Despite being a maritime force, the Royal Navy has always expected its sailors to be trained to go ashore and act as a landing party for a short period of time. This need to be able to act as both an infantry force and as a lightly equipped boarding party for seizing enemy ships has ensured that from Victorian times to the present day ships have carried a supply of load bearing equipment to be issued out to matelots as and when needed. Although these days it is normally an older pattern of army equipment that suffices (most commonly PLCE), during the first half of the twentieth century the RN used its own unique patterns of equipment. As a sailor was as likely to be equipped with a pistol and cutlass as a rifle and bayonet the navy had rather different requirements to the army.
In 1901 a new and innovative leather load bearing system was introduced, using a leather bandolier, anticipating the army’s 1903 pattern by a couple of years. As can be imagined this set is not easy to track down, so I was delighted to be able to finally pick up my first piece recently. This is the MkII 1901 pattern water-bottle introduced from 1903 onwards:As can be seen, from the front it looks virtually identical to the Carrier, Water-bottle, Other Services, commonly associated with the 1903 pattern leather equipment. The carrier is made from brown leather, sewn and riveted together:Sadly this example is missing its carrying strap but I am planning to get a reproduction made. Turning to the reverse face of the carrier though we can see that there is a distinctive leather reinforcing strap on the rear and a leather tab riveted to the rest of the carrier. This has a strip of brass within for rigidity:The waterbottle was fitted last when putting on the equipment, so it could be taken off easily and the 1907 ‘Rifle and Field Exercises for His Majesty’s Fleet’ instructed sailors:
Place the water-bottle sling over the left shoulder so as to allow the water-bottle to hang against the right hip, and steady it by placing the steadying clip into the belt.
Two iron rings at the top of the carrier provide a place for the sling to attach:
I have studied the carrier carefully and the only marking I can find is a single ‘4’ stamped on the rear so we don’t when it was made or by whom. The number might be an internal stores number from a ship or base used to identify which sailor was issued with which set of equipment. The 1901 equipment was widely used by the RN division when it first went to the western front in WW1 and was to remain in use even after the introduction of 1919 pattern webbing. It was finally declared obsolete in 1943 when it was to be replaced by 37 pattern webbing on auxiliary vessels.