Monthly Archives: August 2018

SA80 Sling

Whilst I was serving in the RNR I was taught, as every other sailor was, how to use an SA80 rifle. Part of that instruction included fitting the rifle’s sling, a task that I must confess I always struggled with. The SA80 sling is incredibly versatile and a fantastic piece of kit to use, however it can be difficult to fit if you are not careful. My thanks go to Martin Johnson for kindly letting me have tonight’s sling. The sling itself is made from woven nylon webbing and is usually stored rolled up when not on a gun:imageFrom the official SA80 manual, the description of the sling reads:

The sling consists of two lengths of webbing type material. The longer piece has at one end a female part of a clip and a flat plastic loop attached, the other end of the strap is clear. The shorter piece has the male part of the clip at one end and the quick release buckle and loop at the other. Capture5Here we can see the clip and in this instance a metal loop at the centre of the sling:imageOriginally this loop was plastic but it broke so frequently that it was upgraded to metal pretty quickly. The end of the shorter piece has a loop and a friction buckle:imageThe designation of the sling and a year of manufacture are printed onto the sling in white lettering:imageFitting the sling is also described in the manual:

Join the sling together using the male/female clip ensuring the that flat loop and the ridged edge of the gate are the same way up.

Take the longer strap and lay it flat along the weapon with the female clip end towards the muzzle and the flat plastic loop pointing outwards. Feed the clear end through the front sling loop and then through the flat plastic loop on the strap and over the ridged edge of the gate in the base of the male clip and pull tight (Stage 1 and 2).Capture1Ensure that the longer strap remains untwisted and then feed the clear end through the rear sling loop on the weapon (Stage 3).

Check that the shorter strap is not twisted and then feed the clear end of the longer strap outwards through the main gate of the buckle bar. Finally, thread the clear end of the longer strap back through the gate in the buckle (Stage 4).Capture 2Once completed the rifle and sling should look like this:Capture3This sling allows the rifle to be carried in a number of different ways, including slung over the back in a rucksack style when both hands need to be free such as when skiing:Capture4

Soldier’s English-French Pocket Book

One problem that the British soldier had when on active service in France during World War One was making himself understood by the locals. Although some soldiers did have a smattering of French, most lacked even the most basic skills in a foreign language. To help soldiers out, enterprising publishers produced a large range of pocket phrase books that had useful English phrases, their French translation, and a guide to pronunciation so the soldier could at least have a stab at being understood. Tonight we have one example of these books, this one entitled ‘Soldier’s English-French Pocket Book’:imageIt is rather battered and undated but is certainly from the Great War. Inside are useful words and phrases, many with a military slant such as these:imageSome of this is clearly aimed more at officers than private soldiers, presumably to allow them to supplement the French they would have learnt at school with specific phrases they would need whilst performing their duties. Other phrases are more prosaic and offer helpful things like how to ask if a local will swap a pot of jam for cigarettes:imageThe use of other phrases defies logic and one is hard pressed to imagine a soldier needing to ask for a receipt for a tin of beef:imageThese dictionaries were clearly popular, one soldier wrote home to his mother:

I think the Dictionary one of the most sensible presents that has been sent out. All the men are struck with it, and are writing home for one

A member of the Berkshire Regiment explained how useful it could be for shopping and the books’ limitations:

Every shop was crowded with lads in khaki, everyone talking a mixture of English, French and Hindu. Nearly everyone carries a book or pamphlet containing English and French sentences, and it is good to see the resigned look on the shopwoman’s face while a customer, red in the face, ties his tongue in a knot and feverishly turns the pages of his book in the vain hope of finding a sentence that will help him out

HMS Sutherland Armilla Patrol Polo Shirt

The Armilla Patrol has been the Royal Navy’s permanent presence in the Persian Gulf since the early 1980s. Following the outbreak of the Iran Iraq war in 1980 the Royal navy decided that British interests and shipping in the region were in danger and an escort vessel should be deployed to the region as both a deterrent and to respond to any situations that need Royal Navy support. Typically both a Royal navy warship and an RFA support vessel are deployed, the Royal navy ship remaining on station for six months and the RFA ship for a year. At times of greater tension an aircraft carrier or task group have reinforced the patrol. During both the First Gulf war and the invasion of Iraq the presence in the region has been increased and tonight we have a commemorative polo shirt from HMS Sutherland’s deployment on this patrol in 2003:imageThe polo shirt is an entirely standard white shirt, however it has had a custom embroidered ship’s badge and lettering sewn onto the chest:imageThe ship helped police the region and had one seizure of note on this deployment, as reported by the BBC at the time:

A ship smuggling 1,100 tons of oil out of Iraq has been intercepted by the Royal Navy.

