Monthly Archives: June 2014

Websites

As I have only been seriously collecting militaria for the last eight years or so, I find it hard to imagine a time before the Internet. It must have made life much harder for the keen collector to find rare pieces, chat with fellow collectors and research must have been much more problematic. Today I am going to look at a few of the most useful websites I use, I imagine that you will probably use some of these as well, but if you are starting out in the hobby, I hope they are of use.

Forums

Forums are both a blessing and a curse. You can guarentee that 80% of the time you will get a sensible answer to a query you post on them (and 90% of the time a stupid one as well). Forums allow collectors and reenactors to get in touch with one another and swap ideas, research and opinions. It is the opinions that make forums, converesly, dangerous. There are always posters who know just enough to confuse the matter, so use them with caution.

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The two forums I frequent most often are the WW2 Reenactors forum http://wwiireenacting.co.uk/ and the Warrelics collectors site http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/ .  Both have a pool of experts who answer queries and post quickly and regularly, however Warrelics is aimed more at the collector so instead of constant requests about who makes the best repro battledress there are more posts about original kit. In both forums, however, the focus is much more on American and German equipment than British and Commonwealth, which may just be a reflection on the make up of the collecting community. Personally I try and respond to others queries as well as post questions as I feel this is a fairer approach that helps others just as others help me.

The other great thing about forums, Warrelics especiallly, is that one or two very helpful posters put up informative posts packed with information and photos on obscure topics, for example this one on Cobalt Blue Waterbottles: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/equipment-field-gear/distinguishing-cobalt-blue-mk-vi-mk-vii-water-bottles-433342/

 Karkee Web

If ever there was a model of a website designed by and for collectors, then this is the one: http://www.karkeeweb.com/ . Devoted to British Accoutrments, this website is insanely detailed, encourages original research and brings together collectors from across the world to pool their collections for the collecting community.

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This is my first port of call if I am researching an item of leather or webbing personal equipment. It is not complete as it is a work in progress, but it covers all the major webbing equipments from 1900-1958 and shows variations, the items being used, fitting instructions and much more. The thing I like about it most though is the inclusive nature of the site. If you have a varient or unknown piece of webbing, you can email photos in and often they will publish them, citing you and your collection, if its something they haven’t covered yet.

The saddest part of the site however is that by covering one area of military equipment so well it highlights how bereft of information we are for many other types of equipment and uniforms.

 There are many more useful sites to the collector and I will cover some of these in later posts.

Volunteer Training Corps

Tonight we have two postcards of the largely forgotten Volunteer Training Corps or VTC.  The VTC was the equivalent to the Home Guard in WW1. Unlike the Home Guard though, the VTC started off as a ground roots organisation without much official support from the War Office.

At the start of the Great War hundreds of independent risk clubs sprang up across the country training older men and indeed some women in the use of rifles to protect their local communities. The War Office were understandably concerned about having large numbers of disorganised groups across the country drilling and training and encouraged the setting up of a central organisation to oversee all these disparate groups.

The VTC codified details of enlistment and uniform for its members, along with rank insignia. Generally the VTC adopted a grey-green uniform with a ‘Norfolk Jacket’ style tunic, with puttees and a leather belt:

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The War Office’s main aim with the uniform was to ensure VTC members were not mistaken for regular troops. The parade below shows the rank insignia of the unit, which used rings and Austrian knots to denote officers. Again the War Office wanted to clearly distinguish them from army officers so the VTC used terms such as ‘Sub Commandant’ and ‘Regimental Commandant’.

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The VTC fulfilled a variety of roles throughout the war including guarding areas of East Anglia in 1918 to free up men to fight in France. They also regularly met troop trains entering London termini to offer support to soldiers arriving in the capital for the first time. They only saw combat once in Ireland during the rebellions at the end of the war.

They were disbanded in 1919, with members in many areas taking part in standing down parades.

Tuesday Finds

A quieter day on the market today, but a few nice finds none the less.

Aircraft Starter Cartridge

Although it looks like an artillery shell, this little dumpy casing is actually a blank cartridge for starting an aircraft engine. Before modern electrical starters, it was quite common for aircraft engines to be started by firing a blank cartridge. It is likely this example was for use in the first generation of jet fighters. The gasses from this cartridge turned a small turbine that in turn started a compressor of the main turbine, once it was up to speed the engine would sustain ignition.imageThis example is 7 inches high, dated 1953 and marked ‘ELEC. ENG. START. VAEL’ and ‘LOT 30’.imageClothes Brush

Amongst the small kit issued to every man was usually a clothes brush. Woolen uniforms collect fluff and hairs and a brush was the quickest and easiest way of cleaning them off. The forces must have produced and distributed millions of these throughout the war, and as they continued to be useful in civilian life, many have survived.imageThis particular example is marked as having been made by H.D. Don and Son in 1941 and has the WD arrow.imageOn the top is the original man’s name and number, 2055744 M. Keys, and the date he received it 2/42.image

Photograph of Soldiers in the Desert

Finally we have a simple little snapshot of two friends serving somewhere in the desert. From the 37 pattern belts and WD issue shorts they are wearing we can tell this was taken in or just after the Second World War.pic1006141On the reverse is the little note:pic1006142

“Here’s introducing a grand duo. Including a glorious hero. Who Although C.3. Chanced to land by me. And with throbbing leg unheard. Watch the Dicky Bird. Gordon”

D-Shaped Mess Tin

Tonight we look at one of the longest serving items of personal kit in the British Army, the D-Shaped mess tin. First introduced before the Napoleonic war, the same basic design was to continue in use for 150 year, and despite the introduction of aluminium mess tins in the late 30s, as my example shows these were still being made in 1940.

