Monthly Archives: November 2018

Belgian Contract 7.62mm Ammunition Box

Most post-war ammunition boxes you come across form British small arms rounds are painted green, with details stencilled on in yellow. It was therefore somewhat surprising to be given a box in red oxide that the previous owner assured me had been rescued form a British Army dump many years before:imageFurther research, and the help of an old friend, revealed that the box was Belgian in origin, but produced under contract for the British. This then explained the odd size and colour compared to normal British boxes! The design of the box is very square in profile, with a heavy duty metal handle on two sides. One of the sides with a handle has a large spring clip for securing the lid:imageThe opposite side is stencilled up with the boxes weight and the initials FNB indicating that the ammunition was made by Fabrique Nationale, Belgium:imageThe date of packing is marked on as 16th April 1985. The date is repeated on one of the sides of the box along with details of the original contents:imageFrom this we can see that the box held 1200 rounds of 7.62mm ball ammunition in cartons. The four and final side of the box is marked up with the words ‘Cartridges for Weapons’:imageAlthough Britain has long produced its own ammunition at factories such as Radway Green, at times it has supplemented this manufacture with foreign contracts. Sometimes it would have been because the ammunition was a specialist type and it was not cost effective to set up a full production line for it, at others the factories in the UK were too busy producing other ammunition. In 1985 I suspect that the UK factories were flat out producing 5.56 rounds for the newly introduced SA80 in order to build up a stockpile in warehouses for the new weapon. As such they would not have had capacity to produced 7.62mm rounds and so the British Government turned to FN to fill the shortfall.

My thanks go to Ian Ward for kindly giving me this box.

Canadian Produced 37 Pattern Cartridge Carrier

One thing I really enjoy about the different locations of production for 37 pattern webbing around the globe is how different factories came up with different solutions to the same problems. Of all the countries that produced 37 pattern webbing, Canada’s pieces are arguably the best quality of all, but they made a number of changes to the basic design to suit their own industrial capacity and tonight we have one of the most striking examples of this when we consider the 37 pattern cartridge carrier produced in Canada:imageIt is useful to compare this design with that produced in Britain (see here). The most important point to observe is that British firms (more specifically Mills) had looms that could do reduction weaving, this allowing the tapered pockets needed for cartridges to be produced in one motion on a machine. Canada lacked this technology so instead used a clever system of folds and stitching to achieve the same effect on each pocket. The second feature to note is that when the top flap of each pouch is opened a tab is sewn to the inside to prevent the cartridges form being able to fall free by accident:imageLike the British design, a pair of male studs is provided to cater for both full and empty pouches. The third major difference is harder to spot, but the British design had an internal divider to separate the two Lee Enfield chargers. The Canadian design does not, just having a single, large, open pocket:imageThe rear of the carrier is broadly similar to the British version, with a pair of ‘C’ hooks to attach it to the waist belt and the brace attachment sewn above to allow the shoulder braces to fasten on:imageThis example is stamped ‘ZL&T Ltd 1940’ on the rear:imageThis indicates it was manufactured by Zephyr Loom and Textile Ltd, one of the two largest manufacturers of accoutrements in Canada.

