Category Archives: Personal Kit

War Department Marked Safety Razor

It is odd that it has taken me nearly ten years of collecting to finally add a British Army marked razor to my collection. I must confess I have not yet found one ‘in the wild’ and this example came from eBay and cost rather more than I would normally pay, but it fills an important gap in my personal kit collection:imageThis safety razor has never been issued and came in its original paper packet from the store:imageThe razor itself breaks down into three parts, the handle unscrews and the top piece splits into two pieces:imageThe top cover of the razor is marked with the /|\ acceptance mark, a date of 1945 and a maker’s name of A.S & Co:imageI believe this stands for the ‘Autostrop Razor Company’. This was a London company and this advert for a different design of razor dates to 1919:Im1919DMYBk-AutoAlthough the US had issued safety razors in World War One, and many British troops had privately purchased them, the British Army still officially issued cut throat razors until 1926 when a contract was placed with the Gillette Company Ltd to replace these with safety razors. This created debate in the Houses of Commons:

Mr. STORRY DEANS (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is the policy of his Department to contract with manufacturers and not with merchants or agents for the supply of goods for the use of the Army; whether he is aware that the Gillette Company Limited, to whom a contract for safety razors has been given, is not a manufacturing company; that it does not own or work either the factory where the razors are made or the factory where the blades are made; whether he is aware that both these factories are owned by an American company; and what is the reason for departing from the usual practice of the Department in the case of this contract?

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans) The normal practice of the Department is to place contracts only with manufacturers, but where the manufacturer has a sole selling agent we are perforce obliged to contract with the selling agent if we wish to purchase the goods. The razor-holders are to be made at Slough, and the blades in Canada.

Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to a letter from the managing director of the Auto-Strop Safety Razor Company which appeared in the “Times” of 18th October; and whether it is a fact that the offer of that company would have provided for Army requirements of safety razors “without a penny of expense to the British Treasury”?

Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS Yes, Sir, my attention has been drawn to the letter. It is, of course, not customary to disclose tenders, but since the letter would give an entirely false impression, I think it right to say that, had the offer been accepted, it would have meant a cash payment of some 60 per cent. in excess of that under the existing contract.

Sir A. KNOX Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether that price includes the expense of the strops as well?

Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS I believe it includes some of the strops, but the rest would have had to be paid for extra.

The 1943 British Army Clothing Regulations indicate that a single safety razor was issued to each man at the start of his time in the army, but then was maintained form his own funds, with replacement blades and new razors being bought form the NAAFI rather than being issued by the military. The blades used in these razors were made of carbon steel rather than the stainless steel used in modern blades and this resulted in them rusting easily, so care had to be taken to clean and dry blades after use.

This little safety razor is definitely on the cheaper end of the scale, a contemporary Ever Ready example I have been using up to this point in my wash roll is far better made, however this is to be expected when military contracts are involved! For a review of the shaving capabilities of this little razor head over to the blog’s Facebook page for more information.image

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Ear Plugs

Today ear protection is commonplace in the military, but during the Second World War ear plugs were not general issue items. Some units, especially those exposed to loud noise such as artillery, were issued sets of ear plugs and it is a pair of those we are looking at tonight:imageThese plugs are made from a malleable rubber, that has now hardened, with a conical hollow plug:imageUnfortunately one of the plugs has become distorted with age and hardened with a distinct ‘squish’ to one side- however as I won’t be wearing them it’s not a major problem. The plugs are attached together with a piece of string, tied over a groove on the end of each one:imageThe string made it marginally harder to lose the ear plugs… however being small items I imagine they were easily misplaced. Len Taylor was a gunner and recalls the dangers of not wearing ear plugs whilst manning the guns:

One of the first things I remember about the Blitz was arriving on the outskirts of London, where we took over a gun site with four 3” Naval Guns and a Command Post. We thought these guns looked rather small, as we had done all of our training on much larger guns and had got familiar with the blast, so when we got called out on the same afternoon to intercept three Stuka Bombers, we manned the guns without our ear plugs.

The Bombers attacked the factories we were guarding, so we opened up with our ‘small’ guns but soon realised our mistake when our ears were badly punished. We had not realised that the smaller the shell in artillery the worse the crack of sound. As the guns get larger the sound from them develops from a crack which really hurts your ears to a sound more like a roll of thunder which is not so painful. We were very careful to wear our earplugs after that lesson.

In this photograph of anti-aircraft gunners, the ear plugs can just be seen as black dots on their ears:imageAs could be expected for such small and easily lost items, ear plugs are not common finds today and this pair, despite some perishing to one, are in pretty good condition and make a nice little addition to the collection.

Royal Navy Boot Brush

One item of militaria that regularly comes up on Huddersfield Market are army boot brushes, indeed they are so common I have restricted myself to pre-war examples and not paying more than a pound each for them. By contrast Air Ministry and Admiralty marked brushes are far rarer and I was very pleased to finally add a Royal Navy example to my collection a couple of weeks ago for the princely sum of 50p:imageUnlike army brushes which are marked with a /|\ stamp, Royal Navy brushes have ‘ADMY’ stamped into them:imageThis particular brush is dated either 1922 or 1923, but the stamp is very indistinct and I cannot make out the last digit very easily:imageThe original owner has marked it up with his surname ‘Hutchinson’:imageOne distinguishing feature of these early brushes is they often have a number of small brass nails visible on the back:imageRoyal Navy ratings were issued two boot brushes and were required to mark them with their name to indicate who they belonged to. On board ship, sailors normally kept their boot brushes in their ‘ditty’ box along with other small ‘necessaries’ and personal items. These brushes were remarkable well made, hence their survival to the present day. One sailor who joined in the 1950s remarks, The boot brushes issued, with your name stamped upon must be strong, mine are still in service, having seen me through a police career of daily polishing after 12 years RN service.

Another sailor who was serving in the 1960s recalls using boot brushes to scrub the deck of his accommodation block during initial training. In this kit layout the brushes can be seen front and centre:15894770_10154830912618428_9167821151663050466_n

WW1 Regimentally Marked Spoon

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!

Indian Red Cross Folding Mirror

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:imageThis mirror is made of heavy duty cardboard covered in a printed paper, it opens out to reveal the mirror:imageAnd this can then be folded so it becomes free standing to allow you to shave with it:imageThe 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.

During World War Two they published this leaflet explaining their work and encouraging contributions:010

009It was also published in Urdu:006005And Hindi:008007

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:

  • 8 ounces fruit in syrup
  • 16 ounces lentils
  • 2 ounces toilet soap
  • 16 ounces flour
  • 8 biscuits
  • 8 ounces margarine
  • 12 ounces Nestle’s Milk
  • 14 ounces rice
  • 16 ounces pilchards
  • 2 ounces curry powder
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 1 ounce dried eggs
  • 2 ounces tea
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 4 ounces chocolate

Sunlight Soap Bar

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 WW1:800px-sunlight_soap_ww_1_adMy 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:1bAnd on the rear is the Royal coat of arms and the words ‘by appointment soapmakers, Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight Limited’:1aThe 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.

Air Ministry Marked Spoon

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:imageAs 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:imageIn 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:imageAs with the army /|\ marked cutlery spoons and forks are available, whilst knives are much harder to find.