Category Archives: Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Belt Kit

On patrol in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, British troops had very strict rules of engagement and were only permitted to carry very small amounts of ammunition- normally two SLR magazines, each with eighteen rounds- one in the gun and one in a pouch. Troops also wore body armour so there was a move away from large traditional equipment sets to more minimal belt kits. This example is a representative set like those put together by troops on Operation Banner:imageAs can be seen the set consists of one 58 pattern ammunition pouch and two water bottle pouches on a 58 pattern belt:imageThis set up emphasises the need for hydration during grueling foot patrols, with minimal ammunition needed. One ex soldier describes what he carried in Northern Ireland:

First tour 75 country Tyrone, dress was boots dms with puttees, trousers lightweight, kf shirt, woolly pully, combat jacket with yellow card in breast pocket, green waterproof, sometimes a parka, beret and blacked out badge.
Belt order with ammo pouches and water bottle only, although it was a bit of a waste as we only had 20 rounds. So lots of room for sweets and choccies.

Practice 1.5″ CS Gas Cartridge Case

CS gas was developed by the British at Porton Down in the 1950s and 1960s as a non-lethal riot control agent based on the discovery of the compound by American scientists in the 1920s. CS Gas reacts with moisture on the skin, in the eyes, nose and mouth, and in the lungs, causing a burning sensation. Apart from the pain it causes it also results in tears being shed as the eyes go into an automatic cleaning mode. In severe cases coughing and vomiting can occur, especially if the victim is confined to an area of high concentrations of the gas, such as a room. The effects wear off within a few minutes of reaching clear air. The use of CS gas came to prominence in 1969 when it was used to quell civil disorder in Northern Ireland during the so called ‘Battle of Bogside’. The British Army made extensive use of CS gas during the troubles and used both grenades and fired canisters from their Federal Riot guns. As usual with a weapons system, troops need to train on it under controlled circumstances so inert cartridges were produced that only released pink smoke, rather than actual CS gas. These training rounds were clearly marked:imageThe cartridge case is made of aluminium, 1.5” in diameter and has a pair of coloured bands, blue over green. As can be seen it is clearly marked as being an irritant practice round. The rear of the cartridge gives a filling date of October 1974:imageTurning to the base of the cartridge we can see that the casing itself dates from July 1973 and has a head stamp marking of FPL:imageThe CS projectile itself was a separate piece of ordnance that fitted inside this casing, the cartridge case holding the percussion cap in the base and a propellant charge. When fired at a distance of 100m the cartridge had a delay of between 1 and 5 seconds and then burnt, expelling the CS gas for between 10 and 15 seconds. During the Fall Curfew of 1970 the British Army had fired up to 1,600 canisters of CS and following its use at Lenadoon in 1972 the RUC and British Army ceased using CS gas in Northern Ireland. The Royal Scots report ‘Internal Security training for Northern Ireland’ explained:

When CS gas is thrown in open spaces, such as post war housing estates, it needs to be used in considerable quantities to be effective…

Later the Battalion commander would remark that one of the more damaging consequences of using CS gas was the potential

for it to blow the wrong way and end up in old people’s houses.

Despite the decision to stop using it in Northern Ireland, munitions and training continued in case it was needed at a future date.

Northern Ireland Gloves

In the 1960s The British Army issued a pair of woollen gloves to troops deployed to Northern Ireland for warmth and protection. These were clearly unsuitable, with troops substituting motorcycle gloves and other padded civilian types. In this photograph of a soldier patrolling on the streets of Belfast in 1972, these early civilian gloves can easily be seen:3277986New gloves were introduced between 1974-76 and were designed for use in an urban environment, being made of black leather:imageThe earliest pairs had padded fingers as well as knuckles, this pair is more modern and have had the finger padding deleted; just the knuckle padding retained:imageThe padding was designed to help protect knuckles when the wearer was handling riot shields and batons and in an urban environment with hard surfaces all around. It was also rumoured that the padding allowed soldiers to get physical with protestors without leaving a mark. Having spoken to one old soldier who served in Operation Banner, it was not unknown for the stitching on the padding to be undone and a piece of lead or a bag of sand inserted into the knuckle area to create an improvised knuckle duster- the lead being quietly removed afterwards to ensure there was no come back for breaking rules of engagement!

