King George V in Admiral’s Uniform Commemorative Plate

We have discussed the craze for commemorative china before. In the years between 1880 and 1930 many people collected china with various designs on it in simple transfer prints. Some pieces were made by the big companies, with their logo emblazoned on the bottom and were pitched at the better quality end of the market. Cheaper, unbranded products also existed that were affordable enough for nearly all in society. For the purposes of this blog, the transfer designs we are most interested in are those with a military connection and tonight we have a handsome plate with a transfer print of King George V in naval uniform:imageThis style of plate is known as a ribbon plate as pieces of brightly coloured ribbon could be woven in and out of the cutouts around the plates circumference. These could be used just for decoration or tied into bows to allow the plate to be hung on a wall. Apparently it was also popular to attach them to a heavy curtain, which to me at least implies a high rate of breakages!

The design in the centre of this plate depicts a youthful king George V in his Royal Naval admiral’s uniform, complete with a healthy array of medals and honours on his chest:imageFrom his age here and other examples of the same design we can determine that this plate was produced for his coronation in 1911 and the transfer design was possibly copied or inspired by this portrait of the king:imageThere is no maker’s mark on the rear of the plate, indicating that this was probably produced for the lower end of the souvenir market. Despite that, and the wearing off of the gilding around the edges, this remains a handsome plate and like so much royal memorabilia it was a very cheap piece: I picked it up for £2 in a charity shop. It is now hanging on my living room wall, just as it was designed to be used 108 years ago.


58 Pattern Compass Pouch

When it was first introduced the 58 pattern webbing set did not include any of the pieces of webbing usually used by officers, so there was initially no binocular cases, holsters or compass pouches. It was quickly realised that these were essential components for any equipment set and by the early 1960s these pieces had been introduced, although they do not appear in the fitting instructions for the 58 pattern set. Tonight we are looking at the compass pouch from this set which accompanies the pistol and binoculars cases I already have nicely. The case is a small square pouch in the green pre-shrunk cotton typical of the 58 pattern set:imageIt is more square in shape than earlier designs and the box lid secures with a brass turn buckle rather than a press stud:imageThe lid opens to allow a marching compass to be fitted inside:imageThe interior of the pouch is padded with felt to help protect the slightly delicate compass from shocks and bumps:imageManufacturer’s details were printed on the underside of the box lid, unfortunately in this case they are now very faint and I can’t make out who made this pouch or when:imageThe rear of the pouch has a single metal ‘C’ hook and a transverse webbing loop to allow the 58 pattern yoke to be slotted through:imageFor some reason, this pouch has had a splash of yellow paint added to the rear:imageI am not sure exactly why this has been done, possibly it has been added by a previous user so he can quickly identify his piece of webbing in a pile of his comrades.

As items like the binoculars case, holster and compass pouch were produced in smaller numbers than the standard infantry 58 pattern webbing, they are slightly harder to find today than other components. Having said that, they are still out there and careful shopping will allow the collector to find them at a reasonable price. I paid £5 for this case and the dealer I bought it off had three of them for that price so they are still readily available.

HMS London Postcard

This week’s postcard is a lovely pre-WW1 image of the Battleship HMS London still in her Victorian naval colours rather than battleship grey:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3)HMS London was a pre-dreadnought of the Formidable class and had been laid down in 1898, being completed in 1902. She displaced 15,000 tons and had a top speed of 18 knots. She was driven by two vertical triple expansion engines fed by water tube boilers. These vented through two central funnels:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (3) - CopyHer armament consisted of two twin 12” gun turrets, one fore and one aft:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (4) - CopyThese were supplemented by twelve 6” guns of secondary armament located in a belt along the side of the shipSKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (6) - CopyShe was still very Victorian in design and had two slender masts fitted:SKM_C284e18070313140 - Copy (5) - CopyHMS London commissioned at Portsmouth Dockyard on 7 June 1902 for service in the Mediterranean Fleet, She left Portsmouth in early July, stopping at Gibraltar, and arrived at Malta on 14 July. While in the Mediterranean, she underwent refits at Malta in 1902–1903 and 1906.

In March 1907, London transferred to the Nore Division, Home Fleet, at the Nore, then to the Channel Fleet on 2 June 1908, serving as Flagship, Rear Admiral, Channel Fleet. She underwent a refit at Chatham Dockyard in 1908, and paid off there on 19 April 1909 to undergo an extensive refit.

Her refit complete, London commissioned at Chatham on 8 February 1910 to serve as Second Flagship, Rear Admiral, Atlantic Fleet. Under the fleet reorganisation of 1 May 1912, she became part of the Second Home Fleet at the Nore, reduced to a nucleus crew and assigned to the 3rd Battle Squadron. She collided with the merchant steamer SS Don Benite on 11 May 1912. She transferred to the 5th Battle Squadron and was used in experiments with flying off aircraft from May 1912 until 1913, employing a ramp built over her forecastle which had been transferred from the battleship Hibernia.

