Category Archives: South Africa

South African Steel Helmet

My thanks go to Andy Dixon for sorting me out with tonight’s object, a South African made steel helmet. During the Second World War the Transvaal Steel Pressing Syndicate in South Africa produced nearly 1.5 million steel helmets and these were used extensively in Africa, Asia and Italy throughout the war, they also went on to see service in Greece post war. These helmets are fairly common as a large stash of shells came out of Greece a few years back, they were without liners however so like this example replacements need to be fitted. At first glance the helmet looks very similar to other steel Mk II helmets:Note the rough finish on the helmet to reduce shine and the sand colour ideal for the deserts of North Africa (I think this one has been repainted though). The easiest way of determining that the helmet is South African is the set of three holes punched across the back:Originally these were designed to allow a neck curtain to be fitted but no evidence has been found of these being ever issued. The shape of the helmet is also more circular in plan than other Commonwealth Mk IIs, being much more similar to WW1 helmets:Originally the liner fitted had a large oval felt pad in the crown, again similar to WW1 designs, this liner however is a replacement so does not have this feature. The chin strap is a typical World War Two British sprung type:This attaches to the shell with a pair of riveted square lugs:The manufacture of helmets was quite involved. Firstly steel was cut into square blanks:A hydraulic press stamps the shell out of the square of steel:A stainless steel rim is then cinched and welded into place:Before the whole thing is painted prior to fitting the liner:The painter’s protection from paint particles consists of a rudimentary mask and bandages over his hair! After this the helmets are heated in a kiln to cure the paint. British factories in 1939 were turning out 50,000 helmets a week.

South African 37 Pattern Basic Pouch

Collecting up the empire made 37 pattern webbing sets is a long process, with some countries sets being harder to find than others. My South African set is definitely one of these long term projects so I was very pleased to find an ammunition pouch for the set recently, I still need a second one, but it’s a start:imageThe quality of this pouch is, frankly, appalling and is far worse than even Indian made pouches. The cotton is loosely woven, with a distinctive yellowish colour and the metal fittings of very poor quality, the top flap of the pouch is fitted with a locally produced press stud:imageThe back of the pouch is fitted with two wire hangers to attach it to the belt:imageThese are again of poor quality and the webbing has frayed slightly around one of them, where the corrosion form the hook has weakened it:imageAll the metal fittings are of poor quality alloy; they would often originally have been painted gold, but this has worn off and the top buckle has tarnished to a dark rust colour:imageThe underside of the top flap has three loops for ballistite cartridges, note also the faint /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark indicating South African ownership:imageThe maker’s mark is also printed on the underside, here for S.A.P.A.W. (South African Proving and Weaving Company (Pty) Ltd) one of two webbing manufacturers in the Cape, both based in Johannesburg:imageFor a complete set of South African 37 pattern webbing, you cannot do better than check out this thread on Warrelics forum and Karkee’s superb complete set.

Officer’s Shirt Collar

Up until the end of the Second World War, officers were the only members of the army officially allowed to wear a shirt, collar and tie. At this time both civilian and military collared shirts had removable collars, secured to the rest of the shirt with collar studs. This allowed a clean collar to be worn every day to look smart, without needing to go to the effort of laundering the rest of the shirt. This example is in khaki cloth, with a fold down design and would have been worn by an officer:imageA short stud passes through the rear of the collar and shirt, hence the small button hole here:imageA longer stud is used at the front, passing through the two sides of the shirt and both ends of the collar:imageThe collar is in what tailors refer to as a ‘cutaway’ design, designed to be used as a soft rather than a starched collar and worn with a tie:imageThe 1931 Indian Army Dress Regulations provided the following guidance on officers collars:

Collars.- The pattern is left to the discretion of commanding officers but all officers of a unit must be dressed alike.

Drab flannel or khaki collars will be worn with service dress and khaki drill jackets at all times. A plain gold safety pin may be worn under the tie to keep the soft collar in place.

The regulations went on further to give guidance for officers wearing a shirt without a jacket in ‘shirt sleeve order’:

The collar of the shirt may be worn open without a tie.

