Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dunkirk Reconnaissance Photograph

Today’s second hand market brought up quite a large selection of ephemera; those bits of paper and card that are so interesting but seemingly worthless:imageAs usual these items have only cost me a few pounds, but have many interesting stories to tell. We will be looking at many of these items in greater detail in the coming weeks, however we start tonight with a large RAF reconnaissance photograph of Dunkirk:SKMBT_C36415062314040_0001

The RAF took millions of photographs throughout the war, this example is a genuine photograph rather than a later copy as it has a very faint Air Ministry Stamp and a date on the rear:imageThe photograph itself is very evocative with the black smoke of a burning oil tanks in the centre of the image:SKMBT_C36415062314040_0001 - CopyThe date on the front indicates it was taken on 24th May 1940 on the west side of Dunkirk at the height of the evacuation. Henry John Osborne was on one of the little ships rescuing British and French troops and noted the smoke surrounding the town:

Through all this time we were so occupied with what we were doping that we were hardly aware of all the other activity going on all around us. It is always like this ‘in action’. There were aircraft overhead, friend and foe, all the time; continual bombardment of the town, harbour and of the beaches by the Germans. Ships were being sunk and survivors rescued. All around the town and harbour of Dunkirk fires were blazing, a heavy pall of smoke hanging over it all. From much further off shore the British ships were bombarding the German positions.

The photograph also shows an RAF Hudson flying in parallel to the reconnaissance aircraft:SKMBT_C36415062313330_0001 - CopyThe top of the photograph has a large ‘SECRET’ stamp on it:SKMBT_C36415062314040_0001 - Copy - Copy (2)Whilst the side of the picture has details of where and when it was taken:SKMBT_C36415062314040_0001 - Copy - CopyIt is interesting that the date on the back of the photograph is much later than the date the image was taken, this suggests that it might have been released to the press at a later date when IT was no longer militarily sensitive: Certainly the dramatic nature of the picture would make it ideal for use in the press.  I am not sure how common these photographs are, considering the large numbers produced they can’t be that rare, however interesting and historical photographs such as this one are presumably harder to find.

Canadian Army Ration Card

Tonight’s object has a degree of mystery about it. This little blue ration card is fairly self explanatory, being issued to troops in camp to ensure they got fair shares of chocolate and cigarettes:imageIt is made of a postcard-weight card and is simply printed in black. It has a number of diamond shaped holes punched in it, presumably to indicate when the items had been issued:FullSizeRenderThe mystery however is the unit that used this card, it is marked 2Bn C.B.R.B:FullSizeRender - CopyThis is presumably the second battalion of a regiment, but I have been unable to identify which regiment C.B.R.B refers to, but the name of the original owner, Lance Corporal J T Baker H94318 suggests it is Canadian:FullSizeRender - Copy (2)A Pte J T Baker with the same number is listed as being part of the Canadian Forestry Corps in No23 Company. This unit disbanded in 1943 and presumably Pte Baker was reallocated to a different unit, where he received his stripe. This sort of frustrating dead end in research is not unknown, and despite much searching I can’t find a Canadian unit that matches ‘C.B.R.B.’ If any reader can identify it then please drop me a line.

Browning M1900 Automatic Pistol

Despite my best efforts to keep my collection focused on British and Empire militaria, I do stray on occasions and pick up items purely because I like them, regardless of how they fit into the wider collection. Tonight we are looking at one of these anomalies, an attractive automatic pistol from the dawn of the twentieth century. The Browning Model 1900 was the first modern automatic using a top slide and was the first pistol designed to use Browning’s new .32 ACP round. Approximately 700,000 of the weapons were produced and they garnered much interest, but few sales to the world’s militaries. My example was bought in a very stripped down condition a couple of months ago and I have been buying spare parts to complete it on and off since. For those interested, the original condition of the pistol can be seen in the header photograph to the blog! It is now partly restored and looks like this:imageThis side of the weapon has the safety catch:imagePushing the safety up engages the safety and prevents the top-slide from moving to the rear. Also on this side of the weapon are the manufacturer’s marks:imageThese show the weapon was produced by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale (FN) company, one of the most famous names in European arms production. The opposite side of the weapon has the pistol’s serial number stamped on in various places:imageThis weapon is numbered 554597, which indicates it was part of a production run from 1907-1910:imageThis side of the weapon also has the ejection port:imageThe hand grips on the M1900 are reproduction and actually an earlier style than the serial number:imageBy the time my pistol was made the picture of the gun on the grip had been replaced by the company’s initials. The M1900 uses a simple box magazine that fits inside the handgrip:imageThis magazine holds 7x .32ACP rounds and is again stamped with the FM logo:imageThe M1900 is unusual in that to strip it down one has to remove the rear two screws on the top-slide (only one of which is currently present on this example). This then lets you move the top slide forward and off the weapon:imageAs can be seen one of the unique features of the M1900 is that the barrel is at the bottom of the slide, with the spring above. The spring and breach block assembly can then be removed:imageThis is as far as one would normally strip the weapon for cleaning in daily use, further stripping only being necessary for repairs. The Browning M1900 was the first modern automatic and laid the ground work for the next century. Interestingly whilst the militaries of the west largely ignored the weapon, China took to it and many copies of various qualities were produced during the long civil war in the country. These examples can often be recognised by the poorer quality, slightly different size of the weapon or the fact that the stamps are gobbledegook!

