My thanks go to my good friend and fellow collector Michael Skriletz for tonight’s post. South African webbing is generally considered to be the poorest quality and scarcest of all the Empire produced 37 pattern sets. I have slowly been building up my collection and can now count a small pack, water bottle holder, single basic pouch and one shoulder brace in my collection. Now I also have a selection of supporting straps for the set:The 37 pattern webbing manual describes the straps as:
These are interchangeable and each consists of a strip of 1-inch webbing, fitted with a buckle at one end and an eyeletted tip at the other.
This description is certainly correct for these straps, but a number of distinctive Sou African features are worth noting. The webbing is made of two thin layers and has distinctive stitch lines running the length of the strap to reinforce it:The buckle is not made of brass, but off a metal I believe is steel, that has now corroded slightly:These were frequently painted gold when new. The eyeletted tip is again made of a metal that easily corrodes, as witnessed by the staining to the webbing:A South African acceptance stamp is marked on the straps in a redish-purple ink, consisting of a /|\ mark inside a ‘U’:All of these straps were made by Daniel Issac Fram of Johannesburg, and we can see two distinct styles of manufacturer’s mark on the straps:Like all the other items of South African 37 pattern webbing, these are not easy to find and I am very pleased to have added another piece to the puzzle!
Earlier this month we looked at a set of Indian made 37 pattern shoulder braces and delved into the history of the Bata company. The other major manufacturer of webbing in India were the Government Harness and Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore and tonight we are looking at a bayonet frog from that company. The frog is made to the same basic design as other examples from across the Empire:The webbing has the distinctive slightly striped pattern of Indian production. The loops at the base of this frog do not have any cut outs for spike bayonets- The Indian Army sticking with the SMLE and sword bayonets for the most part and not needing to modify their frogs in the same numbers as the British:The stitching holding the frog together has a distinctive arch shape to it, allowing the process to be done with one pass of the sewing machine:This compares with the much squarer stitching used on British made frogs where the stitching turns through 90 degrees rather than being a single arc. The stitching is through both layers of webbing so can be seen on the rear as well:This frog was made in 1942 and has the ‘CA1942’ stamp of the manufacturer The Government Harness and Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore indistinctly stamped on the back:The following history of the factory comes from ‘Karkee’ and is the most comprehensive I have come across, as ever if you get the chance check out his superb threads on the Warrelics forum covering British and Empire equipment:
After the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the capture of reserve stocks by rebels, the British Army in India faced severe shortages of harness saddlery and leather accoutrements. Resupply from England involved a long sea voyage around the Cape of Good Hope which damaged much of the leather equipment. Lieutenant John Stewart of the Bengal Artillery was ordered to stimulate the local leather industry and established the Government Harness & Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore in 1863. Many other private leather and textile firms followed and Cawnpore quickly became a major industrial center in Northern India.
The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory was operated by the Military Supply Department of the Government of India and was entirely devoted to the manufacture of military equipment. It had its own brass and iron foundry for making equipment fittings and during times of mobilization it could place orders with the private firms of Cawnpore, which were brought up to the standards of the harness factory.
The Government Harness Factory expanded rapidly to meet the needs of the Indian Army during the Great War, employing around 4,000 workers by 1916-17. Demand decreased during the interwar years.
In addition to leather accoutrements, the factory began producing Mk V Gasmask Bags and Pattern 1908 Web Equipment components. It is unclear when the production of webbing commenced or if full sets of webbing were manufactured, but extant examples of frogs and water bottle carriers bear 1930s dates. The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory marked their items with a Ca. for Cawnpore, which changed in 1940 to ca. The brass fittings on early pieces were also stamped with the same “Ca.” mark and were probably made on the factory premises. In general, early production webbing is of higher quality with better stitching and fittings. Additionally, some early pieces feature a mix of canvas and webbing.
In November 1941, large scale orders for Pattern 1937 Web Equipment were placed by the Indian Government. The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory produced the full range of components, but the wartime webbing was of a much looser weave with undyed stitching and cruder brass fittings made by outside firms. Additionally, snaps were a mixture of imported British-manufactured snaps made by Newey Brothers, Limited of Birmingham as well as locally made Indian snaps of poorer quality. The latter featured the classic ‘pebbled’ pattern or a snowflake pattern unique to India. The stamps on wartime webbing are often upside down and poorly stamped, which may be due to a largely Indian workforce with less supervision from European foremen. The government factory may have also called upon local private firms to fill these orders during the war.
When Canada started producing their own 37 pattern webbing in the Second World War, they modified the British design of skeleton water bottle carrier in 1942 to closely resemble that introduced by Mills in the earlier 1919 pattern set. What this meant in reality was that the water bottle had a single long fastening strap, secured to the rear:This passed over the top of the bottle and fastened to a press stud on the front of the carrier:This was in contrast to water bottle carriers from other countries of the Empire where the fastener was on the top shoulder of the bottle. At first glance the 1919 and Canadian 1937 pattern water bottle carriers are identical, however we can tell them apart either by the markings (which are very hard to make out on this example) or by the press studs themselves. These are made by United Carr of Canada:As to why the Canadians changed the design of the carrier; that is a harder question to answer, presumably it was felt that by moving the fastener to the front manufacture could be speeded up as you were not having to sew two straps to the rest of the carrier. It also reduced the amount of brass needed as you were only reinforcing on strap end with a brass chape. It might also have made it easier to open and close the carrier when worn as the strap would be easier to access on the front of the carrier than it would on the top. There are a lot of weird and wonderful changes made by Canada to their webbing over the war years, resin impregnated tips and unique construction techniques amongst others. For those with an interest in the subject I cannot do better than point you to this thread here on Canadian webbing which is excellent.