Monthly Archives: October 2015

Photographs of Soldiering in Colonial Hong Kong

By the 1920s personal cameras were small and cheap enough that the hobby of photography was open to a far wider cross section of society- including those in the military. Whereas most images of WW1 are either formal studio shots or pictures taken by professional photographers, within a decade a growing number of soldiers were taking informal pictures of their friends in relaxed everyday situations. Tonight we have a group of seven photographs taken in the late 1920s in Hong Kong by some of the British Garrison in this colony. Happily some of the photographs have descriptions on the rear with places and dates that help add a little context. First we have a shot of six men off duty outside their hut:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001 - Copy (5)The back of the photo identifies the huts as being at Sham Shui Po and that the photograph was taken on 21st October 1927. Barracks were opened at Sham Shui Po on the Kowloon Peninsular in the 1920s, the two main buildings being known as Hankow Barracks and Nanking Barracks. The next photograph was taken on November 19th 1927 at Lo Wu:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001 - Copy (4)The back of the photograph states ‘Dog Floss, Sgt Sinclair, Tailor and Myself’. The next image shows a man holding a large snake:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001The back of the photo again indicates this was taken at Lo Wu and that the snake was five foot 6 long! The other four photos do not have any writing on the back, but came as part of the same lot and have the same black paper stuck to the back so I am assuming they are from the same time and place! The first is a relaxed shot of five soldiers in KD, with pith helmets:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001 - Copy (2)The collar dogs look like they might be light infantry bugles, but which regiment they are is unclear. Note the long service and good conduct stripes pinned to the forearms of most of the men. The next shot is of a man, again in KD, standing in some sort of garden. He is wearing a white leather parade belt and carrying a swagger stick:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001 - CopyThe penultimate photograph is of a number of men in tropical kit on a beach, presumably enjoying a little free time:SKMBT_C36415102712500_0001 - Copy (3)Finally we have a fascinating shot of troops with natives in traditional dress:SKMBT_C36415102713280_0001Unusually for these shots, one of the soldiers has 08 webbing on. These photographs are a fascinating window into a long forgotten part of life, with British troops being stationed around the globe to protect the interests of the crown in the colonies.

Gas Detection Brassards

Regular readers will know I get a lot of good finds from Huddersfield Second Hand market. This week I found what might qualify as the find of the year so far. A pair of gas detection brassards for 50p each. These are not in the best condition, but as original examples are incredibly hard to find (and thus expensive) I was very pleased to find them at this price! The brassards are made of a chemically impregnated heavy duty paper, one is in dark brown and one in tan:imageIn the presence of blister gas the idea was that the chemical would turn the brassard red and it would then be noticeable to the troops who could then don protective clothing as required. The brassards were put over the arm and a webbing tape at the top was passed through the epaulette of the uniform to secure it:imageThe 1942 Gas training book indicated that one brassard should be worn on each shoulder by ordinary troops, and on one shoulder by NCOs, presumably so their rank badges would still be visible. Both the brassards have been machine sewn for strength:imageThe dark brown example is dated August 1941:imageAnd the tan example December 1941:imageExamples also exist with Canadian stamps indicating they were also made there. These would have been carried in the soldier’s gas mask bag and I believe two tan and two dark brown examples was the common issue rate. Interestingly these brassards were also issued to US troops during the Normandy invasion and can be frequently seen in period photographs. These brassards are one of the rarer items of British anti-gas equipment- most have not survived due to the fragile and disposable nature of the materials used in their construction. Good examples go for £150 +, these two have been screwed up so are probably not as desirable- but still well worth 50p each!

Military Protractor Mk III

The importance of maps to the military can scarcely be underestimated. Whether it is to navigate to an enemy position, design a bridge or bring down artillery fire; maps are used every day by the armed forces. To accurately plot a position on a map or to draw a map from scratch, the ability to transfer bearings onto the page is essential and for this a protractor designed to be used with military maps is very helpful. This example, although not /|\ marked, is one issued to British Army Officers:imageThis example is marked ‘Protractor Rectangular ‘A’ Mk III’ (6”x2” Exactly). This mark of protractor seems to date from the 1920s- the Mk IV was introduced in about 1930. It is made of celluloid by Reeves & Sons Ltd of London and in addition to the angles around the edge has multiple lines for different scales of maps on both sides:imageThe 1929 copy of ‘Notes on Map Reading’ explains about the scales:

The Service Protractor Mark IV shows scales of ¼ inch and 1 inch to the mile; also scales for R/Fs of 1/25,000, 1/50,000 and 1/250,000. Thus the normal scales of British maps can be drawn from the protractor.

