Author Archives: hatchfive

Indian Army Mosquito Net

The risk of malaria was recognised by the military from an early point and by the inter war period precautions were routinely taken to minimise the risk of mosquitos at night. In barracks the easiest method was to rig individual mosquito nets above each man’s bed:

Tonight we are looking at an Indian made mosquito net, produced in the late 1930s, for use in a barracks to cover a man’s bed:

The main part of the net is, of course, the net itself. The 1941 ‘Memoranda on Medical Diseases in Tropical and Sub-Tropical Areas’ explains the correct mesh size for mosquito nets:

Reliance is placed primarily upon the mosquito proofing of houses or the use of mosquito nets. The latter should be employed whenever it is possible in the absence of mosquito proofing. On service, suitable types of bivouac or tent nets should be available and the strictest orders in regard to these should be issued… In the case of cotton netting, the mesh consists of two series of holes, the lines intersecting each other at an angle of about 60 degrees. The mesh is the sum of the number of holes along both lines within an area of one square inch, the hole at the angle where the two lines meet being counted twice. The mesh of the nets issued to the army is 28/29 holes to the square inch. Cotton thread is standardised by weight, being described as “30”, “40”, “50” etc., the higher numbers indicating the thinner thread, the thread used for army nets is 30/40 cotton (I.e. 30 warp, 40 bobbin).

The net is edged with cotton panels that give the mosquito net its structure and has cotton ties that allow it to be secured to a frame or wires and rolled up and tied during the day:

The RAMC’s journal gave some advice on how to set up the mosquito nets back in 1927:

The mosquito net has a plethora of different stamps over it. There is the usual circular Indian Army acceptance stamp that dates this to 1943:

Another large stamp seems to refer to the roll of netting the mosquito net was cut from, again there is a date of 1943:

Finally there is a large purple stamp that I do not know the meaning of, but may be an inspector’s stamp:

This mosquito net is large and in surprisingly good condition, the netting often getting damaged and ripped

1948 Khaki Beret

The khaki beret was introduced in 1942 for wear by members of the Reconnaissance Corps and motor battalions of Infantry. It’s use was extended in 1943 to personnel of light scout car companies and in 1943 the army authorised its wear by colonels and above, standardising what seems to have already become standard practice. After the war the beret became the army’s standard headdress, although most wore the midnight blue version. The khaki example continued to be worn by some regiments however and tonight we have an early post war example to look at:

Unlike the GS cap, the beret is knitted as a single piece and when laid flat is a circular shape without any seams or stitching in the main body:

A pair of metal eyelets are sewn into the crown of the beret, just above the leather sweat band:

The size of the beret can be adjusted slightly due to a draw cord through the sweat band that is secured by a small bow at the rear:

The interior of the beret is black fabric, with sizing, date of manufacture and maker’s name stamped inside in white:

Occasionally unscrupulous sellers try to modify these to a wartime date in the hope of selling them for a higher price- changing an ‘8’ to a ‘3’ for instance. Happily this example has escaped this fate and remains in good condition and one advantage of buying a post war example is that you can be sure it’s genuine- if you were faking one you would make sure it was wartime dated!

Kangol was founded in Britain in 1920 and its name is an amalgam of three words: K was for knitting,the ANG was for angora, and the OL was for wool.

Soldiers on India’s Canals Postcard

Despite the coming of the railways, inland waterways remained an important method of transporting heavy goods well into the twentieth century, not only in Britain but across the Empire. They were a cheap, if slow, way of moving bulky goods and the British military made use of them to transport men and equipment. The Royal Engineers developed an inland waterways division in Mesopotamia during the Great War and they were used extensively in India throughout the first half of the century. India has over 9000 miles of navigable waterways including 2,500 miles of man-made canals. Tonight’s postcard is uncaptioned, but looking at the dress of the natives in the photograph I suspect it was taken in India and shows a group of British soldiers supervising the movement of a barge through a lock:

The barge is sitting in the lock with a heavy cargo and a single bargeman helping guide it through the lock:

Quite what cargo the barge is carrying isn’t clear, it appears to be sacks of some sort and might be grain, fodder or even something like coal. The lock gates can be seen to the left. These are substantial iron structures, with winch gear on the bank to control the sluices necessary to make the lock work:

These structures were built to last and often survive to this day in working condition, an oil and paint being all that is required to keep them running almost indefinitely. The rear gate can be seen behind the barge, with a stream of water cascading over the gates: 

A British soldier can be seen on the left bank, watching on:

While more of his comrades watch on from the opposite side:

They all wear typical military dress for India at this time, khaki drill shirts and shorts and Wolseley helmets.

RAMC Mess Fork

Regular readers will know that I have a fondness for mess china and cutlery and I have collected a small selection over the years to various regiments. Recently I picked up another piece, this time a mess fork from the Royal Army medical Corps:

The Corps’ badge is stamped into the end of the handle, and the crown indicates that this dates to before 1952:

Note also the block saying ‘Vols’, indicating that this fork came from a RAMC Volunteer unit. The fork itself was made by Elkington, whose mark is stamped on the reverse:

The RAMC had officers’ messes just like any other regiment, with individual messes set up across the Empire wherever a sufficient number of officers were grouped together to warrant it:

Set among green lawns and shady trees the Officers’ Mess of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Rawalpindi was a dwelling-place with a personality of its own- a personality of graciousness and charm- which inspired among its members an abiding affection akin to that of a family for its ancestral home…The house was officially described as bungalow no. 57. It was situated on the south side of the Mall…The constructional work included a new kitchen block, complete with pantry and preparation and store-rooms, re-building of several rooms in the Mess and quarters to new plans, new floors, new fireplaces, double teak doors and tiling of bathrooms.. most of the old furniture was replaced by new pieces made of shisham and a refectory table- an exact copy of the XVIIth Century oak tables in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea- was made for the ante room. Messrs. Hayat of Rawalpindi were responsible for the fine craftsmanship of the joinery and cabinet work. Curtains and furnishing fabrics were obtained from London. The electric installation was renewed.

