Linemen were used to maintain and repair telephone lines used by the British Army. Much of this time was therefore spent up telegraph poles using tools such as pliers. Obviously if these were to be dropped, it would be a long way back down to retrieve them. We have previously looked at a pair of pliers with a lanyard loop and this was one way of securing the tools, more common however was a specialist webbing frog that allowed a pair of pliers to be securely fastened to the users belt, seen here in a photograph from World War Two:The webbing frog can be clearly seen and this design was to remain in production and use for many years after the end of the Second World War. Tonight we are looking at a webbing pliers frog that, although dating to 1977, is of the same design as that used in wartime. In appearance it is a simple webbing frog similar to that used for a bayonet:Unlike a bayonet frog though, there is of course no hole from a scabbard stud. The pliers are placed in nose down and the design of the tool ensures that they naturally stay in the frog securely:The frog was designed for 9″ pliers, but could be easily modified with a couple of stitches to carry 5″ or 7″ pliers as well. A loop is sewn into the frog to allow a belt to be passed through:The rear of the frog is stamped with the makers initial, MWS, a date of 1977, an NSN number and the /|\ mark indicating military ownership:Ironically, although these frogs saw far more and far longer service as part of lineman equipment, they were originally introduced in the 1930s as part of the now almost forgotten and exceptionally rare Royal Artillery pattern of webbing. The main webbing set was quickly replaced by 37 pattern equipment in World War Two, but the plier’s frog proved so useful it continued in service and manufacture for decades more.
One of the most commonly misidentified straps out there for the webbing collector is the subject of tonight’s post. Whilst most collectors can recognise that this strap is for communications gear it is repeatedly identified as being for the WS38 wireless set:This identification allows sellers to charge a premium for these straps, but the reality is rather different. The Fuller telephone system used the soil itself as a means to send telephone signals and Fuller telephones needed a large metal spike to push into the soil to act as a return for the signal. To carry these spikes, the carrying straps for the telephones were equipped with a pair of loops and a securing buckle:Whilst designed for Fuller telephones, the reality was that the straps were used on many different, more conventional, field telephones and here it can be seen attached to my L type set:To secure the strap the end is passed through the sling loop, doubled back on itself and secured with a Twigg buckle:This strap dates from 1942 and was made by the Mill’s Equipment Company:Note the store’s code of YA1532, the YA code clearly indicating that this was for use with field telephones.
Odd methods were sometimes called for to keep field telephones working, as recalled by Kenneth West:
Contact was by field telephone which was barely audible (strength 2-3 of 5). After about 3 days the line went dead about 9 o’clock in the evening, and as duty linesman it was my job to re-establish communications. I was allocated an escort of a young lad of about 18 years who had just joined the Coy , and subsequently his first excursion into the wild unknown. With the experience of my 22 years, I impressed upon him the necessity to have ‘one up the spout’, and to take the single signal wire in one hand and let it run through his hand as he walked about 10 yards to my rear. The only way to trace a line in the dark was to follow it by hand as it was looped along the hedgerow and fences by the side of the country road. On reaching the break, usually done by shell or mortar fire, the second man held the line as the linesman searched for the other end.
We were just over halfway to the section when the line came to an abrupt end. No blackened shell hole, just a single set of footprints in the knee deep snow leading from the German lines and across the road and fields to the outskirts of Zetten. With the youngster in a covering firing position, I reported the break to Coy HQ which was strength 5. Tying the single wire around his wrist, I went in search of the other end to contact the section. They were still very faint so I said I would make the joint and come to them and change their handset, checking the line as we went.
The handset was duly swapped, but there was no improvement. Army telephones were then earth return, so I checked the earth pin and everything seemed OK By now we had been exposed to the elements for about 1½ hours and the bladder was calling for relief, This I did in the proximity of the earth pin before returning to the cellar. The Corporal was all smiles and asked what magic I had performed as the signals were now almost full strength. When I told him of my simple remedy he scarcely believed me but showed his thanks with a tot of rum and a mug of hot char. We left them with the instructions that if they wanted to keep perfect contact, just give the line a tinkle from time to time.
