Monthly Archives: September 2017

RAF Olive Green Foul Weather Trousers

It is not perhaps surprising that, considering how exposed many airfields can be, the RAF had some of the best waterproof clothing of the Cold War. Tonight we are looking at a pair of RAF issue foul weather trousers in olive green:imageThey are made from a double layered nylon with an elasticated waist. The fly has no buttons that could fall off and cause a problem if they were to be sucked up by an aircraft engine, instead a press stud and Velcro are supplied:imageTwo openings are provided to allow access to the pockets underneath the trousers:imageThese garments were introduced in the 1970s and were originally issued in four of the numbered non-metric sizes (0-3). By the time my pair were manufactured modern metric sizing had been introduced, as seen on the label:imageIn time these trousers were also adopted by the army and the description on the label changed to ‘Trousers, Foul Weather, OG’.

A Velcro tab is provided at the bottom of each trouser leg to allow it to be sealed against the elements:imageThese trousers were very good for their era- comfortable to wear and actually waterproof! They were sought after at the time, especially by those not technically due to be issued them! Today they are definitely a little harder to find than other items of army waterproof clothing. These were a lucky £1 find last week. My thanks go to Stephen Madden for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Cold War uniforms which was a great help in the preparing of this post.

1919 Souvenir Peace Plate

I am always looking out for new items of World War One commemorative china and this week I found a rather nice piece on Huddersfield secondhand market for £1:imageThis is a particularly large and deep saucer, sadly without any maker’s marks but this is not uncommon for what was a piece of cheap souvenir ware. It is amazing to think that something that is now 98 years old is so cheap, but these objects are frequently ignored and sold amongst a mass of crockery that is best described as tat! This saucer features an attractive transfer design incorporating the flags of Great Britain, Belgium, France and the USA and commemorates the end of the war:imageThe flags surround a central figure of Britannia with the words ‘peace’ above. The reasons for the conflict are in the scroll work beneath; liberty, justice, truth, honour. To modern eyes the dates seem a little odd: today we think of the Great War ending in 1918 but at the time this was seen merely as a ceasefire and it was always a worry that the conflict might restart. People therefore tended to see the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as being the actual cessation of hostilities and this is often reflected in objects produced at the time such as this piece of china.

The Daily Mail of 12th November 1918 ran an editorial about the armistice:

The armistice which was signed yesterday marks the end of the war and the complete and overwhelming triumph of the cause of right, which is the cause of the Allies. It is not the final treaty of peace. That may not be signed for some weeks or months. It is the end of the slaughter and suffering.. ”The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small”. And to Him Who has so ordered events that as men look back this war seems like the culmination of all modern history and the final vindication of justice all will bow the head in praise. The Allies have triumphed, not because of their strength, though that was immense, but because they fought for a great an noble cause.

Indian Army Canteen Board Cutlery

In 1913 an Army Canteen Board was set up in India to provide, predominantly British, soldiers with food drink and sundry items at regulated prices. This followed similar practices back in Britain where concern over unscrupulous suppliers cheating soldiers out of their meagre wages had encouraged a centrally regulated canteen system. Like the British Army Canteen Committee fork we looked at here, the Indian Army Canteen Board had its own marked cutlery for its establishments and tonight we are looking at two rare examples of these: a fork and a fish knife:FullSizeRender1Compared to many examples of military cutlery they are quite decorative with the fork having an etched design to the head:FullSizeRender2The fish knife blade is equally well decorated:FullSizeRender3The nicest part of both items of cutlery though is the crest stamped into the handle:imageAn Indian style crown is used, along with an elephant, both symbolic of the sub-continent. The Latin motto ‘Res in bello et pace frumentaria’ roughly translates as ‘A source of corn in war and peace’- a fitting motto for a military canteen board. I suspect these were made to be used in a perm enact cafeteria at one of the many cantonments and bases across India. The Times correspondent to Peshawar in 1924 had reached Landi Kotal camp and recorded:

Lunch too, in the restaurant run by the Army Canteen Board is no bad thing at this juncture, for the air is keen and breakfast a long time ago.  

