Category Archives: British Army

Other Arms Rucksack

My thanks go to Michael Fletcher  who helped fix me up with tonight’s object, The Other Arms Rucksack:This rucksack was designed to be issued to non-front line infantry in place of a bergan. It has a large capacity, seventy litres, and can be used in a number of ways. A large flap is provided over one side of the rucksack:Opening this reveals a pair of shoulder straps that allow it to be worn on the back:These allow the rucksack to either be worn in the conventional manner, or for the carry straps to be stowed away for flight on board aircraft- the straps otherwise getting in the way and catching on things. Two large carry handles are fitted at the top for when the rucksack is being carried by hand:This combination has given rise to the rucksack being nicknamed the ‘Combat Handbag’ or the ‘REMF Handbag’ or ‘Turtle Pack’ due to the way they looked like a turtle shell when worn. Typically, as these nicknames suggest, troops tended to try and ditch the other arms rucksack as soon as they could and replace it with a standard bergan as it was more ‘ally’ and didn’t show to all that the user was a support troop rather than an infantryman.

The back panel of the rucksack, in addition to the shoulder straps, has a green panel to allow the owner to write his name and number:Zips and fasteners are provided down each side allowing a pair of supplementary rucksack pouches to be attached to either side to increase the carrying capacity:The rucksack fastened up with a large zip and has a Velcro fly over it; the inside of the rucksack is pretty much open, but there is a single divider on the shoulder strap side and a button down pocket that would allow a metal bergan frame to be fitted to improve the comfort on long transits:These rucksacks have proved particularly popular amongst cadets as they are far cheaper on the surplus market than standard bergans, the design and size being ideal for short weekends away rather than a full sized bergan. Adult users report that the pack is actually very comfortable to wear and the large capacity makes it practical, but that it is not ideal for wearing for long periods of time in the field. Ironically it seems to be more popular on the secondary market than it ever was with the troops who were issued it!

The following is the stores catalogue description of the rucksack:

Victorian Artillery Etching

This week we have neither a postcard nor a photograph for you, but rather a late nineteenth century etching. This etching depicts two pieces of contemporary ordnance:The upper illustration is an Armstrong 12 pounder field gun:This gun was introduced in 1859 and the gun incorporated some advanced features for its day. It was one of the first breech-loaders: shell and gunpowder propellant were loaded through the gunner’s end of the barrel, rather than through the muzzle as in previous guns, allowing a higher rate of fire. The shells were coated with lead, which engaged spiral grooves cut inside the barrel (“rifling”) and caused the shell to spin rapidly in flight and hence imparted far greater accuracy and range than previous guns. The lead coating effectively sealed the gap between shell and barrel and eliminated the wastage of propellant gases, previously known as “windage”, and hence only half the amount of gunpowder propellant as previous was required.

The barrel was of wrought iron, “built up” of a tube with additional layers heated and then shrunk over it as they cooled. The result was a “pre-stressed” barrel: the interior of the barrel was under compression from the layers shrunk over it, so that the heat and pressure of firing did not stretch it. Hence the barrel was smaller and lighter than previous guns.The lower illustration is of an older and more conventional 32 pounder, unrifled gun and carriage:This is a much older principle and similar to the cannon used during the Napoleonic era. The carriage and weight of this gun indicate it was designed to be emplaced on a fortification rather than used in the field. It has however been updated form early designs by having cast iron wheels to the carriage rather than wooden ones:It is also worth noting that the gun fires shell rather than solid shot. This design of gun carried on in service for heavy weapons for longer than the lighter field pieces. Early breach loaders were not always very safe at the breach end with heavy charges- metallurgy at the time being limited. The heavier and more solid breach end of a muzzle loader was far safer for heavy charges. This illustration comes, I suspect, from a contemporary book or journal. I would like to get this one framed up at some point as it would look rather nice on the wall but my ‘framing pile’ seems to just get larger!

QARANC Male Nurse’s Jacket

In 1992 there was a restructure of army medical services in the British Army and male nurses were transferred from the Royal Army Medical Corps to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Male nurses are still relatively uncommon, but are a growing part of the corps and they have certain items of specialist clothing for their work. Tonight we are looking at a man’s nursing jacket from the QARANC:This is a white cotton tunic, secured up one side and to the neck with removable white plastic buttons:These buttons are secured in with small split rings to allow them to be removed easily for washing. The design of the button itself is very similar to those used on World War 2 era denim uniforms, again these were designed to be easily removable for laundering. The back of the jacket has a sewn in half belt to provide a more structured fit:A single patch pocket is sewn on the breast and on this is affixed an embroidered patch showing the Corps’ cap badge in red on a grey field:The only other insignia on the jacket is a red on grey patch with a lance corporal’s stripe on it on one sleeve, this indicates a healthcare assistant- all qualified nurses are ranked at least a full corporal:Inside the tunic is a label indicating size and NSN number with a space for the owner to write his name and number:In recent years the QARANC has been involved in every conflict the British Army has fought in, offering vital medical support to Britain, her military allies and civilians in theatre. The British Legion’s website gives us one case study of a QARANC nurse, Ben Poku:

After signing up, Ben did three months of basic training which came as a shock. It was unlike anything Ben had experienced before.

