These days, happily, most companies are usually quite happy to have members of staff serving as reservists, conscious of the extra training and experience this will bring to their workforce. This situation has not always been so, and until quite recently many employees had to keep their service in the reserves a secret form their employers for fear of pressure to leave either the military or their jobs. Often these private companies argued that the reason for this was that the employee was an important part of their work force and couldn’t be pared for training or if war were to be declared. Tonight we are looking at one such case which comes down to us in the form of a letter written in 1929 to the officer commanding the Royal Army Service Corps in Croydon:The letter comes from a company called Gowllands Limited who made lenses and ophthalmic instruments:The letter concerns a new employee of theirs, J Plumb, who the company felt was too important to their workforce to be called up from the reserve:Sadly the second page of the letter is missing and it is not quite clear if the man in question was serving as a member of the Territorial Army and was part of the country’s reserve forces or had previously been in the army and had now left but was liable to call up if war were to break out as an old soldier. I have tried to track down the piece of legislation or a report on the change to the status of reservists that the letter refers to, but so far I have drawn a blank.
The company ‘Gowllands’ is still in business today and still makes lenses and ophthalmic equipment in Croyden.
Mitcham Road barracks is also still in existence and is today a base for the Army Reserve and as of November 2017 held the following units: C (Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry) Squadron, The Royal Yeomanry, 150 Recovery Company, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and the Mortar Platoon of B Company, 4th Battalion, Parachute Regiment.
In the run up to World War Two British companies were quick to take advantage of the growing worry about air raids and produced a wide variety of goods that householders could buy to help protect themselves, their loved ones and their property in the event of bombing. This page from the Daily Mail in early 1939 shows some of the products advertised to the general public as being needed if the bombers came:Many of these products would be of limited use when bombs finally came, but first aid kits were a sensible purchase and although advertised as for ‘ARP’ use, they were also functional for more general accidents round the home. One such first aid kit was the ‘First Aid outfit number 4, which came in a stout cardboard box:A large label was pasted to the front with details of the boxes title, manufacturer etc.:Inside was a variety of first aid supplies:And the underside of the lid had some basic first aid instructions. These have been tailored slightly for ARP use by including advise on treating gas casualties:I am unsure if all the contents of this box are original, or how complete it is, but I suspect it is at least representative of what the outfit originally contained. Amongst other items, the box contains cotton wool, crepe and triangular bandages, a box of Elastoplast brand adhesive plasters, pins, a tin of Vaseline, an eye bath and a thermometer:There is also a small vial of insect repellent which I suspect is not original to the box, but is period so was probably added by the original purchaser.
A wide variety of first aid kits were sold to households in this period, at varying prices and with different contents. Some were far smaller than this set, with just a few bandages and slings, others were far more comprehensive and contained many more items. They were usually sold based on the size of household they were purportedly designed for, but often the retail price was a more pressing factor and a poor family with many children, if they could afford a first aid kit, would have purchased the cheaper sets regardless of the fact that they were marketed as being for a smaller number of people.
During the Second World War a number of different cine cameras were used on fighter aircraft to try and record the moment a plane engaged the enemy. These small cameras were linked to the machine guns and recorded the split seconds that the gun fired and hopefully hit its target. One of the most common of these cameras was the G45 that saw service on aircraft such as the Spitfire and Hurricane and continued in use after the war on early jets such as the Vampire in both combat and for training:Whilst I do not have an example of the camera in my collection, I do have one of the small metal cine-film magazines:These magazines carried 16mm film and were loaded into the camera as in the advertisement above. A metal loop at one end of the magazine helps with inserting and removing it from the camera:Details of the film magazine and a /|\ mark are cast into the metal top cover:Each magazine was serialised and the number is repeated on the back:The top cover slides off the magazine:And this reveals two spools, one for the unexposed film and a second one that the film rolls onto when it had been used, cast arrows in the base show the correct way to load the film into the magazine:A sprung platform at one end of the magazine holds the film in place for each individual frame to be exposed:R Wallace Clarke in his book “British Aircraft Armament Vol.2: Guns and Gunsights” describes the G45 Gun Camera as follows:
In July 1939 the G45 camera gun was issued to armament schools and fighter units. Designed and manufactured by the Williamson Co. of London and Reading, it was developed from the earlier G42B which had been in service for some years. The G45 used 16 mm Orthochromatic film supplied in 7.62 m (25 ft) lengths. Frame speeds could be regulated to 16, 18 or 20 per second, these speeds corresponding to the rates of fire of the Lewis, Vickers K and Browning. It was supplied in two versions, the fixed gun type with a short lens unit, and a long lens for other use. Williamson also supplied a replica Vickers K gun, the Type 29, with a camera mount and reflector sight bracket.
