Category Archives: WW2

White Metal Kit Bag D-Ring

Lurking in junk boxes and old tool chests, the brass kitbag D Ring is a very common piece of militaria and having a number of them I have pretty much stopped picking them up. Much harder to find however are examples in white metal and so I was very pleased to add this example to my collection a few weeks back:imageBrass was a strategic resource in the Second World War and its use was prioritised for key items such as shell casings. Other less strategic brass items such as cap badges and kitbag locks were made from alternative materials. In the case of cap badges plastic was used and for kitbag D-Rings a white metal was substituted.

This piece is made from the alternative metal, probably steel, but in design is similar to the older pieces. The swinging arm is hinged using a pin:imageWhilst at the opposite end a hole is cut to allow a padlock to be used to secure the kitbag:imageThis particular kit bag D Ring is very square in shape, presumably to act as a more comfortable handle when on the kitbag. There was actually a large variety in the shape of these d-rings as seen here when seen alongside a couple of brass examples:imageIn this image of a returning soldier, the kitbag d-ring can just be made out at the neck of his kitbag:FullSizeRender

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.

Anti Aircraft Fuze Cover

Artillery shell fuzes are fairly delicate, with finely tolerance clockwork parts within them to ensure that they work correctly. These fuzes need protection when being transported and in the Second World War a simple brad cone was provided that slipped over the fuze to prevent it from being knocked. These cones were designed for specific fuzes and marked as such and tonight we are looking at one cover that was originally issued for use with a No207 fuze:imageIt is a simple pressed metal cover, with a thicker lip soldered on around the base to protect a vulnerable area:imageThe cover is stencilled around the bottom half of the cone, this indicates that this was produced in 1942:imageAnd is for a No 207 fuze:imageThis fuze was a clockwork fuze, highly conical in shape, and used with the 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun:783879_-_photo_1_1442403291_bigThe 3.7 Inch AA gun was Britain’s major anti-aircraft gun of the Second World War and remained in service until 1957 and underwent development throughout the war with better fuzes, settings and predictors to enable it to keep up with improvements in German aircraft.800px-The_British_Army_in_the_United_Kingdom_1939-45_H40431Tom Overs was a small boy during the war and remembers:

I was nine when war broke out and growing up in the village of Cranham, near Gloucester.

As a young boy I was fascinated by all things military, and enjoyed the excitement of the arrival of men from an artillery battalion to set up their headquarters at Cranham Corner. Their job was to man the anti-aircraft batteries high on the Cotswold escarpment at Brotheridge and a smaller one close to what is now the Hatton Court Hotel.

The four guns at Brotheridge were 3.7 anti-aircraft guns, these were later supplemented by four Lewis guns which were capable of attacking the ‘lone raiders’ which used to fly low up the valleys. When fire was aimed south over the village it resulted in a hail of shrapnel falling on the common. Following such an attack this shrapnel was collected by the village children and a playground pastime was the swapping of pieces.

The main reason for the location of the batteries was to fire on enemy aircraft going on up to the Midlands, but they also protected the Gloster Aircraft Company factory at Brockworth. There were many barrage balloons surrounding the site, and when attacks were anticipated as added protection smokescreens would also be lit. I remember the thick black smoke from these, which used to stretch out over the factory. Some of these drums, I remember, were also placed ready to be lit at the side of the A46 and the Cross Hands roundabout.

WW2 British Army Underpants

The most common underwear worn by British soldiers during the Second World War were simple off-white woollen drawers. These were warm and relatively comfortable and came in both short and long length versions. We looked at an example of the Australian made long legged version on the blog here. Tonight we have another example, this time made in the UK and with shorter length:imageThese drawers are simple in construction and like most wartime underwear they do not have an elasticated waist. Instead loops are sewn into the waistband the trousers’ braces slip through these loops before they are buttoned to the inside waist of the battledress:imageThe fly is secured with three plastic buttons:imageThe bottom of each leg has a reduction woven cuff that helps draw it in to the leg:imageThe size, manufacturer and date are stamped in the inside in black ink:imageJB Lewis were a specialist hosiery manufacturer that seems to have been in business for the 1890s until the 1970s. Their main factory was in Nottingham and an article in 1898 described the factory:

The Nottingham warehouse, recently enlarged by taking in the adjoining premises, lately occupied by Messrs. Coombs and Co., Limited, has a total frontage of about 120 feet to Stanford Street and consists of a block of building of six floors, of which the following is the disposition:—On the basement are the rooms for packing and dispatching goods, and the boiler and engine houses for the heating apparatus, by which the whole of the establishment is warmed, and machinery driven. The ground floor is occupied by the receiving rooms for goods brought from the factory, and large stock rooms in which may be inspected in convenient form samples of the firm’s manufactures, to which we shall take occasion to make further reference at a later stage of our notice. The counting-house and general and private offices are situated on the first floor, and above these are additional store rooms and warehouse accommodation for stocks held in reserve.

