Monthly Archives: April 2018

Operation Grapple T-Shirt

It has been a while since we looked at a commemorative British Army T-shirt, but tonight we have another one from Britain’s peacekeeping duties in the former Yugoslavia back in the 1990s:imageThis T-shirt is made of green cotton and has the United Nations logo embroidered in gold on the chest along with ‘Britfor’ and ‘Op Grapple’:imageBritfor is short for ‘British Forces and Operation Grapple was the codeword used to cover UK defence operations in support of the UN peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia from October 1992 until December 1995. Although ostensibly a peacekeeping mission, British troops did lose their lives from both enemy action and the high number of road accidents that occurred on the atrocious highways of the region. In 1994 The Independent reported:

A BRITISH soldier with the United Nations in Bosnia was killed by a sniper near the besieged, Muslim- held town of Gorazde on Sunday night.

He was named as Private Shaun Richard Taylor, 20, of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Pte Taylor, a single man from Cleveland, was the sixth British soldier to die in Bosnia since Operation Grapple began in October 1992. There are 3,500 British troops in the Bosnia peace- keeping force.

Pte Taylor was in an observation post one kilometre north-east of Gorazde when he was hit by a single bullet – apparently fired from a Serb position up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away. The range, according to Army sources, suggests that a sniper’s rifle with a calibre of as much as 0.5in (12.7mm) may have been used. Such rounds will smash through flak jackets.

The UN in Sarajevo said Pte Taylor was hit in the shoulder after the observation post he was manning with five other Britons came under heavy fire at 8.20pm local time on Sunday night. British troops returned fire as he was evacuated to the Norwegian UN hospital in Gorazde. He was dead on arrival at 8.50pm. It was the fifth attack on UN troops during the day.Capture1

Female Pierrot with Machine Gun Corps Cap

This week’s image is rather unusual and depicts a young lady in what appears to be the dress of a pierrot, wearing an army cap:SKM_C284e18041711450The cap has the badge of the Machine Gun Corps:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5)Whilst the dress has distinctive pom-poms on it, typical of the costumes worn by pierrots:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6)The pierrot show was hugely popular in the United Kingdom throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The concept had been taken from the French pierrot shows and brought to this country in 1891 by the singer and banjoist Clifford Essex. The character of pierrot came from French pantomime and wore baggy clothes in black or white, with contrasting pom-poms sewn on. English pierrot troupes consisted of a number of men who dressed up in distinctive costumes and then put on concert parties with singing, dancing, jokes and juggling amongst their repertoires. They became synonymous with shows on the piers of the country’s seaside towns and throughout World War One soldiers set up their own pierrot troupes as part of concert parties put on to amuse the troops. The popularity of these shows was such, that even the Australians copied the concept creating their own ‘Digger pierrot’ troupes. This young lady would probably not have been one of these troupes operating near the front line, although there were women in YMCA concert parties in France during the war, it is more likely for her to have belonged to a group back in the United kingdom putting on shows for either convalescent troops or even just the general public. Her costume is clearly inspired by the traditional male pierrot costume, but made as a dress rather than as baggy trousers and a jacket.

Happily someone has written on the date, 1917, to the photograph so we can date it:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (7)The girl in the photograph may just be larking around with some props in the photographer’s studio, however I do not feel that is the case and I suspect she was genuinely involved in entertainment as a pierrot of some sort. These photographs are very intriguing, but often throw up far more questions than can easily be answered.

37 Pattern Entrenching Tool Cover

The 37 pattern webbing set originally included a small shovel for entrenching. This was found to be pretty useless and it was decided to reintroduce the ‘sirhind’ type of entrenching tool used with the 08 pattern web set. This entrenching tool obviously needed a carrier, so the designers at Mills took the old 08 entrenching tool cover and modified it for use with 37 pattern webbing. The design included the same kidney shaped webbing bag as the old 08 pattern design, and it was into this that the head of the entrenching tool was placed:imageThe top fastenings were replaced with 1” straps and Twigg buckles to allow the carrier to be attached to the thinner straps of the 37 pattern set:imageThese straps are also slightly angled, in a way the old 08 design was not. This was because men tended to carry the entrenching tool on the rear, over their buttocks, rather than on the side as the designers had intended. The angled buckles make the connection of the carrier to the bottom of the shoulder braces less awkward as they mirror the angles of these straps more closely than if they had been at ninety degrees to the main carrier.

