Category Archives: equipment

WW1 Telephone Magnetos

When used in telephony, magnetos are small hand cranked devices that are used to produce a small electric charge. These are used to send a current down the line to ring a bell at the opposite end to inform people that there is a call for them. By rotating an armature inside a set of horse shoe magnets an AC charge of between 50 and 100 volts. These magnetos could be housed inside the telephone itself, or as a separate unit. Tonight we are looking at a pair of telephone magnetos from the First World War:imageAlthough one of these cases magnetos is dated 1918, I cannot find a /|\ mark on either one so it is impossible to say if they are military or civilian in origin; they are however interesting objects from a century ago and worthy of closer inspection. The smaller of the two magnetos is a free standing unit, with rubber feet, a hinged lid secured with a small screw and a large winding handle on the side:imageInside the case is a set of magnets and a large brass cog wheel which is part of the gearing used to spin the armature and generate current:imageThe second magnetos is designed to be mounted on a wall or bulkhead and has a backing plate with a series of brass reinforced screw holes for attaching it vertically:imageTwo large brass screw terminals are fitted to the top of the box to attach the telephone wires to:imageThe front of the box is hinged and this was originally lockable, with a small lock escutcheon visible:imageNext to this is the date 1918 and the maker’s mark for ATM Co. The initials are repeated on the magneto inside the box:imageThese are the initials for the Automatic Telephone Exchange Company of Washington. This company had set up a factory in Liverpool in 1889 but quickly distanced itself from its American parent company. During World War One the company produced shells for the military but continued its core business, manufacturing telephone equipment for both the War Office and Admiralty, producing private exchanges for both. Whether this is one of the pieces of equipment bought by either the Admiralty or War Office is unclear, but I suspect it is likely as investment in 1918 was far more heavily skewed to the military than to civilian infrastructure projects but it is impossible to be certain.

SLR Sight Protector

When used on parade it is not unusual for specialist accessories to be used with rifles to prevent them from damaging expensive and intricate parade uniforms. Rifles are hard metal objects with many protruding parts that can easily catch and damage lace, embroidery and epaulettes on a parade uniform so special covers are often developed. The SLR was no exception and a special pressed metal cover was available to go over the front sight:imageThis was designed to slip over the front sight and attach to the barrel to keep it in place:imageThe connection to the barrel was through a stiff spring clip:imageThis clip was notorious for damaging the blueing on a barrel with repeated use and following advice from my fellow collectors I have decided that mine will not be going back on the rifle after these photographs were taken.

Inside the top of the cover are a pair of small triangular metal tabs that go either side of the front sight blade:imageThe stores number and date are stamped across the back of the cover, here dating it to 1960:imageIn this photograph of a corporal of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at Buckingham Palace in 1971, the sight cover can be clearly seen on his rifle:FullSizeRender

Large Military Marked Padlock

A few weeks ago I picked up a very large military padlock. Seen here in the palm of my hand you can see that this impressive lock is about six inches from top to bottom and being made from steel it is suitably heavy:imageThe padlock itself is zinc coated to prevent rust with a brass plate around the key hole:imageA sliding brass cover is loosely fitted which is designed to slip down under gravity to seal the keyhole from debris:imageThe front face of the padlock has a /|\ mark and a date of 1962:imageAs with many other padlocks, this example was produced by the Walsall Locks and Cart Gear Ltd. The padlock is also marked with the last two parts of the NSN stores code:imageI suspect that this padlock would have been used on a storage bunker, magazine or main gate on a military facility and whilst it is visually very impressive, I am informed that it is by no means the largest padlock used by the British military- I will look out for a larger one with interest!

SAWES Harness

Realistic combat training has always been difficult; although troops could fire blank ammunition, it relied upon troops being honest about feeling they had been hit, or an umpire to take them out of the exercise. By the early 1980s technology had advanced to the point that electronic systems using lasers started being used to help accurately simulate combat, the system being known as ‘Small Arms Weapons Effects Simulator’ that combined a laser sight with a special vest to simulate hits during training:imageTonight it is the vest from this set we are taking a detailed look at. The vest is made in green nylon and is designed to be worn over the upper torso and shoulders:imageA series of  laser receptors are attached around the vest:imageThese are secured with metal backing plates and screws:imageBrassards are fitted to each side to go over the shoulders, secured in place by Velcro straps:imageThe harness fits over the chest, and a central securing strap is fitted to help hold it in place, a toggle and quick release tab allowing it to be easily undone:imageThe front straps pass down the front, with a strap going around the wearer’s webbing belt and back up to secure to the shoulder straps:imageA third strap at the rear passes down, around the belt at the rear and back up to a buckle by the computer unit:imageThe computer unit sits in the small of the back and is made of metal, painted green:imageA thumb screw gives access to the 9v battery position to power the vest:imageWhen the user is hit, an alarm goes off and a speaker is fitted to allow this to be heard:imageThe user has to lay on his back to silence the alarm, making him a casualty and knocking him out of the exercise. Originally the vest was worn with a helmet band as well (these seem very rare now) and a wire went from the sensors on the helmet down to the computer box, joining through a connector on the top edge of the box:imageNote also the /|\ mark and the date of 1982. These markings are repeated on another label on the rear of the processing box:imageThis receiver came in its original storage box, a sturdy cardboard box:imageInternal fittings hold the receiver in place and a piece of foam on the underside of the lid helps hold everything secure:imageStores labels on the outside show that this device remained in inventory for many years, at least as late as 1998:imageThe most detailed information I can find on the SAWES system comes from a 1983 article in Army Training News:imageimageRichard Aixill used the SAWES set in the 1980s:

SAWES was a training aid and in principle a good idea but it didn’t work too well in practice. I used SAWES in Warminster in 84/85 for demonstration purposes but not after. I don’t think it got much use. It had a few negatives but one major one – do you really want to demonstrate how many of you are going to get shot – even when you are doing everything right in a section attack? Not good for morale.

