Category Archives: equipment

Australian Mess Tins

In the past we have looked at the post war aluminium mess tins of both the UK and Canada, despite detail differences these designs are very similar and both nations used a deep pan, with a wire handle that folded over the top. Australia however went for a very different design to their post-war mess tins and tonight we have the opportunity to look at a pair of these: imageThese mess tins are pretty hard to find on this side of the world, as indeed is any Australian Army kit, so I was very pleased to be able to add a set to my collection. There are two very notable changes between these tins and the ones we are more familiar with. Firstly the handles are made up of two parts that wrap around the sides of the pan rather than over the top. Secondly the pans themselves are much shallower, being barely more than an inch deep: imageThe two mess tins stack inside each other in the usual way to take up less space: imageThis pair date from February 1972, and the panel on the end has the /|\ mark and the Australian version of an NSN number: imageAustralia is not part of NATO, but uses the same coding system and has been allocated the county code of ‘66’. This particular pair of mess tins have clearly seen service and the name of a previous owner has been scratched into the base of one of the tins: imageThe merits of the Australian mess tin, besides it being lighter due to its smaller size, are that the twin handles make it much easier to pour hot liquids from the mess tin into a cup for instance without the risk of the handle ‘flopping’ and spilling the contents all over you hand. The smaller capacity also makes it quicker to heat up food and water in the tin- the downside is the smaller capacity which means you cannot get as much in them.


Toggle Rope

I must make a confession about tonight’s object. I was sold this toggle rope as an original, but I am not convinced- several others have looked at it and opinions are divided. Regardless of whether this is a modern copy or not, the toggle rope is an interesting object and worthy of further discussion.

Toggle ropes are pieces of rope, issued one per soldier, about six feet long:imageA loop is provided on one end:imageAnd a wooden toggle on the other:imageThis allows the ropes to be joined together by linking the toggle of one rope through the loop of the next:imageExtremely long ropes can then be quickly put together by combining each man’s ropes:imageThis simple tool could be invaluable and why it came to river crossings ropes were linked  together and a strong swimmer took the end across to the far shore. Here it was secured and those who were weaker swimmers, or indeed non swimmers, could drag themselves across the river. Quite complex structures such as rope bridges could be assembled from these ropes: imageDenis Roby trained as a Commando and recalls using toggle ropes in training:

The ‘death slide’ was a rope again, but this time sloping down at an alarming angle. A toggle rope, which was about 4 foot in length, a wooden handle one end and a loop at the other, it was used as a climbing aid among other good uses. Joined with others it could be used for scaling cliffs, but on this occasion we passed it over the single rope, one hand passed through the loop and the other on the handle then slid down the rope at an alarming speed, stopping by bracing your feet against the tree at the end, or fall in the river.

The toggle rope was also used to build a bridge over the river, very difficult to use because it swung to and fro with a mind of its own. This caused a lot of laughter, but two chaps slipped and fell through the ropes into the river and were swept away and later found quite some distance away. After that a grapple net was suspended as a safety measure.

Ropes were carried in a number of ways- they could be wrapped around the waist or the shoulders:imageAlternatively they could be coiled up and tucked into a piece of webbing:imageMy apologies for the atrocious rope coiling here (you wouldn’t think I was a sailor by how bad I am with rope!).

Soiled Laundry Bag

In the modern British military, it is quite common for men and women to have to launder their own uniforms and clothing on a regular basis and large capacity washing machines are provided on each floor of a modern barrack block for that purpose. These are large industrial washing machines with a far greater capacity than a standard domestic machine and it is typical for several troop’s washing to be done at the same time, in the same machine. Obviously this creates certain problems as everyone is wearing essentially identical clothing and the only differentiation is the name written on the label. To sort through three people’s washing would be a time consuming and tedious task. To solve this problem, soiled laundry bags are issued. The dirty clothes are placed into a net bag:imageThis is then secured with the drawstring at the neck:imageThe whole bag is then thrown in the washing machine and it is then far easier for a soldier to pick out his or her set of clothing at the end of a wash. These net bags have been issued for a number of years, and a simple white label is sewn into the neck:imageThis is about as simple an object as you get, and these bags don’t cost the MoD very much at all so chances are if you served in the military in the last couple of decades you have one or two knocking around still. Having used them myself, they are pretty effective as long as they are not stuffed too full, as the washing inside still needs to be able to move around in the bag to be able to be cleaned properly.


