Monthly Archives: October 2015

British Army PT Shorts

Physical fitness has always been an essential part of army life- high levels of fitness are expected of men and sports and games are felt to help foster a competitive team spirit. This was especially true in the Second World War where conscripts had to be moulded into a fighting force, whether they liked it or not. With men who were not always in the best physical shape the PTIs had their work cut out. Men were issued plimsolls, an aertex shirt and blue cotton PT shorts:imageThese have an elasticated waist and a simple two button fly:imageThe inside of the waistband has a simple label, giving details of the manufacturer (Bukta), the description ‘Shorts, Gymnasium’, a /|\ mark, ‘size 3’ and waistband of 34”:imageFaintly visible on the actual shorts is a date of 1942.

Barry Davitt had some experience of PT in the army:

Here, I was told by the sergeant to change into P.T. kit and get out on a cross-country run. I explained to him that I had just had some teeth pulled out. “GET READY AND GET OUT!!” he shouted, so I did. Clad in a sweater, P.T. shorts, socks and army boots, I set off with the rest through the town and across country.

Later he had more experience of wearing PT kit:

So, we got over our stint on the Barrack Square, went back to the Barracks and the usual cry: “OUTSIDE IN FIVE MINUTES IN P.T. KIT.” It wasn’t another cross country run, this time it was to the gymnasium. We entered the gym to find chaps in white sweaters waiting for us. These are known in army terminology as P.T.I.s, Physical Training Instructors. Big fine men who told us straight away that they were going to make us strong like them. I had a bit of a paunch, but nothing much. One of the P.T.I.s came to me and said, “Where are you from Laddie, what work did you do?” I said, “I’m from Sheffield and was a furnace man.” “Drink much beer?” he asked. “Oh, one or two pints, you know,” I replied. “Right, we’ll knock that belly off you for a start,” he informed me.

The things we had to try to do was unbelievable, the P.T.I. took a running jump, landed hands first onto a vaulting horse and said, “Right, line up and do that!” We lined up and in turn, ran to the vaulting horse and jumped. The younger lads managed to do it quite well, but me, I was at the stage where I couldn’t jump on a bus. I had to try, but my effort should have been filmed. The jump I did had never been done before and my landing neither. I went over the horse and finished upside down on the floor, wedged in some fashion against the vaulting horse on the back of my neck.

The physical training ran the gamut from cross country runs, team sports and advanced gymnastics:6779442_5b5402f7_640

Gordon Highlander’s Tam O’Shanter

Readers may recall that I have a Gordon Highlander’s kilt in my collection which we looked at here. Since buying this, I have been limited in the impressions I can put together by a lack of suitable headdress- steel helmet or Wolseley helmet having to suffice. Happily last Sunday I was able to pick up a Gordon Highlander’s tam o’shanter from a fellow collector which will go very nicely with my kilt:imageThe Tam o Shanter was introduced in the First World War in 1915 to replace the glengarry in the trenches. It was originally knitted, but by the Second World War it was made of a number of pieces of khaki serge sewn together. This example has the cap badge of the Gordon Highlanders on a backing of Gordon tartan:imageThese pieces of tartan were normally cut from worn out kilts. The back of the tam o’shanter has a piece of cord to adjust the size slightly:imageAnd on the top is a khaki toorie:imageThe label inside shows the tam o’shanter was made by S & P Harris of Glasgow in 1943:imageThe /|\ mark and size ‘7’ are also visible. The tam o’ shanter was popular as it was comfortable, looked smart but could still be folded up and tucked in a pocket easily. It is notable that Scottish regiments hung onto their tam o’shanters even after the introduction of the general service Cap. The Gordon Highlander’s tam o’shanter can be seen being worn here in northern Europe in 1944/45:ww2Although it is not of the Gordon Highlanders, this wonderful photograph shows a lowland TA regiment at the start of WW2 trying on their gas masks- and matching them very nicely with tartan trews and tam o’shanters!H85_midThe tam o’shanter is still worn by the men of the Scottish regiment, with different coloured hackles to represent each battalion.

