Category Archives: Home Front

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.

Anti-Gas Ointment Jar

Whilst soldiers were issued anti-gas in small tubes that were carried in metal tins stored in their respirator haversacks, this method of supply was not suitable for the civilian population and so from 1939 onwards anti gas ointment, used to treat the skin when exposed to blister gases, was supplied in earthenware seven pint jars. This allowed it to be shared out in the aftermath of an attack as part of the civil defence procedures. These jars continued to be produced and issued in the immediate post war period and tonight’s example dates from 1956. It is a 10″ high white glazed jar, with a sealed lid and carry handle:imageThe earlier examples were half brown and half white, but by the post war period were completely white. The front of the jar has ‘Ointment Anti-Gas’ stamped on under the glazing:imageThe lid has a rubber seal, now perished, and is secured with a twisting metal clip, unfortunately rather rusted on this example:imageThe carry handle is a simple ‘U’ shaped piece of flat steel, secured to the neck of the jar with wire:imageThis jar was made by Doulton and Company of Lambeth in London in November 1956:imageA number of different types of anti gas ointment were produced during the war, and the official history of gas warfare explains their development:

The first ointment introduced was Ointment, Anti-Gas, No 1. It was effective against liquid mustard gas only; it was an irritant after repeated applications, and corrosive to metal portions of weapons if left on for too long. Being irritant it could not be used prophylactically to protect the skin against gas vapour. It was issued in a two-ounce lever tin. In 1939 it became obsolescent and was superseded by Ointment, Anti-gas, No 2. This was an ointment in a vanishing cream base which was effective against both mustard gas and lewisite. It was far less irritant than No 1, but not by any means non-irritant. It was possible to. Use it prophylactically against vapour, but it was an irritant to those parts of the body where the skin is more delicate…

A series of ointments- No 3, 3A, 5 and 6- were introduced successively. These ointments contained antiverm, the chemical used for anti-gas impregnation of clothing. Nos. 3 and 3A (the tropical form of No3) were incorporated in a fatty base; and Nos. 5 and 6 were of the vanishing cream type. They were all superior to No. 2 in that they were non-irritant and less corrosive.

War Damage Repair Leaflet

It is hard to under emphasise how many different aspects of civilian life were influenced by government legislation during the Second World War. What you could buy was limited by rationing, what you could sell items for was limited by price controls, even where you were allowed to live was subject to government control. In 1941 new regulations came into place to control civilian building. Supplies for repairs and new building were under pressure to meet both military requirements and repair bomb damage and labour was short. Large numbers of workers from neutral Ireland helped mitigate the labour shortage to some degree, but prices were rising and some builders were taking advantage to make large profits by charging extortionate prices for work.

The government recognised that controls needed to be brought in, and companies directed to ‘triage’ the construction needs. It was better to repair twenty lightly damaged buildings to get them back into use, than repair one badly damaged building that took up more time and materials to fix. In early 1942 Defence Regulation 56A came into effect and this leaflet was sent to builders to explain the new rules:SKM_C30819021912050 - CopyRuth Dunstan worked for an architect’s firm during the war:

My own real war work was to come at the end of 1940 when I joined Mr C Russell Corfield FRIBA, a very distinguished local architect, many of whose local houses have been listed for their fine quality. My own qualifications were only secretarial but with the young men of the practice away on war service the work devolved on Mr Corfield and me. I had to learn the elements of traditional building in a hurry for the firm was empanelled to serve with the Borough Surveyors of Falmouth and Penryn, Mr Harry Tresidder and Mr Harris respectively.

As stated, there had been a good deal of war damage (and sadly some fatalities) in Falmouth and Penryn from enemy aircraft.

National legislation required all property owners to take out war damage insurance for all necessary war damaged repairs of a permanent nature. However, First Aid repairs were dealt with wholesale as promptly as possible, after careful recording. Because of the pressure, and because I had then absorbed some working knowledge, I too was required to produce straightforward specifications on my own initiative. It kept us busy.

Local air raids damaged Falmouth’s Wesley Church, Lister Street and the Boscawen Hotel (by then the headquarters of the local Women’s Royal Navy). In fact Lister Street included several complete houses, including one which only came on the market as a clear site in 2002 which the estate agency sold for the owners in that year. 

