Monthly Archives: September 2018

Kasauli Barracks Postcard

This week’s postcard is a lovely colourised view of the barracks and square at Kasauli:SKM_C284e18092511330Kasauli is a hill station in India, about 50 miles from Simla. It was founded in 1842 by the British and soon developed into a small military outpost and cantonment. The station was built as part of a series of hill stations when war with the Sikhs looked likely in the 1840s. Later it was decided that the region was too pretty to remain purely military and a small hill resort sprang up for the British to escape the heat of the plains to. In 1856 a military hospital was built at the cantonment and the site remained in use by the Raj until independence. This view seems to have been taken in the early years of the twentieth century. The parade square is clearly visible in the centre of the postcard:SKM_C284e18092511330 - Copy (2)Around this are barrack blocks:SKM_C284e18092511330 - Copy (3)And officer’s bungalows:SKM_C284e18092511330 - Copy (4)The hills in the background hint at the mountainous terrain of the region, that made it so appealing to the British:SKM_C284e18092511330 - Copy (5)A 1934 article describes Kasauli as:

Kausali is a lot of rocks blasted out of the mountainside, chipped about with chisels, shuffled around into places in which people live and the whole lot dumped on top of a small hill 6,500 feet above sea level. Being this much nearer the sky it is much cooler than Ambala.

Michael Foss wistfully describes the barracks of Kasauli in his book “Out of India”:

Those decent four-square bungalows set in little fenced-in gardens; those tall brick chimneys steepling out of tiled roofs; those paths of beaten earth, so neatly swept, protected from the ravine beyond by stout posts and a linked chain. At the top of the town stands the church, with the long high nave and a square Norman tower at the west end. The barrack-blocks around the parade ground are like large roomy barns with elegant, round windows in the gable-ends. In the square a game of cricket goes on. The players are in regulation whites with white floppy hats, and the umpires are correctly dressed in long white coats. The batsman leans forward easily in an accustomed stance, the keeper crouches close to the wicket, the bowler has begun his run. The hands of the church clock are poised to move. In the big bungalow of the Officers’ Mess set amid overpowering bougainvillaea, the mess servants in tight buttoned jackets and white turbans await. There will be beer and pints of shandy for the first imperious thirst of the evening, and then sherry or chota pegs of whisky before dinner.

Bren Gun Sling

When first introduced in 1937 the Bren gun did not have a dedicated sling. Instead two special blackened metal spring clips were issued for use with the existing Lee Enfield Rifle sling:imageThese metal clips could then be attached to the machine gun, with the sling threaded between. Unfortunately this was quickly proved to be inadequate as the Lee Enfield Sling was only 46” wide, which made it impossible to fire the weapon with the sling over the shoulder. It was also only 1 ¼” wide which meant there was a limited amount of bearing surface on the users shoulder making it uncomfortable. As an interim measure the sling was lengthened in 1944 by cutting it and riveting in an extra piece of sling to extend it by a foot. This was clearly only a temporary expedient so in November of 1944 a new sling dedicated for use with the Bren gun was introduced:imageThis sling was made form new with a length of 58 inches and the strap has the same rolled edge as the old rifle sling, but is a little chunkier. The existing sling loops could still be fitted, the sling being folded back on itself at each end to secure them:imageThe brass fittings on the end of the sling were produced in both brass and a blackened finish, as seen here:imageWhilst officially adopted in November of 1944 there is some evidence that longer slings were available earlier in the war, with Canadian made examples being seen and reports of some snipers choosing the longer sling of the Bren gun over the standard Lee Enfield sling as it allowed them to get a better grip on their No4T rifle.

Here we see an Australian Bren gunner who has used his sling to hold the Bren gun at his hip, allowing him to walk and fire at the same time:CaptureThe weight of the Bren gun was high, but the sling allowed the soldier to carry the weapon across a variety of terrains, even for acrobatic stunts like this Canadian soldier scaling a wall on an assault course:bren01