The palms of the gloves are left as plain leather to aid grip:imageAnd elasticated knitted cuffs are provided to ensure comfort where they meet the soldiers’ sleeves:imageThese gloves were well liked and a great improvement on what had come before, however they were not without their faults- easily absorbing large quantities of water like a sponge. They were officially replaced with CS95 gloves in the mid 1990s, but as ever troops who had them and liked them carried on using them for a time after. In this photograph of a group of soldiers form the Parachute Regiment, the two men on the left are wearing the Northern Ireland gloves:Richard_Pic_2_zpsd2d3f747

Fusilier’s Hackle

There are many distinctive items of uniform in the British Army, with regiments jealously guarding their historic symbols as a sign of their identity and comradeship. One of the most distinctive of these is the white and red hackle of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers:imageThe hackle is a plume of clipped feathers in a distinctive colour, worn on the headdress of particular regiments and most have a long history and commemorate a battle or campaign from the past. The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers inherited its distinctive hackle form one of its antecedents, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. In 1778 the 5th Fusiliers had successfully thwarted a French attempt on St Lucia and took the white plumes form the enemy and wore them in their caps as a special distinction for the next 51 years. Then, with white plumes long having been authorised for grenadier companies, they were given permission to wear a white plume tipped in red to perpetuate their hard won privilege.

The plume is bound at the bottom and has a wire loop:imageThis allows it to be secured to the rear of the cap badge:imageThe plume then sticks up from behind the badge above the beret:imageThis hackle is worn on all possible occasions and was commonly seen during tours of Northern Ireland being worn by members of the regiment:imageIn this reconstruction a fusilier from the regiment can be seen on patrol in Ulster in the 1970s, he wears the distinctive hackle above the staybrite cap badge of his regiment. He wears a 1968 pattern smock and wears a protective vest with rubber shoulder pads to help him aim his weapon securely; a sterling submachine gun. In line with the guidelines at the time for patrols in built up areas he does not wear any webbing equipment and is forced to carry the ammunition for his weapon in the pockets of his uniform:FullSizeRender

Post War RAC Helmet

Whilst the British Army in the Cold War used standard infantry helmets for its infantry, certain specialist troops used their own designs. A rimless helmet was introduced, with different chin straps depending on whether they were for airborne or armoured use. The shape of the old ‘soup bowl’ Mk II helmet was unsuited for wear in a tank due to the limited space and chance of catching it on things, a more compact rimless helmet helped alleviate this problem, whilst still giving the tank crews some protection to their heads. Armoured troops continued using the rimless helmet shell introduced during the Second World War, modifying it to bring it into line with the requirements of warfare in the 1980s. Tonight’s object is an Armoured Corps Mk II Steel Helmet first introduced in April 1945, however this example dates from the early 1980s:

759D6EDF-4698-49E4-87A7-1B8B850ADB60The helmet consists of a manganese steel shell, with a rubber liner inside:

C5497FEC-F2FD-417B-8D96-2DEE94871F4FAs can be seen the top pad is missing and has been replaced by gaffer tape. The helmet is covered in typical scrim of the period:

A845A77E-7E57-4BF0-8057-A4FF34BD0F74The base layer is hessian sand bagging material, overlaid with a camouflage net and finally with plastic ‘foliage’ on top of that. The sandbagging prevents any shine appearing from the helmet shell under the rest of the scrim.

 The plastic scrim is very characteristic of the cold war as it was dropped soon after as it had the unfortunate habit of melting or catching fire! The chin strap for the helmet is the MkIII version, with a quick release fastener consisting of a tongue and staple:

3A840C0A-F553-433A-960F-54690E4AC6F7The helmet strap also has a NATO stores code, manufacturer and date of 1983 printed on it:29FC402A-CD99-4DD9-B762-7BE4DA372944Use of this design of helmet was not restricted to land based troops, the helmet was also issued to Royal Navy ships for wear by sailors, though obviously these helmets don’t have the scrim! Many of these helmets have been bought by re-enactors to convert into WW2 Parachutist helmets (apparently its not easy to drill through the steel to add the alternative chin straps though), but I particularly like mine for the straight out of service look it has.