Penryn, with its fine period houses, suffered badly. We found many interesting items at risk. I remember a circular head carved door from the 17th century and a vertical passage, which could have been a remnant of either Reformation or smuggling days both in Bohill; the use of canvas or “poldavy” (a type of sailcloth — a former Falmouth Packet Captain had a poldavy mill at Tremoughdale) used to line buildings instead of plaster and early house deeds from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr Corfield refused to condemn badly damaged properties, as someone less sensitive might have done, with the result that Penryn’s essential character was preserved for later effective restoration. It is a pity that progressive modern development has taken place here and there since then.

The actual First Aid Repairs were carried out under our direction by teams of those builders and others in the trade who were still available, being over age for war service. These were signed on from a wider area, notably Staverton Builders of Devon (founded by the Elmhirsts of Dartington; in Falmouth Messrs Eva & Bone, E H Moss, E Thomas, Angove & Son, Curtis & Son (Penryn) and Morris (plumbers). 

Obviously this insurance and repair arrangement applied all over the United Kingdom.

Stirrup Pump (Part 2)

We looked at a stirrup pump back in February, here, that example was incomplete and missing its hose. Since writing that post I have come across another, more complete example, for the princely sum of £5:imageThe most obvious difference between this and the earlier example, is this pump still has the hose with it. This hose is made of rubber, wrapped in reinforcing tape and painted black:imageIt measures thirty feet long and when not in use is coiled up and fastened to the pump. The nozzle on the end does not match the pictures in the Firewatcher’s handbook and may be a later replacement, it is secured in place with a jubilee clip:imageThe hose, when coiled up, is secured with a webbing tab, secured with a metal pin and with a plastic quick release tab. This is nicely marked with a crown and the letters GR:imageThe Royal cypher is repeated on the brass collar part of the pump, albeit faintly:imageA massive move was made to produce enough pumps before the war, but 1940 there were only 86,000 distributed which was viewed by the authorities as woefully inadequate. Here women welder’s work to make the handles for stirrup pumps:imageStirrup pumps appear regularly in press photos showing the work of the Civil Defence services:imageDespite its simplicity, the stirrup pump could be invaluable and St Paul’s Cathedral was saved from destruction using the simple stirrup pump:

When a fire broke out in the cathedral’s library aisle, there was no mains water to fight it — the blaze was eventually suppressed with ­stirrup pumps, buckets and sand.

Then, soon after 6.30pm, an incendiary bomb — one of 29 to fall on and around St Paul’s that night — pierced the lead roof of the dome and lodged in its timbers.

Molten lead began to drip into the nave below. The aged wood of the choir stalls and organ screen, carved by the great sculptor Grinling Gibbons, was at mortal risk, while smoke from the blazing buildings surrounding the cathedral enveloped it. Two teams of specialist fire watchers recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects — and hand-picked because they had heads for heights — were ­crawling along the wooden beams with hand pumps to reach the ­blazing section. But suddenly the incendiary bomb, having burnt through the wood, fell far, far to the nave below, where it was easily put out. Though almost every building around St Paul’s ­perished, the cathedral survived.

This pump was filthy when I bought it and has been carefully washed with hot soapy water. It is far from perfect, but for the price was a fantastic find and it is different from my earlier example.

Woollen Comforts Knitting Pattern

The production of knitted goods for military personnel was a major source of woollen items such as gloves, socks, hats and jumpers for the services during the war. To meet this demand from the country’s knitters, various companies produced knitting patterns which could be bought for a few pennies and had the patterns for a number of different garments. Tonight we have a knitting pattern described as ‘Service Woollies for Air Land & Sea’ with a fetching picture of a man wearing some of the items standing in front of a training aircraft:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (2)This is a rather more substantial pattern than most, running to ten pages, and so cost 6d when new. The inside of the front cover has a number of the items that the keen knitter can make illustrated:SKM_C30819021912051These are all fairly standard garments like cardigans, scarves and gloves.The remainder of the pamphlet has the knitting patterns themselves:SKM_C30819021912051 - CopyKnitting comforts was undertaken by women (and men)up[ and down the country and with many girls learning to knit when they were still young children it was a skill that millions shared. Rita Sarin was a child and she joined in knitting comforts:

I used to love doing knitting on four needles. I used to make loads of pairs of socks and used to like turning the heels. I don’t think I could do it today unless I was shown – but I made loads of gloves and scarves. We used to make gloves on four needles. When you did a finger you’d get so many stitches on each needle and then knit round and round until you’ve got a finger done and then cast off and then do another one, then do the thumbs. I did that at school – we all used to sit — I used to hate sewing, I still do now – but I used to do an ever so a lot of knitting until my thumbs got bad, and that’s all I did at school, was knit! The school mistress used to say to me “Rita Flower did you do your sewing last week?”, (because we used to have to knit one week and sew the next), “Yes I did!” But I never did of course! I always said I did my sewing last week but I never did. I used to hate it. I remember doing khaki gloves and socks, and black for the Navy, and sort of bluey for the air force we had all those colours, I can remember that as plain as day, sitting at my desk knitting.

Sylvia van Oosten’s mother was another who knitted for the troops:

I remember my mother going to a Women’s Guild during the war and the women sat around knitting for the army and navy. She also brought home wool for knitting socks, gloves, helmets etc. I remember the wool for socks for the navy was very oily and thick and very difficult to knit with. My mother eventually “adopted” a sailor and sent him packets of food as well as the knitting she had done for him. Because of my mother knitting so many socks I also picked up this knowledge and can knit a pair of socks “in no time” without a knitting pattern. I began when I was 9 years of age knitting my own socks. My mother would also cut the worn heel or toe from my father’s socks and re-knit these. We had to be thrifty in the war.

Rest Centre Zuckerman Helmet

Rest centres were locations set up by local authorities to process those made homeless by bombing. These centres were normally in school or church halls and offered short term accommodation for those bombed out of their homes, as well as food and access to services to allow alternative housing to be provided, new ration and identity papers to be issued and any other advice and support people might need. These centres were manned by a mix of local authority employees and volunteers, the WVS having a major role to play in providing hot tea and food as well as distributing aid. The workers at these centres were lightly equipped, but some at least were issued with steel helmets to protect them as they went about their duties. Tonight we have a wonderful example of a Zuckerman helmet marked up to a rest centre worker:imageThis helmet is in the standard light grey paint, put a dark green panel has been painted on the front with the words ‘Rest Centre’ neatly painted on this:imageThe Zuckerman helmet was specially developed for civilian use and whilst not offering the ballistic protection of a military helmet, it was ideal for protection during air raids. Examples were issued by local authorities and it was also available for purchase by civilians for a few shillings.

The design was officially called the ‘civilian protective helmet’ and was pressed from manganese or mild steel in two shell sizes, medium and large. This example is a medium, as indicated by the ‘M’ stamped into the underside of the shell:imageThe other stamp on the underside of the rim indicates that it was made by Rubery Owen Company Ltd of Leeds in 1941:imageThe underside of the helmet shows the liner and the loops for a chin strap:imageChin straps were not supplied with these helmets, but users were advised that they could add their own and examples turn up with a wide variety of different chin straps, some as sophisticated as the standard army ones, others just a piece of ribbon.

The liner itself is made of leather with a tape crown, this ensures that there is a large gap between the top of the liner and the helmet shell itself offering more protection from falling debris. Sadly, despite the excellent condition of the shell, the liner in this helmet has perished considerably over the last eighty years:imageThe helmets were distributed with the liner unattached and an instruction sheet advising users how to set their helmet up for use:

MINISTRY OF HOME SECURITY

THE CIVILIAN PROTECTIVE HELMET

INSTRUCTIONS FOR ASSEMBLY AND FITTING

The Civilian Protective Helmet is issued unassembled in three parts – body, lining, and lace.

The steel body is in two sizes and the liner is in six sizes – i.e. three sizes to each size of body, as follows –

The medium body (stamped M) takes linings of 6 and a half, 6 and three quarters and 7.

The large body (stamped L) takes linings of 7 and a quarter, 7 and a half, and 7 and three quarters.

