Monthly Archives: January 2015

Stretcher Straps

During World War 2 hand held stretchers were regularly used by medical staff to move badly injured troops from the battlefield to first aid posts and from their into ambulances. British stretchers of the period were made of two wooden poles, with canvas between them, the whole thing held apart by a metal bracket. These stretchers appear frequently in wartime photographs:largeThe stretchers were carried onto the battlefield by, appropriately enough, stretcher bearers. The weight of a man and this stretcher had to be carried by two of these stretcher bearers, and as can be imagined, this became very heavy after a short period of time. It was imperative that as little shock as possible was given to the casualty, so to make their job more bearable and to help protect the casualty, stretcher bearers were issued with supporting straps to help them carry their stretchers. The straps are made of webbing with a sewn loop at one end and an adjustable loop at the other:FullSizeRenderThe loop is adjusted with a large brass buckle, allowing the height of the stretcher to be altered depending on the heights of the two stretcher bearers:FullSizeRender1Inside the straps is a faint makers mark, that sadly I cannot make out:FullSizeRender2The straps would be worn around the neck, with one handle of the stretcher slotted into each loop. This allowed the bearer to rest his arms and support the weight of the casualty on his shoulders if required, as well as ensuring the stretcher would not be accidently dropped. Jim Wisewell of the 223rd Field Ambulance explains the process of collecting and treating casualties:

Men wounded as their infantry platoon advanced were picked up Regimental Stretcher-bearers (RSBs)—infantry-men (not RAMC) within the regiment. They could do little for the casualty except stop bleeding and put on a field dressing, then get him back to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) staffed by a Medical Officer, (supplied by the Field Ambulance [Fd Amb]) and a few more proficient RSBs, where he would receive an assessment of his chances of survival. (In some cases the MO had to play God and decide who would be evacuated – who not.) From here men of either A or B Coy of the Fd Amb would take him by stretcher-carrying Jeep back to the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) where there were all RAMC personnel and RASC Ambulance drivers. Here he would receive fuller treatment, inoculations, transfusions, application of splints, renewal of dressings from MOs and Nursing Orderlies, First Class. (I was one of the latter and worked in the Treatment Centre throughout the NW Europe campaign.) From here he would be evacuated as soon as he was fit enough to go to the Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) which might be two or three (or 20 or 30) miles back depending on the military situation. Here were surgeons and refined equipment which did all possible for him until he could go on to the base hospital—or back to fight again.

These straps came out of a £1 bin at a show a few years back. They are getting harder to find as many have been cut up to make reproduction 1908 cross straps, which are the same width of webbing, I need another one and a stretcher to go between now!

Pixie Suit

Getting the right sort of uniform for tank crews has always been challenging. They need to be kept warm and comfortable, but tanks are cramped with many things that can snag clothing, if a tank gets hit crewman need to be confident of getting out quickly, without getting their clothing caught. During the Second World War it became clear that a rethink of clothing issued to tank crewmen was needed, and eventually three different tank suits were adopted, a light weight tropical one, a standard one for temperate conditions and the heavy padded oversuit for colder conditions. These were slowly introduced in the months leading up to D-Day and by spring of 1945 were a common sight amongst British tank crews in theatre:

FullSizeRender4The tank suit quickly gained the nickname of ‘zoot suit’ and post war ‘pixie suit’ and was popular in the cold European weather of winter 1944-45. It is a set of heavy overalls in a light coloured heavy duty cotton canvas, with multiple pockets and two zips up the front to allow easy donning and removal:

FullSizeRender5It was supposed to be possible to convert these suits into a sleeping bag by using the two full length zips- I can’t imagine anyone ever did though! On the chest is a pocket with loops for pencils:FullSizeRender6Whilst on the thigh is one for a first field dressing:FullSizeRender8At the collar is a buckle arrangement to secure the neck, whilst a large detachable hood gave rise to the ‘pixie suit’ name, based on the name for the hooded toddler garment popular in the early 1950s:

FullSizeRender7Inside the suit is a wool lining, with a harness of straps sewn into the garment:FullSizeRender2These straps were to support an injured tank crewman and allow him to be pulled out of the tight confines of a damaged tank in an emergency. The cuffs of the suit are adjusted by straps fitted with Newey studs:FullSizeRender3Whilst an elasticated inner cuff helps keep the suit warm:

FullSizeRenderOn the cuff is the label, showing this suit is a size 4 and that it was made in 1954 (it is clearer in real life):FullSizeRender1This pixie suit was a cheap buy for me a few years back as one of its zips was broken and a large part of one trouser leg was badly damaged. I have since repaired these and the suit looks the part when married up with my armoured crew holster and a RTR beret.

