Monthly Archives: March 2016

Malaya and Sumatra Escape Map

During the Second World War it became clear that airmen who were shot down over enemy territory needed maps to help them evade capture and allow them to escape to neutral or friendly territory. These maps needed to meet a number of requirements- they needed to be lightweight, easy to read and use, detailed enough to allow easy travel, but large enough to cover a large area and they needed to be silent when opened at night- the tell-tale rustle of paper needed to be avoided.

After experimenting with tissue paper, silk was finally chosen as a suitable material to make the maps from and once difficulties in the printing process had been overcome, over 400,000 maps were printed. The silk used to make the maps was originally from rejected parachutes, but this was not easy to come by in the quantities needed so was replaced by acetate rayon in 1944. I have been lucky enough to be given an escape and evasion map of Malaya and Sumatra, my thanks therefore go to Edward Corry for tonight’s object.

The maps were held in a rubberised fabric pouch, small enough to easily fit in an airman’s pocket:imageThe top of the pouch was rolled over and secured by a Newey stud that helped keep out moisture and ensured the map stayed in good condition:imageThis is pretty much impervious to moisture as witnessed by the fact that any air trapped inside the pouch when the top is sealed is impossible to squeeze out. The map inside is part of the so called ‘44’ series, produced for the MI9 unit in India who had seen European maps and were impressed with the design, this map is double sided with one side showing Malaya and Sumatra:imageThe other showing Siam and Sumatra:imageThe scale of these maps is quite large to cover a large area of territory and having seen the terrain indicated on the maps I do wonder how easy it would be to navigate with them as the land is covered in thick forests and plantations with few settlements and identifying features!

For those interested in learning more about escape and evasion maps, I can thoroughly recommend the excellent Escape Maps website.

Leather Artillery Knee Pad

Today’s soldier wears far more body armour and padding than his predecessor in the Second World War. Body armour was in its infancy and heavy and unwieldy, and the idea of padded protection on knees and elbows for the combat infantryman was unheard of. Despite this, leather knee pads were issued in small numbers during training to soldiers form the Royal Artillery who might be expected to remain knelt on one knee servicing their guns for long periods of time. The pads were of the simplest construction, being merely a shaped piece of leather and a simple strap to attach it around the leg:imageA buckle was fastened to the one side for the strap to secure through:imageThis example is /|\ marked:imageAnd dated 1941:imageThe manufacturer is ‘AG & CL’, I believe this would be the mark of A Garstin & Company Ltd of London who specialised in fancy leather goods between the wars:332px-Im1929BIF-GarstinPhotographs of the knee pads in use are rare, but this example of the Parachute Regiment training on mountain howitzers shows off the knee pads:imageThe front of the pad can be seen on the man on the left, and rear on the man on the right:IMG_4808My example seems to be unissued and the lack of photographic evidence would suggest that these pads were not used with any great regularity.

NBC Detector Papers

Since the early 1970s soldiers have been issued with small sealed packets containing booklets of detector papers. These papers are designed to be stuck to the soldier’s uniform and change colour in the presence of chemical agents, warning him of the dangers around him. Two different sets of detector papers are available:imageThe most common has a blue spine to the booklet and consists of ‘one colour detector paper’:imageAlso available is a more sophisticated type of paper that can detect and identify a greater variety of chemical agents, this comes in a book with a green spine:imageThe NBC guidebook ‘Survive to Fight’ from 1983 explained the use of the detector paper:

You are issued with 1 colour detector paper as part of your NBC IPE. It is your personal chemical detector which is why you wear it in a prominent position on your suit. It is possible the paper will detect the liquid chemical agent before you experience, see or hear any other indication you are under attack by chemical agents. The paper is grey in colour and any type of liquid chemical agent will cause the paper to turn navy blue.

Newer papers are now being introduced as explained in the latest CBRNDC aide memoire:

Currently One Colour Detector Paper indicates BLUE, it is planned that future stock will indicate RED:IMG_4801The change to a red indicating colour will bring it into line with other NATO countries so preventing potential confusion when on joint operations. These new books will have a red spine. The indicator patches can be seen attached to NBC suits on exercises, as small dark grey squares:391px-Soldier_Wearing_Full_Individual_Protection_Equiptment_And_Detector_Paper_MOD_45150761Here they can be seen on the knees, wrists and upper arms. I have tried to find out any information on the three colour detector paper, such as which three colours it changes to and what each represents, but information seems to be sparse and as ever if readers can help please get in contact.

Indian Made Hussif Sewing Kit

Tonight we turn to another piece of Indian made personal kit, this time the sewing kit or ‘hussif’. Unlike its British counterpart this design does not have cotton ties on the outside, merely folding in half:imageOpening the hussif reveals two pockets, used to hold buttons and thread, a piece of cloth for needles and various markings:imageThe circular Indian acceptance mark is particularly clear, here dating it to January 1943:imageThe cloth for the needles is also faintly stamped, this appears to be dated 1942 and has some sort of manufacturer’s logo, but it is so faint it is hard to read much, i believe it reads ‘AP&CDA: imageThe hussif is made from khaki drill cloth, as used for uniforms and was probably made up from offcuts to reduce waste in wartime. The manufacture of cloth goods in India, such as this hussif, as well as the far more important contracts for army clothing was undertaken in small workshops as well as large factories. The 1946 publication ‘History of the Supply Department’ explained the set up:

Production of clothing as an industry did not exist in India. There was only one Clothing Factory at Shahjehaupur with an average monthly production of 75,000 garments by power-driven machines working under mass production methods. Generally speaking, except for a few good shops in each big city, the requirements of India’s many millions were provided for by what might be, truly called a “cottage industry”. On the outbreak of hostilities, huge demands for garments began to pour in and it became obvious that the Shahjehanpur Factory alone could not cope with the work. The immediate problem appeared to be now to control and bring into maximum production the “cottage industry” referred to above and, what was just as important, how to feed it with raw materials and inspect that it produced…In 1940, and indeed well into 1942, the governing factors in considering nil production expansion proposals were the location of durzies, finding suitable buildings and the urgent necessity to conserve supervisory staff. To control the cutting of enormous quantities of cloth required a degree of skill and training far beyond the capacity of the man who made clothes in the back verandah of one’s bungalow and the main problem of mass production of garments in India, therefore, resolved itself into four minor problems—how to store cloth—to cut it—make it up and inspect the completed garments as economically and quickly as possible. The solution was found in the ‘Cutting Contract Factory’. Under this the ‘main system employed was to cut cloth to proper patterns in the Clothing Factories which were established at Agra, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Secunderabad, Lahore, Sialkot and Bombay and issue these for sewing to outside contractors.

Large scale contracts for 300 different items of manufacture were held by some 100 firms throughout India. Each contractor was required to pay a security deposit and effect insurance This system operated to the benefit of durzie population who numbered 80,000 and who lived and worked in the towns and villages of India from Jhelum to Trivandrum and from the 24 Parganas to the city of Bombay. Every yard of raw material and everything fabricated by tailors in this large organisation was not only to be properly accounted for—for which purpose every factory had an officer of the Factory Accounts Staff attached to it—-but also, each item had to be properly approved as fit for service use. Hence at every factory there was an Inspectorate which on behalf of the War Department, inspected every item produced and rejected what was below standard.

Sterling Sub Machine Gun

Even before the end of the Second World War the British Army had realised that its Sten gun was far from ideal, its cheap and cheerful design being acceptable for wartime but not really suited for peacetime. It was not until 1953 however that a new sub machine gun started to be issued, the Sterling. This firearm was leaps and bounds ahead of the Sten, with an enviable build quality and reliability:imageThe user’s manual described the weapon as:

The Sterling Sub Machine Gun, Mark 4, is a light and easily handles weapon that will selectively fire automatically or single shot. Standard 9mm Parabellum ammunition is used.

It is a short range weapon normally used for engagements at ranges up to 200 yards. It may be used at longer ranges dependent on the skill of the firer.

