A few weeks ago we looked at a commemorative mug from HMS Ark Royal. At the same time I picked that up, I also bought this example commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of HMS Seahawk at Culdrose in Cornwall:The mug depicts the ship’s badge along with the dates 1947 and 1997:RNAS Culdrose, also known as HMS Seahawk was and indeed still is one of the biggest employers in this part of Cornwall and has an essential part to play in the local economy, even down to such mundane things as getting the orders to produce these commemorative mugs:The Golden Jubilee celebrations were clearly a source of great pride to the base and the local area, the March 1997 issue of the Navy News reported:
RN Air Station Culdrose is planning a host of events to celebrate its Golden Jubilee this year.
HMS Seahawk, to use its other name, opened on April 17 1947, when a Fairey Firefly made the first official landing.
Today the air station is the largest helicopter base in Western Europe, but plans are afoot to capture the spirit of its early days.
On April 17th an exhibition of historic photographs will be opened by the Commanding Officer, Commodore Simon Thornewill, followed by a fly past by Culdrose’s modern aircraft.
On the same day, a Buccaneer, will be flown into the air station by a Chinook helicopter where it will remain on display.
And on July 25 a special ‘veteran’s day’ will be held for all ex-Seahawk personnel and their families when more than a dozen historic aircraft will be on display.
Two of the veterans who visited on that day in 1997 were twins Malcolme and Alf Jones who had been the two escorts for the colour on the initial parade in 1950 when the base was given the freedom of the old Helston Borough nearby:The base has now been open for over seventy years and I am sure big plans will be made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening in a few years’ time- no doubt commemorative mugs will again be produced for that milestone!
Although ear plugs had been issued on a limited basis in the Second World War, it is only in recent times that the military have given serious thought to protecting the hearing of their men and women. Today it is a requirement of any range work that hearing protection is worn and although the government invested in expensive custom protection for soldiers on active service, most of the time simple hearing defenders are issued for training purposes:The hearing defenders are often nicknamed ‘hearing duffs’ by soldiers and consist of two large plastic ‘ear muffs’, joined by a central sprung head band:Pushing the cups up allows the hearing defenders to fold down into a small protected unit when not being worn:The natural springiness of the head band is also useful when they are taken off, they can easily clip round the soldier’s leg so they are out of the way but won’t get lost, other British army examples can be found that do not fold down like these, but this pattern seems to be the most common. The inside of the ear cups have a cushioned foam ring covered in vinyl to seal against the wearer’s ears and further foam on the inner part:This absorbs much of the sound and helps protect the wearer from the supersonic crack of a discharging round. The outside of the ear cup has a gold transfer with the /|\ mark and an NSN number, along with a manufacture date of 2011:As can be seen these hearing defenders were manufactured by Peltor and have the model number H61FA. This model is what is known as a passive set of defenders, in other words it relies on padding to muffle sound. An active hearing defender uses electronics to filter out the noise. The ear defenders are designed to be able to be worn underneath a helmet, however from my own experience I can confirm that this is often uncomfortable and awkward for any length of time as the fit can be very tight, indeed it is not uncommon for troops to replace their hearing defenders with smaller, lighter civilian models and as long as they are rated to the same minimum safety levels this is seen as perfectly acceptable in most instances.
When the SA80 rifle was introduced a whole new calibre of cartridge entered British service, the 5.56mm NATO round. This round had been produced as prototype ammunition for at least five years when the SA80 was rolled out in 1985 but large scale British manufacture had not yet started so initial ammunition had to be sourced from overseas. The first British produced rounds began to be manufactured in 1984 but it took time for production to ramp up. The new cartridge was produced at the factories at Radway Green and was of a conventional design with a brass casing:Like all modern ammunition this round is rimless and has an extractor groove cut into the base:The bullet itself weighs 4.0 grams and is projected using 1.52 grams of propellant, either NNN (cut tubular) or later nitrocellulose (cut tubular):This particular round was produced in 1993 by Radway Green, as can be seen but the headstamp:I suspect that this inert round has actually been assembled from a fired tracer round, rather than a true ball cartridge as the ball rounds had the designation L2A1 and L2A2 when in service and this is marked as L1A1.
When the new ammunition was issued, it warranted a special explanation in the publicity material for the new SA80 rifle:
The ammunition in the new standard 5.56mm calibre meets the performance requirements of both the UK and NATO. In meeting operational requirements it is fully effective up to a range of 1000 metres as generally required in infantry operations. To meet the stringent standards of the UK ordnance Board all rounds are manufactured under high quality control conditions. A variety of natures are available, i.e. Ball, Tracer, Blank Drill and Low Power Training.