The big innovation on the 37 pattern carrier was the introduction of a set of loops across the top to allow the helve of the entrenching tool to be carried, this having a separate carrier on the 08 design:imageNote the longer strap and buckle used to tighten around the helve and prevent it coming out. This was later felt to be inadequate and post war carriers have an addition strap set at 90 degrees to this one to help prevent the helve slipping out of the end.

Inside the carrier is liner with heavy duty cotton and has the manufacturer’s marks stamped on, here this example was made by W&G in 1944:imageThis is the mark of the company Waring and Gillow who were one of a number of firms contracted to make webbing in World War Two by the government. Waring and Gillow were a large furniture manufacturer before the war and they put their upholstery section to work making webbing, kit bags and tents during the war. The skills needed to manipulate heavy upholstery fabric through a sewing machine would have been easily transferred to working with webbing and canvas.

Technically this entrenching tool cover was not part of the 37 pattern set during World War II, it was only retrospectively added in with the rest of the 37 pattern equipment in stores catalogues and manuals in 1951. It was however used extremely widely throughout the Second World War and soldiers carried not only the entrenching tool, but also other useful items in it such as boot polish, rifle pull throughs and other small bits of personal kit. In this famous image of Fusilier Tom Payne in Normandy you can see not only the entrenching tool cover, but also the outline of a circular tin he was carrying inside it in addition to the head of his tool:large_000000Update: My thanks to Rich for pointing me to these two additional photographs of Fusilier Payne’s entrenching tool cover and it’s contents:large_000000


51 Pattern Compass Pouch

It has been some time since we last looked at an example of post-war Canadian webbing. Collecting of these sets has slowed down a bit, but thanks to the generosity of Michel Auger from Canada, I am very pleased to have been able to add an example of the 51 pattern compass pouch to my little collection:imageThe compass pouch is very closely based upon the earlier 37 pattern design from the UK, but made in the dark green of the 51 pattern set. The rear of the case is very similar, but features simple webbing loops to pass a belt through, rather than the metal ‘C’ hooks of the 37 pattern set:imageThis change in construction makes sense when you remember that the 51 pattern belt is very different in design to its predecessor and does not have the woven pockets on the rear for ‘c’ hooks to slot into. The front of the pouch has a box lid that is secured with a large blackened press stud:imageThis opens to allow access to the compass which fits snuggly inside:imageBoth the early prismatic and the later marching compasses can fit in easily. They are protected by a thick layer of reclaimed wool felt that surrounds the compass and offers some insulation from knocks and bumps:imageI am unsure of the technical term for this felt in Canada, but it is made of what is colloquially known as ‘mungo’ in my part of Yorkshire. This is a poor quality fabric made from the torn up rags and cloth that is pressed or sometimes woven into a cheap cloth.

The underside of the box lid is stamped with the date of manufacture ‘1953’:imageNote also the circular acceptance mark stamped here. I have finally found some information out about this mark. It consists of a stylised leaf in a circle with the letters ‘IS’ for ‘Inspection Services’ and was stamped on the webbing to indicate that it met the requirements for military service.

It has been nice to add another piece to my Canadian collection, which had rather stalled of late. It has given me a little incentive to try and track down a few more components.

Dubbin, Protective No 1 Tin

One of the more common military tins to come up for sale is that for Dubbin, Protective, No 1. This is a small round, dark green tin:imageThe details of the contents are printed onto the front of the tin in black letters:imageThe style of tin was almost certainly produced by Joseph Pickering & Son Ltd of Sheffield and it is believed that this style of tin dates from after 1953.

I must confess I had not really given the use of this dubbin much though, beyond its use as a waterproofing agent and somewhere in the back of my mind realising that it was used in anti-gas procedures. The following Army Council orders came up on a Facebook site a few weeks ago however, kindly provided by Jonathon Price, and offer some more information into the use of Dubbin that I have not come across before and might be of equal interest to you:

Dubbin, Protective No 1.

