Category Archives: British Army

Desert DPM Fire Resistant Windproof Smock

Update: My thanks to Michael Fletcher and Sean Featherstone for helping correctly identify the material used in this smock as being a special fire resistant fabric.

A few months back we looked at the desert DPM field jacket here. At the time we mentioned in passing the windproof smock, with a user commenting:

Windproof smock – all the advantages of the 94 smock, and is bloody excellent in dry cold. Not so clever in wet, muddy conditions. The fabric’s just too thin, and the ingrained dirt that goes with infantry trench-living will abrade it like feck, so it disintegrates, suddenly (a characteristic of all 100% cotton clobber). The hood’s a pain in the arse, even in Noggieland, where (for all the usual good tactical reasons) it was seldom used, except in the most severe cold (like -40).

Tonight we are looking at the said windproof smock, here in desert DPM fabric:imageOne thing to notice throughout all the photographs on this post is the material the smock is made from, it is obviously a very different weave to that used in the field jacket and this is a special fire resistant fabric used for smocks issued to aircrew, pilots and others who might be exposed to fire as part of their daily duties.

Some features of the smock are clearly common across the CS95 system, so we have the usual centrally mounted rank slide:imageAnd large pockets secured with the typical sewn on buttons:imageOther features of note are the strips of Velcro on the sleeves to allow insignia to be added or removed, these help easily distinguish the smock from more conventional patterns:imageThe most distinctive feature of the smock however is the hood, this has a piece of wire across the whole of the front, allowing it to be adjusted and set to a degree:imageWhen not in use it is rolled up and secured behind the neck:imageA cotton tape and button preventing it from unravelling:imageAs with most items of British Army clothing a large white label is sewn into the inside of the smock with sizing, care instructions and a space for the owner to write his name and number:imageNote the ‘FR’ on the label indicating that the smock has been treated to make it fire resistant. As with so much of this kit, desert DPM smocks are easily available and cheap- being surplused off in large numbers following the switch to MTP clothing. As has been said many time before on this blog, if you are a new collector, this is an ideal area to start with- it’s cheap, available and its likely that in years to come the ‘War on Terror’ will become ever more collectable.

Active Service ‘Privilege’ Envelope

Tonight we have a small envelope with an interesting story. From the Great War onwards soldiers were given one free ‘Privilege’ envelope a week. This allowed them to send private correspondence home without being censored. The system worked on trust, and a random selection would be checked to ensure nothing sensitive was being sent out- soldiers losing the right to the envelopes if they divulged sensitive information. As only one envelope was allowed a week, soldiers tended to put multiple letters inside, with the recipient forwarding them on to others. The system continued into the Second World War, with a buff envelope with green lettering marked on it. This envelope however is rather different from the norm:SKM_C45817060611220The ‘privilege’ part of the envelope has been obliterated with a large black stamp:SKM_C45817060611220 - CopyThis suggests that the stock of normal envelopes for mail that would be censored had run out and these were over marked to remove the privilege status. The recipient’s name and address is filled out on the right hand side of the envelope, here to a Private F W Brown:SKM_C45817060611220 - Copy (2)These envelopes remained in use into the 1950s as recalled by one ex-serviceman:

This was all we were allowed to use for about three months in 1956 prior to and during the Suez invasion. Most of the men that I served with still have them as we thought that no letter was better than these things. Mind you some of this could have been our fault as all letters prior to this had to be put into the company office unsealed to be censored. Now on standing orders when this instruction came out it informed us that what we wrote would remain confidential as long it is had no military references in them, and would never be commented on by the officers censoring the mail. Well we had to put all this to the test so we spoke about our platoon officer w#nking himself silly and one of the others being so daft he could not find his back side with both hands. Well as quick as shot they were down in the lines bawling out the men who had written these letters, only to find that complaints were put in against them for breaching Company Orders. So they refused to censor the letters and we got was the Field Post Cards for months on end. Ain’t life fun in the Army

20L Osprey Water Jerry Can

Part of the fitness test British Army recruits have to undertake is to carry a pair of full water jerry cans for 120m. The jerry cans used each hold 20 litres of drinking water which combined with the 1kg weight of the can itself gives the recruit a load of 42kg to carry. The jerry cans in question are made of heavy duty black polyurethane plastic and have been in service for many years:imageThey can frequently be seen in the background at Army exercises and operations, quietly providing water for thirsty troops:dscf3787The jerry can has two filling caps on the top, a large one:imageAnd a smaller one:imageBoth of these are secured with a chain to prevent loss. The larger cap allows the can to be easily filled and allows a rapid pour if needed. The smaller one is better for pouring into smaller containers such as personal water bottles. It also acts as an air inlet valve so when you are pouring from the larger opening it doesn’t ‘glug’ as air tries to get in to refill the container.

A large handle is fitted across the top of the can:imageThis has a small tag fitted to it indicating that it has been used for contaminated water at some point and should not be used to carry drinking water any more. The sides of the can have expansion grooves moulded into them, along with a /|\ mark and the words ‘WATER’:imageBelow this is a moulding indicating manufacture date, in this case October 1988, and the NSN stores number for the item. There is also the manufacturer’s name ‘Osprey’ here:imageOsprey also produce individual water bottles, again from the same heavy duty black polyurethane plastic. These jerry cans have been in service for many decades now and have proven to be a reliable and robust design for both carrying water and improving physical fitness! It seems unlikely they will be replaced anytime soon.