Popular Music in WW2

Go to any Second World War event and you will hear the same tunes being played either over the loudspeaker system, or being sung by a singer in period costume. Many of the pieces of popular music from this period have become iconic and inextricably linked with the conflict. To many it would seem that these tracks were pre-destined to become the soundtrack to an era, these days one only has to hear the first few bars of ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, or the introduction to ‘Wish Me Luck’ to be instantly transported back over seventy years. At the time however the iconic status these tunes would gain was not clear, and indeed an editorial in The War Illustrated in February 1940 decried the poor quality of popular music compared to that which had accompanied the Tommys of WW1 to war. Of World War One the article said ‘the songs usually meant something, and the troops found in them a strong and simple rhythm, just right for the route march.’ In comparison the author felt that in regard to the songs of the Second World War there was ‘ a poverty which is proved by the fact that the young troops of today have chosen to sing as many of the old favourites as of the “modern smash hits”. One feels perhaps the usual snobbery of each older generation, who dismiss the current popular music as lacking the qualities of the music they enjoyed in their youth, conveniently forgetting their own parents probably had similar opinions of their choice of music! The author goes on to explain that he feels the problem is that the BBC plays tunes by ‘jazz band crooners’ rather than tunes with a good rhythm for marching to, and when troops did adopt popular tunes for marching, they tended to adapt the lyrics to make the more ribald.

 Tonight’s object perhaps highlights the important role the BBC did have in influencing musical taste during the war, but also shows that tunes were written which were ideally suited to troops on the march. This piece of sheet music is for the popular hit ‘We Don’t Know Where We’re Going (until we’re there):

FullSizeRenderAs can be seen by the prominent advertising, this song was made popular by the radio show ITMA. ITMA stood for ‘Its That Man Again’ and was hugely popular, starring Tommy Handley and mixing comedy and music, running from 1939 to 1949. Whilst gramophone records were hugely popular in WW2, there was still a market for sheet music and many more people could play the piano than is now the case. Communal singing and music in general was a popular pastime, as witnessed by the huge popularity of concert parties:591px-An_ENSA_concert_party_entertaining_troops_from_the_steps_of_a_chateau_in_Normandy,_26_July_1944__B8050This particular song was written by Ralph Butler, with music by Noel Gay. The cover depicts typical British soldiers of the period, marching, clearly showing the subject of the song and looking inside we can see that the tune uses a four beat march:FullSizeRender1This, along with the lines reflecting the wartime experience for many troops, made it a hugely popular song for marching soldiers and the song was used to great effect in the 1973 film Overlord. This seems to disprove the commentator in the original War Illustrated editorial, popular marching tunes were written and were sung and they gained iconic status. We are left asking though, whether the status of the many songs that we still associate with the Second World War is down to their musical and lyrical quality and how much is due to the feeling of nostalgia and period they evoke.

1944 Pattern Small Pack and Contents

Today we are going to have a brief look at my 1944 pattern small pack and its contents. The 44 pattern webbing was in use for several decades, so I have taken the Malayan Emergency as my timeframe for the contents I collect. I must stress now that this is still a work in progress and there are many items of small kit I am looking for- 44 pattern knife fork and spoon, jungle green jumper etc. Despite this I feel I have made a good start and the jungle kit shown below is less familiar than the wartime personal kit so hopefully this will still be of interest:

Publication11. 1944 pattern small pack- introduced with the rest of the 44 pattern webbing, the small pack was a conscious effort to give troops more space to carry things than the earlier 37 pattern small pack. The main body of the pack is the same size, but two large pockets have been added to the sides to carry mess tins and straps have been added to secure a shovel and waterproof cape to the outside of the pack.

2. Waterproof cape- the waterproof cape issued with 44 pattern webbing was identical to its wartime equivalent, but made of green rubberised canvas rather than tan. It has buttons on the front and a high collar and is designed to be worn over uniform and equipment.

3. Mess Tins- The 1944 pattern jungle equipment reintroduced aluminium mess tins that had been phased out at the start of the war due to metal shortages. These have proved to be the longest lasting piece of equipment introduced as they are still being manufactured and issued today.

4. Jungle Socks- These socks are made of green rot-proof wool. It was found that normal socks disintegrated very quickly in the hot humid climate of the jungle and these were an attempt to remedy the problem. It was not entirely successful, but they did last longer than traditional woollen socks.

5. Housewife- Like the rest of the equipment, the housewife was produced in waterproofed green material. Apart form the change of material, the design was pretty similar to that used since before the First World War.

