Monthly Archives: March 2016

RAF Shirt Collar

Following on from the Army shirt collar we looked at a few weeks back here, tonight we are considering the RAF removable collar. In form it is almost identical to the previous example, but made in light blue rather than khaki fabric:imageIt is attached to the shirt with the same two press studs as the army collar, but this example is from the post war period and has a large trade logo indicating it is ‘truberised’:imageQuite what this means is unclear, but seems to indicate that the wearer does not have to starch the collar to keep it stiff. The manufacturer is marked as ER Ltd, further along the collar is a stores code ‘22B/267’ and a /|\ mark:imageThe ’15’ is presumably the collar size in inches. A 1940 dated stores list indicated that every airman was to be issued with six collars and three shirts, indicating that they were expected to wear the shirt for two days, changing the collar daily for cleanliness. The RAF issued new recruits with these shirts and collars when they started their training, which for some eighteen year olds leaving home for the first time could cause unexpected difficulties:

The day following our arrival, we were all marched to the stores where a seemingly endless amount of clothing and equipment was issued to the recruits. As each recruit passed each stores counter, the stores clerk would demand the size of shirts, shoes, etc. This was when I encountered my first problem, because I had no idea what sizes I required as hitherto my mother had always dealt with such matters. The only remedy for the problem was to fall out of line and check inside my shoes for the required number and to inveigle one of the recruits waiting in line to read the shirt size off the back of my shirt collar. The issue of the uniform was an easier procedure. We simply walked through the stores hut past a civilian seated behind a trestle table who after looking us up and down once or twice handed out a chitty with three sets of figures listed in columnar form. At each point in the stores where an item was to be issued, we showed the chitty and the RAF stores clerk issued the correct size of tunic, or trousers, or greatcoat. It seemed that the civilian rarely made a mistake in sizing up each recruit although later any unlucky ones had the chance to have things changed.

Doing Their Bit, Home Front Lapel Badges 1939-1945 Book Review

Published back in 2012, John Mills book ‘Doing Their Bit, Home Front Lapel Badges 1939-1945’, has been a volume I have been meaning to add to my reference collection for a while. I have now bought myself a copy and settled down for an enjoyable few hours of reading. The book is sold on the basis of having more than 600 wartime lapel badges photographed and displayed within it. This however does the book a disservice as there is far more to it than just pictures of badges.43926The book is divided up into chapters dealing with different aspects of life on the Home Front, with detailed descriptions of a myriad of local and nationally organised bodies. What really comes across is how dense and all encroaching the level of different war related services was. Besides the obvious ARP, fire and emergency services there are bodies involved in knitting comforts, collecting salvage, protecting animals, organising entertainment and many more. Most of these bodies issued lapel badges in lieu of uniform and many are illustrated in this bookimageThe photographs are well produced and the detail is excellent, relevant paper ephemera is include to accompany the badges and I have learnt much from this volume. The book is not without its faults however, there is a section on one of the major badge producers Fatorrini of Birmingham, but I would have liked a little more context on the badges themselves, perhaps something on the manufacturing process, how they were designed etc. This section seemed the most abrupt, however this might just be down to a lack of surviving evidence to allow the story to be told.imageThe badges themselves are each labelled with an easy to follow key that relates directly to the text. Whilst 75% of them have been positively identified, a few are still mysteries and I was pleased that the author included them, even if he had to note that it was unclear who had originally issued them An essential feature of any reference book is a good index, and this one is well designed, making it easy to find an individual badge or type of badge. The book is produced on glossy paper with a feeling of being a quality reference book and consequently the book comes in with a hefty price tag of £45. This must be put in context however- this is a specialist book with high production values and deals are available on Amazon here and other sites that bring the price down to under £30 with careful shopping.

I cannot hesitate to recommend this book to all with an interest in either collecting lapel badges or a more general interest in the minutiae of the British Home Front in World War II.

SAS Insignia

My thanks go to Edward Corry for tonight’s objects. Insignia of special forces units has always held an allure for certain collectors, with the SAS being perhaps the most famous elite regiment in the world. As befits an elite unit, they have many unique items of military heraldry that are coveted by many but awarded to few. Tonight we are looking at a small selection of these.

Firstly we have the distinctive SAS parachute qualification badge:imageThis badge, embroidered on dark blue felt, was designed by Lieutenant Jock Lewes in World War two and is based upon the ancient Egyptian Ibis wings, which he had observed in the Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo when stationed there. They were designed to be worn on the right shoulder after qualification- moving to the left breast over any medals after an ‘active service’ jump. These badges remain in use to the present day, with various subtle changes that I must confess rather pass me by. Thanks to the help of a couple of friends and the chaps on the British Badge Forum, the consensus seems to be these are either very late WW2 or immediate post war in date. The back of the badge has had a large safety pin sewn to it, presumably to allow it to be removed for laundering:imageAccompanying the wings is a pair of captain’s rank slides, embroidered with ‘SAS’:imageThese are each made from a single piece of cloth, with a seam up the back:imageAgain these are hard to date, but others with more expertise than me have suggested they are possibly made in theatre in Malaya, but again these are not easy to date.

The next badge is a World War Two printed Combined Operations Patch, depicting the anchor of the navy, eagle of the air force and Tommy Gun of the army:imageThis badge is made of red cloth, with the design printed over it. The badge was designed by a Lieutenant D A Grant RNVR, who submitted this drawing to the War Office:Insignia_MHS3 jpgAgain this is an iconic design that has been in use in multiple forms up to the present day. These badges make a nice little set and my intention is to get them framed so I can enjoy them rather than leaving them sat in a drawer.

Mk 5 Sten Gun

The Sten Mk II was the subject of a blog post here, tonight we turn to a later variant of the Sten; the Mk V. The Sten MkV was a more elaborate and better made version of the Sten II and was introduced in early 1944. These were issued to the Parachute regiment especially in 1944, seeing limited service in Normandy and being far more common in photographs from Arnhem:sten-gunner-44My example dates from the immediate post war period:imageRefinements include a wooden stock:imageWith a top mounted sling loop:imageA vertical wooden pistol grip:imageAnd a front sight taken from the No4 rifle:imageThis allowed a bayonet to be fitted to the Sten, initially the World War Two spike bayonet, but later the No 7 bayonet we looked at a few weeks back:imageThe finish and fitting of the gun is also better than the Mk II and consequently the weapons took longer to produce and were more reliable for it; 12 hours a gun rather than the six for a Sten II. The model number of the Sten is marked on the magazine housing:imageUnlike my Mk II Sten, this example has not been modified and retains the British cocking handle:imageThese weapons were initially produced with a front pistol grip as well, but this was deleted from production in June 1945, which suggests this example dates from the immediate post war period. This clearly took time to fiulter down to troops as this photograph of the Parachute Regiment in Batavia dates form December 1945 and the front grip is still visible:12th_Parachute_Battalion_in_JavaWhilst the Mk V Stens were used mostly by airborne troops in the Second World War, the Mk 5 (numbers had changed from Roman to Arabic in August 1944) was issued to all troops in the post war era and saw service in Malaya, Korea and Suez amongst others. Here we see a Malay policeman holding a Mk 5 during the Malayan Emergency:240px-Police_in_Malayan_EmergencyMy example is of course deactivated to comply with UK law.

Trousers, Lightweight

Whilst it has been true since the early seventies that most of a soldier’s life is spent wearing camouflage, other forms of dress are available for a variety of purposes; ceremonial dress, jungle dress and for those involved in office work barrack dress. As well as this during the late twentieth century the poly cotton green ‘Trousers Lightweight’ were often worn for a variety of jobs being able to be used both as a smart pair of trousers and for general duties where the soldier might expect to get dirty:imageThese trousers were introduced in about 1971-72 and follow a conventional design with pockets on the hips, a large thigh pocket:imageAnd two on the seat:imageBelt loops are fitted at the waist:imageAs are two metal sliders to adjust the waist size:imageThe inside of the waistband has a large label identifying the type of clothing and providing sizing and care instructions:imageThe Nato sizing indicates this pair were made after about 1981. These trousers were issued in place of the green cotton overall trousers of the 1960s, which in turn were a replacement for the Second World War Denim suit. As such they were one of those items of clothing used for a number of different purposes. As well as the aforementioned uses the trousers were also used in Northern Ireland with a DPM smock: they were cheaper, more comfortable and fitted better without the braces needed in the early DPM trousers. Unfortunately the early lightweights had an alarming tendency to melt in high temperatures, such as in riots involving Molotov cocktails, and official orders tried to ban them in favour of the cotton DPM trousers which were more fire retardant. These orders were widely ignored:

Fact is, regardless of what might be decreed, in 15/19H, combat trousers were only ever worn for guard duty in camp. At all other times (including NI tours) we wore lightweights. My friend’s recent quote suggests to me that even after the issue of CS95, even now he’d rather wear lightweights than combats.

