Monthly Archives: February 2019

South African Made Greatcoat

Once again my thanks go to Wojciech Musial for his kid permission to include another rare South African item from his collection on the blog. The South African textile industry in the 1930s was very small, with most items of civilian and military clothing imported from overseas. Much as in India however the requirements of the military during the Second World War were to boost the union’s manufacturing requirements and capabilities leading to a massive expansion in this area. In 1938 50% of clothing purchased in South Africa was of local manufacture, by 1948 this market share had risen to 86%. South African manufactured uniforms of the Second World War are generally held to be of the roughest quality of any nation, the fabric being even coarser than that produced in India. Tonight we are looking at an extremely scarce South African produced greatcoat:s-l1600This greatcoat conforms broadly to the British 39 Pattern Greatcoat, without the later expansion pleat in the rear of the coat:s-l1600 (1)The coat is made from khaki dyed heavy grade woollen fabric, with a half lining made of cotton inside covering the shoulders:s-l1600 (5)The original owner’s name ‘C Roberts’ is inked into this lining at the back of the neck:s-l1600 (4)The coat is secured with brown vegetable ivory buttons, each bearing the armorial coat of arms of South Africa as used by the Union form 1910 until it was replaced by a new design in 2000:s-l1600 (2)The inside of the coat has a simple label indicating that it was manufactured by ‘The African Clothing Factory (Ensign) Ltd and is a size 4:s-l1600 (3)South Africa made a massive contribution to the Second World War, both in terms of men and equipment, although this is largely forgotten now both in the UK and indeed in South Africa itself. Les Dwight was one of many who lived in South Africa and joined up:

I joined a youth training brigade in South Africa in July 1942 as a volunteer at the age of fifteen. At the medical during the eye test a man with a glass eye on the right side, was asked to read the chart, covering an eye at a time. The first time he covered his right eye with his right hand and then covered the same eye with his left hand for the second test! Everyone was so keen to join up and do their bit. I was big for my age and so no questions were asked.

I completed infantry weapons training and elected to transfer to the South African Corps of Signals in 1943, where I was trained on radio telephony for armour and artillery work and transferred to an Armoured Signal Squadron. I was drafted to the Middle East for further training and sailed to Taranto, in Southern Italy. I was transferred to a mobile field radar unit and worked my way up through Italy to the North. This was under the command of the Royal Air Force and for security reasons it was known as an air ministry experimental station, to conceal its identity as radar development was extremely secret at the time. I was actually working as a wireless telegraphist by then, which was a long way from the training I had received in South Africa!

I had four years active service and was only just nineteen when I was demobbed in 1946. The price I paid was missing a lot of education, which took some years to catch up on.
I still have no regrets in doing what I did and am proud to be able to relate this story today.

GPMG Ammunition Belts

For many decades the General Purpose Machine Gun, or GPMG, has been the main infantry support weapon for the British Army. This machine gun fires 7.62mm NATO standard ammunition from metal linked belts. We have previously looked at the manufacture of the 7.62 ball round itself here and the corresponding blank rounds here. Tonight however we have two sets of belted ammunition to look at, firstly a fifty round ball belt (inert rounds):imageAnd a belt of blank ammunition:imageAmmunition for both belts is held together with small stamped metal spring clips:imageThese interlock with each other:imageThe casings of the rounds themselves hold each together with its neighbour:imageThe action of the GPMG draws each round out in turn to fire and as each is pulled out a link falls free, disintegrating the belt into its constituent parts.

The GPMG manual describes the issuing of links as:

Ammunition is supplied in belts of 200, the belts are of metal disintegrating links and can be readily broken or joined to give belts of any length. Belts may be issued as follows, four ball and one tracer (4B/1T), this is the standard issue, one tracer to one ball (1B/1T), normally used in the turret mounted role, and finally belts of all ball ammunition for use when tracer is forbidden, i.e., on the 30 metre range.

 To Separate a Belt. Hold the rounds on each side of the point at which it is desired to separate the belt, twist them in opposite directions. The links at that point will become disengaged. 

To Join Two Belts. Fit the projection of the end link of one belt into the gap of the end link of the other, making sure that the links are the same way up. If there is a round in position, press the projection so that it snaps into place over the cartridge case. If no round is in position, insert one as described later in this paragraph.

 The links are only to be re-used with drill and inspection rounds (used by REME). The only exception to this rule is in battle and then only in an emergency.

