Monthly Archives: April 2018

Know Your Navy Card Game

The Royal Navy still encourages sailors to be proficient in ship and aircraft recognition. Despite modern electronic aids the Mk 1 human eyeball is often still just as useful as any radar and identification beacon. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the Royal Navy combined recognition practice with a bit of a recruitment gimmick and released a set of playing cards called ‘Know Your Navy’. This set of playing cards came in a dark blue box with details of the Royal Navy careers service printed on the front:imageInside is a series of 52 cards, each depicting a silhouette of a Royal Navy ship, submarine, aircraft, helicopter or missile:imageThe back of each card gave a series of statistics on the particular vessel or craft:imageI have come across at least two distinct print runs of these cards with different ships and aircraft in each run depending on the year of production. My set is a later example as it includes Type 42 destroyers, Type 22 frigates and Invincible class aircraft carriers. The earlier production run seems to predate this by about ten years and includes ships such as HMS Eagle and Centaur who went to the breakers in the early to mid-1970s.

Two rule cards are included, with suggested games that could be played with the set of cards:imageA joker is also included in the shape of a jolly rating:imageThis set of cards was a fun way of encouraging sailors to spend time brushing up on their ship and aircraft recognition. Playing games such as this was more interactive and fun than sitting men in a class room and lecturing them and it was hoped that they would retain the information better if they were competing with one another in a more relaxed environment. I suspect these cards were also given out as a promotional item at recruitment events and ship open days to members of the public. As such I doubt they are particularly rare, but they are a nice little set and I might have to challenge my father to a game as these warships are more his era than mine.

What is sobering today is to look at how many different classes and types of vessel were used by the Royal Navy at this period- a glance at today’s Royal Navy shows only a fraction of these numbers in service today!

Victorian Family Portrait

This week’s photograph is a delightful family group from the late nineteenth century:SKM_C284e18032911530The patriarch of this family sits front and centre:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (3)Surrounded by his daughters and sons, two of whom are serving their queen. The soldier on the left is wearing Highland dress and under magnification it can be seen that his collar dogs are those of the Cameron Highlanders:SKM_C284e18032911530 - CopyThe other soldier seems to be a member of the Army Service Corps with that corps’ distinctive dark blue uniform faced in white:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (2)For once we can get a fairly accurate date on this photograph from the ladies clothing. They wear a slender ‘leg of mutton’ sleeve on their dresses and this particular fashion choice was only really seen between 1893 and 1895:SKM_C284e18032911530 - Copy (4)After this date the sleeves of fashionable ladies’ dresses grew larger and larger before the fashion disappeared altogether in about 1906. It is perhaps surprising that both these young men are serving as private soldiers at this date. The family are clearly reasonably well to do and there remained a stigma towards soldiers at this period of history. Soldiers were seen as drunks, illiterates and degenerates, it was not until the Boer War that attitudes started to change towards the common British Tommy. It was therefore often those on the lower rungs of society that joined the army and it was not unheard of for mothers to burst into tears at the shame their sons had brought upon the family by enlisting. Kipling perhaps expressed the late Victorian sentiment most accurately:Capture1


Royal Navy Conduct Report Sheet

Promotion in the Royal Navy brought extra privileges and pay so was normally highly sought after. To achieve promotion a sailor had to have completed both the requisite period of time and the right qualifications. Sometimes a sailor was felt to be doing so well that he might be identified as being suitable for advanced promotion, allowing him to complete the process in a shorter period of time than was usually the case. All these decisions were influenced by the sailor’s conduct and it was up to his duty officer to keep detailed records about a man’s service so the correct decisions about promotion could be made. This information was recorded on a special card form that went with a sailor from unit to unit and tonight we have an example for a sailor who was serving as an aircraft mechanic:SKM_C284e18041015530A sailors rating, i.e. rank, and his trade qualification were separate qualifications and it was possible, if unusual, for him to be highly qualified in his trade but due to poor conduct to still be rated as just an ordinary seaman. The back of card explains the various criteria for a sailor’s promotion and the different recommendations that a divisional officer could make on a man’s readiness to be advanced:SKM_C284e18041015531This card was used at HMS Daedalus the aircraft training base on the Solent. There are only two entries on the form and I suspect that the sailor in question here was a national serviceman so only served for a very short period of time:SKM_C284e18041015540This particular form dates from 1948, but I suspect something similar would have been used in the Second World War as a way of identifying talent and ensuring swift promotion for those who met the criteria. These forms were held in a ship’s office and given back to a sailor when he transferred to his next posting or when he was released into civilian life. The record being seen as a useful piece of evidence to a civilian employer of the man’s good character and hard work.


CS95 Fleece

The CS95 clothing system used multiple layers of clothing to allow a soldier to add or decrease clothing to regulate their temperature. It made use of many new fabrics and clothing innovations that had been used on the civilian market for several years, but had not been previously seen in the British Army. One of these layers of clothing introduced for the first time with the CS95 system was a fleece jacket:imageAlthough later produced in DPM, this early version is in olive green. The technical name for the material this jacket is made from is ‘polar fleece’. Polar fleece originated in Massachusetts in 1979 when Malden Mills, (now Polartec LLC), and Patagonia developed Synchilla (synthetic chinchilla). It was a new, light, strong pile fabric meant to mimic—and in some ways surpass—wool. A lightweight, warm and soft fabric, fleece has some of wool’s good qualities but weighs a fraction of the lightest available woolens. Polar fleece garments traditionally come in different thicknesses: micro, 100, 200, and 300, with 300 being the thickest and least flexible.