It is the Navy’s largest seizure since the end of the war.

Royal Marine commandos from the HMS Sutherland frigate boarded the vessel in the northern Arabian gulf late on Friday and arrested its captain and crew. HMS_Sutherland_NEWThe raid comes as ordinary Iraqis rioted in frustration at the country’s fuel shortages.

The ship had been under surveillance for several days.

“This is the most significant seizure we have had since the end of the war,” Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Richard Walter said.

The ship, called Navstar 1, was registered in Panama and had a Ukrainian crew.

It was not known who owned the vessel or where it was headed with its load of diesel oil.

The US-appointed administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said coalition forces were determined to put an end to any illegal activities affecting Iraq’s economy and its people.

“The seizure of the Navstar 1 demonstrates the commitment of the coalition forces and the Iraqi police to protecting Iraq’s assets, so that they can benefit all Iraqis, rather than the criminals,” he said in a statement.

The ship was due to be escorted to the southern port of Umm Qasr this weekend where the crew would be handed over to Iraqi police for questioning.

Mk XV Ship’s Telephone

Anyone who has watched a documentary on the Royal Navy during the Second World War will be familiar with the use of voice pipes to communicate with different parts of a ship. These simple communications systems were just metal tubes that you spoke into and the sound vibrated around them to be picked up at the other end. They were simple and reasonably effective, but by the end of the Second World War they were being quickly displaced by internal ship’s telephones. One of these early designs was the Admiralty Mk XV telephone:imageThis heavy duty telephone was used in the latter parts of the Second World War and through into the post war period. It’s designation is marked on a small brass plate fastened to the front:imageIt is what is known as a sound phone so needed no external source of power to ring or to speak through. The operator turned the handle:imageWhich in turn powered a small generator that caused the corresponding telephone to ring indicating someone wished to speak. Simultaneously a light began to flash so if the telephone was in a noisy environment, such as an engine room, it was still clear that there was an incoming call. On the front of the box unit is a reinforced glass disk:imageBehind this sits a bulb:imageThe telephone has a large Bakelite handset, with a microphone and speaker unit built in:imageThis hooks into a cradle on the side of the telephone:imageThe hooks for holding the hand set are sprung to clamp the handset firmly in even the roughest weather. The user has to pull both down and out simultaneously to remove the handset:imageThe top cover of the telephone is secured with a series of captive screws. Undoing these allows the cover to be removed and for us to see the internal parts of the device:imageThe only indication of a date for this telephone can be found here, where an internal component is dated June 1944:imageThe telephone would have been securely mounted on a bulkhead, and on the rear are three brackets to allow it to be bolted on: weighing in at over 15 lbs, secure fittings would have been a necessity:imageOnce attached to the bulkhead, the wiring for the telephone to connect it to the rest of the ship’s communications system entered through the base of the telephone and several holes are cast into the body to allow wires to pass into the interior of the device:imageMaintaining these telephones came under the remit of the ship’s electrical department and this comes from a period manual advising how to maintain and set up the Mk XV telephone aboard a ship:CaptureI have no way of knowing what ship, if any, this telephone is from, nor whether it was made during the war or immediately afterwards form wartime components. It is incredibly heavy, but is a very interesting and fun piece of militaria and is now mounted on the wall as a great display piece. I just need to find a second and wire them up now…

1972 Pattern RAF Jacket

In the early 1970s the RAF reviewed its uniforms and started updating what were essentially the same designs they had been using since the Second World War. Modern fibres were brought in for the No2 dress uniform and brass buttons were replaced with staybrite examples to reduce the amount of maintenance an airman needed to do to keep it looking smart. Whilst this was fine for the dress uniform, the woollen RAF battledress used as an everyday work uniform also needed replacing and In 1974 a new uniform cut along much more modern lines was introduced:imageDeveloped a couple of years earlier, this is officially the 72 pattern jacket. This uniform, more than perhaps any other, reflects the period it was designed and is very much a 1970s design. It acquired a number of nicknames, the Thunderbird jacket being perhaps the politest! One user describes it as ‘awful and shapeless’. The jacket has a central zip up the front to secure it:imageAnd two angled pockets, also with metal zips:imageThe waist is drawn in and adjusted by two buckles and sliders:imageThe sizing of this jacket is the old pre-metric type so this example dates from the mid-1970s:imageThe jacket did see something of a surge of popularity in the 1980s:

It was about this time that the V neck wooly started to appear, which again I didn’t think much of, and this may have tempted me to start wearing the Thunderbird jacket, if I had stayed in any longer. The Thunderbird jacket was a horrible looking thing and I avoided wearing it unless ordered to. Later on as a Cpl, I would sometimes wear it if I was on some duty or other outside of my normal work area. I think there were a lot of people who didn’t like the Thunderbird jacket, but strangely after the Falklands war it started to become popular with a certain faction who had never worn it before. Of course it couldn’t possibly be anything to do with the fact that you had medal ribbons on your No2 jacket!

