Possibly the most important piece of equipment for a soldier is his spoon! World War one era military issue spoons are quite distinctive and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully marked example that has seen at least three users. My thanks go to Taff Gillingham for his help in filling in some of the blanks with this object. This spoon is particularly large, equivalent to a modern tablespoon, and has what is known as a ‘fiddle back’:This pattern of spoon was introduced in 1894 under pattern 3910/1894 and is made of cupronickel. It was to remain in service throughout the Great War, although it was supplemented by a new pattern in 1917 that more closely resembles the ‘teardrop’ handle of today. It is common to find one edge of the spoon sharpened and ground down, as in this example:This made it easier to get the spoon into every part of a D-Shaped mess tin and acted as a simple knife for cutting up food with. Soldiers tended to discard knives and forks and just carry a spoon, often to be seen tucked into their puttees:Veterans recalled that in the trenches the preferred method of cleaning a spoon after use was to push it into the ground two or three times until it was clean! Having said that if the mud was particularly thick then the spoon was often carried in the breast pocket for ease of access. This example belonged to various members of the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment as witnessed by the service numbers stamped into the front of the fiddle back:Further numbers are to be seen on the back, these are different and its seems this spoon went through the hands of at least three different men:Whilst this is unusual, it was not unheard of as kit tended to get recycled and reused. This spoon was a lucky find on eBay for 99p and is definitely a favourite of mine. It will be going into my wash roll with my WW1 kit and may well see service again!
My thanks go to Rob Barnes, who has very kindly given me tonight’s object. A small folding shaving mirror given out by the Indian Red Cross:This mirror is made of heavy duty cardboard covered in a printed paper, it opens out to reveal the mirror:And this can then be folded so it becomes free standing to allow you to shave with it:The folded mirror is only about 3”x2” and would easily have fitted into the soldier’s wash roll. The Indian Red Cross had been founded in 1920 and supported humanitarian aid to Indian soldiers both during their service time and once they had been made prisoners of war. The Indian Red Cross is still functioning today and it’s official role, outlined in the post war period is:
(1) Aid to the sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union in accordance with the terms and spirit of the Geneva Conventions of 12th August, 1949 and discharge of other obligations devolving upon the Society under the Conventions as the recognized auxiliary of the Armed Forces Medical Services.
(2) Aid to the demobilized sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union.
(3) Maternity and Child Welfare.
(4) Junior Red Cross
(5) Nursing and ambulance work.
(6) Provision of relief for the mitigation of suffering caused by epidemics, earthquakes, famines, floods and other disasters, whether in India or outside.
(7) The establishment and maintenance of peace among all nations in accordance with the decisions of the International Red Cross Organization.
(8) Work parties to provide comforts and necessary garments, etc., for hospitals and health institutions.
(9) The expenses of management of the Society and its branches and affiliated societies and bodies.
(10) The representation of the Society on or at International or other Committees formed for furthering objects similar to those of the Society.
(11) The improvement of health, prevention of disease and mitigation of suffering and such other cognate objects as may be approved by the Society from time to time.
One of the major initiatives the Indian Red Cross was involved with was preparing care packages for troops captured by the Japanese, these parcels contained:
I have something of a reputation for buying odd things for my collection, therefore I didn’t get too many odd looks from the market stall owner who sold me tonight’s object! Sunlight soap was invented in 1884 and unlike previous soaps based on tallow products, Sunlight used glycerine and vegetable oils such as palm oil. It was also the first commercial soap to come pre-packaged in little bars, rather than one big block the grocer cut pieces from. The soap was used for both laundry and as a general soap, this advert shows it being advertised for use in the trenches during WW1:My bar is, we think, a little later and probably dates form the Second World War. It has the name ‘Sunlight’ impressed in one side, with a sun burst style of design:And on the rear is the Royal coat of arms and the words ‘by appointment soapmakers, Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight Limited’:The Army Manual of Hygiene and Sanitation, 1934 sets out the military’s view on cleanliness of its men:
The daily round of life causes many impurities to be deposited on the surface of the body and these impurities must be removed if the body is to be kept healthy. The skin requires frequent cleansing not only to remove visible dirt, but also the salt, grease and dried sweat poured out from the glands of the skin, which otherwise will become clogged. Daily washing should be practised and special attention given to the armpits, crutch, between the buttocks, and the feet, especially between the toes. A hot bath should be taken at least once a week.
Cleanliness of the hands and fingernails is most necessary especially in persons handling food. The hands should always be washed after visits to the latrines and before meals.
Whilst it is likely my bar of soap was never actually used by someone in the military, it is typical of the many millions that were. Soap was considered a ‘necessary’ and so was purchased by troops out of their own money- therefore many different civilian soaps would have been used and many no doubt chose Sunlight Soap. This bar will make a great pack filler for my WW2 equipment and is a rare survivor- these bars were just used and so are quite uncommon today.
Only a short post tonight, but I hope it still proves interesting. Earlier in the year we looked at a lovely RAF fork, with a full crest on the handle here. Whilst this design was fine for a small peacetime force, a simpler and cheaper design was need once the Second World War broke out and tonight we have an example of a wartime Air Ministry spoon:As can be seen from the front the spoon is entirely plain and ordinary looking, turning it over we can see that it is again plain apart from the markings at one end of the handle:In close up we can see that the spoon is marked with a date (1941) manufacturer’s initials (LH), metal type (NS- Nickel Silver) and the ‘AM’ and crown mark for the Air Ministry:As with the army /|\ marked cutlery spoons and forks are available, whilst knives are much harder to find.
