Today we come to the second part of our ongoing series looking at the development of accoutrements in the first half of the Twentieth century. The 1903 set had quickly revealed its shortcomings and a new system was desperately needed to replace it. The 1903 set consisted of individual pieces that had to be taken off and put on separately which took a lot of time. It also had a bandolier, water bottle strap and haversack strap crossing the chest that was felt to be restrictive and impair breathing on a long march with a full load. Finally it was made of leather which could slip when wet and did not survive particularly well in damp conditions
The new 1908 set was made of pre-shrunken cotton webbing and was much more modular than its predecessor, being easily changed to suit different services or conditions. The design did not have any straps that crossed the chest and could be taken on and off in a single piece like a waistcoat, encouraging soldiers to take off their equipment during rest periods, knowing it was quick to put back on. The design was also very well balanced thanks to the straps coming off the back of the cartridge carriers, indeed it was common for soldiers to undo the waistbelt whilst on the march and still be able to carry the load with ease. The new design was adopted in 1908 and underwent some modifications before the outbreak of World War One, but was to prove the most modern and advanced accoutrement set of any nation in this conflict. The set would serve throughout the interwar period and into the Second World War, with only updates to the weapons carried and the need to hold box magazines for the Bren causing its eventual demise.
Millions of sets of 1908 webbing were manufactured over the years and other countries, including Eire, used the sets for decades. Unfortunately some components are quite scarce on the collector’s market now and building up a full set can be a challenge, however reproduction sets are easily and cheaply available for re-enactment use.
- Cartridge Carriers– Ammunition in the 1908s pattern set was carried in a handed pair of cartridge carriers. These each had five pockets, each of which could hold three chargers of five rounds allowing a total of 150 rounds of .303 ammunition. The pouches were integrally woven with internal dividers to keep each charger separate. A flap was provided over each pocket and originally each was secured with a press stud. Over the years the cartridge carriers went through a number of modifications. The press studs were replaced with simple studs and holes in the top flaps, although this economy measure was only used for a short time during the Great War before manufacture returned to press studs. A longer term change came at the start of World War One when the left cartridge carrier had its press studs replaced with retaining loops due to the pouches on this side opening by accident and the ammunition falling out when pressing up against a trench. The cartridge carriers had a pair of brass c-hooks on the back and a pair of short straps with press studs to secure it to the belt. A brass Twigg buckle at the top allows the carrier to be attached to the shoulder braces, whilst a 2” wide webbing strap hangs down to allow items to be hung beneath the belt. Finally a 1” wide strap at a 45 degree angle was fitted to allow the carriers to be attached to the pack or haversack when it was being carried.
- Shoulder Braces– the shoulder braces are simple strips of 2” wide webbing, 50” in length with brass tips at both ends. The braces were used with a pair of 2” wide open gate buckles that were used to attach the pack or haversack.
- Large Pack– The large pack was a large bag measuring 15”x13”x4” with pair of weather flaps underneath a large top flap that secured at the front with two 1” straps and a pair of brass buckles. The haversack was used to carry the greatcoat, spare clothing and other sundry items. On the rear of the haversack was a pair of angled 2” straps that could attach top the matching 2” buckles on the shoulder braces. A pair of 1” buckles was also fitted that allowed the supporting straps to be attached. These crossed the pack on the rear and passed underneath it and through two webbing beckets on the underside of the pack.
- Supporting Straps– The supporting straps were simple 1” wide straps, 32” long with a buckle at one end. They were used with the large pack, as described above. The buckles were then attached to the pair of 1” straps coming off the pack of the cartridge carriers and helped support and balance the heavy pack on the rear.
- Waistbelt– The belt for the 1908 set consists of a 3” wide strip of webbing with a large brass buckle at the front. It is adjustable on one side for length and has a pair of brass Twigg buckles on the rear for attaching the shoulder braces to. A pair of 2” wide straps hang down beneath the buckles to allow items to be suspended below the belt and these were often tucked back up and through the buckles for neatness when the belt was being worn on its own. The belt was issued in three sizes, small was 40”, medium 44” and large 48” long.
- Entrenching Tool Carrier– The entrenching tool used with the 1908 Pattern was the metal sirhind type and was carried in a kidney shaped webbing carrier, A pair of 2” buckles are fitted to the back to allow it to be hung below the belt. The carrier opened at the top right hand corner, and a strap was used to secure this, initially with a press stud and later with a buckle.
- Waterbottle Carrier– The waterbottle carrier was a cradle of 1” and 2” webbing with a pair of 2” brass buckles on either side to allow it to be hung from the shoulder braces. A single strap passes over the top to secure the bottle. It was sized to fit the enameled Mk VI waterbottle in its felt cover.
- Bayonet Frog and Helve Carrier– The bayonet frog has a loop to pass over the belt and two loops to hold the stud of the scabbard at the bottom. A pair of rivets are fitted to reinforce it and a strap is fitted to the rear to allow the helve carrier to be attached to it.The helve carrier attached to the strap on the bottom of the bayonet frog and included a pair of loops, one of which went around the bayonet scabbard and another that the helve was slipped through before being secured with a second pair of straps that secured with a single brass press stud.
- Haversack– The haversack carried the items that a soldier used daily, such as his eating utensils, rations etc. It was a small webbing bag measuring 11”x9”x2”. It had a pair of buckles on either side to allow it to be hung from the shoulder braces and had a pair of two” straps on the back and 1” buckles on the bottom to allow it to be carried on the back in place of the large pack.