Monthly Archives: July 2017

Royal Navy Bell-Bottom Trousers

We continue our review of wartime Royal Naval ratings’ uniform with the ‘bell-bottom’ trousers. These were so named due to the trouser legs flaring out to a great width at the cuff, with a width at the knee of 12-13in and a width at the ankle of 12-14in:imageThis great width allowed the trousers to be easily rolled up to allow work such as scrubbing decks, where they were rolled past the knees to protect them from water. This pair of trousers is made of dark blue serge and has a blue and white striped lining at the waist, indicating they date to after 1932:imageNote the owner’s name stencilled on with white paint. The striped shirting material was replaced by unbleached calico in  June 1943. The waist of the trousers had a complicated series of flaps. With all the flaps open the full extent of the lining can be seen:imageThe first layer were two flaps that came in and fastened together on the front of the trousers, these included a small pocket for the wearer to store a watch or pocket handkerchief:imageThese were then covered with a second fall flap that folded up and down. This was secured with four black buttons at the waistline:imageButtons were fitted for braces, but sailors liked to wear their trousers so tightly cut that they were usually unnecessary and could often be removed by the owner as in this case. Sailors were issued with three pairs of serge trousers, kept rolled up in their kitbag. They were turned inside out to prevent fluff from appearing on the outside and folded into a rectangular block horizontally at about a hand’s width. This gave rise to the distinctive inverted creases down the sides of the leg, which having started as a practical measure, soon acquired a sartorial significance. Creases were ironed in with either five or seven depending on the length of the wearer’s leg.

HMS Sutlej Postcard

This week we return to the pre-World War One Royal Navy and another fine postcard, this time of the Cressy class armoured cruiser, HMS Sutlej:SKM_C45817070409340 - Copy (2)Sutlej was designed to displace 12,000 long tons (12,000 t). The ship had an overall length of 472 feet (143.9 m), a beam of 69 feet 9 inches (21.3 m) and a deep draught of 26 feet 9 inches (8.2 m). She was powered by two 4-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines, each driving one shaft, which produced a total of 21,000 indicated horsepower (15,660 kW) and gave a maximum speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph). The engines were powered by 30 Belleville boilers with four thin and elegant funnels:SKM_C45817070409340 - Copy (5)On their sea trials all of the Cressy-class cruisers, except the lead ship, exceeded their designed speed. She carried a maximum of 1,600 long tons (1,600 t) of coal and her complement ranged from 725 to 760 officers and enlisted men.

Her main armament consisted of two breech-loading (BL) 9.2-inch (234 mm) Mk X guns in single gun turrets, one each fore and aft of the superstructure. SKM_C45817070409340 - Copy (3)They fired 380-pound (170 kg) shells to a range of 15,500 yards (14,200 m). Her secondary armament of twelve BL 6-inch Mk VII guns was arranged in casemates amidships.SKM_C45817070409340 - Copy (4)Eight of these were mounted on the main deck and were only usable in calm weather. They had a maximum range of approximately 12,200 yards (11,200 m) with their 100-pound (45 kg) shells. A dozen quick-firing (QF) 12-pounder 12 cwt guns were fitted for defence against torpedo boats, eight on casemates on the upper deck and four in the superstructure. The ship also carried three 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns and two submerged 18-inch torpedo tubes.

The ship’s waterline armour belt had a maximum thickness of 6 inches (152 mm) and was closed off by 5-inch (127 mm) transverse bulkheads. The armour of the gun turrets and their barbettes was 6 inches thick while the casemate armour was 5 inches thick. The protective deck armour ranged in thickness from 1–3 inches (25–76 mm) and the conning tower was protected by 12 inches (305 mm) of armour.

Sutlej, named to commemorate two battles on the Sutlej River during the First Anglo-Sikh War, was laid down by John Brown & Company at their shipyard in Clydebank on 15 August 1898 and launched on 18 November 1899. She was commissioned at Chatham on 6 May 1902 by Captain Paul Bush, to take the place of the HMS Diadem in the Channel Squadron, which she joined in late July after steam trials. She took part in the fleet review held at Spithead on 16 August 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII. She was later re-assigned to the China Station and remained there until May 1906 when she became a boys’ training ship in the North America and West Indies Station. The ship returned home in 1909 and became flagship of the reserve Third Fleet until 1910. Whilst on manoeuvers off Berehaven, Ireland on 15 July, she had a boiler explosion that killed four men.

