Monthly Archives: April 2017

Postcard of Madras Gymkhana Football Challenge Cup Winners 1920

As has been discussed on this blog before, sport was an important part of military life in India and this week’s photograph is a marvellous shot of the winners of the Madras Gymkhana Football Challenge Cup in 1920, The 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment:

The cup itself, officially known as the EK Chetty Cup, is seen in the centre of the photograph with smaller commemorative tankards for the players surrounding it:The team itself sits around their cup, most players wearing a dark shirt, white shorts and leather football boots of the period:One player has a lighter coloured shirt and is presumable the goalkeeper:Only one man wears military uniform, a lance corporal, who is possibly the coach:The Madras Gymkhana Club was founded in 1885 and in 1895 organised the first football cup in the city, with ten teams from across the country competing. The local journal ‘The Sketch , A Journal of Art and Actuality’ reported:

Last year, a few ardent devotees came together and decided to make a start. The game found support at once, and when, at the General Meeting of the Gymkhana Club a request was made for a Tournament Cup to be played under certain conditions, a uniform consent was accorded.

Lord Willingdon, Governor of Madras, was an important supporter of the football cup and attended all the finals between 1919 and 1924 so was presumably present when the team above won in 1920. The cup was won exclusively by military teams until 1933 when the first civilian team won, The Pachaiyappa High School.

Desert DPM Field Jacket

The British Army’s campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan took place in arid desert conditions for much of the time. Despite this, temperatures were not universally high and at night the ambient heat could plummet rapidly. Therefore, in addition to desert DPM shirts, the army issued a heavier field jacket in the desert camouflage:The design of this jacket is clearly a copy of the equivalent CS95 design in temperate DPM. It has two angled breast pockets secured with the distinctive looped tape buttons:And a further two patch pockets on the skirt:It fastens up the front with a zip that is covered by a Velcro fly:A single front mounted tab is provided for rank insignia:A small Union flag is sewn onto the sleeve:As with all modern combat clothing a label is sewn in giving sizing and care instructions:These uniforms were ubiquitous in the early days of the campaign in Afghanistan and here Brigadier James Cowan, commander of the task force in Helmand, can be seen wearing one in 2010:It must be said that the fabric used in this jacket is not particularly thick, but the CS95 uniform and by extension this desert pattern uses a layering principle. Beneath the field jacket would be a shirt and t-shirt layer, the air trapped between each layer then being effective at keeping the wearer warm.

One user who had experience of various different types of uniform outer layers gives his assessment:

Worst combats ever were those on issue when I was in NI in 1991 – single lines of stitching, so the seams would fall apart when you knelt down, and pockets would drop off. Superseded by the interim 94 pattern stuff (similar cut to the Cbt 95 smock – but made of fabric that held more water) : school report would say “an improvement, but could still do better”). At last line infantry had as standard issue a buttonless zip-front smock with decent sized pockets, and sturdy construction (the things that made para smocks attractive): zip front and generous sizing means you can stuff ammo or whatever inside the thing for ready access in a hurry.

Windproof smock – all the advantages of the 94 smock, and is bloody excellent in dry cold. Not so clever in wet, muddy conditions. The fabric’s just too thin, and the ingrained dirt that goes with infantry trench-living will abrade it like feck, so it disintegrates, suddenly (a characteristic of all 100% cotton clobber). The hood’s a pain in the arse, even in Noggieland, where (for all the usual good tactical reasons) it was seldom used, except in the most severe cold (like -40).

Field jacket has to be tops – all of the advantages of the better kit listed above, and designed to minimise the drawbacks of all of the others (like, it’s cotton, so it will wear out . . . but would you prefer something that lasted longer but melts into your flesh when flash-heated by an explosion?) – plus all the clever touches like ripstop fabric and things to tie your compass to.

Canadian 2″ Mortar Cleaning Wallet

At the end of last year I published a post on the 2” mortar cleaning kit wallet here. The example we looked at then was a British made example and tonight we have a contrasting example made in Canada. My thanks go to Darren Pyper for his help in getting this one for my collection. Canada produced a large quantity of webbing throughout the war and there are a number of subtle differences between the items produced in north America and those produced elsewhere in the Empire. The function and contents of the cleaning kit are identical to the earlier post, so tonight we will be looking at the differences. Here we have the two sets side by side, the Canadian on the left and the British made example on the right:The first thing to note is that the British example has been dyed a dark green colour, the Canadian example is in plain undyed webbing. The Canadian example has replaced the brass chapes at the end of the straps with phenolated resin, which seems to be a uniquely Canadian manufacturing technique:Not only are the securing straps treated in this way, but also the end of the adjustable shoulder strap:Markings are nice and clear on this example, with an easily readable stamp indicating that this is a Wallet 2 Inch Mortar Mk 1:A second stamp indicates that is was produced by the Zephyr Looms and Textiles Ltd in 1945, note also the Canadian acceptance stamp on the left:Zephyr Looms and Textiles Ltd had four factories within walking distance of each other in Guleph, Ontario. The company opened in 1936, and was at that time owned by the US conglomerate, its main business at that point was government contracts for webbing equipment. During the war, the company had 4 factories:

1) The Office, Warping and Weaving, Located on Crawford St.

