Tonight we turn our attention to the most common form of binoculars used by the British Army in WW2. The Number 2 Prismatic 6×30 binoculars were the most widely issued design of binocular, being made in a number of marks by different manufacturers. This pair is a MkII set:The main body of the binoculars is made of black painted brass, joined by a hinge allowing a degree of adjustment:Focusing is done by screwing the eyepieces back and forth to change the focal length to match he viewer’s eyes:A /|\ mark on the front of the body indicates they are military property:This pair are marked as having been made by Kershaw’s of Leeds in 1943:These are a MkII pair which means they have graticules marked on the lenses. The binoculars have small metal loops on the back to fasten a neck strap through:The strap is made of 5/16″ webbing with two buckles to adjust it, the sling itself being 32″ long:These binoculars were produced in huge quantities, with virtually every officer and most NCOs bring issued a pair, matching cases were provided with both the 37 pattern and 44 pattern webbing sets to carry them in. In this image of a British Intelligence officer in Yugoslavia the binoculars are clearly visible:Although some dealers do charge silly prices, I have bought a number of sets of these binoculars over the years and never spent more than £5 a pair so bargains are out there.
In the past we have looked at a number of souvenirs and charity items from WW1. What has characterised these has been they are small, cheap objects designed to be sold for a few pennies on the streets and in shops to the masses. In addition to these cheap items there was also a selection of more expensive souvenirs offered to those who had more money to spend and it is one of these more up market souvenirs we are looking at today.
This grey portfolio of prints of allied leaders dates from WW1:The label on the front shows it is a more up market item, as the price is listed as half a guinea:Inside the portfolio folds out to show six colour portraits of British Empire leaders:The first of these is Lloyd George, British Prime Minister from 1916:Next we have Admiral Earl Beatty, Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet from 1916:The third portrait is of Field Marshall Earl Haigh, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force:In contrast to the pre-war scarlet of Earl Haigh, the portrait of Field Marshal Allenby depicts him in his khaki service dress:The penultimate portrait is of a former enemy of the British Empire, Louis Botha, who by World War One was back in the fold as leader of South Africa’s contribution to the war effort:The sixth and final portrait is of Field Marshall French, Commander in Chief Home Forces from 1916-1918:This interesting set of portraits was clearly an expensive souvenir, but illustrates that patriotic mementoes were purchased by all levels of British society including those with money.
In the past we have looked at the MkV anti dimming compound here; tonight we turn to its successor, the Mk VI. This anti-dimming set is far simpler than its predecessor, simply consisting of a small round tin:Inside the tin is a pre-impregnated cloth:The date in the bottom right hand corner dates the cloth to March 1944. Both the tin and the cloth have the same instructions:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE
Wet the finger tip and moisten the inner surface of the eyepiece. Rub vigorously with this cloth until the surface is clear and dry.
The cloth had been pre-treated with an alcohol solution so the lid of the anti dimming tin had to be firmly fitted to prevent it drying out.
The back of the tin has a loop allowing a piece of string to be passed through which would then be fastened to the haversack so the tin couldn’t go astray:The markings indicate the tin was made by the Metal Box Company on 1st January 1943. These tins were first issued with the Mk V General Service respirator, and were commonly issued with the lightweight respirator- special pickets were included in the haversacks for them.
This design of anti dimming kit was clearly a wartime expedient design as the British Army quickly went back to the old style tins after war had ended.
One of the features that made the Bren gun so successful was the ability to quickly swap barrels so a hot barrel could cool down whilst the Bren carried on firing. To facilitate this feature, the Bren No2 carried a Bren Holdall, more commonly referred to as the Spare Barrel Bag:This webbing bag had a large compartment to hold the spare barrel along with a cylinder rod with mop, wire brush and magazine brush. Further pockets were attached to the front of the bag, the largest being for the tool wallet:A pocket at the base held a bottle of ‘cold weather oil’:A further rifle oil bottle had its own pocket and was used to carry graphited grease, the other pockets carrying tools to de-foul the machine gun and other tools for maintenance:This spare barrel bag was made in 1954 by MeCo:The bag was designed to be slung over the shoulder of the No 2 in battle:But was often left in unit transport; the spare barrel being tucked under the flap of the small pack instead. A grab handle was included on the rear allowing it to be quickly picked up:Changing barrels in the heat of battle could be dangerous:
We were checking our weapons, when one of our chaps took the barrel off his Bren gun which was fixed with only one clip, which slid on the gun. We had several barrels in case they became hot when firing, in which case we had to change barrels. This gun was ready for action when he took the barrel off, he then replaced the old barrel with a new one, clipped it down and as he did so, the gun fired. One of the bullets went straight through him, Clements was his name, and in doing so took the finger off another soldier. What a calamity that was. Everyone started to run all over the place as they thought the enemy was around the corner or in a ditch somewhere nearby. We were told Clements was only wounded, but we later found he had died. Poor Clements, he was a smashing chap. Gone.
