Category Archives: Research

Book Review of Royal Navy Uniforms 1930-1945

It is not very often that you come across a newly published book that you can feel confident will become the publication in the field for reference. Tonight we are taking a look at one such book. Published just in time for Christmas 2014, Royal Navy Uniforms 1930-1945, is by respected military author Martin J Brayley.  A brief glance at the sources I use for this blog will show that Mr Brayley’s books make up a sizeable proportion of the material I use for writing these posts. With a Brayley book one expects great detail, an easy style making reading a pleasure and numerous photographs to illustrate the text. I am happy to say that this book delivers on all these points:9781847978448_300_0The subject of Royal Naval Uniforms of the Second World War has been sadly neglected over the last seventy years. Most authors include a brief chapter in wider works on the Royal navy in WW2, but detailed study of the garments themselves, regulations and scales of issue and the various orders of dress have been absent from our bookshelves. This book then addresses this need and is logically set out in 160 pages  with a number of parts covering Officers’ uniforms, Ratings’ uniforms and then a section on specialist clothing and other accoutrements. The chapters are:

  • Officers’ clothing and effects
  • Class 1 and III Ratings’ clothing and effects
  • Class II Seamens’ clothing and effects
  • Battledress and tropical clothing
  • Miscellaneous clothing
  • Personal effects
  • Substantive and non-substantive insignia

 Each section starts out with a brief history of the uniforms and the regulations regarding the uniforms, before a detailed look at each order of dress: P1
The book is packed with both period photographs, reconstructions and detail shots of the various uniforms. On the whole these illustrate the text very well; however in a couple of cases, with reconstructions of some of the overalls, the contrast in the photograph is not sufficient to allow all the detail to be seen. I suspect this has more to do with the nature of the actual uniform than it being any fault on the part of the photographer, but it does make seeing some of the detail referred to in the text more difficult. The weakest area of the book is that on specialist clothing and accoutrements, many items are only illustrated through period photographs and some are only referred to in the text. I imagine that this is due to the difficulty in tracking down either original items to photograph or period photographs and again it must be emphasised, despite this, the range of items the author has pulled together is remarkable.

p2The book does not contain any uniforms from the WRENs, however as these have already been covered in the same authors book on Women’s uniforms of WW2 this is not a problem. The text is readable, and despite great detail of the history and development of the uniform since WW1, the author manages to make it interesting and informative and I read the book cover to cover over a weekend with pleasure. With a RRP of £25 this harback book falls into the mid-price range of militaria books, cheaper than Schiffer’s tomes (not always that good even with the high price tag) and more expensive than the standard Osprey book, but of far higher quality and depth than the latter. With deals on Amazon it should be possible to purchase a copy for under £20 and I for one would heartily recommend picking up a copy. The author is apparently now working on a similar work for the RAF and I cannot wait for its publication. This book has a proud spot on my reference shelf and will be referred to many times I’m sure as I write post for this blog.p3

Webbing Manufacturers’ Codes

Throughout the Second World War a large number of new companies, that had never made webbing before, received military contracts. These manufacturers all marked their webbing with letter codes so any faults could be traced back to a particular producer. These markings are often very faint now and can be hard to make out, but the following list records some (but probably not all) of the markings to be found on British Made webbing:

Garstin & Co. Ltd ……………….AG & CO LTD
Albert Gill Ltd ……………………AG
Albert Gill ……………………….ALBERT GILL
Associated Cutters …………………AC
Bagcraft Ltd ………………………BAGCRAFT
Barrow Hepburn and Gale Ltd …………BHG Ltd.
Bass Smeaton ………………………BS Ltd
Blackman Leather Goods Ltd ………….BLACKMAN
Blackwell & Young ………………..BEWYSE
R. Burns Ltd ………………………R BURNS LTD
Caoutchouc Products Ltd ……………C. P. Ltd.
H.H. Carroll & Co Ltd ………………HHC & CO LTD
Civic Co ………………………….CC
County Screen Co …………………..C S Co.
Crown Bedding Co …………………..CB
Finnegans …………………………FINNEGANS
Foxcroft ………………………….F L LTD
Hampton and Sons …………………..H&S Ltd
Hewit Sons & Co Ltd ………………..H.S.L.
J. & A. Hillman ……………………J&AH
Martin Wright & Sons Ltd ……………MW&S.
Mary Harris Gowns ………………….M.H.G.
Mills Equipment Co …………………M.E.Co.
Peckwash Mills …………………….PM
Princess Silk Shade ………………..PSS
Rover Car Co ………………………ROVER
R. Parkyn Ltd ……………………..R.P.Ltd.
S. Norton Ltd ……………………..SN Ltd.
Teddy Toy Co Ltd …………………..T.T.C.
Trefano Ltd ……………………….TD
Vesta Ltd …………………………VESTA LTD.
Waring & Gillow ……………………W&G

The above list is drawn from an old thread on the wwiireenacting forum, but hopefully this will be fresh to many. The following are examples of the markings:

Mills Equipment Co:FullSizeRender4Hampton and Sons:FullSizeRenderMartin Wright and Sons:FullSizeRender1Bagcraft Ltd:FullSizeRender2Civic Co:FullSizeRender8Albert GillA GillCaoutchouc Products Ltd CP ltdS. Norton LtdSN LtdCounty Screen Co CS Co LtdThis list only covers UK made webbing, and other stamps will be found on Indian, Canadian, Australian and South African produced webbing. If anyone has any further codes, please let me know and I will add them to the list.

