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Special Announcement

We are pleased to announce that our new book “British Empire Uniforms 1919-1939” will be released on July 15th 2019.

This book provides a unique insight into the uniforms and equipment used by British Empire forces between the two world wars. Including descriptions of deployments and incidents during the period, the book features detailed photographs of individual artefacts as well as accurate uniform reconstructions in full colour. The text and annotations give detailed descriptions and background on subjects such as khaki uniforms, webbing, water bottles, communications equipment and so on.

The artefacts and uniforms portrayed in the book are derived from the authors’ own collections, as well as those of fellow collectors, in order to provide comprehensive coverage of the uniforms, artefacts and equipment used by British Empire forces of the period.

Covering British deployments in China, India, the North West Frontier and Palestine, this book is an indispensable guide to the British Empire forces from the end of the First World War to the eve of the Second World War.

978-1-4456-8894-7 £14.99 Paperback

Available from all good bookshops and direct from: Amberley Publishing

http://www.amberley-books.com tel: +44 (0)1453 847800


50 Pfennig Allied Occupation Note

Tonight we turn to another allied occupation note issued in Germany in the aftermath of the collapse of the Nazi regime, this time the 50 pfennig or 1/2 mark note:half pfenigAs with the one reichsmark note we looked at here, the reverse of the note has an elaborate ‘M’ logo rendered in brown ink:SKM_C30819042916120The control of exchange rates and currency was tightly regulated by the allied authorities in an attempt to prevent inflation in Europe and to prevent allied soldiers from committing fraud by receiving their pay in one currency, then converting it into another at a favourable rate on the black market before paying it back into their accounts for a substantial profit.

Soldiers were paid part of their wage in local currency, such as military issue marks, in order that they can spend this on things they wish to purchase locally. If the soldier was to take the surplus and purchase a savings deposit or a government savings bond this is legal as the money has been given to him in lieu of sterling and is legally his. If however he were to use his marks to purchase items at the NAAFI, then sell these to the German civilian population for a profit before paying the reichsmarks he received from the transaction back into his saving account to claim later in pounds sterling then he has committed an act of fraud.

This abuse of local currencies was even more obvious in the Middle East where American troops could buy a gold sovereign in Cairo for $20, the sell the same coin Naples for 6000 lire which would then be exchanged back into dollars for $60. The armies of all the allied nations tried to stamp out this currency abuse as it fuelled inflation as well as supporting the criminal and black markets in occupied Europe, however these sort of loose practices were hard to spot and most soldiers did not see that they were doing anything wrong by taking advantage of this loophole. Even today the actual extent of this currency abuse is unclear as its impact on the fragile economies of the continent.

Mk 2 Arctic Mittens

I covered the MK 3 arctic inner mitten on the blog a few years ago here, and since then I have actually been using these mittens in very cold weather to keep my precious mitts warm-  and a very good job of it they do. As the name of those mittens implies, there were earlier patterns of these gloves and tonight we are considering their predecessors, the MK 2 design. Again these are made in DPM fabric, but this time it is not a waterproof nylon but a simple cotton:imageThe design has the same wide palm as the later design, but does not incorporate the non-slip bumps so grip would be necessarily poorer:imageThe same separate thumb is featured in this design, as is the optional index finger section to allow a rifle to be fired:imageA piece of elastic sewn into the mitten helps draw it in at the wrist:imageUnusually the liner of these kittens are manufactured in blue faux-fur pile, rather than the expected green or brown:imageA label is sewn inside each mitten indicating the mark number, size, manufacturer and contract number:imageWhilst this design is clearly not as advanced as the MK 3, they remain a serviceable and war pair of mittens that would have worked well in extreme low temperatures and I am now intrigued to find a MK 1 to complete the evolution of this garment…

SEAC Airgraph

Airgraphs have appeared a number of times on the blog over the years, often with elaborate drawn designs on them. Tonight’s example is no exception and was sent from a soldier serving as part of South East Asia Command (SEAC):SKM_C30819041613080Very unusually, this airgraph has survived with its original envelope intact:SKM_C30819041613070The airgraph, after it had been printed back to a readable size was placed in this envelope before being posted to the recipient. When airgraphs were introduced, the Daily Mail explained how the new service would work:

A photographic method has been invented by which an all-the-way-by-air mail service, far cheaper and quicker than the normal, is to be started at once for letters between British troops in the Middle East and their relations and friends at home.

This “airgraph” service, the first of its kind in the world, was announced by the Postmaster-General yesterday. Letters sent by it will cost only 3d, and take less than a fortnight to arrive…

The secret of this sweeping change is the speed and cost of better transmission is the reduction of weight- by photography.