On return to “A” Coy HQ I suggested that the forward section be kept adequately supplied with T.S.M. for their brew-ups, though I didn’t envy the bloke who would eventually remove the earth pin!!
The SA80 bayonet has a large number of frogs available for different purposes. Alongside those for use in combat are specialist patterns for the parade ground. Black artificial leather ones are issued to The Rifles, but the most common type is a woven white nylon design:The Army’s dress regulations explain:
Except in the very few units that wear black accoutrements, the waist belts, bayonet frogs, sword slings and shoulder belts etc. worn by the soldiers in Full Dress are invariably white, and this applies also in No. 1 Dress.
The frog has a plastic former inside to help it keep its shape and a piece of brass protects the throat as the bayonet is inserted and withdrawn:A belt loop is sewn into the top of the frog to allow it to be carried:A pair of brass rivets help reinforce this and prevent the weight of the bayonet from splitting the stitching:The bayonet fits into the frog neatly, with just the handle visible:For parades these frogs are cleaned and polished until they are sparkling. Brasso is used on the protector and rivets to make them shine and a white liquid cleaner is provided, much like emulsion paint, that is used to ensure they are sparkling and white. They are worn with a white woven nylon belt and can be seen with both the bayonet carried in them, or empty if a regiment has the freedom of a city to march with fixed bayonets through the street.
Of all the patterns of accoutrements used by the British Army over decades, in many ways the 39 pattern is one of the most extraordinary. Apparently the whole pattern was devised over the course of a weekend in 1939 in response to a desperate need to supplement the army’s limited supply of cotton 37 pattern equipment. The new design was a very close copy of the 37 pattern design, but manufactured in leather to allow an alternative industry to be used to capacity and to quickly equip troops. The 37 pattern continued to be the pattern used in combat by the British Army, but the 39 pattern set saw service on home soil and was issued to other nations the British were re-equipping.
The individual components combined the general layout of the 37 pattern pieces with construction and techniques that had already been proven on earlier leather patterns and this is especially apparent with the cartridge carriers:The twin pouches set next to each other and each holding 10 rounds are identical in concept to those produced in webbing in the 37 pattern set, but the construction mirrors that used for the 03 pattern bandolier’s pockets:Under each top flap is a separate retaining tab, secured using the same stud as the main flap:The 37 pattern design has been modified to better suit leather, most obviously on the rear:The metal ‘C’ hooks used on the webbing were clearly unsuitable for leather and these are replaced with a simple pair of leather loops a belt can be passed through:The top of each pouch has a brace attachment to attach the shoulder braces through and a double buckle to allow the small pack’s L straps to be attached to:It is on the rear of these straps that the pouches’ maker’s mark can be found, here dating one of the pouches to 1941:Pictures of these pouches in service are rare, but in this image of the King inspecting an honour guard in Belfast in 1942 each man is clearly wearing a pair of 39 pattern cartridge carriers:
The Desert camouflage version of the grab bag was a popular piece of ancillary load bearing equipment and we looked at an example here. As with many items of equipment, when the new MTP camouflage was introduced an updated version of the grab bag was issued in the new pattern:This bag is identical to the DDPM version and features the same external pouches. We have one large single pouch for a smoke grenade:Two smaller pouches for fragmentation grenades:And three pouches across the front for rifle magazines:Each of these opens up to allow access to the interior, a piece of elastic helps hold the magazines in place until ready to be withdrawn:The lid of the pouch features a velcroed easy access flap, the opening being surrounded by elastic to ensure it is easy to access the contents of the bag but there is no danger of anything falling out:This particular bag has been issued and the original owner has written his name and number on the underside of this elastic portion:The shoulder strap has a seperate MTP slider on it:This has a rough fabric finish on the inside to prevent the bag from slipping as easily from the wearer’s shoulder:A standard label is sewn into the inside, with a different NSN number compared to the DPM version:One user of the grab bag says:
I think the idea behind it being a grab bag is that you grab it an scarper.
