Royal Navy Comforts Bag

Tonight’s object is a little bit of a mystery. Last week I picked up this cotton drawstring bag for a few pounds:imageIt measures 13”x14” and has ‘G Dawson’, a serial number and the letters ‘RN’ for Royal Navy inked to the top:imageIt is secured with a cotton tape acting as a drawstring round the neck of the bag:imageIt was clearly used by a sailor, the question then is what was its purpose? I am reliably informed that it is not an official piece of Royal Navy kit issued by the Admiralty, however it does match identical bags given out by the Red Cross to men as personal comforts bags. These were free issues to men and would have contained some wash products like soap and razors as well as cigarettes, knitted goods etc. Whilst it seems most of these bags were issued to prisoners of war, comforts were also supplied to serving soldiers and sailors, as seen here:CaptureInterestingly if you were a serving sailor any comforts you were given were marked off in your kit book, so if you got a hand knitted woollen hat from a comforts committee, you didn’t get an Admiralty issue one as well! Here we see a large pile of comforts that have been brought aboard HMS Ramillies for distribution to sailors:large_000000A similar comforts committee was set up for merchant seaman, as recalled here:

My father was always a good organiser. He had a knack of persuading and encouraging folks to get things done. As a baker he realised how important was the role of the merchant navy so he chose as his war effort to work for the merchant navy comforts service. A committee was formed of local business men in land-locked Cannock to raise funds and to work for the M.N.S.C. in any way possible and my father played a leading role on this committee.

The purpose of the M.N.S.C. was to provide parcels of warm clothing to be handed to merchant seamen as soon as possible once they had been rescued from the icy Atlantic or wherever. (It will be remembered that Hitler’s submarines nearly won the battle of the Atlantic and thousands of merchant ships were sunk during the war. There was great loss of life. Yet some merchant seamen actually survived several ships going down underneath them) Items of clothing could be bought but also a great deal of knitting was done to make up the parcels. Each parcel contained a label stating which M.N.S.C. group it had come from and I have 12 letters from people who benefited from receiving parcels and who, in spite of the plight took time and trouble to write and say thank you. Incredibly the list includes a U.S. air force pilot who was shot down in the Mediterranean, and an Australian airman shot down in the sea off the coast of Australia. An emergency rescue kit contained 10 articles of clean dry clothing, 3 knitted and 7 manufactured. In one 2 year period 85,000 emergency rescue kits were sent on active service. (They were usually carried on destroyers who rescued the merchant seamen.)

I remember my father having telephone calls with Mr Kirkland Bridge who was one of the king-pins of the national M.N.S.C. organisation. Of course, most of M.N.S.C. groups were situated in ports or places associated with the sea, so it was quite something that Cannock and district were the first area to have an M.N.S.C. week. During that week, which took much preparation and a great deal of hard work, £4,500 was raised- more than double the target! A great deal of money in those days! I remember mother looking after us four boys being a bit fed up sometimes, that dad, after long hours at the bakery had to dash off to M.N.S.C. meetings so frequently.)

Another surprising thing that the M.N.S.C did was to collect and provide books for ship-wrecked sailors to read. My father was once telephoned to see if he could find 1000 books for this purpose. Through his various contacts he gathered 4500 in just 7 days!!

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