FAC Protractor

Ground attack aircraft are incredibly useful in offering close support to ground troops in combat, laying down a withering barrage of fire on the enemy and allowing troops to quickly take advantage of a tactical situation. Unfortunately it is also a very risky tactic as it is easy for aircraft to misread their targets and accidentally hit friendly troops, the so called ‘blue on blue’ incidents. One way to mitigate this is to have trained forward air controllers embedded with ground forces who can direct aircraft onto the correct targets without hitting friendly forces. This role has been around since the Second World War, but the tactics and equipment available to FACs improved drastically over the next few decades and in 1957 the Army Air Corps was founded with this role as one of its primary functions.

Amongst the equipment developed was a dedicated FAC ruler that allowed a forward air controller to quickly calculate the path of an air launched munition:

The ruler is made of clear plastic and has a number of different scales showing the distance needed for a bomb to fall at different speeds. This then allows him to calculate the precise point a bomb should be released and the number of seconds needed for the bomb to fall can be calculated:

Quite how to use this ruler is beyond me, but I am sure with suitable training all the scales would make perfect sense! Perhaps the most famous Forward Air Controller is Prince Harry: Widow Six Seven had just given them the signal over the radio:

Cleared hot.” Seconds later, a roaring could be heard as the US F15 fighter jets dropped two 500lb bombs on their targets. As one dropped a third bomb on a Talibanbunker, men could be seen on the ground scrambling out from their cover.

To the American pilots, the English public school voice responding to their “in hot” request and guiding their missile fire gave no clue that the army officer with whom they were communicating was a member of the British royal family.

The soldier they knew as call sign Widow Six Seven was Prince Harry, working in Afghanistan as a forward air controller [FAC] identifying Taliban forces on the ground, verifying coordinates and clearing them as targets for attack…

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

“My job is to get air up, whether I have been tasked it a day before or on the day or when troops are in a contact [with the enemy]. Air is tasked to me, they check in to me when they come into the ROZ and then I’m basically responsible for that aircraft,” he said.

Before any strike on a target, it is up to the FAC to set the coordinates and give final clearance to drop a bomb. Because of the constant demands for air support across southern Afghanistan, a key part of the prince’s job was also to “bid” for aircraft which could be British, US, French or from another allied country.

Z.18 Certificate of Employment During the War

My thanks go again to Michael Whittaker who gave me tonight’s document for the collection. At the end of World War One men were demobilised and returned to civilian life and naturally began looking for employment. In 1918 references were essential for employment, with former employers writing a testimonial for leaving staff to help them acquire a new position. It would of course be impractical for commanding officers to write a bespoke reference for every soldier under their command, so the army prepared forms that could be quickly filled out and authorised before being issued to leaving soldiers. The use of the form, officially known as the ‘Certificate of Employment During the War, Army Form Z.18’, was described as:

The object of this certificate is to assist the soldier in obtaining employment on his return to civil life. The form will be complete as soon as possible in accordance with Demobilization Regulations.

As soon as signed and complete it will be given to the soldier concerned and will remain his property. He should receive it as early as is compatible with making necessary reference in order that he can either send it home or keep it in his possession.

One form will be issued to each man, and no duplicate can ever be issued.

This particular form was issued to an infantryman, Private Gershom Albert Davy of the 51st Battalion Sherwood Forresters:

His employment before he joined the army is listed as a ‘cotton pattern hand’. The rear of the form gives the testimonial which states that Private Davy is:

Very reliable, trustworthy and conscientious. Has performed his duties in a satisfactory manner.

The form is signed by the captain commanding B Company, 51st Battalion, Sherwood Forresters. These forms were obviously important documents to men seeking work and have survived in boxes of family papers up until the present day. They are useful for historians in identifying men’s professions when they joined up, although the level of detail on the forms varies depending on how conscientious the officer filling them out was.

Osprey Green Plastic Mug

The green plastic Osprey mug has been issued to new recruits for many decades now and is one of those ubiquitous pieces of kit that knocks around and no one thinks anything of. I cannot find an exact date of introduction for the mug, but I suspect it was in the 1970s as a replacement for the china mugs issued up to this point (probably to the great dismay of instructors who enjoyed throwing the china ones onto the ground and smashing them!). The mug was used on bases to drink from and was carried to and from the mess halls by the individual soldier. The mug itself is a simple green plastic mug that can hold ¾ pint of liquid:

It has an angular handle:

And the base has a partial NSN number and a date of manufacture:

These mugs were a standard item to issue new recruits, as recalled by one soldier:

I joined the Regular Army, Infantry, in 1982 so my original issued kit was all ‘Falklands’ period kit – so to speak. We were issued a set of KFS, a green Osprey mug and two tin plates (the tin /aluminium plates were for use at camps where crockery was not provided i.e. central messing in the field or on some camps).

The mugs are also put to many other uses they were not designed for. During firefighting training I found them used to measure out the liquid used to make foam in practice fire extinguishers, a single cup full being placed into an empty extinguisher before it was topped up with water and pressurized.