Monthly Archives: February 2019

Civil Defence Leather Anklets

As collectors we are probably all familiar with the webbing anklets worn by British and empire troops in World War Two and some may be aware that leather examples were produced for wear by the Home Guard. What far fewer collectors may realise is that there was a specific pattern of leather anklet produced for those working in Civil Defence. The need for. An anklet is perhaps obvious, those working in civil defence were often on bomb sites helping rescue people from beneath rubble, surrounded by protrusions and sharp edges that could easily snag on a trouser leg. An anklet helped protect the bottom of a pair of trousers or overalls and made it much safer for the man or woman on abomination site. Like the Home Guard, leather was used for the anklets, but a different design, shared with the ATS was used:imageWhilst the ATS version was made of a russet brown leather, this Civil Defence example is a much darker shade of brown, almost black in colour. This pair are unissued, still tied together as they were when they came from stores. It is interesting to note that the leather ties used to fasten them are missing, indicating that these were issued separately and not attached in the factory.

The leather used is of a thick grade and has a slight pebbled effect across its surface:imageThree pairs of holes are punched through to pass the leather securing laces through. These loops would then be inter threaded and passed through the brass eyelets and over the top strap to secure:imageThe securing strap consists of a leather tongue:imageAnd a corresponding brass buckle:imageIt was clearly expected that this area might suffer from more wear than the rest of the anklet and it is reinforced on the rear:imageThis pair of anklets was manufactured in 1942 and as well as the date and manufacturer’s initials, the /|\ War Department mark is stamped into the leather on the rear:imageThis pair are a tiny size 1, perhaps accounting for why they were never issued, which is indicated on the rear by a yellow paint stamp:imageIt seems the anklets were not universally worn, but here we can see a member of a stretcher party (rear, right on the stretcher bearers) wearing a pair:image

Waterproofing Agent

Modern combat boots are far more sophisticated than in previous decades, often being made of different materials and having special waterproofing capabilities that allow sweat to escape, whilst preventing water to come in. As such tradition shoe polish is not always sufficient to treat these items of footwear with and many manufacturers also supply the military with specific waxes and treatments for these new boots, much like civilian purchasers of hiking boots are encouraged to also buy the correct feeds and treatments for their footwear.

Tonight we are looking at a small pot of boot waterproofing compound, here made by a company called Greygate:imageThe compound is supplied in a small glass jar and as it has been produced for a military contract, a stores barcode label with NSN number is attached to one side of the outside:imageThe rest of the label gives warnings about the potentially harmful nature of the compound which is both flammable and can cause skin irritation:imageThe base of the jar indicates that it was manufactured in November 2017 and has a expiry date in 2020:imageThis wax seems to have been specially created for the British military and according to Cadet Direct it is:

Genuine British Forces wax waterproofing compound issued for use with all MOD Brown combat footwear. Unlike some commercial shoe polishes this wax-based compound has been formulated to nourish and waterproof MOD brown footwear without altering the natural colour of the sole or upper. Application with cloth recommended. Size: 125g 4 fl oz e. Colour: neutral.

The company itself markets the wax as a:

Blend of waxes and silicone to protect and nourish walking boots against the elements, without altering the natural colour of the sole or upper.

Used by the British Forces, Wax Waterproofing Compound issued for use with all MOD Brown combat footwear.

Seaman’s Ration Book

Merchant seamen on short trips around Britain’s coastline of a few days would not usually be catered for from their ship’s stores. Instead they were expected to pick up rations ashore and bring them back on board for the cook on board to prepare. A special ration book was therefore issued to sailors that could be authorised by the captain or master of a ship for a week at a time. For the cover we can see that this example was issued to a sailor called ‘Styles’ in Sunderland in 1943:imageThe inside of the cover has instructions to the sailor on how to use the book:imageThe original owner of this book clearly used it a number of times as coupons have been cut out of several pages:imageThere are still many weeks where the book has not been countersigned or coupons removed:imageAlthough clearly not necessary in this case, a form is provided for the sailor to request a new ration book if he were to finish this one:image

imageThe back page gives instructions to the ship’s master about what he needs to do in order to complete the book:imageNote also the printer’s coding at the bottom of the page that indicates this book was one of a run of 115,000 copies produced in June 1943.

Much of Britain’s internal trade was done by sea, with coasters making short trips up and down the coastline with bulky cargos. Fishermen were also expected to make short journeys of a few days around the coast and this ration book was designed to allow them to be fed simply without any recourse to the more complex victualing procedures required for trans-Atlantic crossings or other longer journeys.

 

Green Holdall

The British Army has issued a wide variety of bags, holdalls and suitcases to its troops over the years in which to carry their kit when moving from one deployment to another. With the possible exception of the current issue black ‘grip’ with integral shoulder straps, none of these bags could be said to be easy to carry when filled with uniform, boots and webbing. Tonight we are looking at a green holdall issued in the 1990s to troops which despite its prodigious carry capacity can hardly have been the easiest thing to carry on and off trains or lorries:imageThis holdall is made from green canvas in a roughly rectangular shape with two large carrying handles, one on either side of the bag:imageMetal loops are provided to attach a shoulder strap, although the width of the holdall would suggest that this would not have been any more ergonomic for carrying than the two top mounted carrying handles:imageA zipper runs across the top of the bag to give access to the contents within:imageA smaller pocket is sewn to one side of the holdall, with a clear acetate window also visible where the owner’s details could be displayed to allow it to be identified amongst a sea of identical bags:imageThe two ends of the bag have heavy reinforcements at the corners to prevent the fabric from fraying and becoming damaged with extensive use:imageThe base of the holdall has a stiffener within it and a series of white metal feet to lift it off the ground and to offer greater protection from wear:imageWhilst not as versatile as the latest issue black holdalls, this green example must have been well liked when it was introduced as it is far more practical and up to date than the traditional kit bag or a fibre suitcase. This type of holdall seems to have been issued throughout the 1990s until the early 2000s and although now obsolete they do appear for sale on the surplus market occasionally. For the collector their huge capacity and relatively square shape make them very useful for storing other items of uniform and kit inside and this example is doing just that in my collection.

