I would argue that of all the countries manufacturing webbing in the British Empire in World War Two, the Canadians produced some of the nicest. The quality is superlative and aesthetically their webbing has a lovely yellowish hue. The Canadians also used some distinctive methods of construction for some of their webbing pieces and tonight we are looking at a nice example of a 37 pattern shoulder brace:This particular example is (poorly) stamped up as having been made by Zephyr Loom and Textiles Ltd (ZL&T):There is also half a Canadian acceptance mark of a /|\ inside a ‘C’ visible. ZL&T Ltd used a unique form of construction on their shoulder braces, with a continuous piece of 1” wide webbing, around which a wider piece to aid comfort was sewn. Here the central core can be clearly seen running underneath the main load bearing surface:This method of construction differed from other manufacturers who either used reduction weaving to make the shoulder brace as one single piece, or sewed together webbing of varying widths. Other features of this shoulder brace include a sewn loop to pass the matching brace through on the back:The strap also includes a bright brass chape at the end:These were replaced with ‘battle brass’- a brown phosphate metal- in 1943. It is these minor manufacturing variant that to me are so fascinating- wartime economy and ways of speeding up production all having an impact on the design of components. Small changes multiplied over hundreds of thousands of pieces had a major cumulative effect and could help make large savings in manpower and strategic materials such as brass.
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.
It seems like a while since we last looked at some Indian 37 pattern webbing, so tonight we are going to take a look at a pair of Indian made shoulder braces:These two braces are made by different manufacturers, but share some common characteristics. Both has the distinctive ‘striped’ webbing typical of Indian manufacture. Note also the three part construction of the shoulder braces:This design was adopted because the machinery in India could not do the reduction weaving that Mills in England could do so a different method of assembly was needed. Both these braces are clearly stamped, one with a letter and number code:The ‘N’ indicates that the length is ‘normal’. The other shoulder brace is marked with the manufacturer’s name ‘Bata’:My thanks to Karkee for the following potted history of Bata and its webbing marking:
Czechoslovak industrialist Tomas Bata set up the first experimental shoe production plant in Konnagar, West Bengal with 75 Czechoslovak experts in 1931. Jan Antonin Bata then built an industrial manufacturing city called Batanagar (near Konnagar) in 1934 and another factory in Bataganj in the Digha neighborhood of Patna, the capital of the Bihar state in 1942. Bata webbing often features a letter code of ‘N’ or ‘D’ after the date, which may represent different factories. Other markings include the maker mark (B.S.C. in 1941-42 and BATA in 1943), date and inspector mark (often in the form of C↑##).
Here we can see Bata Shoe Company Factory in Batanagar, West Bengal:Note the slogan ‘Keep Smiling’ painted on the gable ends of the factory buildings. This rather wonderful advert for the company dates to 1945 and celebrates the company’s part in the war:
Although we have looked at 37 pattern cartridge carriers on the blog in the past, tonight’s example is a little different as it has dividers inside each pocket for three clips of five rounds rather than the usual two:This allows the carrier to hold thirty rather than twenty rounds and if worn in a pair the soldier would have sixty rounds at his disposal rather than the usual forty. I have been in conversation with the team from Karkee Web and the most likely explanation for this oddity is that it was made by converting the top two pouches from an old set of 08 webbing to something approximating the new pattern. From the front it can be seen that the cartridge carrier looks visually very similar to a standard 37 pattern design, the main difference being that it is slightly deeper top to bottom over the pouches:Turning the pouch over we can see that the attachment sewn to the back is most likely made from a 37 pattern brace attachment that has been opened out, the gate attachment removed and sewn directly on:The seams on either side have been opened out to accept a 2 ¼” ‘c’ hook, then sewn back up:Various elements of the old pouches’ stitching can be seen in places, such as the faint outline on the bottom edge of the front:The top flaps of the cartridge carrier are secured with Newey studs, the patent of which is clearly visible stamped around the edge of the underside of the female stud:This is an unusual modification, but a sensible one that was probably done on a personal basis, or perhaps at a unit level but is certainly not an official modification. As is often the case this was a fortuitous find as I had bought a pair of cartridge carriers on eBay for the Indian made one this came with, it was thus a pleasant surprise to find that the ‘extra’ cartridge carrier was actually more interesting than the one I had bought the pair for in the first place!
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.
Last weekend I went up to the annual Pickering World War Two weekend. A good time was had, and as usual I trawled the stalls in case of something interesting to add to the collection. Normally I bypass Soldier of Fortune’s stall completely as they sell reproduction kit for re-enactors rather than the original kit I am looking for, this time however they had some sale boxes in front of their stall and on a whim I rooted through. I was therefore both surprised and very pleased to find an Indian made Mk III 37 pattern pouch:Like its British counterpart, this pouch has replaced the press stud fastener with a quick release tab and staple:This design change was introduced in late 1945 and as can be seen was even less of a success with soft Indian webbing than it had been on the stiffer UK production. The poor quality means that it is impossible now to fasten the pouch as the strap is too soft and bendy to fit through the fastener. The poor quality is also evident in the brass buckle at the top of the pouch, which clearly has one side wider than the other:The back of the pouch is typical of all other 37 pattern basic pouches:Again the poor quality is visible in the brass c-hooks and the wear where they are sewn to the body of the pouch:On the underside three large brass grommets allow water to drain out of the pouch:Interestingly although Indian production has been updated to include the quick release tab, the underside of the pouch lid still retains the cartridge loops for ballistite blank rounds that was dropped from British production after the Mk I:This pouch was originally pre-dyed in green, much of which has been bleached off now. Note however the remains of the green in the corners of the underside of the lid:As can be seen this pouch was manufactured by KEF in 1945. These Indian made Mk III pouches are not common and this is the first one I have seen outside of Martin Brayley’s ‘Khaki Drill and Jungle Green’ book- a lucky and cheap find that rather made my day!