This week’s image is rather a fun one, as these things go. This postcard depicts an airship off the coast with the phrase “Keep a Good Look Out. Don’t let this guy give you a fright. Just look inside it- we’re alright.”This gives a hint of the cards novelty- the airship lifts up and a set of four tiny views of Richmond are hidden beneath:The airship does not resemble the design of the German Zeppelins, and is far more the shape of the early British airships:This is backed up by the fact that the airship is flying the white ensign rather than a German naval flag! Early British airships were shorter and fatter than the long German craft:Below the illustration of the airship can be seen a battleship:This postcard was sent in 1915 and balloons and airships were still very much cutting edge technology. Britain lagged far behind both France and Germany in the development of lighter than air craft, preferring to focus more of her energy on fixed wing aircraft. The airships the British did develop were designed far more as defensive platforms to patrol the seas of Great Britain rather than having an offensive element like those of Germany. German zeppelins were designed for long range bombing missions over enemy territory, British airships patrolled the North Sea looking for enemy ship and submarine movements that could then be reported by wireless to allow Royal Navy ships to be directed onto target.
It is always nice to get photographs that show something a bit unusual, and tonight we have a lovely pair of images showing the Home Guard training. The first image shows them involved in some sort of crab running:The instructor in the centre is carrying some large flags and his ‘Home Guard’ armband is clearly visible:The men are all simply dressed in battledress, with field service caps. Quite what they are doing is not clear and it perhaps appears to be some sort of training in how to move stealthily in a crouched position:A group of other soldiers looks on from the side lines:The second photograph is less ambiguous and shows men practicing throwing hand grenades:They have just let go and the practice grenades can be seen in mid-air, whilst the men are in the process of taking cover on the ground:It was essential to practice throwing dummy grenades to prevent accidents when live grenades were used and to build confidence with the weapon, a Home Guard circular from Bridlington lamented:
From recent observations it would appear that instruction in all types of grenades held on charge has in some cases been badly neglected and some NCOs and men appear to be pretty scared when asked to handle dummies.
Robert Nosworthy instructed the home guard in the use of hand grenades in London:
To tell you the truth, I think it was one of the most dangerous things I could have ever thought about doing, because of these squads that were sent down to me from various places, parts of London, had never even handles a dummy bomb. And a lot of them were larking about, and you had to come down on them pretty stiff. And we didn’t have a lot of actual accidents, but we had very near misses…In a lot of cases, the idiots would pull the pin out beforehand, and a lot of that sort of business, and I’d have to chuck the bomb over quick, and all dive down. They hadn’t the slightest idea. But some were very good.
One of the commercially produced Home Guard training manuals of the time gave the following instructions:
How to Throw. Grenades are thrown with the same arm action as that of an over-arm bowler at cricket. This enables you to propel them with a high trajectory, which is suitable for their purpose of attacking over obstacles such as barricades. As they are meant entirely for close-quarters fighting, there is no point in trying to throw them very far; it is much more important to get accuracy than length of throw.
It is important that every man should learn to throw the grenade with the movement which comes most natural to him. He must cultivate a free natural body swing rather than any set of drilled movements. During grenade practice you must make a point of accurately observing where the grenade falls. You will practice throwing over a high wire, and from behind cover, both standing and in a lying position. You will throw into circles marked on the ground, always remembering that you are throwing at an enemy who is behind cover.
Only one man will throw at a time. No man will throw without a direct order: grenades will never be thrown from man to man. No man will attempt to catch a grenade: no man will pick up a grenade which has been thrown, until ordered to do so.
These instructions must be rigidly obeyed, in order that, from the very start, you will instinctively learn to treat grenades with respect. There is no need to be nervous with a grenade, however, as long as you understand it.
It is often forgotten that the Home Guard had a front line role to play in the defence of Britain during the Second World War. As well as patrolling their local area, the Home Guard were increasingly used to man fixed anti-aircraft sites to free up fitter men for more mobile and front line roles. The weapons manned consisted of both traditional artillery pieces and rocket projectors known as Z Batteries. Like much of the Home Guard’s work, this job has gone largely un recognised and indeed at the time all the men got was a small card expressing the thanks of General Pile, head of Anti-Aircraft Command:This little card is a rare survivor and has printed at the top the black bow on red background of the command’s formation patch:For more information on the badge please look here. One Home guard member who served on Z-Batteries has left us this account:
I was working on electrical repairs in the many textile mills and engineering factories and foundries in the area when I was conscripted into the home guard.
