Category Archives: Royal Air Force

Air Ministry Boot Brush

Boot brushes have appeared many times over the years of this blog and the army marked examples are very common, regularly examples dating back as far as the First World War turn up for under £1 each. Those stamped up for naval or Air Force use are much scarcer, but I have managed to pick up a pair of Admiralty marked examples over the last few years. Until recently however a wartime dated RAF example eluded me. It was therefore fantastic to find this example a few weeks back for just 50p:imageThe brush is typical of all boot brushes, with a wooden back and bristles glued in small clumps into holes drilled into one side:imageThe bristles are made of hair, like nearly all brushes manufactured before the widespread use of nylon, and this is stamped into the wood along one side of the brush:imageThat this is an RAF brush is clearly indicated by an AM and crown mark indicating the Air Ministry and the date of 1941:image‘Kent’ is the name of the manufacturer and indicates that this brush was produced by GB Kent & Sons Ltd. This firm is still trading today and their website gives some history:

G B Kent & Sons Ltd, manufacturers of brushes since the eighteenth century, is one of the oldest established companies in Great Britain.

Kent Brushes was founded in 1777 by William Kent in the reign of George III. We hold a pre-eminent place in the history of brush making, with an unbroken record of excellence in the quality of our production, which has been recognised by the granting of Royal Warrants for nine reigns.

The Kent family continued to run the company for six generations until 1932 when the last of the three Kent brothers passed away. Then Mr Eric L.H Cosby, owner of Cosby Brushes Ltd, entered into an association with G.B Kent & Sons. This started a new chapter in Kent’s long history, and since then, Kent Brushes has been under the creative and dynamic direction of the Cosby family.

The only other marks on the brush is an RAF type stores code marked in minuscule type into the same side as the AM mark:imageAirmen were issued a pair of boot brushes on enlistment, just like their counterparts in the other services and were then responsible for the upkeep of their own footwear, polish being bought out of their own pay at the NAAFI.

Tropical Aircrew Survival Kit

Introduced at the very end of the Second World War, the Tropical Survival Kit was a bag containing essential supplies for airmen shot down in hostile territory in the tropics. It consisted of a waterproof gabardine bag with various pockets inside to hold the survival gear:imageThree grab handles are fastened around the main bag, which measures 22 inches from top to bottom, whilst a carry handle is also provided to allow it to be slung over a shoulder when used on the ground. A large zipper runs down the back of the bag:imageThis is unfastened and gives a hint of the pockets inside:imageIn order to access these pockets and their contents, the bag is turned inside out:imageThe original packing list for the survival kit indicates the stowage position of the various items:imageThe RAF’s guidance noted:

Most of the equipment stowed in the pockets is labelled with instructions for use, and where such instructions are not provided it is considered that the good sense of the individual will be a sufficient guide. The emphasis should be on economy, every endeavour being made to “live on the land”. If economy can be practiced, the equipment will provide the means of survival for a considerable period.

A detailed photograph shows the individual items that were packed into this survival kit:imageThe front of the kit has a large pocket above a zip fastener:imageThe pocket secured with a press stud was to carry maps and the zipped pocket was to take a rubber water bottle. The official guidance noted that the water bottle when full could also be used as a pillow or to help support the back.

Above the map pocket the kit is stamped to indicate it is for tropical use and above this is the RAF stores and contract codes:imageThe map pocket itself has stamps indicating that it was originally filled in 1945 and then serviced and refilled in 1952:imageThe survival bag was to be worn either attached to the life saving waistcoat when flying over water, or to the parachute back pad when flying purely over the land. These survival kits are uncommon, but do surface from time to time. Their contents are much rarer and it would prove quite a challenge to collect together.

