Category Archives: Home Front

World War Two Souvenir Mirror

Small pocket mirrors were an inexpensive trinket that were popular choices as charity and souvenir articles. They consisted merely of a piece of glass with a silvered back and a paper or leather cloth covering that could be decorated to celebrate a national event such as the Coronation or to show support for a charity. These little mirrors could be sold for a few pennies but were so cheap to make that they could still bring in a small profit for a charity or other organisation.

Obviously during the Second World War, a popular theme to decorate the mirrors in was the war itself and tonight we have a delightful little example to consider:imageThe design features the three allied war leaders, left to right we have US President Franklin D Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The three respective nations’ flags are also included in the design as is the phrase “Souvenir of the World’s War”.

The paper backing wraps round the edges of the mirror to protect the owner from any sharp edges from the glass:imageThe backing to the mirror has degraded now, leading to the unsightly black spots, however these items were entirely ephemeral in nature and it is doubtful anyone expected them to be used for more than a few years, never mind still being in existence seventy five years later. Sadly this mirror has no information on which if any charity it was originally sold to raise money for, but it is a delightful and probably rare survivor.

Civilian Duty Respirator Haversack

Last week we looked at the civilian duty respirator, and tonight we follow this up with the haversack. This was a very simple design, ideal for cheap mass production for civilian services who did not need the same sophistication as the military’s haversacks for the general service respirators. The haversack in this case was a simple heavy duty cotton bag, made of a very coarse grade of fabric:imageA woven cotton tape carrying strap was seen to the bag. This was bundles up and stitched into sections that could be unpicked one by one to lengthen the strap, allowing a cheap way of the haversack strap being adjustable without the need for brass slider buckles:imageThe neck of this haversack closes with a drawstring:imageA loop of woven cotton tape is sewn inside the haversack in one corner:imageWith this pulled out, it is possible to fit the anti-dimming kit into the loop:imageWhich then sits safely in the bottom corner of the haversack when it is turned back the correct way round:imageWhilst this haversack is clearly far superior to the cardboard boxes issued to civilians, it remains a cheap and simple haversack that allows mass production and widespread issue without costing the local authorities large amounts of money.

In this 1941 photograph, this pattern of haversack is clearly visible being worn by the right hand warden:image

Civilian Duty Respirator

It was quickly recognised in the 1930s that a level of respirator was required that fell between the cheap but limited civilian respirator and the far more effective, but expensive, general service respirator. The government therefore introduced the Civilian Duty Respirator, the “Air Raid Precautions Handbook No1” described it as:

The Civilian Duty respirator has been designed for members of civil air raid precautions services and others who might be called upon to carry out their normal duties in the presence of gas, but who are not likely to be continuously exposed to the highest concentrations.

The civil duty respirator was issued with a canvas haversack, an anti-dimming set and an instruction leaflet:imageWe will take a closer look at the haversack next week, tonight we are concentrating on the respirator itself:imageReturning to the ARP Handbook No1, the following description was provided for the mask:

The facepiece is of stouter construction the in the case of the civilian respirator, to withstand harder wear. It is made of rubber, moulded to fit closely to the face. It is fitted with an outlet valve, imageand has a protuberance on the left cheek to which a microphone can be attached for those regularly employed of telephone work.imageThe facepiece is held in position on the face by elastic bands passing round the back of the head. These can be adjusted for fit and comfort by means of buckles.imageThe rubber of the facepiece fits tightly round the end of the container and is secured by means of a metal band, or, in earlier examples, by cord.

The eyepieces are made of strong plain glass discs fitted into metal rims, and are removable by unscrewing for decontamination purposes. imageThere were three different patterns of canister on these masks, the MK I was made of waterproofed cardboard with metal ends. The MK II was identical but made entirely from metal. The third pattern is the one one this mask:imageC.D. Mark III: an improved and slightly larger container, which is in fact identical with the container of the civilian respirator except that the charcoal in it has a higher degree of activation. The main effect of this difference is that the container can absorb more gas before becoming saturated- i.e. That it’s effective life in use is longer. In this container the inlet valve is at the inner end, and can itself be disinfected, so that no absorbent pad is required as in the case of the Mark I and II patterns.imageThe Mark III container is distinguished from the civilian respirator container by having a red band round the black lacquered body.