This collar is faintly marked with the /|\ inside a ‘U’ acceptance mark of the South African Army:imageIn this fine portrait of Lieutenant General John Darcy shows off the officer’s collar nicely, worn with the regulation shirt, tie and service dress jacket:JohnD'ArcyAn officer would normally have at least half a dozen of these collars and they would be carried in his baggage, however by the Second World War they were very much worn away from the front lines, soldiers battledress being a far more sensible option in battle.

South African 37 Pattern Webbing Shoulder Brace

Following a large gap between pieces, a week after we looked at the South African made water bottle carrier here, we are back to look at another piece of the set. This South African 37 pattern shoulder brace was picked up at War and peace by a good friend of mine and he kindly sent it up with some other kit. Of all the bits of South African webbing I have seen, this has to be the crudest:imageAs can be seen the main strap of the brace is made from a 1” wide piece of webbing, stitched down its length to reinforce the poor quality webbing:imageThis style of construction seems to be uniquely South African and allowed me to identify the brace, even without any markings. The ends of the braces again have very poor quality metal chapes:imageAs is often the case, these have corroded and stained the webbing slightly. The broad section of the shoulder brace is made of a separate wider section of webbing, again with the stitching reinforcement down its length, simply sewn to the 1” wide webbing strap:imageThe opposite side shows where the ends of this section have been sewn together:imageAs has been mentioned before, South African 37 pattern is some of the hardest to track down and also the poorest in quality; even Indian production is far superior. I am trying to get together a complete set, but it will be a long and drawn out process involving tracking down odd bits here and there. Sadly whilst a standard set of British made 37 pattern is easy to find and fairly cheap, it is much more challenging trying to put together Empire sets!

South African 37 Pattern Waterbottle Carrier

It has been over a year since we last looked at a piece of South African made 37 pattern webbing, when we looked at the haversack here. This long gap indicates how difficult it can be to track down pieces made in the Union, therefore I was pleased to win another piece on eBay (I am not normally very good at winning eBay auctions either!). This piece is a waterbottle carrier and in general form it follows the description from the British fitting instructions:

Waterbottle Carrier- Consists of a framework of webbing with tabs at the top fitted with a snap fastener for securing the bottle, and a buckle each side for attachment to ends of the braces.imageThere are however a few interesting points about this carrier. Firstly it is clearly stamped with the makers initials and a /|\ mark inside a ‘U’, the acceptance mark for the South African military:imageThe letters ‘SAPAW’ stand for ‘South African Proofing and Weaving Company’, one of two companies in the Cape making webbing during the war. The sarrier itself has a stitched pattern along the lines of the straps, this is again typical of South African webbing where it was used to reinforce the poor quality weave of the material:imageThe fittings on the carrier are also of particularly poor quality metal, that has now corroded as well. The chapes can be seen to have traces of gold finish which is also consistent with other South African made webbing:imageThe buckles have also gone rather rusty:imageInterestingly though whilst most fittings are of poor quality South African manufacture, the Newey Stud is far better made and is clearly marked as being produced in Canada:imageSouth Africa imported many of the press studs used on its webbing from Canada as the country lacked the domestic production capacity to meet the needs of its webbing manufacturers. It has been very nice to add another piece to my South African 37 pattern set, I am looking to concentrate on building this up now that I have finished my Indian set.

Tuesday Finds

A New Year on the second hand market and a good day for pick ups. Although I spend a lot on some items for my collection (more than I tell my wife anyway!) it is the small cheap bits that give me most pleasure and today has been no exception with no item costing more than 50p. Today’s finds range across the twentieth century from the Boer War to the end of the Cold War, but each is interesting in its own right and I am a very happy bunny to have got such a good haul.

 First Aid Equipment

 Although none of these items is marked with a /|\ stamp, they seem to be representative of the equipment supplied in British Army First Aid kits and will be useful additions to my small, but growing collection of medical equipment:

FullSizeRender1We have another blue First Aid Dressing (I picked one of these up last year as well), and two different tubes of tannic acid jelly, one of which is boxed. Tannic acid was used for the treatment of burns and was applied over a burn, allowed to dry and then the wound would be dressed. These items seem to have been provided from government stocks for both military and ARP first aid kits, however they will go nicely in my First Aid Haversack.

