Since I was five years old and first watched The Way Ahead I have wanted a Vickers medium machine gun. Sadly this hasn’t happened yet, and with the way prices are going is unlikely to happen this side of a divorce. I have however recently picked up a very nice spare parts case for the hypothetical day I actually own one of the guns. The spare parts case is made of leather and has the official stores designation of CASES, SPARE PARTS AND TOOLS, VICKERS .303-IN. M.G., MK. I**:The main body of the case is a leather box measuring 8 ½” x 5” x 4” and has a hinged lid:This is secured by a leather strap and a roller buckle:The lid and top of the case are reinforced by a metal strip riveted to the leather:This was a later modification of an earlier case that did not have the metal reinforcing; presumably it was not robust enough for service use. The case is suspended from a 66” long shoulder strap, that passes through four leather beckets, two to each side of the case:The length of the shoulder strap is again altered using a roller buckle:The strap has a faint /|\ mark and date of 1944:The main case is dated 1945, has two /|\ marks and a maker’s name of ‘B.H.G.’:This case had large amounts of electrical tape stuck to it when I bought it, hence the odd marks left by the old adhesive. The case itself, in 1951, was supposed to carry the following spares: Balance Spring, Spare Parts Wallet, 2x Extractors, Breech Lock, Combination Tool, Fusee Spring, Clearing plug and Oil Can. The full range of spares for the Vickers Machine Gun was quite extensive, as can be seen in this photograph from 1917:The spare parts case can be seen behind the spare parts wallet, towards the rear of the photograph:So far the only spare I have to put in the case is a lonely balance spring, but this is definitely going to be a back burner project so I am in no rush and I will just add bits as they come up.
Many items of wartime equipment have survived due to them being reused by civilians in the post war era, often being sold through military surplus stores for a few pennies in the 50s and 60s. It is hard now to imagine just how much military surplus was floating around in the immediate post-war period- a friend of mine recalls crates of gas masks sitting in the yard of a factory in Oldham rotting away for decades after the end of the conflict (great fun for young boys of the time though). Tonight we are looking at one such survivor- this little metal case for radio valves for a 38 set:This case survived by being used in a workshop to store small parts and has ‘Brass Ends’ written on the side. The case itself was issued as part of the associated equipment for the popular No 38 Mk II set, I sadly do not have one in my collection yet, but this example is in the Imperial War Museum:The box has a hinged lid that is clearly marked on the top:The ZA stores codes seem to have been used exclusively in the British Army for equipment associated with radio sets. The box is securely fastened with a painted brass spring clip:Opening it up the remains of its felt liner can be seen:This would have been used to hold the four spare valves plus fuses for the radio set and was carried in the side pack with a junction box and radio. Apparently there was originally a paper label stuck to the underside of the lid with helpful information for the operator, but this is frequently missing from the tins now. The four valves originally carried in the tin were an AR8, ATP4 and two ARP12 valves.
This is now the second one of these tins I have found, however this is in far better condition than my previous example, again this came from Huddersfield Second Hand market for £2.
Collecting cigarette cards was a very popular hobby amongst both boys and men throughout the first half of the twentieth century, a tradition upheld today by the sticker collections so beloved of children. The cards were randomly included at the rate of one per pack of cigarettes and albums were made available for small sums to put them in, the captions in the album replicating those on the backs of the cards which of course were unreadable once stuck down. Military and Empire topics were always very popular and this set is entitled “Life in the Royal Navy”:This set was issued by W.D & H.O. Wills, an offshoot of the giant Imperial Tobacco Company, and the set dates from 1939. Inside the cover of the album is a wonderful line drawing of HMS Rodney:The rest of the album is taken up with fifty cards, depicting different aspect of life in the interwar navy, a selection of which are here: This set would have been one of the last produced by the company before the outbreak of war and no doubt the topic had particular resonance to those seeing the approaching clouds of conflict. Today these sets are not hugely expensive, £10-£20 normally, and are readily available on eBay and dealer sites. The cheapness of these interwar sets is an indication of the sheer quantity produced and their popularity as they have survived in large numbers. This one was a nice find on last week’s second hand market for £2.
Whilst my 1925 pattern webbing set is set up for a pistol set, it can be changed to hold rifle ammunition, with ammunition pouches replacing the holster and pistol ammunition pouch and a bayonet frog attached to the left hand side. Whilst I am still searching for a pair of the rifle ammunition pouches (if you have a set for sale please let me know), I do have an example of the bayonet frog and it is this piece of webbing we are considering tonight. The design of the 1925 pattern frog was almost identical to the earlier 1919 pattern frog, differing only in being made from blue webbing rather than tan:Sadly a set of fitting instructions for the 1925 pattern webbing has not yet been found, so the following description comes from the 1919 set:
Bayonet Frog- This has a loop for suspending on the rear end of the left cartridge carrier, it being secured thereto by the socket in the suspension loop engaging in the stud on the rear end of the carrier:The bayonet is passed through the two loops at the bottom, the stud on the scabbard coming out between the two loops:
The loop at the top of the frog is passed over the hilt to prevent undue swinging of the bayonet when marching:As well as the stud on the rear of the cartridge carrier, the 1925 pattern belt had a similar stud on the left hand side and it was very common to see just the belt, frog and bayonet worn when on parade. As the bayonet frog remained perfectly useable with the later 1937 pattern webbing set, these frogs have survived in far higher numbers than the cartridge carriers. These are often marked with details of the manufacturer or an Air Ministry stamp, sadly this example is very faded and it is impossible to make out any markings:
Tonight we are looking at a number of British Army smoke grenades. These used examples were gifts from a fellow collector a few years ago and date from around ten years ago.
