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Remembered Today:

Early War Issue Pattern 1908 Infantry Webbing set


Pete_C
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What ho !

Forum Pals may recall that eyebrows were raised 18 months ago when I purchased through eBay a part set of Pattern 1908 Infantry Web Equipment for what many thought at the time (and likely still do) was a foolishly high price. The set, largely 1914 dated and still in new, completely unblancoed condition, comprised 9 of the 13 components that make up a full set, plus the water bottle. It had been issued to an officer in the Gordon Highlanders during (I guess) early 1915, assembled and fitted, worn perhaps once or twice and then sent home and stored in a dark, dry place, where remarkably and thankfully it appeared to have remained untouched for 96 years.

The first major challenge I faced was to actually pay for the set, but then I had to find replacements for the missing web components, not just in new condition but with matching early dates. I needed a pack, entrenching tool head carrier, bayonet frog and a single pack support strap. Having searched obsessively for 18 months and turned up nothing, I then managed by resolve and good luck to acquire the three key missing components from different sources in the space of just six weeks - each was suitably dated and although issued, still in new condition. So, not before time, I've now been able to put it all together and take some photos.

The set comprises a mixture of ME CO Ltd and MW&S Ltd components and I think it's quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Firstly it just looks great, but more importantly it's (mostly) always been together and has 'been there' - albeit it clearly did very little - and it gives a sense of exactly what a set looked and felt like at the point of issue early in the war. The LH cartridge carriers are interesting; dated 1914 and made by MW&S, they have 3¼ flaps to the pockets (rather than standard 3) with selvedge edging (LoC 16695 Jan 1914). The flaps are woven in a distinctly green thread and some of the other MW&S components also have a greenish tinge to them. I have since seen another similar condition officer's 1908 set, all 1914 dated, belonging to another GWF collector, with the same mismatched (ME CO/MW&S) ammunition pouches. On that set the 2 inch and 1 inch straps to the rear of the MW&S pouches are woven in the same green thread. The 1914 dated RH pouches made by ME CO are a uniform brown colour throughout and have standard 3 wide, plain edge flaps. MW&S of course continued to produce selvedge edged flaps for the remainder of the war. All the snap fasteners carry the 1907 (/07) patent rather than the more commonly seen 1915 (/15) stamp and the design of the female part of the fasteners differs slightly between MW&S and ME CO. All components have low numbered inspectors' stamps.

The set retains all of its original colour(s) and shows only the slightest signs of use with a little light staining here and there. The original owner had stitched a small identifying X to the top of the water bottle in black thread. Some of the brass fittings, including all the snap fasteners, remained bright from 1914, an indication perhaps that they were dipped in something during manufacture and had never been cleaned since. I very carefully cleaned all the other brasses with a mild non-abrasive cleaner, which I think is an entirely appropriate thing to do with this set. The original set has been disassembled only once since I got it and then reassembled exactly as it came - some of the alignment is not quite regulation, but that's the way it's always been.

In addition to the missing web components, I've now also added a 1915 Sanderson bayonet, 1915 helve, 1911 entrenching tool and 100 rounds of Mk VI .303 (inert) ball ammunition in Mk II chargers. The set is now made up as follows -

Original set as acquired -

LH cartridge carriers - 1914 MW&S Ltd

RH cartridge carriers - 1914 ME CO Ltd

Belt - 1914 ME CO Ltd

Braces - 1914 MW&S Ltd

Water bottle carrier - 1914 MW&S Ltd

Haversack - 1915 ME CO Ltd

Pack supporting strap - 1915 ME CO Ltd

Helve carrier - 1915 ME CO Ltd

Water bottle

Added -

Pack - 1915 ME CO Ltd

Entrenching tool head carrier - 1911 ME CO Ltd

Bayonet frog - 1912 ME CO Ltd

Pack supporting strap - 1915 ME CO Ltd

Water bottle cork and string

The link below should direct you to some photos of the set in (I think) all its glory - it's difficult to capture the true colours and shades and some of the flash shots have washed out the colours a bit, but you'll still get a good idea. To date only one other like-minded person has seen the set in the flesh so I'd especially welcome your thoughts.

