Monthly Archives: April 2017

Victorian Artillery Etching

This week we have neither a postcard nor a photograph for you, but rather a late nineteenth century etching. This etching depicts two pieces of contemporary ordnance:The upper illustration is an Armstrong 12 pounder field gun:This gun was introduced in 1859 and the gun incorporated some advanced features for its day. It was one of the first breech-loaders: shell and gunpowder propellant were loaded through the gunner’s end of the barrel, rather than through the muzzle as in previous guns, allowing a higher rate of fire. The shells were coated with lead, which engaged spiral grooves cut inside the barrel (“rifling”) and caused the shell to spin rapidly in flight and hence imparted far greater accuracy and range than previous guns. The lead coating effectively sealed the gap between shell and barrel and eliminated the wastage of propellant gases, previously known as “windage”, and hence only half the amount of gunpowder propellant as previous was required.

The barrel was of wrought iron, “built up” of a tube with additional layers heated and then shrunk over it as they cooled. The result was a “pre-stressed” barrel: the interior of the barrel was under compression from the layers shrunk over it, so that the heat and pressure of firing did not stretch it. Hence the barrel was smaller and lighter than previous guns.The lower illustration is of an older and more conventional 32 pounder, unrifled gun and carriage:This is a much older principle and similar to the cannon used during the Napoleonic era. The carriage and weight of this gun indicate it was designed to be emplaced on a fortification rather than used in the field. It has however been updated form early designs by having cast iron wheels to the carriage rather than wooden ones:It is also worth noting that the gun fires shell rather than solid shot. This design of gun carried on in service for heavy weapons for longer than the lighter field pieces. Early breach loaders were not always very safe at the breach end with heavy charges- metallurgy at the time being limited. The heavier and more solid breach end of a muzzle loader was far safer for heavy charges. This illustration comes, I suspect, from a contemporary book or journal. I would like to get this one framed up at some point as it would look rather nice on the wall but my ‘framing pile’ seems to just get larger!

QARANC Male Nurse’s Jacket

In 1992 there was a restructure of army medical services in the British Army and male nurses were transferred from the Royal Army Medical Corps to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Male nurses are still relatively uncommon, but are a growing part of the corps and they have certain items of specialist clothing for their work. Tonight we are looking at a man’s nursing jacket from the QARANC:This is a white cotton tunic, secured up one side and to the neck with removable white plastic buttons:These buttons are secured in with small split rings to allow them to be removed easily for washing. The design of the button itself is very similar to those used on World War 2 era denim uniforms, again these were designed to be easily removable for laundering. The back of the jacket has a sewn in half belt to provide a more structured fit:A single patch pocket is sewn on the breast and on this is affixed an embroidered patch showing the Corps’ cap badge in red on a grey field:The only other insignia on the jacket is a red on grey patch with a lance corporal’s stripe on it on one sleeve, this indicates a healthcare assistant- all qualified nurses are ranked at least a full corporal:Inside the tunic is a label indicating size and NSN number with a space for the owner to write his name and number:In recent years the QARANC has been involved in every conflict the British Army has fought in, offering vital medical support to Britain, her military allies and civilians in theatre. The British Legion’s website gives us one case study of a QARANC nurse, Ben Poku:

After signing up, Ben did three months of basic training which came as a shock. It was unlike anything Ben had experienced before.

“It’s tough, but it prepares you so that you’re ready when you go to a new or hostile environment.”

It was when Ben started passing the basic infantry tactics that he knew he was ready to become a soldier. Though he’d joined up to be a nurse, Ben found himself in the artillery doing an infantry role before he knew it.

But the desire to help those in need hadn’t gone away though. After three years in the artillery, Ben took the chance to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse. So in 2003, whilst Ben was training on artillery guns in Germany, he started the process of transferring over to the prestigious Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps. As the nursing branch of the British Army, QARANC can trace its origins back to Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Ben went ahead to study at the Defence School of Healthcare Studies, getting his nursing degree while he was also being deployed in Iraq. While there he treated multi-nationals, such as Iraqis and Americans, as well as British troops.

“It was a challenge to go over there in a nursing role and apply the training I was doing, but it was a great introduction into becoming a nurse.”

Ben’s childhood dream has come true. He’s been a nurse for over a decade. In that time he’s worked abroad as well as around the UK.

