Monthly Archives: December 2017

HMS Eagle at Capetown Photograph

Welcome to the final post of 2017, I hope you have all had a pleasant weekend and tomorrow we will start the fifth year of the blog! It seems a little strange putting it like that, but the blog started back in 2014, and I have covered a lot of ground in that time. I think I am right in saying (although I have no empirical evidence), that Tales From the Supply Depot is the most popular British and Empire militaria blog in the world (if only because there are very few others out there!). This would not be the case if it were not for you, the loyal reader who keeps coming back to read more of my twaddle! My thanks go out to you for reading, commenting and interacting with the blog and all being well I will keep buying bits of military junk, I will keep writing about them and you will keep reading it!

Tonight being a Sunday we have our customary photograph to look at and tonight it is a fine study of HMS Eagle, an Audacious class aircraft carrier:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (6)This photograph was taken at Capetown, as can be seen from Table Mountain towering up in the background:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (4)The ships pennant number, R05, can be seen painted on the central island, giving us an easy way to identify the ship:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (2)Note the massive Type 984 radar above the bridge. The whole island and bridge was completely rebuilt when the carrier underwent refit in 1964. Arrayed in front of the island are part of the carrier’s air group. She carried a mixture of Sea Vixen, Scimitar and Buccaneer aircraft as well as Fairey Gannet reconnaissance planes, one of which can be seen on the stern, just in front of the ensign:SKM_C284e17120411481 - CopyThe ship is clearly manned for entering or leaving port as the decks are packed with sailors, all lining the sides:SKM_C284e17120411481 - Copy (3)The following account is of HMS Eagle’s time in Capetown:

We were certainly glad of our blues for the ceremonial entry into Capetown. The helicopter brought out the pilot and the Admiral- Flag officer, Second-in-Command of the Far East Fleet. We watched as the first rays of sunshine dissolved the table-cloth and crept down from the tiny lift house at the top of Table Mountain to the flats and office blocks below, and we listened to the noise of the saluting guns as they echoed around the rocks. Berthed as centrally as one could hope for, we were quickly ashore for a ‘leg stretch’ and the first chance to savour the tremendous hospitality that became a feature of the cruise. Special offices were set up on board and ashore to cater for invitation to lunches, for drives and barbeques.

For those who enjoy sightseeing there was, of course, the cable-car trip to the top of the mountain. Some visited the Rhodes memorial at Rosebank, and many took coach trips farther afield; either round the Cape and to the Cape of Good Hope itself, or along False Bay, past Cape Hangklip and up into the mountains to the flatness of the plateaux behind them; from the barrenness of the mountainous moorlands to the fertile apple growing areas and vineyards.

Snow Shoes, Assault

Walking and working in deep snow brings many challenges. A major one is that it is easy to sink into the snow if it is not compacted and this them makes walking extremely tiring as you have to trudge your way through. It is far better to be able to walk across the top without sinking in and lightweight snow shoes have been used for centuries inn areas of heavy snowfall to make it easier to move about. The idea is to strap something large, but light, onto your feet that then distributes your weight resulting in a lower ground pressure and stops you from sinking in. For several decades the British Army have been using this design of snowshoe for Arctic warfare:imageThe shoes are made of a lightweight tubular plastic frame, with criss-crossing heavy duty vinyl plastic straps, here in orange:imageThese are riveted to each other to make a web that helps hold the wearer up:imageOn the base of each snow shoe are a pair of angled aluminium strips with teeth to help grip the snow:imageA heavy duty orange strap with a metal buckle is fitted to pass over the toe of the user’s boot:imageOther straps are made of white nylon and surround the boot to help hold the snow shoe on securely (the last thing you want is for it to slip off in the middle of the snow!):imageThese straps have metal buckles that allow them to be easily tightened:imageNote the long gripping tabs to make it easier to adjust the boot straps when wearing heavy gloves. These snow shoes have been used for decades, and are still listed in the British Army stores catalogues:CaptureAs can be seen, the ones in the catalogue are made entirely in white, but both orange and white versions seem to be in use alongside each other, as seen in this image of them being worn by the Royal Marines:imageNote that they are being used with ski-poles to help aid balance- snow shoes are very effective but they do make you a little clumsy!

