Category Archives: Home Front

Rest Centre Zuckerman Helmet

Rest centres were locations set up by local authorities to process those made homeless by bombing. These centres were normally in school or church halls and offered short term accommodation for those bombed out of their homes, as well as food and access to services to allow alternative housing to be provided, new ration and identity papers to be issued and any other advice and support people might need. These centres were manned by a mix of local authority employees and volunteers, the WVS having a major role to play in providing hot tea and food as well as distributing aid. The workers at these centres were lightly equipped, but some at least were issued with steel helmets to protect them as they went about their duties. Tonight we have a wonderful example of a Zuckerman helmet marked up to a rest centre worker:imageThis helmet is in the standard light grey paint, put a dark green panel has been painted on the front with the words ‘Rest Centre’ neatly painted on this:imageThe Zuckerman helmet was specially developed for civilian use and whilst not offering the ballistic protection of a military helmet, it was ideal for protection during air raids. Examples were issued by local authorities and it was also available for purchase by civilians for a few shillings.

The design was officially called the ‘civilian protective helmet’ and was pressed from manganese or mild steel in two shell sizes, medium and large. This example is a medium, as indicated by the ‘M’ stamped into the underside of the shell:imageThe other stamp on the underside of the rim indicates that it was made by Rubery Owen Company Ltd of Leeds in 1941:imageThe underside of the helmet shows the liner and the loops for a chin strap:imageChin straps were not supplied with these helmets, but users were advised that they could add their own and examples turn up with a wide variety of different chin straps, some as sophisticated as the standard army ones, others just a piece of ribbon.

The liner itself is made of leather with a tape crown, this ensures that there is a large gap between the top of the liner and the helmet shell itself offering more protection from falling debris. Sadly, despite the excellent condition of the shell, the liner in this helmet has perished considerably over the last eighty years:imageThe helmets were distributed with the liner unattached and an instruction sheet advising users how to set their helmet up for use:




The Civilian Protective Helmet is issued unassembled in three parts – body, lining, and lace.

The steel body is in two sizes and the liner is in six sizes – i.e. three sizes to each size of body, as follows –

The medium body (stamped M) takes linings of 6 and a half, 6 and three quarters and 7.

The large body (stamped L) takes linings of 7 and a quarter, 7 and a half, and 7 and three quarters.

Fig 1 shows the general shape of the helmet. Although the body is symmetrical in shape the line of lacing holes is sloped so that when the lining is assembled to the body the helmet has a front and a back. The back comes down lower to protect the back of the head.

The letters L and M stamped under the rim at the back indicates the size of the helmet body.

How to assemble the Helmet.

(i) Take a lining of the required size and a body of the size to fit the lining – see above. (NB – It is essential that the right size of body be used with each lining size.) It does not matter which part of the lining becomes the front or back; but it is usual to assemble it so that the join in the headband is at the back.

(ii) There are eight pairs of lacing holes in the steel body, corresponding with the eight loops on the lining (A ‘pair’ of holes means two holes close together – about 1 inch apart. There is a space of about 2 inches between two pairs.) A loop should be placed behind and between the two holes which form one pair, and the lace threaded alternately through the lacing holes in the body and the loops on the lining as show in Fig. 2.

When the lacing is finished lace should be visible outside the body of the helmet between each pair of holes, and should be invisible between the two holes which form a pair (see Fig. 1).

(iii) When the lacing has been completed, draw the lace tight and tie it firmly in a bow. It will be most satisfactory to form the tie inside the helmet (ie alongside one of the loops in the lining) and at the back, where loose ends can be tucked away, and not outside the helmet, where the tie will be more liable to come undone.

The lacing can be done with any strong piece of cord or lace of the right thickness if the lace originally provided gets broken.

How to fit the Helmet.

The wearer of the helmet should see that it fits well. The leather band of the lining should fit as closely as possible around the head without being too tight. If it is too loose and the next size smaller is too tight, the lining should be padded with layers of paper or other material inside the leather band.

When the fit around the head has been made right, the helmet should be worn to see whether it comes down far enough, or too far, on the head. This can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening the piece of cord which is threaded through the webbing band at the crown of the head. The brim at the front should be about level with the eyebrows when the helmet is worn in a comfortable position on the head. (Note – the cord must not be loosened so much that the head nearly comes in contact with the steel body. People with high-domed heads may find it advisable to wear the helmet above eyebrow level.)

Chinstrap or Carrrying Loops

No chinstrap is provided because it is not likely to be necessary except in rare circumstances. Nevertheless lugs are provided inside the helmet on either side through which a piece of tape can be threaded if desired, to form either a strap (to be worn either under the chin or at the back of the head) or a carrying loop.

WW1 Fundraising Dog Coat

The British have long been renowned for willing supporting charities large and small and their love of animals, especially dogs. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these two loves came together with the extensive use of dogs to raise money for various good causes. There were several quite famous dogs who walked around large railway stations with collection boxes on their backs raising money for welfare charities (indeed one can be seen on display, stuffed, in the National Railway Museum in York). It was therefore no surprise that during World War One dogs were often used to raise money for service charities and tonight we are looking at an example of a dog coat made during World War One for these fundraising activities.imageThe coat is clearly handmade, but of excellent manufacture. It is shaped to fit a large dog such as an Alsatian or Labrador, with straps to go around the chest, stomach and rump of the animal, all sewn to the reverse of the coat:imageAn iron buckle is fitted to one of each pair of straps, wrapped in red thread to make it more decorative:imageIt is the decoration on the coat however which is particularly interesting and which helps to date the coat to World War One. Four red crosses are sewn on, suggesting that it was this charity the dog was raising money for:imageEmbroidered on the front corners of the coat are the crossed flags of France and Zsarist Russsia:imageThis alone dates the coat to World War One. The opposite side has the British and Belgian flags:imageEach of these pairs of flags is accompanied with red white and blue rosettes, picking up the colours of Russia, France and Great Britain. Belgium is represented by a single black, orange and red rosette at the rear of the coat:imageOn September 16th 1914 the Daily Mail reported:

Two very successful collectors for the Red Cross Fund are the pair of pedigree greyhounds, Nell and Finn, which appear on the stage of the Garrick Theatre every evening in Mr Arthur Bourchier’s “Bluff King Hal.” The dogs appear outside the theatre every evening before the performance and help to the collection of money which goes to the purchase of materials that are made up by the ladies of the company for the wounded soldiers

GI’s Letter to England, 1946

Although tonight’s object is a letter written by a US Army sergeant, it seemed appropriate to include on our British and Empire blog because he is writing back to a family in England with whom he had been billeted and he has some interesting reminiscences about life in wartime England so I hope you will forgive this slight detour from our usual subject matter.

I picked up this letter and its associated paperwork a few weeks ago, the envelope addressed to a Mr and Mrs Herbert Swales of Drighlington:imageInside is a letter, two post cards, two New Year’s Greeting cards and a photograph of an American soldier, presumably the sender of the letter:imageThe letter inside reads:

My dear Bert and Marjorie and gang

It has been quite some time since I left your country and quite a lot has happened. I want to assure you folks that my long procrastination in writing does not mean that I have not thought of you people many times, and always these thoughts gave me a sweep of nostalgia just to think of it.

Bert, many is the time I’ve thought of our “mild and bitter” binges and really longed to do them again. Remember our escapades to one of the “locals” and coming back and try to explain just where we had been and what we’d been doing? And then the eating championships where Frank could always win with so much ease? Also the long lazy afternoons spent trying to stay stretched out in the sun. I’ll never forget those evenings at the “spotted” and at the “‘are and ‘ounds” where everyone joined in the singing. Boy, oh boy, those were the days!

We were in France until the middle of September. That period was one of living in dirt floated tents with no water to spare for even drinking for 3 or 4 days at a time, but I did get into Paris for two days now and then before we moved on into Germany. We were located on an old Luftwaffe field near Munich and had started to get it pretty well operative when the really rough weather set in. My duties were in keeping radio contact with our aircraft. In December I went to Berchtesgaden on a two day pass and was snowed in for a week- those were winds that did some good.

At Berchtesgaden I got a chance to look over Hitler’s Eagles Nest, and to do some deer hunting- didn’t see any deer though. Then I got back to the base just in time to get in on a trip to St Moritz in Switzerland.

The winter season was just opening at St Moritz and many of the “elite” of Europe were there. Those are the people it’s pretty hard to stomach. It seemed that most of the moneyed people who found it unsafe to be in their own countries had come to St Moritz. I want to tell you about one incident that gave me a bit of amusement.

It seemed that certain people decided it would be “nice” of them to be somewhat accommodating to allied soldiers. Several of us went to the Embassy Club at the Palace Hotel for the evening. I had a dance with a Bernice Sheissen whom I came to understand was Fritz Sheissen’s daughter. So I proceeded to introduce an obviously Jewish Lieutenant to the party, and the response was a really tense one. The lieutenant did an admirable job of politely “putting them in an uneasy situation”. He and I had quite a laugh over it afterwards. I must admit I did get quite a fiendish satisfaction out of it.

