Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mid 1990s ration pack

We come a bit more up to date for today’s post with a 24 hour ration pack from 1996. Despite being relatively recent, these ration packs are becoming quite scarce and collectible now, as most were either used or disposed of when out of date.

Containing all a soldier needs for 24 hours they were issued in a cardboard box:imageNormally the cardboard box was broken up for tinder for a hexamine burner and the contents distributed in pockets and webbing.

inside the box are the main meals vacuum packed:image

 Biscuits, chocolate and the infamous ‘Cheese Possessed’:imageFinally there are tissues, soup mix, boiled sweets and a pack with tea bags, matches etc:image

 Whilst nearly 20 years old this pack is still in good condition and apart from emptying the cheese out I have left it alone; I will not be trying it anytime soon though!

Cigarettes (fags)

In the modern world, where smoking is seen as a socially undesirable thing, it is often easy to forget the central role tobacco had in the lives of nearly all members of the armed forces in every country involved. Indeed tobacco was seen as so important by the British government to morale that they never rationed it (that’s not to say it was easy for civilians to find though!).

The British military took great steps to supply their men and women with their daily allotment of tobacco, both loose and cigarettes. This was supplemented by the work of the NAAFI who sold the most popular brands of the day at a reduced price to service personnel. The following are a representative sample of some of the military tobaccanalia available. These make a nice sub-set to my collection and I am always on the lookout for more to add.

Cigarette Packets

All these boxes are civilian in origin but typical of the paper packets sold at NAAFI shops and civilian tabacconists across Britain. As might be expected most would have been thrown away at the time, however as they were made in their tens of millions they are still easy to find and pretty cheap. The ones I am always looking for, but never seem to find are those with stamps saying ‘Only for sale to HM Forces’ which indicate they were specially made for the military.imageNAAFI Cigarette Tin

Similarly this tin is an example of commercial tobacco sold to members of the armed forces.imageNote the printing indicating ‘NAAFI STORES H.M. FORCES’:imageRation Tin Cigarette Tin

This grey cigarette tin was included in the 14 man ‘compo’ ration issued to troops in the field. The tin contained 50 cigarettes and was designed to be opened and distributed between the men on the battlefield. These are simple grey tins with ‘CIGARETTES’ on the top:image

Craven A Cigarette Tin

This tin is another officially issued cigarette tin, one of a number of branded tins for military use made by the big tobacco manufacturers.image

South African Comforts Committee tin

This little cigarette tin was given to South African troops in Christmas 1943 by the South African Gifts and Comforts committee:image

It has the South African springbok and pictures of the SA prime minister Jan Smuts and his wife on the front, and a message in English and Afrikaans on the rear:image

HMS Ceres

Tribal loyalty plays a big part of life in the British Armed Forces. You are loyal to your regiment, squadron or ship and that loyalty has been deliberately built into the structure of the armed forces for generations. As some of you might be aware, I’m a reservist with the Royal Naval Reserve and my unit, based in Leeds, is Ceres division. I am the second generation to have served in a version of Ceres, my fathe having been based at the last iteration of the ship at Yeadon in the 1980s so my connection to the name runs deep. The navy has had ships and units named Ceres since 1777, however the longest serving was the third ship to bear that name, and the subject of my latest eBay find, a C- Class cruiser launched in 1917. I apologize for plagiarising but Wikipedia has a very good section on the ship which I have reproduced below:

Construction and Early Years

The Ceres was constructed at Clydebank by John Brown & Company. She was laid down on 26 April 1916, launched on 24 March 1917 by Isabel Law, daughter of the wartime Chancellor of the Exchequer Andrew Bonar Law, and commissioned into the navy on 1 June 1917

In July 1917 Ceres joined the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron as part of the Grand Fleet net. She was transferred to the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron in 1919 which was assigned to operate in the Mediterranean. During 1920 was operating in the Black Sea in support of operations against Communist forces. On 3rd of April 1923 she was in a collision with USS Fox in the Bosporus, both vessels sustained heavy damage. In 1927 Ceres returned to the UK for deployment with the Home Fleet. During 1929-1931 she was refitted and placed in reserve, but reactivated in 1932 to join the Mediterranean Fleet. In November Ceres was again reduced to the reserve.