I will continue trying to find the small parts I need to restore this pistol, I still need to get it dry firing again. I cannot say that this method is any cheaper than buying a complete weapon from the start, but it has taught me a lot about how automatics work and how to dismantle and repair them.

Regimental Tee-Shirts

Regimental tee-shirts and sweatshirts have been around for the last seventy years, indeed some Canadians had screen printed tee-shirts they wore under their battledress when they landed on D-Day. Today they are a common sight amongst troops in the British Army and are produced for individual units or to accompany big exercises. These tee-shirts are not official issue, but are frequently commissioned at unit level by enterprising members to raise a small profit for their welfare or mess funds. Despite their unofficial status, these tee-shirts are ubiquitous and even senior officers wear them under their camouflage uniforms instead of the plain green or brown issued tee-shirts. As these embroidered tee-shirts are usually made of soft cotton they are more comfortable than the self wicking material issued by the army, despite their lack of sweat absorbent properties. I have worn both under body armour during exercise and I can attest that the unofficial cotton ones are more comfortable, even if you are dripping wet and smelling like a rugby player’s cup by the end of the day!

amoccct-2012-003-17With many troops now leaving the forces due to cutbacks, these tee-shirts are appearing for sale in ever growing numbers and for very low prices. I picked up these three on Tuesday for £1 each, but they illustrate some of the tee-shirts available:imageThere are three examples here, the first is for the Royal Engineers and is the most typical of the set, it has an embroidered version of the regiment cap badge on the front:imageWhilst there is a small blue trident on the rear of the tee-shirt on the neckline:imageThe second tee-shirt has a tactical sign of a white horse rather than a cap badge and is for the 1st Armoured Engineer Squadron:imageInterestingly this tee-shirt has ‘Dog Sqn’ on the rear in large black letters:imageThe final tee-shirt is one issued for an exercise, in this case Exercise Saif Sareea II:imageThis exercise was held in Oman in 2001 and was the biggest exercise the British Army had been involved in since the First Gulf War, over 22,500 personnel took part, along side the Omani Army. There were 6,500 vehicles used, 21 naval vessels, 49 aircraft and 44 helicopters. The exercise highlighted many deficiencies in British equipment and procedures, most of which were addressed before the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq in 2003. This tee-shirt has the exercise logo, with the British and Omani flags prominently displayed.

These tee-shirts seem to be an overlooked area of collecting at the moment and they are both common and cheap, however I can see interest in these increasing over the years in the same way that a renewed interest in the Falklands with the thirtieth anniversary in 2012 has seen cold-war memorabilia become more collectible.

RASC Drivers’ Training Course Photograph

Amongst my small haul of finds on Tuesday was this rather nice group photograph of a group of Royal Army Service Corps Drivers undergoing instruction (please click to enlarge):SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001As can be seen the photograph is typical of so many group pictures for courses taken throughout the war and up to the present day. The majority of the men in this photograph are wearing FS caps and have 1937 pattern battledress:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - CopyThis suggests that the photograph was taken in the early years of the war. The officers wear Service Dress with Sam Browne belts and peaked caps:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (2)Interestingly there are a number of women in the picture. They are wearing a number of uniforms, presumably reflecting their jobs supporting the unit. Some are in white overalls:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (3)These are most likely women involved in catering and feeding the men. Others are in khaki overalls:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (4)These are most likely involved in stores or maintenance of the vehicles. Finally there are some in ATS service dress:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (5)These are either office staff or women involved in overseeing the other females in the unit. In the back ground can be seen a Nissen hut:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (6)Nissen huts were quick to build up, cheap and strong and were widely used at military bases in the UK and abroad. Following the war many were sold off as kits for reuse in the civilian sector. The foot of the photograph has the course title:SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (7)And the photographer’s name suggests the course was run at Aldershot (on the original the impression of ‘Aldershot’ can be seen):SKMBT_C36415061609340_0001 - Copy (8)

