Monthly Archives: January 2015

War Office Security Pass

Tonight we are looking at one of the most precious items in my collection, if I had to sell all the rest, this is the one piece I would hang on to. This little security pass was issued to my grandmother when she started working at the Army Pay Office in Ilfracombe in 1943. My grandmother, Joan Alice Hallett (neé Smith) was evacuated from London in 1939 and after being moved to a number of towns ended up in Ilfracombe, a seaside town in the south-west of England. When she left school in 1943 she stayed on in the town as her sisters were with her and younger then she was. She got a job as a secretary in the army pay office in the town and was issued with this security pass which gave her access to what was a restricted building:

SKMBT_C36415012608170_0001bThe pass is made of buff card, with a green cross on both sides. This green cross seems to be a typical feature of all security documents of the period. My grandmother tells me that, aged 14, she found all the soldiers, who were several years older than her, seemed very grown up and sophisticated. It was only years later when she saw young men of 18 in uniform that she realised how young they actually were. Inside the pass are her details, and the stamps of the regimental pay office in Ilfracombe, along with the date the pass was valid from , 3rd August 1943:

SKMBT_C36415012608171_0001aApparently the pay office was set up in a requisitioned hotel on the sea front and this seems typical of seaside towns in wartime. With the tourist trade gone, large buildings stood empty and ripe for taking over by the military. On the back of the pass can be seen a series of dates and the signature of what is presumably the Pay Office senior officer, endorsing the security pass for use beyond the initial month of issue:SKMBT_C36415012608180_0001As can be seen the pass extended beyond the end of the war and into June 1946, presumably she left the position after this date. My grandmother held onto this little pass for over fifty years, and finally gave it to me around 15 years ago. I mentioned to her recently that I still had it which seemed to surprise her as she didn’t realise how precious it was to me. These items of personal ephemera are always the nicest items to own as they have a direct, familial attachment and hopefully I will be able to pass this on to one of my grandchildren in the years to come.

RAF High Leggings

Tonight we are looking at a pair of RAF high webbing leggings. These were introduced in 1936 for use with the new RAF Service Dress and replaced the previous puttees that had been used since the RAF’s foundation in 1918. The leggings are made of blue grey webbing, and shaped to fit round the wearer’s calves:

FullSizeRender6They are secured by four interlocking cord loops, known as Dutch lacing:FullSizeRender3These are secured by a single webbing strap at the top:FullSizeRender1Which fastens through a single brass buckle:FullSizeRender2This pair are dated 1937 and 1938, and have are a size 3. They also have a stores number and the crown and AM mark of the Air Ministry:

FullSizeRender5The leggings were originally introduced for the use of officers when they replaced breeches with trousers; the leggings were for wear in bad weather. When trousers were also introduced for Airmen, the wear of leggings was extended to them. The wearing of these high leggings was very brief and they appear in some early photos of the RAF in France and the Battle of Britain but then disappear. They seem never to have been reissued and that might explain the good condition of the examples appearing on the collectors market. Most, like these, are as good today as the day they were made over seventy years ago. These leggings are easily available on eBay and from other collectors sites, and despite the sellers’ claims they are not rare and you should be able to hunt round and get them for under ten pounds.

No3 Handheld Microphone

One of the tactical revolutions introduced by the Second World War was the use of wireless communications on the battlefield. The Great War had seen the use of field telephones, but the wires were easily cut by artillery fire. The Second World War saw a huge leap forward in radio equipment, with higher powered and smaller sets being developed and issued in increasing numbers. At the start of the war British tanks often only had one radio set per troop and the range was limited, by 1945 radios were universally used in armour, were much smaller and had greater range. Tonight we look at one of the most common forms of handled microphones used by the British Army:

FullSizeRender1The Microphone No 3 is a Bakelite shell, with a wire protruding from the bottom that connects to the main wireless set. On the opposite end is a circular mouth piece and on the side a button to depress to talk:

FullSizeRender2The type of microphone is stamped on the handle:FullSizeRender3The carbon type microphone used a DC current from the main set and can be seen in use with the very common large man carried No 18 set:

279I think my example is probably post war as the cable is has a plasticised cover rather than the cloth wrapping more usually seen. Unfortunately the connector for plugging the microphone into the radio on the end of the wire is missing. Sadly, having seen the prices, a matching WW2 radio set is probably out of my budget for quite some time to come!