The protractor is designed to fit snuggly into a pocket on the underside of the lid of the map case (here):imageThese protractors were also made of ivory, brass and wood, for more details of the many different types of military protractor please look at this excellent webpage here.Sir-Alan-Brooke

Saving Gas Envelope

By the mid 1930s many households used town gas or coal gas to heat their houses, cook their food and produce hot water. To make this gas large quantities of coal were brought into municipal gas works and refined to extract the gas, which was then stored in large gas holders on purpose built sites at the edge of town. This process required huge quantities of coal and this was brought in by rail, before the coke byproduct was taken away again. All this coal and rail capacity was needed for other more vital war work, so the government urged people to reduce their consumption wherever possible. This envelope has been pre-printed with such as message:imageThe red stamp says ‘Gas is on Munitions, Use it sparingly’ with a stylized gas holder and production plant:imageThe character in the centre seems to have been one created by the Ministry of Supply to encourage people to save gas as it appears on a number of posters as well:450ca27c763f27c826f911f0fb476152The need to save gas was clear even before war began, and the following advice was published in the Daily Telegraph on September 7th 1939:

The order restricting the use of electricity and gas to 75 per of the usual consumption comes into force today. Housewives should find it quite easy to adapt their households to the new requirements without hardship…

How to save gas

The Gas Light and Coke Co suggest the following ways of reducing gas consumption simply and satisfactorily.


  1. Never leave a burner alight when not in use; never allow flames to show outside the sides of the pan.
  2. Use a small burner instead of a large one unless speed is necessary.
  3. When using a griller put something on top at the same time.
  4. Have a steamer with two or more compartments: you can then cook several dishes, possibly a whole meal, on one gas ring.
  5. Keep the lid on your pans: the contents will cook more quickly. When the pan comes to the boil turn the burner down.
  6. Never heat more liquid than you need. Remember this when you fill the kettle as you use gas unnecessarily. Do not keep the kettle on the boil.
  7. When you use the oven try to put a complete meal into it at once. Turn flame out as soon as the dinner is cooked: the food will keep hot for some time. Casserole dishes are economical.

Water heating

  1. When cooking, put a bowl of water in the oven at the same time. This will give you hot water for washing up.
  2. Never wash up, or your hands, under a running tap.
  3. The less crockery you use, the less water you will need for washing up.
  4. Be careful when you take your bath to keep it shallow.

Room warming

    1. When you have turned the fire on keep the door closed.
    2. Turn the fire down when the room is warmed. If in sections some can be turned off.
    3. If you have more than one sitting room, try to get everyone to use the same one.
    4. Never have a gas fire on when a room is not in use.138603645

Rifle Sling

The British Army webbing rifle sling we are looking at tonight was a very long lasting pierce of equipment, being introduced in 1901 and not being made obsolete until 1991. The webbing sling for use with the various marks of Lee-Enfield was only designed for carrying the weapon, rather than as an aid to fire. Nowhere in the weapons pamphlets of the period is the average soldier shown how to fire with the aid of the sling (separate snipers’ slings were available). The sling is made of webbing 1 ¼” wide and 46” long:imageAt either end is a brass Catches, web sling; a 1 1/4 “ brass chape riveted to the sling with hose rivets:imageOne of these is marked ‘MeCo’ and dated 1936:imageThe sling was attached to the rifle at two points and was either tightened up so it looked smart on parade:Lt_Gen_Gale_passing_out_parade_NBOr left loose so the rifle could be slung over a shoulder:British-soldier-in-desert-portraitThe slings were also used on early issue Thompson machine guns in British service, Lanchester machine guns and as carrying straps for the Bren sustained fire tripod. They could also be fastened together to form and improvised rope in emergencies. This was not always effective as Arnold Straw remembers:

A number of the men had been killed trying to reach the beach by fastening rifle slings together, but these had come apart sending men hurtling to their deaths on the rocks below, or, because in the darkness the height of the cliffs had been under-estimated, with similar results.