2) Sewing, Located at 72 Farquhar St. (now home to JP Hammill and Sons Ltd)

3) Weaving, Located on Huskisson St. (Huskisson St. has subsequently be renamed Wyndham St in 1956, after William Huskisson, the Colonial Secretary) (the building is now an apartment building)

4) Sewing, Located at 135 Oxford St. (now a retirement home and apartments)

Contracts were plentiful throughout 1940 and 1941, with the government placing many orders in excess of $50,000. However, it seems that by 1943 the web equipment contracts were slowing down. Indeed, in October of 1943 the ZL&T Newsletter states that the 50 Millionth piece of military web equipment was produced (a small pack) at plant 4. The Globe and Mail states on November 19th, 1943 that due to fulfillment of government contracts and also lack of materials, all production was suspended at one plant and greatly curtailed at the remaining 3. The article continues, stating that during October of 1943 nearly 200 people (mostly women) were laid off, and that the largest number had been laid off in the ten days before the publication of the article. At its peak the company employed nearly 2000 employees, but by November of 1943 had less than 500. After WWII that company was bought by local businessmen and produced woven fabrics as well as having a franchise to make “Tom Boy” and “American Golfer” clothing. In 1957 the company became “Textile Industries”, and introduced the Wyndham fashion line. Textile Industries closed in 1980 after several layoffs.

Returning to the inside of the cleaning kit wallet we can see further differences, mostly in the design of the pockets for the folding handle for the mortar brush. The Canadian design has a full pocket, the British design has a couple of loops at top and bottom rather than a full pocket:In service troops would have been issued either design interchangeably and probably paid it no attention whatsoever; however to the collector it is always nice to have variants and different manufacturing techniques to track down.

Other Arms Rucksack

My thanks go to Michael Fletcher  who helped fix me up with tonight’s object, The Other Arms Rucksack:This rucksack was designed to be issued to non-front line infantry in place of a bergan. It has a large capacity, seventy litres, and can be used in a number of ways. A large flap is provided over one side of the rucksack:Opening this reveals a pair of shoulder straps that allow it to be worn on the back:These allow the rucksack to either be worn in the conventional manner, or for the carry straps to be stowed away for flight on board aircraft- the straps otherwise getting in the way and catching on things. Two large carry handles are fitted at the top for when the rucksack is being carried by hand:This combination has given rise to the rucksack being nicknamed the ‘Combat Handbag’ or the ‘REMF Handbag’ or ‘Turtle Pack’ due to the way they looked like a turtle shell when worn. Typically, as these nicknames suggest, troops tended to try and ditch the other arms rucksack as soon as they could and replace it with a standard bergan as it was more ‘ally’ and didn’t show to all that the user was a support troop rather than an infantryman.

The back panel of the rucksack, in addition to the shoulder straps, has a green panel to allow the owner to write his name and number:Zips and fasteners are provided down each side allowing a pair of supplementary rucksack pouches to be attached to either side to increase the carrying capacity:The rucksack fastened up with a large zip and has a Velcro fly over it; the inside of the rucksack is pretty much open, but there is a single divider on the shoulder strap side and a button down pocket that would allow a metal bergan frame to be fitted to improve the comfort on long transits:These rucksacks have proved particularly popular amongst cadets as they are far cheaper on the surplus market than standard bergans, the design and size being ideal for short weekends away rather than a full sized bergan. Adult users report that the pack is actually very comfortable to wear and the large capacity makes it practical, but that it is not ideal for wearing for long periods of time in the field. Ironically it seems to be more popular on the secondary market than it ever was with the troops who were issued it!

The following is the stores catalogue description of the rucksack:

Home Guard Anti-Aircraft Commemorative Certificate

It is often forgotten that the Home Guard had a front line role to play in the defence of Britain during the Second World War. As well as patrolling their local area, the Home Guard were increasingly used to man fixed anti-aircraft sites to free up fitter men for more mobile and front line roles. The weapons manned consisted of both traditional artillery pieces and rocket projectors known as Z Batteries. Like much of the Home Guard’s work, this job has gone largely un recognised and indeed at the time all the men got was a small card expressing the thanks of General Pile, head of Anti-Aircraft Command:This little card is a rare survivor and has printed at the top the black bow on red background of the command’s formation patch:For more information on the badge please look here. One Home guard member who served on Z-Batteries has left us this account:

I was working on electrical repairs in the many textile mills and engineering factories and foundries in the area when I was conscripted into the home guard.

Not the usual infantry but a newly formed Anti-aircraft battery firing rockets. These were new weapons in addition to the many conventional 3.75 AA guns in the area. These new rocket projectors were to be manned and operated by the Home Guard.

