Category Archives: Women

Royal Artillery Compact

One group of items that women always struggled to find during the Second World War were cosmetics, with production of what were often seen as frivolous vanity items severely curtailed. In 1940 the British government introduced the Limitation of Supplies Order that reduced production to just 25% of its pre-war capacity. Companies that had previously made cosmetics were put over to war production, making foot powders for the military. With such shortages, it is unsurprising that makeup, or lack of it, became a common problem for many women. It was recognised that beauty products did help boost morale, and could help disguise how tired and drab a female workforce was feeling working long hours. Despite this, there was never enough supply to meet demand. In 1942 to save metal it became illegal to make powder compacts from metal (plastic had to be substituted). Before this date however most manufacturers enjoyed some success with compacts that featured regimental badges on the front, either as a transfer or as a separately attached badge. Tonight we have an example of one of these compacts:imageThis features the badge of the Royal Artillery:imageThese compacts were popular keepsakes to be bought by servicemen for their wives and girlfriends, the appropriate badge for their branch of service being chosen. The largest regiments such as the Royal Artillery and RASC are the most common of these compacts to find today due to the larger volume of production in the 1940s. Opening up the compact we can see a mirror and a small hinged lid:imageThis opens up to reveal the powder compartment:imageEngraved on the outside of the lid is the trade name ‘Vogue Vanitie’ and that it was made in England:imageDaphne Crisp recalls some of the details of wartime makeup and hairdressing:

I was a young woman working as a hairdresser in the shop, “Dancers” in Braintree. Dancers was a large store with both a barbers and a hairdressers selling expensive cosmetics by Elizabeth Arden and Yardley. There was always great excitement when some make up came in and everyone would be desperate to get it.

There were just young apprentices like myself and older women working as hairdressers there, as all the women aged eighteen and over were doing essential war work. We had only basic soft soap to wash the hair and gum tragent, a really harsh setting lotion which we mixed ourselves. My customers ranged from local ladies, nurses working at Black Notley and prostitutes coming down from London. These were really good tippers and liked to have their hair swept up and clipped at the sides, showing a bare shaved neck.

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Pre-Service Training Corps for Girls Book Review

A few weeks back I reviewed Jon Mill’s book on the MTC, as mentioned then this was one volume in a mini-series covering various lesser known Home Front organisations. Definitely amongst the more obscure is the subject of another of the volumes covering the various training corps for girls set up during the war:skmbt_c36416102111010_0001At the start of the Second World War there was a general feeling that with the displacement of the young from their homes through evacuation and the loss of parental figures as fathers went off to fight and mothers had important war work to do, something needed to be done to direct the energies of the young. Whilst male pre-military training schemes were already in existence (cadet units etc), provision for girls was limited with the Girl Guides being the closest thing available. This book covers a number of different training schemes, set up independently and the various legal wrangles that went on between them and the government for official recognition and some degree of central support. The impression one gets is of small enterprises run by enthusiastic women with miniscule resources. As ever the book combines rare archive photographs with even rarer photographs of surviving insignia and uniforms:capture6Although only a slim volume, the story related is an interesting one and I believe one that has not been written about before. As with many of these volumes the subject matter is very obscure- indeed this is far more peripheral than even the MTC story. With that in mind I cannot see many people going out of their way to pick up a copy of this book unless they have a specific interest in it, however if you do come across a copy on your travels at a good price pick it up as it is an interesting little read.capture9

