During the cold war the RAF underwent rapid modernisation as the Jet Age came into existence. By the 1970s the propeller driven aircraft of WW2 were long gone and fast jets were firmly established as the aircraft to protect Britain. Alongside this revolution in aircraft, the clothing pilots and aircrews wore had a similar evolution, with a myriad of short lived designs being created in an attempt to give men the most practical uniform possible. The colour of flight suits changes from blue-grey to green, pockets were rearranged and new materials introduced as they became available. Tonight we are looking at a Mk9 Aircrew Coverall. The uniform is a one piece green overall designed to be worn over other clothing and under flight gear:The coverall is a light cotton garment and does not seem to offer much protection beyond reducing snagging hazards. There are a few small rips on the coverall, in part from its age and in part from the inherently thin nature of the fabric. Sturdier Nomex suits were available that were fire resistant, but these were not always practicable, especially for crew who had to move around inside an aircraft. Note the plastic D Ring on the chest to attach an oxygen mask to if other equipment was not worn over the suit. There are numerous pockets all over the suit, including a large map pocket on the thigh:Next to this is a reinforced area for a survival knife to be fixed:On one of the sleeves is a pen holder:The waist is adjusted by a pair of Velcro straps:Inside the suit is a large label identifying it and providing care instructions and details about wearing the suit:As can be seen, certain pockets had designated uses, suggesting a design based on experience of what aircrews needed and used on a daily basis. A second label gives sizing details:This label dates the suit to 1974 and has the /|\ mark indicating MoD property. It is interesting to note that the suit needs to be properly fitted to the air crew, rather than just issued from stores based on size. Clearly this uniform was seen as a piece of safety equipment and needed to be correctly sized for best effect. As can be seen from the picture below, flight and ground crews used a wide range of coveralls and there was no uniformity in units; with whatever a man was issued with, or preferred being allowed:
The problem with any kind of face mask, including of course gas masks, is that the wearer’s breath fogs up the lenses very quickly unless some precautions are taken. When a person breathes out, their breath is both warm and contains a high moisture content. When this hits the cold eyepieces of a gas mask this condenses and forms a fog that hinders vision. To counter this World War Two British gas masks came with a number of different anti-dimming kits, tonight we are looking at one of the most common:A 1935 pamphlet on anti-gas training explains why anti-dimming compounds were needed and their use:
The anti-dimming outfit
The respirator facepiece is designed so that the fresh air breathed in passes over the inner surfaces of the eyepieces. This reduces the amount of moisture which condenses on them when breathing out, but it does not entirely remove the condensation, except in the most favourable of conditions. Anti-dimming compound is therefore applied to the insides of the eyepieces, the purpose of which is to cause the moisture to form, not a mist, but a clear film which does not interfere with vision. The correct application of anti-dimming compound is an important part of the respirator drill, and careful attention must be paid to it.
There were a number of different anti-dimming tins in use during the interwar and WW2 period, this example is a Mk V. The pamphlet explains further:
The outfits, Mks IV and V, consist in each case of a cylindrical metal box with two screwed caps; in one end of the box the compound is contained in a metal cup:while the other end of the box contains the cloth:For convenience of identification the end of the box containing the compound is coloured red in the MkV, and in the later issues of Mk IV.
The methods of application of the different marks of anti-dimming compound are printed on the various boxes:As can be seen this tin dates from May 1940 and the tin was made by P.C. & Co. The makers initials are also embossed into the two end caps:Sadly, as is so often the case, I have not been able to identify the manufacturer. These little tins are very common as they were produced in their millions and one should not set the collector back more than £5. Check the dates however, as very similar sets were issued with respirators for many years after the end of the war.
Today’s Tuesday market brought up three nice finds, one of which I am saving for later in the week. The other two are interesting bits of paperwork. As ever ephemera like this is incredibly cheap, £1 each in this case.