Not the usual infantry but a newly formed Anti-aircraft battery firing rockets. These were new weapons in addition to the many conventional 3.75 AA guns in the area. These new rocket projectors were to be manned and operated by the Home Guard.
The individual rocket projectiles were made of strong sheet metal welded into the shape of a pipe about six feet long and four inches in diameter. In the last foot of length at the business end was a high explosive AA shell, with a fuse in the nose cone, operated by air pressure at any selected height. This was adjusted with a special spanner before the rocket was loaded onto the launcher (projector). There were four stabilising tail fins (quite sharp to the touch) at the rear end. There were eight rockets, each loaded by hand on to their own guide rails on the projector. It was like handling a heavy awkward length of household rainwater pipe, and you had to slide it up the guide rails, then pull it back on to the electrical firing contacts. There were eight projectors in a battery… For the first few times we trained on dummy machines with dummy rounds in the Huddersfield Territorials’ drill hall. We practised loading the rockets correctly and aiming the projectors by means of two-man teams operating large hand wheels whilst standing on either side of the roofed over platform. One man controlled the bearing read off on a dial marked in degrees, indicated by a pointer. The elevation was similarly controlled and set by the number two man on the other side of the platform. Communication was by earphone and microphone to each other and from the Control Centre… Then we went operational. Duty at a battery three nights a week. We carried on practising with the dummy rounds but the real ones were stored in a bunker near each projector, which were about 30 yards apart. We never fired in anger, though we stood by with enemy planes overhead several times. The reason was that the area for miles around was residential and to fire over the houses would have caused a lot of damage as the empty metal rocket fuel containers fell from the sky on to the rooftops…
We did practice live fire once. It was a glorious ‘summer’ day in November and we were taken by train and lorry to Hornsea on the North Yorkshire coast. Each platoon went in turn to the projectors lined up on the cliff top and loaded live rockets (I was worried about my fingers) and fired a salvo into the sky over the sea. I was never more scared in my life. Great 30 foot long sheets of flame past our heads and a roar like an express train in a tunnel, and the flimsy metal structure of the platform of the projector shaking and resonating; and us too shocked and deaf to hear the commands to check for misfires and turn to a neutral bearing.
Tonight we are looking at the next ten cards in the Air Raid Precautions set of Will’s cigarette cards, you can see the first post here.
Card 21 Light Trailer Fire-Pump
Under Fire Precautions schemes, the Home office is issuing to many local authorities light trailer fire-pumps of the type illustrated. This pump has the great advantage of being easily manœuvred; not only can it be towed behind any motor car, but it is also light enough to be manhandled. It is capable of delivering two useful fire-fighting streams of water, and can deliver 120 gallons per minute at a pressure of 80lb to the square inch. The pump unit can be unshipped from its chassis and carried to any convenient position where water is availableCard 22 Light Trailer Fire-Pump in Action
Air Raid Precautions schemes will include ample provision for emergency fire-fighting. The home Office is issuing to many local authorities light trailer fire-pumps, described on Card No. 21. The pump is here shown in action; it has been unshipped from the chassis on which it is usually carried for towing purposes, and is taking a supply of water from a garden pond, to which it has been carried by hand. The light trailer fire-pump can also work from a street mains supply, and is capable of delivering two useful fire-fighting streams of water.Card 23 Medium Trailer Fire-Pump
Medium trailer motor fire-pumps will be an important feature in emergency fire-brigade measures. These pumps are towed behind private cars or commercial vans ( in which the fire-men and additional fire-fighting gear may be carried), and can be manhandled over rough ground or debris impassable to ordinary fire-engines or motor cars. A pump of this type will give four good fire-fighting streams of water at high pressure.Card 24 Medium Trailer Fire-Pump in Action
Any scheme of Air Raid Precautions must include the provision of a great number of special fire-fighting appliances. Pumping units of the type illustrated will be required in large numbers for use under air raid conditions. They are specially designed for trailing behind motor cars or light lorries. Crews of 4 or 5 trained firemen are required to man these fire-pumps, which are capable of delivering two or more streams of water at high pressure on to a fire.Card 25 Emergency Heavy Pump Unit