Weight is always the problem in sending freight by air. Four thousand five hundred normal airmail letters weight one and a half hundredweight- which is why in these times, they have to travel some of the way by sea.

The same number of airgraph “letters” will weight just one pound.

Because, of course, the original you or your soldier friend writes will not make the journey. It will be photographed and the negative about ½ inch wide and ¾ inch long will travel by plane in company with thousands of similar negatives…

On arrival this will be printed and the “letter” received will be, in effect, a photostatic copy of the original.

This example was sent in 1944 to a woman living in Bishop’s Waltham:SKM_C30819041613080 - CopyThe main picture has a selection of soldiers from the South East Asian command including American, Indian and Ghurka troops:SKM_C30819041613080 - Copy (2)The sender was a Gunner Reginald Edmunds of the Dorset Regiment:SKM_C30819041613080 - Copy (3)There seems to be an inordinate array of these airgraphs out there to collect, often illustrated and with personal messages which make them a fascinating topic for the militaria collector.

Protectors, Eye, Anti-Mine

The post war mine detector kit included a pair of specialist goggles to help protect the eyes of the mine clearance soldier from small fragments of metal that might be thrown up by an explosion. These goggles have a wrap-around design with extra thick lenses to help protect the wearer:imageThey were issued in a set with a case and anti-dimming kit:imageThe case is a small green carry case, secured by two quick release tabs on the front:imageA pair of ‘c’ hooks on the rear allows it to be carried on a belt:imageInside the goggles rest with the lenses to the rear of the case:imageA small pocket is provided at the front for the anti-dimming kit:imageThe case itself is lined with a soft white cloth to help protect the lenses of the goggles from scratches and a maker’s stamp for the case is printed here indicating the case dates from 1965:imageA label with instructions for the goggles use is sewn into the lid of the case:imageThe goggles themselves have a distinctive angular design to give them greater peripheral vision than standard goggles:imageSmall ventilation holes are stamped into the top, bottom and sides of the goggles to help air flow into the lenses and preventing the eyepieces from fogging up as quickly as they might otherwise have done:imageOne side of the lenses have the word ‘top’ stamped on them to ensure the wearer puts them on correctly:imageThe size of the goggles over the bridge of the nose can be adjusted and a green elasticated head harness is provided to help keep them on the head:imageA metal buckle on either side allows the tightness of the head harness to be adjusted:imageNote also the faint date stamp indicating that these goggles were produced in 1965. These eye protectors started being trialled in 1949 and seem to have continued in service until at least the 1970s.

One of the biggest mine clearance jobs after the war was clearing the anti-invasion mines laid on Britain’s beaches, as reported in the Times in 1956, eleven years after the war ended:

In Fairlight Glen, east of Hastings, sappers of the Bomb Disposal Unit, R.E., are now doing a job of mine clearance. This is not in fact as alarming as it sounds. The public still are able to walk freely and safely over large areas of the beautiful glen and up to the famous Lover’s Seat.

All the same, the various authorities concerned were not altogether satisfied that the glen was wholly cleared of mines that were hurriedly laid in the area in the summer of 1940. It appears that the original plans were lost when the officer of the laying party was blown up while carrying them, and accurate records of the mines laid before the accident were not available. After the war the area was swept with detectors except for a portion which since 1947 has been enclosed with the idea of allowing erosion to destroy or reveal the beach mines known to be there…

The first step by the R.E. was to gain access to the minefield by driving a road to enable bulldozers and other heavy equipment to get down to the beach. The whole densely overgrown area was suspect because of the discovery of a mine in the summer of 1954. It was decided that this growth must be burned down and the ground beneath swept with detectors as the access road was cut. In the course of burning off and sweeping the ground leading to the minefield proper four mines have been found…

We saw men moving over the ground and up the steep hillside with standard detectors, and later with the so called locators which find mines buried 5ft, or more below ground. The mines “found” were detonated one by one with heavy explosions, but there was reason to believe that these were nothing more than demonstration bangs.

Jungle Green 37 Pattern Bayonet Frog

This week sees the final part of our mini-series on Indian jungle green 37 pattern webbing when we take a look at the bayonet frog:imageIn design this exactly matches the description from the 37 pattern fitting instructions:

This is made of narrow webbing with a loop for suspending from the waist belt and has two horizontal loops for suspending the scabbard:imageThe scabbard is inserted and pushed through until the stud on the outside comes out between the two loops.

