With the end of National Service and the contraction of the military in the post war period, recruiters began looking for the best possible recruits for the military; however with increasing opportunities in the civilian job market the literature they used to entice potential recruits had to become far more sophisticated. This increasing professionalism is made very clear by tonight’s object, a complete recruitment pack for the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) from 1972 where glossy brochures try and entice young women into a career in the air force. The pack itself contains two main leaflets, the first is a generic book explaining the history and scope of the RAF:The emphasis here is on modernity, with fast jets and the idea of the RAF being at the cutting edge of defence and technology. This booklet is generic in that it is designed to appeal to all those interested in the service, regardless of gender. A second, fold-out, leaflet is aimed specifically at women:The rear of this leaflet has a typically 1970s (and slightly patronising) advertising picture and slogan:This leaflet opens up and has details of the various trades and benefits available to women in the WRAF:The pack came in a standard government envelope and this indicates the interested woman was a Miss Reddihough of Luddenden Foot:Accompanying these leaflets is a compliments slip from the careers information office in Huddersfield:And a return slip and prepaid envelope to book an interview:As this pack is complete with all the paperwork we can assume that the original recipient decided a career in the WRAF was not for her. What the paperwork shown here reveals though is an increasingly sophisticated, marketing based, approach to recruiting rather than the simpler and cruder efforts of the previous decades with targeted information to specific people supported by more generalist leaflets: all trying to show the RAF as a modern force with great opportunities for those who join. Although the designs of the materials might have changed, this basic premise is still at the heart of military recruitment today.
In the past we have looked at a number of Second World War medals, tonight we turn to an example from the First World War and consider the Victory Medal. This medal was issued in huge numbers- an estimated 6,334,522 were distributed, this makes it a very common medal but as with everything else WW1 related the prices have risen sharply in the last few years with the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict. The medal itself is a conventional circular copper disc lacquered in bronze, hanging from a ring which attaches it to the ribbon:The obverse of the medal has a winged figure of Victory with her left arm extended and a palm in her right:The reverse has the legend “THE GREAT / WAR FOR / CIVILISATION / 1914-1919”:The ribbon the medal hangs from consists of two rainbows going from violet at the edge to red where they meet in the centre:Unlike medals issued in WW2 those distributed after the end of the Great War have the recipients name, regiment and service number engraved around the edge:This example was issued to Gunner T Taylor, Royal Artillery. Sadly the other medals in this soldier’s grouping have gone astray over the years; the Victory Medal was never issued alone and most frequently was issued with the War medal and/or the 1914-15 Star. To qualify for the Victory medal one had to be mobilised by Britain, in any service and have entered a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. Women qualified for this and the earlier two medals, for service in nursing homes and other auxiliary forces. It was also awarded to members of the British Naval mission to Russia 1919 – 1920 and for mine clearance in the North Sea between 11 November 1918 and 30 November 1919.
The Victory Medal is perhaps unique in sharing common characteristics with the Victory Medals of the other allied forces in WW1. Belgium, Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Romania, Siam, Union of South Africa and the USA all adopted medals with the same ribbon and in most cases a version of winged Victory on the obverse, albeit of different designs.
Over the past year we have looked at a couple of issued jack knives, tonight we turn to the Royal Navy version. This knife is quite distinctive in that it is made entirely of metal with grey grips rather than the black seen on army examples:As can be seen, at one end is a metal loop to take a lanyard and at the opposite a protruding screwdriver type blade. The knife opens out to reveal a blade and a large marlin spike for repairing ropes with:The navy’s jack knife is unusual in having a metal plate on it where the owner’s name and number can be marked:In this case the knife originally belonged to DJ Ritchie, F019317. These knives remained in use until 1983 when they stopped being issued to new recruits; this example is from the post war period as it has a steel shackle rather than one made from copper. These knives are marked at the base of the blade, but sadly I can’t make out the writing on this example.
