Monthly Archives: February 2018

Osprey Mk IV Armour Cover

Tonight we are starting what I hope will turn into another of our semi-regular mini-series on the blog, much like the Canadian webbing series of last year. The Osprey series of body armour and accessories has been in service with the British Army since 2006 and has gone through four distinct marks. Osprey armour was a major advance on previous designs as it was scalable meaning it could be adapted for differing threat levels and had much larger hard plates than the old ECBA. This of course came with a trade off in that the armour was quite bulky and over the various marks changes were made to try and improve both ergonomics and protection. Sadly the plates on Osprey are virtually impossible to get hold of on the collectors market so it will just be the covers we will be looking at, along with the many, many accessories offered with each vest. Going forward I may try and mock up some plates with foam yoga mats to help bulk out the vests appropriately, and if I do I will try and post a suitable tutorial on the blog.

Tonight though we start, rather inappropriately, with the last of the Osprey series, the Mk 4 body armour cover:imageThis vest was introduced in 2010 and was the first to be made in MTP camouflage rather than the DDPM of the earlier models. The design is worn like a tabard over the head and two large panels wrap around and attach to the front with Velcro:imageThe front and back parts of the vest split apart at the shoulders:imageThe official pamphlet explains how to join the two segments together:CaptureThe right hand shoulder of the armour has a non-slip fabric attached to support the butt plate of the SA80 rifle when firing, with a raised ridge to help prevent it from slipping off the edge:imageNote also the original user’s Zap number and blood group, written on in marker pen. The soldier also wrote his name on the inside, telling us he was called ‘Mukasa’:imageThe opposite shoulder has a pair of PALS loops for attaching small items, and a plastic loops ring:imagePALS loops for the MOLLE system are all over the vest and consist of tapes of fabric, sewn at regular intervals to create a network of loops:imageThis is particularly apparent on the rear of the vest:imageThe top of the rear of the vest has a pair of heavy duty carrying handles so a casualty can be dragged to safety. Here the original owner has wrapped them in tape and written his Zap number and blood group again:imageAs was mentioned at the start, this armour is designed to be adaptable and shoulder brassards can be attached, using the Velcro and press studs around the shoulder:imageA range of collars can also be fitted, with fasteners around the neck. These tuck underneath when not needed:imageThe differing ranges of protection can be seen in this illustration from the official manual, we will look at the other components in the coming months:CaptureA belt can be fitted to the bottom edge of the armour, and loops are provided to run this through:imageThe internal armour for this cover is again adjustable and pockets allow a range of soft and hard armour to be fitted, in internal Velcroed pockets before a large zip secures everything:imageAs with most military equipment, large labels are sewn to each half of the vest with sizing and care instructions:imageI have only worn this armour once myself when I borrowed a set for a weekend exercise with the navy aboard Argus, here is yours truly looking remarkably warlike whilst practicing with a baton:imageI found the armour very impressive, but bulky compared to the older ECBA and it is interesting to note that when deploying in low risk situations such as on the streets of London last year, troops are still using the ECBA in preference to the Osprey or newer Virtus systems which seem to be reserved for combat roles.

We will return to the Osprey series over the coming weeks.

1970’s Royal Navy ‘Steaming Bats’

Work boots in the Royal Navy have long been called ‘steaming bats’ or just ‘bats’. I have struggled to find the exact origin of this name, but like much Jackspeak it has been passed down through generations and although the patterns of the boots themselves might change, the name does not. Steaming Bats are a very particular type of footwear, regardless of exact pattern, and all share a steel toecap for safety and good grips for use on wet decks. Modern designs are fairly utilitarian work boots, but the earlier models from the 1970s could be polished up to make a passable set of parade boots as well and it is a pair of these steaming bats we are looking at tonight:imageThe boots are a well-made, ankle high design with a chunky rubber sole:imageA /|\ ownership mark is stamped into the leather on each side of the boot:imageThere are no toe caps on these boots, but there is steel under the leather to prevent crushing injuries, as can be seen the leather is nice and smooth so holds polish well:imageOften though these boots were unpolished and quickly bleached from sun and the salt in seawater. It was also common to write one’s name across the back in Tippex. The most distinctive feature of these boots is the intricate sole, made up of a ring pattern for grip:imageNote also the red warning label printed on the base saying ‘Electrically Conductive’:imageThe size is moulded into the sole and is also stamped on the inside of the boot, along with the date which is here a size 7 from 1977:imageSteaming bats were a popular choice for many sailors who spent most of their working lives wearing them, one slightly disturbing use for them is recounted by an old salt:

I knew a submariner who used to get seasick on them (I believe it was while it was on the surface) and whilst he was in his cot, if he was sick, used to throw up in his steaming bats. He said that it was a lot quicker and easier to clean his bats than the floor.