88 Pattern Austeyr Ammunition Pouch

We continue our review of the 88 pattern webbing set by taking a look at the ammunition pouches for the Austeyr:imageThe Austeyr was the Australian version of the Steyr Aug bullpup rifle and was introduced into service at the same time as the webbing. Each pouch can hold three magazines, with most soldiers having a pair of pouches, allowing six magazines to be carried, giving them a total of 180 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition. The pouch is made of a heavy duty nylon, printed in Auscam, with other fittings made of a tan shade of webbing. The top flap of the pouch is secured with a fixed Fastex buckle:imageWhen the pouch is opened it can be seen that this is supplemented by a strip of Velcro around the top edge:imageThis Velcro makes it very hard to securely fasten the buckle because the Velcro tends to grab and hold the lid fast before the buckle has a chance to fully engage. The underside of the top flap has the markings for NSN number, date and manufacturer, along with the /|\ mark that Australia still uses to indicate it’s army’s property:imageThe inside of the pouch has a set of dividers to allow the three Austeyr magazines to be carried:imageThese are secured in place with Velcro and can be folded back to give one large pouch if different ammunition loads need to be carried:imageLoops are fitted to the sides of the pouch to allow additional items, such as the first aid pouch, to be attached:imageThe back of the pouch is quite plain and just has the fastenings to allow it to be attached to a belt:imageThese consist of two plastic clips and above them a single plastic ring:imageThis ring is used to attach the yoke to the pouches when the webbing is assembled. Like many ammunition pouches, this design features drainage holes at the base, interestingly here it is two, side by side, rather than a single central one:imageAn Australian report in 2008 sets out something of the design of the pouch and the doctrine for its use:

The Australian Army F88 pouch is the basic pouch used to store 3 F88 Austeyr magazines. It is made primarily of canvas material with a plastic ‘skeleton’ to hold the pouches shape. The pouch is a box shape with a static lower portion sized to accommodate magazines inserted vertically, and an upper portion; the lid. The lid connects to the lower portion by means of both a strip of Velcro and a clip. To prevent noise and rattling once the user is in motion, 2 dividing pieces of material are used to separate the magazines within the pouch. Operation of the pouch requires the user to squeeze the clip and separate the Velcro. The pouch holds 3 magazines, and requires the user to both open and close the pouch correctly to ensure successful functionality.

Loading, reloading and unloading a weapon requires the user to operate the pouch. The user does this by first opening the lid by squeezing the clip and pulling the pouch cover in a vertical direction. If required an empty magazine is first placed into the pouch, and a full magazine is removed and placed onto the weapon. The weapon is brought to a functional condition and the pouch is closed by clipping the lid to the lower portion.

RAF Enamelled Wash Jug

Tonight’s object is a great piece dating back to the earliest days of the RAF. Measuring nearly 12 inches high, this enamel jug is very large and impressive:imageIt is clearly marked on the front with the initials ‘RAF’:imageThis jug is far too large and heavy when filled to be used for drinking water easily, so I suspect it is part of a wash set. Before running water was common, china or enamelled metal jug and bowl sets were used for early morning ablutions. The hot water was brought up in a jug and then poured into the bowl for washing and shaving with. This remained common practice in many households until after the Second World War and it is equally likely that many barrack rooms were not equipped with hot running water or ablution blocks, so these jugs and bowls had to suffice. Sadly the bowl is long gone form this set, but the jug is a magnificent survivor and in excellent condition. The lip and handle of the jug are made in black enamel, rather than the white of the rest of the pitcher:imageThis was a deliberate economy seen universally on enamel ware. White enamel is far cheaper than other colours, but far more susceptible to chipping and damage. Therefore the harder wearing blue or black enamel is put on areas known to be most prone to damage, such as the lip and handle, whilst the main body of the jug is finished in the cheaper but more fragile white enamel.

The base of the jug has a wonderful maker’s stamp that helps us date this piece to 1926:imageThe letters ‘AM’ stand for Air Ministry who ordered this item from the manufacturers, Macfarlane and Robinson Ltd. This company was a major manufacturer specialising in enamel wares, both ‘hollow-ware’ such as this jug and enamel signs and advertising hoardings. They had factories in London, Wolverhampton and Glasgow. George Peck remembers the factory:

Macfarlane and Robinsons, the old enamel and earthenware people, where behind the Elephant & Castle. They made big dishes, big trays, gas plates and things like that. It was a big place, next to what we called the cattle shunt and the big Co Op. coal wharf. It caught fire, the biggest fire in Wolverhampton at the time. I remember my dad when he came home from his work at the Grand Theatre. He finished work at 11 o’clock and saw the fire on his way home. He went down the road and my mother was worried because he didn’t get in until about 4 o’clock in the morning. They had to eventually take pipes down to the canal on the Cannock Road, which was under the two railway bridges. They had to drain water from the canal, because it was such a large fire that the fire engine couldn’t cope. After the fire, Macfarlane and Robinsons moved to where Goodyears are. They built a new place there and in later years it was taken over by Goodyears. A lot of the local girls used to work at Macfarlanes, doing the enamelling, the dressing, the painting. They always used white enamel with blue rims.mrlh1917

Silver Territorial Army Rifle Association Medal

Tonight we have a silver medal for the Territorial Rifle Association:imageThis design seems to have been in use by the TRA for many years with examples dating back as far as the early 1930s. The medal came in three finishes: bronze, silver and gold. The design depicts Nike, goddess of Victory holding a laurel wreath aloft. The laurel wreath was again a symbol of victory dating back to Roman times. Scrolls around the central figure bear the words ‘Territorial Rifle Asson.’

The rear of the medal has space for the title of the event to be engraved and the recipient:imageThis example does not appear to be complete as it just has the date, 1956, and the title ‘Lord Lieuts’. This suggests it was intended to be used as a prize in a shooting competition supported by the Lord Lieutenant of a county but it has clearly never been issued as the name of a winner is not included on the rear.

The Territorial Rifle Association was an organisation very similar to the Army Rifle Association and had the aim of encouraging marksmanship amongst territorial soldiers through regular target competitions and by awarding small prizes to the best shots in various categories. The use of sporting competition to encourage good marksmanship continues to this day and all three armed forces have regular shooting competitions both within their service and between one another

Life Guard’s NCO’s Mess Postcard

A mess is a social space in an army barracks where men can gather off duty to relax, drink and socialise together. Different ranks have their own separate messes, with one for officers, one for NCOs etc. These have been an essential part of barracks life for many centuries and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully evocative postcard of the mess of the NCOs of the Life guards, the country’s premier cavalry regiment:SKM_C284e18102411420This image probably dates from the Edwardian era, but many features would be familiar to men of today. A large and well stocked bar is still a necessity:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (4)As is the provision of recreation facilities, today a pool table has probably replaced one for billiards, but the principle is the same:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (2)Other features, such as the gas lighting, have long since disappeared:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (3)This large and opulently furnished room is heated by a single, large fireplace at one end. It is surrounded by various trophies won by the mess:SKM_C284e18102411420 - CopyThese trophies also appear on the large central table, along with potted plants:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (6)This table served a number of purposes. It allowed members of the mess to write and do work at it, but was also used for formal dinners in the mess when wives and senior officers might be invited for a night of food, drink and enjoyment.

Other details to note include a small letter rack by the bar, criss-crossed ribbons providing places for correspondence to be tucked into until collected:SKM_C284e18102411420 - Copy (5)Interestingly NCO’s messes were often held in higher regard than those of the officers. The author GM Fraser writing in 1970 commented:

The ignorant or unwary, if asked whether they would rather be guests of an officers’ mess or sergeants’, would probably choose the officers’. They might be motivated by snobbery, but probably also by the notion that that the standards of cuisine, comfort, and general atmosphere would be higher. They would be dead wrong.

A 1956 publication highlighted the importance of a well-run mess:

The prestige of a regiment or unit depends to a great extent upon the tone of the Sergeants’ Mess. A well-run Mess will ensure contented and hardworking members. A slack and bad Mess leads to general slackness and inefficiency amongst its members as well as getting the regiment a bad name outside from people who come as visitors.

The standards of the mess in the above photograph are clearly very high, as one would expect from a regiment as prestigious as the Life Guards. It has been suggested that it could be taken at either Hyde Park Barracks or Combermere in Windsor. Sadly both these barracks were demolished and redeveloped in the post-WW2 era and so this fine mess no longer exists.

