Plier’s Frog

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:imageThe 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:imageUnlike 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:imageThe 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:imageThe rear of the frog is stamped with the makers initial, MWS, a date of 1977, an NSN number and the /|\ mark indicating military ownership:imageIronically, 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.

RAMC Memorial Aldershot Postcard

This week’s postcard depicts the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Boer War memorial in Aldershot:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7)This memorial was unveiled in 1905 by King Edward VII and consists of a central, granite obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (7) - copyA small bronze sculptural plaque is fitted to the front of the obelisk:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyramc_memorial_aldershot_groupThe names of 314 officers and men of the Corps are recorded on 14 bronze name plaques arranged in a semi-circle behind the monument:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyThe memorial was designed by Robert Weir Schultz, whilst the sculpted group was by the Welsh sculptor William Goscombe John. In 2010 the memorial was listed, the reasons for this designation being given as:

The Royal Army Medical Corps Boer War Memorial of 1905 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Design Interest: As an elegant memorial of good quality workmanship and materials by a known sculptor and known architect. * Historical Interest: As commemorating the fallen of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Boer War, and as a remembrance of the work of the Corps and as a visually distinctive reference for those who serve or have served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, embracing the tradition of service and the regimental bond.

YA1532 Field Telephone Strap

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:imageThis 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:imageWhilst 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:imageTo secure the strap the end is passed through the sling loop, doubled back on itself and secured with a Twigg buckle:imageThis strap dates from 1942 and was made by the Mill’s Equipment Company:imageNote 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!!

William Reid VC Postal Cover

Tonight we have a rather attractive postal cover depicting a Wellington bomber, dating from 1984. The cover itself commemorates the 31st anniversary of the last flight of the Wellington back in March 1951 and the cover itself was flown in a Lancaster bomber:skm_c30819010908040 - copyOf more interest to us however is the signature, which is that of William Reid VC:skm_c30819010908040 - copy - copyWilliam Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 December 1942.

The posting did not materialise until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before the raid on Düsseldorf.william_reid_vcHis official VC citation recorded the action for which he won the medal:

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on. captureWounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

Flight Lieutenant Reid died in 2001.

Jersey Liberation Penny

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by Germany during the Second World War. As such the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945 had perhaps even more significance in these islands than it did in the rest of the U.K. as it also meant liberation. In 1949 the island of Jersey commemorated its liberation by minting a special coin. This was based on the standard copper 1d coin in use at the time, known in Jersey as ‘one twelfth of a shilling’, but with an additional legend of ‘ISLAND OF JERSEY LIBERATED 1945’:imageThe reverse of the coon has the crowned head of King George VI and as it was struck after 1948, the words IND IMP (India Imperator- Emperor of India) have been deleted:imageDespite the date of 1945, the coins were actually struck in 1949, 1950 and 1952 with a total production of 1.2 million coins. The commemorative coin owes its existence to Mr. J. Wilfrid du Pre of the Societe Jersiaise who lobbied for its production.

Reg Langlois was only a child during the war, living on Jersey, but he remembers the excitement of liberation:

I will never forget the day the adults started acting strangely, dancing and calling out to each other. I was playing in the back yard when my father called me indoors to listen to the wireless. “What’s a wireless?” I asked. He was indoors by then so I hurried in to join the family. In all the excitement I remember there was a lot of laughing and crying and everyone was hugging each other. My father stood over by the fire place with a strange piece of equipment in his hand that I had 

never seen before. It was attached to a dark coloured box-shaped thing on the floor and had wires attached to something I recognized as a battery. Sounds and voices came from it and my father told everyone to be quiet because 

Winston Churchill was going to speak. You could have heard a pin drop as Dad said softly “we have waited a long time for this moment “. We heard the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, say ” our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.” There was silence in the room. It was hard to 

believe that the long war and the occupation of our islands were over. When I asked my father where the wireless had come from he explained that it 

had been in the sitting room all the time, in a cupboard under the floor next to the fireplace. He went on to tell me that, when the Germans arrived in Jersey at the beginning of the occupation, they requisitioned his brand new Studebaker car but, before they took it away, he had very carefully removed the radio so 

that it did not look as if there had ever been one. If they had caught him with a radio he would have been punished or, worse still, sent to Germany. Many detainees were sent to Germany from Jersey and never returned. They died

over there. My father’s car was never returned to him but I have a memento – that radio is in my loft.

Green Rubberised Groundsheet

The General Service groundsheet was introduced as early as 1897 and was to see service through both world wars. It was a tan sheet of rubberised fabric, 6ft 6in x 3ft and with 36 eyelets around its edges. This very versatile item could be used as a waterproof sheet on which to sleep to protect the user from the damp earth, could be used as a waterproof cape by wrapping it around a soldier’s shoulders or by joining two or more together using the eyelets and a piece of string small shelters could be constructed for a couple of men. Although supplemented by the MK VII design, which included a triangular portion and a collar to be a true cape, the original design remained in service and largely unchanged until after World War Two. At this point the colour of the groundsheet was updated from tan to dark green:imageThe same colour change was implemented for the MK VII cape, however the groundsheet was approaching obsolescence and today although the cape remains very common, the green groundsheet is much harder to find. To be honest, until I came across this example I was not even aware that the groundsheet had been produced in green (even after more than ten years of collecting you are always learning new things!)