Webbing comes in a variety of conditions from unissued to completely knackered, tonight we have a pair of 37 pattern pouches that definitely fall in to the unissued category. As has been discussed before RAF 37 pattern webbing produced in blue grey was gradually introduced from the middle of World War Two onwards, used alongside a range of 25 pattern equipment. Much of this webbing has never been issued and indeed as can be seen in the picture below, these pouches were still folded up when I received them, exactly as they had left the factory. As usual the 37 pattern webbing manual provides a description:
Basic Pouches- These are interchangeable, and are rectangular in shape to contain two Bren Gun magazines each, or a number of grenades, or S.A.A:A buckle is provided at the top of each pouch for the attachment of the brace:this buckle has a loop at the top which serves for connecting the hook on the shoulder strap:Two double hooks are fitted to the back of each pouch for attachment to the waistbelt:The flaps on the top of these pouches are secured by a brass press stud:These were later replaced by quick release fasteners that were supposed to be easier to use in a hurry, but in reality were more trouble than they were worth due to the fraying that came with use. These pouches were made in 1942 by Bagcraft:The ‘Mk III’ label indicates that these pouches are ½” longer than the original issue of pouches, the extra space allowing them to be used to carry sten gun magazines. These RAF pouches are easily available in mint condition like this pair and if, for some unknown reason, you wish to add a pair to your collection like me; they should not set you back more than about £12 for a pair.
Tonight we have an interesting and chatty letter written from one NCO in the Royal Engineers to another in the months after the end of World War Two. The envelope shows the letter was posted in Perth, to Quartermaster Sergeant Fairbrother, Royal Engineers in November 1945:As can be seen Q.M.S. Fairbrother was stationed in Portland, Dorset at the time in The Verne Citadel, a massive mid nineteenth century fort that housed the Royal Engineers for a number of years until it was converted into a prison! The letter itself is written over three pages:I have transcribed it below to the best of my abilities, but the chap’s handwriting is not always that easy to read so I apologise in advance for any errors!
2090424 Sgt, G E Knowles R.E.
C/O C.R.E. Tay
Craigie House, PERTH
Your letter arrived on Tuesday for which many thanks, actually I had thought that you may, due to some of the strange ways of the army, be on your way back to the land of sunshine (in summer only). So you have a nice cushy job and billet. That’s nice, you lucky blighter. I’ve only got a bed sitting room to myself, a comfortable fire, piano, wireless & gramophone to play with according to my desires, a really tip top landlady and daughter complete. –the latter single, about 20 and pleasant. Do you now realise why I’m not worried about being up here, and no worries as to leave.
So Alf has taken Class B (i). Ah well, that’s his big loss. I wont have it at any price, and I’ve only to wait until Jan 1st or so. Not long.
By the way, a couple of my pals up here might be seeing you- group 23 sites (?), one comes from Oldham.- W.M.S. Ingham, and the other I think comes from Chadderton, Cpl Grainger. If you see or know them, mention my name to them at your peril. Watch that bloke, he’s dangerous, friend- leaking pith helmet and all that. A pair of fine blokes and we have had some fun together. We have had an office party, civy and military combined, and had quite an enjoyable time. I even got up to dance- One of the girls wouldn’t believe me when I told her previously that I couldn’t dance, so she got me up on the floor when the “elimination waltz, ladies choice” came on. On your feet Gio and up I got. We stayed until fourth from the end!!! Even now she wont believe me, I was only kidding and fooling whilst dancing- if you see A Dinghouse- he will tell you of that night and of my dancing experiences. Laugh I could have cried.
I have plenty of work to do, for which I am duly thankful, keeps me in trim and training me for office work next Jan, for I too am not staying away from work for long. Might feb (?) stake on something.- By the way. I’ll call & see you some Sat afternoon after my demob. I’ll come to Chadderton, but I warn you, my drinking days are over. I’m T.T.(ii) now. Shakes you; so that first you mentioned will be for yourself, sorry.
By the way, I’m taking up the piano accordion, and for three nights a week, I nearly drive everyone crazy with my erratic playing- no wonder no one will marry me.
Ah well. I’ll be seeing you shortly.
Best wishes to your family, better half and your own wee self.
(i) Class B Release allowed men with needed skills to be demobilised before their ‘place in the queue’ to help rebuild the country.
