I hope you are all having a restful Christmas Eve and you are looking forward to tomorrow. As is now customary on the blog, the next three days will see us focus on Christmas related objects, this year we have three different Christmas cards. We start tonight with a card sent from an officer in the 2nd King Edward’s Own Ghurkha Rifles. I believe this card dates form between the wars and has the regiment’s crest embossed on the front:The card is held together with a piece of ribbon in the regimental colours. Inside there is a painting of a member of the regiment during the Indian Mutiny:The caption which accompanies this painting reads:
Incident in the Subzee Mundee, Delhi, 1857
An eye-witness to this incident relates how he saw a rebel thrust his head through an opening in a serai wall just as a man of the Regiment arrived under it. The latter at once seized the rebel by the hair and struck off his head with his khukri.
The card was sent to ‘Aunt may’ from ‘Tim’:The sender also included a short hand written message on the back:This reads:
I have managed to get leave- 7 days- over Christmas and am travelling door to door. Everything seems to be going alright, but return here after Christmas. I am looking forward immensely to getting home.
Please give my love to William and David, with my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
The 2nd King Edward’s Own Ghurkha Rifles was one of the regiments that remained with the UK after the partition of India and was merged with other Ghurkha regiments in 1994 to become part of the Royal Ghurkha Rifles.
In September 1939 the King spoke to the merchant mariners of the united Kingdom:
In these anxious days I would like to express to all Officers and Men and in The British Merchant Navy and The British Fishing Fleets my confidence in their unfailing determination to play their vital part in defence. To each one I would say: Yours is a task no less essential to my people’s experience than that allotted to the Navy, Army and Air Force. Upon you the Nation depends for much of its foodstuffs and raw materials and for the transport of its troops overseas. You have a long and glorious history, and I am proud to bear the title “Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets”. I know that you will carry out your duties with resolution and with fortitude, and that high chivalrous traditions of your calling are safe in your hands. God keep you and prosper you in your great task.
These were prescient words indeed and the Merchant navy was to play a vital, dangerous and oft overlooked part in the Second World War. The Merchant navy were given their own badge in January 1940 with a naval crown above an oval with the letters MN inside. This was available as a silver lapel bin for wear on civilian clothing, but also appeared in various other places including on commemorative and souvenir items. Tonight we are looking at a rather elegant cream artificial silk scarf:This has the merchant navy crest embroidered onto one end in coloured thread:Each end has a fringe of tasselled thread:There are no maker’s marks of any sort on the scarf, but it is very well put together so I suspect it is a commercial product rather than being homemade. This was probably purchased and given to the wife or sweetheart of a merchant sailor as a token, the badge showing where her beau was serving during the war. These sort of embroidered keepsakes are quite common, but most are military rather than for the merchant marine. This item holds some personal significance to me as my Grandfather was a merchant stoker during the war, so it is nice to be able to add something from the merchant navy to my collection.
Mortars are fantastic weapons at saturating an area with explosives. Unfortunately to do this they require large quantities of ammunition, which has to be brought up to the mortar pit, usually by hand. The British Army has used the 81mm Mortar for many decades and specialist plastic carriers were developed in the 1960s to carry rounds of ammunition. The carriers are made of dark green plastic and have two tubes, connected together, to carry the bombs in:Each tube has a separate screw lid with serrations at the mouth to aid grip:These each also have four protrusions to give soldiers grip to help remove the lids when their hands are cold, wet or wearing gloves:The threads on the carrier have a rubber gasket to help keep the contents waterproof:Interestingly these lids each have a different manufacture date inscribed into them, one is 1969:And the other is 1975:A carry handle is fitted to one side of the carrier:A very faded explosives label is attached to one of the tubes:This has details of the contents and their packing dates:The book ‘Soldier I, The story of an SAS Hero’ has the following account:
I could just make out the wiry figure of Fuzz hunched over the illuminated sight of the 81mm BATT mortar. At his elbow knelt Tak, almost invisible in the gloom, cradling a high explosive mortar-bomb in his hands as if it were a rugby ball. To the rear of the mortar-position, Tommy worked frantically preparing mortar bombs for firing, unscrewing the plastic tops of the containers, withdrawing the bombs and checking the charge cartridges were securely in position, withdrawing the safety-pins, replacing the prepared bombs in their containers- fins protruding from the openings to facilitate easy withdrawal- and stacking the containers in a tier system so there would be as many as four dozen bombs ready to hand at any one time.
During the Second World War it was recognised that vehicles needed their own dedicated first aid kits, and these were stowed inside military vehicles in black metal tins. Various sizes were produced, from large examples used inside tanks to much smaller versions carried in less crew intensive vehicles such as armoured cars and lorries. Tonight we are taking a look at a small first aid tin:Sadly the original lettering on the front has worn off, to be replaced by a very crude ‘First Aid Box’ and ‘+’ symbol painted in white. Originally this would have read ‘Outfit, First-Aid, General, Small’ in white lettering on the top.
The box has a /|\ symbol pressed into the lid to indicate it was War Department property:It is hinged at the short side, and a simple wire latch is provided to secure the lid:Undoing the latch allows the whole lid to be swung open, giving access to the contents:Other versions exist with the hinge and latches on the long side: I have not been able to determine the significance, if any, of this change. A very simple wire loop handle is fitted to one of the longer sides to allow it to be carried:The handle is very lightweight, but dressings and first aid supplies are not heavy so this would have been more than adequate. Unfortunately I can find very little information out about this first aid tin, and I don’t have a packing list but I suspect it would have carried quite simple items like field dressings, triangular bandages, standard bandages etc. enough to patch someone up enough to get them to a First Aid Post for further treatment. If anyone can shed further light on this tin, please leave a comment and I will update and credit accordingly.
Part of the standard equipment issued to each ARP warden during the Second World War was a police-style whistle:These whistles were used to re-inforce an air raid warning- sharp blasts being blown on them until people had realised a raid was imminent and taken shelter- on a still day they could be heard up to a mile away. The government’s official pamphlet ‘Air Raid Warnings’ from 1939 explained:
When air raids are threatened, warning will be given in towns by sirens, or hooters which will be sounded in some places by short blasts and in others by a warbling note, changing every few seconds. The warnings may be given by the police or air-raid wardens blowing short blasts on whistles.
The whistle itself is made from brass that was then chrome plated- in this case a lot of the plating has worn away over the years leaving the base metal showing through. The letters ‘ARP’ are engraved onto the body of the whistle:Like most of these whistles, this one was made by the most common manufacturer, J Hudson and Co. A ring is provided on the end to attach the whistle to a lanyard:Most ARP wardens used plaited white lanyards, more senior staff received yellow examples to show their rank. The noise from the whistle came through two vents near the mouth piece:The tone of this whistle is distinctly different from that of a standard metropolitan whistle (I had to try them out, for academic reasons of course), being far less shrill and strident. I cannot be certain, but I suspect this different tone was deliberate so it was clear that when the whistle was sounded it wasn’t a police officer looking for assistance.
When these whistles were first issued there was some friction between the Home Office and the Treasury. The Home Office wanted every ARP warden to have their own whistle, but the Treasury felt this was too expensive and that wardens should share. In the end the Home office won, on the grounds of hygiene and each warden was issued with his or her own whistle.
It was not just in the UK that the ARP used whistles, this newspaper clipping comes from Australia and indicates the signals that country expected its wardens to use:Finally we end with the quintessential photo of an ARP warden blowing on his whistle: