Category Archives: British Army

WW2 Aertex Vest

Army issue vests for the Second World War are really quite scarce and although I have half a dozen different examples of the underpants, it has taken until now for me to pick up an example of the vest. A number of variations of the vest exist, some with buttons around the neck hole to make the easier to put on and many seem to have been made of wool. This example however is a simple v-neck design made of white aertex cotton:imageThe neck is ‘V’ shaped and bound with white tape:imageThere would originally have been a label sewn into the neck but this has been removed, possibly it was scratching the wearer’s neck and he felt it would be better taken out.

The inside of the vest has a black ink stamp with a WD /|\ mark and a date letter of ‘M’:imageThe letter ‘M’ equates to 1944 so the vest can be dated to that year. The design of the vest includes a cut away at the seam on each side, presumably to help make it easier to put on and remove the garment and to improve its comfort:imageAs well as an item of underwear, vests were also used for PT:

I went to Fort George on the Moray Firth along the coast from Inverness; also the home of the famous Seaforth Highlanders Regiment. It was a bleak place to be in the month of November and in winter, particularly when running along the beach in a vest and shorts as part of the training schedule at that time early in the cold mornings.

Sadly this vest is a very small size and so I cannot try it for comfort, it is however an interesting and surprisingly scarce piece of wartime personal clothing.

Softie Jacket

One of the more popular items of issue clothing in recent years has been the reversible ‘softie’ jacket and trousers. These are soft shell garments with thick padding inside that helps keep the wearer warm in cold conditions. They are similar in feel and texture to a sleeping bag and although designed to be worn as a under layer, were often worn as outer clothing as well. Tonight we are going to be starting by looking at the jacket for this set, which is a simple garment that can be worn with either an olive green outer:imageOr by reversing it a tan outer:imageTo allow the jacket to be worn either way, the zip has an interesting feature that allows the pull tab to be swapped from one side to the other:imageZipped pockets are provided on both sides:imageInterestingly the stores labels are sewn into the pockets, presumably so they are not on show if the garment is reversed to get the other colour. For some reason this jacket had the label for the trousers sewn into it!imageThe ends of the sleeves are elasticated, to help trap a pocket of air inside the jacket to help keep the wearer warm:imageA drawstring is provided at the waist for the same purpose:imageHere the jacket can be seen being worn under body armour, it’s shiny finish making it easy to identify:imageThe jacket was supplied with a compression sack, like a sleeping bag, that allowed it to be squashed down and the air removed so it took up less space in a soldier’s bergan. Sadly I am missing this element but apparently these are quite easy to find as a separate item so I will keep an eye out for one.

DPM Camelbak Cover

Camelbak is a commercial trademark for a particular company specialising in manufacturing water bladders for both the civilian outdoors market and the military. Much like ‘hoover’ came to mean any vacuum cleaner, camelbak has come to mean any sort of water bladder system. A water bladder is a soft plastic bag which can be filled with water and can be carried on the back in a special carrier. A flexible hose comes from this bladder round to the front of the user and has a special valve that allows the user to sip water without needing to remove the bladder. This has obvious advantages to the military where in combat situations or on the march, removing a waterbottle is not always practical. Us troops started using camelbaks in the First Gulf War and the practice had spread to the British by the time of the War on Terror. Special packs were produced on British military contracts in both DDPM and in the temperate green pattern of DPM. It is one of these covers we are looking at tonight, although this is just the cover and is lacking the bladder itself:imageThe maker’s logo is prominently displayed on the back zipped flap:imageThis opens to reveal a hole where the refill cap of the bladder would be located:imageLooking to the rear we can see a pair of shoulder straps and a single grab handle at the top:imageAn NSN number is stamped directly to the back of the camelbak:imageFemale fastex clips are fitted to the top:imageAnd bottom of the carrier:imageThese allow it to be clipped to the back of an assault vest if so required. The typical way of carrying the bladder however is by the integral shoulder straps. A chest strap is also included to help hold the camelbak in the correct position on the soldier’s back:imageIt is on these shoulder straps that the contractor’s label can be found with the NSN number and space for the soldier’s name and number:imageAlthough DDPM and DPM covers were produced, it seems squaddies weren’t too fussed about what they used, resulting in decidedly mixed kit such as on this chap:imageThe camelbak was a popular and welcome addition to soldier’s kit, even if it was not always the easiest thing to fill up or sterilise after use. I have used one myself on exercise many years ago and although the water is a bit topping when it has gotten warm, the bags are excellent and far easier than trying to pull a bottle out of a pouch when you want a mouthful of water.

