Category Archives: South Africa

South African Lewis Gun Pouches

When one thinks of a British Empire light machine gun for World War II, it is the Bren that springs to mind and it was certainly the most common weapon in service in this role. It was not the only one though and whilst the Indians used the Vickers-Berthier, the venerable Lewis gun was to see extensive service as well. Fir the British this was a second line weapon, used by the Navy, airfield defence units and the Home Guard. For the South Africans however it was their main light machine gun at the start of the war and was to remain so for a number of years. As such specialist webbing pouches were issued to carry the weapon’s distinctive magazines:imageUnfortunately I only have two of the pouches (four were needed for a full set) and the connecting strap is Indian rather than South African made, we will look at the strap in more detail separately. The pouches were designed to be worn so that there were two at the front and two at the rear as in this reconstruction:CaptureEach individual pouch is made of webbing in a circular shape to match the magazines themselves:imageThe design is a very close copy of the British WW1 Lewis pouches, however instead of a Sam Browne style stud and button hole fastener, these use blackened metal press studs to secure the top flaps:imageThese press studs are particularly poor quality and were probably made in South Africa. Opening them, the pouch splits about exactly half way to give easy access to the magazines carried within:imageNote the large flaps on the side to wrap around the edges of the magazine to help protect them further from the elements. A large metal buckle is sewn to the top of each pouch and is typical of South African manufacture, being made of a simple metal stamping, painted gold:imageThis then allows the pouch to be attached to the yoke strap. Looking at the rear we can see that on the left is a tab with a metal chape, and on the right a corresponding Twigg buckle allowing the pouch to be attached to the others in the set:imageThe underside of the top flap is stamped with the manufacturer’s name, Daniel Isaac Fram of Johannesburg, and the date 1941:imageRon Myburgh was a South African who served as an Anti-Aircraft gunner at Kizingo Camp and used Lewis guns:

We were eight men to a bell tent in the cold Transvaal winter for a little over three weeks learning rifle and marching drill and how to cure the 21 “stoppages” of the WW1 Lewis machine guns with which we were going north to East Africa to do battle… Our Battery was lodged in Tudor Camp on Mombasa Island while the other two went north to a camp outside Nairobi. I developed a high temperature here and was placed in hospital; they thought I had malaria, until a blood test showed that it was merely influenza. When I was discharged I was posted to a sandbagged position on top of the Rex Hotel [Kilindini Road] with a twin Lewis gun. We were spoilt here as we slept in a hotel bedroom and dined in the dining room. However, after a couple of weeks we were moved to a position on the South side of the entrance to Kilindini Harbour where we had to excavate three gun pits in solid coral for our “triangle” of harbour defence guns.mombasa-ron-mybur-1940-1-with-artillery-(right)My thanks go to Arthur Cook for helping me add these to the collection.


DI Fram Manufactured South African 37 Pattern Basic Pouch

Back in 2016 we looked at an example of a 37 pattern basic pouch here that had been manufactured in South Africa by ‘SAPAW’- South Africa Proving and Weaving Company Ltd. It has taken me eighteen months, but I have finally found a second south African produced basic pouch, however this example is manufactured by the other webbing producer in Johannesburg, D.I. Fram & Co – David Isaac Fram and Company Ltd:imageI hope you will forgive me coming back to a topic we have already covered, but the manufacture of this pouch is sufficiently different from the earlier example that I felt it warranted its own post, especially as all examples of South African webbing are very rare so the more information available for collectors the better. The most obvious thing to note about the pouch is its colour, it is far greener than normal South African Production, and I believe it has been blancoed at some point in its life. This is particularly evident on the rear, where the colouring fades out towards the centre:imageIt is worth noting the way the ‘C’ hooks are sewn to the body of the pouch, with two small pieces of webbing, one for each hook and sewn very close together. The positioning of the hooks is also higher than on the SAPAW example:imageThe design of the attachment for the top buckle is also radically different, with the DI Fram example having the buckle fitted much closer to the main body of the pouch:imageThe quality of the DI Fram pouch is far higher than that of the SAPAW version, and the webbing material is much stiffer, this is very noticeable in the front view:imageThe top flap of the pouch does not have the blank round loops of the SAPAW version, but is nicely stamped with the maker’s mark and a purple /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark indicating acceptance into South African service:imageThe difference in manufacturing between the two South African webbing companies is marked, and whilst both are pretty poorly made, the DI Fram pouch is clearly a superior product. I still have a way to go until I have a full set of South African 37 pattern, but it is starting to come together:image

South African 37 Pattern Supporting Straps

My thanks go to my good friend and fellow collector Michael Skriletz for tonight’s post. South African webbing is generally considered to be the poorest quality and scarcest of all the Empire produced 37 pattern sets. I have slowly been building up my collection and can now count a small pack, water bottle holder, single basic pouch and one shoulder brace in my collection. Now I also have a selection of supporting straps for the set:imageThe 37 pattern webbing manual describes the straps as:

These are interchangeable and each consists of a strip of 1-inch webbing, fitted with a buckle at one end and an eyeletted tip at the other.

This description is certainly correct for these straps, but a number of distinctive Sou African features are worth noting. The webbing is made of two thin layers and has distinctive stitch lines running the length of the strap to reinforce it:imageThe buckle is not made of brass, but off a metal I believe is steel, that has now corroded slightly:imageThese were frequently painted gold when new. The eyeletted tip is again made of a metal that easily corrodes, as witnessed by the staining to the webbing:imageA South African acceptance stamp is marked on the straps in a redish-purple ink, consisting of a /|\ mark inside a ‘U’:imageAll of these straps were made by Daniel Issac Fram of Johannesburg, and we can see two distinct styles of manufacturer’s mark on the straps:imageLike all the other items of South African 37 pattern webbing, these are not easy to find and I am very pleased to have added another piece to the puzzle!