Upon the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the 5th Battle Squadron was assigned to the Channel Fleet and based at Portland. Their first task was to escort the British Expeditionary Force across the English Channel. A number of experimental paint schemes were tried during the first month of the war but these were quickly abandoned in favour of battleship grey.

It was briefly planned to deploy the squadron to replace the ships lost during the Action of 22 September 1914 but the orders to transfer to the Medway were rescinded.

The squadron transferred to Sheerness on 14 November 1914 to guard against a possible German invasion. While there HMS London was present when HMS Bulwark exploded and London’s crew joined in the attempts to rescue survivors. The enquiry into the explosion was carried out aboard HMS London. The squadron returned to Portland on 30 December 1914.

On 19 March 1915, London was transferred to the Dardanelles for service in the Dardanelles Campaign. She joined the British Dardanelles Squadron at Lemnos on 23 March 1915, and supported the main landings at Gaba Tepe and Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.

London, along with battleships HMS Implacable, HMS Queen, and HMS Prince of Wales, was transferred to the 2nd Detached Squadron, organised to reinforce the Italian Navy in the Adriatic Sea when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. She was based at Taranto, Italy, and underwent a refit at Gibraltar in October 1915 during her Adriatic service.

In October 1916, London returned to the United Kingdom, paid off at Devonport Dockyard to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels, and was laid up. While inactive, she underwent a refit in 1916–1917.

In February 1918, London moved to Rosyth and began conversion to a minelayer. The conversion included removal of all four of her 12-inch guns and her antitorpedo nets, replacement of her after main-battery turret with a 6-inch (152-mm) gun, and installation of minelaying equipment on her quarterdeck, including rails for 240 mines, and of a canvas screen to conceal the entire quarterdeck from external view. The conversion was completed in April 1918, and on 18 May 1918 London recommissioned at Rosyth for service in the Grand Fleet’s 1st Minelaying Squadron. Before the war ended on 11 November 1918, London had laid 2,640 mines in the Northern Mine Barrage.

In January 1919, London was reduced to reserve at Devonport as a depot ship. As part of a post-war fleet organisation, she was assigned to the 3rd Fleet there. London was placed on the disposal list at Devonport in January 1920, and on the sale list on 31 March 1920. She was sold for scrapping to Stanlee Shipbreaking Company on 4 June 1920. She was resold to Slough Trading Company, then again resold to a German firm. She was towed to Germany for scrapping in April 1922.

Post War Insulated Thermos Type Food Flask

The British Army had started using Thermos style insulated containers for transporting hot rations to forward positions during World War Two. These cylinders had space for insulating material, usually cork, between the outer shell and the inner compartment holding the food. This insulation prevented the heat from food escaping and kept the contents hot for far longer than a standard metal container. Hot food is essential for troops in the field as it helps keep their body temperature up and is a far greater boost to morale than cold rations. Following the end of the Second World War the Army introduced a new thermos type container that was a similar diameter to its wartime counterpart, but taller allowing more rations to be carried in a single flask:imageThe container is made of metal, painted green, with large white letters prominently stencilled around the bottom reminding troops ‘this container must not be placed on a stove or fire’:imageThis is because, being a pressurised canister, if the flask is heated too much it would explode. Unlike earlier designs I believe the post war flasks used glass wool lagging rather than cork to insulate the contents. The lid of the canister is held on by three spring clips:imageThe lid itself has three hooks for these clips to attach to and has a green outer ring made of metal and a black plastic inner disc:imageA moulded set of instructions explains that the central button needs to be depressed to release the vacuum inside the canister before the lid can be removed:imageThe vacuum occurs because the soup, stew or tea placed inside the canister would be hot. Even with the insulation this will begin to cool and as it does the hot steam in the top portion of the flask would condense back into liquid. As this occurs there is less air pressure inside the flask and a vacuum seal is formed, much like what occurs in jam jars when hot jam cools. This vacuum would make it very hard to remove the lid, but by reintroducing air this seal is broken and the lid can be removed.

The underside of the lid has a large rubber gasket that helps keep the flask airtight:imageThe interior of the flask is made of plated metal to allow it to be easily cleaned and kept hygienic:imageRemoving the screws allows the interior to be removed in case any maintenance is required to the layer of lagging.

I am still trying to ascertain if there was any specific way of carrying this container in the field as it is heavy and awkward when it is empty so I can only imagine what it was like when full of a few gallons of food. There is no carrying handle on the top so, unless it was only transported by Land Rover, there does not seem to be an easy way to manoeuvre it across rough terrain.

