Happy Empire Day! If you have not already checked out our sister site ‘British Empire Uniforms’ on Facebook please, take a look. There are plenty of period photographs and reconstructions of uniforms from around the Empire in the Interwar and Second World War periods.
Like all countries, the British made extensive use of blank ammunition in training. The .303 round had a number of different types of blank ammunition before settling on the Mk V. in 1894 when cordite was introduced. This round was to remain in service 1957 when the Mk 9 blank was introduced that had a nitrocellulose propellant. Tonight we are taking a closer look at the ubiquitous Mk V cordite blank and we have two different examples:The round on the right is, I believe, a WW1 blank as it came from a WW1 charger of WW1 dated spent rounds so it seems logical to assume it is of that vintage. The round on the left has a 1942 date stamp so is most likely a WW2 blank round. The reason I am being cautious with the dates is that these blanks were often made form cartridge cases that were rejected as not being suitable for ball ammunition, but were still good enough to be converted to blanks. This means the head stamps do not necessarily correspond to the blank itself as they would have been added before the case was relegated to use as a blank. The case heads of these two examples therefore may only tell us when the case itself was manufactured, not when it was converted into a blank:The round on the right is dated 1942 and was manufactured for a Mk VII ball round by Radway Green, that on the left has the ‘K’ for Kynoch. These rounds are Berdan primed rather than having the earlier Boxer primers and the blank itself used 10 grains of sliced cordite. The neck of the case was closed with a rosette crimp:Blanks were used extensively for training, and rounds that had been dropped by accident provided great, if dangerous, fun to local children as recalled by Raymond McElvenney:
During the war, these old building were used by the army for training purposes. To make the exercises more realistic, they fired blanks from their guns and there was much banging from large firework things called ‘thunder flashes’…
After the soldiers had gone, we went around the building collecting the spent cartridges up. We also found a number of unfired bullets, so we put them in a crack in the wall. We found a piece of wood with a nail in it; we placed the nail against the bottom of the bullet and hit it with a brick causing the bullet to explode. We thought this was great fun.
In this instance I think the boys actually found unfired blanks, despite the author’s reference to bullets!
We are continuing our survey of British Army ammunition boxes by looking at the B.166 box tonight. This is one of the larger boxes and is amongst the easiest patterns for collectors to find- its large size making it popular as a tool box which has helped many survive to the present day. My example was bought as such and has been sanded, repainted and stencilled to make it look a little more like it did when first manufactured, as such the holes drilled through the outside of the box are not original and date from its post war life in someone’s workshop:The official designation for the box is B.166 and this is stamped into the lid:This particular example is dated 1945. Other features of the box are identical to British ammunition boxes of the period. The lid is attached with a pair heavy duty hinges that allow the lid to be held away from the main body of the box for easy removal of the contents:A pair of metal clips hold the lid down and cleats are included to allow the clips to be wired shut:A heavy duty metal handle is fitted to each end of the box to allow it to be carried:The full weight of these boxes is such that it is easier and safer for two men to carry the box between them if possible rather than one man risk injuring himself by moving it alone. The box was used for a number of different types of ordnance, the most common being for 3” mortar rounds. The list of potential contents include:
3 in M.L. Mortar HE
3 in M.L. Mortar Smoke
3 in M.L. Mortar Chemical
3 in M.L. Mortar Practice
Number Packed: 6
Gross weight: 88 lbs
Grenades No. 73
Number Packed: 10
Gross weight: 62 lbs
Grenade No. 77
Number Packed: 34
Gross weight: 41 lbs
Grenade No. 79
Number Packed: 24
Gross weight: 56 lbs
Number Packed: 200
Gross weight: – lbs
Bombs, P.I.A.T., H.E.
Bombs, P.I.A.T., Inert, practice
Of all the ammunition boxes in my collection, the B.166 is the most useful as its large size means I can pack a lot of kit inside it for storage. I now have three of this particular type of box and none have cost me more than £10 each.
