HMS Devonshire Postcard

This week’s postcard is an image of the protected cruiser HMS Devonshire:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3)This cruiser was laid down in 1904 and served with the Royal Navy during the First World War. She had a displacement of 11,000 tons and measured 473 feet from bow to stern. Her bow had a typical cruiser shape with a distinctive pointed slope:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (5) - CopyHer stern was also traditional in shape, with the rounded shape seen on many turn of the century cruisers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (6) - CopyThe ship was powered by two four cylinder triple expansion engines that used fifteen niclausse and six cylindrical boilers, the smoke from which exited via the ship’s distinctive four funnels:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3) - CopyThe ship had a crew of 610 men and was commanded from a large open bridge just forward of the main mast and boilers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (4) - CopyThe ship was armed with four 7.5 inch guns on the main deck, one fore, one aft and two amidships. Her secondary armament was six 6 inch guns, four carried in case mates on the ship’s hull.

She was launched on 30 April 1904. She was completed on 24 August 1905 and was initially assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet. She was transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet in March 1907 and was then assigned to the reserve Third Fleet at Devonport in August 1909. In 1913 the ship was assigned to the 3rd Cruiser Squadron of the Second Fleet together with most of her sister ships.

The squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet in mid-1914 as the Navy mobilised for war. It spent much of its time with the Grand Fleet reinforcing the patrols near the Shetland and Faeroe Islands and the Norwegian coast where Devonshire captured a German merchantman on 6 August. She was refitted in September and again in February. Despite numerous sorties with the main body of the Grand Fleet, she did not see combat. She patrolled the Norwegian coast in April 1916 and was then assigned to the Nore. Devonshire was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet before she was transferred to the Atlantic to protect Allied shipping in December. She remained there into 1919 and was listed for sale in May 1920. Devonshire was sold for scrap on 9 May 1921 and broken up at Barrow-in-Furness in 1923.

Prisoner of War Postcard Home

Stammlager 344 is better known as Stalag Luft VIII-B and was a prisoner of war camp for non-commission air crew situated near Lamsdorf in Silesia. It had been operational in World War One and was reopened in 1939 initially housing Polish prisoners. It was to see 100,000 men pass through its gates during the Second World War and it was regarded as one of the better run camps. As other ranks, men were expected to work so many were sent off in small working parties called Arbeitskommandos, with up to 600 groups being absent from the camp at any one time. Like all prisoners of war, the men at Stammlager 344 were permitted to send postcards home to their loved ones to tell them they were safe and well and tonight we have an example that was sent from the camp to a Mrs H Slater in Hampshire:SKM_C30819041613070 - CopyThe details of the sender in the corner show which camp he was stationed in and his name, Edwin Edmunds:SKM_C30819041613070 - Copy - CopyWhilst the stamp in the top corner indicates that the card was sent through the German postal system in November 1944:SKM_C30819041613070 - Copy - Copy (2)The rear of the postcard has the prisoners message:SKM_C30819041613080 - CopyThis reads:

My dear Vi + Harold. I hope you are both well. I received a cig parcel this week. I expect it was from either you or mother. It came at a good time. I was right out of a smoke. Well dear I hope this will be my last winter here. It is very cold now. Must close. Keep smiling. Your loving brother Eddie.

It would indeed be Edwin’s last winter in captivity as the following May Germany would be defeated. Sadly before then the weather would become much colder and in January the prisoners would be marched west in bitterly cold weather on the so called ‘death marches’ to escape the invading soviets. Those that travelled far enough west were liberated by the Americans, those who didn’t were taken by the soviets and used as virtual hostages for several more months, only being liberated at the end of 1945 through the port of Odessa.4656773_orig

Short Puttees

The DMS boots worn with short puttees were the ubiquitous choice of footwear throughout the 1960s and 1970s and it was only when the shortcomings of this system were highlighted in the Falklands War that it was finally superseded by one piece high leg type boots. The short puttees were less than half the length of their World War One counterparts but were made in the same style of khaki brown wool, with woven cotton tapes:imageThe material of the puttee was folded to a point and the woven tape sewn on:imageThe opposite end was merely doubled back on itself and sewn together to prevent the fabric from fraying and coming undone:imageWhen not being worn, it was typical for the puttees to be rolled up, with the tape wrapped around:imageShort puttees had been reintroduced in 1950 and the official list of changes recorded:

Clothing and Necessaries.- Puttees, short, re-introduction

  1. Approval has been given for the issue of one pair of puttees, short, to each British other rank serving in overseas commands and garrisons where tropical clothing is worn. Puttees, short, jungle will be issued in areas where green tropical clothing is worn and puttees, short in other areas. The scale of anklets web to be reduced from 2 pairs to 1 pair. On issue of puttees, short, one pair of anklets, web will be withdrawn and placed in normal maintenance stocks under local arrangements.
  2. Where no stocks of puttees, short, exist, demands for initial issue, plus normal maintenance stocks, will be submitted through normal channels. Issue will be made when supplies become available.
  3. When stocks of puttees, short, jungle become exhausted puttees, short will become the standard pattern for wear in all areas.