Type L Field Telephone

In the past we have looked at an example of the heavy Bakelite field telephone, the ‘F’ type here. This was not the only field telephone in service with the British Army during World War two though, and tonight we are looking at another model that saw widespread use, the ‘L’:imageThis telephone is smaller and (marginally) lighter than the ‘F’ and whilst the Bakelite ‘F’ was ideally suited for use in field headquarters and offices, the ‘L’ was more portable and could be used in the field. The whole telephone is housed in a sturdy metal box:imageThe top lid is hinged and secured with a sprung metal hook:imageNote the metal plate fixed above the latch that indicates the telephone type. On each end are fixed metal loops to attach a shoulder strap to:imageThe winding handle is fixed on this end and is hinged. In the photograph above it is in the travel position, but it could be folded down when needed:imageRapidly turning this handle sent a charge down the line which rang the internal bell in the corresponding telephone letting that operator know he had a call. Slotted louvres are fitted into the box of the telephone to allow the sound of the bell to escape:imageLarge screw terminals are used to attach the telephone wire to, the wire is merely wrapped around the terminal and the top piece screwed down to make a secure electrical connection:imageThis telephone wire was issued on large drums and signallers ran these lines form one telephone to another:5e19b660c6f1c0c6ff228299e44c0e68--italian-campaign-winston-churchillA large and heavy Bakelite handset is used, typical of telephones of the era:imageThe operator pressed down the central bar in order to speak. This connects to the main telephone unit with a very chunky four pin plug:imageA metal plunger marked ‘CB’ for ‘central battery’ is fitted to the central section, just in front of the battery box:imageThis allows the power source of the telephone to be switched across to an external source such as a switchboard rather than the small internal cell batteries. The telephone used two large 1.5v batteries, housed in the centre under a metal lid. A printed plate on the underside of the lid reminds the operator how to wire them up:imageA second diagram is fitted as a transfer to the underside of the main telephone lid:imageThis gives a full wiring diagram for the telephone and would allow an experienced signalman to trace and fix any faults with the handset.

This telephone is in reasonable condition and at some point I need to get some batteries and wire and try linking up my ‘L’ and ‘F’ sets and see if they actually work!

British Army Angle-Headed Torch Filter Box

Tonight we have an interesting little accessory for the angle headed torch we looked at here. This torch was very good, but for a combat torch was a little basic- most other models have green, white and red filters for map reading etc. in the dark. The angle headed torch could be used with filters, that fitted over the main lens of the torch. The problem was there was nowhere to store them. To solve this problem the army issued an alternative base plug that could be screwed on instead of the usual base:imageThis filter carrier is wider and longer than the normal base plug and alters the look of the end of the torch quite dramatically, here is the regular end:imageAnd here is the torch with the filter box attached:imageThe case has a little compartment that unscrews and holds a red, white and a green plastic filter:imageThe filter container has the filter container’s details and an NSN number of the base, along with the manufacturer’s logo:imageThe utility of these filters is questionable, as explained by one ex-squaddy:

Some consider red light to be dimmer, but it is actually more visible from further away. The only advantage of red light is that it does not make as much of a pigs ear of your night vision. BUT you can’t map read with it

As indicated, the coloured filters prevent you from seeing certain colours:

Red light, no map contours.

Green light, no wood features.

Blue light, no water features.

This could sometimes be quite perilous:

When I was a young cadet on Dartmoor, I had a muppet of a navigator. He almost lead a section into a ravine because he was reading under red light.

