Forties Fashion

During the Second World War clothes, along with almost everything else, were rationed. The adult allowance in Britain was fixed at 36 coupons a year when this advertisement appeared in 1943. It was reduced to 24 by the end of the war.

Advertisement from the Sphere magazine, 1943.

Shoppers were urged to buy the best quality they could afford because the clothes would in theory last longer, give better value for money and save coupons. This “practical” coat eliminated half the annual ration in one sale. The shoes would suck up another seven. If you exhausted your allotment before the end of the year, second-hand clothes were coupon free. So were fur coats for some very strange reason.

The price of £13. 17 shillings might seem like a bargain now but that is the equivalent of £584 today and amounted to more than two week’s wages for the average worker – although probably not for people who shopped at the upmarket Debenham and Freebody .

If you think the fashion-conscious had it tough in 1943, have a look at this page about the weekly food ration. Could you get by on that?

Ration coupons were slowly removed after the war as the British economy recovered but the country didn’t see the last of them until 1954.

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Bomb disposal for beginners

The 2 lb. magnesium bomb does not explode, its only object being to start a fire. It will probably penetrate no further than the attic or an upper floor, setting light to anything within a few feet. Vast numbers of these light bombs can be carried by a single aeroplane, and many more fires started than could be dealt with by fire brigades. Householders, with a little training and equipment, can deal with the incendiary bombs and so protect their homes and defeat the enemy’s object.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.The intense heat and smoke from such a bomb and the fire which it will have started make close approach impossible until the atmosphere has been cooled down and the fire partly extinguished. This is done with a jet of water from a hose not less than 30 feet long. The stirrup hand pump (illustrated) is recommended for this purpose. The girl in the picture is kneeling, as smoke is not so thick close to the ground. Note Redhill container in foreground.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.In this picture the girl has taken sand from the container and is pouring it on to the bomb with a long-handled scoop. Sand does not extinguish the magnesium bomb, but it controls it and reduces the heat, thus allowing near approach. Note the Redhill container placed on its side in such a way that full scoopfuls of sand can easily be withdrawn. After the first scoopful of sand has been placed on the bomb, the glare and heat are greatly reduced.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.Removal of incendiary bomb with scoop and hoe. The long-handled scoop illustrated is necessary in dealing with incendiary bombs. It is made in two sections, the scoop on one end and the hoe on the other, and when joined together is 7 feet long. In the picture it is separated, the hoe being used to draw the bomb into the scoop, which is made strong enough to withstand the heat of a burning bomb.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.The burning bomb is here being transferred from the scoop into the Redhill container, which can then be carried out of the house. The container is made strong enough to hold a burning magnesium bomb indefinitely, and is so designed that the heat of the bomb will not injure the hand of the person by whom it is carried.
‘Air Raid Precautions’ cigarette cards, 1938.

As easy as that. Like putting the rubbish out. I wonder if anyone actually did this? It looks like a pre-war theory developed by someone who had never been in an air raid and it’s more likely to endanger lives than save them. How do you fight a fire in an attic where the only ventilation is the hole punched in the roof by two pounds of flaming magnesium? And what if you get clobbered by one (or more) of the other bombs from the “vast” number carried by “a single aeroplane”?

When the real action started I believe civilians were advised to head for the nearest shelter when the siren sounded and not get in the way of the professionals.

Somewhere in the Pacific

American troops in the Pacific during WWII. Location and photographer unknown.

World War Two. Location and photographer unknown.

This is a snapshot size image I bought in an auction with no clues to its origin. It looks genuine but could be a contemporary copy of a larger print by a press photographer. After all, who else would have the time or inclination to take a snapshot in a situation like this?

The soldier in silhouette profile at right lifts it above the average and the scene reminded me of the work of W. Eugene Smith – although it doesn’t come close to his print quality, of course.