 Ointment Anti Gas No 2 Tubes

 These two ointment tubes would have been issued in a tin of eight to every soldier in the second world war. They were for applying to the skin to counter the effects of mustard gas. (For more details on the tins please look here.). I have got a couple of the No2 tins, but no contents for either of them, so these are a nice addition to my collection:FullSizeRender3Photograph of Crashed Aircraft

 This photograph is sadly unmarked with any details of the circumstances but depicts a single-engined RAF plane that has had a bit of an accident:FullSizeRender5I haven’t been able to positively ID the aircraft type yet, but I am leaning towards it being an advanced trainer rather than a fighter. It looks to have overshot the runway and ended up nose down on top of a saloon car. Two ground crew in overalls seem to be inspecting the wreckage, perhaps they have the job of getting the plane flying again? If anyone can positively ID the aircraft I would be very interested (plane recognition has never been my strong suit)

UPDATE: I have been informed that the aircraft is a Hawker Hurricane Mk1 and  that from the camouflage on the wings it probably dates from between November 1940 and April 1941. Many thanks to Andrew Dearlove for the identification.

 First Aid Post Shoulder Title

 When Britain set up its Civil Defence network at the start of the War it was obvious that First Aid for casualties of bombing would be a priority. First Aid posts were set up in local areas to allow the co-ordination of first aiders, collect casualties and prepare them for transfer to civilian hospitals. Staff who worked at these posts were initially just issued with the silver ‘ARP’ badge to wear on their lapel with their civilian clothes. As the war progressed it became apparent that proper warm clothing and uniforms was needed for these personnel and boiler suits and dark blue battledress was issued. These were worn with a variety of insignia to show members roles. This shoulder title is made of blue wool with yellow embroidered lettering:FullSizeRender2Boer War Post Card

 This post card from the Boer War bears the pre-printed stamp for the Orange Free State, however it has been franked by the ‘British Army Field Post Office South Africa’:

FullSizeRender4This mark and the sending of it to Liverpool suggest the card was captured stock used by a British soldier to send a message home. The post marks indicate it was sent in January 1901. The writing on the reverse is nearly illegible, but one can just make out a New Year’s greeting:FullSizeRender7Indian Toy Soldier

 Toy soldiers were very popular with small boys across the Empire throughout the 19th and early twentieth century. Made of lead they would be banned today, but children seemed to play with them for generations with little ill effect. As military fashions changed, the soldiers were updated to reflect the latest uniforms and equipments. Toy soldiers fell out of favour in the middle of the twentieth century, however a revival came about but catering for the adult market rather than to children. This soldier, unusually, is of an Indian soldier; possibly a Sikh judging by the beard and turban:

FullSizeRender15It is marked ‘King Cast’ on the bottom, this company seem to still be turning out small quantities of toy soldiers for collectors, concentrating on the Empire and wars of the nineteenth century.

 Southern Rhodesian First Day Cover

 This First Day Cover dates to 1943 and was sent to a Leading Aircraftmen Smith at the Royal Air Force Station, Norton:

FullSizeRender6This station would have been RAF Norton, which was the site of the Central Flying School (Southern Rhodesia) from November 1942, and trained pilots from across the Empire. Presumably L/A/C Smith was one of the support crews for this station and a keen philatelist.

 Precautions for Capture Card

 This little card, issued in 1951, gives details to British Personnel in case of capture:

FullSizeRender12Inside are detailed instructions on what information may and may not be given to one’s captors and precautions that should be taken to avoid giving the enemy intelligence:FullSizeRender14

FullSizeRender13This card is an updated version of one published in WW2, and is designed to be the same dimensions as the standard AB64 and Paybook, presumably this is designed to fit into the same pocket on the battledress blouse worn at the time.