The illustration shows a high-powered emergency fire-pump, carrying a telescopic ladder. This unit, which has been designed by the Home Office, is capable of delivering over 1,000 gallons of water a minute at high pressure, and is able to supply a number of good fire-fighting streams. There is accommodation on the unit for both crew and necessary fire-fighting gear. The chassis on which the pump is mounted is extremely mobile, and can be manœuvred in a very small space.Card 26 Hose-Laying Lorry
For laying long lines of delivery hose, such as may be necessary at large fires for the purpose of utilising distant water supplies, a special motor appliance is used. The lengths of hose contained in the appliance are joined together and specially packed as shown in the illustration, so that they pay out in one or more continuous lines as the appliance is driven ahead.Card 27 The Civilian Respirator
This respirator consists of a face-piece, to which is attached by means of a rubber band a metal box containing filters which absorb all known war gases. The face-piece is held in position by means of web straps fitting around the head. When the respirator is properly fitted and the straps adjusted, it completely protects the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. The strap should be pinned at the right tension, so that the respirator can be slipped on in an instant. This respirator will be issued free to the public.Card 28 The Civilian Respirator- How to Adjust it
Great care must be taken to see that the respirator is correctly fitted and adjusted, in order that a supply of pure air, quite free from gas, is ensured for breathing. The respirator is made so that if fits closely round the face, and is provided with adjustable straps to hold it in the correct position. It is important that the respirator be tried on and the straps properly adjusted to the requirements of the wearer (see picture), so that it may be put on at a moment’s notice.Card 29 The Civilian Respirator- How to Remove it
The pictures shows the RIGHT way to take off a Civilian Respirator. This should be done by slipping the head harness forward from the back of the head. It is important that the respirator should be taken off in this way. The WRONG way to take it off is by taking hold of the metal box containing the filters and pulling the face-piece off by the chin. By this method there is a danger of bending and cracking the transparent window. If this window is cracked, the respirator is useless.Card 30 The Civilian Duty Respirator
This respirator is of stronger construction than the civilian respirator and is intended for those who might have to work in the presence of gas and could not go to a gas-protected refuge room. The respirator protects the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs against all known war-gasses. The face-piece is of moulded rubber, and the eye-pieces are of strong glass. There is an outlet valve opposite the nose; the protuberance at the side of the face-piece can be used to fit a microphone for speaking on the telephone.
During 1940 British manufacturing was being stretched to its limits, both by the sheer volume of goods required, but also due to loss of capacity by enemy action. Priority for items such as clothing had to go to the regular forces, second line units like the Home Guard were a long way down the pecking order and various substitutes were provided that were unique to the force. Some of these substitute items were to remain in inventory throughout the war, others were to be quickly replaced when supplies of the original item were restored to normal levels. In the latter category was a garment unique to the Home Guard; the cape:
My thanks go to Andy Dixon for helping me add this one to the collection. The Home Guard Cape was a replacement for the greatcoat which was in short supply in late 1940 after air raids had severely disrupted the clothing industry in the East End of London. The Home Guard needed an over-garment to cover their thin denim uniforms which were insufficient to keep the wearer warm on cold nights and it was suggested that an ‘Austrian Pattern’ cape be produced which would be simpler to manufacture than the service greatcoat. On 16th October 1940 500,000 capes were ordered, with delivery starting in November 1940. The cape is made of the same serge as the battledress, with five large buttons up the front:Inside the top half of the cape is lined with shirting material:And two straps are sewn in to allow the cape to be attached to the shoulders:This then allowed the cape to be opened and slung back out of the way:This hardly seems practical as the cape trails near the ground and would get very muddy very quickly! Two pockets are provided inside the cape:And a button and button loop are provided down the edges:These allow the cape to be buttoned into rudimentary sleeves, as seen in this photograph of an officer inspecting a Home Guardsman:The capes came in five sizes and each originally had a manufacturer’s label sewn in, sadly my example has lost its original label, although the outline of the stitching where it was attached can be seen:The War Office instructed that ranks were to be worn in the usual positions- easy enough for officers with their rank on shoulders, but much harder for NCOs- where about exactly should sergeants stripes or a Warrant Officer’s sleeve batch be sewn?
