Category Archives: equipment

Stirrup Pump

Although very simple, the stirrup pump was a key piece of equipment in fighting incendiary bombs during World War II. The stirrup pump was a little hand operated water pump that could be used with buckets of water to fight fires. It consisted of a tube that was placed in the water, a foot rest to hold the pump steady and a handle that was worked up and down to draw the water up:imageThe base of the pump is fitted with a pierced metal filter that prevents grit and debris being drawn into the pump and fouling it:imageA large handle is fitted to the top of the pump:imageThis can be pulled upwards, creating a vacuum that draws water into the pump:imagePushing this down forces the water back out through this nozzle:imageOriginally a thirty foot rubber tube was attached here that could be used to fight fires. To keep the pump steady, a foot rest is fitted to the side of the pump, this part was on the outside of the bucket of water and the user held it steady with their foot:imageThe main tube that was in the bucket of water is protected by a sleeve of a hard rubber that prevents the inner tube from getting crushed:imageThe stirrup pump was recommended to Fire Guards in their handbook as an ideal way to fight small fires caused by incendiary bombs:imageIt could be used by teams of one, two, or ideally three persons:imageimageThe handbook also gave some instructions on how to care for the pump and actively encouraged owners to use them in civilian life for purposes such as washing windows in order to ensure they were familiar with its operation:imageimageimageHere we see the pumps being manufactured:D 3597And used on an ARP training exercise:image

YA1532 Field Telephone Strap

One of the most commonly misidentified straps out there for the webbing collector is the subject of tonight’s post. Whilst most collectors can recognise that this strap is for communications gear it is repeatedly identified as being for the WS38 wireless set:imageThis identification allows sellers to charge a premium for these straps, but the reality is rather different. The Fuller telephone system used the soil itself as a means to send telephone signals and Fuller telephones needed a large metal spike to push into the soil to act as a return for the signal. To carry these spikes, the carrying straps for the telephones were equipped with a pair of loops and a securing buckle:imageWhilst designed for Fuller telephones, the reality was that the straps were used on many different, more conventional, field telephones and here it can be seen attached to my L type set:imageTo secure the strap the end is passed through the sling loop, doubled back on itself and secured with a Twigg buckle:imageThis strap dates from 1942 and was made by the Mill’s Equipment Company:imageNote the store’s code of YA1532, the YA code clearly indicating that this was for use with field telephones.

Odd methods were sometimes called for to keep field telephones working, as recalled by Kenneth West:

Contact was by field telephone which was barely audible (strength 2-3 of 5). After about 3 days the line went dead about 9 o’clock in the evening, and as duty linesman it was my job to re-establish communications. I was allocated an escort of a young lad of about 18 years who had just joined the Coy , and subsequently his first excursion into the wild unknown. With the experience of my 22 years, I impressed upon him the necessity to have ‘one up the spout’, and to take the single signal wire in one hand and let it run through his hand as he walked about 10 yards to my rear. The only way to trace a line in the dark was to follow it by hand as it was looped along the hedgerow and fences by the side of the country road. On reaching the break, usually done by shell or mortar fire, the second man held the line as the linesman searched for the other end.

We were just over halfway to the section when the line came to an abrupt end. No blackened shell hole, just a single set of footprints in the knee deep snow leading from the German lines and across the road and fields to the outskirts of Zetten. With the youngster in a covering firing position, I reported the break to Coy HQ which was strength 5. Tying the single wire around his wrist, I went in search of the other end to contact the section. They were still very faint so I said I would make the joint and come to them and change their handset, checking the line as we went.

The handset was duly swapped, but there was no improvement. Army telephones were then earth return, so I checked the earth pin and everything seemed OK By now we had been exposed to the elements for about 1½ hours and the bladder was calling for relief, This I did in the proximity of the earth pin before returning to the cellar. The Corporal was all smiles and asked what magic I had performed as the signals were now almost full strength. When I told him of my simple remedy he scarcely believed me but showed his thanks with a tot of rum and a mug of hot char. We left them with the instructions that if they wanted to keep perfect contact, just give the line a tinkle from time to time.
On return to “A” Coy HQ I suggested that the forward section be kept adequately supplied with T.S.M. for their brew-ups, though I didn’t envy the bloke who would eventually remove the earth pin!!