Wartime career

The Home and Mediterranean Fleets

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Ceres was recommissioned from the Reserve Fleet and placed on the Northern Patrol in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. In January 1940, Ceres underwent a refit at the yards of Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland in preparation for her reassignment to the Mediterranean. On February 15th, she was reassigned from HMNB Devonport to her new base at Malta, travelling via Gibraltar. During March she led contraband patrols in the Ionian Sea, and off the coast of Greece, checking ships transporting cargoes to the axis countries, as well as escorting allied convoys.

The Eastern Fleet and Indian Ocean

During April and May 1940, Ceres was assigned to the Eastern Fleet and based at Singapore. She was used to patrol off the Dutch East Indies coast in opposition to Japanese naval forces. In June she was assigned to operate in the Indian Ocean and based at Colombo and later Bombay, where she escorted tanker convoys from the Persian Gulf to the British colony at Aden. She then spent several months off the east coast of Africa, based at Mombassa, Kenya. Whilst on patrol off the coast of Somaliland she evacuated troops and civilians from British Somaliland to Aden, and she was later involved in convoy duties sailing around Cape Horn between Durban and Cape Town. Later that year she was sent to the Seychelles and other islands to search for German commerce raiders, who were preying on allied shipping in the area. From 4 until 9 August 1940 Ceres assisted with the evacuation of civilians and sick personnel from British Somaliland, which was occupied by the Italians. She also assisted in the evacuation of Commonwealth soldiers from Berbera in British Somaliland, transporting them to the relative safety of Aden.

In February 1941 Ceres, in company with the cruisers HMS Hawkins and HMS Capetown, and the destroyer HMS Kandahar, blockaded Kisimayu in support of the offensive against Italian Somaliland, and the eventual reconquest of British Somaliland in March that year. She also rescued merchant navy prisoners of war from Brava and transported them to Mombassa. After this Ceres again returned to Colombo for repairs.

On New Year’s Day 1942, in company with the sloop HMS Bridgewater she escorted the 18 ships of Convoy WS-14 to South Africa from the U.K. with reinforcements for the Middle East. Ceres spent two months in the Persian Gulf, and then arrived at Simonstown for a three month refit, where she was dry-docked. As with most of the ships of the ‘C’-class, she was also fitted with six 20 mm single AA weapons to become an anti-aircraft cruiser. Coventry, Curacao and Curlew had already undergone conversion before the war, but the outbreak delayed Ceres’ and Cardiff’s conversions. She was then based at Aden and she also participated in the fall of Djibouti to the allied forces. She spent the rest of the year escorting convoys to Durban. She finally returned to Home Waters and her homeport of Devonport in October 1943. By now she had steamed over 235,000 miles in her career.

Home waters

In 1943 and 1944, HMS Ceres was used by the Royal Navy as “station ship” based at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. In late April 1944, HMS Ceres was refitted with radar and anti-aircraft weaponry and assigned to the US Task Force 127 to carry the Flag of the United States Navy Service Force during the invasion of Normandy. Subsequently, following the destruction of the artificial harbour off Omaha Beach during the Great Storm that occurred approximately two weeks after 6 June 1944 and as a result of the German demolition of the Port of Cherbourg in late June, HMS Ceres and her sister ship, HMS Capetown, was assigned to the task of Shuttle Control, expediting the passage and unloading of vessels from the UK to Omaha and Utah Beaches. HMS Ceres remained “On Station” off Omaha Beach for the entire summer of 1944 from the early hours of 7 June until the end of August, 1944. When Cherbourg became available to shipping from the UK, HMS Ceres returned to Plymouth for overhaul and those US naval officers who had staffed the “Shuttle Control Operation” were reassigned. After the end of the war, and by now obsolete, she was again placed in reserve and used as an accommodation/base ship at Portsmouth. She spent less than a year in this new role however. Ceres was sold and broken up for scrap at Bolckow, Blyth in July 1946, after 29 years in service.

