 8.04 a.m. and only ceased at 8.45. Various reports are current as to how many vessels took part in the bombardment, but the most careful sifting seems to indicate that there were certainly three warships, and possibly four.

Several shells landed in the battery at Hartlepool and one killed five men, but the guns were not put out of action and continued to fire until the enemy steamed away southwards.

The Hartlepools lie in a crescent-like formation, with old Hartlepool as the apex, and the German ships lay off this point and fired fan-wise, with the result that shells swept both towns for a distance of a couple of miles inland, striking most of the important buildings with the exception of the town hall and post office at West Hartlepool. The latter, however, was largely incapacitated from working by a large number of wires being down through the wrecking of telegraph poles or the actual cutting down of the wires themselves by exploding shells.

SEVEN “PALS” KILLED

There were many terrible tragedies, but three stand out pre-eminent. The seven soldiers killed were members of the Durham County “Pals” battalion. These seven were standing together on the front and a shell burst in the middle of them. Two other cases are those of civilians.

FAMILY OF EIGHT DEAD

A family resident in Dene-Street, whose name I have not been able to obtain, had a shell burst in their house, with the result that the father, mother and six children were killed instantly.

The third case was that of the Misses Kays, who live in the end house of Cliff-terrace, just behind the Lighthouse, at the point nearest to where the hostile vessels lay. The Misses Kays were aroused by the sound of firing. They let their maid servant out at the back and told her to run, and returning to their house went upstairs to gather some things. While they were in the bedroom a shell burst, carrying away the end of the house and killing both of them.

China Model of the Cenotaph

During the First World War there was a huge variety of commemorative china trinkets produced that reflected the war, some such as a tank and an artillery piece have been featured on the blog before. This obsession with collecting crested souvenir china trailed off slightly in the early 1920s but was still popular enough to warrant companies producing new designs that reflected peacetime. War memorials were an obvious choice of model and the Arcadian Company was quick to release a model of the Cenotaph in London:imageThis model is a fairly accurate depiction of Lutyens monument in the centre of London and is rendered in white glazed porcelain. The front of the model features a transfer print of the arms of the City of London:imageThe rear has an explanatory message describing what the model represents:imageWreaths that are carved in stone on the original, are picked out in green on this piece:imageThe design itself is hollow, and there is a large circular hole on the base, along with the Arcadian trade mark:imageThis design was one of the most popular in the Arcadian catalogue in the early 1920s and can be found with a large variety of town crests on the front, many with no connection to London and the Cenotaph at all. Some of these fit nicely onto the front of the model, others are clearly too large for the design and are wrapped awkwardly onto the sides of the monument. One of the most unusual uses for this design was as a souvenir of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 when the design was offered with a special exhibition logo displayed on the front.

This reproduction of the cenotaph is made up of straight lines, the original however is designed so that the edges are ever so slightly curved, as the architect explains:

Sir Edward Lutyens, the designer of the Cenotaph, in an interview said, “The one thing I really like about the Cenotaph is that none of the architectural papers has realised how it was done. They have tried to bring out reproductions of it, and all of them have used straight lines instead of curves.”

With swift strokes he sketched the outline of the monument, and showed, by a cunning sweep in lines, how the curve preserved and even accumulated the majesty which the straight line destroyed.

British Army Wellco Jungle Boots

We seem to have covered a lot of different pairs of boots on the blog this year, we round out our selection though with a pair of American made Wellco jungle boots:imageThe British Army purchased these boots in quite large numbers form the US for issue to troops on jungle deployments and in training in jungle environments. The boots are lightweight, as is so often the case with jungle boots, and feature a two part construction with leather for the lower portions, and fabric for the area above the ankle:imageLeather reinforcing goes up the whole of the front of the boot in order to mount the eyeholes and clasps for the laces:imageAs befits boots that are likely to get very wet and then need to dry rapidly, two drainage holes are fitted to the lower portion of the boot:imageThe soles of the boots are made of heavy duty rubber and have a pattern known as a ‘Panama Sole’:imageThis design was invented by a US soldier called Raymond Dobie in World War II and uses a series of angled rubber lugs in the soles to push soft mud from the soles, clearing them and providing much better grip in greasy clay or mud. Each sole has the size (here 12) moulded into the rubber, indicating that these were manufactured for the British Army rather than for the US military as the sizes are those used in Britain, not America. The official stores catalogue describes the boots as:

Boots, Combat, Jungle. Hot weather. Calf length derby style boot with black leather uppers and nylon leg. Speed loop & eyelet lace closure. Rubber moulded sole. Drainage plugs inside arches.

