It is now time for lesson 4 looking at the British Soldier, we are now in the year 1917. After the horror of the Somme still ringing in their ears, 1917 was to be another testing year for Tommy Atkins.
In the early summer men, weapons and ammunition were marched up to the Ypres salient to prepare for another onslaught against the determined German defenders. The Germans had a justified fear of combat against the Canadian Corps so the Canadians were marched south away from the salient down to the Somme. Once there, they turned around and sneakily marched back to Ypres without the Germans even knowing, it wouldn’t be long before they realised. On the 7th June 1917 the battle of Messines started, the Battle was a prelude to the Third battle of Ypres.
Nineteen mines were detonated on a hot summers day, followed by a rolling artillery barrage. Men, aircraft and tanks working together soon took control of the Messines Ridge. The third battle of Ypres or Passchaendale as it would become known started on the 11th July and would pass into history as one of the most horrific battles of the war so far.
It soon started to rain and wouldn’t stop for months, men slipped off the duckboards criss crossing the landscape and drowned in the mud unable to claw themselves to safety. One of the regiments involved was the 8th Battalion The London Regiment part of 140th Brigade, 47th (2nd) London Division.
Here we see the typical equipment of a member of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Officers rifles).
He uses the standard 1908 pattern webbing equipment, although there have been a couple of changes from the set we saw the soldier carry in 1914.
Here is the standard 1902 pattern jacket but being a rifle regiment it has the black crown and horn buttons rather than the brass General service buttons used by non rifle regiments.
In the right hand pocket (as worn) is the soldiers Pay book. All soldiers were to keep the paybook in this pocket so as to be identifiable if killed. All soldiers also carried 2 compressed fibre ID disks on a lace around the neck, again for identification.
The cap is the soft cap introduced in 1916 with the introduction of the helmet.
Two No 5 Mills bombs were to be carried in the lower pockets. Every man was now carrying bombs for the specialist bomb throwers and should be proficient in there use if they need to do so.
A cloth private purchase belt was popular for keeping the trousers up although braces were still issued.
Belts such as these often had a small change pocket and soldiers would often attach there clasp knife using private purchase belt clips.
The First field dressing and separate Iodene ampoule were sometimes combined in 1917 depending on manufacturer.
They were only combined for a short time though before it was ordered the items should be separate.
In 1917 cloth or hessian covers were a popular issue to the troops, reducing shine at night.
It was also ordered that mild steel rims be added to the helmets to prevent soldiers cutting each other with there exposed rims in the tight confines of a trench.
Here we see a leather jerkin. Originally introduced in July 1915 the jerkin was a popular replacement to the greatcoat as it didn’t hold water and drag in the mud. and would prove their worth in the freezing winter of 1916-17.
On top is a private purchase Tommy cooker and mug, these enabled individual soldiers an opportunity to cook food or make themselves a brew whenever the need arose.
To the right is the mk vii groundsheet cape with collar which was introduced in May 1917 as a replacement to the earlier groundsheet.
On top of this is the soldiers holdall , in 1916 Khaki drab holdall’s were issued as well as the earlier white variety.
Here we see the Spicer goggles as issued in 1915 to protect against tear gas, by 1917 all soldiers were supposed to carry these or rubber goggles as back up and they were issued in a little card envelope.
Also as back up is the PH hood in it’s protective satchel.
Below this we can see the buckle on the intrenching tool kidney shaped pouch.
The buckle and strap were first seen from July 1916 replacing the earlier pattern fastened by a Newey stud.
Due to the Germans introducing mustard to their gas weapons in the late summer of 1916 the Small Box Respirator was introduced.
Although the Germans had used mustard as a weapon, mustard gas itself was not used until July 1917.
On top of the SBR bag is a gas diary to record when the SBR was used, an instruction sheet and a box of “Glasso” Anti dimming cream, to be rubbed onto the lenses to prevent fogging.
The SBR was the primary gas protection with the PH hood and spicer or rubber goggles as back up.
Close up of the Khaki holdall showing the fiddleback fork and spoon, shaving equipment and comb.
In January 1917 it was recommended that the helmet liner was improved by having a rubber donut placed under the oval crown pad to give extra protection to the top of the head.
In June all helmets were issued with the new improved liner.