Monthly Archives: October 2017

Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 1)- Introduction

As well as their badge of rank, Royal Naval ratings also wear a badge indicating their trade qualifications. These badges have changed many times over the years, reflecting the different trades that have come and gone in the navy as technology and roles have changed. There are a bewildering range of these badges for the collector, both those which are still in service and those that are now obsolete. Detailed information on these badges is very sparse and it can be hard to get a positive ID on what a badge represents and what exactly it’s original wearer would have been expected to do. Over the coming weeks I am aiming to post weekly a different trade badge and explain what it represents and provide some background. There are variations with stars and crowns representing differing levels of qualification and where I have examples of different levels of the same trade badge I will post these together.

Tonight though we are going to start with some background and then look in detail at the badges themselves later.  Trade badges are either embroidered in gold on black for wear with the No1 dress uniform or they are printed or embroidered in blue on white for wear on working uniforms. The current system of trade badges dates back to 1975 and the level of proficiency in a trade is usually closely allied with a sailor’s rating. The lowest trade badge is that word by an AB2 (previously known as an Ordinary Seaman). This is the trade badge without any stars or crown and indicates that wearer has passed out of basic training and chosen his or her branch and is currently undergoing specialist training:imageOnce this training has been completed the sailor is an AB1 and to indicate they are qualified, the badge is worn with a star above the branch device:imageThis then indicates the wearer has a basic level of training and is now suitable to be deployed aboard ship. The next level is that attained by Leading Hands and is indicated by a star above and below the device:imageThis indicates a higher level of trade proficiency and the wearer can be expected to be able to carry out more complex tasks and lead others. The next rung on the ladder is a Petty Officer and this trade badge is the basic device surmounted by a crown:imageAll the above devices are worn on the sleeve. Once a rating reaches the position of Chief Petty Officer the badges move to the collars on the No 1 uniform, and above the pocket on the chest for the working uniform:imageMany of these trade badges are easily available for insanely cheap prices- I recently picked up a large number for 25p each. They make a fascinating little collection and are an ideal starting point for anyone getting into naval insignia. Next Tuesday we will start taking a detailed look at some specific badges.

Help the Soldiers! Ticket

Throughout the Great War fundraising went on across the country to raise money for charitable causes, including the armed forces. These events were often arranged by local stately homes under the patronage of a local member of the gentry. A small fee was charged for entry and a variety of entertainments, food and stalls were provided to entertain the public and raise money. Tonight we have a ticket from one of those fundraising events in September 1915: SKM_C284e17102416010 - CopyStanden Hall is just south of Clitheroe in Lancashire and was in the Great War, and indeed still is, the seat of the Aspinall family. Standen Hall is a large ‘H’ shaped Palladian style country house, updated in 1757: Standen Hall Clitheroe 1Many of the ‘great and good opened their houses up as a location for charitable fundraisers, as in the case of Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis of Ruthin Castel, as reported in the Daily Mail in September 1915:

Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis are lending the grounds of Ruthin Castle today for a fete which they have organised for the French, Italian and Polish relief funds.

Fetes and fundraisers often had an historic theme, emphasising patriotism and ‘Britishness’ in a time of war. An Elizabethan theme was chosen for a Red Cross Fete held in 1916:

The scene in the hall and gardens of the Middle Temple on July 13 and 14, when a fete is to be held for the Red Cross and Order of St John, will carry one back to the days of Queen Elizabeth, as the decorations and dresses of the waitresses at tea and the programme sellers will be carried out in the designs of that period.

Scenes from “Twelfth night” and also from “Much Ado about Nothing” in which Sir George Alexander and Miss Ellen Terry will appear are to be given. Lady Diana Manners, Miss Elizabeth Asquith and Miss Lloyd George will be amongst the many programme sellers; and Mrs Patrick Campbell will preside over the flower stall. The Temple Choir will sing old English glees and songs.

The Lord Chief Justice is the president of the fete and Sir Samuel Evans the Vice President of the fete.

Both of these newspaper articles show the importance placed on having a man of influence, or his wife, involved with fundraising. The press made a point of naming these influential people and it was seen as a good way of promoting events- the important personage adding legitimacy to the event. Equally for those being invited to take on this function it was an important part of how they and their peers saw their place in society. Aristocratic women of the era did not have traditional employment and thus had the spare time to organise worthy events and help run them, gaining social standing and prestige amongst their peers for their good works.