As a whole however, the people I met in Switzerland were really nice to meet. The time there was spent mostly in skiing. I’m not much of a skier but certainly had a lot of fun- I find it quite a thrill to come down a mountain on skis when you don’t just know what they are going to do. When I got to going too fast all I had to do was fall down. Skiing to me has always been one of those things that one admires- but never does (I haven’t changed my opinions)

When I got back to my base, I found I was assigned to go to Biarritz, France to get some “book learning”. I guess they figured I needed some sense pounded into me. So here I am. Tho’ hard to imagine that all this could happen in such a short space of time- and further that it could all happen to me.

My studies at the university here are in the field of international trade and finance, also a course in problems of world peace. It’s quite a comedown to learn how little I really did know. This is really like a “break” for me. We are billeted in a modern hotel, and although there is not much heat, the weather is usually fair. I find the instructors here to be quite good. They are mostly older professors from the various colleges and universities of the United States. Most of them are civilians on leave from their institutions, but a small number are ex-college professors who were in the army. I am amazed that the army was able to get the staff it has here. One of my instructors was on the staff of the League of Nations Secretariat and taught for a while at the University of Geneva. Another was on the production board of our country during the war, before that he taught business methods at Eastern Americans University. Another is a Canadian professor who was for some years in the US Treasury department.

I must admit that they keep you busy. I don’t have the spare time to look over this part of the country as I would like. I imagine I could take the time but then I want to get as much out of this opportunity as possible.

I am enclosing a picture of Konigsce Lake near Berchtesgaden and also I’ll send you the New Year’s card I got there and didn’t send because it was after New Year when I got to where I could post it. I decided not to send it but just to show you I thought of you folks I am going to send it anyway. The only postcards I’ve been able to get in Germany were these. I guess they didn’t make any for a couple of years and they were sold long ago. So as a result I was not able to send out greetings cards. As long as I still have them though I was going to send them on. I’ve got one for Ella and Tommy and the Websters too. I’ll send Mary’s to you because I always think of one of your household- she lives so close and you’re spending half the time in each other’s houses anyhow. I hope this is alright with you Mary. If I sent it through the mail to you I’d have to do all this explaining over again, or you might think me more crazy than I really am.

Will you write and tell me what’s going on. Where are Tommy and Ella going to live? Who is Frank’s new girl now? Has Elizabeth been out eating ground berries again?

Please give my best regards to Mrs Hudson and the folks at the Spotted. 

My sincere regards to all of you and I hope I may see you all again.



Spare Civilian Gas Mask Containers

Although never used as intended, the civilian gas masks issued in the run up to World War Two were designed to be maintained and repaired as necessary to keep them in service. Spare parts were produced and instructions given on how to dismantle and reassemble the respirators. Amongst those spare parts were replacement filter canisters that could be swapped out in the rubber face masks. Spare gas mask parts are unusual today, so it was very pleasing to be given this pair of replacement filters for civilian gas masks:imageBoth are tin metal boxes, with a rubber inlet valve on the rear:imageThe front has a green tin grill through which air would pass when assembled on a mask and used:imageInside the canister was a particulate filter and a layer of charcoal:SKM_C30819021808020The official description of the canister was:

The container (known as G.C. mark II) consists of a cylindrical tin canister (lacquered black) containing activated charcoal to absorb gases such as phosgene and mustard gas, and a particulate filter which prevents the passage of finely divided smokes like the arsenical gases. The contents of the container do not deteriorate either with age or with wearing the respirator when gas is not present.

The canister itself, like so many other items made from tinplate, was manufactured by the Metal Box Company and this is indicated by the combined MB stamp on the back of the canister:imageTo fit a new canister to a civilian gas mask, the following procedure should be observed:

(I) Replace the rubber disc valve on the stud in the container end.

(II) Grasp the container by the rim on its outer end and insert one side of the inner end into the aperture in the facepiece at a point immediately under the window. If the facepiece is a large size, the edge of the rubber should be brought just over the raised swage in the container body, and if it is either a medium or small size the edge of the rubber should be brought up to the raised swage. Hold the rubber in place of the container with the fingers, insert the fingers of the other hand inside the facepiece and stretch the rubber outwards and slip it over the container.

If the facepiece has not been slipped over the container far enough it must not be corrected by pulling the edge of the rubber; the fingers are to be inserted in the facepiece and the rubber lifted and pushed onto the container. See that the edge of the rubber is not turned in, that it is straight round the container and in the correct position according size of the facepiece.

(III) Place the rubber band in position around the container so that one half of its width lies on the rubber of the facepiece and the other half on the container.