The inside of the tongue has a white stamping indicating size, NSN number and date of manufacture. As this is an area of high wear, these can be hard to read sometimes:imageEach boot also has a maker’s tag with the US flag and the name Wellco embroidered on it:imageAs ever we can rely upon Arrsepedia to give a humorous and not necessarily accurate reason as to why the British Army adopted US produced boots:

Being British of course, we decided to make our own version of the US jungle boot and came out with something that looked like a DMS boot with the ankle bit removed and replaced with green canvas, thus looking like a slightly more ally NHS orthopaedic shoe.

Under rigorous jungle conditions, these lasted about 14.7 seconds and so combat arms personnel posted to Belize were finally, and very grudgingly, issued with US jungle boots which they actually got to keep. Woo hoo!

These boots were produced in sizes from 3 to 15, in half size increments and each size was offered in regular, wide and extra wide. This resulted in a bewildering 74 different size and width combinations for this design of boot!

Indian Made Mess Dress Trousers

A couple of weeks ago we looked at an Indian Army mess dress jacket. As promised, tonight we follow up that post by looking at the matching pair of mess dress trousers, also commonly called ‘overalls’:imageThese are produced in a very fine dark blue wool, with a wide red stripe down each outside leg:imageThese trousers were produced in India in 1920, as witnessed by the large circular acceptance mark stamped on the inside:imageThese trousers are of superb quality and not at all what we would later come to associate with Indian production. I am fairly confident however that they were produced in India rather than imported from Britain and then stamped on arrival. The buttons used throughout the mess dress are japanned stamped metal designs and although the japanning is too thick to be able to read a makers mark, they feel very ‘Indian’ to me:imageThe base of each trouser leg is cut to fit over a pair of dress boots, and a strap with a button to secure it is sewn on to pass under the instep and prevent the trousers from riding up:imageThe fly is secured with a row of the same buttons:imageThe waist of the trousers is lined with a striped shirting material, the rear being cut into a ‘fish-tail’ back and having buttons (on the reverse) to attach a pair of braces to:imageThese are very fitted trousers and as such the only pocket provided is a small change pocket inside the waist:imageAs officers would be expected to purchase their own mess dress, the acceptance stamp is a bit of a mystery. My best guess is that these trousers were produced for issue to a senior NCO who would have received his mess kit form the government. At some point though they were acquired by an officer for use with his mess dress jacket and thus the pair have come down to us together. I am pretty confident that the jacket and trousers have been together for a very long time as Indian produced mess kit is rare and the chances of a collector or a surplus shop just happening to find them as separate entities and then matching them up seems slim to me.

Either way these trousers are in remarkable condition considering they are now 98 years old and they look like they could have been manufactured yesterday!

Methylated Spirit Stove

Tonight’s object, as far as I am aware, is not strictly military in origin. It was however used by a friend of mine extensively during his time in the army and was apparently a popular choice of privately purchased equipment for many squaddies in the 1980s so is entirely appropriate to appear on the blog.