British Army Sweeping Brush

Tonight we have another of those items that only really belongs on this blog because of a tiny ownership mark! This little sweeping brush is part of dustpan and brush set, although the dustpan is sadly missing:imageIt has a black painted wooden handle and horsehair bristles:imageBut what makes it interesting is the tiny gold lettering along the back of the handle:imageFrom this we can see a /|\ ownership mark indicating military ownership and a date of 1976.

The military have always placed a high regard on cleanliness and men are supposed to keep their barracks or cabins spotlessly clean at all times. In order to do this, shared cleaning products are supplied with brooms, dusters, polishes and brushes issued to a group of men with which to keep everything clean. It is almost always the case that there are never enough of any of these supplies and one wonders if this is done deliberately to foster co-operation and team work (or the MoD are just penny pinching).

It is expected that barrack blocks be cleaned every day and usually this will consist of ensuring there is no dust or litter anywhere, toilets and wash rooms are clean and that any rubbish bins are empty. During training the level of cleanliness is much higher and depending on those inspecting the barracks copper pipes may need to be polished, stones outside whitewashed and locker padlocks arranged so they are all matching. Whilst frequently grumbled about, cleaning becomes so engrained in military personnel that many take these standards forward into civilian life when they leave, much to the annoyance of their partners!

L1A1 M72 LAW Rocket Launcher

The Second World War ended with a number of different weapons in service to defeat tanks. The British were using the unique PIAT spigot mortar, the Americans the very effective by cumbersome and expensive bazooka and the Germans the cheap and lightweight panzerfaust. Following the war extensive design and development work was done by many different nations in an attempt to find a lightweight, yet effective, anti-tank system. The British initially used the ENERGA anti-tank rifle grenade, but in the 1967 adopted the US designed M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon). This was a one shot disposable rocket launcher system that came in a simple fibreglass tube, with controls on the top: Capture 2

Capture1This was extended outwards when ready to fire:Capture 4Capture 3As the two tubes are pulled apart spring loaded sights pop up, a metal frame with a plastic graticule on the front: imageAnd a simple metal peep sight on the rear: imageThe rear of the LAW has a metal cover over it, missing on this example, that is secured with a safety pin: imageThis pin is removed and the safety pulled forward from ‘safe’ to ‘arm’: imageThe large rubber button on the top is then depressed to fire. The launcher fires a 66mm HEAT rocket, and a warning reminds troops to keep clear of the rear as there is substantial back blast: imageThe rocket has a range of about 300m. Simple pictogram style instructions are attached to the body of the launcher:Capture 7This example is a British used LAW, and has markings indicating it was produced in June 1976:Capture 5The LAW system was used by the British infantry until the mid-1980s:image

imageRecently an urgent operational requirement in Afghanistan has seen the launchers pulled back out of stores and issued to troops for use against compounds and light buildings:3-para-lasmThe LAW was packaged in packs of five fibreboard boxes, and three boxes were carried in one wooden crate. As a one shot weapon they were used and the launcher then thrown away- normally after rendering it destroyed. The Vietcong were able to repurpose discarded M72 tubes during the Vietnam War so now troops are more careful in leaving behind what they see as rubbish for fear of it being used against them in a crude and improvised way. This launcher is deactivated to enable it to be legally owned in the UK.Capture 6

Civil Defence Corps Enamelled Badges

Civil Defence services had largely been wound up at the end of the Second World War. In 1949 however they were restarted, the impending threat of nuclear attack from the USSR and it’s vassal states requiring the introduction of some form of local support to civilians in case of war. This new Civil Defence service had a number of pieces of insignia, some of which we have looked at before. The designs of the post war Civil Defence service are different from wartime badges, but are frequently muddled up by collectors and dealers. Tonight we are looking at a number of little enamelled badges:imageThese badges have a central motif of a lion, surrounded by ‘Civil Defence Corps’ on a blue enamelled field. They are topped by a crown; either the King’s crown indicating they are from between 1949 and 1953, or the more bulbous Queen’s crown introduced after Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne:imageThe badges are offered with either lapel or brooch type fittings:imageThe lapel fittings were for men, fashions of the day meant most men wore suits with a button hole on the lapel for these badges. The women have a pin fastener that could be attached to a piece of clothing or a hat easily.