Sadly the sight unit to go with this for an SLR is very rare, although versions adapted for the SA80 are available and I will look into adding one of these to my collection soon.

Tropical Aircrew Survival Kit

Introduced at the very end of the Second World War, the Tropical Survival Kit was a bag containing essential supplies for airmen shot down in hostile territory in the tropics. It consisted of a waterproof gabardine bag with various pockets inside to hold the survival gear:imageThree grab handles are fastened around the main bag, which measures 22 inches from top to bottom, whilst a carry handle is also provided to allow it to be slung over a shoulder when used on the ground. A large zipper runs down the back of the bag:imageThis is unfastened and gives a hint of the pockets inside:imageIn order to access these pockets and their contents, the bag is turned inside out:imageThe original packing list for the survival kit indicates the stowage position of the various items:imageThe RAF’s guidance noted:

Most of the equipment stowed in the pockets is labelled with instructions for use, and where such instructions are not provided it is considered that the good sense of the individual will be a sufficient guide. The emphasis should be on economy, every endeavour being made to “live on the land”. If economy can be practiced, the equipment will provide the means of survival for a considerable period.

A detailed photograph shows the individual items that were packed into this survival kit:imageThe front of the kit has a large pocket above a zip fastener:imageThe pocket secured with a press stud was to carry maps and the zipped pocket was to take a rubber water bottle. The official guidance noted that the water bottle when full could also be used as a pillow or to help support the back.

Above the map pocket the kit is stamped to indicate it is for tropical use and above this is the RAF stores and contract codes:imageThe map pocket itself has stamps indicating that it was originally filled in 1945 and then serviced and refilled in 1952:imageThe survival bag was to be worn either attached to the life saving waistcoat when flying over water, or to the parachute back pad when flying purely over the land. These survival kits are uncommon, but do surface from time to time. Their contents are much rarer and it would prove quite a challenge to collect together.

L4 Magazine Box

The L4 light machine gun was an update of the old Bren Gun, re-chambered for 7.62mm NATO standard ammunition and with a chrome lined barrel for longer life. The accessories provided for the LMG were very similar to those used on the Bren with some important differences and we will be looking at some of these over the coming months. Like the Bren, the L4 had a metal transit case holding twelve magazines:imageThe box is made of pressed steel, with a single carry handle at one end:imageThe front of the box has the contents stencilled on it along with an NSN number:imageWhilst the lid is secured with a spring clip:imageOpening the box there are rows of lips to allow each of the magazines to fit into the box neatly:imageThese are simple metal tabs set at the correct width for each magazine:imageEach magazine slots in, front first:imageThe underside of the lid has a rubber pad that presses down onto the magazines and prevents them from rattling around:imageTwo different boxes were used with L4 magazines, ones such as this that were custom made for the magazines, and others were converted from older .303 Bren boxes with strips of metal or wood added to change the internal dimensions of the box to better fit the different magazines, whilst an early expedient, recommended to armourers was just to pack the space in a Bren box with cotton waste to allow the L4 mags to fit and not move around.

A full box of twelve magazines was very heavy and one L4 gunner commented he, “always felt for the N02 carrying the Ammo box full of magazines…”

200 Gallon Water Bowser Float Straps

Ensuring adequate supplies of fresh water is an essential logistical element for any military operation. Combat often disrupts water infrastructure and so water often needs to be carried in bowsers, jerry cans and bottles to men in combat. In the Second World War the British Army had a number of water bowsers in service of different capacities, both towed and built directly on the chassis of lorries. Here a towed 180 gallon bowser is used by troops in France in 1940:imageOne feature many of these bowsers had was a pipe that could be deployed from the main tank into a suitable river or lake to suck up water that could then be filtered and sterilised before being used by the men to drink. This pipe had a filter on the end to keep out debris and to prevent it from sinking into the mud, a wooden float was strapped to the end by a leather belt, indicated here in the red circle:imageTonight we have a pair of these leather straps to look at, but rather than the 180 gallon bowser seen above, these come from a 200 gallon version that would have been built into a lorry:imageWe can confirm their use easily enough as this is stamped into the leather along with the dates showing one strap is from 1941 and the other from 1944:imageimageThis diagram from the manual for the 200 gallon bowser’s strainer clearly shows the wooden float and the leather strap securing it:imageThe strap was secured by a large iron buckle:imageThis is a particularly obscure piece of militaria and took some detective work to identify, however it is these little puzzles and the learning of new things that I love so much about collecting! My thanks got to Alan Tanknut for his research and for supplying the diagram above.