A few days after the start of the war, Sutlej was assigned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron (CS) for convoy escort duties off the French and Iberian coasts. She was transferred to 11th CS in Ireland in February 1915 for similar duties. Sent to the Azores in February 1916 and rejoined the 9th CS in September. She was paid off at Devonport on 4 May 1917 and became an accommodation ship. In January 1918 she became a depot ship at Rosyth and was renamed Crescent. She reverted to Sutlej in 1919 before she was sold on 9 May 1921 to Thos W Ward and laid up in Belfast. Sutlej arrived at Preston, Lancashire on 15 August 1924 to be broken up.

First Pattern PLCE Ammunition Pouches

It has been a while since we looked at any items of PLCE webbing on the blog, and so far all the pieces we have considered have been the later pattern, printed in DPM camouflage. When the webbing was first introduced in 1988 however, and throughout its service in the First Gulf War, it was produced in plain olive green. It is an example of this early pattern we are looking at tonight, in the form of a pair of ammunition pouches:imageThis set of webbing was designed to operate with the then new SA80 rifle and each pocket has space for two magazines giving a total of eight magazines, with 240 rounds. Not only are the pouches green rather than DPM, but there are constructional differences to the later production pouches. One of the main ones being that these pouches are ‘handed’ i.e. there is a left and a right, whereas later pouches could be used on either side of the belt. The differences between left and right can be seen on the back when they are laid side by side:imageThe fittings to connect the yoke are made of metal loops and angled to one side or the other:imageThese were replaced with a plastic fitting that could be used in both directions in later iterations. The pouches also have a 58 pattern style wire ‘C’ hook for attaching to the belt rather than the ‘T-Bar’ used on later versions:imageOther features of the early pouch include an internal divider inside each of the ammunition pouches:imageSoldiers quickly realised that if they removed this and turned the magazines through 90 degrees they could fit three rather than two magazines in each pouch allowing a 50% increase in capacity. This feature was again standardised in later production.

Each pocket on the pouch is secured with a plastic ‘Spanish tab’ fastener:imageThese fasteners allow quick access to the contents of the pouch, but were liable to come undone easily if the wearer was climbing down, facing a rockface for instance. The pouches were also fitted with an optional Velcro fastener for the pockets, however as Velcro could be noisy a cover was provided to block this off and silence it if the wearer preferred:imageNormally these pouches are found with markings stamped on the rear, these examples however have them stamped on the underside of the lids, and unfortunately they have not worn well so it is hard to make out the details of date:imageThis is actually the first piece of early olive green PLCE I have picked up, and hopefully in the coming months I can track down the rest of the components and bring them to you in due course.

Entente Cordiale Pin Badge

To modern eyes commemorative souvenirs for diplomatic alliances seem a little odd. However in the First World War there was a steady stream of commemorative items for the alliance between the British and the French, the Entente Cordial. Previously we have looked at a small piece of commemorative china here for the triple entente, and tonight we have a small enamelled pin badge for the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France:imageThis badge not only reflects the partnership between the two countries, as witnessed by the flags, but would also have been popular amongst buyers as a symbol of personal friendship between two people, as the phrase had entered the general population as a popular term for friendship.

Relations between Britain and France had been fractious for many centuries, but with the signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904 the British went through a phase of Francophilia with popular revues, exhibitions and talks celebrating the link between the two countries.

The Daily Mail published a prescient editorial on the Entente on April 17th 1914:

The British People and the Entente

The French public is right in attaching special significance to the official visit of the King and Queen to Paris next week. It is not merely the return of President Poincaré’s visit to London last year; it is also a direct and emphatic affirmation of the permanence of the Entente. Ten years have passed since the Anglo-French Agreement was concluded, and seven years since the understanding was completed by the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Ministries have changed; new questions have arisen; yet the Entente Cordiale and the Triple Entente remain the solid and abiding guarantee of European peace. Again and again in the immediate past the strength of the tie which unites Great Britain and France has been tested. It has never been found wanting, and three times at least- in 1905, 1908 and 1911- it has prevented the outbreak of European War.

Yet the remarkable letter which eminent French historian M. Lavisse has published in The Times suggests that educated Frenchmen are not altogether happy as to the attitude of the British people. M. Lavisse thinks that he perceives in this country “a dispersion, a pulverisation of public opinion… a sort of apathy, a disinclination to dwell upon unpleasant ideas, to foresee grave events, to entertain anxiety,” and believes that this attitude is weakening British policy on the Continent. Now it is no doubt true that for the moment British opinion is intensely preoccupied with internal questions. But that is a condition which would instantly vanish were any great emergency to arise, and we believe that the energy and unanimity of our people would be just as great tomorrow, in an hour of danger as of old. It would be a very real mistake to interpret our preoccupation, or dispersion of opinion’ as a sign of decadence. Neither morally nor physically is the present generation of Britons inferior to its ancestors…