As the outcome of the rapidly-increasing development of their trade, Messrs. J. B. Lewis and Sons, Ltd., were compelled to find a more commodious site for their manufacturing operations, and thirteen years ago removed their extensive works to Ilkeston, which were erected from special designs to meet the requirements of the business, and were again extended in 1890. By the courtesy of the management, our representative was permitted an opportunity of inspecting this fine establishment, and we are thus enabled to present a description of the more prominent features of organisation and equipment of a thoroughly modern and up-to-date hosiery factory. Passing through the entrance gates from the road, we find a block of two-storey building containing the offices, over which are the press shops and embroidery room, and within a short distance arrive at the main structure, a handsome block of four storeys, with a frontage of upwards of 100 feet, and 43 feet wide, and a side wing 92 feet by 43 feet. The basement of the building is used as yarn cellars, extending the greater portion of the length of the premises, in which are stored raw materials in the various qualities required in the manufacture of hosiery, and adjoining is another cellar where waste is kept, and also two spacious and well-arranged mess rooms, furnished with seats, tables, and every convenience for the hands, next to which is a room equipped with all necessary utensils, heated by steam, for preparing meals, etc. On this level also is the engine-room, containing a fine engine of 70 h.p., and boiler-house in which steam is generated for heating as well as motive force and manufacturing purposes. A lift communicating from the basement to the top of the building conveys us first to the ground floor, where we are introduced to the webbing room, furnished with circular machines; and next to a large apartment 100 feet by 43 feet width, well lighted and lofty, in which is installed a complete plant of Cotton’s patent hosiery machines for pants, vests, hose and half hose. The winding-room, 93 feet by 43 feet, is fitted with a large number of engines for winding yarn on the most improved principles, the machinery in this department being capable of winding 12,000 lbs. of yarn per week. On another floor is a room 93 feet by 43 feet, devoted to the manufacture of seamless hose and half-hose by automatic machines; the patent and rib machine room, and a room in which is placed a plant of Paget’s patent principle, for the production of underwear. The next apartment is arranged with long tables, at which the cutting and stitching of men’s underwear is conducted; and in order following are the circular, web, and rolling machines, with finishing rooms for Cotton’s patent goods, which, in common with all other departments, are provided with counters for giving out and receiving the work, where it is carefully examined and checked by experienced overlookers to detect any fault, ten of these officials being engaged in various parts 

Anti-Gas Ointment Jar

Whilst soldiers were issued anti-gas in small tubes that were carried in metal tins stored in their respirator haversacks, this method of supply was not suitable for the civilian population and so from 1939 onwards anti gas ointment, used to treat the skin when exposed to blister gases, was supplied in earthenware seven pint jars. This allowed it to be shared out in the aftermath of an attack as part of the civil defence procedures. These jars continued to be produced and issued in the immediate post war period and tonight’s example dates from 1956. It is a 10″ high white glazed jar, with a sealed lid and carry handle:imageThe earlier examples were half brown and half white, but by the post war period were completely white. The front of the jar has ‘Ointment Anti-Gas’ stamped on under the glazing:imageThe lid has a rubber seal, now perished, and is secured with a twisting metal clip, unfortunately rather rusted on this example:imageThe carry handle is a simple ‘U’ shaped piece of flat steel, secured to the neck of the jar with wire:imageThis jar was made by Doulton and Company of Lambeth in London in November 1956:imageA number of different types of anti gas ointment were produced during the war, and the official history of gas warfare explains their development:

The first ointment introduced was Ointment, Anti-Gas, No 1. It was effective against liquid mustard gas only; it was an irritant after repeated applications, and corrosive to metal portions of weapons if left on for too long. Being irritant it could not be used prophylactically to protect the skin against gas vapour. It was issued in a two-ounce lever tin. In 1939 it became obsolescent and was superseded by Ointment, Anti-gas, No 2. This was an ointment in a vanishing cream base which was effective against both mustard gas and lewisite. It was far less irritant than No 1, but not by any means non-irritant. It was possible to. Use it prophylactically against vapour, but it was an irritant to those parts of the body where the skin is more delicate…

A series of ointments- No 3, 3A, 5 and 6- were introduced successively. These ointments contained antiverm, the chemical used for anti-gas impregnation of clothing. Nos. 3 and 3A (the tropical form of No3) were incorporated in a fatty base; and Nos. 5 and 6 were of the vanishing cream type. They were all superior to No. 2 in that they were non-irritant and less corrosive.

War Damage Repair Leaflet

It is hard to under emphasise how many different aspects of civilian life were influenced by government legislation during the Second World War. What you could buy was limited by rationing, what you could sell items for was limited by price controls, even where you were allowed to live was subject to government control. In 1941 new regulations came into place to control civilian building. Supplies for repairs and new building were under pressure to meet both military requirements and repair bomb damage and labour was short. Large numbers of workers from neutral Ireland helped mitigate the labour shortage to some degree, but prices were rising and some builders were taking advantage to make large profits by charging extortionate prices for work.