Tuesday Finds

Not much on the market this morning, but I picked up a couple of interesting Cold War era items.

RAF Flight Map

Accurate aerial maps are essential for safe flight, even today in the age of electronic systems. In the UK the RAF publishes maps showing where air corridors, areas of controlled airspace, radar transmitters and aerodromes etc are. This map was published in July 1980 and covers the south of England:

5DA90617-B249-4005-9B12-6EB6578AAC3AAlthough the map is published and compiled by the RAF, the publication is available to civilian operators and this example was sold for 85p in 1980. Inside the map uses blocks of green to indicate flight paths etc:5C35AAB0-5615-47BE-9140-07575F5A8064These maps are still published today and are released on a monthly basis- this example runs from 10th July 1980 to 7th August 1980.

Military Police Arm Band

The Royal Military Police were founded in 1877 and are the corps of personnel tasked with policing the army at home and overseas. When on duty the Corps of Military Police have red caps (hence the commonly used name for them of ‘Red Cap’) and wear an armband or brassard with ‘MP’ on it. This armband comes in a variety of different styles. The example I picked up this morning is in a heavy red with black letters sewn on:186339BE-7A34-429C-9436-26CF6F1DDC72Earlier examples were fastened by Newey studs, but this example is secured with velcro:7C59DD5B-988A-48F7-B898-36880EDF9AA1The shape of this armband is different from the more usual square cut example with the ends tapering in slightly. I have seen a theory online that this is because it is because it is for female soldiers, but I have no evidence to support or deny this theory.

 And also…

Not really an addition to the collection, but I picked up another very good reference book that fills a large hole in my library:295ABECB-D90F-42EE-B250-393DF521AD8B The subject of British and Empire formation badges in WW2 is a complex and confusing one, with myriad badges, variations and official and unofficial variants. Most books deal with the main infantry divisions that fought in Western Europe, but this book covers Europe, Africa, the Far East and everywhere in between, with many obscure examples that I have never come across:E5129A28-CC5E-48FE-AF50-9BDC6B098422These formation patches do come up for sale on the market now and then and sometimes trying to identify them can be a challenge. Equally this book will help with interpreting period photographs and tying down the theatre of war a man served in if nothing else. Now all we need is a book covering the formation badges of the 1950s, which are a whole different set of designs and uses…

Date Codes on WW2 British Uniforms

British Army uniforms of the First and Second World war were normally manufactured with a label inside giving details of size, manufacturer and date. These labels are invaluable to collectors in confirming when a particular item of clothing dates from and are always the first thing I look at when buying a new uniform for my collection. Unfortunately these labels are often missing or washed out and then at first glance it becomes impossible to date an item of clothing. This is an example of a faded label from a service dress jacket:

2C04FD37-0B3E-46B6-9357-1292DCA74B6CLuckily for us though, the British Army also stamped clothing with letter codes that represent specific years, again this is from the service dress jacket:

57C49459-224E-4150-B6C8-1E4DD8496547 For many years these codes were something of a mystery to many of us, but thanks to the sterling work of a few members of the Warrelics Forum we now have access to a list of what the codes mean allowing collectors to date items in their collections. I hope the original poster ‘Anon’ wont mind me republishing the codes from the thirties to the fifties here for other collectors to take advantage of, hopefully they will be as useful to you as they have been to me!

t=1937 & 1956 *
s=1938 & 1957
r= 1939 & 1948
q=1940
p=1941
o=1942
n=1943
m=1944 & 1953
z=1945
l=1945, 1946 & 1953
e,p=1947 *
r=1948
a=1949
b,a=1950 *
b=1951
c=1952
l=1953
m=1954
d,o,t=1955 *
t=1956 & 1937
s=1957
f=1958
x=1959 *

As can be seen some of the letters were repeated and the pattern jumps around a bit, but a combination of the letter codes and a basic knowledge of the rough periods of manufacture for certain items lets us date things pretty easily. From this set of codes we can tell that the service dress jacket shown above with a code of N dates from 1943.

Finally a use for School Boy French

It is a frustrating fact that what is in my opinion the best guide to twentieth century militaria is in French. For those of you who have not come across it Armes Militaria is a monthly French magazine with articles and reconstructions of military equipment from around the world and across the twentieth century. Whilst there is French focus (naturally) every month there seems to be at least one article on the British Army (and Empire), the German Army and the USA. There are also regular articles on other minor players- the Brazilian Army in Italy in WW2, Vietnamese forces in the French Wars in Indochina and the Hungarian Cavalry on the Eastern Front.