Cheers all,

Manxy

Edited by Pete_C
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Certainly a fine looking set if not unique? When I put my set together I was very keen to have it in as tip top condition as possible and thought I'd cracked it when I got the belt & entrenching tool cover in unissued condition swiftly followed by the left & right carriers & straps in a condition to match. So far so good, but then comes the really hard to get bayonet frog & helve so I eventually gave up and opted for reproduction which I do have to say it you get the right quality is very, very hard to tell from the genuine articles. None of mine was so early dated and in fact I didn't put too much store on the dates, just the condition so to have the fortitude to go all the way with condition and such dates is pretty commendable in my opinion. It would be interesting to see if anyone else has ever managed to pull it off quite like this.

Dave

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Manxy,

Very nice set. Not sure what you paid nor how much these things are worth anymore, but it looks like it was well worth the cost and meet the only criteria that matters--It pleased you!!!.

Again very nice thanks for sharing.

Joe Sweeney

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  • 3 weeks later...

Very, very nice set.

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Just checked in the loft as I thought I had a couple of odd straps dated 1915 and 1918- saddly though I find the 1918 one is mint and the 1915 one used and lightly blancoed. I have a number of 1919 ones and these are the most common to find. Good luck with the search. Regards, Paul.

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If you want to return the straps or any other blancoed webbing back to as good as new then pop it in the washing machine and wash it at a decent temperature. When dry it is very hard to tell from unissued and the original date straps are unaffected (unless they were very faint in the first place in which case tread with caution if you don't want to lose for good).

I was fortunate to obtain an unissued (1919) belt & ET cover. The ammunition carriers I eventually got (also 1919) were VGC but blancoed so they got the above treatment. Now, it’s almost impossible to tell they were not an unissued set - pictures can go up if anyone wants confirmation. NB: do not wash with your whites as you'll regret it forever.

Dave

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Thanks to all for your kind comments, and Paul, many thanks for checking your spare kit for the missing pack strap - I'll turn one up eventually, for sure.

Dave, I'd be very interested to see photos of your set when you get a minute - some collectors are a bit put off by 1919 dates - not me - it's worth bearing in mind that the IWM's number one set in their Great War gallery is largely 1919 dated - I have that from someone who's seen and handled it up close. I've never tried it but I have a friend who, many years ago, placed a pair of blancoed pouches and braces in a pillow case, in a washing machine - the braces came out fine, just like new, but the pouches ended up virtually white, devoid of all blanco, but also nearly all colour - I guess it depends on the wash cycle and how much soap powder you add !

The best shot in my slideshow of photos is the first one of the set as worn - I'd persuaded my 17 year old son to put on genuine SD jacket and the set but for whatever reason I only took that one good shot. I'll ask him to don it again and I'll take some better shots and add them to the slideshow. Even in the surrounds of a modern home, I found it quite chilling when he appeared with all the kit on and my thoughts immediately turned to a time, nearly one hundred years ago, when young men, sometimes no older than my son, would have worn it for real and endured horrors and hardships we can barely imagine - of course I've seen living history guys wearing the same kit over the years, but when it's your own son, it put a wholly different perspective on what is for me, at the end of the day, just a hobby and a fascination, albeit a lifelong and very passionate one.

It’d be great to see photos from other GWF collectors who may own ‘always been together’ sets or part sets, that have seen real action – my 1914 set remains so clean because although issued to a serving officer, it clearly never saw front line action. The odds and ends I've seen over the years tended to be unblancoed but I know that’s not always the case from comments posted by GWF collectors whenever the topic comes up. In fact, it'd just be great to see photos of your 1908 sets, regardless of whether they've always been together or lovingly and patiently assembled from separate parts over many years.

Thanks again for your interest and comments.

All the best,

Manxy

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In these two photos the carriers are as they were rec'ed. Some would say they look excellent as they are, but bear in mind I was wanting to marry them up with a mint condition belt, braces and ET cover. They had clearly been blancoed in the past in a very slight shade of green and generally looked a bit tired.

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In these two the carriers have been washed as described. The brass-work polished (had a relative in 3GG so imagine this is what he would have been used to), and now its hard to tell which is unissued etc?