I have seen pictures from tours well into the 80s where they still wore lightweights. I was attached to 42 Royal Marine Commando as part of my NIRRT training in 1976. They too wore lightweights in preference to and disregard of any official diktat. I do remember on our UN tour of 1976 – 77 we were issued OG trousers to supplement our lightweights so that we could wear a clean pair every day even when our kit went into (and came back from) the dhobi twice a week.

I transferred out of the cavalry. I quickly learned that even though I was now officially a shiny-arrse, I could expect to be volunteered for a dirty duty at any time, even when I became a Sergeant in the Computer Centre. Stuff dress regulations: I always wore boots and lightweights rather than barrack dress and shoes, just in case I got rubber-dicked for a dirty task. Funnily enough, once I started dressing in lightweights, they stopped volunteering me. Rule number 1: whatever rules the Army makes on dress codes for uniformity, squaddy will do what he pleases to individualise his uniform, both at an individual and at a regimental level.tumblr_mhccxz6vwD1rcoy9ro1_1280

British Army Jerry Can

At the start of the Second World War the British Army was using two and four gallon pressed tin containers for fuel These were colloquially known as flimsies due to their habit of bursting open in use- indeed in the Western Desert up to 25% of fuel was lost due to the poor quality of the petrol tins The Germans were using a much superior pressed steel fuel can, which the British captured and put into use for themselves; hence the name ‘Jerrycan’ which has stuck ever since. Here we see soldiers in the Western Desert inspecting captured German cans:jerry-cansObviously the British Army could not fill its supply lines with just captured jerry cans so production of a close copy was started, the jerry cans being made of two pressed pieces of metal welded together:Jerrycan-fabricationThis example dates from 1944 and has seen use by the British Army in the post war period:imageThe date ‘1944’ and the /|\ mark are impressed on the side:imageAlong with a manufacturers initial of ‘VM’:imageI believe this refers to Vauxhall Motors, but I would welcome any confirmation. The sides of the can also have cross like indentations:imageThese not only strengthen the jerry can, but allow it to expand and contract as needed, preventing the seams form splitting. The top of the can has three handles, these allow it to be easily balanced when carried by either one person (using the centre handle) or when carried between two (using the two outer handles:imageA short spout with a spring clipped lid is provided to allow easy pouring without the need for funnels or other equipment:imageThis can continued in use after the war, as indicated by a filling date of December 1952 painted on the lower portion of one side:imageThe can was used to carry OC600 Oil, and this is clearly marked on the can, with it in black lettering on a blue patch next to the spout:imageAnd down the sides of the can:imageOC600 is a thick oil used inside a gearbox or differential to keep it lubricated.

The sheer number of these jerry cans used and manufactured in World War Two is staggering, as witnessed by the huge fuel storage dumps set up in Normandy after the invasion:Jerrycan-assembly-point-in-Normandy

Post War Collared Shirt

As the new 1949 pattern battledress was introduced, a new shirt was produced to accompany it. Up until this point the British Soldier had always worn a collarless shirt, first in grey and then in khaki. These had been unofficially supplemented by collared shirts either made specially, scrounged form the American Army or modified by regimental tailors form the issue shirt. This new shirt finally made the collared OR shirt and official part of uniform for the first time. The shirt is made from a brownish shade of khaki wool, with a full buttoned opening down the front:imageThe collar is sewn to the body of the shirt:imageThere are two pleated pockets, one on each breast, each secured by a single plastic button:imageShoulder straps are sewn to the shirt:imageThis shirt has a label indicating it was made by CWS, Co-Operative Wholesale Society, a /|\ mark, size 5 and a date of 1949:imageThese shirts were part of the standard uniform of a 1950s National Serviceman, and were not comfortable; Alan Croskill recalls:

Everyone was clad in shapeless khaki denim overalls, rough shirts and ties.

The shirts were laid out as part of the kit inspection as in the case of Bombardier Eric Brown:

Once a week we would have a barrack room inspection by an officer and a sergeant. Part of this inspection was that all your kit was to be laid out on your bed – to a specific format – in squares that measured 9″ x 9″ (23cm x 23cm). This included: underpants, vests, shirts, trousers, jumpers – these had to be washed, ironed and folded into squares of the above size. This was interspersed with other kit – gaiters, belts, bullet pouches, backpacks all cleaned and all brasses polished. This was topped off by a ‘bedroll’ placed at the top of the bed i.e. blanket/sheet/blanket/sheet and the final blanket rolled around the lot. All this had to be done by 9.00 a.m. the next morning with only one iron available to the whole barrack block – say twenty plus soldiers! In other words you possibly had to stay up all night to get a turn at the iron!a64cc010425cbbfeaa5eb841505d52ce