The Canteen Board outlasted its British equivalent, finally being liquidated in 1927 and being replaced with the Canteen Contractor’s Syndicate. The present day Indian Army Canteen Stores Department traces its history back to this original Indian Army Canteen Board of 1913.

Mk VII .303 Rounds

It seems odd that after so long writing this blog it is only now that we are looking at the standard MK VII .303 ball ammunition. This was the most common round of .303 in use by the British Empire for over fifty years and was used in Lee Enfield rifles and in Vickers, Bren and Lewis machine guns.

The MK VII round was first introduced in 1910 as a stop-gap until a new round was introduced (which did not in the end happen) and it was designed to take advantage of the new ‘spitzer’ shape of bullet introduced on the continent. The new round used the standard brass case of the existing .303 round and paired it with a long pointed bullet:imageThe round retains the taper and prominent rim of earlier .303. The bullet itself was held into the case by three crimps on the neck:imageHappily I have an example of this round with a loose head so I can pull it out to show you:imageYou can clearly see the cannelure where the crimps in the case engage. The hole in the base of the head hints at the lead and antimony core at the bottom of the bullet. Although a full metal jacketed round (and thus legal under The Hague Convention), the MK VII had a light-weight aluminium tip and a much denser lead base. Therefore although the round travelled through the air as normal, on contact with a human being the distribution of weight caused it to tumble making far more grievous wounds.

This diagram shows the internal components of a live MK VII round:imageThe following excellent description is from the British Military Small Arms Ammo site and explains the round in far more detail than I could:

The new “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VII” was approved to design RL17146 in November 1910 and shown in LoC Paragraph 15629 dated October 1911. The bullet was to design RL 17069B and both these designs were later replaced by DD/L/14006. Although use of the word “Cordite” in titles had lapsed in 1907, it was sometimes reintroduced to the Mark VII during World War I to distinguish it from the nitrocellulose loaded version. “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch NC Mark VIIz” was approved in May 1916, loaded with DuPont No.16 powder.

The redesigned bullet weighed 174 grains and as introduced had a cannelure near the base into which the case neck was slit crimped. When neck coning replaced the slit crimps for bullet securement in 1944 the cannelure was moved to a new higher position. The bullet was flat based with an 8CRH ogive and a composite core, the forward part usually being aluminium and the rear part a 98/2% lead/antimony alloy. During wartime the aluminium tip was replaced by compressed paper, fibre or ceramic.

From 1911 until about 1943 the bullet envelope was cupro-nickel but from that date gilding metal clad steel became increasingly used. Post WW2 the envelope was generally gilding metal.

The propellant charge was about 37 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 or 41 grains of nitrocellulose to give a muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second at a pressure of 19.5 tsi. A glazeboard or strawboard wad was placed above the propellant.

The headstamp included the numeral “VII” or “VIIZ (“7” or “7Z” after 1944) and a purple primer annulus was approved in June 1918.

The revised Mark VII served through two World Wars, the Korean War and countless other smaller confrontations. It was manufactured in all the major Commonwealth countries and vast quantities were manufactured in America on contract. This resulted in a number of variations, particularly in those manufactured in the United States where the bullets were made with all lead cores without the lighter tip filler. To maintain the weight at 174 grains, these bullets were slightly shorter than the normal Mark VII. Also, ammunition manufactured in the United States and some in Canada utilised a smaller Boxer cap than the normal Berdan one.

A huge variety of manufacturers produced .303 over the years, as witnessed by the head stamps:imageThese two examples were made by Radway Green in 1942 and Royal Laboratory, Woolwich in 1932. For far more details about these rounds please look here.

Olive Green S10 Respirator Haversack

Tonight we are looking at another respirator haversack, that fits in between the olive green butyl nylon example here, and the DPM example here. This respirator haversack was developed as part of the olive green PLCE webbing set, and is made of the same fabric as the rest of the components we have been looking at over the last few weeks:imageThe haversack is made from a plain green Cordua nylon, with a large box lid, secured with Velcro and a press stud:imageThe underside of this lid has two elasticated straps for stowing the user’s NBC gloves. This example has just a single marking under the lid, with the words ‘MADE IN UK’ printed here:imageThe inside of the haversack has a front pocket for carrying nerve agent pens, nerve tablets etc. Two other pockets are fitted in the base of the bag to hold spare canisters:imageHere we see the rear of the haversack. As well as a belt loop at the top, we can see another smaller loop to allow a steadying strap to be passed around the waist to hold the haversack steady so it doesn’t flap around when slung over the shoulder if the wearer needs to run:imageNext to this is a green patch for the owner to put his personal details (although in this case the original user has ignored this and just written his name across the back in black marker!