It hold 9 mags which with the 6 or so you carry on your osprey, that’s your OP ammo sorted. Not many people wear vests over Osprey, just a few pouches for bullets on the front. A daysack with the grab bag under the lid = pouches to keep the ammo in one place. If you’re down 6/7 mags, you’re in the poopoo anyway. And maps, water, GPS, Leatherman NVG can all be stashed in there no dramas.
Getting hot rations up to troops in the field has always been difficult and one of the constant complaints by men in the First World War was that by the time soups or stews reached them they were cold. By the Second World War insulated containers had started to be introduced that helped alleviate this problem however the weight of a full container raised its own problems. These containers were cylindrical and did not have any handles so were particularly awkward to transport so a couple of different webbing carriers were developed. There were double carriers to hold two insulated containers and this type that held just a single example:This heavy duty carrier is worn on the back in place of the small pack and worn in rucksack fashion with a pair of shoulder straps, that could be attached or detached at the base using a large pair of brass hooks to make it easier to don the heavy pack:These straps could be adjusted with a pair of small buckles on each strap:Further adjustments could be made by using a pair of 2” Twigg buckles at the top of the pack:A chest strap is included that helps distribute the load across the upper body:The only date markings are on the shoulder strap where there is a faint date of 1945 marked:The carrier itself is a large webbing bag, with a flat back containing a fibre board for rigidity:The base of the carrier has a small set of metal feet that help protect it from damage when it is taken off and placed on the ground:It was recognised that the weight of the full carrier would be uncomfortable for the wearer, so large pads were fitted for comfort; one at the top:And another at the base:These carriers were never personal issue pieces and were instead kept at unit level for distribution as and when needed for those who were picked for ration duties. As such they were never blancoed and it seems that few were ever used as nearly all examples that turn up are 1945 dated and completely unissued. I do have an insulated container, however this is one of the taller post war types and so doesn’t work with this carrier. The post war containers seem to be much easier to find than the wartime type, but I will keep my eyes out for one as it would be nice to match it up with this carrier.
I have slowly been working on building up my Canadian 37 pattern webbing collection over the last few months, I have a British set and an Indian set, whilst South African and Australian are a little trickier to find so for now the Canadian set is the one I am working on.
Recently I have picked up a pair of basic pouches and they have a number of distinctive Canadian features that are worth examining closer:It is worth reminding ourselves of the description from the 37 pattern webbing manual:
Basic pouches- These are interchangeable, and are rectangular in shape to contain two Bren Gun magazines each, or a number of grenades, or S.A.A. A buckle is provided at the top of each pouch for attachment of the brace; this buckle has a loop at the top which serves for connecting the hook on the shoulder strap. Two double hooks are fitted to the back of each pouch for attachment to the waistbelt.
Compared to British made pouches the strap securing the box lid is 1″ wide compared to 3/4″ of the standard pattern:Early Canadian basic pouches had the same 3/4″ wide strap, but seem to have swapped over to the wider pattern in around 1941. Despite these pouches late date of manufacture, the underside of the lid still retains three loops to hold Ballistite cartridges for grenade launchers:The second major difference is the top brass buckle on each pouch, which is of a completely different design to that used in other parts of the Empire:The rear of the pouch has a pair of ‘C’ hooks:This pouch is particularly well made, as is typical of Canadian manufacture. This pair was made in 1943 by Zephyr Loom and Textile:The Canadian acceptance mark of a /|\ inside a ‘C’ is stamped on the underside of each pouch lid:Like much Canadian webbing found today, this pair of pouches is in almost unissued condition and is another great addition to my little set. I find collecting up the Empire variants of 37 pattern and the various pack fillers to be great fun and hopefully I can continue to fill out my collection.