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What makes the magazine special though are the detailed photos of actual artefacts, both laid out in kit displays and being worn by live models. This is the strength of this particular magazine, because even if your French is rudimentary (I stopped doing French after the 3rd form at school) you can admire the photographs. If something takes my eye and I want to find out more, I type the text into an online translator and get back at least the gist of what the article is on about.

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What is most frustrating though is that the magazine was actually published in English for a very short time back in the early nineties. These magazines now fetch a premium, with £10 an issue seeming to be the starting price for them. I can’t say why the magazine never took off over here, presumably translation costs put a stop to it, but even in French they are incredibly useful and well worth picking up for reference if you come across them. In the meantime, I am brushing up on my French…

Soldier’s Pass Book and Skill at Arms Book

One of the most informative documents on an individual soldier is his AB64 book. This little russet brown book recorded the soldier’s personal details, the courses he had been on and his medical and leave history. As you might expect, with this sort of information you can start to build up a picture of an individual’s military career. Tonight we are looking at a set of three documents all relating to a single soldier; Charles Chesters.

AB64imageOn opening the book there are instructions to the soldier about security and their responsibilities as regards to their ownership of the book:imageTurning the page we discover that Charles Chesters was born on 27th October 1927 and was an apprentice tool maker before he enlisted. He was a member of the Oddfellows Friendly Society and was enlisted as a national serviceman in Carlisle on 3rd January 1946 for 6 years. We also have a description of the soldier, he was 5’8 1/4″ high, with blue eyes and brown hair:imageNext we have details of the basic training all troops undertook, rifle course, sten gun course and personal endurance tests:imageOver the page we discover he finished primary training on 13th February 1946, equating to 6 weeks. After this we can see details of his specialist training as a Royal Army Service Corps Air Dispatcher:imageFurther on we have the details of the man’s leave, following his training and before he went overseas:imageNext we have his medical history and vaccinations:imageThen there is his next of kin information, his father Charles Cyril Chesters:imageTucked in the book is a certificate issued to Driver Chesters for Yellow Fever vaccination from the British Military Hospital, Gaza:imageSkill at Arms Book

This little brown book details Dvr Chester’s firearms training.imageInside the back cover he is recorded as being average at drill, weapon drill and marching:imageServices Guide to Cairo

In the same batch of documents was this guide to Cairo, presumably bought by Dvr Chesters whilst he was deployed overseas:imageIt lists useful information for troops like services welfare clubs, times of sightseeing tours, trams and out of bounds areas. In the back is a fold out map of the city:imageAs can be seen a picture of Dvr Chesters and his military career can be picked up from these documents and is a good springboard for further research.

Websites

As I have only been seriously collecting militaria for the last eight years or so, I find it hard to imagine a time before the Internet. It must have made life much harder for the keen collector to find rare pieces, chat with fellow collectors and research must have been much more problematic. Today I am going to look at a few of the most useful websites I use, I imagine that you will probably use some of these as well, but if you are starting out in the hobby, I hope they are of use.

Forums

Forums are both a blessing and a curse. You can guarentee that 80% of the time you will get a sensible answer to a query you post on them (and 90% of the time a stupid one as well). Forums allow collectors and reenactors to get in touch with one another and swap ideas, research and opinions. It is the opinions that make forums, converesly, dangerous. There are always posters who know just enough to confuse the matter, so use them with caution.

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The two forums I frequent most often are the WW2 Reenactors forum http://wwiireenacting.co.uk/ and the Warrelics collectors site http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/ .  Both have a pool of experts who answer queries and post quickly and regularly, however Warrelics is aimed more at the collector so instead of constant requests about who makes the best repro battledress there are more posts about original kit. In both forums, however, the focus is much more on American and German equipment than British and Commonwealth, which may just be a reflection on the make up of the collecting community. Personally I try and respond to others queries as well as post questions as I feel this is a fairer approach that helps others just as others help me.

The other great thing about forums, Warrelics especiallly, is that one or two very helpful posters put up informative posts packed with information and photos on obscure topics, for example this one on Cobalt Blue Waterbottles: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/equipment-field-gear/distinguishing-cobalt-blue-mk-vi-mk-vii-water-bottles-433342/

 Karkee Web

If ever there was a model of a website designed by and for collectors, then this is the one: http://www.karkeeweb.com/ . Devoted to British Accoutrments, this website is insanely detailed, encourages original research and brings together collectors from across the world to pool their collections for the collecting community.

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This is my first port of call if I am researching an item of leather or webbing personal equipment. It is not complete as it is a work in progress, but it covers all the major webbing equipments from 1900-1958 and shows variations, the items being used, fitting instructions and much more. The thing I like about it most though is the inclusive nature of the site. If you have a varient or unknown piece of webbing, you can email photos in and often they will publish them, citing you and your collection, if its something they haven’t covered yet.

The saddest part of the site however is that by covering one area of military equipment so well it highlights how bereft of information we are for many other types of equipment and uniforms.

 There are many more useful sites to the collector and I will cover some of these in later posts.