WW1 Munitions Letter
This letter dates from July 1915 and was sent by ‘West’s Gas Improvement Co. Limited’ to an unknown engineering firm enquiring about acquiring a copper banding press for the manufacture of six inch high explosive shells:This letter has an impressive Edwardian letterhead giving details of the firm:West’s Gas Improvement Company had been founded in 1874 by a John West and become a private company in 1894. It specialised in large air compressors and other machinery for municipal gas companies, but clearly at the outbreak of war production was moved over to munitions. The shortage of munitions on the Western Front led to a ‘shell crisis’ which in turn resulted in the setting up of the Ministry of Munitions under Lloyd George. Within a year the shortages had disappeared due to the ministry buying up world supplies of raw materials and directing firms and labour as needed. By 1918 the Ministry of Munitions has a staff of 65,000 and employed 3 million workers in 20,000 factories. From the letter we can see that one of the departments in the ministry was the Tool Department which was responsible for advising companies of the best way to acquire the machine tools they would need to make the shells themselves.
RAF Short Service Commissions Guide Book
Following the Second World War Britain introduced conscription, known as National Service. Normally young men went into the services after they finished school and served for a few years, however they did allow deferrals for those going to university to study. Once they had completed their studies, they were still expected to complete their National Service, but the military was determined to take advantage of their new skill sets. In the case of those who had trained in medicine they were fast tracked to an officer’s commission in the medical branch. This pamphlet sets out the process for the RAF:As can be seen this example is a 1948 reprint of a 1947 publication and is a simple buff booklet. The opening page sets out what the book plans to tell a prospective medical officer:A separate insert offers more details:
In the late 1930s when the British Army introduced its new uniform and equipment, it did away with puttees in favour of webbing anklets. Puttees had been in use since before the Great War and consisted of nine foot long strips of cloth that were bound around the lower leg to secure the bottom of the trouser leg together. The name puttee derives from the hindi word patti meaning a bandage, they were first used in India in the second half of the 19th century and were soon widely adopted by the British Empire and other nations around the world. These puttees were very effective in protecting the uniform and ankle, but were cumbersome to put on due to their long length. The new webbing anklets were much quicker to fit and seemed to be a sign of a modern efficient system of clothing the soldier. However as the Second World War progressed and troops began serving in very different climates to Western Europe, it became clear that anklets were not a panacea for all situations. In the jungle they did not provide a tight enough join between trousers and boots and allowed parasites to reach the legs. Puttees were cheaper to make, could be more comfortable to wear and offered better ankle support. However rather than the high puttees that had almost reached the knees, these were only ankle high. This pair were made in dark green/brown wool rather than the khaki of WW1:They have a label indicating they were produced in Australia:The N indicates they were made in New South Wales and they are dated 1944. The tape binding the puttee is in a different shade of green to the rest of the puttee and is securely sewn on:
Unfolded they are much shorter, at 41 inches, than their earlier counterparts:This style of puttees were widely used by Australian forces and their use spread to the British Army in the post war period, often being seen with DMS boots and 68 pattern uniforms in the field. In this photograph of Malayan Police during the Malayan Emergency, the British Officer inspecting the men before they go out on patrol is wearing short jungle green puttees:
During the Second World War it was recognised that it was not always possible to get food to troops in the frontlines and there were times when an emergency ration was needed to keep men going until supplies could catch up with them. To that end troops were issued with a 24 hour ration tin containing a fortified chocolate block that was supposed to be eaten only when there was nothing else available. The tin itself is made of metal, painted gold and is the same size as a contemporary tobacco tin:The front of the tin says ‘Emergency Ration. Purpose of Contents. To be consumed only when no other rations of any kind are procurable. To open strip off band and insert coin in corner groove and turn. NOTICE: not to be opened except by order of an officer’. The paper label indicates the contents were made by Bovril Ltd and packed in May 1942. A Canadian pamphlet from 1939 described the emergency ration as:
The Emergency Ration is for men temporarily out of reach of any other source of food. In order to save weight it is made as small and light as possible. Its purpose is only to ward off hunger and exhaustion for a period of about 24 hours. It does not purport to be a complete day’s food. It weighs ½ lb.