The charitable sector had a crucial role to play in the Great War, providing funds for many of the projects and equipment needed by soldiers, animals and refugees that the government was unable or unwilling to provide. Although other causes did benefit from fundraising, it seems that the public’s imagination was most animated by charities that focused on servicemen, animals in wartime and those displaced by the war such as the Belgian refugees. There seems to have been a large batch of these particular tickets found recently as they are for sale on eBay for a few pounds each.


Interwar Indian Army Photograph Album

During the Great War most informal photographs of military life were taken by officers. The Kodak vest model was introduced in 1912 and was hugely popular, however even though it was easily affordable to the officer classes, it was still out of reach of most private soldiers. Most ordinary soldiers therefore used a much cheaper camera, the Box Brownie. Even so the opportunities to take photographs in wartime was very limited and it was not until the inter-war period that we start to see photography really taking off amongst the private soldiery. Photographs by ordinary soldiers are still comparatively rare however as unless they were near to a large town to get them developed, the kit and chemicals needed to develop early film were bulky and expensive and again much easier for officers to access.

Tonight we have a series of photographs from India between the wars that I believe were taken by an ordinary soldier and depict everyday life in the Jewel of Empire. I debated looking at the photographs individually but I feel the impact and impression of daily life is far clearer by looking at them as a set. None are of great artistic merit, but they do capture the atmosphere and sense of place very well and some of my particular favourites are the soldiers on bicycles and the native sepoy. This is very much a barrack room view of army life and the photographs depict ordinary soldiers and NCOs rather than the officers, the barracks are dusty and simple and the landscapes are of the rough country around the base rather than any spectacular views from a Raja’s palace- I rather like them all the more for their simplicity and ordinariness. Sadly I have no context at all for he photographs and we do not know when, where or by whom they were taken.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image and to view them as a slideshow.



Grenade, British and Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades- Book Review

“Grenade, British and  Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades” was first published back in 2001 but I have only recently added a copy to my reference library and I suspect many of you, like me, had not realised just what an excellent book it is. The book is currently selling for eye watering prices on Amazon, however far more affordable copies are available for purchase and I include a link at the end for a more sensibly priced supplier.imageGrenades have been used for many centuries, but rather fell out of favour in the nineteenth century. The Great War though brought the back to the frontline and there was a massive proliferation of these weapons in many different configurations. Happily for the authors and ourselves, these grenades were logically numbered from ‘Grenade No1’ onwards in a standard sequence and the authors look at each design in turn, drawing heavily on contemporary sources for descriptions, preparation and use of these munitions. Obviously some grenades get more detail than others- the various iterations of Mills bomb being an obvious example. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and original diagrams illustrating the internal workings of each grenade. In a nice touch, many of the sections on grenades include information on the packaging of the grenades and the markings on ammunition boxes.imageThe book is slightly weaker on more modern grenades, for the simple fact that as many are still in use or covered by the thirty year ruling, they were still classified at the time of the book’s publication. With the authors hailing from Australia, there is also quite a bit of detail on Australian grenades, but less so on other commonwealth countries, although Canada is covered briefly. The book is rounded out by a section on grenade launchers and launching cartridges- an often overlooked topic as well as methods of carrying the grenades and a few examples of heroism from soldiers who won the VC with grenades.imageThis is truly an authoritative volume and I have learnt an awful lot from it- indeed I heartily wish I had access to it whilst writing some of the grenade posts on to blog as it would have helped provide me with a lot more information. I have no hesitation in recommending this book, and copies can be purchased for £40 each plus postage from here.image

RAF Ground Tradesman’s Smock Liner

Continuing this blogs ever increasing coverage of quilted liner clothing, tonight we have another variation on the smock liner:imageThis example is actually an RAF Ground Tradesman’s smock liner and would have been worn by RAF ground crew servicing aircraft in cold conditions- air bases in Britain and West Germany were notoriously cold places in winter so extra layers would have been very much appreciated.

