Monthly Archives: January 2016

Four Buckle Anklets

Every so often an item of militaria comes up that defies straight forward identification- this then generates a lot of heat but very little light on the various internet chat rooms and forums. Tonight we are looking at one of these mystery items, the four buckle anklet. I have two different variations of these anklets, one with webbing tabs:imageAnd one with leather tabs:imageBoth have brass buckles to secure them with:imageThe changes to design of these anklets mirrors those of the short 37 pattern designs, with the early ones being plain webbing:imageAnd later dated examples having leather reinforcements where there is likely to be wear:imageThe early example is dated 1941, with a /|\ mark and a manufacturer of J&AH:

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The later version dates from 1944 and was made by NL Co Ltd:imageThis example is unusual in using green leather for its securing tabs rather than the usual brown seen on most British webbing:imageI have only seen green leather used on WW1 American produced P14 webbing before, but this might be a manufacturer’s variation.

These anklets are clearly fairly easy to find, are /|\ marked, wartime dated and many show signs of having been worn; so who used them? Here in lies the problem as no one seems to have found any definitive proof yet. The best theories are:

  • Royal Navy Use- The RN did use high anklets, but these were fastened with Dutch lacing up the side and just a single buckle at the top (see here). I know of no definitive photographic proof of them having been used by the navy.
  • South Africa/Rhodesian Army Use- Again there is some sense in this argument as both used high anklets before the war, however these were three rather than four buckle examples. The anklets pictured above also lack the /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark of South African service and by 1944 South Africa were producing their own (low quality) short anklets.
  • Dispatch Riders- An outside chance on this one, it would explain the wear, but there are thousands of good photographs of dispatch riders and none so far have been positively identified as wearing these anklets.
  • Another foreign nation- if these anklets were produced for an overseas market why the /|\ stamp and why have so many worn examples turned up in the UK?

As can be seen there are several theories, but no definite proof. If anyone has suitable photographic evidence of their use that could finally put this one to bed please get in contact and we will do a follow up and help solve a minor mystery.

Soap Dish and Soap

The importance of hygiene in tropical areas cannot be understated, the wartime Health Memoranda for British Soldiers in the Tropics explained:

Our aim should be ‘absolute cleanliness’ for ourselves and our surroundings. By this we could cut the links of many of the common diseases of the tropics. Dust, med, sand (called dirt) are not in themselves particularly harmful; but the germs which they may contain. By keeping ourselves free from dirt, we remove germs and cut the link of the route for many diseases…It is usually safe to judge a battalion by its state of cleanliness. A clean battalion or company is usually efficient all round: while a dirty crowd shows that they are slovenly, inefficient and badly disciplined. In each case, the health of the men concerned depends largely on their condition of cleanliness.

The guidance set out some general principles:

Daily bathing, particularly of the sweaty parts, should become a habit to keep the skin healthy. Hot water is usually available twice weekly…The hands should be washed before meals. Several diseases are carried directly by the infection of food by dirty hands.

It is therefore no surprise that when the British Army introduced its new jungle kit in 1944, an aluminium soap dish was included right from the start:imageUp until this point a bar of soap was normally just wrapped in a towel and placed in the pack unless the soldier invested in his own soap dish- this was especially unsuitable in hot humid conditions where the soap soon disintegrated and became useless. This soap dish is /|\ marked and dated 1944:imageOpening this dish we have a boxed bar of army soap:imageThis is a very rare survivor as I have only seen one other boxed bar of army soap in the last ten years. The box is made of cardboard, printed in blue:imageThe lettering reads:

GENERAL PURPOSE SOAP

Cat. No. H.A. 12889

LATHERS IN ALL KINDS OF WATER

This soap is the result of extensive research and has a performance which will meet many of your service requirements. It can be used for (I) Ablutions (including shampoo), (II) Shaving, (III) for Laundering purposes and (IV) Mess utensils. It will do all these in soft, hard or sea water at any reasonable temperature.

Inside the cardboard box the soap is wrapped in greaseproof paper:imageThe 1944 pattern soap dish is very easy to find (the soap far less so) and is often seen being used by re-enactors in their 37 pattern webbing sets. Whilst the dishes were made in quantity and distributed to troops in Western Europe, my understanding is that they did not reach frontline troops until very late in the war.

