There are a number of reasons why military equipment can be found in mint unissued condition. Sometimes items are produced in such large quantities that there are plenty available for the surplus and collectors market that have never been issued. Other times a piece of equipment is just not fit for purpose and after initial issue to the troops is swiftly abandoned and large quantities sit in warehouses until sold in the secondary market. Finally there is the most unusual set of circumstances where a piece of kit is a good idea, well made and would be welcomed by troops but through administrative blunder is never used and tonight’s object tells this tale.
British troops in Northern Ireland on patrol operations often had to man vehicle check points for long periods of time, standing and holding an SLR with an IWS night sight. This was a particularly heavy and awkward combination and was particularly difficult to handle when slung over the shoulder whilst checking papers of those in vehicles that had been stopped. To counter this problem a special webbing cup was designed that could sit on the belt of the 58 pattern webbing into which the butt of the SLR could be fitted, transferring some of the weight to the waist belt and making the soldier’s life a little easier:The pocket was expandable to comfortably fit the butt, putting enough pressure on it that it did not flop around, but loose enough that the rifle was easily withdrawn:Two methods of attaching to the belt were provided on the rear. A pair of ‘C’ hooks:And a top mounted loop to pass a belt through:This particular example is stamped inside with a date of 1972 and was manufactured by Martin Wright and Sons Ltd:Large quantities of these butt pouches were manufactured and by all accounts seem like they would have been a welcome solution to a real problem. One ex-soldier recalls:
I seem to remember resting my SLR on my right-side 58 pouch, though you had to wear the belt loose and without the yoke to achieve a comfortable fit………………never, ever saw one of these pouches in service.
Unfortunately no-one at a unit level knew they existed and so they were not ordered from stores for issue and instead languished in a warehouse until flooding the surplus market. At this point the market was saturated and despite attempts by some dealers to market them as hexamine cooker pouches (they do fit in but it is purely by chance), huge quantities were burnt as being essentially unsellable. This has now led to a situation where they are nowhere near as common as they once were and for the collector of post war webbing and equipment it is worth picking an example up as a testament to official bungling!
In 1963 Australia introduced a new sub machine gun to replace its venerable Owen gun. Like the Owen gun before it this new sub machine gun, known as the F1, had a top mounted magazine, but this time it used the same slightly curved magazines as the British Sterling. To go with these magazines, Australia introduced a new piece of webbing- a pouch with four pockets to hold four separate magazines on the soldier’s belt:Each pocket had a metal staple and webbing tab quick release fastener:These opened up to put each magazine into a separate compartment:Having separate top flaps meant that the soldier only had to open one at a time, reducing the risk of him forgetting to fasten the flap correctly and all the magazines dropping out. As is now standard with pouches, metal eyelets are fitted to the base of each pocket to allow water to drain away:On the back a pair of cotton webbing loops are sewn to provide a pair of belt loops to secure the pouch onto the belt:The inside of the pouch has ink stamped details with a manufacturer’s name, date of 1972 and an NSN number:Although this set of pouches did see some service with the Australians in Vietnam, they were never popular as a standard ammunition pouch could hold six magazines and took up a lot less room on the belt of a standard web set. Most of these pouches are found, like this one, in mint condition and see to have been unissued. As any Australian webbing is hard to find in the UK I have been very pleased to add this to my very small collection of post war Antipodean equipment.
In addition to the standard combat PLCE set, other items of olive green webbing were issued that were associated with, but not officially part of the main set. One piece of associated equipment was a piece of medical kit, the First Aid Trauma Pack that offered a wider selection of medical equipment than could be carried by a standard infantryman whilst still being a small enough pouch to fit on a belt.
Like other elements of the PLCE set, this pouch is made from olive green Cordua nylon, with a black Fastex buckle to the front:This pouch looks conventional enough from this angle, but looking at it from the side illustrates it’s much greater depth and bulk than a normal pouch:A single strip of green nylon webbing is sewn to the rear as a belt loop:The unusual nature of the pouch is revealed when it is opened up:Inside are two smaller pockets, and one much larger example to hold the various medical supplies. This example comes filled with a great variety of medical equipment; bandages, field dressings, airway tubes, gloves, slings etc:I believe this is the original and correct contents for the pouch, minus one or two small items. What is clear is just how much stuff is stowed in this pouch and indeed it is pretty dense and weighty when it is full. Markings on the pouch are limited to a printed panel giving description and date of manufacture, 1990 in this case:These pouches were also produced in DPM later on and were popular with non medical troops as a utility pouch- the large capacity and three pockets being much appreciated.