DDPM MOLLE Drop Leg Harness Panel

There seems to be a constant stream of desert DPM equipment out there to find, with webbing, pouches and other forms of equipment available in huge quantities and at low prices. This is great for the collector and it is well worth building up a selection now if you want them as experience says they will not be around forever. With this in mind, I have been very pleased to add this drop leg harness panel to my collection:imageThis panel is designed to allow a holster of similar piece of load bearing equipment to be worn on the thigh in a quick draw position. The pain body of the harness consists of a DDPM panel with a set of MOLLE loops sewn to it:imageThese allow a holster to be attached in a position to suit the wearer and the panel is large enough to allow a pair of spare magazine pouches to sit alongside. At the top is a strap with a loop to attach to the user’s waist belt:imageThis is adjustable and is secured with a lift the dot fastener and Velcro:imageA pair of straps are fitted to pass round the upper thigh, one end has a male Fastex buckle on it:imageWhilst the female fastener is attached to the panel itself with small pieces of elastic to ensure a secure fit to the leg:imageThe back of the panel has a breathable fabric that is distinctly ‘rough’ to the touch, presumably to help it grip to the user’s trouser leg to hold it in position more securely:imageA simple stores label is sewn to the back:imageThis design seems to have been fairly popular and a near identical version has been produced in MTP following the adoption of that camouflage pattern. Interestingly it appears sets of these with holsters and magazine pouches have been sold as surplus in the US where they are popular on the civilian market with shooters there.

RAF Music Group Photographs

This week we have a pair of group shots of airmen during the Second World War:SKM_C284e18021611150

SKM_C284e18021611150 - CopyBoth these photographs seem to have been taken at the same time and judging by the central man holding a small ukulele it is possible that they were a small amateur music group that entertained their fellow airmen. Both photographs have some basic captions on the back and from these we can put a first name to each of the men. We have Alec:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (2)Mac:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (3)Digger:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (4)‘Me’ (sadly we do not have this chap’s name as he was the one who wrote the caption):SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (5)Les:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (6)And John:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy (7)The back of the photographs also tells us that this was taken in June 1943 at Downing College. Downing College was, and indeed still is, a university college in Cambridge but its buildings were taken over by the RAF at the start of the Second World War for the training of officers. This did not seem to last too long and the college lost its lodgers before the war ended. These cadets can easily be identified by the white flashes on their field service caps:SKM_C284e18021611150 - Copy - CopyFor more information on the RAF officer cadet FS caps please look here.

Throughout the time Downing College was used by the RAF, it remained open as a university with the two jostling for space. Mike Archer went up to Cambridge as an undergraduate in 1942:

In 1942 I gained a State Scholarship to read maths at Downing College, Cambridge. This was an eventful year: the tragedy of Pearl Harbour followed by the wonderful achievements of Montgomery at El Alamein. Needless to say the spirits of the students rose and fell in tune with the events. The college had three story blocks with four double rooms on each floor served by one bathroom, so each bedroom had its pair of chamber pots. The morning after Montgomery’s success had become known we arose to see the whole length of the roof of one wing adorned with a line of chamber pots and a large board reading ‘THE NIGHT WE LICKED THE JERRIES’.

Mule Pack Saddle Breeching Strap

My thanks go to Rob Barnes tonight for his help in identifying tonight’s object- it is far easier to write about something when I know what it is!

I have (very) slowly been collecting up items of mule pack saddlery over the last year, as with so many of my projects this is very much a back burner thread to my collection with items being picked up as they appear but with no real plan to quickly complete a set. It was therefore very nice to come across a strap for a couple of pounds a few weeks back:imageThis is a ‘breeching’ strap and was part of the tack of a pack saddle used to prevent the saddle from slipping forward when the animal was going downhill. The strap itself is made of heavy duty leather, 1 ½” wide by 2 ½ feet long/ At one end a small becket is attached:imageThe opposite end is cut into a tongue:imageThere is a faint War Department /|\ mark stamped into the leather:imageIn this diagram from the 1937 Manual of Equitation, the straps can be seen at Number 4:CaptureThe manual also gives some advice on leading mules up and down hills and what steps should be taken with the breaching:

The driver should always give the animal a long rein when moving over rough or hill country; this is quickly effected by letting go of the rein with the right hand, seizing the T-piece from the outside of the ring of the bit and pulling the rein through. In difficult ground additional assistance can be given by steadying the loads and helping the animals along. It may even be necessary to unload the animals and carry the loads over an obstacle by hand.

