The introduction of barbed wire in the mid nineteenth century changed the shape of modern warfare, it became possible to very rapidly construct barriers that anywhere on the battlefield that could slow down and stop an enemy attack. By the First World War the design of barbed wire emplacements had become a deadly and sophisticated science, with defence in depth and perpendicular to the advance of the enemy to force him into cleared kill zones beaten by heavy machine guns.
Obviously then a means of cutting wire was needed and a variety of devices were tried with varying degrees of success. Artillery was fairly useless as it tended to tangle wire further without cutting it and early attempts included devices that allowed wire to be cut by firing a bullet through it. Whilst tanks were very effective as they crushed the wire, they were noisy and slow and unsuitable for night attacks. Therefore the most commonly used method of cutting barbed wire was the hand held wire cutters. The British Army developed several types of cutters, in varying sizes, but the longest lived were a set of folding cutters that could be stowed in a webbing pouch on the belt:
These cutters were to remain in use for the rest of the century, and this set date from 1941:
They fit snuggly in a webbing pouch:
This pouch is post war dated, but otherwise identical to that carried throughout WW2:
On the rear a loop allows them to be attached to the 37 pattern webbing and a brass loop allows the cutters to be secured with a string lanyard so that they wont be lost in the dark if dropped:
Wire cutters were generally issued at the rate of one per section, being carried by the junior NCO. Pioneers might carry them in higher numbers, and extras were issued is a particular operation was expected to need them. The sturdiness and simplicity of the cutters explains their longevity- they were incredibly effective and there was never a need to replace them with something newer.