Despite the widespread use of mobile phones in today’s society these are not always of much use to servicemen and women on deployment. Whilst there are times when they are out of range of suitable satellites to be able to use these devices, more often for operational security reasons they are prohibited. The military however recognise the important role contacting loved ones plays so telephone and internet services are usually available in theatre. Since 2001 these have been provided by Paradigm Services, since rebranded WelComE. Call provision is provided in two parts, a ‘Welfare’ part that is given free to all troops weekly and the ability to buy extra coverage from the NAAFI. These days a lot of this is done electronically, but in the early days phone cards were provided with unique numbers on the rear, much like early mobile phone top ups. Tonight we are looking at a pair of cards which I believe date to the early days of the War on Terror in the early 2000s. Firstly we have the ‘Welfare’ card given free to all troops. This is a purple card and provided twenty minutes of cover:On the rear are instructions for use and the card clearly describes itself as ‘Disposable Welfare Card’:The second card is blue and is a ‘Private Card’ bought by the serviceman to provide extra minutes. In this case it is for £10:Again instructions are listed on the rear:The following instructions on using these cards come from the WelComE website and it is interesting to note that the Welfare side of a serviceman or servicewoman’s account has been increased to thirty minutes now:
The WelComE Account is divided into two sections; Welfare and Private.
- The Welfare side of your account is automatically credited with 30 minutes of publically funded telephone calls each Sunday evening, with any unused welfare minutes carried forward until the end of your current tour.
- The Private side is credited and controlled by yourself. Call time can be increased by topping up via the WCCC, the Online Account Manager or Automated Top-Up System.
The service provided was not perfect- troops in bases in theatre were asked not to surf the web but to just use their access for social media and keeping in touch with friends and family- presumably to prevent band width overload. Despite this the troops seem to have appreciated the vast improvement in communication with loved ones once the company took over.
One of the easiest and cheapest bits of Second World War personal kit to find is the humble boot brush. These brushes were produced in huge quantities as every soldier had to have a set. On being demobbed many were kept and taken home as they were perfectly serviceable in civilian life. The quality of manufacture has ensured many have survived, in use, to the present day. I always have a rummage in boxes of shoe brushes in case First or Second World War examples crop up, this pair costing me the princely sum of 25p each. I looked back over the various posts on this blog and was surprised to discover I had not actually looked in detail at army boot brushes so tonight we are rectifying that situation. This pair are both typical of army manufacture with wooden backs and horsehair bristles:The slightly smaller of the pair is /|\ marked and dates from 1938:It was made by Briton Brushes, and the opposite side confirms that it is made of genuine horsehair:The top of the brush has the faint marks of its original owner’s service number:The second brush is also made by Briton Brushes, note however the different style of manufacturer’s mark stamped on the wood:This one is dated 1940 and again has the /|\ mark:The Briton Brush Company was formed in 1920 by the merger of D Matthew & Son and S D Page & Sons and the company set up a factory in Norwich for machine produced brushes and a factory in London for hand made examples in 1933 the manufacture was consolidated in the most up to date brush making factory in the country at Wymondham works in Norwich. Much of the special machinery for brush-making was designed and made in the engineering workshops on site. The factory took in English trees and other raw materials and produced complete and finished brushware. The company provided many amenities for the welfare and comfort of the men and women who worked in the factory, including a canteen, playing fields and a housing estate. The company closed in 1985 and the factory pulled down for a housing estate. This advert for the company dates to April 1935:Examples of boot brushes can be found with stamps for the army, such as these, the Air Ministry and the Admiralty although the latter two are more uncommon. I am not sure how many boot brushes I have now, but they are normally beautifully made and very cheap so I just seem to keep picking them up.
Over the lifetime of this blog we have looked at various different wartime designs of underpants, however tonight we have our first pair of post war underwear:These army issue underpants indicate a major change from the wartime ones we have looked at before- they have an elasticated waist!During the war rubber had been in short supply so elastic was eliminated form clothing wherever possible and less effective cloth ties substituted instead. With peace the design could be revised to allow the use of an elastic waist band. The use of a button fly though has been eliminated, with just an unfastened opening instead:These pants were made in 1955 by GR Bodycote Ltd and have the /|\ mark:GR Bodycote was a small hosiery firm founded in 1923 in Hinkley, Leicestershire. The company flourished for many years, diversifying into different products as the demand for home produced textiles declined. It sold off and shut its underwear business in 1997 and moved into plastics.
Ray Hoggart recalled that the army issue underpants were not popular:
The rest of the day was given to informing us how to get the pile of creased jumble sale goods we had acquired to look like a uniform and of course number everything you owned with your army number, my last four were 7155 and somehow my boots were stamped 7511. I had visions of being wounded in action and being given the wrong name! Of course in adversity someone always finds something to have a laugh at, this was of course two pairs of “underpants, winter, soldiers for the use of”. At 21, and being at the height of fashion these knee length objects were like something out of a Brian Rix farce and of course no-one was ever going to wear them!!
National servicemen were not guaranteed to get a pair that fitted either as one RAF recruit found:
‘There we go, airman,’ he said, banging the block onto an ink pad and stamped it on top of my form – there was my service number, writ large – and he’d called me airman.
The queue moved forward and I reached the first station on the longest counter I ever saw.
‘Good morning,’ I said passing over my form and printer’s block.
‘Drawers, cotton cellular, three sets,’ the store-man chanted, banging my block on an ink pad then stamping my service number – Bang! Bang! Bang! – across the backside of three pairs of underpants. The label on the pants read, ‘extra large’, and as I weighed 130 pounds, I thought I should mention the mismatch.
And so it continued.