A few weeks back I reviewed Jon Mill’s book on the MTC, as mentioned then this was one volume in a mini-series covering various lesser known Home Front organisations. Definitely amongst the more obscure is the subject of another of the volumes covering the various training corps for girls set up during the war:At the start of the Second World War there was a general feeling that with the displacement of the young from their homes through evacuation and the loss of parental figures as fathers went off to fight and mothers had important war work to do, something needed to be done to direct the energies of the young. Whilst male pre-military training schemes were already in existence (cadet units etc), provision for girls was limited with the Girl Guides being the closest thing available. This book covers a number of different training schemes, set up independently and the various legal wrangles that went on between them and the government for official recognition and some degree of central support. The impression one gets is of small enterprises run by enthusiastic women with miniscule resources. As ever the book combines rare archive photographs with even rarer photographs of surviving insignia and uniforms:Although only a slim volume, the story related is an interesting one and I believe one that has not been written about before. As with many of these volumes the subject matter is very obscure- indeed this is far more peripheral than even the MTC story. With that in mind I cannot see many people going out of their way to pick up a copy of this book unless they have a specific interest in it, however if you do come across a copy on your travels at a good price pick it up as it is an interesting little read.
Tonight we have a collection of private snaps that I believe were taken by Pte Rowland Mann of No2 General Service Company, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Middle East Forces between 1942 and 1944. Private Mann was from Hunslet in Leeds and the photographs cover both the time before he left Britain and the time he was stationed in Egypt and probably Palestine as well. Going from the inscription on the back of one of the photographs I believe that this is Private Mann:The set of photographs were accompanied by a pair of Aerographs that we will look at in the festive season, but which helped identify Rowland. The photographs are typical of the informal portraits taken on cheap cameras by ordinary men of their friends and the local sights. There is nothing remarkable about any of these pictures, but in a way their ordinariness is part of their charm.
The First Gulf War found the British Army very underprepared in some areas of equipment- the army not having expected to fight in desert conditions at any time in the foreseeable future. Quickly orders were placed for new uniforms, equipment and accessories to suit the conditions with the new items delivered remarkable rapidly. Interestingly these items are often marked with the British Army’s code name for its operations in the Gulf War ‘Granby’. This particular item is a tan sleeping bag liner, still in the plastic package from stores:The label on the liner indicates it was made by Trendsetter Quilts Ltd in 1991- note both the large /|\ markings and the ‘Granby’ on the label:This information is repeated on the plastic bag, along with a hand stamped date of 29th April 199?:Trendsetter Quilts were a firm from Oldham Lancashire that had been founded in 1972, sadly like so much of British manufacturing they are currently dissolved, seemingly having gone out of business in May of this year.
I have not unpacked my sleeping bag liner as I am not convinced I will be able to fold it back up again afterwards, but this image from another site shows what it consists of:A sleeping bag liner is used to add extra warmth to a sleeping bag without adding a lot of extra weight to be carried. They work by trapping an additional layer of air between the user and the outside, this aids insulation and helps keep body heat in and cold out. A sleeping bag liner also aids hygiene as it can be easily washed and helps prevent the sleeping bag from absorbing body odours, sweat etc.
Tonight’s object is really half an object. The H type two piece floating torch was introduced in July 1943 to the Mae West lifejacket. The torch was in two parts, a metal battery pack was attached to the lifejacket whilst a separate bulb on a weighted wooden float was attached via rubber coated leads. When a pilot bailed out into the sea, the bulb would float free, attached to the battery pack still on the man and it aided finding an airman in the dark. Sadly I have only the battery pack for this torch, but it is interesting in its own right. The battery pack is a metal tube, with a screw lid:The base of the battery pack is marked ‘GEC’ for the General Electric Company:The body of the pack is stamped with the Air Ministry crown and a date of 1943:A spring in the base of the tube helps push dry cell batteries up against the top of the tube, where there is a rubber pad with a brass terminal:The rubber pad is continued onto the top of the tube, where the ends of the two wire which originally went to the bulb can just be seen:The complete set up would originally have looked like this:I must confess that when I found this object I didn’t have a clue what it was and just took a punt on it, my thanks to Nigel Carver for helping to identify it. There are two different variations of these torches, RAF examples have a white light whilst Fleet Air Arm examples have a red light which is easier to see against the white spray of the sea.