William Reid VC Postal Cover

Tonight we have a rather attractive postal cover depicting a Wellington bomber, dating from 1984. The cover itself commemorates the 31st anniversary of the last flight of the Wellington back in March 1951 and the cover itself was flown in a Lancaster bomber:skm_c30819010908040 - copyOf more interest to us however is the signature, which is that of William Reid VC:skm_c30819010908040 - copy - copyWilliam Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 December 1942.

The posting did not materialise until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before the raid on Düsseldorf.william_reid_vcHis official VC citation recorded the action for which he won the medal:

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on. captureWounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

Flight Lieutenant Reid died in 2001.

Air Ministry Marked Feeler Gauge

Feeler gauges are used to check the clearances of fittings within precision machines such as engines. A set of feeler gauges consist of a set of different metal fingers, each of a different width. Each finger is marked with its thickness, and by trying each in turn, or a combination of different ones, the correct clearance can be set. These have been in service for many decades and tonight we have an Air Ministry marked set dating back to 1939. Folded up the feeler gauge is just a small metal bar:imageA cut-out is provided on one side that allows the gauges to be pushed out from their housing:imageFanned out it can be seen that a wide range of thicknesses are housed in the tool:imageEach gauge has its thickness in thousandths of an inch etched into its surface:imageThese gauges go from 3/1000″ up to 15/1000″ and the gauges are flexible enough that multiples can be held together to make up different thicknesses.

The gauge itself has a crown and AM stamp along with a date of 1939 indicating it was produced for the RAF:imageThis tool was manufactured by Moore and Wright of Sheffield. The company is now part of the Bowers group, and their website gives some history:

Founded in 1906 by innovative young engineer Frank Moore, Moore & Wright has been designing, manufacturing and supplying precision measuring equipment to global industry for over 100 years. With roots fixed firmly in Sheffield, England, the company began by manufacturing a range of callipers, screwdrivers, punches and other engineer’s tools.

The uses for feeler gauges included setting the tappet valves in engines, as explained in a 1953 army handbook on basic mechanical principles for tracked and wheeled vehicles:

Clearance between the valve stem and tappet is tested with a feeler gauge. If the appropriate feeler just pushes through the gap with little force the setting is correct. To make certain try the next size up, this should not go.

25 Pattern Cartridge Carriers

Tonight my special thanks go to Andy Dearlove who very kindly let me photograph tonight’s object from his collection. All 25 pattern RAF webbing is scarce, but the rifle cartridge carriers are particularly difficult to find, and like Andy I have been looking for a pair for over ten years and last year he got lucky and found a pair at a militaria show in Belgium. The 1925 pattern cartridge carriers are a development of the 1908 system, with individual pockets each holding three five round chargers of Lee Enfield ammunition. With four pockets a side, the pair of carriers can hold a total of 120 rounds:
imageEach of these pockets is reduction woven, just like the earlier 08 design, but obviously produced in blue-grey cotton:
imageEach pocket is secured with a tab and a Newey stud:
imageInside a small strip of webbing prevents cartridge carriers from accidentally falling out when the pouches are opened:
imageUnlike the earlier designs however, the 25 pattern pouches are worn with a back belt rather than a full belt and have the buckle built into the pouches themselves:
imageThe opposite end of the pouches have a C hook for fastening to the back belt and a loop for securing any excess belt left loose after correct sizing:imageThe design becomes particularly apparent when a pair are shown face down, with the two fastenings for the back belt visible at either side and the buckle in the centre:
imageThe attachment of the top buckle is also unusual as it is attached to a small piece of webbing that has a brass chape attached, this in turn is fastened around a wider brass buckle sewn to the pouches themselves that allows a degree of articulation:imageThis seems a very complicated method of attachment compared to later designs and reflects the time and money that can be expended in peacetime for a limited production of a design that would only see limited service.

These pouches were used by airmen in the Royal Air Force armed with rifles such a sentries and those marching between establishments carrying rifles. They remained in use and production until about 1941 but as they were not compatible with 37 Pattern equipment in the way the pistol equipment was they seem to have been disposed of very quickly and don’t survive in any great numbers. These pouches are not a matched pair and are dated 1935 and 1941- sadly it proved too difficult to get a photo of the markings.

