Monthly Archives: May 2014

Indian Tropical Mess Tins

Whilst most of the uniform and equipment produced in India throughout the Second World War were copies or close variations of standard British designs, some unique items were produced. This aluminium mess tin is one of those items. Unlike the square british mess tins, these Indian ones are oval in shape, however like their British equivalent they came in two slightly different sizes to fit inside one another.imageBeing made of aluminium rather than tinned steel, they were far better suited to the hot and humid jungle conditions of the Far East as they were less likely to corrode. Indeed this lesson was taken on board by the British who have used aluminium mess tins continuously since World War Two.

Typically troops would only carry one half of the mess tins into the jungle, secured in a second water bottle carrier to reduce the weight they had to carry. In the draining environment of the jungle saving every ounce was important so if a man could get by with just a mess tin half and a spoon he did.imageThis particular mess tin is marked BD /|\ 10. L.A. 1945. Unfortunately so far I have not been able to track down a manufacturer. This mess tin has to be one of my better finds on the market, costing just a pound. Due to their rarity these mess tins only come on the market infrequently and they command a premium and sell very quickly. One was sold on eBay last year for over eighty pounds so I feel rather pleased with mine.

A couple of little eBay finds

I will be honest, I have mixed feelings about eBay. I spend far too much on it, but seem to always miss out on the things I really want when I get outbid with a couple of seconds to spare! The other thing that really bugs me is how certain sellers deliberately distort their descriptions to make sales, there are times when every other item for sale is ‘rare airborne issue, as used on D-Day!’ Despite my griping though I do make use of it and I do get some nice little bits as today’s post hopefully highlights.

STEN Gun Cleaning Rod

Everytime you fire a weapon deposits are left in the barrel of partially burnt propellant. In time these deposits choke up the barrel, rendering the gun less accurate and more prone to stoppages. To counter this guns need daily cleaning and it is one of those thankless tasks that soldiers throughout history have needed to do, as the next time they fire their weapon their life might depend on it.

The STEN gun was no exception and thus a cleaning rod was issued to troops. This example is made of brass, with a slot at one end into which a cleaning cloth was secured. The soldier then gripped the loop at the other, inserted the rod into the barrel and removed any fouling he could.

imageThe rod had a neat screw fastening allowing it to be split in two to fit into a standard 37 pattern ammunition pouch:imageThis humble little rod isn’t particularly exciting or attractive, but I rather like it as it accompanies my STEN nicely and I always like to have all the accessories to accompany my guns if I can.

NAAFI Fork

The NAAFI, or Naval, Army and Air Forces Institute to give it its proper title, was set up in 1920 to provide recreational facilities to the British Armed Forces. By D-Day the institute numbered 7000 canteens and 96,000 personnel and supplied hot meals, cigarettes, writing equipment and a myriad of other services to members of the armed forces. It also ran ENSA, who organised concert parties and entertainment for the forcespic1

This fork is clearly marked NAAFI and has the number 2904 on the end. A google search shows that this is a common number on the end of a fork so perhaps it indicates a stores number for identification purposes. It is made of a simple metal stamping and unfortunately isn’t dated. My guess is that it probably is from WW2 or the very early post war era as cutlery started to be made in stainless steel from the early 1950s onwards, but unfortunately it will probably be impossible to date it any more accurately. These forks were routinely ‘swiped’ by troops to replace lost service issue forks and have been turned up by relic hunters at battlefield sites where British troops have fought.

Neither of these two objects are particularly rare and represent the sort of cheap bits I like picking up from eBay. Despite this, like every item, there is a small story behind them and they are just as worthy additions to a collection as anything else.

No36 Grenade

If there’s one area of my collection that I would like to improve the most its that of weapons and ordnance. I have a respectable collection now; with virtually all the major British used weapons of the Second World War, but there are many, more unusual, weapons I would love to add to the collection. Part of the reason I haven’t got more weapons is that they tend to be expensive and hard to get hold of. You don’t come across them on markets and bootsales very often so you are beholden to the prices online dealers charge. They are also far more restricted by the law, guns need to be deactivated and the explosives need to be removed from grenades and shells (you will get no complaints from me on that one…I don’t fancy having a live grenade in the house!).

Having said all that I do have some nice pieces in my collection including this ‘Mills Bomb’. Officially titled the No36M Grenade, this grenade is a development of the No5 grenade that was introduced in WW1. The original grenade design was developed by William Mills of Sunderland and consisted of a pineapple shaped cast iron body segmented to allow it to break apart into shrapnel when it exploded. The grenade was to prove incredibly successful and was modified to become the No36M in 1917 and this model remained in use with the British Army into the 1970s.imageThe grenade weighs 1lb 11oz and a trained man could throw it up to 50 feet, however if the grenade exploded on a hard surfacce it could send fragments up to 100 feet so it was advisable for the thrower to have somewhere to hide from the blast when it exploded.