Vickers machine Gun Oil Bottle

Like any other item of machinery with moving parts, machine guns need regular lubrication to allow them to function at their best, with minimal damage to their working parts. To this end one of the essential accessories for most weapons is an oil bottle. This example is the ‘Oil Bottle, MG Mk 1’:imageThese bottles were first issued in WW1 when they were known as ‘Can, Oil, Guns Lewis & Vickers’. As this suggests, they were used with a variety of British Medium and Heavy machine guns including Vickers, Besa and Lewis guns. The bottle is made of soldered tin plated steel, with a screw cap at one end of the top:imageThis opens to reveal an oil brush secured to the cap:imageThis allowed the oil to be carefully brushed onto those parts of the mechanism that needed lubrication, larger areas were cleaned by applying the oil to a piece of cleaning cloth and rubbing it over the required area. The base of the bottle has a manufacturer’s mark of ‘CWS B’:imageMy guess is that this is the Co-Operative Wholesale Society. Daily cleaning of the Vickers Gun was set out in the Small Arms Training Pamphlet No7:

The outside of the gun will be cleaned daily and all parts of the mechanism that can be reached without stripping will be wiped over with an oily rag. The inside of the barrel will be left oily. On completion of daily cleaning the gun will be inspected both for cleanliness and damage. In examining the barrel the mirror reflector will be used.

The oil bottle was used up until the withdrawal of Vickers Machine guns from service and is part of the equipment carried in the spares case we looked at here; this bottle adds another useful element to what is still a relatively new area of collecting for me.

1925 Pattern Water Bottle Carrier

Many items of RAF 1925 pattern webbing are identical to their later RAF 1937 pattern equivalents- cross straps, brace attachments and tonight’s object, water bottle carrier, were identical. This then presents problems and opportunities for the collector; these items can be found for very low prices misidentified as 37 pattern items, but the collector needs to know what he is looking at, and how to identify the earlier pattern items. This water bottle carrier is of the sleeve type:imageThis design had been used on a number of cavalry webbing sets by Mills before it was adopted for the 1925 pattern set, however it was the lack of any water bottle covers but drab that led to the design being used by the RAF, allowing them to hide the water bottle and present a wholly blue grey finish. The sleeve design was ironically then adopted by the army in WW2 as it was cheaper and easier to manufacture. Basically the design has a single piece of webbing that wraps around the bottle, with a strap that passes across the base:imageWhich ends in two buckles at the top to allow it to be fastened to the rest of the webbing set:imageTo positively identify the carrier as 25 pattern though, it needs to be turned inside out to view the markings:imageThese have the ‘Air Ministry’ crown and markings and a date of 1939 (it is slightly clearer in real life). As the RAF didn’t start using 37 pattern webbing until 1941 at the earliest, this carrier can be positively identified as 25 pattern webbing. The inside of the carrier also has the original airman’s number:imageThe number appears to be 2353415 which was a number from a batch of National Service Airmen taken on at Padgate in 1947, suggesting that either the cover had been languishing in a store for eight years or had been reissued. Indeed due to the similarity in appearance between 1925 and 1937 pattern webbing, they were mixed and matched for years, with no one seeming to care what an airman was issued as long as it was functional.

SRD Rum Jar

My thanks go to Colin Wright for helping me find tonight’s object. One of the iconic objects of the First World War is the SRD Rum Jar, seen in many trench photographs:imagesThis example is a stoneware jar, standing about 16” high:imageOn the neck of the jar is impressed the letters SRD:imageThese stood for ‘Supply Reserve Depot’ but were often said to represent ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’ or ‘Soon runs Dry’. There has been much debate on what exactly the letters SRD stood for, but the following auction listing of surplus stock after WW1 seems to offer (hopefully) definitive proof:sr14This jar has a makers mark of ‘Hunts Patent, Liverpool’:imageThe top of the jar has the spout, which would have been filled with a cork and then waxed to keep the contents secure:imageWhilst most frequently associated with rum, the jars were used for any number of liquids, including lime juice used to help prevent scurvy amongst troops through a lack of vitamin C. The following description of the jars is from 53/Gen.No./5503 Handbook of Specifications for Supplies, 1915:App0393_zpsoxxbi4nxThese jars continued in use into the Second World War and beyond, and this description comes from ‘The Malayan Experience’