The individual rocket projectiles were made of strong sheet metal welded into the shape of a pipe about six feet long and four inches in diameter. In the last foot of length at the business end was a high explosive AA shell, with a fuse in the nose cone, operated by air pressure at any selected height. This was adjusted with a special spanner before the rocket was loaded onto the launcher (projector). There were four stabilising tail fins (quite sharp to the touch) at the rear end. There were eight rockets, each loaded by hand on to their own guide rails on the projector. It was like handling a heavy awkward length of household rainwater pipe, and you had to slide it up the guide rails, then pull it back on to the electrical firing contacts. There were eight projectors in a battery… For the first few times we trained on dummy machines with dummy rounds in the Huddersfield Territorials’ drill hall. We practised loading the rockets correctly and aiming the projectors by means of two-man teams operating large hand wheels whilst standing on either side of the roofed over platform. One man controlled the bearing read off on a dial marked in degrees, indicated by a pointer. The elevation was similarly controlled and set by the number two man on the other side of the platform. Communication was by earphone and microphone to each other and from the Control Centre… Then we went operational. Duty at a battery three nights a week. We carried on practising with the dummy rounds but the real ones were stored in a bunker near each projector, which were about 30 yards apart. We never fired in anger, though we stood by with enemy planes overhead several times. The reason was that the area for miles around was residential and to fire over the houses would have caused a lot of damage as the empty metal rocket fuel containers fell from the sky on to the rooftops…

We did practice live fire once. It was a glorious ‘summer’ day in November and we were taken by train and lorry to Hornsea on the North Yorkshire coast. Each platoon went in turn to the projectors lined up on the cliff top and loaded live rockets (I was worried about my fingers) and fired a salvo into the sky over the sea. I was never more scared in my life. Great 30 foot long sheets of flame past our heads and a roar like an express train in a tunnel, and the flimsy metal structure of the platform of the projector shaking and resonating; and us too shocked and deaf to hear the commands to check for misfires and turn to a neutral bearing.

64 Pattern Entrenching Tool Cover

Continuing our on-going study of the Canadian 64 pattern webbing set, we come to a piece that was not on my original kit layout. My thanks go to ‘Dean O’ from Canada who kindly sent this one over the Atlantic for me. The 64 pattern set used the same folding entrenching tool as the earlier 51 pattern set we discussed here. Like the other elements of the 64 pattern set, the entrenching tool cover is made of a plasticised cotton fabric:Like the earlier design, this cover has a hole at the bottom to allow the handle of the entrenching tool to stick out below the carrier. The back of the carrier is very simple, with just the belt attachment:

This is the same large velcroed loop that fits over the belt as other copmponents of the set:As with the canteen carrier, I am doubtful how effective this Velcro would be with a heavy component like the entrenching tool. I suspect that like other components of the set, the entrenching tool carrier would have been particularly susceptible to dropping off! The maker’s mark is also stamped on the rear of the carrier:This example was made by Textile Industries Ltd, a company who seem to have made all the components of the set for the Canadian Army. The cover fastens on the front with a plastic quick release buckle with a webbing tab:The edges of the entrenching tool could be sharp and potentially could damage the cover so a couple of leather reinforcing patches are sewn to the top lip of the cover:I am not convinced many of these covers were ever issued, most accounts suggest they were not in widespread use and this example certainly looks in mint condition.

Royal Navy Tropical Shorts

During the Second World War British naval ratings in tropical regions normally wore a uniform of white shorts, white cotton flannel, black socks and black ankle boots:

Tonight we are looking at an example of a rating’s white cotton shorts:The white shorts worn by ratings, senior rates and officers were all very similar and there are a number of patterns based on where and when they were manufactured, with ‘bazaar’ made examples also thrown into the mix. I suspect that from the RN’s point of view, as long as they were white and looked roughly in line with the proper pattern they weren’t too worried about minor detail differences! It is normally the waistband where differences can be found, many using a pair of brass friction buckles to secure them. This example however uses two white plastic buttons:White buttons are also used to secure the fly:Button down belt loops are provided around the waist to hold an RN money belt:The belt worn with this uniform was usually white as the blue example rubbed dye off onto the shorts. Slash pockets are provided on each hip:This example has a small label sewn into the inside of the waist band indicating it was made by Harrods in 1943 and is a 34” waist:Shorts had long been in use with the British military and no-one thought too much about them. It was therefore a shock to British sensibilities when complaints were received in Florida of all places. GS Guinn in his book “British Naval Aviation in World War II: The US Navy and Anglo American Relations” explains:

In Florida, the Royal Navy’s standard tropical white shorts were frowned upon as being offensive to local tastes and so, unless cadets were in their formal whites, they spent most of their time in khaki trousers and long sleeved khaki shirts. British trainees were unable to understand the nature of the offence to which shorts could give rise. They expected Americans to behave and think like British citizens and were surprised when they did not.