YMCA Hut Day Silk

Tonight’s object is a rare survivor from a fundraising campaign in the Great War. The YMCA, or Young men’s Christian Association, ran recreation huts for soldiers of all nations serving with the allies. Many of these huts were located near the front, whilst others were in towns up and down the country. They offered somewhere a man could get a hot drink and meal and relax for a few hours. Pen and paper were available to write to loved ones, beds at some huts for servicemen to snatch sleep and books to read. These huts obviously cost money to provide so various fund raising activities were set up. Tonight we have a small piece of printed silk bearing the logo of the YMCA and the description ‘Hut Day’:imageNow very fragile, this little piece of silk would have been sold to the general public as a fund raising gimmick, a penny or sixpence being donated in exchange for this little memento. These sort of ‘flag days’ were common ways for charities to raise money during the Great War.

The role of the YMCA hut was rarely in question, and this report comes form the Times newspaper on 21st December 1915 describing the scene in a London hut:

The hut was at its busiest on the evening when I saw it first, for a fog had come down outside and slime squelched away from the omnibus wheels and splashed my skirt as I groped my way to it out of the untempting street. Moreover, the day boat train was in, and the night one had not yet drawn out from the railway station opposite, so there were men with Flanders mud still on their clothes and others with the reflection of farewells still upon their faces, as well as the crowd of those who were on their way to or from some camp at home.

The air smelt of wet cloth and leather and food. The tap of billiard cues came from the far end, and the blows of a finger striking “Tipperary” out of a piano. The smoke of Woodbines was so thick that this made a background of sound rather than sight for the groups round the stoves half way up the room. The centre of one of these was a man wrapped up to the ears in his trench coat of goat-skin, which was steaming from the heat. He looked in it like a being from another age and country. By the opposite fire only one man sat, so still that you would have thought he was asleep if his eyes had not been open, staring on the ground. When he had been there perhaps an hour without stirring someone went down to him from behind the canteen counter (there are a good many jobs for a woman to do in a YMCA hut besides ladling out “sausage and mashed”). She asked him if there was anything he wanted. “no,” he said, and then, since she did not go away, “I only got home tonight. I got a chap to write that I was comin’, but there weren’t nobody at the station.”

“And you’ve had nothing to eat?”

“Don’t fancy anythin’ thank you Miss.”

“Oh, nonsense. I expect they never got your letter. I’ll fetch you some coffee.”

It was something to get him to shift his eyes off his boots anyhow, and when the coffee had gone down he tugged a post-card out of his pocket.

“She must’a’ got my letter, miss. It went to the address all right.”

Hurried reading of post-card, though with very faint hope that it could turn this tragedy into comedy. It did, however.

“But she says here she is moving-going down to the country, look- to this address.”

“Lor’ bless yer, Miss. Yer don’t tell me! I never was much of a reader and I didn’t get that bit spelt out.”midnightsceneYM[1600x1200]_jpg_opt610x396o0,0s610x396The same level of care was administered nearer the front, the Chaplain of the 21st Division recalls the coming of the YMCA in 1915:

the Division of which I am in charge marched into camp about 17,000 strong, and with the exception of the canteens there was not a single place for a man to spend his leisure. The nearest town […] kindly offered all it had – a parish room and two Sunday schools. Things looked very ugly until about five days later, when Mr Johnson arrived with his big tents and corps of assistants. There was an immediate rush, and the first Sunday saw nearly 5,000 postcards, letters, and parcels dispatched, and from that day forward the huge tents […] were filled to overflowing with Kitchener’s men in their thousands. The little band of YMCA helpers wrestled with the multifarious needs of the British soldiers. Tobacco – piles of it – hundredweights of cake, buckets of coffee, lemon-squash and all sorts of popular eatable and drinkables at the counter; then the post office counter with its money order department, savings bank, library, postcard and general arrangements. At the other end of the tent a sing-song would be in progress; every square inch of space was alive with humanity’.large_000000