Many soldiers had problems with the standard issue hexamine cooking stoves. They were sometime difficult to light in windy conditions, were slow to heat up water and left a thick and sticky black residue on the bottom of mess tins. Many turned to alternatives and this little methylated spirit stove was a popular choice:imageIt takes the form of a pressed brass can, with a removable lid and multiple holes to encourage airflow in to the central burner. The lid is stamped with safety instructions:imageOnce the lid is removed, the burner itself can be seen inside the stove:imageThis is filled with methylated spirit and has a series of air holes around the rim to aid combustion, it is removable to allow it to be cleaned or refilled:imageOnce the cooking has been completed, a small metal lid can be dropped onto the top of the burner to extinguish the flames:imageThese stoves must be extinguished this way as blowing the flame out just results in the fuel and flames spraying back at the user. The rounded portion of the cover is used both the grasp it with to drop it onto the burner, and also to hold it on securely in transit so the methylated spirit can’t escape. The top of the handle fits into the dimple pressed into the stove’s lid and the fit is tight enough to prevent spillage.

The design of this stove is very simple and seems to be based off of the 1925 Trangia pattern which in turn was based off of a design patented in 1904 in New York by J Heinrichs. This very simple stove is incredibly light, but can quickly produce enough flame to warm up a mess tin of water:imageIt is this speed, the lightness of the design and the lack of smoke when burning methylated spirit that made this design so popular amongst troops. These little stoves also work well in low temperatures in a way designs that rely on pressurised gas do not. It was also suitable to be carried on board aircraft when deploying overseas, again something that cannot be done with pressurised cylinders of gas. The stove works by:

The unpressurized open-top design of the double wall acts as a gas generator, transferring heat from the flame to the fuel. This effect enhances combustion, producing more heat than other passive designs. The inner wall also creates a convenient preheat chamber for starting the stove. Once the fuel has warmed up, its vapor will travel up the hollow wall, pass through the perforations, and form a ring of flame. This improves air/fuel mixing and therefore combustion. Vapor also rises from the center of the stove and burns when passing through the ring of flame as long as a pot is over the stove.

Today more sophisticated portable stoves such as jet boils are available that are even more efficient and light, however for a period in the 70s and 80s this was a popular choice for many soldiers.

111 Maintenance Unit Christmas Menu

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you are having a restful Christmas. Tonight we are taking a look at another festive object, a small menu from the Christmas Dinner served to members of 111 Maintenance unit, RAF Middle East Command:SKM_C284e18120709070Victor Flack was part of the 111 Maintenance Unit and describes the conditions:

From the station we were taken south 14 miles to 111 maintenance unit at Tura. This unit, previously located elsewhere as part of 101 M.U, had been the one major unit of its kind in Egypt in 1941, and as such, had been a particular target for German bombing. The caves in the Mokattam hills at Tura, had been decided upon as a suitable alternative site, being almost bomb proof. The caves were formed when limestone was quarried for the casing stones for the pyramids, across the Nile.

These caves were now used for storage, engine and airscrew repair shops, and, as I was to discover on a few months’ time, a small hospital. We lived in tents at the foot of the hills, and nearby were the engine test benches, the noise being baffled from the tents by sand dunes.large_000000Although conditions were Spartan, special efforts were made to cheer up the men at Christmas:

And then there was the Christmas show. Among the motley inhabitants of ‘treble one’ there were enough comedians, musicians’ singers, and other entertainers to provide a lengthy show (some of these may have been professional’s pre-war). It was really something to see familiar faces appear on stage and gallantly do their bit. Among them was a ‘store basher’ generally seen heaving propellers about and suitably attired for that task, but he was a singer. When he came stalking on to the stage in a smart homemade outfit, and began to sing, it was another unforgettable memory for me. It was truly professional delivery, – he sort of swelled up like a cockerel does when it starts to crow and an unexpected powerful voice stunned us all into a respectful silence. He sang “The Road to Mandalay” — we heard every word, and on the rare occasions I hear it now, I can’t help thinking it is not being sung as well as I heard it all those years ago, – to be fair, it may be that my ears were in better nick then, but it still brings back the vision of our store basher doing his bit in front of us all.

I hope you have an enjoyable time this Christmas and I leave you with one of my favourite wartime Christmas cartoons form the late great Express Cartoonist Carl Giles, Santa never got an easy ride from Giles’ pen, but this one has a particularly dark humour to it.. I love it!GetMultimedia