This example of the civilian duty respirator is stamped with a date of manufacture, here December 1941:imageThis design of respirator continued in service with the Civil Defence into the post war period and was used throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. Of the three main designs of early war respirator (Civilian, Civilian Duty and Service), it is probably the least recognised, but served for decades, thankfully never for real.

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.

Anti-Gas Ointment Jar

Whilst soldiers were issued anti-gas in small tubes that were carried in metal tins stored in their respirator haversacks, this method of supply was not suitable for the civilian population and so from 1939 onwards anti gas ointment, used to treat the skin when exposed to blister gases, was supplied in earthenware seven pint jars. This allowed it to be shared out in the aftermath of an attack as part of the civil defence procedures. These jars continued to be produced and issued in the immediate post war period and tonight’s example dates from 1956. It is a 10″ high white glazed jar, with a sealed lid and carry handle:imageThe earlier examples were half brown and half white, but by the post war period were completely white. The front of the jar has ‘Ointment Anti-Gas’ stamped on under the glazing:imageThe lid has a rubber seal, now perished, and is secured with a twisting metal clip, unfortunately rather rusted on this example:imageThe carry handle is a simple ‘U’ shaped piece of flat steel, secured to the neck of the jar with wire:imageThis jar was made by Doulton and Company of Lambeth in London in November 1956:imageA number of different types of anti gas ointment were produced during the war, and the official history of gas warfare explains their development:

The first ointment introduced was Ointment, Anti-Gas, No 1. It was effective against liquid mustard gas only; it was an irritant after repeated applications, and corrosive to metal portions of weapons if left on for too long. Being irritant it could not be used prophylactically to protect the skin against gas vapour. It was issued in a two-ounce lever tin. In 1939 it became obsolescent and was superseded by Ointment, Anti-gas, No 2. This was an ointment in a vanishing cream base which was effective against both mustard gas and lewisite. It was far less irritant than No 1, but not by any means non-irritant. It was possible to. Use it prophylactically against vapour, but it was an irritant to those parts of the body where the skin is more delicate…

A series of ointments- No 3, 3A, 5 and 6- were introduced successively. These ointments contained antiverm, the chemical used for anti-gas impregnation of clothing. Nos. 3 and 3A (the tropical form of No3) were incorporated in a fatty base; and Nos. 5 and 6 were of the vanishing cream type. They were all superior to No. 2 in that they were non-irritant and less corrosive.

War Damage Repair Leaflet

It is hard to under emphasise how many different aspects of civilian life were influenced by government legislation during the Second World War. What you could buy was limited by rationing, what you could sell items for was limited by price controls, even where you were allowed to live was subject to government control. In 1941 new regulations came into place to control civilian building. Supplies for repairs and new building were under pressure to meet both military requirements and repair bomb damage and labour was short. Large numbers of workers from neutral Ireland helped mitigate the labour shortage to some degree, but prices were rising and some builders were taking advantage to make large profits by charging extortionate prices for work.

The government recognised that controls needed to be brought in, and companies directed to ‘triage’ the construction needs. It was better to repair twenty lightly damaged buildings to get them back into use, than repair one badly damaged building that took up more time and materials to fix. In early 1942 Defence Regulation 56A came into effect and this leaflet was sent to builders to explain the new rules:SKM_C30819021912050 - CopyRuth Dunstan worked for an architect’s firm during the war:

My own real war work was to come at the end of 1940 when I joined Mr C Russell Corfield FRIBA, a very distinguished local architect, many of whose local houses have been listed for their fine quality. My own qualifications were only secretarial but with the young men of the practice away on war service the work devolved on Mr Corfield and me. I had to learn the elements of traditional building in a hurry for the firm was empanelled to serve with the Borough Surveyors of Falmouth and Penryn, Mr Harry Tresidder and Mr Harris respectively.