Horse Guards Postcards

Horse Guards in central London was commissioned by King George II in 1745 to replace an earlier building of the same purpose on the site that had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was dangerous to the cavalrymen billeted there. The new Horse Guards was designed by William Kent in the Palladian style and it is this building that is depicted in this postcard:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (4)The cost of the buildings was £65,000 and took nearly ten years to complete. The Household Cavalry moved into the northern wing of the uncompleted building in 1855; at that time, there was stabling for 62 horses compared to 17 today. Originally, the two wings were connected to the central block by single storey ranges; in 1803-5 a further two floors were added to these, giving the building its present appearance.The building also served as the offices for the various administrative departments responsible to the Secretary at War, which would eventually become formalised as the War Office. Also located at Horse Guards was the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. Two famous occupants of the office, a room originally intended for courts-martial, were Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1795-1809), popularly believed to be “The Grand Old Duke of York”, and the Duke of Wellington (1827-28 and 1842-52). The final Commander-in-Chief at Horse Guards was Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who was so reluctant to move to the new War Office building at Cumberland House in Pall Mall that he had to be ordered to leave by Queen Victoria. Wellington’s desk is preserved in the same room, which is now the office of the Major-General Commanding the Household Division and General Officer Commanding London District. Horse Guards subsequently became the headquarters of two major Army commands: the London District and the Household Cavalry.

In this view the two large sentry boxes for mounted soldiers are clearly visible:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (4) - CopyThe building’s close proximity to the rest of London is clearly seen in the postcard, St Paul’s Cathedral in particular being visible on the skyline:SKM_C30819010312060 - Copy (5) - CopySadly the cranes of London’s docks are long gone today, Horse Guards is however largely unchanged, the parade ground behind the main building remains the centre of British ceremonial life and the site for trooping the colour to this day.

Army Bureau of Current Affairs Pamphlets

The Army Bureau of Current Affairs was set up in August 1941 to help inform soldiers of ideas and events in public life. It’s founding document set out the thought behind this new agency:

Many regimental officers have noted among their men a widespread ignorance about Current Affairs. It is not the Army’s fault, for this lack of knowledge about national issues is a chronic condition among the citizens of this country, and it does not disappear because a man changes his dungarees or pin stripe trousers for a khaki battledress. But if an ill-informed or indifferent citizen is a menace to our national safety, so, too, is a soldier who neither knows nor cares why he is in arms.

The ABCA set out its argument for existence then on three key principles:

(a) The soldier who understands the cause for which he fights is likely to be a more reliable soldier than the one who doesn’t.

(b) Many soldiers have no such understanding, and many others are losing touch with the sources of knowledge and information they used to possess.

(c) It is the business of the army to make good this deficiency of knowledge, and therefore to devise what means are possible to keep men abreast of current affairs.

The army decided to set up the ABCA to assist officers in giving weekly talks to their men on current affairs. These sessions were to last around an hour and were designed to stimulate debate between the men to get them to think and question current affairs. ABCA sent officers a handbook to guide them on how to run the training sessions:imageThey were advised to make the groups small, to use visual aids wherever possible, to choose warm and comfortable conditions in which to run the talks and to ensure they were well publicised. The handbook provided some illustrations of teaching in action to inspire the officer:SKM_C30819021108300SKM_C30819021108301SKM_C30819021108301 - CopySKM_C30819021108310Alongside this emphasis on the officer, the ABCA also published short informational pamphlets including titles on new science such as Atomic Energy, politics such as Trades Unionism and history:imageFurther pamphlets were also issued covering aspects of the war itself, such as this one covering the Battle of Arnhem:imageThe ABCA was seen by many as being very left wing in outlook and those teaching and taking the classes were predominantly interested in areas of Social Justice. Churchill was opposed to the work of the ABCA as he felt it was a waste of soldiers’ time. It has been argued that part of Labour’s victory in the 1945 General Election was due to the ‘khaki vote’ which was largely driven by the work of the ABCA, something vociferously denied by the army at the time.

Mk 7 Helmet Cover

We looked at the Mk7 helmet a few weeks ago. Like all other recent British helmets, this design was intended to be used with a camouflaged cloth cover. Although the cover issued for the Mk6 helmet could be used, a specialist cover was developed that better fitted the shape of the Mk7:imageThis was delivered from the factory in a sealed plastic bag:imageA stores label is stuck to the outside of the bag, indicating that like so much modern British military equipment this cover was manufactured in China by the Cooneen Defence Ltd company:imageInside the packet is the MTP cover, laid out the revised shape is visible, designed to fit over the more PASGAT shape of the Mk7. The elastic straps for the scrim are also revised, just having two rings of elastic:imageA tab with a press stud is attached to the rear to help secure helmet mounted equipment such as goggles:imageLike all the other helmet covers issued over the years, this one is adjusted and secured by a drawstring:imageThe inside of the cover has a standard label:imageUnlike other helmet covers, this one includes a small bag of MTP scrim:imageThese are wedge shaped pieces of fabric about eighteen inches long that can be threaded through the elastic straps to break up the outline of the helmet:imageAlthough I have used these strips as they came, looking at service issued examples it seems as though it was common to cut the strips of MTP scrim lengthways to make them narrower and give the soldier more of them to thread through the helmet cover, providing a more scrimmed effect:image