Weighing in at 5lbs the Royal Engineer’s shovel is a robust and efficient digging tool for work in the trenches. Introduced long before World War One it was to have a very long service life, seeing service until well after World War Two. The early shovels have become quite hard to find now so I was very pleased to pick up this example last week for just £5:Unfortunately this example has suffered a bit over the years and the manufacturer’s details are now very hard to read, however the date of 1918 is still clearly visible:At some point I will sand back the rust and repaint the head of this shovel and it’s possible more of the markings will become visible then. The head of the shovel is broad and gently curved to make it easy to scoop up soil and rubble when digging field works:A rib is pressed down the back and centre of the shovel to add some rigidity to it:A five inch wide handle is fitted to the top, just the right size for the palm of the hand when moving the blade of the shovel in a scooping motion:This large shovel is one of a number of tools issued for trench construction, as illustrated in this 1905 diagram from the Manual of Military Engineering:Field works dug by hand were laborious and lengthy jobs as described in this period instruction:
Sequence for Digging Tasks
(a) A trench 3ft. 6ins wide at the top, 2ft. at the bottom, and 3 ft. deep is opened (I in the diagram). All the spoil is thrown forward to make the parapet which even so will not be 5ft. thick.
(b) The second stage (II in the diagram) is widened to 6ft. 6ins. at the top and 5ft. at the bottom and the parapet completed before any earth is used for the parados. It should never be deepened until it has been widened.
(c) Finally the passageway shown as III I the diagram is dug, the earth going on the parados.
(d) As soon as possible the fire step, and the rest of the trench should be reverted, and a drainage channel dug.Much of this digging would have been done with shovels such as this one and it was very nice to find one dated to WW1 for such a cheap price- it will sit very nicely with my WW2 dated example.
Previously we have looked at an example of a canvas bucket that was part of an officer’s traveling camp kit. These are of course not the only examples of canvas buckets in service during the Second World War and tonight we are looking at another example, with some different constructional details to the previous example. This bucket is made from a pale green canvas again:Unlike the other bucket though, the handle for this bucket is made from a thick piece of cotton webbing, rather than a piece of rope:Note how the handle has been doubled up and stitched for strength over the centre part. Inside the bucket is a faintly stamped marking, indicating that it was made in 1939 by Speedings Ltd of Sunderland:This factory was founded in Sunderland in 1827 and is still in business today, making it one of the oldest companies in Sunderland. They have produced sails, canvas products and flags and today make protective equipment for the emergency services.
To return to the bucket, there is another marking on the inside that is very faint and I have struggled to pick up on the camera, that is a GR and crown mark. Searching around I am fairly confident in saying that this design of canvas bucket was issued to the Auxiliary Fire Service in the early years of the war. I have seen other identical buckets with black stencilled markings on the outside that indicate they were used by the AFS and this seems a likely user of my example. Canvas buckets were very useful for carrying on small AFS fire tenders; large numbers could be carried without taking up much space and bucket chains could be set up using volunteers passing them between each other to help put out small fires.
The utility of bucket chains can be seen in this story from Michael Campbell of Leeds:
One night I was awoken by my parents. We had been bombed and two incendiaries had gone through the roof. Father was in the loft with a stirrup pump and a bucket chain had been formed with people passing buckets of water up the stairs. Water was being poured into the stirrup pump bucket too fast and was missing it, then father put his foot into the bucket —“ Pour it down my b—- leg”, he said. As mother carried me past the hatch, down the stairs and by the bucket chain into the garden to the Anderson Shelter, I could see flames in the loft.
I doubt the buckets here were canvas ones, more likely anything the household could get hold of, but the fire was put out and it shows how useful this simple operation could be.