An important feature of the ammunition is that it is less than half the weight of the alternative standard NATO 7.62mm ammunition. This enables more rounds to be carried by an infantryman thereby extending logistic capability and operational effectiveness.
The relative merits of 5.56mm versus 7.6nmm ammunition have been debated since the introduction of the smaller calibre. The 5.56mm round is lighter and easier to fire more accurately, but lacks the range and power of a 7.62mm which has remained in service for the GPMG so the army has ended up with two calibres of ammunition. It was felt most combat would be at short range so the lower power would not be an issue and generally this has proved to be the case, however in Afghanistan troops found themselves up against insurgents equipped with old fashioned rifles who could engage targets from well outside the range of the British infantryman’s weapon. As is so often the case, there is no perfect cartridge size and there are good arguments on both sides of the debate, what is clear is that despite research into intermediate cartridges the 5.56mm calibre is here to stay in the short to medium term.
It is common practice for officer and senior rate’s messes to have a selection of commemorative items to give away as gifts to eminent visitors to their establishments. In a naval setting these can take the form of the ship’s badge on a presentation plinth with a commemorative plaque or for less distinguished guests a mug with the ship’s badge on:This example was given out by members of the Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers’ Mess on HMS Ark Royal:The original printers mark is on the base of the mug:This would have been part of a small privately purchased run bought out of mess funds, rather than having been procured through official channels. A CPO and WO’s Mess has strict rules of membership, set out in Queen’s Regulations:
- Warrant Officers’ and Senior Rates’, and Senior Non Commissioned Officers Messes 1. Every Warrant Officer and Chief Petty Officer is to be a member of a Warrant Officers’ and Chief Petty Officers’ mess or combined Senior Rates’ mess at their place of duty, where such a mess is available. Every Petty Officer is to be a member of a Petty Officers’ mess or combined Senior Rates’ mess at their place of duty, where such a mess is available. In exceptional circumstances Commanding Officers have discretion to exempt WO’s CPO’s and PO’s from mess membership or to allow them to hold membership at an alternative mess, should use of the mess be proved to be impracticable for an individual. Similarly, when a WO, CPO or PO is accommodated in a ship or establishment different from his/her place of duty, and messes exist at both places, consideration should be given to waiving or reducing subscriptions depending on the circumstances, so that the total amount paid by the rating is not excessive. 2. All mess members are to pay monthly mess subscriptions as determined by the mess committee and as stated in the mess rules. When WOs, CPOs and POs are temporarily detached from their normal place of duty, they will become temporary or honorary members of their respective messes at that temporary place of duty. Temporary members are those who are detached from their parent unit for periods of more than 14 days and are to pay subscriptions at their temporary place of duty. For periods up to 14 days, honorary membership is to be granted, with mess subscriptions being paid at the normal place of duty 3. Honorary mess members may be subject to a temporary mess fee charge at their temporary messes and in such circumstance they should expect to pay the same pro rata daily subscription as a full mess member.
Judging by the style of the mug and the printing, I suspect this example was manufactured in the 1980s or 1990s so this would have been the Invincible class carrier:I have been unable to find a picture of the CPO’s and WO’s Mess on HMS Ark Royal, but this is their Mess on the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Edinburgh which was of the same vintage as Ark Royal and gives a flavour of what the mess would have looked like:
The 37 pattern webbing set is very much associated with the Second World War, however its story does not end there and it was to see front line service for another two decades and continue being used by reservists and cadets for over forty years. Some changes were made to post war production, such as the fitting of quick release tabs to the ammunition pouches, however one of the most obvious changes was the move from brass to blackened fittings on the webbing. Tonight we are looking at an example of the water bottle carrier dating from the 1950s:Although the sleeve carrier had been produced during the war to save manufacturing costs, once in peacetime the skeleton design of carrier resumed production, being made up of criss-crossing strips of webbing:It might be helpful at this point to remind ourselves of the official description from the fitting instructions:
Waterbottle Carrier- Consists of a framework with tabs at the top fitted with a snap fastener for securing the bottle, and a buckle each side for attachment to the ends of the braces (when desired).
