Category Archives: Personal Kit

Air Ministry Boot Brush

Boot brushes have appeared many times over the years of this blog and the army marked examples are very common, regularly examples dating back as far as the First World War turn up for under £1 each. Those stamped up for naval or Air Force use are much scarcer, but I have managed to pick up a pair of Admiralty marked examples over the last few years. Until recently however a wartime dated RAF example eluded me. It was therefore fantastic to find this example a few weeks back for just 50p:imageThe brush is typical of all boot brushes, with a wooden back and bristles glued in small clumps into holes drilled into one side:imageThe bristles are made of hair, like nearly all brushes manufactured before the widespread use of nylon, and this is stamped into the wood along one side of the brush:imageThat this is an RAF brush is clearly indicated by an AM and crown mark indicating the Air Ministry and the date of 1941:image‘Kent’ is the name of the manufacturer and indicates that this brush was produced by GB Kent & Sons Ltd. This firm is still trading today and their website gives some history:

G B Kent & Sons Ltd, manufacturers of brushes since the eighteenth century, is one of the oldest established companies in Great Britain.

Kent Brushes was founded in 1777 by William Kent in the reign of George III. We hold a pre-eminent place in the history of brush making, with an unbroken record of excellence in the quality of our production, which has been recognised by the granting of Royal Warrants for nine reigns.

The Kent family continued to run the company for six generations until 1932 when the last of the three Kent brothers passed away. Then Mr Eric L.H Cosby, owner of Cosby Brushes Ltd, entered into an association with G.B Kent & Sons. This started a new chapter in Kent’s long history, and since then, Kent Brushes has been under the creative and dynamic direction of the Cosby family.

The only other marks on the brush is an RAF type stores code marked in minuscule type into the same side as the AM mark:imageAirmen were issued a pair of boot brushes on enlistment, just like their counterparts in the other services and were then responsible for the upkeep of their own footwear, polish being bought out of their own pay at the NAAFI.

Indian Army Used Spoon

Tonight we are looking at a metal spoon produced in the UK for use by the Indian Army:imageWe can tell that this spoon was destined for India as it is marked with an /|\ over an ‘I’ mark on the rear:imageThis was the military acceptance mark for India and is seen on a variety of British and Indian made military items used by the forces in the sub-continent. This spoon though was made in Sheffield and is marked with the makers stamp ‘SSPC&Co’:imageThis stands for the Sheffield Silver Plate and Cutlery Company Ltd, of Priestlet Street Sheffield. A 1921 dated advert by the company shows some of the designs of flatware they offered:Im19211203IM-SheffieldSilverPlateI suspect that this spoon was manufactured between the wars, as by the Second World War India was increasingly reliant on domestic manufacture to meet the needs of its military forces, as described in this exert from ‘The History of the Supply Department’

This industry, has been pursued on a small scale by the village blacksmith from times immemorial. In recent times larger units of production have come into being owned by enterprising smiths or others. The lines of production largely conformed to the rural requirements—namely, knives of various kinds, spoons, butcher’s implements, farm implements like sickles etc. Factories worked with steam or electric power were also started and these made cutlery of the modern type and surgical instruments. But such production continued to be small for long and the large proportion of the pen-knives, table knives, scissors, razors, spoons and forks etc. used in cities and towns was imported.

Production is scattered throughout the country but there are certain areas which enjoy notable hereditary skill; for instance, Aligarh and Moradabad in U.F.: Nizamabad and Wazirabad in the Punjab. The bigger factories are located in cities like Calcutta, Lahore and Bombay. The industry was mostly dependent on imported steel.

The war created a large demand for spoons, which gave a fillip to the industry. The Supply Department dealt with some of the larger producers. In other cases orders were placed with contractors who purchased partly wrought articles from rural areas and got them finished in workshops maintained by them. The production enormously increased and the total military demands in 1943 came to 5,800,000 pieces valued at Rs. 96 lacks. The Supply Department mostly purchased knives clasp, knives table, forks, spoons, locks and padlocks, The purchases of all kinds during 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945 were Rs. 10,300,000, Rs. 4,100,000, Rs. 6,200,000 and 4,750,000 respectively.