As stated, there had been a good deal of war damage (and sadly some fatalities) in Falmouth and Penryn from enemy aircraft.

National legislation required all property owners to take out war damage insurance for all necessary war damaged repairs of a permanent nature. However, First Aid repairs were dealt with wholesale as promptly as possible, after careful recording. Because of the pressure, and because I had then absorbed some working knowledge, I too was required to produce straightforward specifications on my own initiative. It kept us busy.

Local air raids damaged Falmouth’s Wesley Church, Lister Street and the Boscawen Hotel (by then the headquarters of the local Women’s Royal Navy). In fact Lister Street included several complete houses, including one which only came on the market as a clear site in 2002 which the estate agency sold for the owners in that year. 

Penryn, with its fine period houses, suffered badly. We found many interesting items at risk. I remember a circular head carved door from the 17th century and a vertical passage, which could have been a remnant of either Reformation or smuggling days both in Bohill; the use of canvas or “poldavy” (a type of sailcloth — a former Falmouth Packet Captain had a poldavy mill at Tremoughdale) used to line buildings instead of plaster and early house deeds from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr Corfield refused to condemn badly damaged properties, as someone less sensitive might have done, with the result that Penryn’s essential character was preserved for later effective restoration. It is a pity that progressive modern development has taken place here and there since then.

The actual First Aid Repairs were carried out under our direction by teams of those builders and others in the trade who were still available, being over age for war service. These were signed on from a wider area, notably Staverton Builders of Devon (founded by the Elmhirsts of Dartington; in Falmouth Messrs Eva & Bone, E H Moss, E Thomas, Angove & Son, Curtis & Son (Penryn) and Morris (plumbers). 

Obviously this insurance and repair arrangement applied all over the United Kingdom.

Stirrup Pump (Part 2)

We looked at a stirrup pump back in February, here, that example was incomplete and missing its hose. Since writing that post I have come across another, more complete example, for the princely sum of £5:imageThe most obvious difference between this and the earlier example, is this pump still has the hose with it. This hose is made of rubber, wrapped in reinforcing tape and painted black:imageIt measures thirty feet long and when not in use is coiled up and fastened to the pump. The nozzle on the end does not match the pictures in the Firewatcher’s handbook and may be a later replacement, it is secured in place with a jubilee clip:imageThe hose, when coiled up, is secured with a webbing tab, secured with a metal pin and with a plastic quick release tab. This is nicely marked with a crown and the letters GR:imageThe Royal cypher is repeated on the brass collar part of the pump, albeit faintly:imageA massive move was made to produce enough pumps before the war, but 1940 there were only 86,000 distributed which was viewed by the authorities as woefully inadequate. Here women welder’s work to make the handles for stirrup pumps:imageStirrup pumps appear regularly in press photos showing the work of the Civil Defence services:imageDespite its simplicity, the stirrup pump could be invaluable and St Paul’s Cathedral was saved from destruction using the simple stirrup pump:

When a fire broke out in the cathedral’s library aisle, there was no mains water to fight it — the blaze was eventually suppressed with ­stirrup pumps, buckets and sand.

Then, soon after 6.30pm, an incendiary bomb — one of 29 to fall on and around St Paul’s that night — pierced the lead roof of the dome and lodged in its timbers.

Molten lead began to drip into the nave below. The aged wood of the choir stalls and organ screen, carved by the great sculptor Grinling Gibbons, was at mortal risk, while smoke from the blazing buildings surrounding the cathedral enveloped it. Two teams of specialist fire watchers recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects — and hand-picked because they had heads for heights — were ­crawling along the wooden beams with hand pumps to reach the ­blazing section. But suddenly the incendiary bomb, having burnt through the wood, fell far, far to the nave below, where it was easily put out. Though almost every building around St Paul’s ­perished, the cathedral survived.

This pump was filthy when I bought it and has been carefully washed with hot soapy water. It is far from perfect, but for the price was a fantastic find and it is different from my earlier example.