This post marks four years since the first post on the Tales From the Supply Depot blog was published. We have covered a lot of ground since then with nearly 1400 posts and items covering British, Empire and Commonwealth military history from the 1870s to the present day. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts and learnt something along the way- I certainly have! Here’s to the next four years…
It has been a while since I last covered a kit bag on the blog, this is not because I haven’t come across them but rather because I have a number of them now so I am only picking up the more interesting varieties. One thing that always gets me interested though are nice period markings and tonight we are looking at a recent acquisition that is very nicely marked by its original owner. Unlike many of the examples we have covered, this is actually a post war bag and as such has a couple of subtle changes to some of the earlier bags we have looked at:The most obvious change over earlier designs is the addition of a heavy duty green carry handle to one side of the main body:This presumably makes the kit bag a little easier to carry and throw onto and off of transport. The neck of the bag is secured with a heavy duty draw string:A weather flap is included, and here we can see the /|\ mark and a manufacture date of 1949:What makes this bag interesting though are the markings, which were clearly added at two separate dates. Firstly we have the original owners name, Bottomley, and his number 22836224 stencilled onto the side of the kit bag in black paint:Underneath this is a free hand shipping notice that informs us that the soldier was a member of the HQ Company of the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he was shipping out to the Middle East Land Forces. The two battalions of the Inniskilling Fusiliers had been merged together in 1948, but the 2nd Battalion was briefly resurrected in April 1952 to see service in Egypt and in Cyprus against the EOKA insurgents, the battalion lasting until 1956. This allows us to date the use of this kit bag to a quite small four year period. The battalion was disbanded ostensibly due to difficulty recruiting, the fact that it had spent four years overseas being seen as a major factor in this. The government of the day explained that when the second battalion had been formed there was a shortage of front line troops with many commitments across the globe and this was a way of solving that shortfall, by 1956 much of this pressure had gone and so it was felt suitable to draw down the size of the regiment as explained by the Undersecretary for War Fitzroy Maclean:
It might be useful if I were to recall the circumstances in which it was decided, in 1952, to raise eight new second battalions. In 1950, hostilities had begun in Korea, and it had become a matter of urgency to increase the Regular Army without delay. National Service was lengthened from eighteen months to two years, Regular Army reservists were recalled, and Regulars were retained with the Colours. In the winter of 1951–52 China entered the Korean War, and additional problems faced us in Persia and Egypt.…Those were the circumstances in which it was possible to raise the eight new second battalions. Without them it would have been impossible to meet our overseas commitments. At that time we had almost no reserves in this country. Today the situation for the Army is very much easier for a number of reasons. Redeployment of our forces in the Middle East, the reduction of our forces in Korea, the withdrawal of the garrison from Trieste, all mean that we can reduce the active army to the minimum which is required to enable us to fulfil our commitments in Europe and to meet our considerably reduced commitments elsewhere; and, finally, to provide a strategic reserve.
During the Second World War Britain tried to produce as much food at home as it possible could, but in a small island with lots of mouths to feed it would never be possible to be completely self-sustaining. This meant that some food had to continue to be imported and with shipping space needed for munitions and essential war materials anything that could reduce the bulk of food as well as extending its shelf life was used. One of the most notorious of these space saving methods was drying and canning eggs and it is a tin of wartime dried egg we are looking at tonight:This tin was originally gold, with black lettering, but the gold has largely flaked off now. As can be seen from the front, this egg was canned in the USA and the tin holds the equivalent of 12 eggs:An adult was allowed one tin of dried eggs every eight weeks under rationing, costing 1s9d per tin and cooks had to come up with inventive ways to use the product. Instructions on how to prepare the egg are printed on the can and government leaflets also advised how best to use the product:One tablespoon of powder, mixed with two tablespoons of water was equivalent to one egg. The product was clearly at risk of being tainted by strong odours and flavours, so instructions advised storing away from anything with a strong smell:The scale of dried egg production in the US during World War Two was staggering, between 1942 and 1946 the average yearly production of dried egg was 209 million pounds! Despite this the British housewife never warmed to the product and the government spent a lot of time persuading people to use dried eggs. The Ministry of Food was busy encouraging house wives to use the new product and advised:
This dried egg is pure fresh egg with no additions, and nothing but the moisture taken away. It is pure egg, spray dried.
Eggs are a highly concentrated form of food. They contain first class body-building material. They also help us to resist colds and other infection because of their high protective properties.
Eggs are easily digested, and for this reason are especially good for children and invalids.
Dried eggs are just as good as fresh eggs and should be used in the same way. They are very useful for main dishes.Powdered egg could lead to some unusual stories, such as this one related by Win Watson:
There was food rationing of course, but we always had enough to eat, though there were very unpleasant things like dried eggs and dried milk. When I was harvesting once, we girls were taking it in turns to cook and one day we were going to have bacon and dried egg made up into a sort of omelette. The bacon was cooked first, but when the dried egg was put into the pan it began to behave in the most extraordinary fashion. It began to foam, rose up and came over the sides of the pan. It turned out the girl who had been cook thee day before was tidy and had put the soap powder into an empty dried egg tin!
Powdered egg has a shelf life of between 5 and 10 years, so these are well past their sell by date and I for one have no intention of opening them to sample what they taste like after 75 years!