Monthly Archives: November 2017

DPM PRR Radio Pouch

One of the most radical changes to military operations in the last ten to fifteen years has been in the area of personal communications on the battlefield. Today soldiers each have a ‘PRR’ or Personal Role Radio, which allows them secure and quick communication between members of a section on the battlefield. Up until very recently troops had been forced to use whistles or hand signals. The PRR consists of a small headset and microphone that the user wears beneath their helmet and a small receiver and transmitter unit that is normally worn high on the chest, by one shoulder. This transmitter/receiver is carried in a small pouch that holds it securely in place whilst still allowing the operator to access the controls:imageThis pouch is made of a lightweight, but very strong Cordua nylon. Down the side of the pouch are a pair of openings that allow manipulation of the radio’s controls:imageAn elasticated strap is fitted to the top, with a press stud, to secure the PRR into the pouch so it does not risk bouncing out when the soldier runs:imageA pair of adjustable straps with Fastex fasteners are fitted to one side of the pouch:imageIn service these are passed around the back of the pouch, around the shoulder strap of the soldier’s webbing and back to the front to fasten and secure the radio pouch:prr-radio-pouch-british-dpm-bowman_1_1be3896179d1e205df1c22ada38d6a25The label on this pouch is very small and has no more information than an NSN number and the pouch’s use:imageThese radios are part of the troubled ‘Bowman’ system and the MOD ordered 45,000 of them in the late 1990s/ early 2000s. The British Army website gives the official position:

The Personal Role Radio (PRR) is a small transmitter-receiver that allows infantry soldiers to communicate over short distances.

Effective even through thick cover or the walls of buildings, PRR enables section commanders to react quickly and efficiently to rapidly changing situations, including contact with the enemy, greatly increasing the effectiveness of infantry fire teams.

PRR is issued to every member of an eight-strong infantry section.

The system is easy to use through its simple man-machine interface, is unobtrusive and comfortable to wear yet is rugged enough to sustain the harshest environments.

The use of PRR has significantly enhanced combat effectiveness by providing all informed communications to front line soldiers, replacing traditional methods based on shouting and hand signals.original-dpm-pouch-headband-set_360_8b4cc8609a8b25976ff43944c663f359

No 19 Set Morse Key

There were many variations of the humble Morse code key in use by the British during the Second World War; some sources identify up to a hundred different variations. Tonight though we are looking at just one of these, a little Bakelite example:imageThese little keys were used by signallers to tap out messages in Morse code and were normally wired up to a wireless set, which then sent out the dots and dashes as a wireless signal. Alternatively the key could be wired to a signal lamp, more on that in a few days! Examples could be made of brass, Bakelite, silver alloy or sometimes a combination of materials. This example is made of very robust brown Bakelite. It consists of a base and a spring loaded rocker arm with a large Bakelite knob at one end:imageThe base of the key has a stores code marked on it:imageIn this case it is marked ZA16929, and according to the Imperial War Museum’s online database this indicates the key was used with the Wireless Set Number 19. A second marking at the end of the key reads ‘Key WT 8 Amp No2 MK III’:imageThe key works by completing or breaking a circuit every time the knob is pressed down. Normally the connectors nearest the knob are broken and the ones furthest away are connected, pressing down on the knob reverses that position:imageThis gives a great deal of flexibility allowing the key to be used regardless of how a wireless transmitter is wired- just attach the wires from the transmitter to the relevant connectors on the key.

Rod Balkham describes how he learnt Morse:

Over a period of what must have been several months I was turned into an OWL B3 – that is, Operator Wireless and Line (B3 being rated higher than B2, I seem to recall). This transmogrification was achieved mainly by the challenge of competition, plus – in my case in particular – my instinctive reaction to the sensitive understanding of the corporal who was our teacher. Unlike many another army corporal, he commanded respect in a firm but kindly manner, and he knew his job. As with the Bren gun, I became proficient with the Morse key without having to try very hard. To help us learn the Morse Code, the corporal offered us a few mnemonics, based on the rhythm of the dots and dashes. One was ‘Here comes the Bride’ – you can think of the bride as the Queen, he told us – thus arriving at dah dah dit dah for the letter ‘Q’. Another one, which I have good cause never to forget, was ‘Did-it ‘urt cher?’: Dit dit dah dit for the letter ‘F’, followed, inevitably, by ‘Like ‘ell it did’ for ‘L’.

Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 5)- QARNNS

So far all the badges we have looked at have been blue on a white background. Tonight however we have a selection of badges that are red, including a medical trade badge:imageLeading hand’s rank badge:imageAnd a petty officer’s rank badge:imageThese badges were actually for use by the Queen Alexandria’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), and were worn on the traditional blue nurses uniforms:CaptureIn 1883, a committee determined that improvements were needed in medical and nursing care in the Royal Navy. As such, in 1884, a uniformed Naval Nursing Service was introduced, staffed by trained nurses. These nurses served on shore, initially at Haslar and Plymouth.

In 1902, Alexandra of Denmark, the queen consort of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, became President of the Nursing Staff; in her honour, the Naval Nursing service was renamed Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.

Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Reserve was established on 13 October 1910.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, QARNNS was significantly expanded, with many volunteers from the British Red Cross and civilian hospitals; similarly, during the Second World War, many volunteer QARNNS nurses were deployed overseas.

In 1949 a nursing branch of the Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed; however, in 1960 these nurses were integrated into QARNNS, creating a single nursing service. In 1982 an integrated service was formed, allowing men to serve as nurses in QARNNS. The first man to join was Senior Nursing Officer Rajendrasen Purusrum, who was commissioned on 1 March 1983.

Although fully affiliated to the Royal Navy from 1977, QARNNS was technically a separate service until 31 March 2000, when it officially became part of the Royal Navy.

Queen Alexandra was President until her death in 1925. The following year she was succeeded by Queen Mary. Princess Alexandra became Patron in 1955.

The trade badge at the top was to indicate a QARNNS Auxiliary and the design was first introduced in the mid-1960s. The ratings badges were introduced in 1985, the service having its own distinctive rank insignia prior to that point. It was found that those outside the QARNNS did not recognise what the ranks and rates meant so there was a slow move over to more conventional badges. The officers were to follow, with ranks renamed in 1982 when men were permitted to join and in the mid-1990s with the use of conventional rank insignia, but surmounted by a red double ‘A’ badge to indicate their status as nursing officers.

RAF Regiment CS95 Shirt

Over the years we have looked at quite a few badged CS95 shirts in both standard woodland DPM and desert DPM. I am very fond of these shirts, they are normally cheap, plentiful and offer a real variety of different insignia to collect. Looking forward, it would not surprise me if these start to inch up in desirability and price as time moves on- there are no more of them being produced anymore. Looking back at previous trends is not a great way to predict the future, but until thirty years ago collectors were not interested in badged battledress blouses from World War Two- indeed many examples were cut up to leave just the insignia to go in a collector’s scrap book. Today though, original badged battledress is highly prized and easily fetches twice what an un-badged example might. With this in mind, I suspect that going forward many collectors will find a new interest in CS95 clothing, especially if it is badged nicely and to one of the more desirable regiments or units.

Tonight’s example is a standard green DPM shirt:imageThis example though is badged to the RAF Regiment and has a nice array of insignia. We have covered the shirt a number of times so tonight I am focussing on the badges. Above the breast pocket is a large ‘Royal Air Force’ tab:imageWhilst a semi-circular shoulder title is sewn to each shoulder, just below the seam:imageOn the opposite sleeve is a tactical recognition flash:imageThis is the insignia of No II Squadron, RAF Regiment. This unit can trace its history back to 1922, when it was No 2 Armoured Car Company, RAF. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall this unit has been very busy:


In July 1996 II Squadron assumed responsibility for the defence of divisional assets in the Former Yugoslavia Republic (FYR). During the deployment the Squadron expanded its role in the theatre.


In 1997 the stability of Albania was shattered by civil unrest. II Squadron was tasked to supply a flight, to extract British nationals from Tirano Airport.