One old soldier recalls:

I wore “short puttees” in the TA in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and quite liked them, though I did hear stories of broken ankles being caused by them. imagePuttees seem to have been phased out in the mid-1980s, not always to the pleasure of troops some of whom were very fond of the short puttee:

In about 1985 I was still wearing DMS & Puttees, because of an earlier injury the medics had supplied them with extra padding and support. When on what the Royal Signals called their annual sqn. battle camp I was ordered, despite my protest and med chit to wear my brand new unbroken Combat High Boots for a CFT.

Result, I just managed to complete the CFT ,reported to medics to treat blisters, when I took my boots off so much blood ran out that I was immediately put on a saline drip.

I did not complain but medics where appalled and reported the matter to their boss the Senior MO of the Garrison.

I don’t know if it was related but within 3 months both the OC and me were posted and, ironically, both promoted.

I must say that once broken in and laced correctly I found the high boot gave good support and was especially waterproof compared to old DMS boot. I still have my last issue of boot which 20 odd years after discharge I still use in the worst winter weather.image

WW2 Aertex Vest

Army issue vests for the Second World War are really quite scarce and although I have half a dozen different examples of the underpants, it has taken until now for me to pick up an example of the vest. A number of variations of the vest exist, some with buttons around the neck hole to make the easier to put on and many seem to have been made of wool. This example however is a simple v-neck design made of white aertex cotton:imageThe neck is ‘V’ shaped and bound with white tape:imageThere would originally have been a label sewn into the neck but this has been removed, possibly it was scratching the wearer’s neck and he felt it would be better taken out.

The inside of the vest has a black ink stamp with a WD /|\ mark and a date letter of ‘M’:imageThe letter ‘M’ equates to 1944 so the vest can be dated to that year. The design of the vest includes a cut away at the seam on each side, presumably to help make it easier to put on and remove the garment and to improve its comfort:imageAs well as an item of underwear, vests were also used for PT:

I went to Fort George on the Moray Firth along the coast from Inverness; also the home of the famous Seaforth Highlanders Regiment. It was a bleak place to be in the month of November and in winter, particularly when running along the beach in a vest and shorts as part of the training schedule at that time early in the cold mornings.

Sadly this vest is a very small size and so I cannot try it for comfort, it is however an interesting and surprisingly scarce piece of wartime personal clothing.

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Softie Jacket

One of the more popular items of issue clothing in recent years has been the reversible ‘softie’ jacket and trousers. These are soft shell garments with thick padding inside that helps keep the wearer warm in cold conditions. They are similar in feel and texture to a sleeping bag and although designed to be worn as a under layer, were often worn as outer clothing as well. Tonight we are going to be starting by looking at the jacket for this set, which is a simple garment that can be worn with either an olive green outer:imageOr by reversing it a tan outer:imageTo allow the jacket to be worn either way, the zip has an interesting feature that allows the pull tab to be swapped from one side to the other:imageZipped pockets are provided on both sides:imageInterestingly the stores labels are sewn into the pockets, presumably so they are not on show if the garment is reversed to get the other colour. For some reason this jacket had the label for the trousers sewn into it!imageThe ends of the sleeves are elasticated, to help trap a pocket of air inside the jacket to help keep the wearer warm:imageA drawstring is provided at the waist for the same purpose:imageHere the jacket can be seen being worn under body armour, it’s shiny finish making it easy to identify:imageThe jacket was supplied with a compression sack, like a sleeping bag, that allowed it to be squashed down and the air removed so it took up less space in a soldier’s bergan. Sadly I am missing this element but apparently these are quite easy to find as a separate item so I will keep an eye out for one.

Indian Jungle Green 37 Pattern Belt

Over the coming weeks we are going to be taking a look at a few pieces of jungle green Indian made 37 pattern webbing. Standard 37 pattern webbing had been produced in India for some time in undyed cotton, which gave it a tan colour. This would then be blancoed, as with other webbing across the empire. The problem found in jungles was that this blanco was quickly eroded by the extremes of humidity and the webbing reverted to its natural, light colour. This then stood out like a sore thumb against the dark background of the jungle, making the wearer an easy target for the Japanese. To counter this it was first decided to dye the webbing green, later the thread used in its manufacture was pre-dyed before the webbing was even wove and this has led to two distinct types of jungle green webbing out there for the collector. The webbing that was dyed as a batch of assembled pieces has green stitching, as this cotton was dyed at the same time as the rest of the item. Pieces made from pre-dyed thread often have distinctive lighter coloured assembly stitching as they were sewn together later and have tan thread on a green background.

The first piece we are looking at tonight is a 37 pattern belt in jungle green:imageAs is often the case, the green colour has faded of this belt so it is far less intense a colour than it would have been when new, nevertheless when compared to standard Indian made 37 pattern webbing the contrast is clear.

The fittings on this belt are made of blackened brass, with the buckle, sliders and chapes all black in colour: imageAs are the rear buckles:imageA C/|\?? inspector’s acceptance code is faintly visible on the rear of the belt:imageAs is the maker’s mark and a date of 1946:imageThe jungle green 37 pattern webbing was only introduced in 1944 so was only used in the last 12-18 months of the war. Nonetheless it was a simple but welcome change to the soldier’s equipment and far more suited to jungle fighting than the tan version.