The government recognised that controls needed to be brought in, and companies directed to ‘triage’ the construction needs. It was better to repair twenty lightly damaged buildings to get them back into use, than repair one badly damaged building that took up more time and materials to fix. In early 1942 Defence Regulation 56A came into effect and this leaflet was sent to builders to explain the new rules:SKM_C30819021912050 - CopyRuth Dunstan worked for an architect’s firm during the war:

My own real war work was to come at the end of 1940 when I joined Mr C Russell Corfield FRIBA, a very distinguished local architect, many of whose local houses have been listed for their fine quality. My own qualifications were only secretarial but with the young men of the practice away on war service the work devolved on Mr Corfield and me. I had to learn the elements of traditional building in a hurry for the firm was empanelled to serve with the Borough Surveyors of Falmouth and Penryn, Mr Harry Tresidder and Mr Harris respectively.

As stated, there had been a good deal of war damage (and sadly some fatalities) in Falmouth and Penryn from enemy aircraft.

National legislation required all property owners to take out war damage insurance for all necessary war damaged repairs of a permanent nature. However, First Aid repairs were dealt with wholesale as promptly as possible, after careful recording. Because of the pressure, and because I had then absorbed some working knowledge, I too was required to produce straightforward specifications on my own initiative. It kept us busy.

Local air raids damaged Falmouth’s Wesley Church, Lister Street and the Boscawen Hotel (by then the headquarters of the local Women’s Royal Navy). In fact Lister Street included several complete houses, including one which only came on the market as a clear site in 2002 which the estate agency sold for the owners in that year. 

Penryn, with its fine period houses, suffered badly. We found many interesting items at risk. I remember a circular head carved door from the 17th century and a vertical passage, which could have been a remnant of either Reformation or smuggling days both in Bohill; the use of canvas or “poldavy” (a type of sailcloth — a former Falmouth Packet Captain had a poldavy mill at Tremoughdale) used to line buildings instead of plaster and early house deeds from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr Corfield refused to condemn badly damaged properties, as someone less sensitive might have done, with the result that Penryn’s essential character was preserved for later effective restoration. It is a pity that progressive modern development has taken place here and there since then.

The actual First Aid Repairs were carried out under our direction by teams of those builders and others in the trade who were still available, being over age for war service. These were signed on from a wider area, notably Staverton Builders of Devon (founded by the Elmhirsts of Dartington; in Falmouth Messrs Eva & Bone, E H Moss, E Thomas, Angove & Son, Curtis & Son (Penryn) and Morris (plumbers). 

Obviously this insurance and repair arrangement applied all over the United Kingdom.

Stirrup Pump (Part 2)

We looked at a stirrup pump back in February, here, that example was incomplete and missing its hose. Since writing that post I have come across another, more complete example, for the princely sum of £5:imageThe most obvious difference between this and the earlier example, is this pump still has the hose with it. This hose is made of rubber, wrapped in reinforcing tape and painted black:imageIt measures thirty feet long and when not in use is coiled up and fastened to the pump. The nozzle on the end does not match the pictures in the Firewatcher’s handbook and may be a later replacement, it is secured in place with a jubilee clip:imageThe hose, when coiled up, is secured with a webbing tab, secured with a metal pin and with a plastic quick release tab. This is nicely marked with a crown and the letters GR:imageThe Royal cypher is repeated on the brass collar part of the pump, albeit faintly:imageA massive move was made to produce enough pumps before the war, but 1940 there were only 86,000 distributed which was viewed by the authorities as woefully inadequate. Here women welder’s work to make the handles for stirrup pumps:imageStirrup pumps appear regularly in press photos showing the work of the Civil Defence services:imageDespite its simplicity, the stirrup pump could be invaluable and St Paul’s Cathedral was saved from destruction using the simple stirrup pump:

When a fire broke out in the cathedral’s library aisle, there was no mains water to fight it — the blaze was eventually suppressed with ­stirrup pumps, buckets and sand.

Then, soon after 6.30pm, an incendiary bomb — one of 29 to fall on and around St Paul’s that night — pierced the lead roof of the dome and lodged in its timbers.

Molten lead began to drip into the nave below. The aged wood of the choir stalls and organ screen, carved by the great sculptor Grinling Gibbons, was at mortal risk, while smoke from the blazing buildings surrounding the cathedral enveloped it. Two teams of specialist fire watchers recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects — and hand-picked because they had heads for heights — were ­crawling along the wooden beams with hand pumps to reach the ­blazing section. But suddenly the incendiary bomb, having burnt through the wood, fell far, far to the nave below, where it was easily put out. Though almost every building around St Paul’s ­perished, the cathedral survived.

This pump was filthy when I bought it and has been carefully washed with hot soapy water. It is far from perfect, but for the price was a fantastic find and it is different from my earlier example.