Corporal George Walker of the Argyll and Sutherland highlanders found another use for his rifle sling:

Another time, our section found ourselves in a farm house when the battalion stopped to consolidate the position after capturing the area. It must have been some German HQ mess, because there was a table laid out ready for a meal, and on the stove stocked up with wood, was a pan with a plucked chicken in, ready for cooking. We looked at it for ages, very tempting for hungry lads. After a while we knew we would be moving on, so we tied some rifle slings together, looped it round the pan, hid in the next room and pulled. The only sound was the pan crashing to the floor and contents all over the place. At that moment we were ordered to move on. I’ve often wondered if the wood in the stove had been booby trapped, and maybe have gone up if anyone had lit it.

The uses of slings could be vary varied, Alistair McGhee was in Burma when his jeep came off the road:

We sat for a while, feeling somewhat despondent, when I noticed across the paddy field, a Burmese peasant leading an ox. I made my way across the field and persuaded, by sign language (and bribery), the Burmese to bring his ox across the field to us. Using our combined rifle slings round the neck of the ox, we attempted to pull the jeep back onto the track — to no avail. Again we sat and wondered what to do next!

Slings were produced in Britain , Canada and India. I have not yet found pictures of Australian and South African examples, but it is entirely likely they were produced in those countries as well.

Type F Field Telephone Box

You might remember that a few months back we looked at an F-Type Field Telephone here. I mentioned at the time that the telephone should have been housed in a wooden box; happily I have now managed to find an empty Type F box in which to put the telephone for the princely sum of £8 at the Pickering WW2 weekend last weekend:imageThe box is made of wood, with a hinged front/lid. It is clearly marked ‘Telephone Set F’:imageAnd there is a /|\ mark painted on as well:imageOn the ends of the box are loops to allow a carrying strap to be fitted and metal reinforcements in the corners:imageThe telephone slips into the box:imageIt engages with slots on the base of the box to hold it secure:imageAt the back of the box is a printed metal plaque giving details of the telephone and how to use it:imageInterestingly there should be a second metal instruction plate on the back of the lid. This is missing but there are scratched markings on the inside of the hinged lid, the only one I can make out is ‘Extension No6’:imageThe next job is to find a second field telephone to allow me to run a wire between them and actually use the kit…

British Jungle Slouch Hat

I have a large head- sadly its true! This means it is often hard to find original headgear in a size to fit my enlarged bonce and sometime a reproduction is the only way to go. The problem comes when I need an iconic piece of headgear that has not been nicely reproduced as in the case of the iconic British jungle slouch hat. Therefore when an original example came up in a huge 7 3/8” size I grabbed it with both hands!imageThe slouch hat, or ‘hat, fur felt’ to give it its official designation, began to be seen in use from around 1942 onwards. The hat is made of a jungle green coloured compressed wool fur felt, with a tan pugaree wrapped around:imageNote the two grommets for ventilation. At the front the pugaree has a distinctive ‘v’ shaped dip:imageThe side of the hat is held up by a press stud:imageThis was originally done on parade to allow the rifle to be carried on the slope, it was only after the introduction of coloured divisional patches sewn to the brim that it became common to do this on active service. This hat has a brass Royal Army Service Corps cap badge on the upturned brim:image

The inside of the hat has a leather sweatband fixed, but these are often missing:imageIt’s hard to make out, but there is a date stamp for 1943 and the size of 7 3/8”:imageThese hats were very popular as they were comfortable and good protection from both the sun and jungle downpours. imageThe design had been in use in various forms since the mid nineteenth century- the Yeomanry in the Boer War and the Australian Army had both used it extensively. It was as a replacement for the wholly inadequate solar topee that it was to find fame as the headwear of the army in the far east. These hats were not just used in the jungles of the far east however, Major Michael Barton was involved in the Abyssinian campaign in Africa:

Early on I had discarded my ridiculous topee, insisted upon by the War Office before leaving the UK and wore a felt ‘slouch hat’ with a wide brim. It was sometimes clipped up on one side. They were comfortable, gave some protection to face and eyes from the sun and, when occasionally necessary in Africa, were more or less waterproof. They were the regular headgear of the Askaris. However the climatic conditions had changed somewhat and as it looked as if the war up here was beginning to tail away, I wrote home to Bates and requested a cap. It duly arrived.

The slouch hat can be seen here, being worn by an African Askari guarding an aerodrome in South Africa:12141528_1071126339564612_1275272758658547513_n