 A Guide to Lagos

 This little guide book was published in 1945 for Merchant and Armed Forces going ashore in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria was a British colony at this point and the guidebook highlights leisure facilities, useful contacts and other information for the first time visitor:

FullSizeRender16At the back of the pamphlet is a fold out map, showing how small the town was at this point (it is worth remembering that today Lagos is a sprawling metropolis):FullSizeRender17Clothing Ration Book

 Clothing rationing was introduced in 1941 and lasted until 1949. It was designed to ensure fair shares for all and to husband slender resources and manufacturing capacity to help the war effort. Each man woman and child was issued with a separate ration book to go alongside their usual one for food. This example dates from 1947-1948:FullSizeRender10Inside are coloured coupons to be clipped out by the shopkeeper when a purchase was made:FullSizeRender11People found innovative ways to get around the clothing ration, with upholstery fabric and blackout fabric both being made into garments, whilst parachute silk was highly prized for making underwear with.

 Royal Anglian Regiment First Day Cover

 This commemorative cover was sent on 12th July 1974 and commemorates the issue of new colours to the Royal Anglian Regiment. It features a picture of a regimental drummer on the front and a special postmark:

FullSizeRender9Inside is a small card detailing the history of the colours:

FullSizeRender8Regimental Badge Cigarette Cards

 In the days when everyone smoked, pictorial cards were given away free in cigarettes and were eagerly collected and swapped by small boys. Military designs were always popular and these cards depict different regimental badges:FullSizeRender19Unusually these cards are made of silk with a card backing allowing them to be used in handicrafts. The rear of the cards reveals them to be from ‘Chairman’ brand cigarettes:FullSizeRender20American Red Cross First Aid Textbook

 This text book, dating from 1940, was published by the American Red Cross and details first aid and treatment for accident victims:FullSizeRender21From the interior we can see it was originally issued to William Roth of Albany:FullSizeRender22Although war had not yet come to the states at this date, it was clear which way the wind was blowing and based on the experience in Britain Civil Defence was stepped up and First Aid was part of the preparations for war. Happily the continental United States avoided bombing, but the training in these books was invaluable preparation for the thousands who joined the armed forces.

 HMS Iron Duke Guide

 This little pamphlet is typical of the guides produced for ships in the late eighties and early nineties:FullSizeRender18These potted histories and guides to individual ships were given away to visitors to the ship on open days and port visits across the world. From the code on the back this one can be dated to 1993. HMS Iron Duke is a Type 23 frigate, still in service with the Royal Navy today.

03 Pattern Bandolier

During the Boer War British soldiers had used cotton bandoliers to hold rounds of ammunition. As these were made o flight fabric and were not intended for repeated use they soon became damaged and rounds were easily lost. Based on their experience with these bandoliers, in the aftermath of the conflict the War Department decided to ignore cotton webbing (despite it being much more heavy duty than the bandoliers used in the Boer War) and continue with leather for the manufacture of its equipment. The result was the introduction of the 1903 equipment, centred around the leather five pocket bandolier.

 The Bandolier is made of leather, designed to fit over the left shoulder, and has five pockets, each with space for two charger clips, giving an overall capacity of 50 rounds:

7DCDB34C-0D2D-4D81-8D7E-EF4F22E45765The pouches are riveted to the curved cross straps by four metal rivets resulting in a very secure construction:

7EA3FDA4-BF89-485F-83C0-1B03A113E861Where the front and back of the bandolier meet is a brass triangle and a leather strap to affix the bandolier to the belt and the rest of the equipment:

A728A9DA-5C26-4DE9-A53E-0A1F6B1B7E2EThe bandolier is covered in a lot of stamps with numbers and letters, most of which now mean nothing, but there is the /|\ with a ‘U’ stamp indicating South African ownership:

5E4C32A4-B9EE-4834-BAE3-4DEBD0598176As has been explained before South Africa continued making these leather 03 items into the middle of the Second World War, and indeed the equipment itself continued being used across the Empire long after it had technically been made obsolete. Whilst it was not a particularly effective set of equipment for infantry, it was far more useful for second line troops and those mounted on horseback such as The Royal Artillery and Cavalry. They also continued in use with colonial troops long after the mother country had replaced them. The image below of Indian troops in the Bahrain Levy Corps, a local police and security force trained by the British, in the 1930s clearly shows one of them using the 03 bandolier:

633776429798680444Anecdotally from photographs it seems that most often the bandolier was worn on its own, without belt, pouches or water bottle, indeed my own Great Grandfather, a member of the Royal Field Artillery, is seen wearing one in his wedding photo:  FullSizeRender