The G45 proved to be an essential aid to aerial gunnery, enabling a trainee to be shown the results of his ‘shooting’ after an exercise and be advised on any improvements needed. A footage recorder was provided in the cockpit or turret, wired from contacts in the camera. In the centre of the recorder was a ‘sunny or cloudy’ switch wired to the aperture of the camera. Early problems with condensation and moisture were eased when heating elements were fitted to the lens and camera body, although they were never fully overcome. The G45 was fitted as standard on Fighter Command aircraft, but, mounted in the leading edge close to the guns, the vibration affected the film clarity. It was controlled by an electrical switch operated by the gun-firing pneumatic system, or from the turret electrical firing unit. The film was loaded into a cassette, which could be inserted either from the top or side of the housing. The G45 was one of the most practical means of weapon aiming training, and the gun camera hut in gunnery training schools was in constant use. A purpose-made cine-projector made by Specto Ltd of Windsor was used to show films. It could show frame stills or slow motion shots of the trainees’ performance.
One of the most dangerous operations at sea is refuelling one ship from another by means of a flexible fuel pipe. This is a manoeuvre the Royal Navy has been experts in for many decades and during the two world wars smaller ships such as Destroyers were regularly refuelled by capital ships with larger fuel tanks such as battleships. It was however more common to take on fuel from small tankers, with both ships having to maintain station whilst fuel was transferred from one vessel to the other. Tonight we have a series of snapshots taken by a sailor aboard a Royal navy warship as she refuelled form a small tanker at sea. The image quality isn’t brilliant, but it is rare to have such photographs and even from these hurried snaps it is clear how dangerous this activity would have been:The fuel lines can be seen snaking up from the tanker, supported by a derrick and then coming down to the warship where they would be pumping fuel straight into her tanks. The sea looks very calm here, but even a mild swell makes this task far more hazardous and anything with cables under tension at sea can be potentially lethal as if they snap they whip back and can cut a man in half instantly.
Eric R Wilkinson was aboard HMS Euryalus in 1944 and describes how she was oiled at sea:
This is the time to write about oiling at sea. Ship’s companies in cruisers and destroyers were used to a life in which it was always necessary to visit a port to take in oil fuel every few days. The time between refuelling varied with all sorts of factors — the speed we sailed at (as I recall we used at least twice as much oil per mile at full speed as at cruising speed) and how low in fuel it was acceptable to be in the circumstances of the place and time. But every week or so, and often more frequently, we put into a port to refuel. This brought respite from the monotony of watch-keeping at sea, at least for the few hours it took to refuel.
But such frequent visits to port would obviously not be possible in the Pacific, and therefore we learned to refuel at sea. This had been part of our working-up programme at Scapa. An oil tanker steamed at constant speed while the ships being fuelled kept station on her, on each side or behind. Flexible hoses were hoisted from ship to ship, and the fuelling proceeded. It was a fraught period for many in the ship. The shipping of the hoses was difficult at the best of times and almost impossible in poor weather. Occasionally the hoses disconnected and fuel gushed everywhere. Keeping station imposed continual strain on the bridge personnel who had to steer and adjust the ship’s speed very precisely.
It was also stressing for the men in the engine rooms who had to adjust the big wheels which controlled the throttle valves which admitted steam to the engines, as orders were telegraphed from the bridge. The engine designers had not envisaged this sort of close speed control being necessary, and the tachometers fitted to each engine gave only rough readings. Fine adjustments had to be made by repeatedly clocking the rev counters. Finally, the engineer officer in charge of taking in oil fuel had to be released from his watch-keeping duties in the engine room so the other engineer officers had to take over his watches