Green Rubberised Groundsheet

The General Service groundsheet was introduced as early as 1897 and was to see service through both world wars. It was a tan sheet of rubberised fabric, 6ft 6in x 3ft and with 36 eyelets around its edges. This very versatile item could be used as a waterproof sheet on which to sleep to protect the user from the damp earth, could be used as a waterproof cape by wrapping it around a soldier’s shoulders or by joining two or more together using the eyelets and a piece of string small shelters could be constructed for a couple of men. Although supplemented by the MK VII design, which included a triangular portion and a collar to be a true cape, the original design remained in service and largely unchanged until after World War Two. At this point the colour of the groundsheet was updated from tan to dark green:imageThe same colour change was implemented for the MK VII cape, however the groundsheet was approaching obsolescence and today although the cape remains very common, the green groundsheet is much harder to find. To be honest, until I came across this example I was not even aware that the groundsheet had been produced in green (even after more than ten years of collecting you are always learning new things!)

Other than the change in the colour, the design is unchanged and features eyelets all around the edges to allow a bivy to be constructed from multiple sheets:imageThe groundsheet has a lovely clear maker’s stamp indicating it was produced by G Strauss & Sons in 1952:imageThe official guidance for the making of the rubberised fabric dates back to 1917 and manufacturers were advised:

  1. Material and dye.- Each sheet is to be made of dyed cotton equal in quality and make to that of the sealed pattern; the dye must be similar in shade of colour to that of the sealed pattern, and must be equally fast with this to the action of atmospheric influences, weak acids and alkalis, detergents and bleaching agents.
  2. Proofing. – The proofing of the fabric, which is to be approximately of the same shade as that of the sealed pattern, and of smooth surface, must consist of:-

Mineral matter … not more than 52 per cent.

Sulphur … … not more than 3 per cent.

Rubber … … not less than 45 per cent, on the average (no single sheet to contain less than 43 per cent.)

The rubber is not to contain more than 10 per cent. organic matter extractable by acetone and not more than 10 per cent. organic matter extractable by alcoholic potash, after removal of acetone extract. No reclaimed, reworked, or de-resinified rubber is to be used.

The mineral matter, other than that used for colouring the proofing, is to consist of a mixture of zinc oxide and litharge.

Small additions of other ingredients, such as are generally recognised as having a beneficial influence on the composition or vulcanization, may be allowed (carbonates of magnesium excepted).

The nature and proportions of the various ingredients proposed as mineral matter, together with the nature and amount of colouring materials, must be declared at the time of tendering.

The method of conducting the analysis is that laid down in the General Appendix to Specification for Rubber Goods…

  1. Proofing.- The proofing must be free from grit and large sized particles of mineral matter, and must be uniformly spread over the surface of one side of the fabric; it must be of such thickness that a 3 inch square (9 square inches) of fabric shall have on its surface not less than 30 grains of proofing.

The proofing must be well vulcanized and adhere firmly to the fabric, and when detached from the fabric by a suitable solvent and dried, it must be elastic and not readily broken.

The sheets may be inspected as regards proofing during manufacture (and samples taken) by the Chief Inspector, (Inspection Department), Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, or his representative.’

This groundsheet was an excellent little find and as my collection of post war jungle kit has grown, new finds have become more infrequent making a new discovery all the nicer.

Non Magnetic Mine Prodder

Even today, with all the modern electronic devices at troops disposal, the old fashioned mine probe has a place in clearing land mines. Unlike more high-tech devices, the mine probe does not risk setting off mines that are designed to detonate through electro-magnetic fields and remains an essential tool in helping to clear buried explosive devices. The army issues non-magnetic mine probes to those involved in hunting out mines and IEDs, these are made of plastic and aluminium and come in a webbing case that can be attached to the belt:imageThe webbing case encloses the probe and has a plastic fastex buckle to secure the probe into the case:image-24.jpegA plastic slider buckle is fitted to the rear to allow it to be attached to other pieces of webbing:image-25.jpegInside the probe consists of a long non-magnetic metal shaft with a plastic handle:image-26.jpegThe end of the metal shaft unscrews to reveal the probe itself:image-29.jpegThis is a non-magnetic metal spike firmly attached into a threaded plastic collar:imageThis can be flipped around and screwed into the end of the rod to allow the ground to be prodded for buried ordnance. The main shaft of the probe can be removed and the tip screwed into the plastic handle to make a shorter prodder that allows the operative to work on his stomach when under fire:captureThe plastic handle has the /|\ acceptance mark moulded into the plastic and a label with the manufacturing date of April 2009 on it:imageThe reverse has a second label with NSN number and the items details:imageThese prodders are produced by a company called ABP and in their literature they describe it as:

The Non-Magnetic Mine Prodder has been developed to locate mines buried at depths up to 250mm. Primarily intended for situations where a magnetic device could activate also be used where magnetic fields are not considered important.


The prodder is lightweight, man portable and is stored until use in a carrier web attached to personnel in service webbing equipment.

