I recently had the opportunity to visit the National Army Museum in London and check out their current exhibition, The Art of Persuasion, a look at the wartime work of graphic designer Abram Games. While you may not recognise the name you will probably recognise some of his impressive and striking posters.
Games’ work is instantly arresting with an eye-catching starkness which underlines the messages he sought to convey. In the video above I aim to give a feel for the exhibition and, if you are unfamiliar with him, a feel for Games’ work.
He joined the army in 1940 and began designing posters for both military and civilian audiences in 1941. Over the next 5 years he designed over 100 posters, some of which have become iconic.
Describing himself as a ‘graphic thinker’ Games used silhouettes and contrasting colour and vivid subjects. Largely self-taught Games was extremely passionate about his work and by November 1942 had been made ‘Official War Poster Artist’.
The exhibition not only displays his work but also explains how Games created his posters, often working from models or taking photographs of soldiers training. Some posters have his original sketches displayed next to them to show how the concepts evolved.
His posters encouraged young women to join the ATS, soldiers to volunteer for the Commandos and civilians to support the war effort. In addition to posters for the War Office, some of his most recognisable work, including the ‘Your Britain, Fight For It Now’ posters were designed for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs in an effort to raise morale and promote the idea of post war reform and progress. He also designed a series of powerful, striking posters for appeals to aid Europe’s Jews, a cause he was deeply connected to as a Jew. Games was demobilised in 1945 and enjoyed a long, successful civilian career, he died in 1996.
The National Army Museum’s exhibition works hard to give a feel for not just the work but also the man and his motivations. Games’ wartime posters are extremely, unsurprising when most were covered or torn down after a few months, so it was a rare treat to see them in person, up close you get a sense of what it would have been like to see one on a barrack wall or a billboard 75 years ago. The exhibition also had some interesting interactive elements with a touch screen allowing visitors to create their own Games-style posters and also another screen with video interviews with Games’ daughter and people who knew him talking about his work.
Games’ work are not just pieces of art but also important historical objects that can help us understand what the war was like and what motivated people to fight.
Find out more about the exhibition on the National Army Museum’s website, here.
Matt recently had the pleasure of attending the Autumn 2019 Soviet Threat event at the Hack Green Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire. One of the people Matt had the chance to speak to was Allen from the MECo group of collectors and reenactors.
Allen was portraying a member of the Royal Army Service Corps, with uniform representing that of 1964, the year before the corps became the the Royal Corps of Transport. Allen was kind enough to explain his uniform and kit on camera.
Check out our earlier video with Rifleman Moore discussing his 60s PARA portrayal here.
Matt had the pleasure of attending the Autumn 2019 Soviet Threat event at Hack Green Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire at the weekend and spoke to many of the reenactors and collectors attending the event. Check out our earlier video about the event here.
One of the people Matt had the chance to speak to was Simon of the Rifleman Moore YouTube channel. Simon is a collector of uniforms and kit and part of the MECo group of collectors and reenactors. Simon was kind enough to film a quick video with Matt and discus his kit.
At Soviet Threat he was portraying a member of the British Army’s PARA’s as they would have been dressed and equipped circa 1964 – twenty years on from Operation Market Garden, which took place 75 years ago this year.
Here’s a closer look at the deactivated L1A1 Self-loading Rifle Simon completed his portrayal of a period PARA with.
The rifle was an Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield-production L1A1, inch pattern semi-automatic adaptation of the FN FAL, manufactured in 1958, as attested to by it’s UE58 prefixed serial number.
Many thanks to Simon for taking the time to speak to us and run through his uniform and kit. Check out his channel here.
This weekend I visited the Hack Green nuclear bunker in Cheshire, UK. They have a bi-annual Cold War history event called Soviet Threat where reenactors and collectors are invited down to display their kit. I had the pleasure of meeting to some really interesting people and seeing some cool vehicles and kit.
I spoke to Lucy, the Hack Green Bunker museum’s curator but sadly had some sound problems. Hopefully, we’ll get to speak to Lucy about the museum in more depth in the future! I also spoke to a number of the groups and individuals attending and we’ll have a couple more videos coming up.
Introduce in British service in 1938, the Bren remained in use into the 1990s. Based upon the Czechoslovakian series of ZB light machine guns, its name comes from an amalgamation of its origins: BR for Brno, the factory in Czechoslovakia, and EN for RSAF Enfield where it had been adapted for British service and was to be produced.