Fig 1 shows the general shape of the helmet. Although the body is symmetrical in shape the line of lacing holes is sloped so that when the lining is assembled to the body the helmet has a front and a back. The back comes down lower to protect the back of the head.

The letters L and M stamped under the rim at the back indicates the size of the helmet body.

How to assemble the Helmet.

(i) Take a lining of the required size and a body of the size to fit the lining – see above. (NB – It is essential that the right size of body be used with each lining size.) It does not matter which part of the lining becomes the front or back; but it is usual to assemble it so that the join in the headband is at the back.

(ii) There are eight pairs of lacing holes in the steel body, corresponding with the eight loops on the lining (A ‘pair’ of holes means two holes close together – about 1 inch apart. There is a space of about 2 inches between two pairs.) A loop should be placed behind and between the two holes which form one pair, and the lace threaded alternately through the lacing holes in the body and the loops on the lining as show in Fig. 2.

When the lacing is finished lace should be visible outside the body of the helmet between each pair of holes, and should be invisible between the two holes which form a pair (see Fig. 1).

(iii) When the lacing has been completed, draw the lace tight and tie it firmly in a bow. It will be most satisfactory to form the tie inside the helmet (ie alongside one of the loops in the lining) and at the back, where loose ends can be tucked away, and not outside the helmet, where the tie will be more liable to come undone.

The lacing can be done with any strong piece of cord or lace of the right thickness if the lace originally provided gets broken.

How to fit the Helmet.

The wearer of the helmet should see that it fits well. The leather band of the lining should fit as closely as possible around the head without being too tight. If it is too loose and the next size smaller is too tight, the lining should be padded with layers of paper or other material inside the leather band.

When the fit around the head has been made right, the helmet should be worn to see whether it comes down far enough, or too far, on the head. This can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening the piece of cord which is threaded through the webbing band at the crown of the head. The brim at the front should be about level with the eyebrows when the helmet is worn in a comfortable position on the head. (Note – the cord must not be loosened so much that the head nearly comes in contact with the steel body. People with high-domed heads may find it advisable to wear the helmet above eyebrow level.)

Chinstrap or Carrrying Loops

No chinstrap is provided because it is not likely to be necessary except in rare circumstances. Nevertheless lugs are provided inside the helmet on either side through which a piece of tape can be threaded if desired, to form either a strap (to be worn either under the chin or at the back of the head) or a carrying loop.

WW1 Fundraising Dog Coat

The British have long been renowned for willing supporting charities large and small and their love of animals, especially dogs. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these two loves came together with the extensive use of dogs to raise money for various good causes. There were several quite famous dogs who walked around large railway stations with collection boxes on their backs raising money for welfare charities (indeed one can be seen on display, stuffed, in the National Railway Museum in York). It was therefore no surprise that during World War One dogs were often used to raise money for service charities and tonight we are looking at an example of a dog coat made during World War One for these fundraising activities.imageThe coat is clearly handmade, but of excellent manufacture. It is shaped to fit a large dog such as an Alsatian or Labrador, with straps to go around the chest, stomach and rump of the animal, all sewn to the reverse of the coat:imageAn iron buckle is fitted to one of each pair of straps, wrapped in red thread to make it more decorative:imageIt is the decoration on the coat however which is particularly interesting and which helps to date the coat to World War One. Four red crosses are sewn on, suggesting that it was this charity the dog was raising money for:imageEmbroidered on the front corners of the coat are the crossed flags of France and Zsarist Russsia:imageThis alone dates the coat to World War One. The opposite side has the British and Belgian flags:imageEach of these pairs of flags is accompanied with red white and blue rosettes, picking up the colours of Russia, France and Great Britain. Belgium is represented by a single black, orange and red rosette at the rear of the coat:imageOn September 16th 1914 the Daily Mail reported:

Two very successful collectors for the Red Cross Fund are the pair of pedigree greyhounds, Nell and Finn, which appear on the stage of the Garrick Theatre every evening in Mr Arthur Bourchier’s “Bluff King Hal.” The dogs appear outside the theatre every evening before the performance and help to the collection of money which goes to the purchase of materials that are made up by the ladies of the company for the wounded soldiers