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

Grenadier Guards McCalmont Cup Photograph, 1929

Tonight’s photograph was a very generous birthday present from my brother, the original photograph a very impressive 18 inches by 14 inches and mounted on card. The photograph depicts the winning team from the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards at the 1929 McCalmont Cup:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (9)The cup itself can be seen in the centre of the photograph, with a miniature version in front:SKM_C45817081108190 - CopyI believe this cup would have been for a shooting competition as the men are posing with Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (2)Interestingly one of the officers, with a particularly fine chest of medals, has a rifle as well:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (3)All the men in the photograph are experienced soldiers, with a multitude of proficiency badges on their sleeves:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (4)And the man sat on the front at the far right has an impressive four long service and good conduct stripes on his sleeves:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (5)These stripes indicate that this private had eighteen years of good conduct. As befits a Guards regiment the men’s uniforms are spotless, with brightly polished regimental buttons rather than General Service pattern examples. Each has a pair of white on red embroidered shoulder flashes with the regimental name:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (6)This affectation has remained with the Grenadiers to the present day, still being worn on the sleeves of modern Number 2 dress uniforms. They are also wearing regimental forage caps with gilded peaks, rather than a standard khaki service dress cap:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (7)The officers also show regimental insignia, with the distinctive elongated pips of rank peculiar to Guard’s officers:SKM_C45817081108190 - Copy (8)I have tried to identify anything further about the McCalmont cup and I believe it was run at the Pirbright Ranges by the London and District Rifle Meeting. As ever if anyone can help provide some more background get in touch.

Royal Navy Air Sea Rescue Badge

I am slowly building up a little collection of 1970s and 1980s pin badges relating to the Royal Navy. My latest find is this one for the Air Sea Rescue role:imageThe helicopter in the centre is a stylised version of a Wessex:wessex2The Wessex had replaced the Whirlwind in the Air Sea Rescue role in 1964 for the Royal Navy (the RAF continued using Whirlwinds until the mid 1970s). The Wessex had many advantages over its predecessor. In many ways it was a like a large Whirlwind in that it had a large main cabin suitable for casualty handling with a cockpit separated from and above it. However, it was a much more robust aircraft with a heavy-duty, tail wheel, tricycle undercarriage. It had two powerful Gnome engines with a very good single engine capability. It was significantly faster, it had a much greater lift capacity and an enhanced radius of action. Its only perceived disadvantage was that being heavier it needed to be hovered higher over the sea and was not quite as manoeuvrable as the Whirlwind. Conversely it had a good Auto-Stabilisation Equipment system which made it a stable winching platform and improved its ability for transit in cloud. Its ability to operate in poor visibility and at night was improved by fitting a radar altimeter; however, without a full Auto Pilot system, it was still not designed to be operated over the sea at night. The helicopters were painted yellow for visibility and were used in the Air Sea Rescue role for many decades, being supplemented and then replaced by the more powerful Sea King.

9mm Drill Ammunition

Despite using 9mm parabellum ammunition in its Sten and Lanchester sub machine guns, the British did not introduce a specialist drill round for training until 1951. Up until this point various commercial manufacturer’s in America and Canada had produced drill rounds for use by the British, but these rounds were very similar in appearance to standard rounds, with just small holes drilled in the case to indicate they were drill rounds. Obviously a safer form of ammunition was needed and the ‘Cartridge S.A. Drill 9mm D2 Mark 2’ was approved in 1951:imageThese rounds allowed troops to safely practice filling magazines such as that for the Sterling:imageOther uses for the cartridge were to cycle rounds manually through a firearm to demonstrate its operation or to indicate it was working correctly. The cases were made of white metal, or chromed brass with three red painted flutes around the edges to allow them to be identified in the dark by touch alone:imageThe cap chamber on the base is empty and painted red:imageThe round has a normal brass bullet resting on a wooden spacer. The base of the cartridge has the usual head stamps indicating date and place of manufacture. In this instance two of the three rounds in my collection are heavily worn for use, but one is nice and clear:imageFrom this we can see that the round is a 9mm D2 round manufactured by Radway Green in 1976. In 1978 the round was changed to a plain silver casing without the red painted flutes and cap chamber. In 1986 production switched to Hirtenberger in Austria, probably as a money saving exercise.

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!

Olive Green PLCE Water Bottle Carrier

Following on from our recent post on the olive green PLCE ammunition pouches, tonight we are turning our attention to the water bottle carrier. My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for helping me add this one to my collection and effectively doubling my green PLCE collection! When the PLCE set was introduced it was agreed to continue with the black plastic Osprey water bottle that had been used with the old 58 pattern set, however the new set included a larger pouch to carry it in that made it much easier to remove the bottle than that used on its predecessor:imageThe olive green colour indicates that this is an early production pouch, however as there are no visible markings on the pouch I cannot precisely date it. The pouch is secured on the front with the quick release ‘Spanish’ fastener:imageLike the ammunition pouches, this is supplemented with a Velcro fastener, covered with a noise reduction tab:imageThe inside of the pouch has an internal divider:imageNormally this is tucked away to allow the full size of the pouch to be used for a water bottle, however by using the divider a set of mess tins and a hexamine burner can be carried in the pouch without rattling. The back of the pouch has a confusing array of flaps, loops and hooks:imageAt the top we have a large flap secured with Velcro and lift the dot fasteners alongside a brass ‘C’ hook. The flap is used for attaching the pouch to a belt, whilst the brass hook prevents it from sliding along the length of the belt:imageThis was less than effective, with full pouches coming loose under their own weight (the same problem the Canadian had with their 64 pattern canteen carriers which also relied on Velcro!), to counter this the attachments were replaced with plastic T-bar hooks on later models.

Beneath this is a plastic patch for writing the owner’s name and number:imageAs can be seen, next to this is a small loop used for passing a piece of cord through to tie the pouch to others on the belt set. As usual a drainage hole is also included on the base:imageAs with other pieces of olive green PLCE this pouch was only in production for a relatively small period of time, however they remain common and easily available but with the growing interest in the First Gulf War they will become increasingly collectible as time goes on.

Interservice Netball Medal

One area of military life that was to receive particular attention during the Second World War was physical training. The army had been disappointed by the physical standard of many recruits during the war, the depression of the interwar years had resulted in many suffering from poor diet and being chronically underweight. Whilst army food built these recruits up, the newly formed Army Physical Training Corps helped build up their muscles and stamina, all essential for those in the military.

It was not just the men who needed physical training, it was also seen as essential for the women of the ATS and female physical training instructors were recruited and sent out to offer PTI to women. Needless to say they were not always popular, but many of the women of the services relished the opportunity to play sport and if Swedish drill in the early hours was not always appreciated, team sports were a happier choice.

One popular sport was netball and tonight we have a bronze medal issued players in a women’s interservice netball competition in Egypt: FullSizeRenderFrom the rear we can see that this was awarded in 1945/46 and was for those who were runners up: FullSizeRender1Netball has traditionally been a women’s game, being an offshoot of basketball developed in England in the 1890s and even today the men’s game is not officially recognised by the sport’s governing bodies. Interestingly though, the 1945 army manual on sport for India includes detailed information on the rules of the game, courts, how to play etc. There is no mention of gender in this section at all; implying that, at least on a unit level, male netball matches might have been arranged. Certainly the equipment required is pretty basic- a rough pitch and two buckets on poles to serve as goals would suffice and the non-contact nature of the game would make it suitable for troops recuperating after injury. If anyone has more information about the playing of the sport during the war, by either men or women, please get in contact.