South African Steel Helmet

My thanks go to Andy Dixon for sorting me out with tonight’s object, a South African made steel helmet. During the Second World War the Transvaal Steel Pressing Syndicate in South Africa produced nearly 1.5 million steel helmets and these were used extensively in Africa, Asia and Italy throughout the war, they also went on to see service in Greece post war. These helmets are fairly common as a large stash of shells came out of Greece a few years back, they were without liners however so like this example replacements need to be fitted. At first glance the helmet looks very similar to other steel Mk II helmets:Note the rough finish on the helmet to reduce shine and the sand colour ideal for the deserts of North Africa (I think this one has been repainted though). The easiest way of determining that the helmet is South African is the set of three holes punched across the back:Originally these were designed to allow a neck curtain to be fitted but no evidence has been found of these being ever issued. The shape of the helmet is also more circular in plan than other Commonwealth Mk IIs, being much more similar to WW1 helmets:Originally the liner fitted had a large oval felt pad in the crown, again similar to WW1 designs, this liner however is a replacement so does not have this feature. The chin strap is a typical World War Two British sprung type:This attaches to the shell with a pair of riveted square lugs:The manufacture of helmets was quite involved. Firstly steel was cut into square blanks:A hydraulic press stamps the shell out of the square of steel:A stainless steel rim is then cinched and welded into place:Before the whole thing is painted prior to fitting the liner:The painter’s protection from paint particles consists of a rudimentary mask and bandages over his hair! After this the helmets are heated in a kiln to cure the paint. British factories in 1939 were turning out 50,000 helmets a week.

South African 37 Pattern Basic Pouch

Collecting up the empire made 37 pattern webbing sets is a long process, with some countries sets being harder to find than others. My South African set is definitely one of these long term projects so I was very pleased to find an ammunition pouch for the set recently, I still need a second one, but it’s a start:imageThe quality of this pouch is, frankly, appalling and is far worse than even Indian made pouches. The cotton is loosely woven, with a distinctive yellowish colour and the metal fittings of very poor quality, the top flap of the pouch is fitted with a locally produced press stud:imageThe back of the pouch is fitted with two wire hangers to attach it to the belt:imageThese are again of poor quality and the webbing has frayed slightly around one of them, where the corrosion form the hook has weakened it:imageAll the metal fittings are of poor quality alloy; they would often originally have been painted gold, but this has worn off and the top buckle has tarnished to a dark rust colour:imageThe underside of the top flap has three loops for ballistite cartridges, note also the faint /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark indicating South African ownership:imageThe maker’s mark is also printed on the underside, here for S.A.P.A.W. (South African Proving and Weaving Company (Pty) Ltd) one of two webbing manufacturers in the Cape, both based in Johannesburg:imageFor a complete set of South African 37 pattern webbing, you cannot do better than check out this thread on Warrelics forum and Karkee’s superb complete set.

Officer’s Shirt Collar

Up until the end of the Second World War, officers were the only members of the army officially allowed to wear a shirt, collar and tie. At this time both civilian and military collared shirts had removable collars, secured to the rest of the shirt with collar studs. This allowed a clean collar to be worn every day to look smart, without needing to go to the effort of laundering the rest of the shirt. This example is in khaki cloth, with a fold down design and would have been worn by an officer:imageA short stud passes through the rear of the collar and shirt, hence the small button hole here:imageA longer stud is used at the front, passing through the two sides of the shirt and both ends of the collar:imageThe collar is in what tailors refer to as a ‘cutaway’ design, designed to be used as a soft rather than a starched collar and worn with a tie:imageThe 1931 Indian Army Dress Regulations provided the following guidance on officers collars:

Collars.- The pattern is left to the discretion of commanding officers but all officers of a unit must be dressed alike.

Drab flannel or khaki collars will be worn with service dress and khaki drill jackets at all times. A plain gold safety pin may be worn under the tie to keep the soft collar in place.

The regulations went on further to give guidance for officers wearing a shirt without a jacket in ‘shirt sleeve order’:

The collar of the shirt may be worn open without a tie.

This collar is faintly marked with the /|\ inside a ‘U’ acceptance mark of the South African Army:imageIn this fine portrait of Lieutenant General John Darcy shows off the officer’s collar nicely, worn with the regulation shirt, tie and service dress jacket:JohnD'ArcyAn officer would normally have at least half a dozen of these collars and they would be carried in his baggage, however by the Second World War they were very much worn away from the front lines, soldiers battledress being a far more sensible option in battle.

South African 37 Pattern Webbing Shoulder Brace

Following a large gap between pieces, a week after we looked at the South African made water bottle carrier here, we are back to look at another piece of the set. This South African 37 pattern shoulder brace was picked up at War and peace by a good friend of mine and he kindly sent it up with some other kit. Of all the bits of South African webbing I have seen, this has to be the crudest:imageAs can be seen the main strap of the brace is made from a 1” wide piece of webbing, stitched down its length to reinforce the poor quality webbing:imageThis style of construction seems to be uniquely South African and allowed me to identify the brace, even without any markings. The ends of the braces again have very poor quality metal chapes:imageAs is often the case, these have corroded and stained the webbing slightly. The broad section of the shoulder brace is made of a separate wider section of webbing, again with the stitching reinforcement down its length, simply sewn to the 1” wide webbing strap:imageThe opposite side shows where the ends of this section have been sewn together:imageAs has been mentioned before, South African 37 pattern is some of the hardest to track down and also the poorest in quality; even Indian production is far superior. I am trying to get together a complete set, but it will be a long and drawn out process involving tracking down odd bits here and there. Sadly whilst a standard set of British made 37 pattern is easy to find and fairly cheap, it is much more challenging trying to put together Empire sets!