Dave

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In these two the carriers have been washed as described. The brass-work polished (had a relative in 3GG so imagine this is what he would have been used to), and now its hard to tell which is unissued etc?

Dave

Dave, thanks for posting. Excellent job and as you say, hard to distinguish from the unissued pieces. I suppose the success (or not) of this approach depends entirely on the state of the webbing underneath the original blanco - in this case it was clearly very good and consequently the results are first rate. Also, when the kit looks this good I think it's always appropriate to clean the brass.

Cheers,

Manxy

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chaps,

Some pics of my early war set. Perhaps controversially I've blancoed elements of the set to provide a matched appearance, but some of the earliest compnents (water bottle carrier, entrenching tool head cover and belt) were purchased as seen, and were already sporting Pickering's Khaki Blanco in the shade later known as "64". The small pack was also not treated as it matched well, despite the fact that there was no obvious sign of Blanco (it therefore appears very slightly paler than the rest of the set, although this is far less apparent in the flesh). I have several cakes of Pickering's Khaki Blanco, all of which seem to predate the numbering system as they're billed only as "Khaki Blanco" as distinct to "Web Blanco", which is greener (I have one cake of this), and one of the khaki blocks was used on components of this set.

The components are marked as follows:

Belt: MECO 1912 (M)

Braces: no visible marks

Cartridge carriers: no visible dates (but genuine unmodified LH pouches - the "L" was just visible when cleaned. Purchased from Manxy some years ago - much obliged!)

Entrenching tool head cover: MECO 1914

Small pack: MECO 1910

Bayonet frog: MECO 1916 (helve carrier repro)

Large pack: MWS Ltd 1915 (supporting straps both 1918 unfortunately)

Water bottle carrier: MECO 1911 (this is a New Zealand pattern 1911 carrier and like the one on Karkee Web is unit marked to the Canterbury Regt; water bottle cover is marked 1916 to the interior as I found out when I foolishly removed it!)

So nowhere near as "pure blood" as Manxy or Granville's sets, but it displays well, and the equipment which I Blancoed was either undated, already Blancoed or in need of restoration, so no vituperative abuse please!

The rifle pictured is Enfield 1912 dated (all bells and whistles), and the sling is MECO 1912. The bayonet is a 1908 Wilkinson hooked quillon in a matched mk 1 scabbard (no external chape), and is rack marked RF [Royal Fusiliers] 101 to both bayonet and scabbard.

Cheers,

Dave

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Dave, great turnout; great photos, a shame not taken in black & white or Sepia as that would look seriously 'period'. Do I spot Lennons boots on your feet?

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Although not my area of specific interest, I can really appreciate the time and effort that has gone into assembling these superb sets of equipment.

One question though; I wondered why you elected to fill the cartridge pouches with Mark VI rounds? Was it simply that that was what was available?

Regards

TonyE

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Chaps,

Some pics of my early war set........

Dave, absolutely superb display - flawlessly assembled and the overall impression is very evocative of 1914. Over the years I have owned a number of pre-war dated 'straight from the attic' items of 1908 Pattern with this shade of Blanco clearly evident, so I think it's entirely appropriate for this early war set.

Thanks for posting such a terrific display.

Cheers

Manxy

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Although not my area of specific interest, I can really appreciate the time and effort that has gone into assembling these superb sets of equipment.

One question though; I wondered why you elected to fill the cartridge pouches with Mark VI rounds? Was it simply that that was what was available?

Regards

TonyE

Hi Tony

Thanks for your kind comments. Yes, the Mk VI rounds were the only early dated ammunition available to me - that said the rounds in the set are a right mixture of military and commercial (undated) odds and ends. I do however own an SMLE Mk 1* with pre war government sale marks, and these rifles can still sometimes be seen in front line photographs from as late as 1916 - I've always assumed they were sighted for Mk VI ammunition. And of course Charger Loading LE's and LM's can be seen in early war photos.