(ii) T.T.- Tee-total
Despite being dismissed as an anachronism many times over the last sixty years, bayonets are still issued and indeed the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen them used in anger on many occasions. The British Army of the early twentieth century had no such concerns, and was quite clear in its opinion that the bayonet was still an essential weapon for its soldiers. The 1942 training pamphlet for the bayonet describes it as the weapon of attack for hand-to-hand and night fighting and stressed the importance of the offensive spirit. With the introduction of the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle came a new sword bayonet and scabbard, this was modified at the time of the outbreak of WW1 by removing the curled quillon and the resulting design was in use into the middle years of WW2:The bayonet blade is based on the old 1888 pattern bayonet, with a new pommel designed to fit the nose stud of the SMLE:The ricasso of the blade has a range of stampings:These show that this is a 1907 pattern bayonet, that it was made by the Wilkinson Sword Company (WSC) and was manufactured in 1943. The reverse of the blade has a number of unknown markings, which suggest it was used by a foreign army after its service with Britain was over:The bayonet is housed in a leather scabbard:This has a metal throat with stud for attaching the scabbard to a bayonet frogAnd a metal tip: These reinforce vulnerable parts of the scabbard, and the leather is heavily stitched in a seam all along the reverse:The 1942 training manual shows the correct position to hold the rifle and bayonet, note the label indicating where the blade should be aimed!The long blade could be vulnerable though and it was not unknown for it to snap:
Once for instance, during their training squad’s first bayonet practice, the instructor demonstrated the proper bayonet charge technique by running and yelling at a suspended, filled sack. Driving home the bayonet, the twist, the withdrawal and the smack in the sack’s ‘face’ with the rifle-butt. When it was the recruits’ turn, the Scottish instructor picked Geordie. As Geordie readied his bayonet-tipped rifle, the instructor said quietly but passionately “Go on Clark, gie it laldy and show these English how it’s done”. Summoning all the wrathful anger of his Celtic ancestors, Geordie launched himself, his features distorted in some inherited ancient rage, while screaming a terrifying curse at the enemy sack. He drove his bayonet home with almost superhuman force, twisted, pulled back and began to run on to the next belligerent burlap. Just then, there was a loud “Click !”. Geordie’s rifle was now topped by a 1907 pattern SMLE sword bayonet, with a short metal stump where a seventeen-inch blade ought to be. Expecting to be soon up on the frame, replacing one of the filled sacks for the next round of bayonet practice, Geordie braced himself for the worst. Everyone was in shock. The Scots instructor, who probably was shocked, stepped in however and saved Geordie’s bacon – and Scotland’s pride. In front of the whole squad, he shouted “Well done Clark ! The rest of you – see !! – That’s the sort of commitment I want to see from you lot !!”.
Drill rounds are used to safely test that a weapon functions correctly and to allow crew to train on it with no risk of accidently firing a live round. It is essential that drill rounds are easily distinguishable from live rounds, so they are often made of a different metal and have some sort of difference that can be felt by touch so the soldier can still identify them in the dark. Tonight we are looking at an example of a .50 cal drill round:This round is made from steel, with a brass head:Steel casings were first made in the US as a way of saving brass and were sealed with a cadmium coating to prevent corrosion. Unfortunately it was discovered that the quality of steel that would be needed was the same high quality metal used in tanks and ships. Not only that, but the cases were also harder to make to the standard needed to function correctly than brass; therefore the ammunition was limited to training in the US. To make best use of the steel cases for the .50cal machine gun many of these were converted into drill rounds rather than run the risk of jamming a gun in combat. The casings had large holes drilled through them to add an identifier that could be felt in the dark:The base of the cartridge is stamped ‘F A 4’:This stands for Frankford Arsenal, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and indicates it was made in 1944. Note how the area on the base that would normally house the Berdan cap has been left as an open recess. This allows the firing pin on the machine gun to fire forward without the risk of damaging it on the base of the inert round.
The .50 round was developed by John Moses Browning as an enlarged .30-06 to use in his new machine gun and came into use in 1921. The round is still in use today and as can be imagined from its size it is a very powerful cartridge. The round and its accompanying Browning .50 Machine Gun have been in constant use for nearly one hundred years and the British have used them on aircraft, tanks and the round is also used in anti-materiel sniper rifles. These Frankford Arsenal drill rounds are very common and can be bought cheaply, but their size makes them an impressive display piece.