RAMC Mess Fork

Regular readers will know that I have a fondness for mess china and cutlery and I have collected a small selection over the years to various regiments. Recently I picked up another piece, this time a mess fork from the Royal Army medical Corps:

The Corps’ badge is stamped into the end of the handle, and the crown indicates that this dates to before 1952:

Note also the block saying ‘Vols’, indicating that this fork came from a RAMC Volunteer unit. The fork itself was made by Elkington, whose mark is stamped on the reverse:

The RAMC had officers’ messes just like any other regiment, with individual messes set up across the Empire wherever a sufficient number of officers were grouped together to warrant it:

Set among green lawns and shady trees the Officers’ Mess of the Royal Army Medical Corps at Rawalpindi was a dwelling-place with a personality of its own- a personality of graciousness and charm- which inspired among its members an abiding affection akin to that of a family for its ancestral home…The house was officially described as bungalow no. 57. It was situated on the south side of the Mall…The constructional work included a new kitchen block, complete with pantry and preparation and store-rooms, re-building of several rooms in the Mess and quarters to new plans, new floors, new fireplaces, double teak doors and tiling of bathrooms.. most of the old furniture was replaced by new pieces made of shisham and a refectory table- an exact copy of the XVIIth Century oak tables in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea- was made for the ante room. Messrs. Hayat of Rawalpindi were responsible for the fine craftsmanship of the joinery and cabinet work. Curtains and furnishing fabrics were obtained from London. The electric installation was renewed.

FAC Protractor

Ground attack aircraft are incredibly useful in offering close support to ground troops in combat, laying down a withering barrage of fire on the enemy and allowing troops to quickly take advantage of a tactical situation. Unfortunately it is also a very risky tactic as it is easy for aircraft to misread their targets and accidentally hit friendly troops, the so called ‘blue on blue’ incidents. One way to mitigate this is to have trained forward air controllers embedded with ground forces who can direct aircraft onto the correct targets without hitting friendly forces. This role has been around since the Second World War, but the tactics and equipment available to FACs improved drastically over the next few decades and in 1957 the Army Air Corps was founded with this role as one of its primary functions.

Amongst the equipment developed was a dedicated FAC ruler that allowed a forward air controller to quickly calculate the path of an air launched munition:

The ruler is made of clear plastic and has a number of different scales showing the distance needed for a bomb to fall at different speeds. This then allows him to calculate the precise point a bomb should be released and the number of seconds needed for the bomb to fall can be calculated:

Quite how to use this ruler is beyond me, but I am sure with suitable training all the scales would make perfect sense! Perhaps the most famous Forward Air Controller is Prince Harry: Widow Six Seven had just given them the signal over the radio:

Cleared hot.” Seconds later, a roaring could be heard as the US F15 fighter jets dropped two 500lb bombs on their targets. As one dropped a third bomb on a Talibanbunker, men could be seen on the ground scrambling out from their cover.

To the American pilots, the English public school voice responding to their “in hot” request and guiding their missile fire gave no clue that the army officer with whom they were communicating was a member of the British royal family.

The soldier they knew as call sign Widow Six Seven was Prince Harry, working in Afghanistan as a forward air controller [FAC] identifying Taliban forces on the ground, verifying coordinates and clearing them as targets for attack…

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

“My job is to get air up, whether I have been tasked it a day before or on the day or when troops are in a contact [with the enemy]. Air is tasked to me, they check in to me when they come into the ROZ and then I’m basically responsible for that aircraft,” he said.

Before any strike on a target, it is up to the FAC to set the coordinates and give final clearance to drop a bomb. Because of the constant demands for air support across southern Afghanistan, a key part of the prince’s job was also to “bid” for aircraft which could be British, US, French or from another allied country.

Z.18 Certificate of Employment During the War

My thanks go again to Michael Whittaker who gave me tonight’s document for the collection. At the end of World War One men were demobilised and returned to civilian life and naturally began looking for employment. In 1918 references were essential for employment, with former employers writing a testimonial for leaving staff to help them acquire a new position. It would of course be impractical for commanding officers to write a bespoke reference for every soldier under their command, so the army prepared forms that could be quickly filled out and authorised before being issued to leaving soldiers. The use of the form, officially known as the ‘Certificate of Employment During the War, Army Form Z.18’, was described as:

The object of this certificate is to assist the soldier in obtaining employment on his return to civil life. The form will be complete as soon as possible in accordance with Demobilization Regulations.

As soon as signed and complete it will be given to the soldier concerned and will remain his property. He should receive it as early as is compatible with making necessary reference in order that he can either send it home or keep it in his possession.

One form will be issued to each man, and no duplicate can ever be issued.

This particular form was issued to an infantryman, Private Gershom Albert Davy of the 51st Battalion Sherwood Forresters:

His employment before he joined the army is listed as a ‘cotton pattern hand’. The rear of the form gives the testimonial which states that Private Davy is:

Very reliable, trustworthy and conscientious. Has performed his duties in a satisfactory manner.

The form is signed by the captain commanding B Company, 51st Battalion, Sherwood Forresters. These forms were obviously important documents to men seeking work and have survived in boxes of family papers up until the present day. They are useful for historians in identifying men’s professions when they joined up, although the level of detail on the forms varies depending on how conscientious the officer filling them out was.