“It’s tough, but it prepares you so that you’re ready when you go to a new or hostile environment.”

It was when Ben started passing the basic infantry tactics that he knew he was ready to become a soldier. Though he’d joined up to be a nurse, Ben found himself in the artillery doing an infantry role before he knew it.

But the desire to help those in need hadn’t gone away though. After three years in the artillery, Ben took the chance to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse. So in 2003, whilst Ben was training on artillery guns in Germany, he started the process of transferring over to the prestigious Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps. As the nursing branch of the British Army, QARANC can trace its origins back to Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Ben went ahead to study at the Defence School of Healthcare Studies, getting his nursing degree while he was also being deployed in Iraq. While there he treated multi-nationals, such as Iraqis and Americans, as well as British troops.

“It was a challenge to go over there in a nursing role and apply the training I was doing, but it was a great introduction into becoming a nurse.”

Ben’s childhood dream has come true. He’s been a nurse for over a decade. In that time he’s worked abroad as well as around the UK.

He’s currently posted at Headley Court where he works on the neurological ward helping injured soldiers get back to Service or leave to become civilians.

Embarkation Tag

The business of loading a troop ship to transport a regiment to a foreign theatre was always fraught with difficulties. Large numbers of men had to be brought aboard the ship, taken to the correct location and checked to ensure no one was missing or should not have been there. In order to sort this task, as ever, the army bureaucracy swung into action with a variety of forms and check lists. Tonight we are looking at an example of the embarkation tags issued to individual soldiers before they reached the ship:This two part tag was filled out by the individual soldier and as explained on the front of the tag, on boarding the ship the soldier gave the front half of the tag to those organising the embarkation:This ensured that the embarkation officer knew who was on board the ship and could check the names off against a list of who was supposed to be there to see if anyone was missing. These tags were issued to all ranks, and strict instructions warned troops not to board without handing over the front half of the tag:The second half of the tag was retained until the end of the journey, when the same process was repeated to ensure everyone who was expected to be disembarking had done so:The military forces were aware that circumstances could change, so the bottom half of this piece of the tag allowed troops to be disembarked early if there was an emergency or so forth:This particular tag was partially filled out, but never used. Although we don’t know when it was used, a printing date is marked on the front which shows it was produced in May 1944:The following description relates life on board one of these troop ships for the men being transported:

In mid March 1943, the troopship Windsor Castle”, once luxury liner of the Union Castle Line, slipped down the Clyde to join convoy KMF 11. Over 2,500 men were packed on board. When the ship began to heave, side-slip and wallow in the Bay of Biscay, we on “E” deck, the lowest habitable quarters for troops, dripping with sweat, some sea-sick, would compete for the small air vents fixed in the deck roof. Fortunately we were not confined below decks all the time, but would come up for PE and boat drill. Soon we could find our rafts stations with the minimum of disorder. None on E deck saw the Rock of Gibraltar because we had been ordered below. We then knew that our destination was North Africa and we spent the earlier part of the night packing our kit ready for disembarkation. After that we lay back in our hammocks, slung over the mess tables, some of us contravening orders to spend the whole voyage fully clothed. The atmosphere was sweltering. Some removed boots, others jackets and a few undressed completely. Towards midnight “E” deck grew quiet. I lay in my hammock trying to read Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” , until the heat made even reading an effort. My boots came off. I loosened my battledress jacket and dozed off

Wartime Parachute Illuminating Flare

At the end of last year we looked at a 1960s parachute illuminating mortar bomb here. Tonight we are looking at a second example of the parachute flare mortar bomb, this time however it is a wartime example and is far more complete than the previous one:Unlike later bombs, this example is painted black, with yellow lettering stencilled on the outside:The thin metal cap that covers the end is still extant on this bomb, and is stamped with a date of 1940:The end cap is also wartime dated, here it is 1942:The FD stands for Fry’s Die Castings Ltd, of London, who manufactured the component. The distinctive holes for a parachute illuminating bomb can be seen directly above the tail of the mortar bomb:These had closing discs over them originally which burnt away when the bomb was fired. Inside the bomb originally would have been a parachute, flare canister and small bursting charge:Unusually this bomb still has the parachute:And the burnt out remains of the flare:The 1959 mortar manual describes its operation:

The flash from the cartridge, when fired, penetrates the closing discs and ignites a delay charge; this in turn ignites a bursting charge of gunpowder which ignites and ejects the flare; a small parachute, packed in the nose of the bomb, is attached to the flare and is ejected at the same time, opening at once and suspending the flare below it.

