Category Archives: Reenactment

North West Frontier Impressions

One of the nice things about collecting British kit is that after a certain point, your collection is large enough to allow you to mix and match equipment to make up a large number of different impressions. Tonight I have done that with three new impressions of soldiers serving on the North West Frontier in India in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The North West Frontier was an interesting off shoot of the British military experience and there was an informality of dress when on campaign with a number of unique ways of wearing and carrying uniforms and equipment. These impressions are based heavily around an article that appeared in Military Illustrated Past and Present way back in the late 1980s and written by eminent historian Michael Barthorp. These impressions are not perfect as I am missing certain items from my collection, but hopefully they give an indication of dress on campaign on the frontier.

Gordon Highlander

This Gordon Highlander wears a ‘grey back’ shirt and his kilt with a kilt apron, he is equipped with 1908 pattern webbing, Wolseley helmet and a Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle:imageFrom behind the broad and comfortable shoulder straps of the 08 webbing can easily be seen crossing over just above the belt:imageI am reliably informed that by this period the Gordon Highlanders were wearing full kilt covers rather than just aprons, however as this is all I have, please accept my apologies for this inaccuracy.

British Infantry Man

This infantry man wears the same Wolseley helmet and 08 webbing as the highlander, but wears KD shorts, KD Shirt and has pulled on his jumper as protection against the chilly nights:imageFrom the rear it can be seen that he has set up his 08 large pack in a haversack form with two utility straps to act as shoulder straps:imageAccording to Barthorp the large pack would have held typically spare socks and underwear, trousers, chupplis, eating and shaving utensils, towel, cap-comforter, 48 hours’ rations, mess-tin and groundsheet. Note also the waterbottle carried above the waist on the back of the webbing:imageThis was introduced by the 1st Northamptons in 1936/37 and was soon adopted by many other units on the frontier as it was presumably more comfortable. In this shot of the Ghurkhas manning a Vickers’ Berthier light machine gun on the frontier in 1940, the waterbottle can be clearly seen in this position:IMG_2931 (2)Second Lieutenant, West Yorkshire Regiment

This lieutenant wears the newly introduced 1937 pattern webbing and wears KD Shorts and shirt. This shirt is unusual in having premade holes for a rank pip and a shoulder title, in this case indicating he is a member of the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment. He wears a Bombay Bowler, a much smaller version of the Cawnpore Helmet produced commercially and which became popular with officers in the last years in India. He carries a map case and has a pair of binoculars for observing the hills and passes of the NW Frontier:imageFrom the rear it can be seen that the officer is wearing an aluminium waterbottle, painted green. These were a short lived introduction just prior to WW2 when they were dropped due to the need to conserve aluminium:image

Hopefully these impressions based on an oft overlooked theatre will be of interest and they highlight how kit can be mixed and matched to provide something more interesting than the usual impressions seen at many re-enacting events.

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British Army Uniform Sizing

Battledress blouses and trousers were designed in a bewilderingly large range of sizes for men of different builds. Each uniform then had a size number stamped onto the label sewn into the garment:jacketlabel1or printed on the inside:jacketlabel2to allow something that almost fitted to be chosen in stores when they were issued. Sometimes, but not always, the size number was also printed on its own on the lining of garments- Indian uniforms often have this. Many collectors and re-enactors struggle when it comes to the sizing of these uniforms as they do not follow an obviously logical progression. Often it is a case of finding the two or three sizes that work for you by a process of trial and error. Hopefully the table of sizes included in this post will help collectors and re-enactors find the size they need when searching auction listings or clothes rails at fairs, this list applies for ‘Battledress blouses and trousers, Service dress jackets, trousers and pantaloons and trousers, gymnasium’ (Please click on the picture for a larger, readable version):Sizes

 This list comes from a period stores catalogue, but I have transcribed it for clarity. Sadly this list only covers men’s uniforms; women’s uniform had its own sizing system to take into account the different shape of male and female bodies. If anyone has a list of female sizes please let me know and I will add it to the post for reference.

Product Review- WPG D-Shaped Mess Tin

Whilst I am primarily a collector these days, I do still re-enact a few times a year. As such I occasionally buy reproduction kit from the various suppliers, either in place of very rare items or to use for safety reasons where it would be unwise to use an original item. I have just taken delivery of What price Glory’s D-Shaped mess tin and tonight we are going to look at how it stacks up against an original and in comparison to other replicas on the market.

 What Price Glory (WPG) are an American company, but they offer a wide range of WW1 and WW2 British kit, and have a distribution hub in the United Arab Emirates, so items normally reach the UK within a couple of weeks. I recently ordered a set of mess tins from them, whilst I own an original set I wouldn’t want to risk eating out of them. The original tinning is very worn and they were originally made with lead based solder, so for re-enacting a reproduction set is a far safer option. The mess tins are the later pattern, without an inner tray, and come with a canvas messtin cover:FullSizeRender8

Shape

 Overall the shape of the tins are very good, as can be seen from above they closely mirror the originals:FullSizeRender6Looking face on, they are fractionally larger than my original tin, but the originals were made over a span of 150 years and by numerous companies so there is a lot of variation anyway:FullSizeRender7As can be seen the WPG tin has a little kink in the handle that allows the can to be hung on a stick over a fire, my original does not, but again this is not unusual.