Letter with an Eyewitness Account of the Blitz

As promised yesterday, we have something a bit special today. Contemporary eye witness accounts to major events in British History are not common, and the letter below is a fascinating account of London in 1940. I was very lucky to pick this up as it was part of three suitcases full of post war ephemera and by pure chance I picked it up. I must confess I just saw the reference to the Home Guard at the start of the letter and bought it, not realising that over the page was a description of the Blitz. The letter is hand written on personalised note paper from a surveyor called H Fleming, living in Pall Mall. The address, the private note paper and the telephone number all show the author to be a person of wealth:

SKMBT_C36415012711060_0001The letter itself reads:

 Dear Norman

 I have enrolled as a Home Guard in the London area and the authorities have asked for the ‘next of kin’ in case I am killed while on duty.

I have given them your name and address and presumably you would be the only person to be notified.

I don’t expect to be killed, but if it did happen I would be much obliged if you, in your turn, would be good enough to notify the five friends of mine whose names I enclose on a separate sheet. They would notify a number of other people.

I am only liable to be on duty once a week, but it an all night job guarding some of the posts near Westminster and possible watching the bridges etc. As we shall have raids every night I suppose there is a chance that one might be hit by a bomb, but one is nearly as likely to have ones house or lodgings brought down about one’s ears so there is not much in it.

You will have seen in the papers about the big raids in London on Saturday afternoon and night. I saw a bit of the big air battle from my balcony. I could see very plainly the huge fires started in the docks and the great clouds of smoke from them, though they must have been 3 or 4 miles away from me. I could also see squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes passing over my head and chasing the German aeroplanes when they broke through. On Saturday night there were mass attacks by German bombers all around my place. They dropped bombs everywhere and anywhere. They hit Victoria Station and one section of it was completely closed next day. Many shops were badly damaged in Victoria St and had to be closed.

I could hear the ‘whistling’ of the bombs as they fell last night. They were at it again for 10 hours. Some bombs fell quite near and my place was kept shaking all night. Many bombs fell in the Chelsea and Kensington areas. Fires were started in many places, but were soon under control, even the huge fire on Saturday which illuminated the whole sky all night was put out by Sunday morning.

I hear that the boys were on holiday up north when a big raid took place on Bradford. They appear to have been thrilled by the experience.

Bedford must have had many alarms but practically no bombs have fallen in your area yet.

I am afraid mark must find it rather trying but I don’t think you have too much to worry about as it hardly seems worth while bombing unless they want your supply station.



 I am afraid it wont be wise to bring the boys up to London again for quite a long time. The suburbs get three or four warnings a day.

 The second sheet of the letter gives the names of the friends Herbert wanted informed in case of his death:SKMBT_C36415012711061_0001

Tuesday Finds

Once again the Huddersfield second hand market has brought up some real treasures, one of which is so important I will be writing a separate blog post about it tomorrow. It always amazes me the number and quality of items still coming to light in house clearances. Sadly as the generation which lived through the war dies away, these items will continue coming on the market. Hopefully enough of my fellow collectors will be out there buying these up and acting as custodians of them for future generations. Again I would urge any young collectors to get out there and start hunting for these items, forget eBay and dealers; site, you can still build up an excellent collection for a few pounds if you know your subject and are prepared to go hunting (and haggle). Nothing I have bought today cost me more than £4, but all are interesting and worthwhile additions to my collection:

Jungle Dog Tags

 This pair of dog tags is made of aluminium rather than the more usual compressed fibre of British dog tags. It was found in the hot and humid conditions of the jungle, when corpses were disinterred, the fibre dog tags had rapidly rotted and delaminated, making it impossible to identify the bodies. To get round this aluminium discs were issued, secured by rot proof cord:FullSizeRenderThis pair are named to 22820082 Sapper Tully, who would have been a member of the Royal Engineers. As on the fibre examples, we can see his religion ‘CE’ for Church of England stamped in the centre of each disc.

 Royal Navy Gunnery Log and Progress Book

This substantial ledger, sadly unissued, was designed to be used on board ships to record all the firing of the guns. It is a large buff book, about an inch thick and marked on the front with its title and the last date of revision, February 1939:FullSizeRendereInside, on the title page, is a space for the ships name and the date:FullSizeRenderdOver the page are instructions for completing the log:FullSizeRendercWhilst the vast majority of the book is ledger for the actual recording of firing:FullSizeRenderbThere are a large number of small square grease stains on some of the pages, leading me to believe the book was used as a stamp album after the war. This sort of reuse was common in the austerity hit post-war years, but does ensure that books like this survive to the present day.

 Portrait of RNVR Officer

This elegant photographic portrait of a RNVR lieutenant is mounted in a green rexine-style travelling photo frame:FullSizeRenderaThe picture is unusually large, normally these sort of pictures are no more than postcard size. This would suggest that it was originally given to someone very important in his life, such as a wife or fiancé. The RNVR was made up predominantly of hostilities only officers and provided the vast majority of officers on escort vessels, combined operations vessels and coastal forces.