Our First Prisoners Postcard

This week’s postcard is another of the Daily Mail’s War Pictures series. These cards were produced during the First World War for sale to the British public. The paper paid £25000 for exclusive rights to a set of official photographs that were produced as a highly successful series of 176 postcards. Tonight we are looking at card number 56:CaptureThis card is captioned “The glorious first of July 1916”- our first prisoners. It depicts German prisoners of war being passed down the lines after their capture on the first day of the Battle of the Somme:Capture - CopyThe ruins of a farmhouse are visible in the background:Capture - Copy (2)Whilst in the foreground British soldiers watch on curiously:Capture - Copy (3)These men wear the distinctive soft trench cap with its top strap. The standing man also carries a gas mask, possibly a PH hood, in a small pouch slung across his body:Capture - Copy (4)Unusually for this series of cards, this image was not taken by an official army photographer, but rather by a member of No 1 Printing Company, Royal Engineers. The series of cards carefully played up the few successes of the Somme battles and missed out the disasters and horrendous loss of British life, the images being carefully chosen and captioned to portray the battle in a better light with those back home. The Germans were to lose 400,000 men during the Somme fighting, including 40,000 taken prisoner. Basil Clarke was a reported for the War illustrated and described the German prisoners coming in:

On each side of the marching column were the British guards in khaki ‑ looking wonderfully spick and span both in walk and appearance compared with the untidy slouch of the prisoners. I spoke with many of [them] and asked if they were comfortable … it was much better, some said, than being in the trenches.

This card makes the third or fourth in this series I have in my collection and I am quite curious to see how easy it would be to build up a set of these cards, I have acquired another couple recently; so do not be surprised if more cards appear in the future.

40mm Bofors Shell Casing

The 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun is one of the most successful designs of all time. It was first produced in 1932 and a heavily modernised version is still being manufactured today. Used by many nations, the British first started testing examples in 1937 and it quickly became the army’s standard light AA weapon and by 1942 5,025 were being produced a year. The weapon also saw extensive service with the Royal Navy on board ships as an effective defence against aircraft and light craft. The bofors used a clip of four rounds of fixed ammunition that was fed manually into the top of the gun:40-60_Bofors_Gun_HMS_IntrepidTonight we are looking at the casing from one of these rounds. This a tall and slender case, made of drawn brass:image-108.jpegA large groove at the base engages with the loading clips and is used as part of the feed mechanism of the gun:imageThe base of the casing is heavily marked with various marks, dates and proofs:FullSizeRenderThese all have their own meanings:CaptureCyril Perkins commanded a bofors gun detachment on the coast of England:

Those aircraft recognition charts crowded into my mind as the silhouettes of ME 109’s momentarily filled my binocular lenses. ‘Engage’ I screamed and back came the response ‘On’ and again ‘On’ as the two aircraft now with swastikas clearly visible came within range but no order to ‘Fire’ came from Bob and I looked across to determine Why ?
The Bofors Gun was depressed below zero degrees and could not be fired until the elevation moved above zero plus five and we waited as precious seconds ticked by.
Some four hundred yards from shore the two planes separated and zoomed upwards to make a circular attack on Sandown and in that instant the elevation moved above zero plus five and Bob yelled ‘Fire’. But it was too late as our tracers screamed skywards our target banked and swung away out of range. We watched and waited helplessly as the two planes swooped on Sandown and dropped the bombs they carried under each wing. Then they were over us again and our tracers joined with others as we concentrated on the plane seawards of us.
I heard the chatter of our quadruple Lewis Guns as Tommy and Toddy blazed away at the second plane as it crossed our dead arc and then it happened. Tracers and aeroplane merged into a huge crimson flame and our target literally disintegrated before our eyes. As we stopped firing bits of aircraft floated seawards dropping into the sea below causing hardly a ripple on the water then disappearing as the ever hungry waves devoured them. I scanned for another target but the one that got away was already a fading dot above the ocean a survivor perhaps to placate a German mother who would mourn the loss of a son that day.