British Army Wooly Pully

Tonight we are looking at the standard British Army ‘Wooly Pully’ Jumper. This long serving piece of clothing has always been popular with servicemen and is available in a variety of colours for the different services- I wear a dark blue example in the winter with my Royal Navy No4 working dress. The jumper itself was a development from the wartime v necked jumper. Over the years it changed from tan to green, the wool became heavier and ribbed and drill material was added to reinforce the elbows and forearms and the shoulders:

untitledBy the 1960s the design of jumper had settled to more or less what it is today. My example is in the British Army green:

FA3CD974-DAD8-4517-A0EF-680A9E0B1BA2As can be seen the jumper is made of a tight knitted wool, with a round neck and reinforcements on the forearms:

000730CB-B88F-4A34-8030-E06F3CD81E18Reinforcement on the shoulders and shoulder straps to allow insignia and rank to be if needed:

D1A4AADA-2FCE-4514-A3AE-12B1996739F6The cut of the jumper is long and narrow, fitting tightly to the body and going down to just below the waist. The length of the arms is adjusted simply by rolling up the cuffs.

 Inside the collar of the jumper is the manufacturer’s label, showing that this particular jumper was made in 1987 by Remploy:

B001F339-0194-43DD-BA73-C4C0636AC9A8Remploy is a government owned company that provides employment for disabled people. At the time the jumper was made. Remploy had their own factories directly employing disabled people, with many of these working on government and military contracts. Since 2007 the factories have been progressively closed, with the emphasis changing to finding disabled people work in mainstream companies.

 Inside the neck of the jumper is a cord:

7481E819-1321-4EA3-A102-87C8EE7B8C26These were commonly fitted by soldiers to allow the fit of the neck to be adjusted. As the jumpers shrank, the necks also became baggy, leaving the hapless squaddie at the mercy of the RSM on parade. Cords in the neck allowed the neck to be tightened…hiding the shirt so he only had to iron the collar!

 On the arm of this jumper are the stripes of a sergeant below a wreathed ‘AT’:

4F2C070E-5B47-4004-8A0B-3C7A1DAFB2ECThe ‘AT’ shows the original owner of this jumper was trained as an Anti Tank gunner, although it is more likely he used a missile than a traditional anti-tank gun.

 The ‘wooly pully’ has been one of the most popular garments issued to troops in the second half of the Twentieth Century and has been widely copied by foreign armies, the police and private security firms.

1979 Pattern Body Armour

British Body Armour

The British Army was, arguably, rather slow to adopt the widespread use of body armour for troops. One of the earliest theatres where body armour was used on a regular basis was the streets of Northern Ireland during the troubles. The earliest body armour was made in America, however the British Army soon adopted its own covers, adapted for use on the streets of Belfast.imageMy example is typical of that used in the 1980s, being a ‘1979 Pattern Vest Fragmentation’. This was a revised cover for the US M1952A armour that covered the same ballistic core of the earlier body armour. It features rubber pads on each shoulder to prevent a rifle from slipping when brought up into the aim position and pockets on the lower abdomen for easy access to a personal radio system. The addition of pads on both soldiers is not to accommodate left handed firers (left hand firing not being officially permitted in the British Army) but rather to allow a soldier to fire from the cover of a wall to his left or rightimageThe sides of the armour are secured with cords (or in this case a shoelace) which allow the armour to be adjusted; they also allow the armour to be removed quickly if a soldier was injured by cutting the cords with a knife.imageThe use of so many practical design features- the cords, rubber pads and radio pockets indicates the ongoing evolution of armour throughout the period based on operational experience. These changes suggest an input in the design process from those who had to use body armour on a daily basis. Inside is a label detailing the care instructions for the cover:imageThese particular vests are still fairly easy to find and range between £25 and £50 depending on the condition and dealer, however they do seem to be creeping up in price and are becoming increasingly collectible as militaria collectors start looking beyond the two world wars to more recent conflicts.