Category Archives: British Army

Silver Territorial Army Rifle Association Medal

Tonight we have a silver medal for the Territorial Rifle Association:imageThis design seems to have been in use by the TRA for many years with examples dating back as far as the early 1930s. The medal came in three finishes: bronze, silver and gold. The design depicts Nike, goddess of Victory holding a laurel wreath aloft. The laurel wreath was again a symbol of victory dating back to Roman times. Scrolls around the central figure bear the words ‘Territorial Rifle Asson.’

The rear of the medal has space for the title of the event to be engraved and the recipient:imageThis example does not appear to be complete as it just has the date, 1956, and the title ‘Lord Lieuts’. This suggests it was intended to be used as a prize in a shooting competition supported by the Lord Lieutenant of a county but it has clearly never been issued as the name of a winner is not included on the rear.

The Territorial Rifle Association was an organisation very similar to the Army Rifle Association and had the aim of encouraging marksmanship amongst territorial soldiers through regular target competitions and by awarding small prizes to the best shots in various categories. The use of sporting competition to encourage good marksmanship continues to this day and all three armed forces have regular shooting competitions both within their service and between one another

Life Guard’s NCO’s Mess Postcard

A mess is a social space in an army barracks where men can gather off duty to relax, drink and socialise together. Different ranks have their own separate messes, with one for officers, one for NCOs etc. These have been an essential part of barracks life for many centuries and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully evocative postcard of the mess of the NCOs of the Life guards, the country’s premier cavalry regiment:SKM_C284e18102411420This image probably dates from the Edwardian era, but many features would be familiar to men of today. A large and well stocked bar is still a necessity:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (4)As is the provision of recreation facilities, today a pool table has probably replaced one for billiards, but the principle is the same:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (2)Other features, such as the gas lighting, have long since disappeared:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (3)This large and opulently furnished room is heated by a single, large fireplace at one end. It is surrounded by various trophies won by the mess:SKM_C284e18102411420 - CopyThese trophies also appear on the large central table, along with potted plants:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (6)This table served a number of purposes. It allowed members of the mess to write and do work at it, but was also used for formal dinners in the mess when wives and senior officers might be invited for a night of food, drink and enjoyment.

Other details to note include a small letter rack by the bar, criss-crossed ribbons providing places for correspondence to be tucked into until collected:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (5)Interestingly NCO’s messes were often held in higher regard than those of the officers. The author GM Fraser writing in 1970 commented:

The ignorant or unwary, if asked whether they would rather be guests of an officers’ mess or sergeants’, would probably choose the officers’. They might be motivated by snobbery, but probably also by the notion that that the standards of cuisine, comfort, and general atmosphere would be higher. They would be dead wrong.

A 1956 publication highlighted the importance of a well-run mess:

The prestige of a regiment or unit depends to a great extent upon the tone of the Sergeants’ Mess. A well-run Mess will ensure contented and hardworking members. A slack and bad Mess leads to general slackness and inefficiency amongst its members as well as getting the regiment a bad name outside from people who come as visitors.

The standards of the mess in the above photograph are clearly very high, as one would expect from a regiment as prestigious as the Life Guards. It has been suggested that it could be taken at either Hyde Park Barracks or Combermere in Windsor. Sadly both these barracks were demolished and redeveloped in the post-WW2 era and so this fine mess no longer exists.

Mess Tin Lid

Soldiers have long purchased their own variations on pieces of army equipment. These private purchases change over time with fashion, operational need and sometimes the military procurement system sees a popular commercial idea and decides to copy it for official issue. Tonight we have a modification to mess tins that seems to have been very popular in the 1980s and then lost some of their appeal again. In the 1980s many soldiers purchased special lids for their mess tins. These clipped onto the larger pan of a mess tin set:imageThe mess tin underneath was unaltered:imageThis example is dated 1985 and has the /|\ mark indicating it was army issue:imageThe lid had a small wire handle on the top:imageThis slid out to allow the lid to be used as a small frying pan:imageThe handle is riveted to the main lid section with five rivets that have been ground flush. The only markings on the lid are ‘MTL/3036 PAT-PEND’:imageThis lid served a number of purposes. It was lighter and rattled less than having the issue small second pan inside the larger mess tin. It acted as a lid to the main mess tin to speed up boiling over a hex-cooker and it could serve as the aforementioned frying pan. Apparently a non-stick version was also produced that made it easier to clean up after frying something on it. Similar designs are still for sale and BCB offers a non-stick example in their online catalogue.