Desert Auscam Shirt

As regular readers may know, my favourite camouflage pattern is the Australian Auscam design. Although hard to find in the UK, I have slowly been building up a little collection of these over the last few years. The most common variation to find is the standard Auscam in shades of green. Far harder is the desert pattern and until recently I had a lone pair of shorts, that we covered here. Recently however I have found a shirt in the desert Auscam pattern and quickly snapped it up for my collection:imageOfficially this pattern of camouflage is called Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform of DPDU and this pattern and the uniform it went with have gone through a myriad of changes during a short service life. The first version, from 2001, was printed in 3 colours (brown and grey on a tan background) with 1/3 of the normal pattern missing and rushed into issue for the Australian Special Air Service Regiment deployed to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). A second version from a year later used 5 colours: brown, lime green, grey, and a very light blue on a tan background. This was again issued to SASR in Afghanistan after the first version was found to be too light in colour for the terrain. This was followed by a third issue in: brown, grey, very light blue and purple on a yellow background. The cut was changed in the shirt with the bottom pockets being omitted and placed on the sleeves.australian_auscam_by_tounushi-d89o3u1This was replaced in 2006 by the current-issue DPDU. The colours remain the same as the previous DPDU. Changes to the uniform include repositioning of shoulder straps to the chest, the changes of the chest pockets and cargo pockets from the button-fastened flap of the pocket to zips and minor changes to the sleeve pockets. This shirt is one of this production run, as can be seen by the front of the shirt which has the centrally mounted rank slide and two large pockets:imageThe shirt secures up the front with plastic buttons:imageAnd each sleeve has a large pocket on the upper arm:imageNote the large Velcro patches to allow insignia to be added and removed. Here we see the uniform being worn and some of the insignias that is attached to the sleeves:NATO International Security Assistance ForceAt some point I would like to get hold of these to complete the shirt. The lower sleeves have a second layer of fabric added to provide some reinforcement for when a soldier goes prone with his rifle:image

The cuff secures with a fabric tab and Velcro. A standard Australian Army contract label is sewn into the shirt:imageAs with most items of Australian Army clothing this shirt was made in Victoria and has the /|\ mark, still in use to this day in the country.

Canadian Made Utility Strap

Tonight we are looking at a Canadian made utility strap:imageI have called this a ‘utility strap’ because, to be honest, I have been unable to find out what its official designation should be. The 1908 and 1937 pattern webbing both included ‘supporting straps’ that are used to help balance the large pack and at first glance this strap appears to be one of these, however when measured my example is just 27” long rather than the requisite 32” in length. This strap would certainly have had a use and was probably for securing something in a roll or to another piece of webbing, but I do not have a definitive answer. This example was made in Canada in 1943 by Zephyr Loom and Textile Ltd, as can be seen by the ink stamp on the webbing:imageNote also the /|\ inside a ‘C’ acceptance stamp of the Canadian military and the slight yellowish colour of the webbing that is so characteristic of Canadian production. This strap is unusual in having the chape fitting made of the usual brass:imageBut the buckle is made of ‘battle brass’:imageBattle brass was brass finished in a brown phosphate finish to prevent it from reflecting light in the field and seems to have been a uniquely Canadian feature. Battle brass was introduced in 1943, the year this strap was manufactured and my guess would be that the buckles on this production line ran out before the end chapes and so this strap has ended up with a mix of fittings as one component was transferred over to the new material before the other.

If anyone reading can help identify exactly what this strap has come from please get in contact. There seems to be a myriad variety of these sort of straps in different lengths which all clearly had a purpose when they were made that has been forgotten about since!

Aircrew Modular Vest Holster

The blog has covered a lot of MOLLE pouches and equipment over the years, normally from the Osprey system. Tonight however we have something a little different, this is a holster from an aircrew modular vest:imageThe aircrew modular vest was developed by Beaufort to combine body armour with a life vest and give aircrew places to attach pieces of equipment such as holsters and pouches for escape and evasion purposes. The images from the company’s brochure show the features of the vest:CaptureThe holster can be seen on the right of the image. The holster is designed to carry a 9mm military automatic and a spare magazine. Here it is with a Browning Hi-Power:imageA strap goes over the backstrap of the pistol to hold it secure, held in place with a lift the dot style fastener:imageThe spare magazine is held in a separate pouch on the front secured by a tape and press-stud:imageThe holster is made from soft cotton rather than the Cordua nylon most military equipment is today. The bottom of the holster includes padding sewn inside the fabric to help protect the muzzle of the pistol and to protect the wearer from the front sight of the automatic:imageThe back of the holster has a pair of heavy duty nylon MOLLE straps to allow the holster to be attached to the rest of the vest:imageIn this case it has been taped up with sniper tape to make a belt loop to allow the holster to be worn there rather than on the vest. The back of the holster has a sewn in label indicating it is made by Beaufort and is a ‘holster pocket’:imageAlthough a well thought out system, the aircrew modular vest was not hugely popular as it was felt to be a bit delicate compared to other webbing out there and many aircrew dropped it in favour of other designs. This example is in Desert DPM fabric but it was also produced in standard DPM and in the newer MTP fabric. It is an unusual piece as far smaller quantities of aircrew equipment are procured when compared to standard infantry webbing so this is a nice addition to the collection.

HMS Belfast Silk Scarf

Tonight my thanks go to Owen Thompson who very kindly sent me this lovely silk scarf through the post:imageThis piece was made as a souvenir for someone with a connection to the cruiser HMS Belfast and the ships badge and name is neatly embroidered on one end:imageEach end has an attractive tasselled finish and this is clearly a craft produced item, but one of excellent quality:imageI suspect that this scarf was worn by one of the ship’s crew as a decorative piece on a night out, the wearing of such scarves was quite common in the 1940s and 1950s with evening wear so it might well have been purchased by one of the officers aboard this vessel.