The depot supplied the units in North Malaya with food, petrol oil and lubricants (POL). This was mainly, dry rations, fresh meat, vegetables and fresh bread. There was also a “bonded” store for rum. This rum was kept in large stone jars, marked SRD, in a wicker & straw crates. The rum was over 100% proof. Strangely, I never heard of it “evaporation” or leaking – although it possibly did. This was for issue to Jungle Patrols – especially Gurkhas, who are very fond of rum. rumThey continued in use by the Royal Navy for many years, into the 1970s when the daily tot of rum was abolished. One man, ‘Sotonmate’ on the 1914-18 Forum, who worked for the RN looking after these jars has given us the following interesting account:

I was in a Naval Victualling Yard, and in charge of blending and packing Navy Rum. If you expect me to say where the jars were made, and if they were a continuation of those supplies from WW1 I couldn’t say, they were always encased in a wickerwork basket, and re-used time after time. This after a jet wash, basket and all! They were 1 gallon capacity, we only did that size in jars, the rum inside was a blend of Trinidad & Jamaica (dark) (65%), Barbados (golden) (30%) South Africa and Australian (golden) (5%), and water to bring it down to “Issue Strength”. On average the “overproof” rum used in the blend was around 150 (proof spirit (viz 100% alcohol in today’s measure) was defined as 174 degrees) and a bit lively to sip, never mind gulp ! The packing strength for a jar was 1 degree stronger than it was in a cask, 96.5 degrees for jar and 95.5 degrees for a cask. So it need to be watered down, it wasn’t SRD (Service Rum Diluted)! I believe that a gallon of water was added before issue to junior ratings, but that it was issued as was to Senior Rates.

Boer War Faked Stereoscope Card

Back in March we looked at a Boer War Stereoscope Card here. Tuesday’s second hand market brought up another card, this time for all of 50p. Whilst the last example was an Australian Regiment, this one depicts the Royal Munster Fusiliers:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001The photograph purports to show the regiment at Honey Nest Kloof repelling a Boer attack:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - CopyThere are the usual men behind the redoubt, firing at the enemy:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - Copy (2)The wounded being treated:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - Copy (3)And the dead lying in a ditch:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - Copy (4)Despite all this, it seems certain that this photograph was faked for the photographer to provide an exciting image to those buying the stereoscope card back home. The photograph is clearly taken from on the top of a wagon or some sort of high place. Whilst this makes for a more dramatic image, it would hardly be safe in the midst of a battle. The men manning the redoubt are exposing their heads above the parapets:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - Copy (5)And the wounded soldier being given a drink of water is such a hackneyed image that it is clearly being played up for the camera:SKMBT_C36415101309380_0001 - Copy (6)Clearly then, photographs have been manipulated long before Photoshop was ever thought of; at least four versions of this photograph are known to exist, each taken one after the other with slight differences between each as the photographer took multiple shots. Clearly this would be impossible in a real battle so the conclusion is these pictures must be reconstructions for the camera. Ironically even today, this shot is used as a genuine combat photograph in several well respected books.

Post War Australian Battledress Blouse

In the past we have looked at a number of different battledress blouses, tonight we are turning to one made in Australia in the post war period:imageThis battledress is made of a much finer wool than its British equivalent, and incorporates an open neck similar to British 1949 pattern:imageWith the pleated pockets and hidden buttons of 1937 pattern:imageThe buttons on this blouse are a distinctive dark brown plastic:imageWhilst the buckle is pressed metal, enamelled black:imageAs ever a pair of button down epaulettes are included on the shoulders:imageThe cuffs have hidden buttons and are lined:imageThree button holes on the inside of the waistband allow the trousers to be buttoned to the jacket (rarely done in practice):imageThis jacket is clearly unissued as it still has the cardboard stores tag sewn onto the bottom:imageFrom this we can see that the blouse is a size 11, for men of height 5’9” to 5’10”, with chests of 38”to 39” and waist of 33” to 34”. The size is also printed on the label inside the blouse:imageThe D /|\ D mark of the Australian military is clearly visible, as is the name of the manufacturer ‘Bishop & Woodward Pty Ltd’ and the date ‘1952’. An Imperial War museum online catalogue listing identifies this blouse as being ‘1952 Pattern’, however as of yet I have found no confirmation of this. This blouse has a definite air of quality about it, from the finer wool to the comfortable linings and is far superior to its British counterpart of the period. The blouse can be seen here being worn by one Aussie soldier during a state visit by the Queen in the 1950s:image