One soldier outlines some of the benefits of the lids:

The lids were a “must have” speeds up the boiling time massively and you can leave them on with the water inside to keep it warm at last light so your mucker can have hot scoff and a brew as he comes off stag.

58 Pattern Water Bottle Pouch

The 58 pattern webbing set had a number of different water bottles and associated carriers over the years. The initial pre-production bottles were square in profile and although these were replaced with the familiar Osprey design before large scale production, these early production bottles were made of green rather than the more familiar black plastic. The carrier itself was also modified. The early design was too small to allow the bottle to be easily removed and fastened with a turn-button. This was replaced with a revised pouch that was a little larger and had a different method of fastening the top flap. The pouch is made from a lightweight dark green cotton webbing:imageThe turn buckle was replaced with a strap and blackened metal buckle to hold the top flap down:imageThe underside of the lid has a small pocket sewn to it that can hold a set of water purifying tabs:imageThe pouch is a snug fit for the water bottle and cup, but it does slide in and out easily enough:imageThis pouch is in unissued condition, without a single scratch to the buckles or any storage dirt whatsoever, as can be seen most clearly on the rear:imageThe back of the pouch has a pair of ‘C’ hooks to secure it to the 58 pattern webbing belt:imageAnd the maker’s details, stores code and date are stamped on in a large ink stamp:imageThese water bottle pouches were put to far more uses than just carrying a water bottle and examples were added to the 58 pattern set as utility pouches. Other uses saw them marked up with a red cross and used for first aid kits, their slim width making it easier to add them as extras onto a standard webbing load out.

Bedford House Cemetery Postcard

Today marks a hundred years since the end of the First World War. As such it seems appropriate that our weekly postcard depicts one of the British War Cemeteries in Belgium, that at Bedford House near Zillebeke:SKM_C284e18101915090Zillebeke was directly behind the Western Front, making it a useful site for divisional headquarters and field ambulance stations. Château Rosendal, a large house with a moat and extensive gardens was put to this use. The British forces in the area named the château “Bedford House” or “Woodcote House”, with the former becoming the official name used for the post-war cemetery.

Whilst the area remained in Allied hands through the war, it was devastated by shell fire and the château was razed over the course of the war, being hit by German 8-inch shells, as well as 500 gas shells in just one day of the Third Battle of Ypres

In time, the property became largely covered by small cemeteries; five enclosures existed at the date of the Armistice, but the graves from No.1 were then removed to White House Cemetery, St. Jean, and those from No.5 to Aeroplane Cemetery, Ypres.
ENCLOSURE No.2 was begun in December 1915, and used until October 1918. After the Armistice, 437 graves were added, all but four of which came from the Ecole de Bienfaisance and Asylum British Cemeteries, both at Ypres.
ENCLOSURE No.3, the smallest, was used from February 1915 to December 1916; the burials made in August-October 1915 were largely carried out by the 17th Division.
ENCLOSURE No.4, the largest, was used from June 1916 to February 1918, largely by the 47th (London) Division, and after the Armistice it was enlarged when 3,324 graves were brought in from other burial grounds and from the battlefields of the Ypres Salient. Almost two-thirds of the graves are unidentified.
ENCLOSURE No.6 was made in the 1930s from the graves that were continuing to be found on the battlefield of the Ypres Salient. This enclosure also contains Second World War burials, all of them soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, who died in the defence of the Ypres-Comines canal and railway at the end of May 1940. The canal lies on high ground on the west side of the cemetery.