He’s currently posted at Headley Court where he works on the neurological ward helping injured soldiers get back to Service or leave to become civilians.

Embarkation Tag

The business of loading a troop ship to transport a regiment to a foreign theatre was always fraught with difficulties. Large numbers of men had to be brought aboard the ship, taken to the correct location and checked to ensure no one was missing or should not have been there. In order to sort this task, as ever, the army bureaucracy swung into action with a variety of forms and check lists. Tonight we are looking at an example of the embarkation tags issued to individual soldiers before they reached the ship:This two part tag was filled out by the individual soldier and as explained on the front of the tag, on boarding the ship the soldier gave the front half of the tag to those organising the embarkation:This ensured that the embarkation officer knew who was on board the ship and could check the names off against a list of who was supposed to be there to see if anyone was missing. These tags were issued to all ranks, and strict instructions warned troops not to board without handing over the front half of the tag:The second half of the tag was retained until the end of the journey, when the same process was repeated to ensure everyone who was expected to be disembarking had done so:The military forces were aware that circumstances could change, so the bottom half of this piece of the tag allowed troops to be disembarked early if there was an emergency or so forth:This particular tag was partially filled out, but never used. Although we don’t know when it was used, a printing date is marked on the front which shows it was produced in May 1944:The following description relates life on board one of these troop ships for the men being transported:

In mid March 1943, the troopship Windsor Castle, once luxury liner of the Union Castle Line, slipped down the Clyde to join convoy KMF 11. Over 2,500 men were packed on board. When the ship began to heave, side-slip and wallow in the Bay of Biscay, we on E deck, the lowest habitable quarters for troops, dripping with sweat, some sea-sick, would compete for the small air vents fixed in the deck roof. Fortunately we were not confined below decks all the time, but would come up for PE and boat drill. Soon we could find our rafts stations with the minimum of disorder. None on E deck saw the Rock of Gibraltar because we had been ordered below. We then knew that our destination was North Africa and we spent the earlier part of the night packing our kit ready for disembarkation. After that we lay back in our hammocks, slung over the mess tables, some of us contravening orders to spend the whole voyage fully clothed. The atmosphere was sweltering. Some removed boots, others jackets and a few undressed completely. Towards midnight E deck grew quiet. I lay in my hammock trying to read Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” , until the heat made even reading an effort. My boots came off. I loosened my battledress jacket and dozed off.

CS95 Air Cadet’s Shirt

We have looked at various examples of the CS95 DPM shirt on the blog over the last couple of years and I must confess I am only picking up new examples for my collection if they have interesting patches and markings on them. Tonight we have a nicely badged example that saw service with a member of the Air Cadets:The ‘Air Cadets’ is an umbrella term for young people who are members of either Combined Cadet Forces (RAF) which are run in over 200 schools across the UK and those who are members of Air Training Corps groups which are small local detachments of cadets dotted across the country. Both organisations are volunteer services that give teenagers the chance to learn more about the RAF, volunteer and take part in various aviation related activities. The Air Cadets are of course closely aligned with the RAF and wear very similar uniforms- indeed much of their equipment and uniform is either military surplus or produced under the same contracts but in smaller sizes to the regular uniform. This shirt for instance has the same NATO sizing and details as any shirt issued to the military, it is often just the smaller sizes that are indicative of cadet use:Above the breast pocket of the shirt is a large ‘Air Cadets’ patch sewn on to clearly identify the organisation:A large and detailed tactical recognition flash is sewn onto one shoulder:The Air Cadets are given the following guidance on wearing the DPM uniform as combat clothing:The DPM uniform is now being superseded by more modern MTP uniforms within the cadet force- permission being given to wear them in 2014. This guidance on insignia placement from the Cadet’s website therefore applies to the newer uniform, but is indicative of what has been sewn onto the CS95 shirt above:

Cut Down 6 pounder Blank Shell Casing

A few weeks back I looked at a Second World War blank 6 pounder shell casing. Tonight I have another 6 pounder casing used as a blank, but this one is much earlier, and although I cannot provide an exact date, my gut is suggesting it dates to before the Great War:The first thing to notice about this casing is how short it is. It was typical to cut down spent full size cartridges into shorter version to use for a blank round- the lower power needed less propellant so a shorter case would suffice. The rough edge is typical of these cut down blank rounds, the modifications being done at a unit level. The base of the casing has a profusion of markings:My thanks go to Jeremy Churchill for his help in interpreting the markings:I suspect that this cartridge was originally for a 6 pounder quick fire naval gun such as this one:These guns were obsolete by the end of World War One, but continued in use as saluting guns, for which a cut down blank cartridge such as mine would have been ideal.