The goods now made to meet Defence demands are also suitable for civilian markets except that a greater variety may be required.

Canadian Made Wash Roll

A lot of Canadian personal kit was based off of British designs, as indeed was most of that used in the Empire in World War II. The colonies did however make some minor changes and tonight we are looking at a Canadian made wash roll:imageThe most obvious difference is that it is made of a tan coloured cotton rather than the white used in Great Britain. The tapes on the end are still made in white though:imageI have seen other examples where the tapes are in green and I suspect that there is no significance to this beyond being a manufacturing change. The basic design is identical though and has a large pocket at one end and a series of loops along the body of the wash roll to fit knife, fork, spoon, razor, comb, spare bootlaces etc. into:imageThere is no maker’s name stamped onto the wash roll, but a large /|\ within a ‘C’ stamp indicates Canadian ownership:imageI have seen other Canadian made examples that are dated and stamped up with a manufacturer’s name, the wonderfully titled Parisian Corset Manufacturing Company Limited of Quebec being one of them.

Tin of Brasso

Brasso is a metal polish that has been in production since 1921. It has become well known to generations of service men who have used it to polish the brass buttons and cap badges of their uniforms. Today it is available in two forms, either impregnated wadding or as a liquid in a bottle but traditionally it was the liquid form that was on sale. Tonight we have one such jar of liquid Brasso that I believe dates form the 1950s or 1960s. the design of the front of the label has barely changed since the product was introduced and includes a blue sun burst effect with a red circle bearing the products trademark:imageThis can has a small screw cap and the top of the can would originally have been shiny metal. This example has clearly been lurking in a shed for many years so the top is covered in sixty years of caked on grease. Removing the lid then provides something of a contrast:imageThis bottle is still half full and it smells exactly the same as the modern bottle of Brasso I have for cleaning my own cap badges! Modern Brasso contains C8-10 Alkane/Cycloalkane/Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Quartz, Kaolin, C12-20 Saturated and Unsaturated Monobasic Fatty Acids, Aqua and Ammonium Hydroxide. One would assume the recipe is little changed since the product was introduced.

Brasso works by having both a mild solvent and a fine abrasive in the mixture that cuts through tarnishing and makes a smooth polished surface. The abrasive is why the detail on brass slowly wears down after decades of polishing as the detail is slowly worn away! The base of this tin has an enigmatic pattern of small dots and a letter ‘R’ stamped into it:imageWe can date this tin of Brasso by the information on the back which indicates it is supplied to Her Majesty the Queen, indicating it is post 1952 and that the contents are 7oz which suggests to me that this can comes from the 1950s or 1960s before widespread metrification:imageDavid Fowler did National Service in the 1950s and recalls the use of Brasso:

The chore of bulling boots was interceded by scrubbing webbing and polishing the brass fixings with Brasso- more trade for the NAAFI. This then was the major chore which occupied our time when other military tasks were suspended; periods the Army jokingly classed as free time. Plus of course cleaning windows (again using Brasso), polishing the wooden floor with a long handled heavy metal padded thing called a ‘bumper’, applying black gunge to the room’s only form of heating, a potbellied stove- thank goodness we had gone before winter- cleaning ablutions, dusting, ironing, pressing uniforms, making and unmaking beds.47143323_2502323119783752_2376218874447134720_n

1/2 Franc N.A.A.F.I. Token

In the past we have looked at a pair of armed forces tokens here. These were not the first tokens issued to troops and examples can be found dating right back to the nineteenth century. Tonight we have a World War Two ½ Franc token to consider. The token is made of a brown laminated type plastic in a distinctive octagonal shape. The front has the words ½ Fr printed in black in a repeating pattern:imageWhilst the opposite side says ‘NAAFI Canteen’:image“Over to You”, the official news sheet of the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards reported the introduction of these tokens in its edition of Monday 10th July 1944:

Owing to shortage of small change in French currency, it has been decided as a temporary measure, to use tokens of the denomination of 1/2 franc in NAAFI in FRANCE.
Tokens will take the form of octagonal plastic discs, with the value (1/2 franc) inscribed on the face.
They are issued with authority and may be freely accepted as legal tender as between NAAFI and Navy, Army and Air Force personnel within such limits as may be decided by NAAFI authorities concerned.
It is emphasised that tokens are being issued as a temporary measure only and solely for the benefit of troops in making cash purchases at NAAFI when small change is not available.
They cannot be used elsewhere than in NAAFI establishments, but will be exchanged by Cashiers at home in the case of returning troops with tokens in their possession.
All tokens will be withdrawn by NAAFI as soon as possible and will be redeemed in full by NAAFI

Sterilised Dusting Powder

Once again my thanks go to Martin Johnson for tonight’s object. The need to keep feet dry and sterilised has long been recognised by the army. Trench foot was a serious problem in the First World War and a scheme of regular foot inspections, changing into dry socks wherever possible and putting foot powder on was adopted to reduce the number of casualties from this preventable ailment. Even today proper foot care is an essential part of a man’s training and it is the officers’ and NCOs’ responsibilities to ensure that men follow the guidance and take good care of their feet.

Foot powder has long been issued and today it comes in a small white plastic bottle:imageThe contents of this bottle are mostly talc, but also include micota which combats athlete’s foot and sweat rashes. Like a civilian bottle of talcum powder, the top has a twisty lid that allows the contents to be sprinkled onto the user’s feet:imageOf course it is not just feet that this powder is useful for, anywhere that gets hot and sweaty for long periods of time can be dusted with the powder, such as the crotch and arm pits. A simple white label with details of the contents and an NSN number is stuck to the front of the bottle:imageInterestingly the powder has a shelf life of two years. I am assuming that this is a long as one could hope it would remain sterilised, the talc part of the ingredients remaining fine as long as it is kept dry pretty much indefinately. One soldier advises:

Good admin and foot powder is always a good start, No matter how well you waterproof the outside of a boot there is always a big hole at the top. Even if your feet don’t get wet from external water there is still sweat to be sorted. So sock rotation, foot powder, admin.
Oh and air them put a pair of flip flops in your pack for down time.

British Army Shaving Brush

I last covered the British Army shaving brush right back when the blog began as part of the wash roll covered here. That shaving brush was made of Bakelite and of reasonably high quality. Tonight though we are looking at a much cruder and presumably cheaper shaving brush that was again issued to British troops:imageThis example is made from wood and clearly started off by being having the handle turned on a lathe, the point where the spindle was pressed into the wood still being visible on the base of the brush:imageThe top of the handle was divided into four, with a central area to accept the bristles:imageAfter this was secured, string was tightly wound around the top of the handle to draw the four quarters together and secure the bristles into the handle:imageNote the recess lathed into the handle for the string to sit in. The handle is stamped in ink indicating it was made in London in 1945:imageThe /|\ arrow clearly indicates it was made for the military. This is definitely the budget end of shaving brushes and I suspect many troops would have quickly ditched this brush in favour of a better quality civilian example, not only is the handle crude, but the bristles are coarse and unlikely to make a good lather easily.

One problem which troops in World War Two managed to avoid however was catching facial anthrax from their shaving brushes. In World War 1 it became difficult to acquire enough badger hair to make the brushes, badger hair being the best material as it held water better than other animal hair. Substitute hair, including horse hair was used instead. Unfortunately herbivores such as horses are susceptible to anthrax and some suppliers of this hair did not thoroughly clean and disinfect it before it was made into brushes. This led to an outbreak of subcutaneous anthrax amongst soldiers using the low cost bristles. It was found that brushes with lighter bristles were more likely to give off anthrax. This was because manufacturers were less inclined to disinfect this colour hair as it reduced its resemblance to badger hair. Darker bristles were more likely to be disinfected as they could not be disguised as badger hair and so were less likely to carry anthrax.