6. Wash roll- The 1944 pattern webbing and personal kit introduced an entirely new design of wash roll. Larger than its predecessor, this roll has pockets for various items and the long cords at either end allow it to be tied around the waist if needed.

7. Insect Repellent- See here for more information.

8. Water Sterilisation Kit- This little tin contains two bottles of chemical tablets, one is added to water to sterilise it and the other to remove the horrid taste left by the first. These were used in combination with the Millbank bag we looked at here to ensure potable drinking water in the jungle.

9. Foot Powder- Dry feet are essential to prevent sores and damage that could incapacitate a soldier. Applications of antiseptic foot powder were to be applied to dried feet as often as possible to ensure levels of hygiene. This square tin is most commonly associated with the 1944 pattern equipment, but I have seen no conclusive evidence to prove it is part of the set.

10. Malay-English Phrase Book- This little book, published in 1951, has a range of useful Malay phrases, including many geared towards the visiting British soldier. It was published in Singapore and would probably have been bought by troops and police arriving and waiting trans-shipment to the Malayan Emergency.

11. Soap Tin- This little aluminium soap tin was introduced along with the rest of the 1944 pattern equipment. It is marked CWS (Co-Operative Wholesale Society) and has a /|\ mark and a date of 1945. These are very common and are frequently seen in kit set ups for WW2, but probably did not reach many troops during that conflict.

12. Jungle Boxer Shorts- This set of underwear is made of a very light green cotton, with rubber buttons and ties in the waist to adjust. It is an incredibly loose fit and this is probably deliberate to minimise chafing that could cause debilitating jungle sores.

Tuesday Finds

A very successful morning on the market today, with a lovely grouping of uniforms to a merchant officer from WW2 as well as a few other nice small finds.

Merchant Navy Officer’s Uniform Grouping

I will go into this grouping in much further detail shortly as it really deserves a post of its own, but briefly we have a tunic, battledress blouse (With RN buttons) and trousers and four pairs of shorts:

FullSizeRenderI am fairly certain one of the pairs of shorts is post war and doesn’t belong, but the others all seem period. The stall holder has said she will try and find me a name and a photograph of the original owner of these, so once she does we will take a close look at the grouping.

Knife, Fork and Spoon Cover

 This little waterproof cover is part of the 44 pattern jungle equipment and was designed to put the knife fork and spoon from this set in to reduce the risk of them rusting in the humid conditions of the jungle. It is a thin bag (now much faded) with a flap top and a string to secure it:

FullSizeRender2On the rear is a soldier’s name and number ‘2134 Bowden’:

FullSizeRender3I don’t come across a lot of jungle kit, so this was a nice find. I am still looking out for the KFS set which goes with this, but they are very collectable and go for £35 and upwards on average.

Pistol Lanyard

Another useful little find was this pistol lanyard. This is made from woven cord and is designed to attach to the lanyard ring of a revolver and around the neck, belt or shoulder of a soldier:FullSizeRender4There are two knots, one at either end. One of these is fixed and the other slides, allowing the lanyard to be adjusted depending on what it is being fastened around. It is nice to see a dark stain at the weapon end of the lanyard showing it has actually been used and is not just ‘new old stock’. The lanyard was designed to prevent troops loosing their sidearm in the heat of battle and to prevent it being grabbed and stolen by a third party.

Civil Defence Insignia

 This nice pair of insignia are the chest badge and district flash for the Civil Defence Corps in the West Riding of Yorkshire:

FullSizeRender1The badge depicts a crowned royal lion, within a circle bearing the name of the Civil Defence Corps, surmounted by a king’s crown. This was worn sewn to the left breast pocket of Civil Defence battledress, with the flash for the region beneath. I already have a couple of these from after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which have the Queen’s crown, so it is nice to add the earlier variation and the district flash for my own region of the country.

Product Review- WPG D-Shaped Mess Tin

Whilst I am primarily a collector these days, I do still re-enact a few times a year. As such I occasionally buy reproduction kit from the various suppliers, either in place of very rare items or to use for safety reasons where it would be unwise to use an original item. I have just taken delivery of What price Glory’s D-Shaped mess tin and tonight we are going to look at how it stacks up against an original and in comparison to other replicas on the market.