This example is in lovely condition and still has the shellac waterproofing and red and green markings clearly visable. The red crosses mean that the grenade is specially waterproofed and sealed for use in tropical areas whilst the green line indicates it originally had a filling of Baratol. Baratol is a mixture of TNT and barium nitrate with 1% wax to bind the explosive together.imageThe grenade breaks down into several pieces including the pin, base plug, plunger and spring. The base plug is dated 1944 and the grenade itself is 1945 and marked ‘G’ which indicates the body was made by Galt Metal Industries of Ontario, Canada. The base plug was made by The Schultz Die Casting Company, also from Ontario.imageWhilst not hard to find, due to their iconic status, Mills Bombs in good condition are hard to find for less than £80 these days, however it is the quintessential British grenade and I am very glad to have one in my collection.

Books, Books, Books

I must confess I have a bit of a problem when it comes to books; I can’t stop buying them. My living room resembles a library and there are few rooms in the house not filled with shelves and books. However as a collector they are an incredibly powerful resource; if you don’t know your subject you end up wasting money on fakes, reproductions or just plain wrong bits of kit. There are many books out there aimed at the historian, collector or reenactor and some are better than others. What I intend to do here is just to look at a few of the most useful books on my shelf when it comes to collecting and offer my opinions on them. I will follow this up later with further titles as I get to them.

I will hold my hands up now, whilst I do have many books about other countires and periods, my focus in the British Empire in the twentieth century so these are the books I feel most qualified to comment on and the books below are all books I own- other useful books are out there, I just don’t feel qualified to comment on them as I haven’t read them.

The World War II British Tommy (Martin Brayley and Richard Ingram)

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If you are going to start collecting British WW2 kit this is the place to start. Made up of recreated photographs of people wearing all original kit, this book is a delight to dip into and is full of information. Its greatest strength is that you can see the kit being worn and the sheer variety of uniforms displayed. It is far easier to understand the differences between US manufactured War Aid battledress and British made battledress wehn you can see pictures. Where the book perhaps falls short is that sometimes, because the kit is being worn, an item referred to in the captions is not clearly visable, in these cases a kit layout photographed from both sides would be better for the collector. Despite this, I would say that this is the book to start with if you want to get into the hobby. I’m afraid some of the pieces illustrated are so rare all you can do is drool at them, but that only adds to the joy of the book.

Khaki Drill and Jungle Green (Martin Brayley and Richard Ingram)

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By the same authors as the last book, this book covers the uniforms worn by the Britsh Empire in the desert and jungle in the Second World War with the same style of reconstructed photographs. I must confess this is one of my favourite books as it includes examples of Indian, South African and New Zealand uniforms and webbing.  It suffers from the same drawbacks as the author’s other book, and i would love more detail on Empire kit, but as the only book I know of on this subject, if you are interested in this area- buy a copy!

Various Histoire and Collections books (Jean Bouchery)

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I have lumped these various books together as they follow the same formula and often the same ground. Originally published in French, these have been translated into English fairly competently althought the odd phrase forces you to do a double take. These books have some lovely layouts of kit and insignia and useful tables covering the compositions of the various forces. Again they are a good introduction ot the subject and fairly comprehensive. the biggest flaw with them is that a lot of sectiond are repeated between volumes. For example the sections on weapons are identical across the British, Canadian and Paratroopers books as one would expect- all used the same weapons. There are also a number of errors within the book that are a bit off putting if you know about them. Despite this I am pleased with my copies of these books and do refer to them quite frequently and they include some very rare bits of kit- no one I know has ever seen a tin of lemonade powder outside of these books!

I hope this brief intorduction has been useful and next time I return to the bookshelf I will take a look at a couple of very useful WW1 and Royal Navy books.

Indian 37 Pattern Pouches

Throughout the war Britain struggled to produce enough equipment for the armies of the Empire. To help get round this manufacturing was set up in the various countries of the Empire; Canada, South Africa, Australia and India.

The biggest manufacturer of webbing in India was Bata, a firm set up by the Czechoslovakian Thomas Bata in Konnagar, West Bengal in the early 30s. Indian webbing is noticeably softer than its British equivalent and made of a looser weave with poorer quality brass fittings.

I am currently putting together a full set of Indian 37 pattern in both khaki and jungle green. I have been greatly helped in this task by a fellow collector and good friend who has sold me bits at a very reasonable rate. In this hobby, as in so many others, it’s as much a case of who you know as what you know so make friends with other collectors, trade items and buy and sell between yourselves, it’s amazing what gems are lurking in private collections and if it’s not your mates main area of collecting nine times out of ten a deal can be done as they will want the cash for something else for their collection!

Back to the pouches then, as you can see they are in the distinctive Indian webbing material and despite not being marked there is no doubt that these are Indian:imageAs can be seen the left hand pouch has been modified to allow it to hold STEN magazines by moving the popper and it’s strap. Despite looking awkward and a stop gap measure these were done officially and are not that unusual. Also typically there are markings on the outside of the pouch. British manufacturers limited their markings to the rear and inside of equipment, the Indian manufacturers didn’t have the same qualms.