Included in the standard items of webbing for the 44 pattern set was a bayonet frog. Interestingly a bayonet frog was also supplied on the side of the basic pouch, but clearly it was felt a separate one would be useful as well. The frog is clearly copied from the 37 pattern design, but made in the newer more rot proof webbing:The official webbing pamphlet describes it thus:
Bayonet Frog- This is provided with a woven hole in the upper scabbard loop to enable the No. 4, No. 5, or No. 7 bayonet to be carried by inserting the stud through the hole. The No. 1 bayonet is held in the frog in the usual way by the stud of the scabbard being inserted between the web loops. A narrow web loop is provided to slip over the hilt of the No. 1 or the No. 5 bayonet to prevent swinging. This frog is clearly unissued, as can be seen by the rear which has no wear at all:The markings include the frog’s store code ‘CN2006’ and the manufacturer and date:Despite the integral bayonet loops on the 44 pattern basic pouch, these separate frogs must have been useful as manufacture continued into the mid-1960s, with dates of 1966 observed on some examples. Ironically however most examples found today seem to be in mint condition and never issued.
There were a plethora of charitable women’s groups involved in war work during the Second World War. Whilst the best known and certainly the largest was the Women’s Voluntary Service many other groups existed, often based around an existing faith organisation. One of these groups was the Catholic Women’s League that had been founded in 1906 and had operated canteens, provided catholic nurses and worked with refugees. During the Second World War this charitable work continued and a special enamelled badge was issued to members who had contributed their time and energy:As can be seen this badge is small and circular with the letter ‘CWL’ for Catholic Women’s League in the centre beneath a stylised dove. Around the edge it reads ‘For War Service at Home’. The rear of the batch has a simple pin fastening:The Catholic Women’s League is still proud of the work its members did during the Second World War and this descrition of that service comes from one of their official leaflets:
With the outbreak of World War Two, the work of the League continued in canteens both at home and abroad. A Mass Hut was opened at Harrogate, with all the furnishings provided by the League.
Members went into uniform, under the auspices of the Council for Voluntary Welfare Work (CVWW), in the Far East, Middle East, Europe and Iceland. The Rome Club, in the grounds of the Old Scots College, was visited frequently by Pope Pius XII.
In the UK this canteen and recreation hall was run by the League at St Peter’s Hall in Westminster in 1939 with soldiers relaxing beneath a large shrine to the Virgin Mary:The league also worked abroad as seen below with one of the League’s mobile canteens in service at Geldrop, Holland:
Last weekend I went up to the annual Pickering World War Two weekend. A good time was had, and as usual I trawled the stalls in case of something interesting to add to the collection. Normally I bypass Soldier of Fortune’s stall completely as they sell reproduction kit for re-enactors rather than the original kit I am looking for, this time however they had some sale boxes in front of their stall and on a whim I rooted through. I was therefore both surprised and very pleased to find an Indian made Mk III 37 pattern pouch:Like its British counterpart, this pouch has replaced the press stud fastener with a quick release tab and staple:This design change was introduced in late 1945 and as can be seen was even less of a success with soft Indian webbing than it had been on the stiffer UK production. The poor quality means that it is impossible now to fasten the pouch as the strap is too soft and bendy to fit through the fastener. The poor quality is also evident in the brass buckle at the top of the pouch, which clearly has one side wider than the other:The back of the pouch is typical of all other 37 pattern basic pouches:Again the poor quality is visible in the brass c-hooks and the wear where they are sewn to the body of the pouch:On the underside three large brass grommets allow water to drain out of the pouch:Interestingly although Indian production has been updated to include the quick release tab, the underside of the pouch lid still retains the cartridge loops for ballistite blank rounds that was dropped from British production after the Mk I:This pouch was originally pre-dyed in green, much of which has been bleached off now. Note however the remains of the green in the corners of the underside of the lid:As can be seen this pouch was manufactured by KEF in 1945. These Indian made Mk III pouches are not common and this is the first one I have seen outside of Martin Brayley’s ‘Khaki Drill and Jungle Green’ book- a lucky and cheap find that rather made my day!