Monthly Archives: December 2015

1944 Christmas Airgraph

Merry Christmas to all our readers around the world. Continuing our mini theme of Christmas related items, tonight we are looking at a Christmas Airgraph sent in 1944:FullSizeRenderThe airgraph was a post office initiative to allow messages to be sent to loved ones around the world without the problems of shipping bulky mail. Senders filled out an airgraph form, it was photographed and miniaturised and then sent to the other side of the world. Once here the messages were printed and distributed to the men. This system meant that sending 1600 airgraphs on film weighed 5oz compared to 50lbs for the same number of letters. There was also the added advantage that if a plane was lost carrying the microfilm, a copy had been kept in the UK and could be sent again. This service was advertised to the public in magazines and post offices:untitled

The airgraphs used the Kodak Microfilm system, called Recordak, that had been used for record keeping in business since the early 1930s. the first airgraphs arrived in Cairo on April 21st 1941 with just 70,000 letters. Within two months the average number of letters sent using this system was 500,000 a month. The system was used in both directions, with airgraphs sent back to Britain from overseas postings, as seen in this photograph of a soldier filling out an airgraph form:writingA great site detailing the airgraph process can be found here. My example of an airgraph was sent by TH Purslow of Birmingham:FullSizeRender - CopyTo his son Corporal Purslow, at 416 Ordnance Park, 37 Vehicle Company, RAOC, British North African Force:FullSizeRender - Copy (3)The message is a fairly banal Christmas greeting, wishing the man’s son well and hoping for his speedy return:FullSizeRender - Copy (2)This Christmas form was specially produced and available from the post office for the price of 3d, which included the postage.

1937 RAMC Christmas Card

Tonight we look at the first of three Christmas themed items, for the festive period. Christmas cards have been popular since the mid nineteenth century, by the 1930s photographers had realised that offering combined portraits and Christmas cards would be a popular move. This Christmas card is a personalised example sent by a member of the Royal Army Medical Corp in 1937:SKMBT_C36415112412370_0001Embossed on the front is the cap badge of the RAMC:SKMBT_C36415112412370_0001 - CopyWhilst the text dates the card to Christmas 1937 and identifies the sender as Lieutenant-Colonel J G Foster OBE:SKMBT_C36415112412370_0001 - Copy (2)The erstwhile Lt Colonel Foster is depicted inside the card with a fine portrait of the man:SKMBT_C36415112412380_0001With his elaborate moustache the Lt Colonel is clearly an older soldier who has seen many years before the colours, as borne out by his impressive selection of medals:SKMBT_C36415112412380_0001 - CopyHis OBE is on the far left, there is then a medal I cannot recognise before the two campaign medals for the Boer War and the three WW1 campaign medals. The oak leaf on the Victory Medal indicates he had been mentioned in dispatches during the Great War. The Royal Army Medical Corps Archives have further papers on Lt Colonel Foster and from what little is on the web I believe that the mention in dispatches was awarded in 1915.  Lt Colonel Foster is wearing the Number One Dress uniform, today reserved for senior officers, on the collar can be seen wide gold braid edging and the gilt RAMC collar dogs:SKMBT_C36415112412380_0001 - Copy (2)His shoulder straps would be of gold bullion wire in an extravagant knot-work:SKMBT_C36415112412380_0001 - Copy (3)Sadly the rank insignia is too faint to see here, but would be a crown and a pip. As ever this evocative card cost only a few pounds, seemingly nothing at all for a piece of history nearly eighty years old.

Thompson Sub Machine Gun

At the start of World War Two the British Army had very few sub-machine guns in their armouries. Senior officers had dismissed the idea of a light, personal machine gun firing pistol sized rounds as being unnecessary for military use and indeed some had dubbed them ‘gangster guns’ and not appropriate for soldiers. This attitude was to change very rapidly during the Battle for France when British troops came up against German soldiers armed with MP40s and other sub-machine guns. Having realised their mistake the British quickly hunted around for a suitable weapon with which to equip their forces and found what they were looking for in the American Thompson sub-machine gun. This weapon was available off the shelf, and more importantly large quantities could be shipped immediately as the French Army had placed substantial orders before they were defeated by the Germans. The British took over these orders and placed further orders as well. Whilst most of the weapons the British bought were 1928 variants, later as the simplified M1 and M1A1 variants of the weapon were produced, limited quantities of these were shipped to Great Britain and used by commandos and other special forces:b7563ca6bc7e0ec4afc235bfb8ff4e46The official manual described the weapon as:

The gun enables targets appearing from different directions at short ranges to be engaged quickly. It is particularly useful in patrolling and for close-quarter fighting in villages and woods. It can be fired from the waist by sense of direction, thereby facilitating targets being engaged with extreme rapidity. Targets can also be engaged quickly by firing from the shoulder with or without the use of the sling.