The photograph I purchased depicts HMS Ceres entering Grand Habour, Valetta, Malta in 1918 and is a view of the ship I have not come across before. Despite the poor condition of the picture I had to buy it and my aim now is to frame it and give it pride of place on my living room wall next to my photo of the current Ceres Division’s ships company.

 SKMBT_C36414052909290_0001Interestingly on the back is inscribed the following:photo6It would be interesting to find out who A.B. Arthur Edward Stepney was: more research is needed!



Replica Vs Original

As both a re-enactor and a collector, parts of my collection are worn and used as they were always intended to be. I use original webbing, entrenching tools, helmets etc. However there is always a danger that when you use original items they are going to get damaged or destroyed. This then leads us into the thorny minefield of original vs replica items. Napoleonic reenactors have no choice but to use reproduction uniforms and equipment, however for those of us concentrating on the twentieth century judgement calls need to be made.

Nothing is more accurate than original equipment and certainly for my collection and for display purposes I always try and use original kit. However if I am wearing it or battling then I do use some reproduction kit. I have an original pair of trousers, but due to their value I will only wear them for a walking around sort of event, if it’s muddy then the repro ones come out.

Equally some items are very hard to find in modern sizes, a friend of mine is 6 foot 2 inches and it would be impossible for him to find original uniforms to fit so he wears modern reproductions.  Some items are too rare or expensive so reproductions are the only option, however not all reproductions are equal.

When buying repro kit, the most important factor, in my opinion, is accuracy. You want it to look authentic if you’re going to spend your hard earned cash. The best ways to ensure accuracy are to know your subject (or have a friend who does who can help) and if possible to buy in person so you can check the quality. If you have to buy over the net, as is often the case, try and find reviews and feedback to see what others think.

You also need to know what’s worth buying as a repro and when you are better with an original is the way to go. A good example is 37 pattern webbing, there are reproductions out there, but the original is plentiful and actually cheaper than the modern copies.

As is often the case the use of modern reproductions is a judgement call, and the purist won’t touch them, however for reenacting they do have a place.

Tuesday Finds

The usual morning trip to the market has turned up a few nice bits again. Whilst I went a little over my budget, I am pleased with what I’ve picked up and there are some very nice bits.

WRENS Jacket

I have a large number of uniforms within my collection, from all three services covering the whole of the twentieth century. However up until now all these uniforms have been for men. I have not consciously avoided adding women’s uniforms to my collection, however there are fewer of them out there due to the much smaller numbers of female service personnel and consequently they are often more expensive than their male equivalents.

I have finally rectified this by purchasing a jacket which would have been worn by a second officer (lieutenant) in the Womens’ Royal Naval Service, or WRENS. The WRENS were founded in the First World War and despite being disbanded in 1919 and reformed in 1939. It was the only women’s branch of the armed forces to retain its name after WW2 and it retained its seperate identity until it was absorbed into the main Royal Navy in 1993.

imageThe WRNS officer uniform was based on its male equivalent, this example being made of fine barathea, fastened by a double row of gilt king’s crown naval buttons:


 Light blue lace at the cuffs indicates rank, with a diamond replacing the male ‘executive curl’:imageThe navy were also unique amongst the armed forces in having jackets that fastened in the female style i.e. right over left. This example has the medal ribbons for the Defence Medal and the War Medal:image

Britsh MkVII waterbottle

Based on the design of waterbottle issued in the Great War, the Mark VII was an updated version introduced just before the Second World War. The old Blue enamel was replaced by a dark green version and instead of stitching the string holding the cork to the felt cover it was now fastened to a small wire eye welded to the neck of the 4This design of waterbottle would be used throughout the war and into the 1960s. This example is missing its felt covering and has a few knocks but is in good condition otherwise; it is faintly marked 1955 on the base. I have a fair few of these now, but due to the different webbing sets I am collecting i can always use a few more.

Postcard of Dragoon Guards

This rather battered postcard cost me the princely sum of 50p. According to the inscription on the back it shows the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards’ Colours and Escort at Haworth, a small town in West Yorkshire, famous as the home of the Bronte Sisters.