Relieving 34 Squadron RAF Regiment in June 1998, II Squadron assumed responsibility for the defence of the RAF detachment at Ali Al Salem.


II Squadron secured Pristina airfield by actively patrolling the towns and villages surrounding it, controlling the main roads on the approach to the airfield and policing and controlling inter-racial factions.


In June 2001, II Squadron was tasked to conduct an estimate of the defensive requirements in Sierra Leone for a Special Air Operations detachment.


II Squadron contributed to the ongoing public information and capability demonstration within Sierra Leone, designed to reassure the law abiding locals of the continuing UK commitment to ensuring the stability within the region.


II Squadron assumed the duties of Resident Field Squadron in Kuwait.


II Squadron deployed and found itself deployed across a 900 Km frontage in 3 countries: Jordan; Saudi Arabia; and the Iraqi Western Desert.


II Squadron was deployed in defence of Basra International Airport.


Once again II Squadron deployed as the Resident Field Squadron at Basra International Airport.


II Squadron assumed the duties of Resident Field Squadron at Kandahar International Airport.


II Squadron deployed for its last time as the Resident Field Squadron at Basra International Airport.


II Squadron once again assumed the duties of Resident Field Squadron at Kandahar International Airport.


II Squadron assumed the duties of Resident Field Squadron at Camp Bastion.

Here we can see an example of the II Squadron RAF Regiment TRF badge being worn by a parachutist:no-2-sqn-raf-regt-2

Royal Field Artillery Postcard

This week’s postcard is a delightful image of a gunner standing in front of a stone barrack block ‘somewhere in Britain’: SKM_C45817091209230What makes this particularly nice is that, not only do we have an exact date for the postcard, but also a lovely drawing of his cap badge, on the back: SKM_C45817091209240From this we can see that the postcard dates to May 1916 and he was a member of the Royal Field Artillery. The same badge is worn on his cap: SKM_C45817091209230 - CopyOther distinctive artillery features include the white lanyard: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (2)1903 pattern bandolier slung over his shoulder: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (4)And the distinctive spurs and lace protectors worn over his boots: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (5)In his hands he carries a riding crop (and a cigarette!): SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (6)The Royal Field Artillery were involved in fighting from the very start of the war, right through until the end and this account of the Battle of Mons by an officer of the Royal Field Artillery gives a flavour of what life was like in action:

We came in to action at the top of a hill. There were a few infantry entrenched down the far side of the hill and a German horse battery shelling the plateau.

The major, poor chap, this was the last I saw of him, went ahead down the hillside towards the Germans to observe. He gained a shallow trench, but he was shot by a shrapnel bullet between the eyes and killed outright.

Things were by no means comfortable with the battery and were not improved by the infantry on our right all coming back on the double. We tried to stop them and make them form up again, but of course had our own work to do. Captain Newlands took command, and gave us the line and range of 800 yards, as the Germans were apparently coming up the slope.

Owing to a wagon having stuck in a ditch at the side of a road and ammunition having to be fetched up to the gun from it, my detachment was very short-handed. So I served the gun during the action and was dammed glad to have something to do which took my mind off the bursting German shrapnel which was making a most horribly uncomfortable whistling and singing noise… We finished every round we had, searching and sweeping and then got the order to retire. The horses and teams were brought up extraordinarily well under the quarter-master sergeant who was acting captain.

PLCE Wire Cutter Pouch

As well as the standard infantry load bearing equipment, a number of specialist pouches were also developed for the PLCE set. Wire cutters have been issued to soldiers almost since the introduction of barbed wire as a defensive weapon in the mid-nineteenth century. Some of these designs of cutters were to prove exceptionally long lasting and the folding British army wire cutters had a very lengthy service life and I believe they are still in general use today, despite the design dating back at least as far as 1915- over a hundred years for a piece of kit is not a bad service life!