On a related note I also have a 1915 dated Lithgow Mk III with the same pattern rear sight as the SMLE Mk 1*. I acquired the rifle in the 1970's from a renowned Midlands' dealer who specialised in German pistols - he'd acquired the rifle (minus bolt) on his travels in Germany, so there's likely a story there in itself - but essentially the rifle's always been together so the rear sight is original. I have read that the Australians continued to use Mk VI ammunition until quite late into the war. I've going slightly off topic here so when I have a minute to spare I'll post some photos of the rifles on a new thread.

Cheers,

Manxy

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Granville,

Lennons indeed! Dubbined and then left to weather, with reapplications of dubbin to maintain the leather thereafter, so hopefully an appropriate "finish". I did put some of these pics into sepia, but used the colour ones here to highlight the point about Blanco. Many thanks for your kind comments.

Tony, Manxy,

In terms of the pouch fillers, both my early and late war sets are filled with 1915-1918 dated Mk VII rds in Mk 2 clips, with the exception of 1 x set of Mk VIs in a Mk 1 clip for illiustrative purposes. I was fortunate enough to buy a job lot of Brit Mk VII about 12 years ago, and got a Candian bandolier on eBay which also contained a good quantity of "DC" Mk VII with wartime dates, as well as a good number of Mk 2 clips. As a result I have over 30 clips (sorry, "chargers"; force of habit!!) of period SAA in Mk 2 chargers - enough to split between 2 x eqpt sets and part of a bandolier (or to fill 1 x set with 150 rds). The only small downside is that a number of the rounds have been rendered inert through drawing the bullet and emptying the contents, and the bullets have not always been fully re-housed and are thus a little "long"; my 1916-18 dated set will accommodate quite happily, but the early set is much snugger, and thus I tend to only place 1 x charger in each pouch to avoid stressing the press studs or misshaping the pouches. If I had a turret press I may have tried to re-seat, but probably not; don't fancy cracking the cases!

Anyway, massive digression - apologies!

Dave

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Hi Tony

......... I have read that the Australians continued to use Mk VI ammunition until quite late into the war. I've going slightly off topic here so when I have a minute to spare I'll post some photos of the rifles on a new thread.

Cheers,

Manxy

That's correct. The Australians did not switch their domestic production of .303 ball ammunition to Mark VII until February 1918, with New Zealand switching at about the same time.

I am not convinced though that the Australians on the Western Front were still using Mark VI in the latter part of the war. I suspect that they had "traded in" their Mark VI sighted SMLEs for regular Mark VII sighted rifles.by then.

The easiest way to check whether your LE Mark I* has been re-sighted is to look at the barrel just behind the rear sight. If it has been converted it should have "HV" (for high velocity) stamped there.

Dibw29 - For your inert rounds you can seat the bullets to the correct depth by puttting them crosswise in the jaws of a Workmate or similar and carefully winding the jaws in.

Hang onto the Mark II chargers, they are quite hard to find these days in good condition.

Regards

TonyE

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Dave, great turnout; great photos, a shame not taken in black & white or Sepia as that would look seriously 'period'. Do I spot Lennons boots on your feet?

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There you go.

Chris

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Brilliant! What date would you have put on this if you didn't know the wearer or seen it already on this thread? I would suggest early 1915. The turn-out is very high, complete with pressed trousers but the 'lad' now knows enough to know that this is not going to be a walk in the park hence the hint of apprehension in his face.

Dave

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Constipation more likely... And it's been sometime since anyone called me a lad! Slightly vain though it may be (is), I couldn't resist tinkering with the tones of Chris' pic (thanks by the way Chris) in an effort to get a slightly antiqued finish without going wild with creases etc.

Manxy - not sure that this is what you had in mind when starting this thread, so my apologies...!

Cheers all.

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Manxy - not sure that this is what you had in mind when starting this thread, so my apologies...!

Cheers all.

Dave, I consider the evolution of threads to be one of the great joys of this Forum. My only intention when starting the thread was to finally share (or show off !) my 1914 set with the only group of individuals on the planet who would get it and appreciate it. This is all bonus - it's great stuff, keep it coming !

Manxy

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  • 3 months later...

Mission accomplished !! - recently acquired the missing pack support strap - ME Co 1914 in suitably new condition. Many thanks to Wardog (Paul) for the heads up.

Cheers all,

Manxy

Edited by Manxy
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