SAS 58 Pattern Shoulder Brace

A few weeks ago we looked at an altimeter pouch that had been designed for use by the SAS. There were a number of different pieces of specialist 58 pattern webbing produced for Britain’s special forces and tonight we are looking at another example. The 58 pattern yoke was a comfortable piece of equipment that was well padded and generally well liked by troops. It was not however designed to be worn with the large A Frame bergans popularly used by members of the SAS. The thick padding was uncomfortable under the bergan and the metal stud for attaching a pick axe helve interfered with the fit of the metal frame. Early modifications to the 58 pattern yoke included removing this metal stud which helped to some degree, but in the end a dedicated pair of shoulder braces were introduced to be used by the SAS and it is one of these we are looking at tonight:imageThe shoulder brace is quite reminiscent of a 37 pattern strap, with a wider portion 2” wide in the centre where it passes over the shoulder, thinning to 1” at each end of the brace. As the 58 pattern belt was never designed for use with traditional shoulder straps, simple loops are fitted to pass a belt through. At the fixed end of the strap there are two of these, one above the other:imageThe opposite end of the strap is plain and a separate loop with a buckle is provided to go over the belt:imageThe plain end of the shoulder brace goes through this buckle and allows the length to be adjusted easily for comfort. The strap is an official piece of webbing rather than a piece made at unit level. The straps had an NSN number of 8465-99-130-0246 and this was stamped on the strap, although it is very faint on this example:imageThe straps came as a pair, one plain like this one and a second with a loop on the back to allow the straps to be worn crossed. Sadly I don’t have a complete pair yet, but like any SAS related equipment this strap is quite scarce and commands high prices on the collectors market. The prices for SAS related objects often have as much to do with the cache of the Regiment than any actual relationship to their scarcity. Often far rarer items sell for much less because they do not have the association with Special Forces. Happily for me, this strap came as part of a general job lot and was a pleasant surprise when I finally managed to identify what it was for!

The National Anthems of the Allies Sheet Music

For a large part of the Second World War Great Britain paid host to the governments in exile of many of the occupied nations of Europe, along with the remnants of their armed forces. Free French, Polish, Czechoslovakian and Norwegian troops were just some of those stationed and training in Great Britain before the invasion of Europe in 1944 when they joined the fight to liberate their home countries. Their British hosts did what they could to make these European guests feel welcome and between training many of these men mixed with locals, attended dances or were invited to other social events. To honour their guests, it was not uncommon to play both the British national anthem and the national anthem of the nation these European troops came from. Whilst most pianists of the 1940s could reasonably be expected to know the music for God Save the King, it was highly unlikely that they would know how to play the anthem for Poland or Czechoslovakia for instance. Sheet music companies were quick to recognise this need and tonight we have an example of a piece of sheet music with the anthems of Britain’s European allies:SKM_C284e18053008220The cover depicts some of the flags of these allies and we can see that the music covers Greece, France, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium with the music of God Save the King included for completeness. This type of publication was not new, similar sheet music had been published in the first World War as can be seen here.

Inside the sheet music are both the tune and the words for each of the anthems, such as this one for Greece:SKM_C284e18053008221Note how the words of the anthem have been translated into English to allow the people of Great Britain to join in the singing of the words- international co-operation and friendship only went so far apparently and it was not felt that the British would be able to sing in another language! Interestingly the playing of the allies national anthems was not limited to Great Britain. In the 1942-1943 season the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ran a series of weekly concerts paying tribute to a different allied nation. Each concert was started off by the playing of that country’s national anthem and it seems the season of concerts was highly successful.

Osprey Pistol Magazine Pouch

Among the many pouches produced for the Osprey IV system was a small pouch to carry spare 9mm magazines for the service pistol. By this stage traditional holsters had been largely replaced by hard shell plastic designs so a soft holster was not part of the Mk IV complement of equipment, however extra magazines would be required to be carried so a set of dedicated pouches was clearly desirable. The pouch is made of an MTP printed fabric with a top flap that has a more open weave than many of the other pouches in the Osprey IV set:imageThis change of fabric was presumably to give extra strength on a thin top flap that would otherwise be in danger of breaking if the more standard fabric had been used. The large top flap covers the base of the magazine and is secured with a large Velcro fastening to make it harder for the pouch to be accidently opened:imageThe magazine itself slides inside to make a secure fit, but one that allows it to be easily withdrawn:imageThe magazine used here is for a Browning Hi-Power, in service more modern magazines would have been carried, but this is the only double stack pistol magazine I have access to and illustrates the concept just fine.

A single MOLLE strap is fitted to the rear to allow the pouch to be secured to the vest:imageThe weight of even a full pistol magazine is negligible so one strap would be more than adequate. Under the strap is the standard Osprey label, printed on fabric and sewn to the rear of the pouch:imageThese pouches were not only used for carrying pistol magazines, but also occasionally saw service on operations to carry morphine syringes in a safe and secure pouch that allowed easy access in case of emergency. Although not what the designers had originally envisaged this sort of adaptation is typical of how soldiers use equipment when deployed on active service and this seems a very sensible secondary use for the pouch.