The Browning Hi Power is one of the most successful post-war 9mm military pistols of all time. Although the vast majority of these automatics were manufactured by the FN company in Belgium, during World War Two production was started in Canada at the Inglis factory with plans reconstructed from memory by FN employees who had escaped the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Production at Inglis was relatively short lived, but numerous variations within the basic design of the pistol abound and the pistol was to have a profound influence on post-war commonwealth militaries in finally persuading them to drop revolvers in favour of automatics.
The story of the Inglis manufactured Browning therefore is a fascinating one and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully detailed book on the subject “Inglis Diamond: The Canadian Hi-Power Pistol” by Clive Law, released in 2001 by specialist weapons publishing company Collector’s Grade.For such a specialist topic this book is quite lengthy, coming in at 312 pages and starts with a brief overview of the pistol’s design and how Canada came to be manufacturing it. The book is profusely illustrated and covers all the contracts for pistols produced at the factory, alongside variations in design, sights and markings. Detailed photographs are provided of many different pistols as well as close ups of markings and slight mechanical changes to the design. The book also covers experimental models, prototype lightened pistols, presentation fire arms and even mentions illegally manufactured pistols created by Inglis staff who pilfered components from the assembly line! Added to this is a detailed study of the pistol’s accessories so different holsters and magazine pouches are covered which for someone who is fascinated by Canadian webbing as I am was very interesting! It is not just the Inglis made Hi-power’s career with the Canadian military that is covered, but also its service overseas with everyone from the Chinese to the Dutch. It is particularly interesting to see the weapon in its global context.
The book is very well written and packed full of original source documents to illustrate the political wrangling surrounding the pistol’s adoption and continued production; indeed the quantity of information in this book is astounding and if you are a collector of Hi-Power pistols then you will definitely want to get a copy; the more casual enthusiast might find the level of detail a little overwhelming however. Do not let that put you off however as it is an eminently readable book and although it has been out of print for a long time, copies are still available: Jeremy Tenniswood Militaria have copies available for £44.95 here.
Regular readers will know that I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Canadian webbing. Therefore I have been looking for a copy of tonight’s book, Tangled Web, Canadian Infantry Accoutrements, 1855-1985, by Jack Summers for quite a while. This book was first published in 1989 and it is, as far as I am aware, the only book covering the use of webbing and leather accoutrements by the Canadian Militia and Army. The book covers a wide variety of load bearing equipment from the earliest leather sets used with percussion muskets up to the 82 pattern design that had just been introduced when the book was published. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, but as is often the case with books of this age all the illustrations are in black and white- this does not distract from their usefulness and many rare images of troops wearing the articles appear alongside photographs of the objects themselves.The book is divided thematically based on the type of weapon in use by the Canadian Army at various times in its history. This book very much focuses on the items themselves, modifications made in the field and depots and feedback on their utility based on user reports. It is not a book about Canadian manufacture of accoutrements or the specifically Canadian methods of production, so there is no coverage of companies such as Zephyr Loom and Textile Ltd or of uniquely Canadian features such as resin dipped strap ends. This however is not the aim of the book and there is plenty of uniquely Canadian information between the covers to make it worth tracking down a copy. As well as the modern sets we have covered on the blog before (the 51, 64 and 82 pattern sets) the book also covers in detail the pre-WW1 Canadian sets such as the Oliver leather equipment set and the numerous modifications made to them in Canada based on experience on the Western Front.Summers has an easy writing style and it helps that he provides context of the various conflicts Canada was involved with at the period each set was being used- I for one knew virtually nothing about the Fenian Raids on Canada in the Victorian era so this background was very much appreciated. This book covers a long period of history and it is nice to see the stop start nature of military procurement. On occasions incremental changes are made to equipment, at other times in history it is a revolutionary leap and this comes across nicely in a way that is not always the case with books covering a shorter time frame.There is no denying that this book is a specialist title, but it is packed full of information and well worth tracking down a copy if you have a particular interest in Canadian accoutrements. Sadly it seems to have been out of print for a number of years and copies are not easily available in the UK. If you are in the US or Canada this seems to be less of an issue. It is currently listed at £70 for a volume on Abebooks, however it is possible to find the book for less if you are willing to import from North America or check EBay regularly. My copy came from the latter site for £20 and this is a book well worth snagging if you can find a copy at a reasonable price.