My thanks go to Andy for letting us look at this rare piece of interwar webbing and I look forward to finding my own set of these pouches in the not too distant future!

1941 Airgraph

Over the years we have looked at a number of different Airgraphs, often with delightful drawings on them. Tonight we have another example, however this one is not as visually appealing, being just text. The message however is delightful and well worth covering on the blog:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3)The Airgraph reads:

Dear Harry,

I guess you will be surprised receiving this airgraph from me, but last week Bob read your airgraph (only part of it) to us and you said you would like to hear from some of us as mail is so scarce. Well, I am glad you have arrived safely in the M.E., how d’you like the sand? Plenty of it by what Bill writes in his letters to me. I don’t know whether you knew my boy-friend had moved from W Africa to the middle east, of course I don’t know where he is and he seems to be on the move all the time, still you may run across one another in one of those sand storms on of these days. I don’t think you’ll receive this in time for Xmas, so I’ll wish you a happy and successful new year, and trust you had a good xmas. It seems hard to believe Harry, but we all miss you at the old squash lots, things aren’t anywhere near as jolly as they used to be. By the way, d’you still set your clothes on fire or do you behave now you’re an l’officer Da Dah!!! Cheerio for now, I’ll write another airgraph soon. Yours “Darkie”

Darkie’ was Miss Joan Hitchcock who wrote this airgraph in November 1941:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyIt was send to a Pilot Officer Harrington, RAF Middle East:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyI love the personal and friendly nature of this note and a message from an old friend would surely have been a welcome arrival for the pilot officer on active service.

111 Maintenance Unit Christmas Menu

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you are having a restful Christmas. Tonight we are taking a look at another festive object, a small menu from the Christmas Dinner served to members of 111 Maintenance unit, RAF Middle East Command:SKM_C284e18120709070Victor Flack was part of the 111 Maintenance Unit and describes the conditions:

From the station we were taken south 14 miles to 111 maintenance unit at Tura. This unit, previously located elsewhere as part of 101 M.U, had been the one major unit of its kind in Egypt in 1941, and as such, had been a particular target for German bombing. The caves in the Mokattam hills at Tura, had been decided upon as a suitable alternative site, being almost bomb proof. The caves were formed when limestone was quarried for the casing stones for the pyramids, across the Nile.

These caves were now used for storage, engine and airscrew repair shops, and, as I was to discover on a few months’ time, a small hospital. We lived in tents at the foot of the hills, and nearby were the engine test benches, the noise being baffled from the tents by sand dunes.large_000000Although conditions were Spartan, special efforts were made to cheer up the men at Christmas:

And then there was the Christmas show. Among the motley inhabitants of ‘treble one’ there were enough comedians, musicians’ singers, and other entertainers to provide a lengthy show (some of these may have been professional’s pre-war). It was really something to see familiar faces appear on stage and gallantly do their bit. Among them was a ‘store basher’ generally seen heaving propellers about and suitably attired for that task, but he was a singer. When he came stalking on to the stage in a smart homemade outfit, and began to sing, it was another unforgettable memory for me. It was truly professional delivery, – he sort of swelled up like a cockerel does when it starts to crow and an unexpected powerful voice stunned us all into a respectful silence. He sang “The Road to Mandalay” — we heard every word, and on the rare occasions I hear it now, I can’t help thinking it is not being sung as well as I heard it all those years ago, – to be fair, it may be that my ears were in better nick then, but it still brings back the vision of our store basher doing his bit in front of us all.

I hope you have an enjoyable time this Christmas and I leave you with one of my favourite wartime Christmas cartoons form the late great Express Cartoonist Carl Giles, Santa never got an easy ride from Giles’ pen, but this one has a particularly dark humour to it.. I love it!GetMultimedia