82 Pattern Ammunition Pouches

One of the great improvements the Canadian 82 pattern webbing set brought over its predecessor, the 64 pattern set, was that it finally reintroduced a dedicated ammunition pouch: that the 64 pattern did not have one is still frankly baffling. The new set was heavily influenced by the US ALICE system and in the end two distinct variants of the pouch were produced, an original plain ammunition pouch and a later development with a pair of grenade pouches fitted to either side:The pouches held two magazines for the service rifle, with a pair of lifting tabs to help pull them out of the pouch:The user’s manual illustrated how to use them:A top cover was provided to keep the elements off the magazines, secured with the standard plastic and webbing tape quick release buckle:The back of the pouch has the usual plastic tabs to engage with the eyelets on the 82 pattern belt:Velcro then passes over them to help secure it further:Drainage holes are fitted to the base of the pouch to allow water to drain off:The second pattern pouches have two grenade pockets on either side of the main pouch body. I do not have a Canadian grenade available, but this British training grenade illustrates the principle:Variants of this pouch can be found to fit FN C1 magazines and C7 magazines, with slightly larger examples available to house FN C2 magazines. The pouches were generally well liked, the most serious complaint being that the stitching sometimes broke and became loose, the go to repair being to patch them up with heavy duty tape.

Wartime Parachute Illuminating Flare

At the end of last year we looked at a 1960s parachute illuminating mortar bomb here. Tonight we are looking at a second example of the parachute flare mortar bomb, this time however it is a wartime example and is far more complete than the previous one:Unlike later bombs, this example is painted black, with yellow lettering stencilled on the outside:The thin metal cap that covers the end is still extant on this bomb, and is stamped with a date of 1940:The end cap is also wartime dated, here it is 1942:The FD stands for Fry’s Die Castings Ltd, of London, who manufactured the component. The distinctive holes for a parachute illuminating bomb can be seen directly above the tail of the mortar bomb:These had closing discs over them originally which burnt away when the bomb was fired. Inside the bomb originally would have been a parachute, flare canister and small bursting charge:Unusually this bomb still has the parachute:And the burnt out remains of the flare:The 1959 mortar manual describes its operation:

The flash from the cartridge, when fired, penetrates the closing discs and ignites a delay charge; this in turn ignites a bursting charge of gunpowder which ignites and ejects the flare; a small parachute, packed in the nose of the bomb, is attached to the flare and is ejected at the same time, opening at once and suspending the flare below it.

The pamphlet also gives some guidance on the use of these bombs:

  1. These bombs contain a flare attached to a parachute. When the bomb is fired at an angle of 80 degrees the parachute is ejected at a height of about 600 feet. At this height the flare gives its best performance. It will burn for about 30 seconds, descending slowly and drifting with the wind as it does so.
  2. In still air or light winds the mortar should be fired at an angle of 80 degrees. This will allow the flare to be ejected at a distance of about 100 to 150 yards from the mortar position. If light is required at a greater distance the angle must be lessened as when firing smoke bombs. At its reduced height the flare will not light up so big an area.
  3. Whenever possible place the flare behind the enemy, as this will silhouette him against the light. To avoid our own troops being silhouetted against the light, care must be taken, especially in head winds, to ensure that flares do not drift behind our forward positions. Do not, if it can be avoided, place the flare between the enemy and our own troops as its effect will be to dazzle the defenders thus placing them at a disadvantage.
  4. When the wind is strong the firer will have to judge its effect and alter the angle of the mortar according to where the light is required. The principle is to fire the bomb up wind, allowing the flare to drift over the area where light is required.
  5. Although the flare is efficient and will light up the battlefield a good distance in front of the platoon position, its uncontrolled use may also show up the activities of our own troops. Orders will be given when flares at platoon level are not to be fired.