“Grenade, British and Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades” was first published back in 2001 but I have only recently added a copy to my reference library and I suspect many of you, like me, had not realised just what an excellent book it is. The book is currently selling for eye watering prices on Amazon, however far more affordable copies are available for purchase and I include a link at the end for a more sensibly priced supplier.Grenades have been used for many centuries, but rather fell out of favour in the nineteenth century. The Great War though brought the back to the frontline and there was a massive proliferation of these weapons in many different configurations. Happily for the authors and ourselves, these grenades were logically numbered from ‘Grenade No1’ onwards in a standard sequence and the authors look at each design in turn, drawing heavily on contemporary sources for descriptions, preparation and use of these munitions. Obviously some grenades get more detail than others- the various iterations of Mills bomb being an obvious example. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and original diagrams illustrating the internal workings of each grenade. In a nice touch, many of the sections on grenades include information on the packaging of the grenades and the markings on ammunition boxes.The book is slightly weaker on more modern grenades, for the simple fact that as many are still in use or covered by the thirty year ruling, they were still classified at the time of the book’s publication. With the authors hailing from Australia, there is also quite a bit of detail on Australian grenades, but less so on other commonwealth countries, although Canada is covered briefly. The book is rounded out by a section on grenade launchers and launching cartridges- an often overlooked topic as well as methods of carrying the grenades and a few examples of heroism from soldiers who won the VC with grenades.This is truly an authoritative volume and I have learnt an awful lot from it- indeed I heartily wish I had access to it whilst writing some of the grenade posts on to blog as it would have helped provide me with a lot more information. I have no hesitation in recommending this book, and copies can be purchased for £40 each plus postage from here.
Living in Yorkshire the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton is not somewhere I get to go very often, however owing to the need to visit family last weekend I found myself with an hour to spare whilst in Taunton so decided to revisit the museum. The museum has had a major facelift since I last went and I was eager to see the refreshed displays.
I was not disappointed as the museum is one of those rare things- a newly refurbished display that understands that what visitors actually want to see is artefacts! Display cases radiate out from the centre (which has a wonderful captured mountain gun) and they cover the various regiments of Somerset, with a definite emphasis on the Somerset Light Infantry. The other county regiments are there, but the focus is very much the SLI, which is fine with me as it was my grandfather’s regiment!
The displays cover much of what you would expect- uniforms, weapons, medals etc. A few of the more interesting artefacts include a couple of wooden grave markers from WW1, some truly impressive mess silver and a wonderfully engraved trench art waterbottle from the Great War. The display cases are densely packed with objects, but it never feels overwhelming and there is space to tell the stories of those behind the artefacts.
Finally I cannot end without mentioning that at the moment the glorious Lady Elizabeth Butler painting “Remnants of an Army”, depicting the Retreat from Kabul in 1842 is on loan to the museum. This is one of the great pieces of military art and would be worth a trip to see alone without even considering the rest of this fantastic museum.
The Somerset Military Museum is part of the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle and is free to enter.
The story of the SA80 rifle is not a happy one. Whilst the current version of the weapon, the A2, is a perfectly serviceable weapon, its predecessor the A1 version was beset with problems and never gained the trust of those who were forced to defend their lives with it. Despite, or perhaps because of, its troubled history the story of the weapon’s design and adoption is a fascinating one that is told in Steve Raw’s excellent book “The Last Enfield, SA80 The Reluctant Rifle”. This book, published by Collectors Grade Publications, covers the history of the rifle from the earliest proof of concept rifles, through prototypes, troop trials guns and finally the production rifles. The author was an armourer himself for many years and clearly had access to many people involved in the design of the weapon- some interesting components that should have been thrown in the bin were rescued and help tell the tale of the numerous changes made to the rifle.The author is commendably thorough in telling all the ins and outs of the story, and pulls no punches in highlighting the bureaucratic and political interference that caused the project to come in over budget, late and with so many problems to the weapons system that even at its official unveiling the bipod of the light support weapon was held together with electrical tape!The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs of not just the weapons themselves, but troops using them on trials, publicity material from the factory and illustrations from the various manuals produced to accompany the weapon. The author also briefly covers the accessories provided with the weapon, and the updates needed to these to replace defective components and poorly designed features that broke with alarming regularity. Perhaps what is the most interesting, if disturbing, part of the book is the story of how officials repeatedly redefined the parameters of tests for the rifle when it repeatedly failed to meet them! The problems with the weapon system were officially denied for over fifteen years, with numerous modifications failing to fix them. The Germans of H&K managed to identify and solve most of them in a few months!This book was published back in 2003 so does not cover the developments with the rifle over the last fourteen years and indeed the author quotes official documents predicting a new weapons system would replace the SA80 by 2015- it didn’t and hasn’t yet! Despite being published so long ago, the book is readily available and can be obtained for £40 here. For anyone with an interest in the modern British armed forces it is an essential, if sobering, addition to the bookshelf.