It is hydrophobic, holding less than 1% of its weight in water. It retains much of its insulating powers even when wet. It is machine washable and dries quickly. It is a good alternative to wool. It can also be made out of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, or even recycled fleece. Despite its fuzzy appearance and feel, it is not flammable, but instead melts when exposed to flame.

Regular polar fleece is not windproof and does not absorb moisture (although this is often seen as a benefit, per above). Fleece readily generates static electricity, which causes the accumulation of lint, dust, and pet hair. It is also susceptible to damage from high temperature washing, tumble drying, or ironing.

The official CS95 guidance described the garment as:

A warm long-sleeved, brushed polyester thermal liner with zip fastening front and pockets and thumb holes in the cuffs for extra hand warmth.

Although the fleece is a mid-shade of olive-green, the edging and rounded collar are finished with a darker green tape:imageA pair of diagonal zip pockets are fitted to the lower portion of the fleece:imageThese have a cotton liner to give the ‘bag’ of the pocket:imageNote the manufacturer’s label sewn into the pocket and the little label with a stylised soldier for the research company who designed the CS95 system, DCTA- the Defence Clothing and Textiles Authority. An elasticated drawstring is fitted to the bottom of the garment to help draw it in and keep a pocket of air inside the jacket for warmth:imageWhilst the fleece was generally well liked, one user who was not impressed with the fleece recalls:

I never liked the fleece, I found it too bulky for the extra warmth it provided and continued to use my Helly Hansen field jacket until it was shrunk in the wash by a locally employed civilian on tour. I replaced that with a ‘Softie’ jacket. I was never at a unit that would let you wear the fleece as an outer layer, only under a jacket/smock.

Apparently the reason for banning the fleece as an outer garment was that it was not infra-red resistant like other pieces of uniform so glowed like a Christmas tree on a night scope!

1922 Pattern Other Ranks Service Dress Cap

The other ranks peaked service dress cap was introduced in the early Edwardian era and was used up until World War One. At this stage experience in the trenches led to the cap being modified to remove wire stiffening and rigid peaks. The trench caps of 1915 were a long way from the smart SD caps of pre-war days but suited active service conditions better. After World War 1 had ended The British Army smartened up its uniform again to better represent a peacetime army and the stiff service dress cap made a reappearance for the ordinary soldier. Although cut subtly different, the interwar other ranks service dress cap was very similar to that used before the war and it is one of these interwar period examples we are looking at tonight:imageThis pattern was introduced in 1922 alongside the recut service dress jacket and was part of the post war move to bring the standards of the army back to a peacetime footing. It had been decided that the scarlet home service dress of the Edwardian era was not to be reintroduced due to the cost implication, so efforts were made to smarten up the service dress, which until that point had been for field use rather than for parade and walking out use. As well as making the jacket more fitted and introducing brass collar dogs, the cap was recut.

The peak on this cap is distinctly semi-circular rather the ‘D’ shaped and has a definite downwards angle, again indicative of interwar production:imageLater versions of the cap would make the peak almost vertical in the angle and this is more commonly found with post-WW2 examples of the cap. The underside of the peak is finished in a green leather effect:imageA brass tab is included inside the front of the cap that forces up the top of the crown, tensioning it and giving the cap its distinctive shape:imageThese were frequently modified to subtly alter the shape of the cap to suit regimental requirements and it was probably the Regimental Tailor’s job to do this so that there was consistency across the unit. The cap has a decorative chin strap in brown leather, adjusted with simple brass slider buckles:imageA brass button is sewn to either side of the cap band to attach this strap to:imageThis cap has an orange coloured artificial silk liner to it and leather cloth sweat band, sadly now badly damaged:imageMost caps produced by the military have black oil cloth linings but examples do exist with this type of liner so it is a perfectly legitimate variation of the cap. The sweat band was made of brown oil cloth, but this has not survived well in this example.

This cap was a lucky find on my local second hand market and seems to be in remarkably good condition for its age, even more unusual is that it is in a size large enough to fit my oversized head. I will be pairing this with my 1922 pattern service dress uniform to make a very smart walking out impression.

Osprey Double Magazine Ammunition Pouch

This week’s Osprey post is a shorter one as we are covering the two magazine ammunition pouch:imageThis pouch is almost identical to the single round version we looked at here, except that it is slightly deeper to hold two magazines. The top flap is secured with Velcro:imageWhen open this allows two SA80 magazines to fit neatly inside (I only have the one magazine, but you get the idea):imageThe rear of the pouch has the ubiquitous MOLLE straps:imageAnd a small label giving details of the pouch’s purpose:imageThe double pouches were far more popular than the single magazine variant as soldiers could get twice as much ammunition into the same space on their vests. When Osprey was issued to soldiers it came with four of these two magazine pouches, allowing soldiers to pick and choose how many they needed to attach according to their personal preferences.

One soldier explains a typical setup:

Most people I saw (but I was a FOBit) went with med pouch on the right, as far round as you can but allowing access and the double mag pouches on the left (but same detail). Admin pouches were in short supply so I used the front of the med pouch for my cards/compass etc. Everything else went in the day sack.

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!!