The PLCE frog for these cutters is a wedge shaped pouch in DPM Cordua nylon:imageThe cutters fit in like this:imageDue to the heavy duty nature of the contents, the top flap of this pouch is secured with both a press stud and a strip of Velcro:imageThis particular example was manufactured in 2004 as indicated on the label sewn onto the underside of the top flap:imageThe back of the pouch will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of PLCE webbing:imageThe small loop is to pass a steadying string through. Above this is the main belt loop, secured with press studs. Lifting this flap reveals the plastic T-bars that engage with the small pockets on a PLCE belt:imageI don’t believe this pouch is too hard to find, but as with this example you might have to source the cutters themselves separately and then put the pair back together again!

Territorial Army Lapel Badge

During the late 1930s local Territorial Army units started pressurising the War Office for some form of recognition for those who had joined their ranks. It was suggested that members either be given a certificate they could frame and hang at home, or some sort of lapel badge that could be worn with civilian clothes to show the commitment of the man to the force. The War Office gauged the opinions of TA units and in 1935 it was clear most were in favour of the badge. It was finally in March 1937 that the War Office granted permission for a badge to be issued.

The design settled on was a based around the letters ‘TA’ with a kings crown above and a lion springing forward below:imageThis design was the brainchild of a Mr Coombes of the Royal Mint and was to be made of sterling silver. The badge was approved by the King in March 1938 and the order for the first 250,000 was placed on 19th March 1938.

The badges has a lapel fitting on the back and a number can be found stamped on them here:imageEach badge was uniquely numbered and a register was maintained by local TA associations. It was expected that if a man left the TA, the badge would be returned and struck off the list. Sadly it is unclear if these registers still survive, as it would be very interesting to be able to identify the original owners of these badges.

Naturally the badges numbered ‘1’ and ‘2’ were presented to the King and Queen as honorary colonels of the TA.

The design was to be used for many years and examples can be found from the post-war period with a Queen’s crown at the top, these post war examples can also be found with a pin fastener rather than the lapel fastener. The badge was also used in printed form on a variety of leaflets and posters:imageBill Spry was a member of the TA during the 1930s:

I joined the T.A in 1932 at the suggestion of my uncle, Lionel Simpson, who was already a member. After an interview at the H.Q in Park St. Drill Hall, I was given a sealed envelope to take to a doctor’s house in Cathedral R.C Cardiff for my medical examination. The door was answered by a maid, she took the envelope and told me to return the next day. I did so and she gave me a sealed envelope back which I handed in to the H.Q office. I was told that I had passed the medical! I had to add a year on to my age to join, (I was fifteen) and for my first year was rated as “Boy Spry”. I also gave my name as “William James” Spry which I thought was correct, whereas it is actually “James William” Spry. Any eventual discharge papers included these particulars and caused me quite a few problems. My first camp 1932, was in Monmouth under canvas, very wet, very miserable, ablution and toilets in the open air. We slept in bell tents my place was under the flap so that anyone entering or leaving had to step over me. In the Mess tent eight men were assigned per table. Food was supplied in one big dish for each table. The senior men then divided the food onto plates. Guess who got the smallest portion and the stringiest piece of meat! In spite of this I got the prize for the “best recruit”. Incidentally, my pay as a “boy” was eight pence per day. The following year 1933, the annual camp was in Penally, near Tenby, in huts and fine weather. Each man was issued with three heavy blankets, (no sheets). Each morning these had to be folded neatly and laid out with the rest of the kit in the proscribed manner. Returning to my hut one morning I saw with dismay that one of my blankets was missing, stolen. I reported this to my sergeant. He said “No problem, go and take someone else’s”. I said that I couldn’t do that. He replied “That’s an order, do it”.

Waiting until the hut was empty I took the blanket from another bed and put it on mine. Returning to the hut later that day I was pleased to see that the bed I had robbed was back to three blankets! I attended camp each year until 1939. In 1933 I was rated signalman, pay 3/6d f.d. In 1934, I was promoted to lance corporal, 1935 Corporal, 1936 lance sergeant. Our uniform included bandolier, breeches and spurs (very smart). This was because until 1931 horses had been used to pull the cable wagons and the army had not got around to changing our uniforms.