Category Archives: WW2

Wartime Signals Satchel Number 1

As regular readers will know I have been picking up bits of kit for my WS38 set radio slowly over the last couple of years. This week I was very pleased to pick up a wartime signals satchel to go with the set:imageI have previously looked at an example of a signals satchel here, but that example was a post war version in green canvas with white metal fittings. This example is the correct one for wartime use and will go nicely with the radio. This is officially a ‘Signals Satchel No 1’, had a stores code of ZA 6292 and was introduced on 27th May 1938. The main body of the satchel is made from pre-shrunk woven cotton webbing, with a box lid:imageThe lid is secured with a single strap and brass buckle to secure it:imageThe inside of the satchel is lined with cotton-drill fabric to help protect the contents:imageTwo variations of the signals satchel can be found, one with the shoulder strap sewn to the satchel itself, and the more common variety such as this one that has a standard 37-pattern shoulder brace secured with brass buckles:imageThe top of the satchel is printed with ‘SATCHEL SIGNALS’:imageThe inside of the top lid is clearly marked with the date 1942 and the manufacturer ‘MECo’:imageThe strap is also stamped:imageAccording to the instruction card the signals satchel should hold:

– 2 mics and 2 phones (one for the officer)

– 1 batteries, (spare)

– 1 hooks, brace (spare)

– The instruction card

The actual batteries and junction box should have been stored in a separate pack on the back, but by all accounts only the satchel was used for much of the time so the wireless operator actually had somewhere to carry his own personal kit!

As far as I am aware this satchel was made in both Britain and Canada. I have not seen Australian, Indian or South African examples but that does not mean there was not production in these countries.

Indian Made Binoculars

It is hard to comprehend the revolution in manufacturing India went through during the Second World War. Before the war India had a very limited manufacturing base, whilst there was some modern industry in the country it was at a comparatively early stage of industrial development The Second World War acted as a catalyst and the country went through a very rapid change in a short period of time. One area that needed rapid expansion was that of optics- sights for weapons, telescopes and mirrors and of course binoculars. Tonight we are looking at a rather fine pair of binoculars manufactured in Calcutta in 1944:imageIn design they are virtually identical to the equivalent British made binoculars. There are a few detail differences compared to other sets I have. For instance on my British made binoculars the loops for the carrying strap are little brackets soldered onto the body of the binoculars. This Indian pair have a slightly expanded top plate with two cut outs through them instead for the straps to secure into:imageThe focus of the binoculars is adjusted by twisting the eyepieces to move them in and out and this changes the focal length, the eyepieces have knurling on them to make it easier to twist:imageThe two parts of the main body have a textured lacquer to aid grip:imageAnd the angle of the two halves is adjustable, around a central brass rod:imageA small guide is marked on the end to show the relative angle of the two eyepieces:imageThere are two sets of markings on the binoculars, one indicates that they are ‘Binoculars, Prism, No2. Mk II’ and they have six times magnification:imageThe other set of markings indicate they were made in Calcutta in 1944 by ‘M.I.O’:imageMIO was the ‘Mathematical Instrument Office. The 1944 History of the Indian Supply Department provides some interesting background:

During war, the numbers of firms producing scientific instruments has increased to about one hundred and sixty but very few of them are well equipped. The Mathematical Instruments Office has been enlarged and converted into an Ordnance factory and the work of manufacturing simple stores like drawing boards, stands, instruments, sun compasses etc., has been taken away from it and given to the private firms. This left the M.I.O. free to concentrate on the production of the more important stores such as binoculars, prismatic compasses, sighting telescopes etc. The industry is mainly concentrated in Calcutta with 95 of the total 160 firms located there. Lahore comes next with 21 firms.

My thanks go to Michael Skriletz for kindly sending these binoculars across the Atlantic for me.image

War Department Marked Safety Razor

It is odd that it has taken me nearly ten years of collecting to finally add a British Army marked razor to my collection. I must confess I have not yet found one ‘in the wild’ and this example came from eBay and cost rather more than I would normally pay, but it fills an important gap in my personal kit collection:imageThis safety razor has never been issued and came in its original paper packet from the store:imageThe razor itself breaks down into three parts, the handle unscrews and the top piece splits into two pieces:imageThe top cover of the razor is marked with the /|\ acceptance mark, a date of 1945 and a maker’s name of A.S & Co:imageI believe this stands for the ‘Autostrop Razor Company’. This was a London company and this advert for a different design of razor dates to 1919:Im1919DMYBk-AutoAlthough the US had issued safety razors in World War One, and many British troops had privately purchased them, the British Army still officially issued cut throat razors until 1926 when a contract was placed with the Gillette Company Ltd to replace these with safety razors. This created debate in the Houses of Commons:

Mr. STORRY DEANS (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is the policy of his Department to contract with manufacturers and not with merchants or agents for the supply of goods for the use of the Army; whether he is aware that the Gillette Company Limited, to whom a contract for safety razors has been given, is not a manufacturing company; that it does not own or work either the factory where the razors are made or the factory where the blades are made; whether he is aware that both these factories are owned by an American company; and what is the reason for departing from the usual practice of the Department in the case of this contract?

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans) The normal practice of the Department is to place contracts only with manufacturers, but where the manufacturer has a sole selling agent we are perforce obliged to contract with the selling agent if we wish to purchase the goods. The razor-holders are to be made at Slough, and the blades in Canada.

Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to a letter from the managing director of the Auto-Strop Safety Razor Company which appeared in the “Times” of 18th October; and whether it is a fact that the offer of that company would have provided for Army requirements of safety razors “without a penny of expense to the British Treasury”?

Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS Yes, Sir, my attention has been drawn to the letter. It is, of course, not customary to disclose tenders, but since the letter would give an entirely false impression, I think it right to say that, had the offer been accepted, it would have meant a cash payment of some 60 per cent. in excess of that under the existing contract.

Sir A. KNOX Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether that price includes the expense of the strops as well?

Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS I believe it includes some of the strops, but the rest would have had to be paid for extra.

The 1943 British Army Clothing Regulations indicate that a single safety razor was issued to each man at the start of his time in the army, but then was maintained form his own funds, with replacement blades and new razors being bought form the NAAFI rather than being issued by the military. The blades used in these razors were made of carbon steel rather than the stainless steel used in modern blades and this resulted in them rusting easily, so care had to be taken to clean and dry blades after use.

This little safety razor is definitely on the cheaper end of the scale, a contemporary Ever Ready example I have been using up to this point in my wash roll is far better made, however this is to be expected when military contracts are involved! For a review of the shaving capabilities of this little razor head over to the blog’s Facebook page for more information.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!

Beadon Flight Suit Survival Backpack

The Beadon suit was a lightweight blue-grey gabardine flight suit introduced by the RAF at the very end of the Second World War. It was designed for use in tropical areas and had numerous pockets for the carrying of survival equipment. As well as the survival equipment carried in the suit itself, pilots wearing this flight-suit were also equipped with a small bag that could be worn as a back pack to carry further survival kit in. These backpacks are actually pretty rare, so I was very lucky to be given this example at The Yorkshire Wartime Experience:imageMy thanks go to Gary Hancock for his expertise in identifying it! Sadly this example has had the straps to allow it to be used as a backpack cut off, there would originally have been two light woven cotton straps attached to the top of the bag. A series of small pockets are fitted along the bottom edge of the backpack for carrying survival equipment:imageThese are secured with metal press studs:imageA black metal zip giving access to another pocket is provided further up the front of the bag:imageThe rear of the bag, which would normally be against the wearer’s back, is far plainer:imageTwo loops are provided however, again secured with press studs:imageThese would have been used to secure the bottom of the bag to the waist belt of the Beadon suit to prevent the bag from bouncing around when being used.

A simple white cotton label is sewn into the backpack with a stores code and /|\ marking:imageThe flight suit and this associated backpack saw service right at the end of the Second World War, in the Far East. It continued in service throughout the late 1940s into the early fifties seeing service in the early years of the Malayan Emergency until replaced with the 1951 pattern suit.

2″ Mortar Practice Bomb

I have a small selection of different bombs for my 2″ mortar, however the ones I have most of are these weighted drill rounds, of which I have four:imageThese bombs were used to practice firing the mortar as they have the same weight as a real HE round, allowing operators to practice firing a realistic round with no risk of an explosion when it landed. The bombs have a filling of sand which is dense, but safe. The bombs have a space for a Ballistite cartridge in the tail, a small metal cover screwing over the top to protect the cartridge:imageThese fins are not actually wartime examples, they are in fact post war Belgian tail fins; the British having sold surplus mortars and rounds after the war to European governments who then refurbished them to get further years of service. The original fins were made of a diecast alloy that was prone to metal fatigue, the Belgians upgraded the fins to steel, the fins being marked “Atelor” and dating to 1950. The bodies of these rounds are actually British as can be seen by the /|\ mark stamped into the shoulder of the bombs:imageThis bomb also has a small ’42’ marked on the shoulder:imageTwo different sets of markings can be seen on my bomb bodies, three of them are marked ‘NSCo’ with a mid war date on the main body:imageThese have a flat, slotted nose cap marked “1941 F&W No 1 IS”:imageOne however is marked “2”MOR I.D.E.I.L. 5/43″:imageThe nose cap on this one is similar to the other examples but has a threaded central hole:imageThe markings on this bomb read “CA/C 1944 77 No1 IS”. Note also the traces of blue paint in the slot.

As with so much of my 2″ mortar collection, my thanks have to go to Darren Pyper for his help with these items.

Royal Navy Bell-Bottom Trousers

We continue our review of wartime Royal Naval ratings’ uniform with the ‘bell-bottom’ trousers. These were so named due to the trouser legs flaring out to a great width at the cuff, with a width at the knee of 12-13in and a width at the ankle of 12-14in:imageThis great width allowed the trousers to be easily rolled up to allow work such as scrubbing decks, where they were rolled past the knees to protect them from water. This pair of trousers is made of dark blue serge and has a blue and white striped lining at the waist, indicating they date to after 1932:imageNote the owner’s name stencilled on with white paint. The striped shirting material was replaced by unbleached calico in  June 1943. The waist of the trousers had a complicated series of flaps. With all the flaps open the full extent of the lining can be seen:imageThe first layer were two flaps that came in and fastened together on the front of the trousers, these included a small pocket for the wearer to store a watch or pocket handkerchief:imageThese were then covered with a second fall flap that folded up and down. This was secured with four black buttons at the waistline:imageButtons were fitted for braces, but sailors liked to wear their trousers so tightly cut that they were usually unnecessary and could often be removed by the owner as in this case. Sailors were issued with three pairs of serge trousers, kept rolled up in their kitbag. They were turned inside out to prevent fluff from appearing on the outside and folded into a rectangular block horizontally at about a hand’s width. This gave rise to the distinctive inverted creases down the sides of the leg, which having started as a practical measure, soon acquired a sartorial significance. Creases were ironed in with either five or seven depending on the length of the wearer’s leg.