Spitfire memories

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

For a pilot, every plane has its own personality, which always reflects that of its designers and colours the mentality of those who take it into action.
The Spitfire, for instance, is typically British. Temperate, a perfect compromise of all the qualities required of a fighter, ideally suited to its task of defence. An essentially reasonable piece of machinery, conceived by cool, precise brains and built by conscientious hands. The Spitfire left such an imprint on those who flew it that when they changed to other types they found it very hard to get acclimatized.
Pierre Clostermann. ‘Flames in the Sky’. Chatto & Windus, 1952.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

The day I flew a Spitfire for the first time was one to remember. To begin with the instructor walked me round the lean fighter plane, drab in its war coat of grey and green camouflage paint, and explained the flight-control system. Afterwards I climbed into the cockpit while he stood on the wing root and explained the functions of the various controls. I was oppressed by the narrow cockpit, for I am reasonably wide across the shoulders and when I sat on the parachute each forearm rubbed uncomfortably on the metal sides.
“Bit tight across the shoulders for me?” I enquired.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” he replied. “Surprising how small you can get when one of those yellow-nosed brutes* is on your tail. You’ll keep your head down then! And get a stiff neck from looking behind. Otherwise you won’t last long!” – and with this boost to my morale we pressed on with the lesson…..

Four days later I made a mess of the approach, but this time with disastrous results. I had been instructed to land at Sealand and deliver a small parcel of maps which were stuffed into my flying-boot. The circuit at Sealand was crowded with [Miles] Masters and I weaved amongst them for a favourable into-wind position. There was a stiff wind across the short, grass airfield and I aimed to be down close to the boundary fence so that I had the maximum distance for the landing run. I came over the fence too high and too slow and the fully stalled Spitfire dropped like a bomb. We hit the ground with a mighty crash and I had a little too much slack in the harness straps, for I was thrown violently forward and pulled up with a nasty wrench across the shoulders. For a few yards we tore a deep groove in the ground, then she slithered to a standstill in a ground loop which tore off one undercarriage leg and forced the other through the top of the port mainplane. I switched off the petrol cocks and the ignition switches and stepped out.
Johnnie Johnson, ‘Wing Leader’, Chatto & Windus Ltd., 1956.
*Messerschmitt Bf 109s

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

I can remember doing aerobatics in the Spitfire right from the start, perfect vertical rolls, straight as a die. It was a terrific thing. The Spitfire and Hurricane were austere inside. There weren’t many bits and pieces……

Someone showed us all the things you should do and shouldn’t do, and off we went. I can remember going off the ground, got the wheels up, came round parallel to the strip. I can remember doing a roll one way and a roll the other and it was just straight in. We’d never seen anything like them…..

[When a fuel supply problem called for an emergency landing] I was turning to go up the strip to land, and I could see I wasn’t going to make it. They’ve got the flying angle of a brick when you cut the motor back. I couldn’t land on the road. There were trucks and motorbikes, troops, all sorts of people were coming down the road. So I had to go to the side. There was a big row of trees and these bunkers for the rice. In the finish I just pushed it into the ground. I was doing about 140 mph, a wheels up landing and it went bump, bump, bump, then it stopped. Ruined the aeroplane, a bloody shame.
Vic Bargh quoted in ‘Ketchil’ by Neil Frances. Wairarapa Archive 2005.

The Spitfire Mk.IX was photographed at Wings Over Wairarapa airshow, New Zealand.

An aerial drag race

India 1944. New Zealand fighter pilot Vic ‘Ketchil’ Bargh is rested from the fight in Burma and sent on an air gunnery course for Allied pilots.

We went down to Amarda Road (south-west of Calcutta) where we were supposed to be taught air firing and that type of thing. When we were down at this place the Americans came along with a B-25. We were all sitting at a table and the two jokers from the B-25, they said “We’ve got the fastest aeroplane here”, in a loud voice. Nobody said anything. There was a Mosquito there; there was quite a few different varieties of aeroplanes. So the jokers with the Mosquito said they would tail the Americans.

A de Havilland Mosquito takes off at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013, New Zealand.

They went up and got alongside the American, eased him along until he was going flat tack, which was not very fast really. When they reckoned he was flat-out the Mosquito feathered one propeller altogether and poured the coal on the other one and went away on one engine. I don’t know what that Yank thought but they left him behind on one engine.

mosquito-pass

Text transcribed from an interview and printed in Ketchil. A New Zealand pilot’s war in Asia and the Pacific. Neil Francis. Wairarapa Archive, 2005.

Photographs taken at Wings Over Wairarapa airshow 2013.