In design then the carrier matches pre-war production. The difference comes with the buckles which instead of being made of brass are made of bonderised steel which give them a distinctive matt-black finish:Bonderisation is a chemical process where steel is passed through a phosphate solution, this leaves a layer of crystalline zinc phosphate on the surface of the metal that prevents corrosion and gives the metal its dull black finish. This has the advantage of being far cheaper than the old brass fittings, but not rusting like a pure steel buckle would. Clearly the finish was only suitable for flat stampings such as buckles as the press stud on the top of the carrier is made of brass, but enamelled black:The webbing with a blackened finish was given a special stores code to distinguish it from the older webbing, either CN/B/XXXX or CN/XXXX/B. The webbing code is stamped on the inside of the water bottle carrier in black ink:Post war 37 pattern webbing is largely ignored by collectors as it is unsuitable for World War Two impressions and collectors seem to have a natural bias towards that conflict. Consequently post war 37 pattern webbing with black fittings is considerably cheaper than webbing with brass fittings and is usually found in near-mint condition. Going forward I would quite like to build up a set of this bonderised webbing and hopefully I can bring you more components as I acquire them.
The British Army has recognised the need to protect troops from insect bites in the field, especially in tropical areas where malaria is rife. A number of different mosquito nets designed to be worn over the head have been issued over the years and tonight we are looking at the most modern design of these:This net is made of a nylon mesh, in olive green. Rather than being a simple bag, a round piece is sewn into the crown to give it a little more structure and fit better over a head and under a cap:An elasticated drawstring is provided to allow the net to be closed off around the neck and prevent insects from flying up underneath it:These nets are issued in small polythene bags from the manufacturers:These have a sticky label with a stores barcode and details of who made them:Coneen Defence Ltd is a Northern Irish company specialising in the manufacture of military uniforms and accessories and they have been supplying the MoD for over fifteen years, with manufacturing bases in India, Bangladesh and China. Their advertising material describes their company as:
Cooneen Defence provides the clothing needs of military and police personnel across the world both combat, patrol and operational garments.
Military and Police Authorities demand clothing solutions which will perform in the most challenging environments. With more than 15 years’ experience in providing UK Ministry of Defence with the vast majority of their clothing requirements, from cargo trousers to berets, parade wear, to medical wear, flights suits to marine coveralls, Cooneen have an institutional wealth of experience and knowledge in the design, manufacture and supply of high volume garments to authorities with a remit to protect the public and national interests.
Although the name of the contractor appears on the outer label, it is not mentioned on the label sewn into the net, instead there is just a contract number:The insect head net is one of the standard pieces of equipment a soldier would expect to receive when deploying in the so called ‘black bag’ of essential equipment. The accompanying Army pamphlet has this, admittedly brief, information on the net:
It has been a while since we looked at any post-war Canadian army uniforms and equipment. Last year we took a detailed study of the Canadian 64 pattern here, one of the defining features of this set was the lack of an ammunition pouch, troops carrying magazines in the pockets of their jackets. It is one of these jackets we are looking at tonight:Officially these are known as ‘Coat, Combat, Mk II’ and were a modification of a design of jacket introduced in 1964. This design of uniform was a major departure for the Canadian Army and was the first uniform that was designed to not be ironed or starched. Bright insignia was replaced with subdued rank and name badges and it was forbidden to dry clean or iron the uniform due to the nylon reinforcements. The Mk I uniform carried four magazines for the C1 rifle, the Mk II though had provision for 6 magazines and had a waist drawstring added.
Two angled pockets are fitted to the chest:These are reinforced with nylon and can each hold a C1 rifle magazine:Two further, larger pockets are sewn onto the skirts of the combat coat:These each have internal nylon pockets as well:Two magazines can be carried in each large pocket, although the fit is extremely tight on this particular coat:Please note that I am using SLR magazines rather than C1 magazines as I do not have the latter so this might explain why they are not a perfect fit! All the fastenings on the combat coat are secured using buttons that themselves are sewn on with tapes rather than thread:It is interesting to note that this feature was in use by the Canadians thirty years before the British adopted it in the CS95 series of clothing! This combat coat has epaulettes on the shoulders for rank insignia:However as it was worn by a sergeant his rank is sewn to the sleeves. The rank is in subdued green, but has a rather nice embroidered Canadian maple leaf above it:The original owner’s name is embroidered on a cotton tape sewn to the chest:Sadly the original label for this combat coat is completely unreadable, however this design was produced between 1969 and 1982 so it is most likely from the 1970s. Although very popular, this garment had one fundamental weakness. It was made of a 50% cotton 50% nylon blend so it was not flame retardant and could catch fire easily. It also had a tendency to pick up oil stains that were very hard to shift and if bleached went an interesting pink colour! Despite these flaws, the combat uniform was much liked by troops and saw service for many years, indeed it was still used into the 2000s by cadets who, for political reasons, were not issued Cadpat uniforms for field exercises.