On account of its accuracy, lightness and reliability, the gun can be regarded as a general purpose weapon.

It is automatic, being operated by case reaction or “blow back” whether fired “single shot” or in bursts.imageThe manual went on to outline some of the gun’s features:

Butt. When not in use the butt is folded under the weapon reducing the overall length by 9 inches. With the butt folded the weapon can be used as a pistol. UntitledBody The forward part of the body i.e. the barrel casing, is perforated to assist cooling. It will be found that even after prolonged firing the body remains comfortably cool. Finger guards are fitted at both ends of the barrel casing.imageTrigger and Safety Mechanism The trigger mechanism is fitted with a change lever which can be set to give either automatic fire or single shot. The change lever also has a SAFE position which locks the trigger and sear, irrespective of the position of the bolt, which eliminates the possibility of a round being fired if the weapon is dropped. imageBacksight. The rear peephole sight is instantly changed from 100 to 200 yards range setting by rocking overimageBayonet. The bayonet is mounted so that it is off set when the weapon is in the firing position. It will be found that, when the weapon is held in the “on-guard” position for bayonet fighting, the natural balance of the weapon, with or without magazine brings the bayonet into the upright position.imageNote the bayonet lug in the picture above. The but has a very clever folding mechanism that allows it to be securely stowed under the weapon or extended out fully to support the firer:imageThe manual explains how the butt is extended and retracted:Untitled2This weapon has a rack number stencilled on the magazine housing which is either ‘06’ or ‘90’ depeding on which way you look at it!imageThe magazines for the Sterling have a gentle curve to them and hold 34 rounds of 9mm ammunition in a double column, using rollers to allow it to easily transition into the breach of the weapon:imageThese are noticeably better quality than the magazines used on the Sten gun and have the weapons designation stamped across the outside curved edge:imageOver 400,000 Sterlings were produced and they had an enviable reputation for accuracy They were to remain in service with the British Army until the early 1990s when the SA80 replaced them. This was not to be the end of the British Army’s association with the Sterling though as in the recent conflicts in Iraq a number of these weapons were captured from the Iraqi Army and were used in the cabs of vehicles attached to bungy cords as a quick grab weapon- being smaller and easier to manoeuvre than the SA80.

As ever this weapon is deactivated for legal ownership in the UK and is the first post-Second World War weapon in my collection. Interestingly science fiction fans amongst you might recognise the Sterling as the base weapon modified for use by stormtroopers as the E111 Blaster in Star Wars!

44 Pattern Webbing Belt

Continuing our detailed look at British Webbing sets, tonight we consider the 1944 pattern belt. This design by Mills Equipment Company drew upon the three section belts of the earlier 19 and 25 pattern sets, but added the grommets on the lower edge of the US webbing sets. This was the first time they had been used in a British design and the belt was in that respect ground breaking, allowing items to be easily slung from it by a wire hanger. The belt is made from a closely woven dark green cotton, with anodised fittings to help it survive in jungle conditions. As usual we turn to the fitting instructions for the official description of the belt:

Waistbelt- This is issued in two sizes, large and normal, having a maximum adjustment of 48 inches and 40 inches respectively.  imageThe normal size should fit 95 per cent. Of troops. It is made in three parts (two side pieces and an adjustment strap) and the webbing is two inches wide.  A closing buckle of the “hook and loop” type is fitted to the front ends of the side pieces imageand a double hook on each rear end;  imagea 1 inch link with gap is fitted diagonally to each side piece for attachment of the braces;  imageloops are provided for the spare ends of the adjustment strap.  imageTwo 1-inch 3-bar buckles are fitted to the back piece for attachment of the inner braces.  imageGrommets (i.e. eyelets with spur tooth washers) are fitted in the lower edge- four in each side piece imageand six centrally spaced in the adjustment strap;  imagea 1-inch strap with snap fastener is fitted to the right hand side piece to secure the rifle when slung on the shoulder. imageThe back part of the belt was supposed to be removable so the set could be worn without it to ease pressure on jungle sores if needed- whether this was ever done is hard to say. The belt was a complicated piece of webbing when compared with the 1937 pattern belt, however it was a well thought out piece of kit  apart from the rifle strap that seems never to have been used, and remained in use for many years. The Iraqi army copied it almost exactly in tan webbing for one of their equipment sets.