Body Armour Filler

Over the last year we have looked at a number of different body armour sets, or more specifically we have looked at the covers for although I have touched on the fillers, we have never actually taken a close look at what’s under the cover. A chance purchase of a spare set of filler at The Yorkshire Wartime Experience (destined for my AFV armour cover) affords us a good opportunity to look at the body armour filler used in a large number of different British body armour sets. The body armour filler was introduced in time for the Gulf War and is made of a woven aramid and nylon, with a green PVC cover:imageThe cover prevents water from getting into the ballistic filler which would not only add weight, but reduce its ballistic properties. The filler is excellent at stopping low velocity fragments such as those from grenades or shells, and it can also cope with low powered pistol calibre rounds, it cannot protect the wearer from high velocity rounds such as those fired from a rifle.

The filler has a broad section that covers the back, and two flaps that come down over the shoulders, leaving a space at the front for the cover’s fasteners to allow it to be easily taken on or off:imageThe filler needs to be fitted into the cover the correct way round, so a small white label is fixed on both sides, one warns the user that is they can read it with the cover on, they have out it in the wrong way round!imageThe second should be visible through the opening on the cover and includes sizing and care instructions, as well as the ubiquitous NSN stores number:imageAs these fillers are still serviceable, with newer designs of cover, they have remained in service longer than the the camouflage covers. The covers are therefore really easy to find, the fillers are slightly scarcer but they are still out there and I am keeping my open for another couple to fit in various covers I have in my collection.

Royal Navy Seaman’s Jumper

In 1932 the Admiralty revised the serge jumpers sailors were issued for wear. Up until this point they had received one jumper with cuffs for best, and two without for working dress. In 1932 it was agreed that all three jumpers would have buttoned cuffs and the design of the jumper was improved to make them both smarter and more comfortable. Tonight we have an example of one of these sailor’s jumpers for consideration:imageThis jumper is an example of No1 dress as the rating’s trade badge is in gold wire:imageOn his working dress this stoker would have worn the same badge but embroidered in red. We can date this jumper quite accurately as it has an internal pocket for carry the rating’s paybook:imageThis feature was deleted in 1941 so we can place the date between 1932 and 1941. The jumper has lined and buttoned cuffs and as can be seen this was a convenient place to stamp one’s name:imageThe buttons were deleted in 1943 as an economy measure.

In the 1930s the Admiralty had experimented with jumpers which had a zip up the front to make them easier to get on and off. It was felt that a zipper would not be robust enough to stand up to prolonged service life, and it was pointed out that many of the difficulties sailors experienced with the jumpers were their own fault as it was fashionable to have the jumper cut as tight as possible! Zippers would finally be introduced in 1956.

The jumper has a large collar at the back of the neck, over which the blue jean collar would be worn:imageThis example is manufactured out of two layers of serge fabric. This was reduced to a single layer with a dungaree binding in the spring of 1942.

This is just a brief account of a few of the many changes the uniform went through during the war and I heartily recommend Martin Brayley’s book “Royal Navy Uniforms 1930-1945” for those wishing to explore this subject in greater detail.

51 Pattern Bayonet Frog

Tonight we come to the final post on post war Canadian webbing, at least until I purchase some more items! Once again I must express my thanks to Andrew Iarocci from Canada who kindly helped me add these pieces to my collection- I suspect I have the most complete collection of Post War Canadian webbing on this side of the Atlantic now, although I am also probably the only person over here who wishes to collect it!

Our final piece of 51 pattern webbing is the bayonet frog, it is made of the same dark green webbing as the rest of the 51 pattern set, but in form is identical to late war 37 pattern frogs:imageThis similarity in design is not unexpected as Canada was still using the No 4 rifle with a socket bayonet at the time of the webbing’s introduction so it made sense to use a tried and tested design. The bayonet frog has a belt loop to allow the belt to pass through, and two loops on the front for slotting the stud of the bayonet scabbard through:imageUnusually for 51 pattern webbing, the manufacturer’s mark is sharply stamped on the rear of the frog:imageNormally these stamps are very faint and almost impossible to read, but here it can be clearly seen that the frog was manufactured in 1952, with a distinctive circular manufacturer’s logo above:imageThere are still some elements of the 51 pattern set I need to track down, and as and when I find these I will post again. I hope this six month survey of post war Canadian webbing has been of interest and not too esoteric for you. I leave you with this nice view of Canadian infantry wearing the 51 pattern set from a period weapons pamphlet:fig23_crew_positions_mortar_mounted