One major area of difference between this haversack and later examples can be found under the belt loop flap:imageThe ‘T-tabs’ used to attach it to the PLCE belt are made of metal, rather than the plastic which can be seen on the DPM version.

My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for helping me add this interesting variant to my collection.

Ceremonial Gloves

If you watch British military ceremonial parades, you will frequently spot the men and women on the parade ground wearing white gloves. White gloves are often seen as being particularly smart and a number of variations are available for issue depending on the weather. In most conditions simple cotton gloves are used:imageThese secure at the wrist with a small plastic button:imageIn the winter it is more likely that knitted woolen gloves will be issued to help provide a little more insulation for the wearer from the cold:imageA reduction knitted cuff helps keep them secure on the wrist in place of the button:imageIt must be said that wearing gloves is often seen as a mixed blessing. They do look smart and help avoid sweaty hands in the summer and cold hands in the winter. On the other hand they reduce grip on the rifle and make advanced rifle drill more challenging. These white gloves are tri-service and can be seen being worn by the army:imageThe Royal Navy:imageAnd the Royal Air Force: imageThe official instruction on care of ceremonial gloves issued by the RAF give some curious washing instructions:

White Cotton Gloves. When soiled should be washed on the hands using warm soapy water and rinsed until soap free and gently towel dried before carefully removing them from the hands and putting them aside to dry naturally.

Instructions are provided on the wear of the gloves:

Dress Gloves. The correct method of fitting a dress glove is as follows:

  1. A tape should be passed around the hand, just below the knuckle of the first finger and the thick of the palm, this measure in inches usually corresponds to the size of the glove. The donning of the glove is, however, the most important feature.
  2. The four fingers should be inserted into the glove to the fullest extent, the thumb lying on the palm of the hand, then and not before, the thumb should be eased into place.

Most ceremonial gloves are pool clothing items, i.e. they are kept in central stores and issued as required. The staff here are required to check over the gloves for damage::

RAF Pools Ceremonial White Gloves. The pool holding Unit is responsible for laundering of white gloves. On return from loan the gloves are to be examined for serviceability and those considered unfit for ceremonial wear are to be scrapped and replacement demands are to be submitted.

Royal Marines Practicing with a Lewis Gun Photograph

This week’s photograph comes from between the wars and depicts a small group of Royal Marines under instruction on a beach:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2)The men can easily be identified as marines by their cap badges:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2) - CopyIn front of them is a Lewis gun with a number of spare magazines:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (3) - CopyAnd an ammunition box tucked underneath the bench:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (4) - CopyThey are clearly in the tropics as they are wearing KD shirts and shorts:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (5) - CopyIn the background can be seen a group of sailors wearing tropical whites, milling about on the shore:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (6) - CopyA set of Lee Enfield rifles can be seen stacked up in a rifle ‘tepee’ on the sand:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (7) - CopyThis all suggest the marines are part of a detachment on board a ship who have taken the opportunity to come ashore to get in a bit of weapons practice where they have more space. It was rare for a ship smaller than a cruiser to have a marine detachment so they have probably come off of a cruiser or a battleship. The islands look Mediterranean so it seems likely that they were part of one of the cruiser squadrons that made cruises of the islands in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Lewis gun was ideal for the Royal Marines at this period in history. They were often deployed in small groups ashore as landing parties; rifles were portable but had a limited rate of fire whilst the Vickers although offering high rates of fire was far too big and bulky to deploy quickly and easily from a boat. The Lewis was man portable but could lay down far higher rates of fire than a traditional rifle allowing a small party to have a disproportionate effect in a skirmish. It was also used as a close in anti-aircraft gun, with ten being the standard issue to capital ships in 1933. They were fixed to special mountings that allowed them to be fired into the air and traversed quickly to follow the biplanes of the era.