 The pamphlet advises that if drill belts need to be assembled the following method should be observed:

To Make Up a Belt. Take two links, both the same way up, and place them so that the projection of one fits into the gap of the other (see Fig 10 a). Then (in the manner shown in Fig 10 b), interlock them by inserting the nose of a round through both links and press the round for- ward till the projecting detent of the clip clicks into place in the groove at the base of the round. Connect further links and rounds in the same way.image

‘1871 Pattern’ Rifle Sling

1871 saw a new pattern of buff leather rifle sling introduced alongside the new 1971 Pattern Valise Equipment and this pattern and minor variations of it were to remain in service until the 1960s. Originally used for combat, by the twentieth century it had been relegated to ceremonial use and in this form was to remain in use until the demise of the No4 rifle. The 1871 pattern rifle sling is made from buff leather and measured 42 inches in length:imageThe sling has been pipeclayed White, the remaining pipe clay now rather fragile and liable to come off as dust in your hands if you manipulate the sling too much. Two pairs of holes are punched through the leather at one end to allow the sling to be secured around the rear sling swivel of a rifle:imageSadly the leather thong that was used to secure this is missing on my sling and so I have substituted a piece of string until I can find some leather strapping of the correct type:imageAt the opposite end of the sling are a pair of leather beckets:imageThe end loop is sewn to the sling, whilst the other is loose and free to slide up and down:imageThe end of the sling is passed through the front sling swivel of the rifle, doubled back on itself and passed through the two loops:imageThe free end is now passed back along the rifle and secured with the leather thong (or sting in this case) as illustrated above. The sling can then be adjusted to take up the slack to present a smart parade ground finish:imageMy apologies for the Gahendra but I do not own a Martini Henry and this is the closest equivalent in my collection, it does however show the concept nicely.

The buff sling was retained long after the webbing rifle sling was introduced and was used for ceremonial parades such as the guards around Buckingham Palace right through until the SLR rifle was introduced when a white nylon sling was issued instead. Here a guardsman in the early 1950s can be seen to be using the buff sling with his No4 rifle in London:imageI don’t believe my sling is an original 1871 example as it is missing a third pair of holes for the leather securing thong, instead it was probably made up as part of a small batch for ceremonial duties in the twentieth century to broadly the 1871 pattern.

Royal Scots Glengarry

Until it was merged into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006, the Royal Scots were the most senior line regiment in the British Army, tracing their lineage back in an unbroken line to 1633. The regiment saw much service in the period immediately after the Second World War, including being deployed to Korea, Egypt and Aden as well as regular tours of Northern Ireland from the 1960s onwards. On each of those deployments the regiment’s distinctive glengarry was worn with pride whenever combat situations permitted and tonight we are looking at an example of one of those caps dating from the 1950s or 1960s:fullsizerender 5The glengarry folds flat to allow it to be easily carried in a pocket or under a shoulder strap:fullsizerender 1The glengarry is predominantly black in colour, but has a diced band of red, white and blue around the lower half:fullsizerender 4Note also the leather sweat band that is sewn around the lower edge. The regiment’s cap badge is attached with a black fabric rosette backing behind it:fullsizerender 2Removing the badge there is a second set of holes for a pair of cap badge lugs, suggesting that this cap has had a replacement badge at some point in its life:img_2286A pair of black tapes hangs down from the rear of the cap:fullsizerender 3A white inspector’s stamp with a /|\ mark is stamped into the interior of the cap:img_2285Sadly this cap has suffered from the moths a little over the years and is rather tatty now. During World War Two and earlier it was traditional to wear the glengarry steeply tilted to one side with the cap badge high on the head, after the war it became common practice across all regiments to wear them level on the head:20140603_002921Here we see Private Danny Hall from Glasgow (right), of the 1st Batt. Royal Scots, saying goodbye to the regiment mascot, three and a half year old Mark Baillie, of Fortingale Street, who they handed over to the replacing regiment, the 2nd Batt. the Coldstream Guards. Receiving the mini soldier is Sergeant Bob Otto from Maidenhead in Belfast, July 1970:4194b61a584e389efd915deecb

HMS Buzzard on the Embankment Postcard

This week’s postcard is a fine image of the Embankment in London, looking down the River Thames:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8)The large stone walls of the Embankment can be seen on the left of the image:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyOf rather more interest though is the sloop, HMS Buzzard, moored a short distance away:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyHMS Buzzard was a Nymphe-class composite screw sloop and the fourth ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name. Developed and constructed for the Royal Navy on a design by William Henry White, Director of Naval Construction, she was launched at Sheerness Dockyard on 10 May 1887. The Nymphe-class sloops were ideal for service in the far distant outposts of the British Empire, and Buzzard was employed on the North America and West Indies Station. In early April 1902, under the command of Commander L. F. G. Tippinge, she left Bermuda for home waters, calling at Faial Island, before she arrived at Devonport on 20 April. She was paid off at Chatham on 13 May 1902. In 1904 she was converted to a drill ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Blackfriars, London as reported in the Daily Mail:

HMS Buzzard arrived on the Thames yesterday and took up her new station at Blackfriars, there to form a training depot for the Metropolitan Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers, called by the irreverent the “Blackfriars Buccaneers.”