It is fair to say the capes were never popular, and as early as September 1941 moves were made to get rid of them and replace them with standard greatcoats. Although a buyer was sought for the surplus capes none could be found and they soldiered on until the War Office relented and made them obsolete in November 1942, supplies of greatcoats being sufficient by this point. These capes were quickly disposed of with little sadness, today therefore they are a rare and unusual piece of Home Guard uniform and when the opportunity came to add one to my collection I couldn’t turn it down!
The regular British Army used webbing anklets throughout the Second World War. When the Home Guard was formed it was clear they would need something similar, however webbing production was stretched and there was not sufficient capacity to rapidly equip this new force in the quantities needed. As it did so often, the government turned to the leather industry to fill the gap; this industry having the spare capacity and skills necessary to produce leather anklets. By 13th August 1940 stocks of the anklets were ready and these started being distributed to units on 28th August. Production was very rapid with a quarter of a million pairs issued by the 3rd September and by January 1941 1.6 million pairs were produced and distributed.
The leather anklets were clearly an almost direct copy of the army webbing design:There were however manufacturing differences as seen on this ‘pair’ which are not actually a pair as they show differing construction methods. Both are made from an artificially grained leather, a deep brown in colour:As first issued these anklets would have been very light in colour, but this was found, via exercises with the RAF, to be impracticable in the field. Some companies, especially those with Rifle Regiment parent units, dyed their anklets black and at least one unit dyed them sage green! Officially however they were to be brown and the 7th Herts received orders belts and anklets should be darkened to a medium brown colour. The anklets themselves were supplied in three different sizes to fit different leg sizes.
These anklets have the same brass buckles to fasten them as webbing anklets, however one pair has them secured by a combination of stitching and a single brass rivet:The other just uses brass rivets:Both sets have leather straps attached to the main body of the anklet but again one is sewn:Whilst the other is riveted:Despite these differences I suspect no one much minded when they were issued a pair how they had been made, and this set looks to have been together a long time as they both have considerable deformation along the bottom edge from wear:Stocks of both leather and webbing anklets were supplied to Home Guard units depending on supply, generally speaking units seem to have issued officers with web anklets and other ranks with leather ones, here members of the Broadway Home Guard can be seen wearing the leather anklets:
Back in 2014 we considered the webbing Other Services Water bottle Carrier (here), we mentioned then that this carrier replaced an earlier leather example. Since writing that post I have found just such a leather water bottle carrier and that is the subject of tonight’s post. A comparison between the two shows how similar the two designs are ( please note the bottle shown here is missing its wool cover):Made of leather, this water bottle carrier was introduced to replace an earlier and almost identical carrier that differed only in having a canvas central section to the cross strap. The carrier is made of brown leather, with a cradle that passes below the bottle and around it in two positions:
The components are secured by brass hose rivets:With the strap attaching to the main carrier through two large metal rings:The length of the strap is adjustable with a small roller buckle:These carriers were on general issue to all troops that did not have one of the typical webbing sets, i.e. those not equipped with 08 or later 37 pattern webbing. When the webbing ‘OS’ carriers came into service the leather examples were issued to the Home Guard, here the central figure in an anti-invasion exercise taking place in York in November 1941 can be seen to wear the water bottle slung over his shoulder:Interestingly a black leather version of the carrier exists and this appears to have been for St John’s Ambulance use. The basic design of carrier was remarkable long lived, being used in various guises from the turn of the twentieth century into the 1950s. Due to the simplicity of the design, variations can also be seen having been produced and issued in India to local troops, indeed the basic design is so simple that I have in the past made my own replica of the version with a central canvas section to the cross strap.