The rear of the tin has the patent number for the design of the tin itself:The tin has a rubber seal around the inside of the lid to keep the contents fresh:The tin would have had a metal band around the outside as well, but this is missing from this opened example. Tony Bennett made notes about his rations at the time out in the Far East and clearly the Australian Emergency ration was a little different:
There is also an Australian “Emergency” ration in a tin on which it is far too easy to cut oneself when opening. Not much good as an Emergency, though the contents are doubtless sustaining; it is too easy to eat them quickly! But for sick men who cannot eat rice and curry and as an evening luxury they are ideal. Tea, sugar (no milk), good chocolate, two sorts of fruit bar and some caramels which are only so-so are the full contents. It all appeals to my sweet tooth. The “Emergency” we carry is a thing of tablets, pills, compass, fishing line and what not to last us a whole week – and it is smaller than the Australian.
For the most part, British Army officers have purchased their own uniforms using a grant from the War Office. There are thus many ‘variations on a theme’ with different regiments and tailors having slightly different cuts and styles of uniform. Although there was an increase in government purchased and issued officers’ clothing during the Second World War, the majority of officers’ uniforms were privately purchased. Tonight we are looking at an example of a private purchase officer’s service dress cap from around the time of the Second World War:As can be seen the body of the cap is made from khaki barathea cloth, with a bronzed cap badge to the Royal Army ordnance Corps fixed to the front:There is a leather chin stay that can be expanded to allow it to fit under the chin in windy weather so the hat does not blow off:I must confess I have never seen the chin stay used in any period photographs. The chin stay is secured to the cap with two small bronzed buttons bearing the Royal Cypher:Inside the cap is a paper size label and a cord for making slight adjustment to the size of the cap:The leather sweat band is marked ‘Real Roan Leather’:At the front of the cap a stiffener is fitted to push the crown upwards, but as is common this has been detached to give the cap a lower crown as was the fashion at the period:
Sadly there is no manufacturer’s mark on the inside of the cap so we can’t identify where it was made, however this advertisement from a 1936 copy of the ‘Royal Artillery Journal’ is typical of the advertisements aimed at officers:The wearing of Service Dress in the field had fallen away by the Second World War, with most officers wearing battledress which was more comfortable and practical. Despite this the cap was often retained behind the lines as it was a clearly recognisable symbol to all that the wearer was an officer. This view of senior Canadian officers with Field Marshall Montgomery shows widespread use of the officer’s SD cap with battledress:
Tonight we are looking at an unusual Royal Navy officer’s tunic for a Paymaster Commander. The paymaster or accounting branch had evolved out of the old pursers, handpicked by senior officers to be responsible for a ship’s money and pay. They became Warrant Officers in 1787 and finally commissioned officers in 1843. At the end of the First World War the branch brought its ranks into line with the rest of the navy and a Fleet Paymaster became a Paymaster Commander. This tunic is a WW2 era example to a paymaster commander:The jacket is made of a heavy woollen cloth, unfortunately this has been mothed around the collar, but its not too unsightly. Sadly there is no maker’s label, but it came with a Royal Navy waistcoat made by Gieves of London. The rank is worn on the sleeve and has a white infill between the gold commander’s stripes indicating the paymaster branch:The white stripes were finally dropped in 1956 when virtually all the branch colours were abolished. The jacket is secured by a double row of King’s crown officer’s buttons in gilded metal:The owner wore four medal ribbons on the left breast:The top row are from World War One and are (from left to right) the 1914/15 star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Below this is the Home Defence medal from the Second World War. The paymaster branch was renamed in 1944 and became the Supply and Secretariat branch. It is still in existence today, but is now known as the Logistics Branch.