A second loop is sewn at the top to allow the handle of the bayonet to be slipped under to prevent it from bouncing around excessively:imageAs with the other pieces of jungle green webbing we have looked at, the piece is very faded and the markings on the rear are very badly stamped and hard to read:imageThere were a number of webbing manufacturers in India, Bata and ‘KEF’ being two whilst ‘CA’ is often seen marked on webbing and is the mark of the Cawnpore Government Harness and Saddlery factory. This manufacturer was based in Cawnpore and was a government  run equipment company dating back to the First World War. In addition to this factory, the company had branches at Calcutta and Cossipore, whilst yet more satellites were set up in Amritsar, Bombay and Madras when the threat of Japanese invasion was at its height.

This then concludes our look at Indian jungle green webbing for now, I am still missing some components such as the small and large packs but rest assured, when I add examples to my collection I will bring them to you here.

Soldering Iron

A soldering iron is used to join two pieces of metal, or electrical contacts, together by melting a metal solder that joins them together when cool. Today solderin g irons are powered by electricity or an internal gas but in the past it was more common to have an external heat source that the iron was held in until it was hot enough to work with. Tonight we have an example of one of these early soldering irons as used by the British military:imageThis iron is huge, being over 12 inches long, and very heavy, easily weighing a couple of pounds. The tip is made of copper, to better retain heat, and is marked with a /|\ stamp and a date of 1946:imageA second /|\ mark and number 83 is stamped on another face of the iron and is possible an inspector’s mark:imageThe copper tip is attached to an iron handle with a large pair of rivets:imageAnd this in turn is firmly fixed to a wooden handle that protects the user’s hand from the extreme temperatures:imageSoldering in the 1940s was a laborious process and as most of us are unfamiliar with the methods needed to heat up these old style soldering irons, I thought these instructions from a period handyman’s book would be instructive:

An atmospheric gas burner, Bunsen type, is the best for heating the soldering bit, or for applying heat to work to be sweated. Unfortunately a certain amount of oxide is deposited on the bit, so that it requires frequent cleaning by wiping with a rag. Occasionally, after hearting, it will need to be filed clean with an old coarse file (whilst still hot)…

The old fashioned method of heating the bit in a clear fire has much to recommend it, but the worker must guard against too prolonged heating which will burn away the faces of the copper. When using a gas ring, choose one with a small ring of jets close together; cover the bit with a bent piece of sheet iron put on top, to conserve heat…

Heating the soldering bit- Light the gas ring, and put the bit across so that the middle of the copper as well as the pointed end gets the flame. Presently the flame will turn a vivid green, and when the colour is very pronounced remove the tool. Avoid overheating the bit, otherwise the solder may not adhere. Wipe the working faces of the bit on a thick, clean (non-greasy) cloth, and immediately put the bit in the tray, on the end of the stick of solder. The solder will run, and flow over the working faces of the copper bit, which is then ready for use.

Needless to say, when electrically powered soldering irons became reliable this method was quickly dropped as it was far from convenient. Today these old soldering irons are often scrapped for the copper content in their tips, so it has been nice to save this example and add it to my collection of military tools.

The Royal Flying Corps at X…X Postcard

The development of powered flight before the Great War was to change the world forever and the general public quickly gained an insatiable appetite for anything to do with aircraft. This was an obvious subject matter for postcard manufacturers and together with the public’s natural patriotism made the Royal Flying Corps and obvious choice to produce postcards about.

This week’s image dates from the very start of the First World War and is titled ‘The Royal Flying Corps at X….X’:CaptureIn the foreground can be seen a soldier keeping guard of the aircraft:Capture - Copy (2)Behind can be seen a pair of aircraft:Capture - Copy (3)These have been identified by a friend as being most likely BE2 aircraft. This was a single engined, two man crewed training aircraft introduced in 1912 and used throughout the First World War. It was initially used as a front-line reconnaissance aircraft and light bomber; modified as a single-seater it proved effective as a night fighter, destroying several German airships.

By late 1915, the B.E.2 was proving inadequate in defending itself against German fighters such as the then new Fokker Eindecker, leading to increased losses during the period known as the Fokker Scourge. Although by now obsolete, it had to remain in front-line service while suitable replacements were designed, tested and brought into service. Following its belated withdrawal from operations, the type served in various second line capacities, seeing use as a trainer and communications aircraft, as well as performing anti-submarine coastal patrol duties.

Behind these aircraft can be seen a large airship:Capture - CopyThe white ensign flying beneath shows this airship belongs to the RNAS rather than the RFC. Britain never used airships to the same extent as Germany and its Zepplins, however they saw sterling service patrolling the channel and on anti-submarine patrols.