  1. Attention is drawn to War Clothing Regulations, 1941, para.27, which forbids the use of blacking on boots.
  2. Dubbin, protective No. 1, is now being introduced into the Service for issue to all units other than the Home Guard and will gradually replace the ordinary service dubbin as at present issued.
  3. All service boots in wear, including those provided under A.C.Is. 2124 and 2456 of 1941, (a) by officers in battledress, and (b) by other ranks (including boots, leather, ATS, but not ATS shoes) will be treated with ordinary service dubbin or dubbin, protective No 1, as supplies of the latter commodity become available.
  4. Units will continue to obtain supplies by indenting on the R.A.O.C. If dubbin, protective, No. 1, is not available at the time, ordinary service dubbin will be issued in lieu. One tin, containing 2-oz. of dubbin, will be issued to each soldier, and also to each A.T.S. auxiliary in possession of boots, leather, A.T.S. When empty tins will be refilled from the bulk supply carried by the unit. Issue to officers will be on repayment.
  5. The object of dubbin, protective No. 1, is to resist the penetration of blister gas through the uppers of the boots. One pair of boots will require ½ oz. of dubbin for each application. The dubbin will be applied at least once a week. Instructions for the application of the dubbin, by the individual are as follows:-
    1. Remove all mud and dirt from the boot with a damp cloth and then wipe dry.
    2. Apply dubbin evenly over the whole of the upper of the boot including the tongue.
    3. Work well in with the hands, paying particular attention to the seams and to the join of the upper and the welt.
  6. Boots referred to in para. 3 above will not be polished in any circumstances.
  7. Dubbin will not be carried in the respirator haversack…


Opening the tin reveals the dubbin:imageDubbin was first invented in the mediæval period as a waterproofing agent and traditionally consisted of a mix of wax, oil and tallow that acted both as a proofing agent and as a feed for leather. It is an oily, waxy substance and is still used today alongside more modern synthetic substitutes.

Osprey Single Point Rifle Sling

This week’s Osprey component is the single point rifle sling:imageThis rifle sling is made of a hard wearing Cordua nylon and has a ‘T’ bar at one end to fit to the rear shoulder of the wearer’s Osprey body armour:imageHeavy duty plastic buckles are used to adjust the length:imageAnd a tan Fastex fastener is used to allow the rifle to be quickly detached:imageThe plastic fittings on this sling are very robust and well made. A single point sling is a little unusual, but works well with body armour as it does not get caught on pouches and the edges of the armour in the way a conventional sling would, but provides a secure connection to the weapon so if it comes out of the user’s hands it is not going to go anywhere.

The Osprey manual gives detailed instructions on how to attach and use the sling:CaptureThe following description highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages of the single point sling:

A specialized sling design that permits the shooter to transition to firing from the opposite shoulder. Like the 3-point sling, the single-point sling permits the shooter to drop the weapon and let it hang downward while still attached to their body. This sling design is best suited for short-term tactical use. A single-point sling is only worn in one way, and cannot provide the same degree of long-term anti-fatigue weight support as other slings. The one great advantage of the single point design is that it is very easy to switch from shoulder to shoulder for weak side barricade shooting. Negative attributes of the single point sling include a tendency to make the rifle dangle and hang off the shooter in an inconvenient fashion; it can interfere with the shooter’s movement and hang up on the shooter’s gear.

Letter from the Kaiser Propaganda Postcard

Tonight we have a propaganda postcard from the Great War that takes the form of a supposed letter from the Kaiser to his cousin George V. The piece is written in a joke English to make the stereotypical sounds of a German trying to speak English and takes the form of a comic list of things the Kaiser is alleged to want from Great Britain:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (8)The propaganda starts in the first paragraph with the Kaiser asking for the ships of the Royal Navy to be removed so he can come to the UK:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (8) - CopyThis, not very subtly, implies that Britain is safe because of her navy and the Germans are too frightened of it to make a move against the country. Further on the piece explains that the Kaiser wants the Bank of England, suggesting that his main interest in the country is in her wealth:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (9) - CopyThe third paragraph hints at Germany’s imperial ambitions, which certainly existed, and that the Kaiser wants the British Empire to give to his children:SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (10) - CopyThe final paragraph is rather interesting in that it acknowledges the ongoing problems with Irish Independence movements at the time, as the Kaiser says he is not interested in taking on that country!SKM_C284e17120515440 - Copy (11) - CopyThis is clearly a propaganda piece and the text is played for laughs, although it reflects many of the thoughts and feelings of people in 1914 and how they perceived Germany’s war aims and ambitions as well as the reliance Great Britain placed on her navy to keep her safe. This card is just one example of many hundreds of propaganda designs postcard manufacturers produced throughout the war. Popular topics were poking fun at the Kaiser and his military and the cards range from the broadly humorous like this one, to much darker topics such as alleged atrocities in Belgium. The cards seem to have been popular, but it is hard to say how much this sort of propaganda influenced public opinion and how much it was just a reflection of people’s existing beliefs and ideas.