Tonight we come to what will probably be the final piece of 1925 pattern webbing we look at for some time (unless someone has a pair of 1925 pattern rifle ammunition pouches they’d be happy to part with); the belt. The belt is a three part construction, very similar to the 1919 pattern belt we looked at here:As in so many of Mill’s products the belt is made of 2” wide webbing, with a pair of 1” Twigg buckles sewn to the rear with short webbing chapes to allow the webbing set to be attached to the shoulder braces:Uniquely to the 1925 pattern belt, a pair of brass male press stud fasteners are attached to the belt:These marry up with the female part on the 1925 bayonet frog (see here for more information) to keep the frog from sliding up and down the belt. The two ends of the belt containing the belt buckle are removable from the centre back piece allowing them to be replaced with the cartridge carriers or for adjustment of the belt. If we flip the belt over we can see the brass ‘C’ hooks used for size adjustment and a webbing loop to help hold everything together neatly:Note the rear of the two male press stud fasteners on the bottom edge of hte belt. The ends of the belt are sewn onto the brass male and female parts of the buckle:These belts are seen in use alongside the later 1937 pattern belt and were worn as part of the rifle set, the pistol set, with just a bayonet and frog for parades and on their own as a replacement for the cloth waist belt of the RAF serge airman’s uniform.
Continuing our in depth study of the 1925 pattern RAF webbing set, tonight we come to the shoulder braces. These braces, made in blue grey webbing, are identical in design to both 1919 pattern shoulder braces and early 1937 pattern examples. The straps are made of a single piece of reduction woven webbing, expanding from one inch wide at the ends to approximately 2” wide in the centre part where it passes over the shoulder:Each end has riveted brass tips to prevent fraying:One of the two straps has a crossover loop sewn onto it to allow the other brace to pass through to prevent them from separating and ‘riding up’ when worn:It must be explained now that the RAF adopted blue grey 37 pattern webbing and at first glance it can be hard to tell the two sets apart. The biggest indicator is the construction method of the shoulder brace- the 1925 pattern is always a single piece of reduction woven webbing rather than different widths sewn together. The second big clue is the date stamp on the shoulder brace itself; the RAF did not adopt blue grey 37 pattern webbing until 1943 so anything dated earlier must be 25 pattern. This shoulder brace has the Air Ministry Crown mark and a date of 1941 proving it must be 1925 pattern:This subtle difference then shows the value of rooting through boxes of otherwise unexceptional webbing as these rarer pieces of webbing are often misidentified and can turn up for a few pounds- a diamond in the rough to the collector.
The 1925 pattern RAF webbing set reused a number of components from the earlier 1919 pattern set, just re-colouring them from khaki to blue grey for use by the RAF. Amongst these pieces was the ammunition pouch for the pistol set, which was a direct copy of the earlier design, as a set of fitting instructions for the 1925 pattern set does not appear to exist, this description comes from the earlier 1919 set manual but applies equally to both:
Ammunition Pouch– This is a woven box-shaped pocket of substantial weave. It is provided with a covering flap having a snap fastener. A double-hook is attached to each end of the pocket to engage the flat loops on the inside of the belt. Across the top corners of the pocket, small flaps are provided to prevent ammunition working out.This particular pouch is dated 1941 under the top flap, along with the maker’s name ‘Bagcraft Ltd’:Bagcraft had been a London branch of a German leather goods manufacturers until the outbreak of the Second World War when it became an independent company in its own right and had substantial factories in Airedale Mill in Keighley. The company reverted to making handbags after the war and survived until 1968 when it went into voluntary liquidation. Throughout the war the firm seems to have looked after its staff well, with Agnes Taylor, a machinist, saying she ‘spent a very happy time at Bagcraft as a machinist’. There were a number of trips arranged for staff, including this staff outing to Blackpool in 1940 or 1941:The pistol ammunition pouch was adopted into the RAF with a stores code of 23/101 under Air Ministry Order No523/1938. Examples can be found both integrally woven and of folded construction. As well as being used for pistol ammunition, the pouch was also adopted to carry a Sten loader with the 37 pattern blue grey webbing as there was not provision for these on the basic pouches of this set.
This evening we are looking in more detail at the RAF 1925 pattern rucksack. This particular webbing is very complicated, with numerous straps and buckles and thus gained the name octopus from RAF personnel issued with it. This seems to be a trend across the board with the Mills Equipment Company during the interwar period. The simple packs of the 1908 pattern webbing system give way to ever more complicated systems with multiple straps for different pieces of equipment to be slung off them. It is perhaps understandable when one realises that the British Army had millions of spare sets of 08 webbing left over from World War One; a tailored webbing system was MECo’s attempt to find new markets and try and tempt the army with something that could do more than what it already had. Needless to say the Army took economy over innovation and these systems were sold to the RAF, RN and Empire nations instead.The 1925 pattern consists of two parts, an upper and lower pack, that fasten together:Noticeable are the two cross straps running over the top of the upper pack’s weather flap, these were used to secure a steel helmet to the pack; when not in use they were fastened under the flap to present a neat appearance. Buckles join the two packs together at the front:And rear:The lower pack is a simple webbing bag that cannot be worn on its own, it provides additional carrying capacity but would have housed non- essential kit that could be left in unit transport if required:This example is Air Ministry marked, 1940 dated and named to 976966 Maule:Interestingly the lower pack is stamped ‘BACK’, clearly to prevent people attempting to fasten it to the upper pack incorrectly:The upper pack is a small self-contained bag, capable of being worn on its own:To the rear are ‘L Straps’ like those used on the 1919 and later 1937 webbing sets:This part of the rucksack is dated 1939:This equipment was adopted by both the RAF and the RCAF, from whom we have these details following the introduction of the 1925 pattern webbing sets:
Many items of RAF 1925 pattern webbing are identical to their later RAF 1937 pattern equivalents- cross straps, brace attachments and tonight’s object, water bottle carrier, were identical. This then presents problems and opportunities for the collector; these items can be found for very low prices misidentified as 37 pattern items, but the collector needs to know what he is looking at, and how to identify the earlier pattern items. This water bottle carrier is of the sleeve type:This design had been used on a number of cavalry webbing sets by Mills before it was adopted for the 1925 pattern set, however it was the lack of any water bottle covers but drab that led to the design being used by the RAF, allowing them to hide the water bottle and present a wholly blue grey finish. The sleeve design was ironically then adopted by the army in WW2 as it was cheaper and easier to manufacture. Basically the design has a single piece of webbing that wraps around the bottle, with a strap that passes across the base:Which ends in two buckles at the top to allow it to be fastened to the rest of the webbing set:To positively identify the carrier as 25 pattern though, it needs to be turned inside out to view the markings:These have the ‘Air Ministry’ crown and markings and a date of 1939 (it is slightly clearer in real life). As the RAF didn’t start using 37 pattern webbing until 1941 at the earliest, this carrier can be positively identified as 25 pattern webbing. The inside of the carrier also has the original airman’s number:The number appears to be 2353415 which was a number from a batch of National Service Airmen taken on at Padgate in 1947, suggesting that either the cover had been languishing in a store for eight years or had been reissued. Indeed due to the similarity in appearance between 1925 and 1937 pattern webbing, they were mixed and matched for years, with no one seeming to care what an airman was issued as long as it was functional.
Whilst my 1925 pattern webbing set is set up for a pistol set, it can be changed to hold rifle ammunition, with ammunition pouches replacing the holster and pistol ammunition pouch and a bayonet frog attached to the left hand side. Whilst I am still searching for a pair of the rifle ammunition pouches (if you have a set for sale please let me know), I do have an example of the bayonet frog and it is this piece of webbing we are considering tonight. The design of the 1925 pattern frog was almost identical to the earlier 1919 pattern frog, differing only in being made from blue webbing rather than tan:Sadly a set of fitting instructions for the 1925 pattern webbing has not yet been found, so the following description comes from the 1919 set:
Bayonet Frog- This has a loop for suspending on the rear end of the left cartridge carrier, it being secured thereto by the socket in the suspension loop engaging in the stud on the rear end of the carrier:The bayonet is passed through the two loops at the bottom, the stud on the scabbard coming out between the two loops:
The loop at the top of the frog is passed over the hilt to prevent undue swinging of the bayonet when marching:As well as the stud on the rear of the cartridge carrier, the 1925 pattern belt had a similar stud on the left hand side and it was very common to see just the belt, frog and bayonet worn when on parade. As the bayonet frog remained perfectly useable with the later 1937 pattern webbing set, these frogs have survived in far higher numbers than the cartridge carriers. These are often marked with details of the manufacturer or an Air Ministry stamp, sadly this example is very faded and it is impossible to make out any markings:
In the past we have looked at the RAF 25 pattern pistol set as a whole piece (see here), however we are now going to take the opportunity to look at the individual components in a bit more detail. Tonight we are looking at one of the harder parts of the set to track down, the haversack. Fitting instructions for the 1925 pattern webbing set have not been found yet, but the following description is from the 1919 pattern set, which has an almost identical haversack, differing only in that it has the ability to be worn on the shoulders as well as the ends of the shoulder braces:
This is a rectangular shaped bag having gusseted sides:The lid is closed by two ¾ inch straps and buckles:and on each side a 1 inch buckle is provided to which the end of the braces, which extend below the belt on the left side of the equipment, are attached:Clearly then the Mills Equipment Company just took an existing design off the shelf for the RAF and modified it to meet their customer’s needs, making it in blue-grey rather than tan webbing. The haversack is a ‘wedge; shape, with a wider bottom, tapering in at the top. Under the flap of the haversack is the Air Ministry crown mark, the date of manufacture (1935) and the maker’s stamp of MECo:The reverse of the haversack has the original airmen’s number of 508535:This number was allocated to a Lemuel Samuel Reeson, who was born in Yarmouth in 1908 and awarded the British Empire Medal in 1962 when he held the rank of Chief Technician. From his age and rank it would seem the RAF was his career for much of his life. unfortunately I have been unable to find anything further on him. I have yet to find a packing list for the haversack, however based on similar packing lists for the army or RN, I would guess that the haversack would contain the washroll, rations for the day, a spare pair of socks, gloves etc. These haversacks are not common, but do come up from time to time, and World War Wonders currently have one for sale for £25 that just needs a strap repairing.