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The mess tin comes in two parts, the body and a separate lid. The body is designed to be used as a small saucepan to boil food or water for tea, whilst the lid has a wire handle allowing it to be used as either a frying pan or a plate.

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The mess tin is made of sheet iron, tinned and soldered together and though examples are now universally a dull metal shade, the interior of this example suggests they might have been shiny when first issued:

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This example is a very late one, made by T Gowley and Sons of Birmingham in 1940:

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Whilst collectors often assume that once a new piece of kit is issued old ones were no longer made. In reality contracts took a long time to be completed and obsolete items continued to be manufactured long after they should have been discontinued, as can be seen in this example.

 

World War One Souvenirs

Today we are going to look at some souvenirs from the First World War that I have picked up over the years. The British seem to have always loved their souvenirs and examples have been made for all major events in the national arena. Though it seems odd to modern sensibilities, it was very common at the period to make souvenirs for whichever conflict Britain happened to find herself in. Following the experience of the Boer War manufacturers were keen to satiate public desire and quickly brought out commemorative china. As the conflict progressed the latest weapons of war became popular choices for souvenir manufacturers.

Commemorative Saucer

Dating from the start of the war, this wonderful saucer (sadly the cup is long gone) has a late Victorian battleship at the top and the flags of the allied nations at the bottom with the wonderfully bellicose motto ‘Might in the Right Cause Shall Prevail’.

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It is interesting that the battleship is hopelessly outdated for the Great War and one wonders if this was a design created for the Boer War 13 years earlier that the manufacturers merely dusted off and updated to quickly get their products out to a clamouring public!

China Tank

Of all the inventions to come out of the First World War, perhaps the one the public latched onto most strongly was the rhomboid shaped tank which seemed to fire their imagination in a way no other machine did. The tank was a reassuringly British invention and offered a modern alternative on the battlefield to the miserable attrition of trench warfare. It is perhaps therefore no surprise that millions of different tank related trinkets were offered for sale to an eager market.

This tank is from the huge field of Goss china- white china in a myriad of shapes with the coats of arms of different towns and villages emblazoned upon them. Here a mk1 tank is emblazoned with the coat of arms for Bridgnorth:

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Sadly this example has lost the wheeled steering tail it once had, but it’s still an attractive and iconic piece that has happily sat on the mantlepiece for the last few years as it was sold to do so many years ago.

Hand Grenade money box

This final piece is a bit different as it was designed as an actual weapon of war that has been converted into an attractive souvenir. It is a bog standard WW1 No5 hand grenade that has been chromed, had a stopper fitted and a slot cut to turn it into a money box:

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These money boxes are very desirable things and not that common so be prepared to pay a premium if you want to add one to your collection.

D-Day 70 years on

It has been pretty hard to avoid the fact in the media that today marks 70 years since the Allied invasion if Hitler’s fortress Europe. As the greatest seaborne invasion in history it is indeed something worth celebrating, or perhaps more appropriately commemorating.

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Five years ago I had the privilege of being on Sword Beach near Ouistreham, with a D-Day veteran who had landed 65 years earlier. He had lasted barely five minutes before he was injured and had to be evacuated.

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It was truly amazing to be in the company of one to whose generation we owe so much. I also laid the wreath at the memorial to the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire who landed in the first wave on 6th June 1944.

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I would heartily recommend a visit to Normandy if you get the chance, it’s a very humbling experience and history is everywhere.

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No 69 Grenade

Of all the grenades used by the British in the Second World War, the No69 grenade is the cheapest and easiest for a collector to find. Unlike a traditional hand grenade the No 69 is made of bakelite and has a smaller blast radius than the No 36 Mills Bomb we looked at earlier:imageUnlike a traditional grenade which has a spring plunger, the No 69 used an ‘always fuze’:imageThis was a metal ball bearing that was held by a pin with a weighted tape. When thrown the tape unravelled and pulled the pin out. When the grenade landed the ball bearing hit the detonator and the grenade exploded instantaneously:imageThe always fuse was so called because it did not matter whether the grenade landed on its nose, base or side, it would always detonate. The grenade weighed 13.5 ounces and contained 3.2 ounces of explosive:No_69_grenade_diagramIts use was limited and they seem to have been used quite frequently for training. Perhaps because of this the grenade seems to have been a common survivor and deactivated examples are common and can be found for as little as £40.