Post War Jungle ‘Bata’ Boots

Footwear in the jungle is always problematic, boots need to be tough to stand up to the rugged terrain, light for comfort, rot proof to prevent them falling apart too quickly and both waterproof for walking in rain showers and quick to dry when they do get soaked wading through swamps. Combining all these requirements in one design was clearly a tall order, however by the middle of World War Two it was clear that the standard British Army hobnailed boot was hopelessly unsuited for jungle wear. An official army training pamphlet advised canvas and rubber soled hockey boots (procurable in most tropical towns) are an efficient form of footwear. Whilst locally bought hockey boots were fine as a short term measure, what was clearly needed was a purpose designed boot and by the time of the Malayan Emergency the British Army had introduced a canvas and rubber jungle boot:imageThese boots were frequently called ‘Bata’ boots by soldiers after the Bata Shoe Company who made many of them, examples were also made locally in theatre in Malaya. The design is closely copied from US Marine Corps boots and pre-war hockey boots. The main body of the boot is made of green canvas, with black rubber soles:imageBlack rubber toecaps:imageAnd black rubber reinforcement on the ankles:imageThe boots are fastened with green laces running through six pairs of riveted eyelets and six lace hooks up the front of the boot:imageThese boots are a common sight being worn by many soldiers during the Malayan Emergency, such as these soldiers photographed in December 1957:largeSadly they were viewed as being virtually disposable- two weeks in the jungle normally resulted in them falling apart. As such examples in good sizes, like these (9s) and in good condition like this pair are rare and demand a premium, smaller and more battered boots being more commonplace. I believe that reproductions have been made of these boots, but how easily available they are I couldn’t say.

Eighth Army Formation Patch

One of the most famous formations of the British Army in World War Two was the Eighth Army. This army was formed in the Western Dessert in 1941 under the command of Sir Alan Cunningham, it had reached a size of 220,000 men in 10 divisions by the time it fought in the second battle of El-Alamein. The army adopted as its formation badge a white shield, with a yellow cross all on a blue or black background: imageAs can be seen, my example is a little grubby!

The Eighth Army first went into action as an Army as part of Operation Crusader, the Allied operation to relieve the besieged city of Tobruk, on 17 November 1941, when it crossed the Egyptian frontier into Libya to attack Erwin Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa.

On 26 November the Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, replaced Cunningham with Major-General Neil Ritchie, following disagreements between Auchinleck and Cunningham. Despite achieving a number of tactical successes, Rommel was forced to concede Tobruk and was pushed back to El Agheila by the end of 1941. In February 1942 Rommel had regrouped his forces sufficiently to push the over-extended Eighth Army back to the Gazala line, just west of Tobruk. Both sides commenced a period of building their strength to launch new offensives but it was Rommel who took the initiative first, forcing the Eighth Army from the Gazala position.

Ritchie proved unable to halt Rommel and was replaced when Auchinleck himself took direct command of the army. The Panzer Army Afrika were eventually stopped by Auchinleck at the First Battle of El Alamein. Auchinleck, wishing to pause and regroup the Eighth Army, which had expended a lot of its strength in halting Rommel, came under intense political pressure from Winston Churchill to strike back immediately. However, he proved unable to build on his success at Alamein and was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Middle-East in August 1942 by General Harold Alexander and as Eighth Army commander by Lieutenant-General William Gott. Gott was killed in an air crash on his way to take up his command and so Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place. Alexander and Montgomery were able to resist the pressure from Churchill, building the Army’s strength and adding a pursuit formation, X Corps, to the Army’s XIII and XXX Corps.