WW2 RAF Nigerian Postcard

Today we look at another of the series of RAF photographs taken in Nigeria in the Second World War. This image is a delightfully informal shot of an airmen walking towards the camera:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (8)The central figure is dressed, like the other airmen, in khaki drill uniform. He is clearly off duty as his shirt is open and he is without his cap:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (3)A second figure in the background is also in KD and you can just make out the stripes of an NCO on his sleeve:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (5)He is talking to a group of Africans, presumably traders looking to sell the airmen souvenirs or provisions:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (6)In the background an RAF ‘tilly’ truck is parked up by the roadside:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (4)The vegetation overhead is made up of lush palm trees:SKMBT_C36416022312400_0001 - Copy (7)Presumably making this a shaded and pleasant place to spend time off duty. It is easy to forget the important role Africa had in training RAF pilots during the Second World War. It was far from the dangers of the Luftwaffe so pilots could learn their trade safe from being shot down. This training also employed many Other Airmen who supported the pilots and their aircraft. Robert Parkin was sent out to Africa with the RAF, first to Sierra Leone and then to Nigeria:

November 12th 1942 After 17 days at sea we awoke to see a dark line on the horizon. We stop engines in a big bay at the foot of the mountains. One or two small jetties, a few native huts and a number of larger stone buildings further back. This is Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone. Supposed to be the worst colony of the Empire and we picked it.

Slowly we steam between anchored ships, tankers, freighters, barges and native canoes until we anchor opposite a small bay where there a number of Naval and RAF launches and higher up 3 Catalinas are moored. Very interested as we think they will be part of our Squadron.

The native canoes come alongside with fruit – we throw money into the boat and they throw bananas and oranges back. They have picked up a number of foul expressions and gestures in English and use them freely. One falls overboard in rush for money.

The hills look interesting and wild and I make up my mind to climb them if we get the chance. 4 o’clock we are told to get ready for disembarking with usual RAF punctuality it is almost 6 before we get on board. What a relief to get our packs off. The engineer lathered in sweat tells us it is the coolest day.


A crowd of Yanks helped us off the power boat. We tramped up the jetty to a flood lit hanger and got our first real view of Catalinas. From the hanger we are transported to the guards room in a lorry and there we meet “I am the Station Warrant Officer”. He gave us the gen on snakes, mosquitos, showed us the tents and the cookhouse where we had the best meal since getting on the boat.

By this time it was quite dark and when we got back we had to wrestle with beds and mosquito nets. With the aid of two boxes of matches we eventually got the nets up. In the distance you could hear the croak of bull frogs and the beat of tom toms. Examine all corners of the tent for snakes, scorpions, spiders etc. Smeared ourselves with mosquito ointment and crawled into bed with our clothes on.

Awoke at sunrise 6.45 to find Stan wrapped in his net like a shroud. Carefully examine our boots for spiders etc. and got dressed. Bought some bananas off some boys at two a penny. Gosh were they good. I ate about four straight off.

Paraded after breakfast and given more gen on what to do and what not to do. Handed in rifles and ammo and then moved into billets. Got a swell bed under the fan. Spent all day getting sorted and issued with some more clothes.

Dhobey Boys, Sorri Sissi, Sorri Komara and Bi Comara who all do our washing. Sorri Komara is cheerful and speaks fair English Bi Commra is just a piccan inclined to be cheeky but a good boy. They are paid by the RAF to keep the hut clean.

The food in the camp is fairly good with lots of fruit and a free issues of chocolate and 50 cigarettes each week. The natives wear the oddest assortment of hats and mostly belong to the Tenne and Mendis tribes and there is no love lost between them.