Other than the change in the colour, the design is unchanged and features eyelets all around the edges to allow a bivy to be constructed from multiple sheets:imageThe groundsheet has a lovely clear maker’s stamp indicating it was produced by G Strauss & Sons in 1952:imageThe official guidance for the making of the rubberised fabric dates back to 1917 and manufacturers were advised:

  1. Material and dye.- Each sheet is to be made of dyed cotton equal in quality and make to that of the sealed pattern; the dye must be similar in shade of colour to that of the sealed pattern, and must be equally fast with this to the action of atmospheric influences, weak acids and alkalis, detergents and bleaching agents.
  2. Proofing. – The proofing of the fabric, which is to be approximately of the same shade as that of the sealed pattern, and of smooth surface, must consist of:-

Mineral matter … not more than 52 per cent.

Sulphur … … not more than 3 per cent.

Rubber … … not less than 45 per cent, on the average (no single sheet to contain less than 43 per cent.)

The rubber is not to contain more than 10 per cent. organic matter extractable by acetone and not more than 10 per cent. organic matter extractable by alcoholic potash, after removal of acetone extract. No reclaimed, reworked, or de-resinified rubber is to be used.

The mineral matter, other than that used for colouring the proofing, is to consist of a mixture of zinc oxide and litharge.

Small additions of other ingredients, such as are generally recognised as having a beneficial influence on the composition or vulcanization, may be allowed (carbonates of magnesium excepted).

The nature and proportions of the various ingredients proposed as mineral matter, together with the nature and amount of colouring materials, must be declared at the time of tendering.

The method of conducting the analysis is that laid down in the General Appendix to Specification for Rubber Goods…

  1. Proofing.- The proofing must be free from grit and large sized particles of mineral matter, and must be uniformly spread over the surface of one side of the fabric; it must be of such thickness that a 3 inch square (9 square inches) of fabric shall have on its surface not less than 30 grains of proofing.

The proofing must be well vulcanized and adhere firmly to the fabric, and when detached from the fabric by a suitable solvent and dried, it must be elastic and not readily broken.

The sheets may be inspected as regards proofing during manufacture (and samples taken) by the Chief Inspector, (Inspection Department), Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, or his representative.’

This groundsheet was an excellent little find and as my collection of post war jungle kit has grown, new finds have become more infrequent making a new discovery all the nicer.

NFS No 5 Fire Force Area Map

In August 1941 the National Fire Service was formed by amalgamating nearly 1600 local fire services and the Auxiliary Fire Service into a single entity covering the whole country. This new nationwide service was administratively split into around forty regional fire forces and the force covering much of the West Riding of Yorkshire was the No 5 Fire Force. Tonight we have a period map of the region with the different fire forces labelled:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area is the focus of the map and its borders are clearly marked with a deeper and darker outline than the adjoining forces:imageA small key indicates what the map depicts and includes the badge of the National Fire Service:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area’s Chief Clerk, AB Trundell, writing in late 1941 described the elements that made up the new regional force:

For the purposes of administration the No 5 Fire Force Area is within the No 2 Region under the Chief Regional Fire Officer, who is responsible to the Regional Commissioner. The Fire Force Area covers approximately 900 square miles and extends from Sedbergh in the north to Holmfirth in the south, and from Wharfdale on the east to Bowland at its boundary with Lancashire on the west. There are within the Fire Force Area at present time some 33 local government authorities as follows:-

County Boroughs- 3

Boroughs-3

Urban Districts- 21

Rural Districts-6

The area as a whole has again been divided into Divisions covering 84 stations now established. The total administrative strength is 226.

J Downs, the commander of the area reflected on nationalisation:

In August 1941 the territory now known as No 5 Fire  Force Area consisted of 33 local authorities, each possessing fire brigades and AFS organisations of varying sizes and types. These were spread over some 900 square miles and contained the major portion of the woollen and worsted industry, with a population of approximately one million. A very important part of this country and a vital one from an industrial point of view.

The regulations provided for this to be taken over in so far as fire cover was concerned, “lock, stock and barrel” both operationally and administratively.

Operationally it meant the organisation of large numbers of pumps, special appliances and personnel into a unified Fire Force in divisions, and the establishing of an effective system of control with a definite chain of command. This involved new headquarters and control rooms, a complete new lay out of telephone communications, new stations and improvements to existing ones. It involved the up of schools for both men and women where instruction could be given on a nationally adopted standard and where women could be taught to take over duties previously carried out by firemen and thereby release the latter for active fire-fighting duties. It involved the construction of static water tanks with a total capacity of millions of gallons, the laying of 12 1/2 miles of steel piping and the building up of a predetermined water relay system for the purpose of delivering water to the fire ground and replenishment of supplies.