Mechanised Transport Corps Book Review

I suspect that I, like many others, was only aware of the role of the Mechanised Transport Corps in World War two from the character of Sam Stewart in the popular TV series Foyle’s War; therefore it was with great interest that I started reading Jon Mills book Within the Island Fortress No4 The Mechanised Transport Corps. This book is not a thick book, being just 32 pages long in a slim A4 sized paperback, published in 2008 as part of a small series of books dealing with more obscure parts of the Home Front.capturedWhilst it is not a long book, the quality is excellent and the book is profusely illustrated with both period photographs and modern stills of original uniforms and insignia:captureaThe story laid out is actually quite a complex one with shifting roles for the corps and numerous spats with the War office over the MTC’s status and uniform which was felt to be too similar to that of an ATS officer. That Jon Mills makes this readable and more importantly understandable is to his great credit. There were several offshoots of the organisation and these are also covered, again with illustrations of their unique insignia. I am frankly astounded that the author has even found original examples of some of these badges and uniforms as the numbers issued sometimes barely reached double figures. Whilst not every photograph is captioned, the accompanying text made it easy to work out what was going on in those photographs without labels.

As well as their service in the UK, members of the MTC drove ambulances for the French before the German Invasion, and then for the Free French. They were then involved in driving ambulances for the South African Army and the Corps provided drivers for a wide range of civilian and ministry cars. They were only reluctantly acknowledged by the War office, but the Ministry of Supply and the Royal Ordnance Factories all took advantages of their services. Each of these allocations tended to produce another unique set of cloth sleeve insignia and these are covered comprehensively in the book:capturebThe author has a reputation for greatly expanding our knowledge of the civilian services during the Second World War and this book is a superb addition to the historiography of the period. I acknowledge that this is a niche subject, but like all Jon Mill’s books it is well written and worth picking up a copy if you can find one as you are guaranteed to learn something new. Sadly this book, and indeed the rest of the series, appears to have been out of print for a number of years but copies are available second hand and for the serious student of the Home Front are well worth acquiring.

WRNS Jigsaw Book

As all those who have served in the military will know, there are long periods of boredom with nothing happening. Service personnel fill these lulls with chatting, reading, playing cards and any other form of cheap, easily portable forms of entertainment. One popular pastime, especially in barracks, during the Second World War was the jigsaw puzzle. Tonight we have a jigsaw designed and produced by Waddingtons with service personnel and their families very much in mind:imageThis set is in the form of a thin book rather than a traditional box and has the Women’s Royal Naval Service badge on the front, along with a price of 2/6. The back of the book explains how a small box can be folded up to store the jigsaw puzzle and to post it to those in the services:imageSadly it seems that the jigsaw was given to someone else at the time as it is missing. The rest of the booklet has a brief history of the WRNS up to this point in the war, with line drawings to illustrate the story:imageimageimageimageI have not had much luck tracking down a history of these puzzles and I have yet to find any other examples of this puzzle, as ever if you have more information that can help fill the gaps, or indeed a photograph of the puzzle itself, then please get in contact so we can flesh out the history of this object a bit more!

WRAC Stable Belt

The Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) was founded in 1949 as a replacement for the wartime Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The corps provided women to the army to cover administrative and clerical tasks for the most part and were an integral part of the army throughout the Cold War. As with any other unit in the army the WRACS had a set of distinctive insignia and uniform embellishments, including the stable belt we are looking at tonight:imageThe belt is made of green canvas striped with red brown down the centre:imageWith a metal adjustor slide:imageIt is secured by a brass buckle with the corps’ insignia in the centre and the title around it:imageThe buckle splits into a male and female part for fastening and unfastening:imageThese regimental stable belts come in a huge variety of styles and colours. They are not issue items, instead being purchased by the wearer, however as their use is so universal they have almost become a standard item of uniform. The WRAC orders of dress actually included it as part of their summer blouse order:

Summer Blouse Order (W14):

  • Skirt, lovat green barrack dress
  • Shirt, woman’s white, blouse type
  • Forage cap, dark green or beret, dark green, at CO’s discretion
  • Stable belt, WRAC
  • Jersey, woman’s may be worn
  • Hosiery in authorized shade
  • Shoes, black leather, flat heel, laced, or court shoes with medium heel
  • Badges of rank
  • Raincoat if required

The Corps was disbanded in 1992 and its members joined the various regiments they had been attached to.