One of the dangers around aircraft is that small pieces of debris can fall out and are then sucked into engines with disastrous results- even something as innocuous seeming as a button could potentially destroy a jet engine worth many millions of pounds. Because of this risk, this smock liner is secured up the front by sewn in pieces of Velcro rather than the buttons seen on many army smock liners:imageApart from that there is very little difference between this and other examples of the liner. It is made of the same quilted green nylon, with polyester batting between the two layers of fabric. The same green mesh is used to aid ventilation in the particularly sweaty parts of the body, here the arm pits:imageIt is the sewn in label that here indicates that this is RAF issue and for ground crew:imageThe liner was made by Dashmore Clothing and they seem to have had a number of large MoD orders for uniforms in the mid to late 1980s and then disappeared again from military procurement.

This is another great variant of the quilted liners and joins my growing collection of different types- there are still more out there to find so I am sure this is not the last you will be seeing of the ‘Chinese fighting suit’ on the blog…you have been warned!

Canadian 37 Pattern Holster

Canada had some interesting variations to the standard 37 pattern webbing used across the empire. One of the most radical was their standard pistol holster which has a far more curved shape than that manufactured in other countries:imageThis was actually the second pattern of Canadian holster, the first pattern was the same as a standard British 37 pattern holster. In 1942 though, a new design was introduced that better fitted large frame revolvers such as the World War One .455 Webleys and Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors. Although officially replaced by .380 versions, these older and larger revolvers were still popular amongst the Canadians for their stopping power, but they were too big for a standard 37 pattern holster. The new Canadian design accommodated these revolvers easily and was still perfectly compatible with a standard .380 revolver (as seen in the photographs in this post). As is typical of Canadian production, the webbing is of excellent quality, with a separate tape binding sewn along every seam. The base of the holster has a small brass drainage hole fitted to allow water to drain away easily:imageThe top flap is secured has a nice curved shape and rounded corners secured with a smooth brass press stud, produced by ‘United Carr’ of Canada:imageThe back of the holster is fairly standard and mirrors the design of the standard Mills product:imageThe holster is secured to the belt by two brass ‘c’ hooks and a top ‘c’ hook to allow it to be fastened to the pistol ammunition pouch:imageA channel is sewn into the inside of the holster to fit a cleaning rod into:imageThe holster is marked inside ‘ZL&T Ltd’ with a manufactured date of 1943 and a Canadian acceptance mark of /|\ inside a ‘C’:imageThis holster was manufactured by the Zephyr Loom and Textiles Ltd, one of two main Canadian manufacturers. For a detailed study of Canadian webbing development check out this excellent thread.

Sterling SMG Magazines

Last year we looked at the Sterling sub machine gun here. At the time the excellent magazines issued with the gun were mentioned, but the post did not go into more details. Tonight however we are taking a closer look at two different Sterling magazines and the story they reveal.

The Sterling sub machine gun was manufactured, obviously enough, by the Sterling company. However in the mid 1950s the government owned Royal Ordnance Factory Fazakerly started secretly making its own version of the gun for the army. Naturally the Sterling company were not too happy about this arrangement and took the government to court. In the end it was agreed that ROF could finish the rest of the MoD’s contract, whilst Sterling got exclusive rights to market, manufacture and sell the weapons overseas. Both companies produced spare parts and accessories for the weapons and after the ROF stopped manufacture in 1960 all the British Army’s maintenance spares were produced by Sterling. There were subtle differences between the two manufacturers and tonight we are looking at a pair of magazines that illustrate this point:imageHere the upper magazine is an ROF example, and the lower the Sterling manufactured example. The first obvious difference is in the finish- the Sterling example is in a matt black, the ROF version is glossier. The shape of the magazines is also different, with the ROF version having a stepped shoulder where the magazine would be inserted into the SMG’s magazine housing. Turning to the back of the magazines again we can see major manufacturing differences:imageThe ROF example is made of two halves electrically seam welded along the back, the Sterling example is  made of four pieces with a distinctive scalloping shape along the back, each piece being spot welded together.

The front edge shows a further difference with the ROF version having an extra supporting lug:imageAlthough manufacture and details differ, the feed lips on both are identical- this being an essential feature to ensure that the magazines work consistently and reliably, regardless of manufacture.imageMarkings for the Sterling made examples are stamped across the back and read “MAGAZINE STERLING 9MM 34RDS”:imageThe ROF version is stamped on the top of the magazine “MAGAZINE 9MM L1A2”:imageBoth magazines are superbly well made and the differences do not affect their use- however the story of why they are different is an interesting one.