The  4th Dragoon Guards were raised in 1685 and became famous in the First World War when a squadron became the first element on the British Expeditionary Force to engage the German Army in 1914 in Mons. The Regiment was amalgamated with the 7th Dragoon Guards in 1922 to form the 4th/7th Dragoon 3The dress of the civilians and the use of Full Dress uniform leads me to believe the photo was taken before the First World War, whilst the small figure of a soldier in Service Date in the background dates it to after 1902 when that uniform was introduced.

British Passport

Whilst not strictly military, I bought this passport mainly for one reason: the Visa stamped inside. The use of passport documents in the UK goes back to 1414, but the widespread issue of such documents really began during the First World War, despite widespread opposition from the British public throughout the interwar 1

This passport was issued to Mr Rowland Hardcastle of Leeds on 28th April 1937. Mr Hardcastle is described as being 5 ft 3 1/2 inches with blue eyes and dark brown hair and born on 5th August 1905. There are a number of foreign visas stamped inside, the most interesting being this one:

photo 2Issued in 1938 by the German consulate in Liverpool, this visa stamp has the Nazi swastika and eagle stamp clearly visible. By the stamps he seems to have had business in Cologne. It is sobering to realise that just a year later Britain and Germany were in a head long slide to war.

Heavy Duty Repairs

I often pick up items for my collection very cheaply because they are in poor condition, if they are repairable I can often add a nice item to my collection for an amount I can afford. A case in point is this tank suit, bought cheaply as one of the long zips was broken and the base of one trouser leg was badly burnt and torn.

Commonly named a pixie suit after a popular toddlers one piece suit of the time; the tank suit is a heavy weight cotton overall designed to be used by tank crewmen. It is festooned with pockets and has two full length zips down both legs to allow easy access. It is also designed to include an integral rescue harness that will support the weight of a man if he needs to be dragged, unconscious, out of a knocked out tank.

I bought this suit about eighteen months ago, but it has been sat in a box ever since as I have tried to track down a period zip. These have proved very hard to find due to the extreme length of the zip needed. Eventually I got lucky and found a period tent zip of suitable size on eBay. A couple of evenings work with the sewing machine and the suit is wearable again, even if not quite as good as the day it was made.image

This shows that with a few basic skills it is possible to bring back an otherwise junked item to allow it to live on in your collection, and hopefully I will get a suitable re-enacting event to showcase my latest finished piece.

South African Small Pack

Indian webbing has a reputation for being poorer in quality than its British or Canadian counterparts. However it is miles ahead of its South African equivalent which is generally acknowledged as the poorest quality webbing produced in the Empire during the Second World War. South African webbing is unique in using multiple layers of very thin webbing rather than one thicker woven layer of other countries. It seems likely that the decision to make equipment in this fashion was influenced by the lack of manufacturing capability within the Cape and the need to rapidly expand its forces.

Of all the countries who entered the war in 1939 on the allied side, South Africa was the least prepared with virtually no army, weapons nor ammunition. Despite this ‘The Active Citizen Force’ (South Africa’s Territorial Army) was mobilised in 1940 and was involved in the fighting against the Italians in Ethiopia and Abyssinia.

One area where the South Africans were particularly deficient was in the supply of personal equipment. Despite adopting the British 37 pattern webbing, there was a lack of the large box pouches so most of the army were equipped with the cartridge carriers; limiting them to 40 rounds of .303.

By 1941 South African Industry had geared up and was producing its own webbing equipment. This small pack, dated 1943, is an example of this manufacturing:imageThis bag is marked as being manufactured by ‘D.I. FRAM & CO. LTD JOHANNESBURG’.imageThis was one of the two biggest manufacturers of webbing in South Africa, both based in Johannesburg. The bag also has the South African War Department acceptance stamp, a broad arrow within a ‘U’:imageInterestingly the pack also features khaki drill edging to the webbing, presumably to reinforce the poor quality webbing:imageThe same brown drill material is used to make the interior dividers:imageSouth African webbing is rare, and this is the first small pack I’ve ever seen on the market. I am very pleased to add it to my collection, especially as it’s such good condition. I now need to track down the rest of the set…