The pamphlet also gives some guidance on the use of these bombs:

  1. These bombs contain a flare attached to a parachute. When the bomb is fired at an angle of 80 degrees the parachute is ejected at a height of about 600 feet. At this height the flare gives its best performance. It will burn for about 30 seconds, descending slowly and drifting with the wind as it does so.
  2. In still air or light winds the mortar should be fired at an angle of 80 degrees. This will allow the flare to be ejected at a distance of about 100 to 150 yards from the mortar position. If light is required at a greater distance the angle must be lessened as when firing smoke bombs. At its reduced height the flare will not light up so big an area.
  3. Whenever possible place the flare behind the enemy, as this will silhouette him against the light. To avoid our own troops being silhouetted against the light, care must be taken, especially in head winds, to ensure that flares do not drift behind our forward positions. Do not, if it can be avoided, place the flare between the enemy and our own troops as its effect will be to dazzle the defenders thus placing them at a disadvantage.
  4. When the wind is strong the firer will have to judge its effect and alter the angle of the mortar according to where the light is required. The principle is to fire the bomb up wind, allowing the flare to drift over the area where light is required.
  5. Although the flare is efficient and will light up the battlefield a good distance in front of the platoon position, its uncontrolled use may also show up the activities of our own troops. Orders will be given when flares at platoon level are not to be fired.

British Army Dust Goggles

The British Army’s two main conflicts of the twenty-first century so far have been fought in hot and dusty conditions. This has led to very rapid improvements in the military’s hot weather gear and the introduction of new equipment specifically designed for this environment. Tonight we are looking at one such piece of personal kit, a pair of dust goggles:As with much equipment brought in to deal with an urgent operational need, there are numerous variants and manufacturers of dust goggles that can be seen in phtotographs- some officially supplied by the MoD and other bought by soldiers themselves when they either found the issue equipment wanting or wished to increase their ‘allyness’. This pair of goggles are some of the most basic and were manufactured by ‘Scott’ in the USA and are based off sports goggles. The goggles themselves are made of rubber and plastic, with a foam backing cushion:Note the manufacturer’s name embossed into the foam padding. Cut outs around the frame allow air to enter through the foam and keep the wearer cool:An adjustable elasticated strap is provided that helps hold them securely to the head or a helmet, note the plasticised strips on this to help with grip so it doesn’t slide up or down:The military markings on these goggles are very hard to read, being raised lettering inside the mask at the top, here we see their designation ‘Classic Downhill Type’:The name reflects the goggles origins as a civilian sporting design. Even harder to read is the NSN number:These goggles were used at the start of the conflicts before being replaced with smaller, lighter and more comfortable designs. Here a soldier (probably a support troop) wears this style of goggle:Like so much of this kit from the War on Terror, these goggles are readily available for very low prices, this pair for instance costing £2.

Falkland’s Island Mine Field Marker Sign

It is now thirty five years since the Falklands War and the islands are still littered with thousands of anti-personnel mines. In recent years great progress has been made on clearing these minefields and areas are being made safe on a regular basis. The old signs from these minefields are stacked up in a shed and it has become popular for service personnel stationed down on the islands to go and ask for a few signs to bring home as a souvenir. I have recently added one of these signs form the Falklands to my collection, with this example being a rectangular sign, with a ‘Danger Mines’ and skull and cross bones printed on it:The sign was originally held in place by two fasteners at the top and two at the bottom, but these appear to have been cut through with a gas axe:On the back is an electro pencilled serial number:This matches the number on this chitty from the Explosive Ordinance Disposal office indicating that the signs had been acquired legitimately:As it is likely the original recipient is still serving I have blanked out his details. This photograph shows one of this type of sign in situ on the islands:Some 20,000 mines were laid on the island and in 2010 the BBC reported on their clearance. Luckily no-one has been injured in recent years by these mines, thanks in part to the signs such as this one:

Following the Falklands conflict, there were initial attempts to clear mines, but many injuries resulted. The British decided it was too dangerous and instead fenced off the minefields. Warnings were posted and stiff penalties imposed on anyone who jumped the fences for, say, an unusual photo opportunity.

And it seems to have worked because no-one has been hurt in years.

As a result (and because the Falklands has relatively few mines compared to the millions laid in countries such as Angola and Cambodia) the Falklands government says it would prefer to see money spent on clearance projects in places where people are still being injured or killed.

Under an international treaty – the Ottawa Convention – the British government was required to have cleared the Falklands of all mines by March 2009, but it asked for a 10-year extension.

By 2016 good progress had been made:

Despite the overall small number of mines in the Falklands – compared with somewhere like Kuwait, which is only one-and-a-half times larger in size, but has an estimated five million mines – there has been an extensive demining operation in progress since 2009 to remove the estimated 20,000 anti-personnel and 5,000 anti-vehicle mines leftover since the 1982 conflict. Funded through the UK Foreign Office, and in response to the obligation to remove mines in their territories under the terms of the Ottawa Treaty, the clearance of mines in the Falklands is now about to finish its fourth phase and see the total number of minefields reduced to 82. There were 146 immediately after the end of war in 1982.