PLEASE NOTE these were not removed from a range by myself and to other collectors who are serving members of the Armed Forces- do NOT take used munitions from training exercises no matter how tempting. Used grenades are available for sale online at reasonable prices and this is a far better way to add them to your collection!
I have three smoke grenades in my collection, the two in light green are standard grenades, the dark green example is one for use in training:The grenades themselves are metal cylinders with a plastic firing handle and wire pull ring attached to a pin on the top (only one of my grenades still has this):The base of each grenade has a small aperture for the smoke to escape from.The manufacturer’s website offers a description of the L83A1 Training Grenade:
Hand White Smoke Grenade L83A1 The L83A1 smoke grenade is an operational store used to provide a fast build-up of screening smoke in the visual wavelengths for troops in the field. The HC Smoke Grenade emits a dense cloud of grey-white screening smoke for a period of 60 seconds, after a safety delay of delay 3.5 seconds. It can be thrown by hand or projected from a rifle. Robust and waterproof, they can function reliably over a wide temperature range from arctic to tropical conditions (-40° C to 50° C).
The training grenade here is an L83A2, identical to the A1 version but with a larger hole at the bottom allowing the smoke to be emitted faster. It is painted in dark green and has pale green lettering:This example was produced in May 2009. The other two grenades are standard examples for use in combat, including a L70A1 red smoke grenade:And a more unusual L100A1 yellow smoke grenade:These grenades were first developed by Halley and Weller, which was the absorbed by a company called Pains Wessex and then Chemring. The company developed a commercial series of grenades called the N130 series, which were then adopted by the British Army with the following designations:
Red: N130 L70A1
Green: N132 L68A1
Blue: N133 L71A1
Yellow: N135 L100A1
Orange: N136 L69A1
Purple: N137 L101A1
Full these grenades weigh 325g and burn for 30-45 seconds, so marginally less than the practice examples. When the pin is pulled and the grenade is thrown:
(1) The striker, under pressure of its spring, forces the lever to fly off, then continues its movement until it strikes and fires the percussion cap. The fly off lever is retained by a plastic cord. This is particularly designed to remove the hazard of a loose fly-off lever when throwing from a helicopter.
(2) The flash from the cap initiates the igniter which transmits a flash down through a central flash tube and ignites the lower and upper smoke pellets.
Tonight we turn to the second of the two jungle shirts I picked up on the second hand market last week, this example though is far more suitable for combat and is made of the open weave aertex fabric we have seen on a number of other garments in the past:The shirt is in a typical post-war jungle green colour, and is secured by green plastic buttons:With two pleated pockets, it conforms with most other British army shirts of the period:Unlike the shirt we looked at earlier in the week, the corners of the pockets are not held down with press studs. The right sleeve of the shirt has a set of white tape sergeant’s stripes sewn on:These tape rank stripes are typical of post war tropical uniforms and can be found either sewn on, as in this example, or attached using press studs allowing them to be removed for laundering. In the neck of the shirt is a very faded label:There is a NATO stock number just visible on this, and I am informed by people more knowledgeable than myself that this dates the contract for the shirt to 1975/76 and therefore right at the end of manufacture before they were replaced by DPM jungle shirts. Despite the new pattern, these shirts continued to be issued and used right into the 1980s. They were used by troops in a number of conflicts including Borneo and Aden, a seen by these members of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1965-66:Most other examples of this shirt I have seen have long sleeves and these were worn rolled up in service; this shirt however has been re-tailored to have short sleeves:
This was probably an in theatre modification made for the owner by a local seamstress. Both this shirt, and the example we looked at earlier in the week, are becoming increasingly harder to find and starting to command increasing prices. I got lucky with these two, each costing me just £3, but I would suggest that if you want one and see one at a good price, buy it while you can!
Tonight we look at another postcard form my collection, this time stepping back nearly 110 years to 1906 and this rather splendid image of two sailors manning a searchlight:The two sailors are wearing white cotton duck uniforms, indicating the photograph was taken overseas. My guess is that this is most likely the Mediterranean fleet. The sailor on the left has a cloth neck cover attached to his cap to prevent sunburn to the back of his neck:His companion has a standard cap, but has two good conduct stripes on his sleeve, indicating he has remained uncaught for ten years:The two men are manning a large deck mounted searchlight:I believe this photograph was taken on an open bridge of a large ship, note the repeater to the right of the searchlight:The bridge is protected from the elements by just a canvas screen lashed to the railings around it:The ship’s rigging can be seen to the right of the picture:This suggests the ship had the masts and rigging of late Victorian warships, no longer used for powering the boat but remaining for emergencies none the less. In the background can be made out other ships of the fleet:The back of the postcard has a postmark of 1906, indicating the image was taken in that year at the very latest, I suspect it was slightly earlier. Thewse sort of images were hugely popular amongst civilians and it must be remembered that postcards in Edwardian Britain were much like text messages today: they were a cheap and easy way of sending quick messages and with two or three postal deliveries a day they were sent in their millions every week. Patriotic images such as this were always popular choices.