Large crowds lined the bridges to watch the passing of the warship, and thousands were on the Embankment during the mooring operations.

The Buzzard, which was launched in 1887, would in the ordinary course have been sold out of the Navy, but she has now been thoroughly modernised and equipped with quickfirers.

The Captain of the Buzzard described the training on the refitted ship:

In the training given on board the Buzzard each company in turn furnishes a ship’s crew, whose duty it is to carry out the routine of the ship for a fortnight at a time. During this period the men live on board, going ashore daily to their occupations in office or workshop. Thus some idea of life on the lower deck is gained and the men are familiarized with the different parts of a man-of-war. Coming on board after his day’s work, the amateur sailor is taught to man a boat over the lower boom; he becomes familiar with such commands as “Away starboard whaler,” or in the case of an imaginary fire, “Pipe fire quarters,” and last but not least “Stand by Hammocks,” “Clear lower deck,” and “Pipe down,” when your clerk or workshop hand has a chance of learning how to sling a hammock and, with a little practice, how to sleep in one. In the morning comes the least popular command, “All hands lash up and stow,” and the men turn out to “Scrub and wash decks” before going on shore.

In 1911 Buzzard relieved HMS President (formerly HMS Gannet of 1878) as headquarters ship, being renamed HMS President on 1 April 1911. As President she served until 23 January 1918, when she was lent to the Marine Society. She was sold to C A Beard for breaking on 6 September 1921, and was later re-sold to Dutch ship breakers.


Wartime Orlox Suet packet

Back when this blog first started I wrote a regular series of posts called Tuesday Finds, showcasing anything I had found that week. These were very brief posts with usually only a single photograph of the object and very little background information. I have decided to revisit some of the objects featured in those early posts and give them a post of their own with more photographs and a more in depth write up. These items will be dotted around during the coming months and we start tonight with a wartime Orlox Suet packet:imageThis packet is unused, but was designed to hold suet to make puddings with. It is made of recycled cardboard, with simple red ink printing, described on the box as a ‘wartime jacket’:imagePaper like other materials was in short supply during the world war and as well as salvaging and recycling as much as possible, manufacturers were encouraged to reuse material and cut down in other areas such as the inks, hence the very simplistic nature of this box compared to the eye catching designs of the 1920s and 30s. The box itself is made from die cut cardboard that can be folded up and secured with tabs on either end:imageApart from the product details on three sides, the only other information is the recipe as to how to use this item:imageSuet puddings were a popular part of British diet at this period, being both cheap and very filling. Suet is processed beef fat and when mixed with flour and water can be made into a pastry, dumplings or a thick stodgy pudding such as spotted dick.

Fats such as suet were rationed during wartime, with each adult allowed typically 5oz a week. Suet puddings however were an excellent way to make this go as far as possible and a meat pudding could be made packed with root vegetables to pad out the meat that would feed the whole family, if it was cooked with a hay box type cooker it would also be economical with fuel.

SA80 Other Arms Bayonet Scabbard

The SA80 bayonet we looked at a few weeks ago was used in combat with a black plastic scabbard that protected the blade and allowed it to be carried in the PLCE frog. When the SA80 rifle was introduced it was decided to offer two different scabbards for the bayonet. Frontline infantry would receive a version with built in saw, wire cutter and sharpening stone. Rear echelon troops received a simpler (and cheaper) scabbard without these features, the argument being that they would rarely need to use any of these features so it was safe to delete them. This simplified scabbard was made from a black Phenolite plastic:imageThe design retained the fixing points to allow the extra features to be added if required:imageThe differences between the two scabbards can be seen here:imageOther features remain the same however, so six raised grooves are provided near the throat to allow grip to remove the bayonet from the scabbard and to help add extra rigidity to this portion:imageA small plastic detent is used to keep the bayonet in the scabbard and prevent it from rattling around:imageThe bayonet fits neatly inside, but will only fit in one way due to the design of the bayonet itself with its offset grip:imageIn order to attach the scabbard to the PLCE frog, a female Fastex clip is moulded into the top of the scabbard:imageThis marries up with a male Fastex clip sewn into the frog itself and keeps the scabbard firmly attached.

This scabbard has clearly seen some service as an armourer’s rack number is painted on it in white:imageThese simplified scabbards are much easier to find on the collectors’ market than the full combat versions which have not been released for resale in anywhere near the same amount and can easily make five times the price of their simpler counterparts.