The Civil Defence Corps (CDC) was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain in 1949 to mobilise and take local control of the affected area in the aftermath of a major national emergency, principally envisaged as being a Cold War nuclear attack. By March 1956, the Civil Defence Corps had 330,000 personnel. It was stood down in Great Britain in 1968, although two Civil Defence Corps still operate within the British Isles, namely the Isle of Man Civil Defence Corps and Civil Defence Ireland (Republic of Ireland). Many other countries maintain a national Civil Defence Corps, usually having a wide brief for assisting in large scale civil emergencies such as flood, earthquake, invasion, or civil disorder.

You will note that the Queen’s crown example above has the letters ‘ICDS’. This stands for the ‘Industrial Civil Defence Service’ and were units based around factories and industry rather than civilian population centres.

The Industrial Civil Defence Service was a similar organisation to the Civil Defence Corps, but separate from it. Every industrial or commercial undertaking which employed two hundred or more people could form a civil defence unit to protect its own property and staff. These units were organised in a similar way to the Civil Defence Corps, with Headquarters, Warden, Rescue, First Aid and Fire Guard Sections. The Fire Guard Section manned fire points and smaller fire appliances. Each unit had its own control post, and groups of units could form a group control post. Group control posts and control posts in larger factories had the status of warden posts in their own right, whereas smaller units answered to their local Civil Defence Corps warden post.

Royal Artillery Indian Christmas Card

Now we are all filled up on mince pies and mulled wine, we come to the last of our annual Christmas related objects, a third and final Christmas card (I hope you haven’t been too bored by all these!). This card is from a member of the Royal Artillery and shares a lot of design similarities with the example we looked at on Christmas Eve:SKM_C284e17120716040The card has the same basic design of a regimental crest on the front and a piece of ribbon in the regimental colours to secure all the parts together. Inside the card has a nice line drawing of a boar hunt in India:SKM_C284e17120716041This hunt, known as ‘pig sticking’ was hugely popular amongst officers in India before the partition. The following detailed description comes from a hunting website and explains the practice:

The modern sport is the direct descendant of bear spearing which was popular in Bengal until the beginning of the 19th century, when the bears had become so scarce that wild pigs were substituted as the quarry. The weapon used by the Bengalese was a short, heavy, broad-bladed javelin. British officers introduced the spear or lance and this has become the recognized method of hunting wild pigs in India. The season for hunting in northern India, the present headquarters of the sport, is from February to July. The best horses should be quick and not too big. Two kinds of weapon are used. The long, or underhand, spear, weighing from two to three pounds, has a light, tough bamboo shaft, from seven to eight feet long, armed with a small steel head of varying shape. This spear is held in the hand about two-thirds the distance from the point, with the knuckles turned down and the thumb along the shaft. The short, or jobbing, spear is from six to six and a half feet long, and somewhat heavier than the longer weapon. It is grasped near the butt, with the thumb up. Although easier to handle in the jungle, it permits the nearer approach of the boar and is therefore more dangerous to man and mount.

Having arrived at the bush-grown or marshland haunt of the pigs, the quarry is “reared,” i.e. chased out of its cover, by a long line of beaters, usually under the command of a mounted shikari. Sometimes dogs and guns loaded with small shot are used to induce an animal to break cover. The mounted sportsmen, placed on the edge of the cover, attack the pig as soon as it appears, the honour of “first spear,” or “spear of honour,” i.e. the thrust that first draws blood, being much coveted. As a startled or angry wild boar is a fast runner and a desperate fighter the pig-sticker must possess a good eye, a steady hand, a firm seat, a cool head and a courageous heart. For these reasons the military authorities encourage the sport, which is for the most part carried on by the tent clubs of the larger Indian station.