Desert DPM Shorts

Following on from last week’s post on DDPM trousers, tonight we are looking at the accompanying pair of shorts:imageShorts were not initially issued to troops going out to Iraq and Afghanistan, however men quickly started cutting down spare pairs of DDPM trousers to create their own pairs for wearing off duty and the army decided to formalise this practice with an issue garment. The shorts are identical to the CS95 trousers, but cut off under the pockets, with a hem at the bottom of the leg:imageThe pockets are bellows design, with a triangular top flap. Note the small flap of fabric that allows the pocket to be completely sealed off when closed to help prevent sand getting in:imageA set of belt loops is provided at the waist:imageA standard white label is sewn into the rear of the shorts:imageOne interesting point is that the fabric used to make British army desert kit was a poly-cotton blend, as was the material used to make temperate clothing. The difference was that the desert kit was 75% Cotton to 25% polyester, the temperate clothing 75% polyester to 25% cotton. This meant that the desert kit was cooler, but more prone to wearing out quickly.

These shorts were only for use away from operations, as this soldier explains:

Shorts are only to be worn in down time and never ‘outside the wire’.
You are also issued sandals for the same situation to air your feet.
Neither of which can be worn around larger camps either (Bastion, Lash, Price etc) other than in your own area, as previously mentioned, at commanders discretion.
I’ve only seen the shorts in desert DPM but lads got their MTP trousers cut down by the tailor in Bastion for the same reasons.
Don’t think you’ll be on patrol in shorts though…our grandfathers may have fought in the desert in shorts but that’s not how we do things now…

As an Engineer, I sometimes allowed the guys to work in shorts and T-shirts if doing work within the confines of a CP.
FOB maintenance etc.
Helmets/Osprey would then go on if working at height above the wall.

Despite this ruling, they can be seen being worn in combat by base troops who went quickly into action such as mortar teams and artillery units, where personnel only had time to don body armour and helmets:105mm_dragon

Badges on Battledress Book review

It is said that every author has a ‘Magnus opus’ in them; that one masterpiece that eclipses all their other work and stands as the crowning achievement of their career. Badges on Battledress is that book for Jon Mills, an author we have reviewed several times before on the blog.imageBadges on Battledress is a two volume book covering the cloth insignia worn on Battledress uniforms from the start of World War II until the uniform was dropped on the 1960s. These badges were both officially sanctioned and privately purchased and were worn on the sleeves by numerous different units of both British and Empire forces. Between the two volumes this topic stretches to fill over 1200 pages and these books are likely to remain the definitive work on the subject for decades to come. Over 6000 images fill the volumes, a mixture of modern photographs of the badges themselves and period photographs showing troops wearing some of them. The quality of the images is excellent throughout as you would expect from a book of this sort.imageAccompanying the images is a well written text that provides background on the units wearing the badges, if possible details of when and where badges were introduced as well as a wider information on the official machinations surrounding military insignia, the manufacturers of the badges and other anecdotes as they apply to military insignia. This makes for an enjoyable read, with individual badges signposted in the text by the use of numbers that point the reader directly to the specific badge. If there is any shortcoming with the book it is this as sometimes a number refers to an example hundreds of pages away from the text or indeed in the other volume. I am unsure if there is actually any way round this, and when doing specific research it is not a problem, however if you are just browsing the text it can be a little distracting. There are also occasionally slight problems with the numb reign itself where the text is a digit or two out from the images referenced- again this is very forgive able given the size and scope of the book and it is easy to work around as it is pretty obvious the text is referring to the next badge along.imageThe book also covers the post war period, with insignia worn by the army, WAC and TA throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This is the first work to cover this subject since Cole’s short book published over sixty years ago. The books do not cover the Home Guard (which Mills has already covered in his book on the Home Guard) or the cadet forces, but the books are already massively long without these units so this is an entirely sensible choice and perhaps we will be lucky enough to get an accompanying volume on cadet insignia in a few years time.imageIt is fair to say that these volumes will be the definitive text on this subject for many years to come. They are not cheap, costing £150 plus postage for the two volumes, but their size and scope make them exceptional value for money and if you are a badge collector, researcher of just find the subject of military heraldry interesting I would urge you to pick up a copy. I suspect that these will not be reprinted and once the original print run has sold out I would suspect the secondary prices will climb to ridiculous levels so buy while you can. Copies can be purchased direct from the author by emailing bob19391967@yahoo.co.ukimage