The un modified pouch is also slightly different in that it has three large drainage holes at the bottom. In the heavy monsoon rains of SE Asia it made sense to make any changes you could to get the water out of places you didn’t want it:imageAlso interesting to note is that both pouches have loops for Ballasite cartridges under the flaps.imageBallasite cartridges were over powered blanks used with a cup discharger to launch grenades from a rifle at much greater distances than a man could throw them. The British soon deleted the loops from their pouches at the outbreak of war as an economy measure, but the Indians continued adding them throughout the conflict.

Getting Lucky with Research

More often than I would like, buying a piece of militaria can lead to a frustrating series of dead ends as I attempt to research its origins. One example of this is this little lapel badge:

pic 5I bought this little badge a few months back and I was confident it was British due to the King’s Crown, however beyond that I knew nothing further and the Greek motto was a new one to me. Often the best place to get answers on an unknown item is from fellow collectors and therefore I uploaded photographs to the popular collectors forum ‘Warrelics.eu’. Unfortunately on this occasion they drew a blank, despite several sensible suggestions I was no nearer to identifying the badge.

I must confess at this point I resigned myself to not knowing the origins of this intriguing badge and put it away in my collection drawer and thought nothing further of it. A month or two later though I was browsing an internet militaria store and came across another, identical, badge for sale. I must confess to regularly prowling the various online Militaria dealers; I dont expect to buy much from them, but they get some rare and interesting kit for sale and when you’re collecting all knowledge of the subject area helps, as this was to prove.

So what then is the badge? Well apparently its from the Ministry of Information and the motto translates as ‘We Work in Silence’ and was worn by ministry officials at ports, employed to search out sensitive materials in incoming ships and passengers.

The Ministry of Information was set up in World War One and then reformed at the outbreak of the Second World War. It dealt with the country’s propaganda and the dissemination of information ot the public. It had wide reaching powers of censorship and kept a close eye on the press, needless to say this led to harsh criticism from those same newspapers! Perhaps these days its most famous output is the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. Ironically this is now a cultural icon, despite never having been used in the war!

Tuesday’s Finds

Hello all

As will soon become apparent Tuesday’s are secondhand market day in Huddersfield, which means I go hunting for militaria before work.  As with all collecting there is a large element of luck and sometimes I will come back laden down with finds and sometimes go weeks without finding things. The summer is always more productive as market traders hit the bootsales and auctions in the good weather and bring their items in to sell to crazy folks like myself.

There are two ways to get a large and wide ranging collection, either go online and pay full whack for items on sites such as WD Militaria or Mons Military Antiques or put the hours in looking through boxes of junk to find that diamond in the rough. There is nothing wrong with the former approach, indeed I have been known to pay out for particularly rare items I really wanted online, but to me much of the fun is in the chase and finding that bargain, hence the second hand market. I intend to expand on this theme later, but for now lets look at the latest additions to the collection…

Military Engineering Book

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to get into collecting militaria is the military publication. These humble but fascinating items were produced in their millions to help instruct servicemen on everything from bayonet drill to military accounting. As they lack the presence of uniforms or weapons they are often overlooked and consequently go for only a few pounds. This example is a book to help guide engineers in building bridges and is full of complicated formulae and fold out plans of various bridges.

 pic 1Interestingly this particular book is marked as having been printed in India.pic 2It is often forgotten that much of the armies in the South East Asian Command were reliant on the manufacturing capabilities of the Indian Empire. There was little enough shipping room to move troops and essential equipment without using valuable hold space for items that could be produced in theatre. I have always had a soft spot for Indian manufactured kit, but due to simple geography it is much harder to find than that produced in the UK.

WW1 Souvenir Cup

At the start of the First World War Britain’s souvenir industry quickly changed tack from making royal china and teacups with pictures of Blackpool Pier to making patriotic china to fuel the war fervour across the country. As these were made by private enterprise, thousands of different variations were manufactured by myriad suppliers, with the most popular to collectors being the ‘Goss’ style ornaments in the shape of tanks, caps, grenades and other war related items.

pic 3My find is more prosaic and is a small inch and a half high teacup with a (unfortunately damaged) transfer on the front depicting the flags of Britain, Belgium, Russia and France with a scroll reading ‘ For Right and Freedom’. Unfortunately it is missing the saucer, but it was £2.50 and a hundred years old so I’m not going to complain.

Ammunition Box

My final find of the morning is a rather crusty 1944 dated ammunition box. I rather like ammunition boxes, they are a substantial item with a lot of presence, are not ridiculously expensive for the most part and are very useful. I store a lot of my collection in mine and they make great ‘set dressing’ at re-enactment showspic 4

This latest addition is marked B167 which apparently means it could be used to hold everything from 2″ mortar rounds to No69 grenades. Unfortunately this box has seen better days, but under the rust its still sound. The plan now is to sand it down and repaint the box in ‘Service Brown’ and then find somewhere to put it where it wont annoy my wife! I have added correct markings in the past and they do add something to the fininshed boxes, however making the stencils is a real pain so we shall see…