At the beginning of November 1942 the Eighth Army defeated Rommel in the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein, pursuing the defeated Axis army across Libya and reaching the Mareth defensive line on the Tunisian border in February 1943, where it came under the control of 18th Army Group. The Eighth Army outflanked the Mareth defences in March 1943 and after further fighting alongside the British First Army, the other 18th Army Group component which had been campaigning in Tunisia since November 1942, the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered in May 1943.El_Alamein_1942_-_British_infantryThe Eighth Army then participated in the Italian Campaign which began with the Allied invasion of the island of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky. When the Allies subsequently invaded mainland Italy, elements of the Eighth Army landed in the ‘toe’ of Italy in Operation Baytown and at Taranto in Operation Slapstick. After linking its left flank with the U.S. Fifth Army, led by Mark W. Clark, which had landed at Salerno on the west coast of Italy south of Naples, the Eighth Army continued fighting its way up Italy on the eastern flank of the Allied forces. Together these two armies made up the Allied Armies in Italy (later redesigned 15th Army Group), under General Sir Harold Alexander.

At the end of 1943, General Montgomery was transferred to Britain to begin preparations for Operation Overlord. Command of the Eighth Army was given to Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese, previously the commander of XXX Corps, which was being returned to England.

Following three unsuccessful attempts in early 1944 by the U.S. Fifth Army to break through the German defensive positions known to the Allies as the Winter Line, the Eighth Army was covertly switched from the Adriatic coast in April 1944 to concentrate all forces, except the V Corps, on the western side of the Apennine Mountains alongside the U.S. Fifth Army in order to mount a major offensive with them. This fourth Battle of Monte Cassino was successful with the Eighth Army breaking into central Italy and the Fifth Army entering Rome in early June.

After the Allied capture of Rome the Eighth Army continued the fight northwards through central Italy to capture Florence. The end of the summer campaign found Allied forces butting up against the Gothic Line. The Eighth Army returned to the Adriatic coast and succeeded in forcing the Gothic line defences, but ultimately the Allied forces could not break into the Po valley before the onset of winter forced an end to serious offensive operations. During October, Leese was reassigned to South East Asia Command, and Lieutenant-General Sir Richard L. McCreery, who had previously commanded X Corps, replaced him.Local_children_crowd_aboard_a_Sherman_Mk_III_tank_of_the_County_of_London_Yeomanry_in_the_village_of_Milo_near_Catania_in_Sicily,_August_1943__TR1244The final offensive in Italy saw the Eighth Army back in action. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Fifth Army, now commanded by Lucian K. Truscott, on its left flank, it cut off and destroyed, (during April), large parts of the opposing Army Group C defending Bologna and then made a rapid advance through northeast Italy and into Austria. Problems occurred where British and Yugoslavian forces met. Josip Broz Tito’s forces were intent on securing control of the area of Venezia Giulia. They arrived before British forces, and were very active in trying to prevent the establishment of military government in the manner that had applied to most of the rest of Italy. They even went as far as to restrict supplies through to the British zone of occupation in Austria and tried to take over part of that country as well. On 2 May 1945, the 2nd New Zealand Division of the Eighth Army liberated Trieste, and that same day, the Yugoslav Fourth Army, together with Slovene 9th Corpus NOV entered the town. During the fighting on the Italian Front the Eighth Army had, from 3 September 1943 until 2 May 1945, suffered 123,254 casualties.

In its early days, the Eighth Army had seen many tribulations. However, since the Second Battle of El Alamein, the worst that could be said of its operations was that they degenerated into temporary stalemates. Its advance from El Alamein to Tunisia was one of the greatest military logistical feats of all time, and it had distinguished itself fighting under difficult conditions during the campaign in Italy. It ended its days by being redesignated British Forces in Austria; controlling the British forces occupying part of that country.

Mosquito Dousing Kit

Amongst the many new items of jungle equipment introduced in 1944 was the subject of tonight’s post, the Mosquito Dousing Kit. This set combined the use of both a net and repellent to help keep mosquitos away from the skin, this appears to have been the first formalised set of equipment using both methods of protection in tandem. As with many items of kit introduced in 1944 the outfit is stored in a green rubberised pouch, secured with a single cotton tape:imageThis opens out to reveal a distinctive pouch:imageThese pouches are easily available empty from several dealers, the contents however are harder to find. The rubberised pouch is marked with a /|\, manufacturer’s name and an incomplete date stamp:imageInside the rubberised pouch is a second white cotton pouch, with a sewn in instruction label:imageThe label reads:

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Repellent will be rubbed thoroughly over all exposed parts of the skin at sundown. Do not leave any spot untreated. Keep out of eyes and avoid eyebrows. Do not allow contact with plastic materials such as unbreakable watch glasses, etc
  2. Repeat every two hours as necessary.
  3. When sleeping nets cannot be used. Veils, Sleeves and Oversocks will be worn when sleeping or resting (e.g.. Oversocks when the boots are removed)
  4. Before going to sleep apply more repellent to the skin over the netting after it has been put on.
  5. Veil-Sleeve-Oversock Set to be re-impregnated weekly by pouring the equivalent of two spoonfuls of repellent over the netting as it lies in the inner wallet.