HMS Belfast is a Town-class light cruiser that was built for the Royal Navy. She is now permanently moored as a museum ship on the River Thames in London and is operated by the Imperial War Museum.London_November_2013-14aConstruction of Belfast, the first ship in the Royal Navy to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of ten Town-class cruisers, began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939, Belfast struck a German mine and spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Belfast returned to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment, and armour. Belfast saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943 and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944, Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945, Belfast was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before Belfast entered reserve in 1963.

In 1967, efforts were initiated to avert Belfast‘s expected scrapping and to preserve her as a museum ship. A joint committee of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the Ministry of Defence were established and then reported in June 1968 that preservation was practical. In 1971, the government decided against preservation, prompting the formation of the private HMS Belfast Trust to campaign for her preservation. The efforts of the Trust were successful, and the government transferred the ship to the Trust in July 1971. Brought to London, she was moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge in the Pool of London. Opened to the public in October 1971, Belfast became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978. A popular tourist attraction, Belfast receives over a quarter of a million visitors per year.

BCB Firedragon Portable Stove

In May of 2018 the Ministry of Defence signed a contract with BCB for a new portable stove for troops to replace the old hexamine cookers that had been in service for over forty years. When it burns hexamine gives off a number of chemicals including formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. The new stoves use a form of Solid ethanol as a fuel which is far safer and unlike hexamine it can be stored alongside food without tainting it. The stove itself is made of metal and folds into a small and lightweight package:imageOpening the two leaves shows that it holds three of the ‘Firedragon’ fuel tablets and a separate piece of metal:imageThis stamped piece of metal is used as a windbreak and is stamped ‘out’ on one tab:imageThis is to make sure that it is attached to the rest of the stove in the correct orientation, the two ends can then be folded inwards to provide a shelter for the burning fuel:imageThe fuel consists of solid ethanol inside plastic packages, these are opened and a tablet placed into the central tray of the stove. The manufacturers also say that in a push the blocks can be used as a hand sanitiser! Each stove has three of them inside:imageOne online journal reported its introduction:

Cardiff-based survival equipment manufacturer, BCB International developed a solid bio-ethanol fuel called FireDragon, made from sugar beets, to replace the traditional hexamine fuel tablets soldiers use to heat food and drinks out in the field.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded a four-year contract to BCB International for the supply of a new operational ration cooker and fuel to replace hexamine tablets.

“Warm food raises a soldier’s morale, energy and concentration levels,” says BCB International’s managing director, Andrew Howell. “Unfortunately, for far too long soldiers were also unknowingly inhaling toxic fumes each time they used hexamine fuel tablets to cook their food in the field. 

“FireDragon is a safer and cleaner alternative.  The FireDragon fuel boasts many features.  It is made from sustainable natural ingredients, it is non-toxic, burns cleanly, can be ignited even when wet and if necessary can be used as a hand cleanser.”

Many armies worldwide are still issuing their soldiers with hexamine fuel tablets. But as Howell explains, the British Army’s decision to make the switch to ‘FireDragon’ has encouraged other armies to rethink their military rations heating fuel.

“There is a growing body of evidence about the health risks associated with hexamine-based fire-lighting fuels,” says Howell. “This combined with the UK MoD’s decision to use a superior alternative, has led to those in charge of combat feeding programmes in other armies to reconsider hexamine’s suitability as a fuel for the future.

Howell says BCB is in discussions with several armies that are interested in integrating FireDragon into their operational ration packs. The fuel is supplied with a small lightweight cooker, which can be packed with three FireDragon fuel blocks. firedragon-for-webAnother report says:

BCB International will supply the British armed forces with new operational ration cookers and fuel under a four-year contract with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 23 November.

The fuel to be supplied by BCB International is called ‘FireDragon’, an innovative solid fuel made from ethanol. It marks the MoD’s move away from Hexamine, the fuel provided to troops for more than forty years for cooking in the field.

A new folding cooker will also be supplied under the contract. Together, the cooker and fuel pack weighs less than 300g, and the FireDragon fuel will boil 500ml of water in under 8 minutes.

Andrew Howell, managing director, BCB, said: ‘The MoD were looking for a solution that amongst other things was lightweight, could boil 500ml of water in under 11 minutes, was easy to light and extinguish, burned cleanly and is easily transportable.   

‘The ‘FireDragon’ fuel is good news for our troops. It will enable soldiers to cook their ready to eat meals with a safer and cleaner fuel.  Our fuel is non-toxic, non-drip and made from 100% natural ingredients, including sustainably sourced ethanol.’

According to the company FireDragon burns cleanly and leaves very little residue; allowing soldiers to spend less time on cleaning their cooking equipment and more time on their vital operational roles.  

Howell added: ‘Wherever they operate, whether in driving rain, the freezing arctic or searing heat, the fuel will enable soldiers to heat their rations whenever required.’