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:The 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:
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:A great site detailing the airgraph process can be found here. My example of an airgraph was sent by TH Purslow of Birmingham:To his son Corporal Purslow, at 416 Ordnance Park, 37 Vehicle Company, RAOC, British North African Force:The message is a fairly banal Christmas greeting, wishing the man’s son well and hoping for his speedy return:This Christmas form was specially produced and available from the post office for the price of 3d, which included the postage.
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:The 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:The most obvious external difference from the earlier versions is the lack of Cutts compensator on the end of the barrel:And the simple peep-sight protected by triangular ‘wings’:The fore grip is also a simple straight piece of wood, rather than the shaped handle seen on many M1928 versions:The 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:This holds a .45 ACP round, a large slow moving round that had plenty of ‘stopping power’:A rocker catch on the side of the receiver allows the magazine to be changed quickly:Above this catch are two change levers to put the weapon to safe and alternate between repetition and automatic fire: Behind the trigger is a wooden pistol grip:The 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):To 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:As 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:Further stampings indicate the weapon was made by Auto Ordnance of Bridgeport Connecticut:And identify the weapon type, ammunition and this sub-machine gun’s serial number:The 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.
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’:This 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: Next we have the battlecruisers HMS Hood and HMS Repulse, and the cruiser HMS Exeter:The third page has spaces for cards of three more cruisers, HMS Norfolk, HMS Southampton and HMS Curlew:Minelayers and destroyers make up page four, with HMS Adventure, HMS Grenville and HMS Afridi:Submarines come next; HMS Severn, HMS Narwhal and HMS Sunfish:Finally we have the Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal and Motor Torpedo Boat 102 (plus a French interloper):The 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.