4th West Yorkshire Regiment Mess Table Knives

A few weeks back we looked at a mess table sauce bottle holder marked to the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment here. Tonight we are looking at a set of six knives marked to the same regiment:imageAs before my thanks go to the East Yorkshire Regiment Living History Group and Mike Lycett for their help in adding this to the collection. The knives are marked in a couple of ways. Three of them have a stamp on the blade saying ‘4th West York’:imageWhilst the other three have a cypher impressed into the bone handle, these are unfortunately rather indistinct:imageHere we can see the Prince of Wales feathers and the initials ‘WY’ for the regiment. The knives were made in Sheffield, as indicated on the blades:imageMost cutlery in the country was made in Sheffield in the first half of the twentieth century, the city having a worldwide reputation for quality and output. These knives predate stainless steel so have suffered from rust far more than later knives would. Again I suspect these date from around the time of the First World War.

Padded Ammunition Bag

I am describing tonight’s object as a mortar round ammunition bag, however from the outset I must make it clear that this is an educated guess on my part as no-one I have spoken to has been able to give me a definitive identification as to this bags exact purpose:imageThe bag is made of the same cotton twill as .303 bandoliers and has a box lid secured by two copper staples, again like a bandolier:imageThe inside of the bag is divided up into five spaces with an internal divider:imageThese pockets are the right length for a 2” mortar round, but too large as the round wobbles about. However rounds inside their metal carry tin, as used in the 1960s (see here) do fit in more comfortably and at this point I suspect that this is what was intended to be carried in the bag. Other suggestions I have heard have been for Claymore mines, grenades or Bren magazines. The base of the bag is ‘D’ shaped and heavily padded:imageThe inside of the bag has an ink stamping with an ordnance code, SV375A, a date of October 1966 and a manufacturer of C.B. & Co Ltd:imageAs always if you have some more information on this item and can confirm what it was used for please get in contact, or leave a comment below.

15mm Besa Round

A couple of weeks back I came across a large calibre round on Huddersfield Market that I did not immediately recognise. As it was only £3 I bought it speculatively and took it home with me. Comparing it with my Boys AT round (middle) and a .50 cal drill round (lower) it was clearly slightly ‘chunkier’:imageSome help from other collectors has now helped me to identify the round as being a 15mm Besa round:imageThe 15mm Besa machine gun was an enlarged version of the Czechoslovakian ZB53 machine gun and was introduced to replace the obsolescent .5 Vickers machine gun. The 15mm Besa was a long and heavy gun, weighing over 125lbs and being more than 6 feet long:british-small-arms-development-the-inter-war-years-39-638It was therefore used mostly to arm wheeled armoured scout cars, such as the Humber:IWM-MH-3702-Humber-Armoured-CarThe round has a 1160 grain bullet fired from a 15x104mm cartridge:imageI believe that this is a ball round, and it has a boattailed shape, the round being filled with a lead/antimony mixture. The rounds were fired from 25 round metal belts, that reduced the rate of fire. However the machine gun was normally fired in single shots which were far more accurate than automatic fire. The round has a rimless case, with markings on the base, sadly I cannot read any markings in this case:imageThis round was very short lived, being introduced in October 1939 as the “Cartridge S.A. Ball 15mm Mk 1z” and being declared obsolete in August 1941. The round was used primarily for training. The 15mm Besa itself would not last much longer, being declared obsolete in 1949, over 3,200 machine guns having been produced by that point. I have never come across one of these rounds before, I really like these large calibre rounds so it’s a great addition to my small but growing selection of ordnance.

Life Guards Corporal of Horse Postcard

This week’s postcard is a lovely tinted image of a pair of Corporal Majors of the 1st Life Guards:SKM_C45817052313110 - CopyHappily this card was posted, meaning we can date it easily, the post mark on the back indicating it was sent in September 1907:SKM_C45817052313111 - CopyThe Life Guards are photographed in their ceremonial dress, with polished breastplates over red tunics:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy - Copy (2)Plumed helmets:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy - CopyWhite breeches and high black leather boots:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy - Copy (3)And carrying swords:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy - Copy (5)The rank of Corporal Major is unique to the Household Cavalry and is equivalent to a warrant officer rank. The ranks in the household cavalry are as follows:CaptureNon commissioned officers in the Household Cavalry do not wear badges of rank when in ceremonial dress, instead wearing a series of aiguellettes to indicate their rank:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy - Copy (4)Very soon these elaborate dress uniforms were to be packed away as the regiment became one of the first to be sent to France at the outbreak of World War One, here we see the men in rather more sombre attire at Hyde Park Barracks as they prepare to leave:article-2610494-1D44A73200000578-663_964x570Soon after the declaration of war, one of the squadrons was detached to help form the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, which moved to France with 4th Cavalry Brigade and saw action at Mons and in the subsequent withdrawal to and beyond the Marne, the decisive battle of the Marne, and later at Ypres. The Composite Regiment was broken up on 11 November 1914, and the squadron rejoined the regiment, which was by now itself on the Western Front.

The main body crossed to Belgium, landing on 8 October 1914. Other than in the first two weeks when it was used in the traditional cavalry, for mobile reconnaissance, it fought most of the war as a dismounted force.

The regiment was heavily involved at the First Battle of Ypres (October – November 1914); Second Ypres (April-May 1915); Loos (September-October 1915) and Arras (April 1917). At other times, it took its turn in holding various sections of the front line trenches, and at other times prepared to exploit breakthroughs in battle, but opportunities rarely presented themselves.