NBC Instructions

This little pamphlet dates form March 1975 and was issued to troops in Germany, facing off against the Soviet threat. On the cover can be seen the symbol of the BAOR:SKMBT_C36415012713370_0001aInside is a brief aide de memoire of chemical warfare procedures, and interestingly details of the difference between British military sirens and German civilian ones:SKMBT_C36415012713380_0001SKMBT_C36415012713370_0001Once again this pamphlet is in the standard size of all British Army documents designed to be stored in a soldier’s pocket for easy access.

All the above are good little finds, however tomorrow we have something truly remarkable I picked up this morning, that hopefully you will find as interesting as I do.

Lamp Electric No1

Tonight we are looking at a small hand light issued to British troops in the Second World War:

FullSizeRenderbThe lamp is based on bike lamps of the period and comes apart to allow two large cell batteries to be fitted inside. Unlike contemporary bike lamps though, on the rear is a large straight belt clip for attaching the lamp to a waist belt:FullSizeRendercAs can be seen, faintly marked on the back, is the description Lamp Electric No1, and a /|\ mark. The lamp also has a carry handle on the top:FullSizeRenderaThe face of the lamp has a moving hood to direct the beam to the ground and a rotating cover to reduce or increase the amount of light being released:FullSizeRenderdAs well as being issued to troops, they were sometimes fitted with red gel covers to the lenses and fitted to poles to mark cleared lanes in minefields at night. These lamps were made in huge quantities and sold off as surplus after the war very cheaply so many push bikes of the 1950s and 1960s sported them. Again this is one of those items that has leapt up in price in the last few years and examples are now fetching nearly £20 on specialist militaria sites, however as many people do not always realise they are military, it is still possible to find them being sold as standard civilian bike lamps and bargains are out there.

Book Review of Royal Navy Uniforms 1930-1945

It is not very often that you come across a newly published book that you can feel confident will become the publication in the field for reference. Tonight we are taking a look at one such book. Published just in time for Christmas 2014, Royal Navy Uniforms 1930-1945, is by respected military author Martin J Brayley.  A brief glance at the sources I use for this blog will show that Mr Brayley’s books make up a sizeable proportion of the material I use for writing these posts. With a Brayley book one expects great detail, an easy style making reading a pleasure and numerous photographs to illustrate the text. I am happy to say that this book delivers on all these points:9781847978448_300_0The subject of Royal Naval Uniforms of the Second World War has been sadly neglected over the last seventy years. Most authors include a brief chapter in wider works on the Royal navy in WW2, but detailed study of the garments themselves, regulations and scales of issue and the various orders of dress have been absent from our bookshelves. This book then addresses this need and is logically set out in 160 pages  with a number of parts covering Officers’ uniforms, Ratings’ uniforms and then a section on specialist clothing and other accoutrements. The chapters are:

  • Officers’ clothing and effects
  • Class 1 and III Ratings’ clothing and effects
  • Class II Seamens’ clothing and effects
  • Battledress and tropical clothing
  • Miscellaneous clothing
  • Personal effects
  • Substantive and non-substantive insignia

 Each section starts out with a brief history of the uniforms and the regulations regarding the uniforms, before a detailed look at each order of dress: P1
The book is packed with both period photographs, reconstructions and detail shots of the various uniforms. On the whole these illustrate the text very well; however in a couple of cases, with reconstructions of some of the overalls, the contrast in the photograph is not sufficient to allow all the detail to be seen. I suspect this has more to do with the nature of the actual uniform than it being any fault on the part of the photographer, but it does make seeing some of the detail referred to in the text more difficult. The weakest area of the book is that on specialist clothing and accoutrements, many items are only illustrated through period photographs and some are only referred to in the text. I imagine that this is due to the difficulty in tracking down either original items to photograph or period photographs and again it must be emphasised, despite this, the range of items the author has pulled together is remarkable.

p2The book does not contain any uniforms from the WRENs, however as these have already been covered in the same authors book on Women’s uniforms of WW2 this is not a problem. The text is readable, and despite great detail of the history and development of the uniform since WW1, the author manages to make it interesting and informative and I read the book cover to cover over a weekend with pleasure. With a RRP of £25 this harback book falls into the mid-price range of militaria books, cheaper than Schiffer’s tomes (not always that good even with the high price tag) and more expensive than the standard Osprey book, but of far higher quality and depth than the latter. With deals on Amazon it should be possible to purchase a copy for under £20 and I for one would heartily recommend picking up a copy. The author is apparently now working on a similar work for the RAF and I cannot wait for its publication. This book has a proud spot on my reference shelf and will be referred to many times I’m sure as I write post for this blog.p3