Robert Baden Powell gave what seems to be a most remarkable description to modern ears:

Try it before you judge. See how the horse enjoys it, see how the boar himself, mad with rage, rushes wholeheartedly into the scrap, see how you, with your temper thoroughly roused, enjoy the opportunity of wreaking it to the full. Yes, hog-hunting is a brutal sport—and yet I loved it, as I loved also the fine old fellow I fought against…Not only is pig-sticking the most exciting and enjoyable sport for both the man and horse as well, but I really believe that the boar enjoys it too.

The card was sent from Muttra, in the United Provinces:SKM_C284e17120716041 - Copy (2)Muttra was one of the main centres for the sport, as recounted by Francis Ingall in his great book ‘Last of the Bengal Lancers’:

Hog-hunting was a popular sport in the sub-continent in those days, but it was most enthusiastically pursued at Meerut, Muttra and Delhi. Generally speaking, only the male pig was considered eligible for the hunter’s spear. The wild-board of India can weigh well over three-hundred pounds; he has razor-sharp tushes about six-inches long, is incredibly speedy and agile, and knows no fear. Even the lordly tiger in his own jungle will turn away from a big tusker on the rampage. A quick flick of that massive head with its wicked tushes and man, horse or tiger lies bleeding and disembowelled in a pool of blood and guts.

Commander in Chief Far East Station Christmas Card

Merry Christmas! I hope you are all enjoying a restive and happy Christmas Day. We are continuing our annual tradition of looking at a Christmas related object on the day itself and tonight we have the second of three different Christmas cards for you. Tonight’s card has a naval connection and is sent from the Commander in Chief of the Far East Station:SKM_C284e17120716040 - Copy (2)The commander in chief’s pennant can be seen on the front of the card:SKM_C284e17120716040 - Copy (2) - CopyInside there is a wonderful graphic of the far east, with a Chinese dragon:SKM_C284e17120716050 - CopyThe Commander in Chief’s flag can be seen at the bottom over Singapore, which was the Far East Station during the immediate post war period. The card was sent to a Mrs Henderson by ‘Bill’:SKM_C284e17120716050 - Copy (2)The position of Commander in Chief was an important one and was usually filled by a Vice Admiral, as indicated by the pennant which is that a Vice Admiral is entitled to fly. After the Second World War the British reoccupied Singapore and it remained a major naval base throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The shore establishment, known as HMS Terror, only closed in 1972 with the withdrawal of British naval interests East of Suez. Today the Royal Navy maintains a small maintenance depot on one wharf in the naval base that is now run by the Singaporean Navy. One ex-sailor extols the virtues of the naval base:

Anyway, to Terror . Although not ship’s company I spent a very pleasant period at the establishment in the ’50s while the vessel I was attached to underwent a refit. The pleasures of the base and Singapore itself were many and varied . From the facilities of Terror to the stopping places en-route to the big city there was never a dull moment . Nee Soon, and that poor creature No Nose, to the questionable delights of Bugis Street the variety was endless.

Terror itself provided all a matelot could want from the basic comfort of the blocks to the magnificent swimming pool and the playing fields, it was indeed a holiday type experience compared to some of the UK establishments . Alas , I understand Singas is no longer such an interesting place now it has been ‘ made over ‘ into a huge city of tall buildings not unlike the HK transformation from a character filled experience to another ‘ big city ‘ no doubt impersonal and without the many features provided by ‘ real people ‘ .

I wish I’d taken more phots while there, what with the Union Jack Club and the Brit Club plus all the other sources of entertainment it was indeed ‘ a good run ashore ‘. Happy daze.