“Before using for the first time wash or rinse in water and allow to dry”

This set is missing the hand and foot nets, but does have the head net:imageThe mesh of this net is considerably larger than most other mosquito nets of this period, perhaps to work better with the insect repellent than a finer mesh. As with all mosquito nets, one is left wondering how practical they actually were in a combat situation, they were however very useful in camps and other places men stopped for the night.

Indian Made Jungle Hat

The ‘boonie’, ‘giggle’ or bush hat has been a staple of operations in the jungle and tropical areas for the last seventy years. It is light, folds up easily and offers protection from sun and rain. Virtually every army in the world who operates in these conditions uses this type of hat in every variety of camouflage and it has spawned thousands of civilian copies. However over seventy years ago during World War Two it was the Indian Army who first created this type of hat and tonight we are looking at an example of this very earliest hat in jungle green. Up to this point the Empire had moved from impractical pith helmets to the pressed felt slouch hats. These were fine to a point, but they lost their shape when drenched and could not easily be stowed in a pocket. Their replacement was much simpler:imageThe hat is made of jungle green cotton and the multiple layers of fabric give it a quality feel (unlike many items of Indian kit). The brim is quilted and circular rows of stitching help the brim to keep its shape; vents in the crown of the hat provide ventilation:imageWhile the characteristic loops of this type of cap allow foliage to be threaded through for camouflage:imageInside the cap are a number of stamps, including the size ‘M’:

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The Indian army acceptance stamp can be made out just above this, it is clearer in the flesh, and I believe it dates the hat to 1945. These hats can be seen in many late war photographs of operations in the Far East, such as this photograph of troops of the 2nd Battalion, Frontier Force Rifles, 26th Indian Division, manning 3 inch mortars at their newly established strongpoint just outside the British held sector of the town of Medan in Sumatra. September 1945 where the officer is clearly wearing an Indian made bush hat:imageThis hat makes an interesting contrast with the 1944 pattern jungle hat we looked at here. Both were made in the same year, but the Indian example is simpler and slightly cruder- as might be expected with the more primitive manufacturing capability in the Indian sub-continent.

1944 Pattern Sunglasses

This weekend I have been lucky enough to purchase a very extensive collection of post war jungle uniform and equipment from a good friend of mine, Andy Dixon. This collection, alongside my own now means I have what must be one of the most comprehensive selections of early 1950s Jungle kit around. With this in mind I will be looking in detail at many of these objects in the next few weeks, and I hope you find them as interesting as I do. I aim to do a full kit layout in due course which should prove to be helpful to many- the whole area of post war jungle kit has largely been ignored up until now but interest is growing and many are discovering this fascinating area of collecting for the first time.

We start tonight with a pair of 1944 pattern sunglasses, in a tin case covered in buff rexine:imageThe case has printed on the outside Spectacles Tinted No3, Case Mk II, levers. Inside the case are a pair of round lensed sun glasses:imageThese glasses are identical to the fairly common Air Ministry supplied sunglasses- the army case is far rarer however- the army seem to have just taken a piece of equipment that they knew worked and ordered it for their personnel. The lenses are round and well tinted:imageThe corners of the glasses, where the lenses meet the arms, have a leather corner piece to prevent light from getting in:imageHaving tried these glasses on I can attest to their effectiveness and they must have been a welcome addition in tropical climes. I am not sure why the army version of the sun glasses is so rare but I suspect it was made in much smaller quantities than the RAF ones and was then used in the far east and not brought back. I must confess that I really like these glasses and they are a very ‘cool’ little item.