For the detection of landmines, mine prodders are still often used instead of metal detectors. With this prodder, the minesweeper penetrates the soil a few centimetres. If they detect any resistance, the found object must be carefully laid open. The advantage of searching for mines by means of a prodder are a detection rate of almost 100% and it is possible to clear even very difficult ground. However, this procedure is extremely time consuming and due to the high rate of false alarms, some 1000 other objects are found per mine in the mine field, a minesweeper can only search a few square meters per day, depending on the ground situation.

British Army Fibre Suitcase

The British army fibre suitcase was a particularly long lasting item of military equipment, being manufactured from before the Second World War right through until the 1980s. Examples with dates indicate manufacture at least as early as 1938 and as late as 1985. The suitcase was issued to officers and men alike and seems to have been used by the army, air force and navy. This example is undated, but I suspect it dates to the 1950s:imageThe case is made of canvas covered fibre and although a mucky cream colour now, was originally made in a pale green:imageFew of these cases seem to retain their original colour and it seems the dyes used in their manufacture are particularly susceptible to fading. The corners of the case and the edges are reinforced with leather and the case is secured with two lockable spring clasps:imageThe handle is again made from leather:imageThe inside of the case is lined in white canvas and the lid hinges back to allow access to the cases contents:imageThis case has been used by a soldier of the Royal Corps of Transport, a Driver Johns, who has written his name and posting onto the outside of the case in ball point pen:imageDavid Fowler was a National Serviceman in the Royal Navy and was issued a suitcase as part of his kit, travelling with it presented some difficulties:

The actual journey was a nightmare. This was not due to the inadequacies of the then British Rail but to the great expectations of the Royal Navy. My luggage included a large suitcase, a heavy toolbox and a bulky hammock, which I was never to use. The Navy acknowledged there was a problem by providing me with transport to Portsmouth station, but after asking how I was supposed to transport all these items across London, I was told, “That’s your problem.” It was and I had to resort to a taxi, with no hope of any reimbursement from the Navy

Single Webbing Ration Carrier

Getting hot rations up to troops in the field has always been difficult and one of the constant complaints by men in the First World War was that by the time soups or stews reached them they were cold. By the Second World War insulated containers had started to be introduced that helped alleviate this problem however the weight of a full container raised its own problems. These containers were cylindrical and did not have any handles so were particularly awkward to transport so a couple of different webbing carriers were developed. There were double carriers to hold two insulated containers and this type that held just a single example:imageThis heavy duty carrier is worn on the back in place of the small pack and worn in rucksack fashion with a pair of shoulder straps, that could be attached or detached at the base using a large pair of brass hooks to make it easier to don the heavy pack:imageThese straps could be adjusted with a pair of small buckles on each strap:imageFurther adjustments could be made by using a pair of 2” Twigg buckles at the top of the pack:imageA chest strap is included that helps distribute the load across the upper body:imageThe only date markings are on the shoulder strap where there is a faint date of 1945 marked:imageThe carrier itself is a large webbing bag, with a flat back containing a fibre board for rigidity:imageThe base of the carrier has a small set of metal feet that help protect it from damage when it is taken off and placed on the ground:imageIt was recognised that the weight of the full carrier would be uncomfortable for the wearer, so large pads were fitted for comfort; one at the top:imageAnd another at the base:imageThese carriers were never personal issue pieces and were instead kept at unit level for distribution as and when needed for those who were picked for ration duties. As such they were never blancoed and it seems that few were ever used as nearly all examples that turn up are 1945 dated and completely unissued. I do have an insulated container, however this is one of the taller post war types and so doesn’t work with this carrier. The post war containers seem to be much easier to find than the wartime type, but I will keep my eyes out for one as it would be nice to match it up with this carrier.

RACAL Ear Defenders

Last year we looked at a pair of Peltor Ear defenders from the 2000s here. This was by no means the first set of ear defenders issued and tonight we have a much earlier pair, produced by the firm of RACAL:imageThe design of these is very similar, with a sprung head piece, supporting two separate ear pieces:imageThese can be folded inside to reduce the size down for storage and to prevent them getting damaged when not in use:imageThese ear defenders date from 1988 and the date, partial NSN number and a /|\ mark are moulded into the sides of the ear pieces:imageThe makers mark is moulded into the head band:imageThe design of these is very similar to the Peltor example with foam being used as the sound insulator:imageThis pattern of ear defender feels cheaper and cruder than the later Peltor examples, but the principle remains the same.

This design of ear defender is obviously of no use on the battlefield, but was issued for use on ranges and in other training scenarios. It was recognised that hearing loss was a real problem to those exposed to rifle fire on a regular basis and where it was practicable it was best to try and minimise the damage. These large ‘ear duffs’ are not popular with troops and many try and get their own earplugs of a smaller and more comfortable nature, it was however an early recognition that the MoD had a duty of care towards troops and their hearing and the fact that thirty years later similar designs are still issued shows that on some level it must have been an effective policy.