For ascents the driver must tighten the breastpiece and loosen the breeching, doing the converse for descents. This can be quickly done without halting by means of the chain attachments of the breastpiece and breeching.

This was clearly a skilled operation however as the manual goes on to recommend:

Until the drivers gain experience, a short halt should be ordered to tighten breast pieces for ascents, and breeching and cruppers for descents.

Foot Guards Atholl Grey Greatcoat

The greatcoat as an item of clothing for use on active service disappeared in the late 1950s. It continues to this day however as a piece of ceremonial clothing for wear on parade in cold weather. One of the most distinctive greatcoats worn is that of the Foot Guards who wear a single breasted grey woollen coat whose origins can be traced back to at least the Napoleonic Wars:Sentry-in-the-Lower-Ward-of-Windsor-Castle1It is a 1960s dated example of one of these coats we are looking at tonight:imageThis greatcoat is made of a heavy blue-grey wool, with a row of staybrite buttons up the front. Reinforced shoulders are fitted, presumably to help protect a part of the coat that will get a lot of wear from rifles carried at the slope on parades:imageTwo large pockets are fitted below the waist, with flaps on the outside:imageAnd a separately sewn inner:imageThe coat is made of a coarse, heavy wool, but some concession to comfort has been made by fitting a liner over the shoulders and sleeves made of a man-made fabric:imageThe back of the greatcoat has an expansion pleat and a small half belt secured by three buttons. The skirt of the greatcoat is split and would originally have been secured with more buttons, but these are missing from this example:imageThe label inside the coat indicates that it was made in Bradford by James Dawson in 1965:imageAs can be seen, the single breasted coat is for other ranks, officers and warrant officers wear a double breasted version. The coats are worn throughout the winter, being removed in spring as reported by the London Evening Standard in March 2013:

Snow may have been falling in London with temperatures close to zero- but today the Army declared: summer has arrived.

It has ordered that, from tomorrow, soldiers standing guard at Buckingham Palace will remove their winter dress of Athol grey greatcoats and appear for sentry duty in traditional red tunics.

The ruling comes into force at 8am and the first to brave the chill winds on the palace forecourt, and at St James’s Palace, will be the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. Mounted troops at Horse Guards will switch to a shorter cape.

The battalion’s commanding officer, Lt Col Dino Bossi, said: “When the Foot Guards appear in their iconic red tunics it’s a sure sign summer is on its way.

“The soldiers have spent the winter enduring some pretty bad conditions out there and I hope the weather gods welcome the splash of colour and smile on us accordingly.”

WW1 Embroidered Silk Postcard

It has been a long time since we last looked at an embroidered card on this blog, back here. That example was in the form of a greetings card, tonight we have another example, but this one has been produced as a postcard:SKM_C284e18020615370 - CopyThese cards were made from hand embroidered pieces of silk mesh. French and Belgian refugees would embroider them on a long strip of silk, with as many as 25 on a single piece of backing fabric. These were then cut up and added to card mountings to sell to troops. This example has a movable flap on the front of the card that would allow a tiny greetings card to be tucked inside. These cards were hugely popular amongst British and American troops and it is estimated about 10 million hand embroidered cards were produced. This example is presumably for the American market as it features the flags of France, Belgium and the USA but not the UK on the front:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - CopyIt was typical to send these cards home in envelopes rather than directly through the post so few are encountered with stamps and writing on the rear. There are literally thousands of different designs of these cards, each hand sewn, but most have a patriotic theme to them, featuring flags, war personalities or national symbols. The use of flower motifs is equally common, helping to provide colour and very much in vogue amongst the civilian population the cards would have been sent to:SKM_C284e18020615370 - Copy - Copy (2)The cards themselves were not cheap, certainly when compared to more conventional postcards, but were still well within the budget of the average soldier. This suggests they may well have been chosen to send home to a sweetheart or mother and perhaps to commemorate a special occasion such as a loved ones birthday. The silks were highly prized and are often found today faded and discoloured form being displayed on the mantelpiece above a coal fire for many years; this example though is still in lovely condition.