My Thompson is the M1 version of the weapon:imageThe most obvious external difference from the earlier versions is the lack of Cutts compensator on the end of the barrel:imageAnd the simple peep-sight protected by triangular ‘wings’:imageThe fore grip is also a simple straight piece of wood, rather than the shaped handle seen on many M1928 versions:imageThe M1 and M1A1 variations of the Thompson could not take the iconic 50 round drum magazines made famous by the gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s, instead they used simple twenty or thirty round box magazines, for my example I have the thirty round example:imageThis holds a .45 ACP round, a large slow moving round that had plenty of ‘stopping power’:imageA rocker catch on the side of the receiver allows the magazine to be changed quickly:imageAbove this catch are two change levers to put the weapon to safe and alternate between repetition and automatic fire: imageBehind the trigger is a wooden pistol grip:imageThe cocking handle is on the opposite side of the receiver to the change levers, and is a simple turned metal knob (sadly as this is deactivated it no longer moves):imageTo disassemble the weapon, a button is included at the rear of the receiver which when depressed allows the body of the gun to be taken to pieces for cleaning:imageAs is often the case with American weapons, there is a profusion of markings all over the Thompson. The makers trade mark is on the top of the receiver, just ahead of the rear sight:imageFurther stampings indicate the weapon was made by Auto Ordnance of Bridgeport Connecticut:imageAnd identify the weapon type, ammunition and this sub-machine gun’s serial number:imageThe Tommy Gun was well liked by British troops, but it was very expensive as it is made of machined parts finished to a high specification. The British came up with a much cheaper sub machine gun, the Sten we looked at here, which came into widespread use in western Europe, but he Thompson continued to be used throughout the war in the far east, Italy and by commandos and others who welcomed its awesome firepower.


Modern Naval Craft Cigarette Card Album

In the past we have looked at the Player’s Cigarette Cards for ‘Life in the Royal Navy’ here, tonight we are looking at another set, this time ‘An Album of Modern Naval Craft’:SKMBT_C36415120815200_0001This set is again from John Players and is divided roughly in half, with the first cards being for the Royal Navy, and the rest of the world after that- presumably the company felt that its young readers were far more interested in British ships than those of foreign nations! As this is a blog of British militaria, I will also only be looking at those pages concerning the Royal Navy. The album opens with the battleships HMS Nelson, HMS Warspite and HMS Revenge: SKMBT_C36415120815210_0001Next we have the battlecruisers HMS Hood and HMS Repulse, and the cruiser HMS Exeter:SKMBT_C36415120815220_0001The third page has spaces for cards of three more cruisers, HMS Norfolk, HMS Southampton and HMS Curlew:SKMBT_C36415120815221_0001Minelayers and destroyers make up page four, with HMS Adventure, HMS Grenville and HMS Afridi:SKMBT_C36415120815230_0001Submarines come next; HMS Severn, HMS Narwhal and HMS Sunfish:SKMBT_C36415120815231_0001Finally we have the Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal and Motor Torpedo Boat 102 (plus a French interloper):SKMBT_C36415120815240_0001The rest of the album has examples of ships from the most powerful navies of the period; France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the USA and the USSR. This particular set of cards dates from 1939 and was one of the last pre-war sets issued before World War 2 put an end to the coloured cards as an economy measure to save precious cardboard for more important tasks. These sets were eagerly collected by young boys, and with albums only costing 1d each, they were a very cheap hobby that could be indulged by all regardless of how poor you were. As such these sets survive in large numbers and this set only cost me £1 at a second hand market earlier this month- not much for a fascinating piece of history.

1944 Pattern Underpants

Over the last year we have looked at two examples of Empire underwear, an Australian and an Indian pair of underpants. Today we are looking at a pair introduced as part of the wholesale reform of uniforms and webbing that made up the 1944 pattern jungle equipment. This pair of underpants is made from a light cotton in dark green:imageThe pants are secured with three black rubber buttons:imageAnd the waist size can be adjusted with cotton tapes:imagePresumably this was to save elastic for economy and allows the waist size to be changed by a few inches. The pants have a simple black makers mark and /|\ on the waist band:imageSadly the mark has been poorly applied and half of it is missing outside the waistband so it’s not possible to clearly identify a manufacturer. These pants are much looser and lighter than previous designs, presumably to help reduce the risk of rubbing and sores in the tropical heat. Those who have worn these (purely in the interests of research) have reported that these underpants do not offer much in the way of ‘support’ and left them feeling a little exposed! These pants were made well into the post war period and are common enough to find easily, this pair costing less than £5.

Baby Gas Mask

A few weeks ago a work colleague generously gave me a small collection of gas masks; along with three standard civilian masks and a child’s mask was the subject of tonight’s post: A baby’s anti-gas hood. Whilst the government quickly issued standard gas masks to civilians in the two years leading up to World War Two, it took longer to develop a mask suitable for small children and babies. The resulting design cost £1 for each mask and the government placed orders for 1.4 million of them at the start of 1939:imageHaving a baby daughter of my own, brings home what a frightening prospect gas warfare must have been, and there is something slightly terrifying about the idea of parents having to use these masks. The following description comes from the 1949 government publication ‘Basic Chemical Warfare’:

This was designed for children too small to wear the Small Child’s respirator. It consists of a hood of impervious fabric, with a large window to cover the head, shoulders and arms of the baby:imageand is tied by means of a draw tape round the waist: imageThe hood is supported by a light metal frame with a back that can be adjusted in length to suit all sizes of babies and children up to the age of five years.

Air is pumped into the hood through a container by means of a rubber bellows worked by the parent or person in charge of the baby: imageAll the time the bellows is working a continuous flow of pure air passes into the hood near the top and out through the baby’s clothes at the waist. The outgoing air prevents any gas getting in.tumblr_mjvvo169xU1qzs4odo2_12801The metal frame supporting the baby has two wire stands that hinge out of the back to hold the mask steady when it is rested on a flat surface:imageA metal cage over the baby’s head helps support the mask and offers a carrying handle:imageThis period photographs shows babies being carried in the mask in this fashion:Gas masks for babies tested at an English hospital, 1940 (1)The child is placed inside the mask, the hood secured around it’s waist and a canvas strap is passed between its legs and buckled to the sides of the mask to hold it secure:image

A small brass plate is fastened to the mask indicating that it remained government property:imageThis example is dated 1939 and has the manufacturers logo stamped into the metal frame:imageTests with babies suggested that most became docile and often fell asleep when placed in the masks- this seems to have been caused by oxygen deprivation as the pumps could not provide the baby with enough air! Thankfully these masks were never needed and they do survive in reasonably large numbers. Needless to say I won’t be trying this out on my daughter (the filter contains asbestos) but I am keeping my eye out for a large doll that can be placed inside instead!BabyHelmet_Edit-thumb-615x447-55701

Hurlock Stove

Tonight we are turning to another item I have had in my collection since I was a child, a British army Hurlock Stove. The Hurlock stove was invented or at least sold by a William Hurlock Junior of America before the war, and this design was chosen as one of a number of different portable stoves for men in the field:imageThe stove has a brass paraffin reservoir that can hold one and a half pints of fuel, a pump and filing point are included on the top of the tank:imageThe pump was used to pressurise the fuel so it would pass to the burner efficiently. By all accounts the stove has a tendency to leak easily, even is stored upright.  Legs to stabilise the stove when in use with large pans fold under this tank for storage:imageThe same principle of folding arms is used at the top of the stove where the supports for saucepans slot into the body of the stove for storage:imageThe actual paraffin burner is located on top of the tank and a removable wind cover allows it to be used in different weather conditions, taking this off reveals the mantle:imageThese stoves were issued with a metal storage tin (which I have got) and a small tin of spares which I haven’t). in the years after WW2 these were sold off as surplus and were popular with campers in the early post war period, this advert offers them for sale for just over £1:stoveThese stoves are far from light at over 4lbs in weight and I would imagine they were carried in vehicles and transport rather than by men in the field. Reports on their effectiveness vary, with some able to get good results from them whilst other struggle to get them lit. Like all stoves from this period, the rubber washers have started to decay now and should probably be carefully inspected and replaced if needed before attempting to use them.