One of these rubber securing bands is slipped around one of the canisters and has a date of 1937 stamped on it:image

Civil Defence Leather Anklets

As collectors we are probably all familiar with the webbing anklets worn by British and empire troops in World War Two and some may be aware that leather examples were produced for wear by the Home Guard. What far fewer collectors may realise is that there was a specific pattern of leather anklet produced for those working in Civil Defence. The need for. An anklet is perhaps obvious, those working in civil defence were often on bomb sites helping rescue people from beneath rubble, surrounded by protrusions and sharp edges that could easily snag on a trouser leg. An anklet helped protect the bottom of a pair of trousers or overalls and made it much safer for the man or woman on abomination site. Like the Home Guard, leather was used for the anklets, but a different design, shared with the ATS was used:imageWhilst the ATS version was made of a russet brown leather, this Civil Defence example is a much darker shade of brown, almost black in colour. This pair are unissued, still tied together as they were when they came from stores. It is interesting to note that the leather ties used to fasten them are missing, indicating that these were issued separately and not attached in the factory.

The leather used is of a thick grade and has a slight pebbled effect across its surface:imageThree pairs of holes are punched through to pass the leather securing laces through. These loops would then be inter threaded and passed through the brass eyelets and over the top strap to secure:imageThe securing strap consists of a leather tongue:imageAnd a corresponding brass buckle:imageIt was clearly expected that this area might suffer from more wear than the rest of the anklet and it is reinforced on the rear:imageThis pair of anklets was manufactured in 1942 and as well as the date and manufacturer’s initials, the /|\ War Department mark is stamped into the leather on the rear:imageThis pair are a tiny size 1, perhaps accounting for why they were never issued, which is indicated on the rear by a yellow paint stamp:imageIt seems the anklets were not universally worn, but here we can see a member of a stretcher party (rear, right on the stretcher bearers) wearing a pair:image

Wartime Orlox Suet packet

Back when this blog first started I wrote a regular series of posts called Tuesday Finds, showcasing anything I had found that week. These were very brief posts with usually only a single photograph of the object and very little background information. I have decided to revisit some of the objects featured in those early posts and give them a post of their own with more photographs and a more in depth write up. These items will be dotted around during the coming months and we start tonight with a wartime Orlox Suet packet:imageThis packet is unused, but was designed to hold suet to make puddings with. It is made of recycled cardboard, with simple red ink printing, described on the box as a ‘wartime jacket’:imagePaper like other materials was in short supply during the world war and as well as salvaging and recycling as much as possible, manufacturers were encouraged to reuse material and cut down in other areas such as the inks, hence the very simplistic nature of this box compared to the eye catching designs of the 1920s and 30s. The box itself is made from die cut cardboard that can be folded up and secured with tabs on either end:imageApart from the product details on three sides, the only other information is the recipe as to how to use this item:imageSuet puddings were a popular part of British diet at this period, being both cheap and very filling. Suet is processed beef fat and when mixed with flour and water can be made into a pastry, dumplings or a thick stodgy pudding such as spotted dick.

Fats such as suet were rationed during wartime, with each adult allowed typically 5oz a week. Suet puddings however were an excellent way to make this go as far as possible and a meat pudding could be made packed with root vegetables to pad out the meat that would feed the whole family, if it was cooked with a hay box type cooker it would also be economical with fuel.

Stirrup Pump

Although very simple, the stirrup pump was a key piece of equipment in fighting incendiary bombs during World War II. The stirrup pump was a little hand operated water pump that could be used with buckets of water to fight fires. It consisted of a tube that was placed in the water, a foot rest to hold the pump steady and a handle that was worked up and down to draw the water up:imageThe base of the pump is fitted with a pierced metal filter that prevents grit and debris being drawn into the pump and fouling it:imageA large handle is fitted to the top of the pump:imageThis can be pulled upwards, creating a vacuum that draws water into the pump:imagePushing this down forces the water back out through this nozzle:imageOriginally a thirty foot rubber tube was attached here that could be used to fight fires. To keep the pump steady, a foot rest is fitted to the side of the pump, this part was on the outside of the bucket of water and the user held it steady with their foot:imageThe main tube that was in the bucket of water is protected by a sleeve of a hard rubber that prevents the inner tube from getting crushed:imageThe stirrup pump was recommended to Fire Guards in their handbook as an ideal way to fight small fires caused by incendiary bombs:imageIt could be used by teams of one, two, or ideally three persons:imageimageThe handbook also gave some instructions on how to care for the pump and actively encouraged owners to use them in civilian life for purposes such as washing windows in order to ensure they were familiar with its operation:imageimageimageHere we see the pumps being manufactured:D 3597And used on an ARP training exercise:image