Silver War Badge

During the Great War soldiers, sailors and airmen who were discharged form the forces for injuries, illness or other reasons were given a small silver lapel badge to show they had done their duty and were not shirking military service. These badges were made of silver, with the cipher of King George V in the centre and the words “For King and Empire; Services Rendered” around the rim:imageThe badges were first issued in September 1916 and came with a certificate. The back of the badge has a pin to secure it to the lapel:imageOver 1,500,000 badges were issued during and immediately after the Great War and each was numbered on the back:imageThis example is numbered 430180 which shows it was issued to a Private Herbert John Stilton who was born in Surrey in 1885. He served in the Army Service Corps with a regimental number of 208884 and spent some time attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery, presumably as a driver or something similar. Records exist for virtually all recipients of this badge and have proved a valuable resource for researchers as they were housed in a different location to a soldier’s service records, many of which were destroyed in the blitz. These records have allowed researchers to find out more about many soldiers who would otherwise have been lost to history. The records themselves indicate the reasons for a soldier’s discharge, quoting the relevant King’s Regulation (i suspect that not all the reasons below would have qualified the soldier for a badge however!):

  • (i) References on enlistment being unsatisfactory.
  • (ii) Having been irregularly enlisted.
  • (iii) Not likely to become an efficient soldier.
  • (iv) Having been claimed as an apprentice.
  • (v) Having claimed it on payment of £10 within three months of his attestation.
  • (vi) Having made a mis-statement as to age on enlistment.
  • (vii) Having been claimed for wife desertion.
  • (viii) Having made a false answer on attestation.
  • (ix) Unfitted for the duties of the corps.
  • (x) Having been convicted by the civil power of_____, or of an offence committed before enlistment.
  • (xi) For misconduct.
  • (xii) Having been sentenced to penal servitude.
  • (xiii) Having been sentenced to be discharged with ignominy.
  • (xiv) At his own request, on payment of _____ under Article 1130 (i), Pay Warrant.
  • (xv) Free, after ____ years’ service under Article 1130 (ii), Pay Warrant.
  • (xvi) No longer physically fit for war service.
  • (xvii) Surplus to military requirements (having suffered impairment since entry into the service).
  • (xviii) At his own request after 18 years’ service (with a view to pension under the Pay Warrant).
  • (xix) For the benefit of the public service after 18 years’ service (with a view to pension under the Pay Warrant).
  • (xx) Inefficiency after 18 years’ service (with a view to pension under the Pay Warrant).
  • (xxi) The termination of his ____ period of engagement.
  • (xxii) With less than 21 years’ service towards engagement, but with 21 or more years’ service towards pension.
  • (xxiii) Having claimed discharge after three months’ notice.
  • (xxiv) Having reached the age for discharge.
  • (xxv) His services being no longer required.
  • (xxvi) Surplus to military requirements (Not having suffered impairment since entry into the service).
  • (xxvii) At his own request after 21 (or more) years’ service (with a view to pension under the Pay Warrant).
  • (xxviii) After 21 (or more) years’ qualifying service for pension, and with 5 (or more) years’ service as warrant officer (with a view to pension under the Pay Warrant).
  • (xxviv) On demobilization.

Water Sterilisation Kit

Human beings can only survive a few days without water, and dehydration rapidly saps the physical and mental strength of an individual. Thereforeit is essential that troops in the field are adequately hydrated. Whilst use is made of any sources of clean water that can be found, often these are unavailable and more questionable sources such as ponds or streams need to be used. Obviously this water cannot be drunk just as it is, first it needs to be filtered to remove larger particulates, a millbank bag was often used for this purpose, and then it needs to be sterilised to remove microscopic parasites and bacteria. To do this soldiers in the second world war and after were issued sterilising kits. These consisted of a small olive drab tin with green lettering:imageOpening the tin up we can see folded cardboard to protect the contents:imageUnder the cardboard is a pair of glass jars with screw lids:imageThese contain two chemicals, one to kill any bacteria and a second to remove the unpleasant chlorine taste left by the first. These examples have screw lids:imageThis indicates that the set is a later example; earlier ones used corks for sealing the jars. The inside of the lid gives instructions for the use of the outfit:imageDespite the chemical to remove the taste, the water still had a distinctly chlorinated flaour. If possible soldiers brewed it into tea to help hide the taste, as Ken Tout recalled

To drink we add boiling water, stinking with chlorination, to a few teaspoons of Compo tea, a mixture of tea leaves, powdered milk and grey sugar.

One can’t imagine this tasted brilliant, but it was probably more palatable than the plain water.