In this image the Bren No1 can be seen on the right, and the No2 with the spare barrel bag on the left.
One of the many problems encountered with nuclear and biological warfare is that the ground becomes as dangerous as the air with chemicals contaminating the soil. These contaminants then get passed to a soldier’s footwear and are very difficult to remove. When the British Army began developing its NBC equipment in the 1950s it became obvious that a removable cover for a man’s boots might be the answer to the problem.
Tonight we are looking at a pair of British Army NBC over boots:These are made from black butyl rubber and offer 24 hours of protection from chemical and nuclear weapons. The sole of the overboot has a deeply defined grip for traction:The over boots are secured with elastic straps with large tabs for use with gloves:These are passed around the front of the boot and looped over a corresponding fastener:A small moulded panel at the top of each boot has sizing information:These boots came secured together with an elastic band and then packed inside a clear vacuum bag to ensure they were in perfect condition for use. The Army’s ‘Survive to Fight’ book for NBC protection gives details about wearing the overboot, in this case a slightly earlier model with more complicated lacing:Luckily the world has never seen a nuclear, chemical or biological attack for many many years, but soldiers still train to use the equipment, in this photograph you can see the over boots being worn:
Tonight we turn to the third and final piece of pre-WW1 uniform and equipment I picked up last year; a late Victorian volunteer’s belt. Before the foundation of the Territorial Army in 1907 local volunteer forces acted as a part time force to supplement the Regular Army and provide military assistance to the local civil administration if needed. The volunteer forces were privately funded and had a lot of autonomy in uniform and equipment, with those units boating richer patrons having better quality kit. Unsurprisingly however, most volunteer units used cheaper or simpler equipment than the regular army, in this case we have a simple leather buff leather belt, secured by a snake buckle:Rather than the brass used on Regular Army uniforms and equipment, the volunteers used cheaper white metal and silver coloured fittings:The snake buckle had been used on military and police belts since at least the Napoleonic period. The belt is adjustable using white metal buckles:And a leather keeper:On the inside of the belt is a black ink stamping identifying it as the property of ‘1st Bt. A.V.’ above a number 10:The best guess is that the stamp stands for ‘1st Battalion Artillery Volunteers’, however as there were numerous different artillery volunteer battalions in the late nineteenth century this doesn’t help narrow down a specific unit. The belt seems to be based closely on the ‘Slade Wallace’ belt introduced in 1888, but with a snake buckle rather than the more common male and female brass buckle associated with this set. I have been unable to track down a picture of a soldier wearing a white version of the belt like mine, but in this photograph we have a member of the IVth Volunteer Battalion Gordon Highlanders wearing a brown version of the belt: And in close up:This belt, like all volunteer equipment, is a rare survivor. They were produced in penny packet amounts and many were issued at the outbreak of World War One by local depots to recruits and never received back. As such it has been a great pleasure to add such a belt to my tiny pre-WW1 collection.
In the first half of the twentieth century India’s Bengal region had a large number of chemical companies, interestingly these were nearly all owned by Indian business men. The largest of all these companies was the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd of Calcutta. The company had been founded at the turn of the twentieth century by Dr Profulla Chandra Roy, professor of chemistry at the Presidency College Calcutta. The company manufactured acids, chemicals, pharmaceutical preparations, scientific instruments, disinfections, surgical dressings, laboratory furniture, vaccines, serums, biological products, toilet preparations and soap. By 1937 the company had two factories, one of which had a workforce of 1481 men. As can be imagined the company had major contracts with all aspects of Indian civil life including the state railway, schools, hospitals, government stores and of course the army. Tonight we are looking at a small package of surgical lint, manufactured by the company for the Indian Army:The lint, weighting one ounce, is compressed and wrapped in blue paper. Around this is a greaseproof wrapper to keep it sterile and then a paper label:As can be seen the paper is quite rough, with simple printing on it. In the top left hand corner is the /|\ over ‘I’ mark of the Indian Army:Lint has been used for surgical dressings since at least the fifteenth century and consists of loosely woven threads used to absorb blood and other secretions from wounds. It could also be used wet as a sort of sponge to clean wounds, a very detailed article on the use of lint in wound care in the American Civil War can be read here. With India having a large indigenous cotton industry, this sort of item was easily made in the country and would have been provided to medical staff throughout the far east, one more item that did not need to take up valuable shipping capacity. As what was ultimately a disposable item, this little packet is quite a rare survivor.