As a collector of military ephemera I was very pleased to learn that a book had been published on collecting war publications, and indeed had been out for a couple of years. I am not quite sure how I had missed this particular book, but I quickly ordered myself a copy of Arthur Ward’s book “A Guide to War Publications of the First and Second World Wars”. The book soon arrived and I settled down for a much anticipated read.The book is published by Pen and Sword on high quality glossy paper and is profusely illustrated. The book is divided up into chapters covering The Home Front, Entertainment, Children, Civilian Militias and Military Manuals. These are bookended by chapters putting the materials into context and how to care for them. The text is well written and flows well making the book pleasurable to read and I found the opening and closing chapters very interesting. The author starts by looking at the state of propaganda in both the UK and Germany during the Great War, with an interesting discussion of the artistic merits of German posters of the time. Unfortunately although many of these posters are described, very few are illustrated and I felt that for something relying so heavily on visual media the actual posters would have helped get across the thrust of the argument.I found the thematic chapters highly frustrating. I recognise that context is very important, but I felt the emphasis was too heavily weighted towards context and there was not enough about the publications themselves. There are many books about life on the home front: what I wanted from this book was a look at the printed materials used on the home front: how heavily were they censored, how were supplies of paper maintained, did people respond positively or cynically to the materials they were presented with? Unfortunately nearly all of each chapter was devoted to context and very little to substance which was disappointing.
The book ends with some very useful information on preserving the documents and I learnt a lot from this. A set of useful appendices are included including one on Penguin books in wartime. Again I feel the author missed a trick here as there was clearly much more of a story to tell here and perhaps this should have been a full chapter of the book itself rather than tucked away as an appendix.Overall there is a lot to recommend this book, it is lavishly produced and there is much to learn from it, however I came away from it feeling rather unsatisfied and that is something of a pity for what should have been an important addition to the study of the period.
Copies of the book are available from Amazon here.
In these days of budget cut backs and squeezed spending in the heritage sector, it is always nice to go to a good military museum. If that museum is free to walk around, has a fantastic temporary exhibition and is on your doorstep then all the better! I am very fortunate that a few miles from where I live is Bankfield Museum in Halifax, home of the Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum and currently hosting an award winning temporary exhibition on the Great War.
The Duke of Wellington’s museum has been here for many years, but has been refreshed and updated many times. It covers the history of the Regiment from its earliest days until it was absorbed into the Yorkshire Regiment in recent years. Display cases show uniforms, weapons, equipment and items related to Regimental history with a small number of tableaux to add to the mix. This is really well done with loads of information and lots to look at (Imperial War Museum take note- we want to actually look at objects not play with a touch screen!). Among the highlights are the Duke of Wellington’s boots (yes the original wellington boot) and a reconstructed WW1 dugout. From the Second World War onwards, you can pick up a little speaker and hear veterans stories from those who served with the regiment at the various battles.
The top floor is playing host to a wonderful exhibition on World War One, sadly this is only a temporary exhibit and will only be available to view until 2018. There is a good selection of objects, the M08 machine gun and pre-war Duke of Wellington’s uniforms being amongst my favourites, and a lot of information on how the war affected people in the local area. There is a research room and some fun dressing up clothes for the younger visitors, but the emphasis is very much on the objects and stories from the local area. Some of the uniforms in the main display case are reproduction, unavoidable with originals being over 100 years old now, but this doesn’t detract from the power of the display and the repro items are clearly flagged up to avoid confusion.
I cannot recommend these exhibitions too highly, with the current squeeze on culture these sort of initiatives need all the support they can get so please go along and enjoy the museum if you possibly can- the more we use these facilities the less likely they are to be closed down. As an aside if you are also a fan of the Old West, there is a second temporary exhibition on this open until about April.
For more information about visiting please look here.