 What Price Glory (WPG) are an American company, but they offer a wide range of WW1 and WW2 British kit, and have a distribution hub in the United Arab Emirates, so items normally reach the UK within a couple of weeks. I recently ordered a set of mess tins from them, whilst I own an original set I wouldn’t want to risk eating out of them. The original tinning is very worn and they were originally made with lead based solder, so for re-enacting a reproduction set is a far safer option. The mess tins are the later pattern, without an inner tray, and come with a canvas messtin cover:FullSizeRender8

Shape

 Overall the shape of the tins are very good, as can be seen from above they closely mirror the originals:FullSizeRender6Looking face on, they are fractionally larger than my original tin, but the originals were made over a span of 150 years and by numerous companies so there is a lot of variation anyway:FullSizeRender7As can be seen the WPG tin has a little kink in the handle that allows the can to be hung on a stick over a fire, my original does not, but again this is not unusual.

 Fittings

The mess tins have a number of fittings secured to them for their handles. Looking first at the handles on the lid, there is a clear difference between the angle of the handle, the WPG example is a 90˚ to the tin, whilst the original is at a much steeper angle:FullSizeRender5Also the handle on the WPG is much more crudely riveted on than the original:FullSizeRender4Both of these things are minor points however, and the design of this handle is very similar to the original. Turning to the base the biggest problem with the tin becomes apparent. The quality of the handle fitting is decidedly crude:FullSizeRender2A comparison shows the original to have a much finer casting:FullSizeRender1The fitting of the handle here is, for me, the weakest part of the reproduction, however it is not a major issue and I imagine that with use the whole tin would tone down in colour and get a more realistic patina. The lid is a tight fit and a bit of a struggle to get off, but hopefully this will ease up with use.

 Cover

 As has been seen above, the WPG mess tin comes with its own cover. This is a nice touch as every other reproduction requires you to buy one separately. The material for the cover seems a bit dark and heavy, however again a few seasons of use would probably tone it down nicely. Unfortunately the button hole on the front has not been sewn properly and after using it twice the stitching came undone on mine. This might be an isolated incident, but was disappointing.

 Other Reproductions

 As far as I am aware the only other two companies offering a reproduction D Shaped mess tin are Soldier of Fortune (SOF) and Military History Workshop (MHW). As MHW have been out of stock for months now, I will concentrate on the SOF tin, which I had the dubious pleasure of seeing in person on their stall at the Victory Show last year. Firstly the SOF tin does have the inner frying pan tray, which the WPG example does not. In terms of shape there is not much between them, however the un-resolvable problem with the SOF tin is the material it is made out of. It appeared to be made out of some highly patterned steel, reminiscent of a galvanised bucket. Both the original and WPG’s example are made from traditional flat metal, without this pattern on. For this reason, and the included cover, I can only recommend people buy the WPG example. It is not perfect, but in my opinion the problems are very minor and it is the best on the market at the moment.

 The tin is currently out of stock, but I imagine it will soon be back. It is listed at $37, which is about £24.30. It is listed here.

P13 Bayonet

Tonight we look at an interesting bayonet that has seen service in two world wars, the P1913 bayonet. This bayonet was produced alongside the P14 rifle in the USA during the First World War. The P14 was introduced originally as a replacement for the SMLE and fired a .303 round using a Mauser action with some British refinements. It was said to be the best service rifle of its time, but it only held five rounds compared to the SMLE’s ten and the Great War prevented its widespread adoption. It was produced in the US by Winchester, Eddystone and Remington and issued in limited numbers. Once the USA joined the conflict in 1917, the rile was modified to fire US 30-06 cartridge. These rifles, the P17, and the earlier P14 rifles were issued to second line units like the Home Guard in the Second World War:

hgThese rifles were issued with a 12 inch long sword bayonet such as this one:FullSizeRenderAs can be seen, outwardly the bayonet looks virtually identical to an SMLE bayonet, however the muzzle ring is a different size and the two bayonets are not interchangeable. To prevent confusion therefore the bayonet has two grooves on each side of the handgrip:FullSizeRender1These allow the correct bayonet to be identified quickly and easily, even in the dark. The bayonet is marked on both sides of the ricasso, on one side it is marked with the pattern number (1913), the manufacturer’s mark (Remington) and the date this bayonet was made (September 1917):FullSizeRender2The reverse of the ricasso has a WD /|\ mark, over-stamped to cancel it and a US ordnance mark added instead:

FullSizeRender3This shows the bayonet was one of a batch diverted to US use for the P17 rifle in 1917 before dedicated production came about, these were then issued with US style scabbards:FullSizeRender4Both bayonet and US style scabbard would have been issued at random to Home Guard troops in the Second World War, regardless of whether they had been issued a P14 or a P17 rifle. This bayonet was a very generous gift from a good friend and fellow collector a few years ago.