Category Archives: Royal Air Force

CS95 Air Cadet’s Shirt

We have looked at various examples of the CS95 DPM shirt on the blog over the last couple of years and I must confess I am only picking up new examples for my collection if they have interesting patches and markings on them. Tonight we have a nicely badged example that saw service with a member of the Air Cadets:The ‘Air Cadets’ is an umbrella term for young people who are members of either Combined Cadet Forces (RAF) which are run in over 200 schools across the UK and those who are members of Air Training Corps groups which are small local detachments of cadets dotted across the country. Both organisations are volunteer services that give teenagers the chance to learn more about the RAF, volunteer and take part in various aviation related activities. The Air Cadets are of course closely aligned with the RAF and wear very similar uniforms- indeed much of their equipment and uniform is either military surplus or produced under the same contracts but in smaller sizes to the regular uniform. This shirt for instance has the same NATO sizing and details as any shirt issued to the military, it is often just the smaller sizes that are indicative of cadet use:Above the breast pocket of the shirt is a large ‘Air Cadets’ patch sewn on to clearly identify the organisation:A large and detailed tactical recognition flash is sewn onto one shoulder:The Air Cadets are given the following guidance on wearing the DPM uniform as combat clothing:The DPM uniform is now being superseded by more modern MTP uniforms within the cadet force- permission being given to wear them in 2014. This guidance on insignia placement from the Cadet’s website therefore applies to the newer uniform, but is indicative of what has been sewn onto the CS95 shirt above:

Air Ministry Spanner

I keep an eye out for military spanners and I have a number of wartime /|\ marked examples now. This week however I picked up my first RAF spanner:Despite the extensive use made of tools by the RAF throughout the war, marked examples do seem scarcer than their army equivalents. This spanner is marked ‘AM’ with a crown for the Air Ministry and dated 1940:The spanner is marked on the opposite side for the thread sizes it works with. One end is for 3/8 British Standard Whitworth (BSW) and 7/16 British Standard Fine (BSF), whilst the opposite end is marked up for 5/16 BSW and 3/8 BSF:BSW was the first standard screw thread size, developed by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 and was used across the Empire. The British Standard Fine (BSF) standard has the same thread angle as the BSW, but has a finer thread pitch and smaller thread depth. This is more like the modern “mechanical” screw and was used for fine machinery and for steel bolts.

Whitworth (spanner) markings refer to the bolt diameter rather than the distance across the flats of the hexagon (A/F) as in other standards. Confusion also arises because BSF hexagon sizes can be one size smaller than the corresponding Whitworth hexagon. This leads to instances where a spanner (wrench) marked 7/16BSF is the same size as one marked 3/8W as in this case. In both cases the spanner jaw width of 0.710 in, the width across the hexagon flat, is the same. However, in World War II the size of the Whitworth hexagon was reduced to the same size as the equivalent BSF hexagon purely to save metal during the war and they never went back to the old sizes afterwards. Despite being long superseded by metric threads and bolts, these imperial threads and bolt heads are still in widespread use throughout the world, a legacy from the nineteenth century that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

RAF Funeral, Palestine 1938

This week’s photographs are a rather sombre pair of images showing the funeral of two airmen in Palestine just before the outbreak of the war. The first image shows the pall bearers carrying two coffins into a graveyard:skmbt_c36416120913011_0001-copyEach is draped in the Union flag:skmbt_c36416120913011_0001-copy-2The back of this photograph has an official Air Ministry stamp and the description ‘Funeral of Sgt Sweeting and A.C.I. Crofts at Ramleh’:skmbt_c36416120913012_0001There is also a date indicating this photograph was taken in August 1938. Ramleh was the site of an RAF base, now long gone under urban sprawl. My thanks go to Bryan Legate who has provided more information on this. Sergeant Richard Herbert Sweetings and AC2 W H Crofts were killed when the Wellsley they were flying, L2634, crashed after losing a wing when recovering from a dive. The aircraft was one of an allocation of the type on the books of 14 squadron:9_8The 14 Squadron Association website notes:

The Fairey Gordon aircraft were replaced by Vickers Wellesleys in 1938: a monoplane with retractable undercarriage and a variable-pitch propeller, the new type represented a quantum leap in performance and capability over the previous biplanes. These aircraft were soon involved in counter-insurgency operations during the Palestine rebellion of 1938-39.

Odly 14  Squadron were not stationed at RAF Ramleh in 1938, so it seems likely that the aircraft crashed nearby and as the closest aerodrome the men were buried here. The second photograph is taken at the graveside:skmbt_c36416120913010_0001We can see a chaplain:skmbt_c36416120913010_0001-copy-2The pall bearers with bare heads:skmbt_c36416120913010_0001-copy-3And other members of the squadron in pith helmets, each wearing a black armband in mourning:skmbt_c36416120913010_0001-copy-4Interestingly this was not actually taken in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery as the CWG did not take responsibility for casualties in peacetime. Therefore the graves of these airmen are not recorded on their website, and the other headstones in the photograph, although very similar, are not the standard pattern we are used to from WW1 and WW2 gravestones:skmbt_c36416120913010_0001-copy

RAF Comfort’s Committee Voluntary Worker’s Badge

The range of different enamelled home front lapel badges form the Second World War is astonishing with badges issued for olunteer workers, the ARP, nursing and many more areas of voluntary service. Tonight we are looking at a small pin badge for the RAF Comforts committee:imageThis badge has an RAF eagle in the centre, with a light blue band around saying ‘RAF Comforts Committee’ and the title ‘volunary worker’ in a scroll beneath. The back of the badge has a pin fastening and a maker’s mark indicating it was manufactured by Thomas Frattorini the largest badge maker in the country:imageThe following excellent description comes from a collector on Flickr, called Stuart- Sadly I do not have a full name to afford him the full credit he deserves:

The Royal Air Force Comforts Committee (RAF Comforts Committee) was formed by the Air Council in October 1939 to determine the type and quantities of ‘knitted comforts’ required for the RAF as well as arrange for their collection, storage and distribution through their depots. Local knitting parties or groups were organised mainly by the Women’s Institute (WI) and the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) according to guidance issued by the Committee. Anyone who could knit was roped into these knitting parties and that included many men too (it was commonplace back then for men to be competent knitters). Groups needed to be registered with the Comforts Committee to ensure they got supplies of free wool and badges/certificates. As the war drew to a close in 1945, knitted comforts were also made for needy children in the liberated countries and distributed by the Red Cross.

The main forms of knitted RAF Comforts were mittens, pullovers (preferably with polo necks), woollen helmets (balaclavas) and gum-boot stockings (of oiled wool). Other items such as ordinary socks and gloves were knitted in smaller quantities as required by the RAF and only to supplement regulation uniform issues. The official colour was a grey/blue but by 1941 there was a shortage of wool as it was required in ever increasing quantities and so wool of many shades of blue and sometimes other colours were supplied for the knitted comforts. The RAF had issued a standard book containing instructions for knitting parties with approved patterns.captureThis badge issued by the RAF Comforts Committee was given free to each registered local knitting party but only the first badge (usually the party leader), additional badges required were supplied according to the amount of work done by an individual and at the cost of 1/- (one shilling) each, accompanied by the certificate. All this would have been monitored by the Comforts Committee.

Barbara Longley knitted for the Comforts Committee as a child:

I used to knit for the Royal Air Force Comforts Committee. They’d send 2lb of wool, from Berkeley Square in London, with a pattern book to make pullovers, scarves, helmets, gloves and socks. When I’d knitted the garments I used to send them to London and back would come another 2lb of wool. I’ve still got my RAF Comforts badge and personal message from Marshall of the RAF.comforts

Curtis H75 Cl (Mohawk) Postcard

This week’s postcard comes from the Second World War and is a rather nice painting of a pair of Curtis H-75 Cl aircraft:skmbt_c36416110115430_0001This aircraft is better known to British readers as the Mohawk. As observant readers will have realised, the aircraft in the postcard are wearing French markings. The French bought 100 machines in 1938 and despite making up only 12.5% of the French Air Force in the Battle of France, they accounted for nearly a third of aerial kills. Following the fall of France the remaining stocks of French aircraft on order from Curtis in the United states were diverted to RAF use and in total the RAF ended up with 229 of the aircraft. Many were used in India and Burma as the RAF considered them obsolete in Europe. Here we can see a Mohawk in India in January 1943:raf_mohawk_iv_india2_1943The South African Air Force also made use of the aircraft in the East African campaign and for training. By 1944 though the aircraft was long past obsolescence and relegated to training and local defence roles.

This postcard though was produced in the UK and sent in 1941, as can be determined from the back of the card where there is a nice clear postmark:skmbt_c36416110115431_0001I admit the UK link with this week’s postcard is a little slim, however i thought the image so dynamic that readers would forgive this slight detour and enjoy it regardless!

Air Ministry Head Torch

The idea of a torch mounted on the user’s forehead is not a new one, the advantages are obvious- the light is directed exactly where the wearer is looking and both hands are free to perform tasks. RAF mechanics and armourers made use of such torches during the Second World War to allow them to service dark and inaccessible machine spaces without having to hold a hand torch. The design adopted by the RAF was based on miners lamps of the period, with a separate battery pack worn on the waist. Tonight we are looking at an example of these head torches, sadly missing the battery pack however:imageIf this set was complete it would be seen from the battery pack that it had been manufactured by Oldham & Sons of Manchester, who had begun making specialist equipment for coal mining in 1887, this lamp being a natural evolution of that technology.

As can be seen the torch head is attached to a rubberised pad that sits on the user’s forehead. Metal brackets allow the torch to be swivelled up and down. Sprung clips attach it to the elasticated strap that goes around the wearer’s head:imageNote the cut off wire that would originally have connected the torch to a battery pack. The elasticated head band has an Air Ministry stamp and stores code:imageThis torch has seen a hard life and the lens is badly worn now:imageIt does still unscrew to show the bulb and what was once a white reflector to help direct the beam of light in the direction the user wanted:imageOriginally these lamps were issued with a carry case that helped protect them when not in use, this photograph shows another survivor (in much better condition than mine) which is complete and stowed correctly as in service:5650

RAF Sergeant’s Arm Band

RAF mechanics have always spent a lot of time wearing overalls, the nature of the work they do servicing oily engines makes them a necessity. As might be expected, these overalls are washed regularly and thoroughly which makes any form of rank insignia sewn onto them subject to a lot of wear that can either destroy stitching or indeed destroy the embroidery itself. These days removable cloth rank slides are common across all the services and uniforms, but for many years removable arm bands were used with the rank insignia sewn onto them. Tonight we are looking at one of these armbands, which probably dates form the 1950s or 1960s:


As can be seen the front of the armband is made of green denim, with a set of blue RAF sergeant’s stripes sewn on centrally:imageNote the button loops above and below the insignia. The rear of the arm band is made of a contrasting khaki cotton:

imageA set of Newey studs is provided to adjust the armband to size, with three pairs of male studs and a single pair of female studs to allow three different sizes depending on how thick your arms are. The studs are made of brass, with the Newey patent number stamped on:image