Osprey Green Plastic Mug

The green plastic Osprey mug has been issued to new recruits for many decades now and is one of those ubiquitous pieces of kit that knocks around and no one thinks anything of. I cannot find an exact date of introduction for the mug, but I suspect it was in the 1970s as a replacement for the china mugs issued up to this point (probably to the great dismay of instructors who enjoyed throwing the china ones onto the ground and smashing them!). The mug was used on bases to drink from and was carried to and from the mess halls by the individual soldier. The mug itself is a simple green plastic mug that can hold ¾ pint of liquid:

It has an angular handle:

And the base has a partial NSN number and a date of manufacture:

These mugs were a standard item to issue new recruits, as recalled by one soldier:

I joined the Regular Army, Infantry, in 1982 so my original issued kit was all ‘Falklands’ period kit – so to speak. We were issued a set of KFS, a green Osprey mug and two tin plates (the tin /aluminium plates were for use at camps where crockery was not provided i.e. central messing in the field or on some camps).

The mugs are also put to many other uses they were not designed for. During firefighting training I found them used to measure out the liquid used to make foam in practice fire extinguishers, a single cup full being placed into an empty extinguisher before it was topped up with water and pressurized.

Other Ranks’ Field Service Cap

Alongside its new battledress uniform, the British Army reintroduced the Field Service cap in 1937. The design dated back to the start of the century and had been used, amongst others, by the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. It had fallen from favour and was largely replaced by regimental pattern caps or the stiff peaked service dress cap. The FS cap, however, was easy to fold flat and tuck into a pocket or pack and so was far more practical than the SD cap. The same design was used for officers and other ranks; the officers being made of barathea (see here and here), whilst the other ranks version was made of plain khaki drab serge:

The cap was to be issued a size larger than a man normally wore and was to be positioned on the right side of the head, with the front just over the right eye:

Technically the cap could be undone and the sides worn down to offer protection to the ears and chin (although thankfully few chose to make the sartorial decision). In order to allow this feature to work, the sides were secured with small brass hooks that looped into metal grommets on the crown of the cap:

A pair of brass buttons were sewn to the front of the curtain that could be undone to allow the cap to be unfolded, but were usually just polished to give a soldierly appearance without being used:

The serge ran into the inside of the cap and acted as a sweat band, wear being seen on the inside of this example:

The crown was made of a cotton drill type fabric, note also the hooks from the curtain visible on the inside. The size, manufacturer and date are stamped into the cap here; 1938, a size 7 and produced by Collett Ltd:

Gordon Spikins was issued one of these caps as a member of the Army Cadet Corps:

We received our uniforms, which consisted of a battledress blouse, trousers (too long for me), a big, wide web belt, 1914 pattern, a pair of gaiters and a “forage cap”. This cap was to be worn on the right side of your head, with two buttons over the right eye. It took some practice to keep the hat on, particularly when you turned, as the hat spun off your head, to the anger of the NCO giving the orders!

DDPM Mk IV NBC Smock

Last year we looked at the Mk IV NBC trousers in the desert DPM camouflage here. Tonight we are taking a look at the matching smock:

The army’s CBRN aide memoire notes that:

The MK 4/4A suit comes in 6 standard sizes and a special size. Know your own size. The suit is to be worn over at least one layer of outer clothing, normally a combat suit, together with underwear which covers the armpits and crotch. In hot conditions you may be instructed to reduce the clothing worn under the suit.

The smock is a direct copy of the standard temperate example we covered here, just in desert camouflage. The smock fastens up the front with a zip and Velcro fly:

The smock is adjustable with tapes and Velcro at the cuffs:

And waist:

The hood is elasticated to allow a close seal with the respirator:

The smock has four pockets, a pocket with space for pens (both the writing and the anti-nerve agent types) on the upper left sleeve:

And a larger pocket with a space for attaching a piece of detector paper of the right:

There are two further pockets on the chest, a plain one on the right breast:

There is another on the left with space for a soldier to write his name and rank:

The aide memoire sets out the prescribed format for writing on this pocket:

A variety of actual methods can be find for marking up these smocks (even in the official pamphlet where this was taken from there are photographs of soldiers who have marked up their smocks in a variety of different methods!) The official handbook gives this advice on donning the NBC suit:

Jacket Do up zip Fasten neck, waist and cuffs with Velcro fasteners Hood Pull up hood over the head, zip up, pull the flap up and fold over the front of the zip, secure the flap with Velcro fastener.

The label is sewn into the neck of the smock and has the NSN, description and sizing information:

Despite the DDPM camouflage being replaced by MTP a decade ago, huge stocks of the smocks are still in service with the Army and they crop up in the unlikeliest of places, including Salisbury in 2018 during the Russian nerve agent incident, a long way from any desert conditions:

With the Vicar to Cairo Postcard

This week’s postcard is something of a departure as it is not a photograph’ but a hand drawn cartoon of a Royal Navy padre leading an excursion of sailors on a trip to Cairo:

The ship can be seen in the Mediterranean at the top of the drawing:

The Vicar is in the centre leading a mixture of ratings and marines on their excursion:

Whilst at the bottom is a drawing of the pyramids and the Sphinx, sporting a jaunty sailor’s cap:

The back of the postcard reads ‘sky pilots’ trip to Cairo with a few of his “cherubs”‘, 1931:

The chaplain to HMS Hood described the padre’s unique place within the ship’s company:

The Padre is a man apart, in that he has no specific rank and is thus different from the other officers.

The role of the padre was a difficult balancing act:

Avoid anything which might label you an officer’s parson: more than one chaplain has been thus labelled by the ship’s company because he happens to be a keen bridge player, and gets caught up with a section of officers who play in the dog watches and after dinner. Those are the times when the chaplain can wander round the messdecks, or organise some upper deck games or concerts for his parish. If they only see you at Morning Prayers, in the chapel and on Sundays, then you are not doing your job.

By making contact in a quiet way each day, the men will gradually come to realise that (a) you like their company and (b) that you are their friend. The latter must depend upon your own personality and the power to convince them that you never betray their confidence not carry tales aft to the wardroom. A chaplain can easily be thought a spy, and therefore treated with reserve by the ship’s company if the word is passed round that the chaplain ‘only comes for’ard to find out things’…