 Fittings

The mess tins have a number of fittings secured to them for their handles. Looking first at the handles on the lid, there is a clear difference between the angle of the handle, the WPG example is a 90˚ to the tin, whilst the original is at a much steeper angle:FullSizeRender5Also the handle on the WPG is much more crudely riveted on than the original:FullSizeRender4Both of these things are minor points however, and the design of this handle is very similar to the original. Turning to the base the biggest problem with the tin becomes apparent. The quality of the handle fitting is decidedly crude:FullSizeRender2A comparison shows the original to have a much finer casting:FullSizeRender1The fitting of the handle here is, for me, the weakest part of the reproduction, however it is not a major issue and I imagine that with use the whole tin would tone down in colour and get a more realistic patina. The lid is a tight fit and a bit of a struggle to get off, but hopefully this will ease up with use.

 Cover

 As has been seen above, the WPG mess tin comes with its own cover. This is a nice touch as every other reproduction requires you to buy one separately. The material for the cover seems a bit dark and heavy, however again a few seasons of use would probably tone it down nicely. Unfortunately the button hole on the front has not been sewn properly and after using it twice the stitching came undone on mine. This might be an isolated incident, but was disappointing.

 Other Reproductions

 As far as I am aware the only other two companies offering a reproduction D Shaped mess tin are Soldier of Fortune (SOF) and Military History Workshop (MHW). As MHW have been out of stock for months now, I will concentrate on the SOF tin, which I had the dubious pleasure of seeing in person on their stall at the Victory Show last year. Firstly the SOF tin does have the inner frying pan tray, which the WPG example does not. In terms of shape there is not much between them, however the un-resolvable problem with the SOF tin is the material it is made out of. It appeared to be made out of some highly patterned steel, reminiscent of a galvanised bucket. Both the original and WPG’s example are made from traditional flat metal, without this pattern on. For this reason, and the included cover, I can only recommend people buy the WPG example. It is not perfect, but in my opinion the problems are very minor and it is the best on the market at the moment.

 The tin is currently out of stock, but I imagine it will soon be back. It is listed at $37, which is about £24.30. It is listed here.

WW1 Balaclava

Original knitted comforts from WW1 do not survive outside museum collections, so to add an example of these ubiquitous garments to a private collection involves having a reproduction made. Luckily there are sources for the original knitting patterns and if you can find a skilled knitter you can have a perfect replica. I am very lucky in that my mother is an exceptional knitter so I gave her a copy of this knitting pattern:

5B8756B1-F958-4609-AF6D-E805344E1F73And a short while later I received the finished article.

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Knitted comforts were incredibly important in both wars as it was impossible for the War Office to supply sufficient quantities of warm clothing to all troops. When one considers that the War Office supplied 137, 324, 141 pairs of socks over the period of the Great War and this only equated to three pairs per man every six months the size of the problem becomes apparent. This balaclava differs from modern examples in having a long ‘bib’ front and back:

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This allows a nice seal round the neck keeping out any cold air when it’s worn with a woollen uniform:

491D67BA-346D-45B3-A3D3-95F65F65F383This balaclava is actually very warm and practical and I will be passing other knitting patterns to my mum to make up further comforts to go with my WW1 kit. I have been asked to let you know that my mum is wiling to make these balaclavas to order for anyone who wants their own ( who wouldn’t?). She is asking £30 for the balaclava and other comforts can be knitted to order. If you are interested please drop me an email at edward1302@hotmail.com and I will provide further details.

 

 

Victory Show

Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend Victory Show for the first time. The Victory Show is situated in Cosby, Leicestershire and is one of the largest WW2 events in the UK. I went with high hopes and wasn’t disappointed. Spread out over several large fields and woodlands, the site is impressive in its scale, however the nice thing is that groups can dig in and make realistic trenches and emplacements. I spent the day with the East Yorkshire Regiment Living History Group, a group I have been with for a number of years. We had two trenches and a mortar pit dug out:

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The main arena was used for a large set piece battle, based (apparently) on the Falaise Gap. It’s hard to understand how effective one of these battles is when you are a part of it. However even in the midst of everything it was clear this was an impressive display- how often do you get to play with a Sherman Tank:

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You can just see my back in the photo above, second from left, possibly the best view of me…

As well as the displays and battle there was an impressive selection of traders ( I will post my finds later), vehicles, remote controlled and real aircraft and entertainment for the whole family. I found the Victory Show one of the best I’ve been to in a long time- I just wish I could have spent a bit longer as I didn’t get to see half of what was on offer!