Another airman recalls one still in use in the 1990s:

The Thunderbird jacket, now that was a great thing. The first time I saw one was in the 90s, an ancient MACR came into our (Army) hangar wearing his. We all disappeared behind our Rovers killing ourselves laughing. He looked utterly ridiculous. He had MASSIVE badges of rank on it, on both arms. He’d also been in since Trenchard, and had a double row of medal ribbons up. It looked like he’d just rolled out of the 1960s. His jacket probably had. Nice old bloke, but it was definitely time for him to hang his jacket up and retire.

Dockyard Creek, Malta Photograph

Not every image I come across is of the highest quality, and tonight’s is a rather poor but interesting shot of a harbour:SKM_C284e18051511411Happily for us the original photographer was kind enough to label this so we know that this is a shot of Dockyard Creek on Malta. In the back ground ships can be seen at their moorings:SKM_C284e18051511411 - CopyAnd the buildings of the harbour can be seen on the shore:SKM_C284e18051511411 - Copy (2)The dockyards in Malta are in Valetta, the island’s capital and were first founded by the Knights of Malta to service their galleys. When the British took over the running of Malta in the nineteenth century they started a dockyard for the Royal Navy to help maintain their Mediterranean fleet. They centred this around the existing buildings in Dockyard Creek and massively expanded what was there so that by the mid nineteenth century the dockyard boasted storehouses, a ropery, a small steam factory, victualling facilities, houses for the officers of the Yard, and most notably a dry dock which at the time was the first provided for the Royal Navy outside Great Britain.

The dockyard remained in used for over a hundred years, its toughest test coming during the Second World War when the island was virtually under siege. William Andrews was in the Royal Navy and describes being in the dockyard under enemy fire:

I had just arrived from Gibraltar on board HMS Dido a cruiser, I was to join HMS Aurora light cruiser which was unfortunately lying in dry dock No:5 in Malta harbour with damage to her bows. After a few preliminaries I finally went on board Aurora. I soon became part of the crew. Apparently she had run into a mine field after a patrol beyond the Maltese boundaries. HMS Neptune cruiser was sunk, HMS Penelope had been damaged although she managed to make it to the USA for repairs and Destroyer Kandahar was beached. Aurora made it back to Malta but worse was to happen as the enemy were determined to finish her.
The bombing was incessant. Our captain Bill Agneur ordered that all personnel not concerned with the defence of the ship to proceed ashore to air raid shelters within the dock yard area. There was heavy destruction around us, we were trapped in the dry dock with only our guns for defence. Other anti-aircraft batteries were within the area and gave us good support.
One day during a heavy raid, the dock gate received a direct hit and within minutes we were floating as the harbour waters rushed into the dock. Finally the damaged gates were dragged away and we got out into the harbour.

Today the area has been gentrified and is used to moor luxury yachts, a far cry from its time in the Second World War.

Wartime Snap Cards

We looked at one wartime card game, Old Maid, last week. There were obviously many different card games produced during the war for children to play with and whilst some were new games others were just updates of old games with a wartime twist. Tonight we have a set of cards that sadly do not have a box or a rule card to identify which game they are for:imageThere are a total of forty eight cards, of twelve designs with four of each design. Digging around online I have seen indications that this was for the game of Snap and was originally produced by Woolworths. This would certainly seem plausible as if it is played with a standard pack of cards Snap normally involves players trying to match ‘2s’ or ‘5s’ etc. where there are four of each in a pack, equating to the four cards in each design here. The cards themselves have a distinctly wartime feel, with bold cartoon designs for each card:

The artwork is very much of its time and these games would have helped alleviate boredom amongst children sheltering from air raids. Here we see children playing cards in a shelter:large_000000This was not the only game used to pass the time. Betty McDonald recalls:

Shelters where built in the streets where residents could go when the air raid sirens went off. When this happened, which was often, my job was to pick up a small attach case which contained all of our personal papers and details, insurance policies, certificates and identity cards, money etc and go to the shelter with mum and dad.

The shelter was made of brick, with solid steel door. Inside, on one wall, was a square hole so you could get to the next section without going outside. My dad built me what must have been the first bunk bed made of wood -no steps, really, just like a large wooden table. Mum used to take a blanket which we would both lay on. I cannot remember sleeping, too much going on inside and out.

We used to play games such as guess which film star, using the initials only. One night I had our neighbours guessing for ages, no-one could guess the name of OMR. When finally they gave in I said proudly Old Mother Riley!