Daylight Signalling Lamp

A few weeks ago we looked at the daylight signalling lamp battery box and tonight we have the opportunity to look at the daylight signalling lamp itself. Like the battery box the daylight signalling lamp is stored in a solid metal box:imageNote the same reinforcing strips pressed into the side of the box. The same webbing is attached to the top lids as we saw in the battery box. Unlike the battery box though, this box has two lids, each secured with a sprung catch. Loops are provided on each side of the box to attach a shoulder strap for carrying and a waist strap to steady the box when the user is running:imageThe daylight signalling lamp can be set up in a number of ways. A metal ground spike is included in the box and this can be pushed into the ground to allow the lamp to be used over a parapet. Alternatively the spike can be fitted into the box itself and this used as a base unit:imageFor longer distance signalling the wooden tripod can be used instead and altogether this makes a very impressive set up:imageYou may recognise that the tripod is the same one used with the heliograph. The signalling light itself is controlled by a Morse key on the underside of one of the lids:imageNote also the instructions warning the user not to waste the battery. This was particularly important because the lamp used eight 1.5 V batteries which were carried in the separate battery compartment. The same side of the box has storage for the ground spike with three holes, one for each of the sections. A top lid covers these pieces and a spring helps hold it down:imageThe ground spike is made of galvanised steel and has three sections that screw together to make up the full length of the pole, alternatively one or two sections may be used if the operator wishes to place the lamp nearer the ground:imageThe second compartment holds the batteries and the spare parts. Again this has a sprung lid and on the underside of this there are further instructions to the operator:imageThe eight 1.5V batteries are carried in the bottom of this compartment and a wooden spacer sits on top:imageThe spare parts tin is carried above the batteries. This tin is made of metal with lettering on the top explaining its contents:imageThe underside of the spare parts tin lid has a picture and instructions on how to fit a replacement bulb into the signalling lamp:imageSadly I am missing the spare bulb however I do have the smaller little parts tin that fits inside the larger spare parts tin:imageThe lamp itself is made of heavy duty metal, with a permanently attached power lead to connect it to the rest of the equipment:imageTwo different sized threads are fitted to the bottom of the lamp, the inner smaller one allows the ground spike to be screwed on; the larger, outer thread the tripod:imageA small sighting tube is attached to the top of the lamp body that allows you to line up the lamp with the receiving signal man’s position:imageA large reflector is provided behind the bulb to increase the intensity of the lamp, in daylight it has a range of about three miles, at night this extends to nearer twelve miles:imageAmongst the accessories for the signalling lamp are three different celluloid coloured lenses that fit over the main light body to provide different coloured signalling lights:imageThese signalling lamps were in use from the Great War, through to the end of World War Two. It was the coming of reliable VHF radios that finally spelled the end for much of the visual signalling devices used in the British Army. My set is missing a few of the accessories, but has all the essential bits and I am very pleased with the complete set up.image

No 19 Set Morse Key

There were many variations of the humble Morse code key in use by the British during the Second World War; some sources identify up to a hundred different variations. Tonight though we are looking at just one of these, a little Bakelite example:imageThese little keys were used by signallers to tap out messages in Morse code and were normally wired up to a wireless set, which then sent out the dots and dashes as a wireless signal. Alternatively the key could be wired to a signal lamp, more on that in a few days! Examples could be made of brass, Bakelite, silver alloy or sometimes a combination of materials. This example is made of very robust brown Bakelite. It consists of a base and a spring loaded rocker arm with a large Bakelite knob at one end:imageThe base of the key has a stores code marked on it:imageIn this case it is marked ZA16929, and according to the Imperial War Museum’s online database this indicates the key was used with the Wireless Set Number 19. A second marking at the end of the key reads ‘Key WT 8 Amp No2 MK III’:imageThe key works by completing or breaking a circuit every time the knob is pressed down. Normally the connectors nearest the knob are broken and the ones furthest away are connected, pressing down on the knob reverses that position:imageThis gives a great deal of flexibility allowing the key to be used regardless of how a wireless transmitter is wired- just attach the wires from the transmitter to the relevant connectors on the key.

Rod Balkham describes how he learnt Morse:

Over a period of what must have been several months I was turned into an OWL B3 – that is, Operator Wireless and Line (B3 being rated higher than B2, I seem to recall). This transmogrification was achieved mainly by the challenge of competition, plus – in my case in particular – my instinctive reaction to the sensitive understanding of the corporal who was our teacher. Unlike many another army corporal, he commanded respect in a firm but kindly manner, and he knew his job. As with the Bren gun, I became proficient with the Morse key without having to try very hard. To help us learn the Morse Code, the corporal offered us a few mnemonics, based on the rhythm of the dots and dashes. One was ‘Here comes the Bride’ – you can think of the bride as the Queen, he told us – thus arriving at dah dah dit dah for the letter ‘Q’. Another one, which I have good cause never to forget, was ‘Did-it ‘urt cher?’: Dit dit dah dit for the letter ‘F’, followed, inevitably, by ‘Like ‘ell it did’ for ‘L’.