The cemetery is one of the largest in Belgium and contains over 5000 graves. Like most cemeteries, a cross of sacrifice features prominently as a focal point:SKM_C284e18101915090 - Copy (2)The Cross of Sacrifice is a Commonwealth war memorial designed in 1918 by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). It is present in Commonwealth war cemeteries containing 40 or more graves. Its shape is an elongated Latin cross with proportions more typical of the Celtic cross, with the shaft and cross arm octagonal in section. It ranges in height from 18 to 24 feet (5.5 to 7.3 m). A bronze longsword, blade down, is affixed to the front of the cross (and sometimes to the back as well). It is usually mounted on an octagonal base. The graves themselves are standard Commonwealth War Graves markers, carved from white Portland stone:SKM_C284e18101915090 - Copy (3)The portion of the cemetery in the postcard features the graves of many Indian soldiers and this may explain the domed structure in this view:SKM_C284e18101915090 - CopyThe view today is little changed and the cemetery remains a place of pilgrimage for those whose loved ones lay in its walls.

No 2 Petrol Cooker Dixie

The British Army No2 Cooker was a pressurised petrol fuelled portable stove for cooking rations in the field. It was a small square cooker with a single burner and although opinions differed on the stove itself (some loved it for its speed of heating up rations whilst others argued it was a bomb waiting to go off), all agreed that the accompanying stainless steel cooking pan was excellent. The dixie came in two parts, a large lower cooking pot and a frying pan that doubled as a lid:imageThe lower pan was square in shape and about six inches deep making it ideal to throw a stew in, or to place cans in boiling water to heat them through:imageA wire handle is fitted that can be lifted up to allow the pan to be carried safely:imageNote the metal loops on the outside. These are designed to allow a leather strap to be passed around the two parts of the pan set to hold them together when not in use. The lid is far shallower and has two wire wrap around handles:imageThese can be pulled out and allow the lid to be used as a small frying pan:imageThis lid is /|\ marked and dated 1983:imageThese cookers and the associated pan were common issue items in small armoured vehicles such as the Ferret armoured car and a tasty hot meal could be quickly prepared for the crew in the single pot, or a fried breakfast made on the lid.

One glowing review comes from a civilian who used the pans for camping:

A great pan set! Had mine 7 years now, first used with my No.2 Mk2.
Be aware that because its pressed stainless, occasionally with high-heat use it may warp/twist slightly, tilting the pan. Not an issue when you are used to it and not all pans do it! It returns to normal when it cools down.
The pan-handles are usually tinned/coated mild steel so a scrub and a wipe of light oil when/if they get a little rusty.
The pot is a great, useful size for boiling water, making soup and general cooking. It doesn’t warp, its thick enough not to cause heat spots and the handle/bail is of a cute design so that its easily held in the horizontal position (stops handle getting red-hot from flames).

The design dates back to before the Second World War and can be seen here in a page from a wartime manual on the No2 Petrol Cooker:59dcb4553c59c_cookerNo2_jpg_443416cd479a8a348e54cabe8d0fb05b

SLR Speed Loader

Loading individual rounds into a magazine can be a long and laborious process as each round has to be taken out of a box and pressed into the box magazine one at a time. To speed this process up many militaries adopted a principle dating back to the days of the bolt action rifle, the charger. These metal strips came pre-prepared with rounds ready to be fed as a block into a magazine, rapidly speeding up the loading process. Some early automatic rifles came with charger guides built into the receivers over the magazine well, but in reality it was most likely that magazines would be loaded off of the weapon so separate charger guides needed to be developed that could be fitted to a magazine to serve the same purpose of allowing swift reloading from chargers.

The British Self Loading Rifle was no exception and a simple pressed steel guide was issued that could be slotted over the mouth of the magazine:imageThis is an unissued example and has a stores label attached, sadly any writing on this has decayed to the point of being illegible. The charger is open at the top to allow the rounds to pass through and into the body of the magazine:imageThe only markings on the charger are a stores code, manufacturer’s initials and a date:imageAs mentioned above this is an unissued example, so comes in its original waxed cardboard stores box:imageIt is cushioned inside the box from rattling around by a simple piece of corrugated card:imageMy thanks go to Major Ian Ward who very kindly let me have this one for my collection and at some point I will get out some inert rounds and a magazine and see how effective it actually is…