This week we leave the Great War behind us and look at the first of the inter-war sets produced by Mills for the other services.
The Mills Equipment Company had been developing new designs of accoutrements throughout World War I and by the conflict’s conclusion had a new set of webbing ready to show to the War Office in hope of a contract. The new design was lighter than the older 1908 pattern set, used thinner reduction woven shoulder straps, had an adjustable back belt and much improved load carrying capacity. Unfortunately the end of World War I meant that the War Office had hundreds of thousands of sets of 1908 pattern webbing in store and budgets had been pared right back to help the country recover from four years of total warfare- the army was broke and couldn’t afford the new set of webbing. Undeterred Mills took their new design to the Admiralty who were still largely using the 1901 leather equipment set and so were looking to upgrade this to a more modern design. They also had far fewer men to equip so could afford to look at a new design in the way the army, with its much greater number of men needing webbing, could not.
The Royal Navy decided that it could not afford accoutrements for men armed with rifles, but there was an urgent need for pistol equipment for landing and boarding parties. When boarding ships, sailors carried a .455 Webley revolver and a cutlass, both of which were more effective in the cramped confines of a ship’s passageway to deal with the enemy than a long rifle. The new pattern of webbing was officially adopted and recorded in the list of changes on 2nd October 1919. The webbing would remain in production with minor changes through until the middle of World War II when it was replaced with the same 1937 pattern webbing as the army, although stocks of 1919 pattern would remain in use for decades afterwards.
- Shoulder Braces: The shoulder braces consisted of a reduction woven strap that was two inches wide over the shoulder, but reduced down to one inch wide at either end, only one size fitting was produced, but one of every pair had a loop to allow them to cross each other and be held secure. Visually they are identical to many 1937 pattern shoulder braces, however if the shoulder brace is dated before 1937 and in undyed webbing, or has a broad arrow over ‘N’ stamp on it then it is a 1919 pattern piece. Attaching the shoulder braces to the belt are a pair of brace attachments. They consist of a brass ‘gate’ buckle attached by two short webbing straps to a loop and a buckle. Around 1930 the design changed from an oval loop to a rectangular loop. The early pattern is distinctive and easy to spot, the latter pattern is visually identical to those used with 1937 pattern webbing, but dates before 1937 indicate it is part of the 1919 pattern set, as do naval markings stamped into the brass work or marked in ink on the webbing.
- Haversack and straps: The haversack is a small wedge shaped bag, with a top flap secured with a pair of straps and buckles. It has a pair of buckles on the side to attach it to the end of the shoulder braces when worn on the hip and there is a strap that runs horizontally across the rear of the pack in two loops that allows it to be worn on the back. A pair of short straps are used to secure the haversack to the shoulder braces when worn on the back, and these are stored in loops under the haversack when not needed. This system is overly complicated and was not replicated on any later patterns of webbing.
- Cartridge Pouch: Spare rounds for the revolver were carried in a small rectangular webbing pouch. This had a triangular shaped top flap, secured with a single brass press stud and two brass C-hooks on the reverse to allow it to be fastened to the belt. A revised version introduced in 1932 added an internal strip of webbing across the top of the pouch to stop rounds falling out.
- Water Bottle Carrier: The water bottle carrier used for the 1919 pattern set is visually very similar to the 1937 pattern version, being manufactured from 1-inch wide webbing straps throughout. The strap and press stud though is a single piece that goes over the bottle and secures at the front, rather than being in two halves like a British made 1937 pattern carrier.
- Waist Belt: The waist belt consists of three segments, a back belt with the buckles to attach the shoulder straps to and a pair of male and female side sections that adjusted the length of the belt depending on where they were attached to the back belt, using brass C-hooks and pockets woven into the webbing. The belt was only two and a quarter inches wide, as opposed to the three-inch wide belt of the 1908 set.
- Frog: A frog was provided with the 1919 pattern set, however it was not intended for a bayonet but rather for the wearing of a cutlass. Very similar in design to the 1908 pattern bayonet frog, it is marginally larger to allow it to more comfortable hold the 1889 or 1901 pattern cutlass, although it must be said this makes for a very awkwardly balanced webbing set.
- Holsters: Two different holsters were used during the lifetime of the 1919 pattern set. The first was a large holster to carry the .455 revolver with a distinctive wooden bung set into its base with a hole drilled through for drainage and a pair of brass hooks on the rear to attach it to the belt. It is a closed top design, with the flap being secured by a press stud. Around 1933-1935 this design was replaced with a new holster that dispensed with the wooden bung and was sized for the .380 revolver than coming into service, but with a press stud positioned so it could still carry the older, larger gun. From the front it looks identical to the 1937 pattern holster, however the cleaning rod sleeve is on the inside of the holster and there is no top set of hooks.
Also used with the set is a large rucksack:
It consists of a large rectangular bag with a top flap secured by two buckles. A set of five straps and buckles surround the top half of the pack to allow a rolled blanket to be secured around the outside. A single strap and buckle is fitted to the top flap to allow a mess tin in its cover to be secured to the outside of the rucksack. A steadying strap is fitted to the bottom that passes around the belt and secures to a stud on the underside so the pack doesn’t bounce around when the sailor runs. The packing list for the rucksack showed that it was primarily designed to carry a sailor’s spare set of clothing and a spare pair of boots when on extended deployment ashore. The author has attempted to replicate the packing list and found that it is impossible to get all the kit listed inside, no matter how well it is packed! The only way to make the kit fit in is to tie the boots to the outside of the rucksack or leave them out completely- photographic evidence suggests the latter course of action was taken.
(This post is adapted from an article by the author that appeared in the Armourer Magazine)