The Bren is chambered in .303, is gas operated and fires from an open bolt. It feeds from a top-mounted 30 round box magazine, as such the sights are offset to the left meaning the Bren can only be fired from the right shoulder – which as a lefty, I quickly realised.
This example does not have the scope mounting dovetail machined into the left side of its receiver, or the folding grip and the hinged shoulder rest indicating that it is a Mk1 (Modified) ‘Pattern A’ gun, which was introduced after the evacuation of Dunkirk, the British Expeditionary Force lost most of the 30,000 Brens that had been taken to France. Only around 2,000 remained in inventory in the summer of 1940, so increasing production was essential, this model and the even more simplified MkII were introduced. While at the same time the BESAL light machine gun was developed as an emergency alternative by BSA – check out our earlier video on the BESAL here.
As a Mk1, the gun has the original profile buttstock, with the fitting for a rear folding grip and tripod attachment point as well as a buttcap. It also has the drum rear sight rather than the later ladder sight of the Mk2 & 3. It also had a folding cocking handle and this Mk1(M) gun also has the earlier pattern height adjustable, rather than fixed, bipod legs. This gun is marked ‘MK1, with an E within a D, 1942’ indicating it was made at RSAF Enfield.
The Bren’s relatively slow rate of fire (of around 500 rounds per minute) makes it controllable and very easy to fire single shots while in full auto. The Bren does, however, have a selector on the left side of the gun, just above the trigger guard, which can be set to safe, semi or fully automatic. The Bren has a rocking recoil impulse as its heavy bolt moves back and forth, easily manageable if held tightly into the shoulder with the off-hand holding onto the wrist of the stock. The top-mounted magazine when fully loaded does have a tendency to want to fall to the side but once you’re used to this it’s not really an issue. The legend surrounding the accuracy of the Bren is certainly somewhat valid, at the time it was recognised as an accurate weapon and I found it accurate from my short time behind the trigger. I found the Mk1’s rear sight aperture and drum adjustment easy to use.
Spent cases eject out of the bottom of the receiver, the weapon had a sliding dust cover for when the magazine was removed and the charging handle is non reciprocating and folds forward.
The Bren has a quick change barrel system. To remove the barrel the release catch in front of the magazine was rotated upwards to unlock and then the barrel was rotated 90 degrees clockwise by bringing the carrying handle up to the 12 o’clock position and then sliding it forward.
We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Bren and its Czech predecessors in the future. My thanks to my friend Chuck over at Gunlab for letting me put some rounds through his Bren, I got a real kick out of it!
The British Army entered the First World War with very few mortars, and certainly none at the battalion level. As the stalemate of trench warfare set in and the effectiveness of enemy mortars became clear it was decided that trench mortars of various sizes would be needed.
Nicknamed ‘plum pudding’ or ‘toffee apple’ mortars after their projectile’s characteristic shape, the 2 inch Medium Mortar or 2 inch Trench Howitzer, was one of Britain’s first effective light trench mortars to be introduced.
Trench mortars were the army’s most forward artillery, right up on the front line. These short range weapons were able to throw large, high explosive projectiles, short distances across No Man’s Land at the enemy trench system opposite. The 2 inch mortar was considered accurate out to 350 yards with a maximum effective range out to just under 600 yards.
Introduced in 1915, the 2 inch mortar was originally crewed by men taken from the battalion it was stationed with, along with some specialists from the Royal Artillery. However, with the introduction of the 3 inch Stokes mortar which was operated by the infantry themselves the 2 inch mortars became the sole responsibility of the Royal Field Artillery.
Mortar positions were often in secondary trenches just behind the infantry’s frontline. This was to help protect the infantry from potential counter-battery fire. The trench mortars were often deployed to sectors to provide counter battery fire against German minenwerfers or in the run up to an offensive or local action. A British Army report on artillery use, drawn up in February 1917, noted that “Owing to their liability to be destroyed by hostile artillery fire it may often be advisable to defer opening fire with these mortars till the last day of bombardment.” The mortars were also tasked with keeping gaps made in the wire clear and with supporting any feint attacks made by infantry during gaps in the bombardment running up to a larger offensive.
Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, a captain with the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers and later a novelist, recalled in his war memoir:
“At night a trench mortar officer set his guns in a derelict trench about twenty yards behind the line and carried up his ammunition, heavy globes of iron with a little cylindrical projection like a broken handle. In the morning I moved the men from the bays between the trench mortars and their target, to lighten the risk of loss from retaliatory fire.”
Sometimes the width of No Man’s Land required saps to be cut extending out from the frontline so the mortar rounds didn’t fall short. The 50 lb lollipop-like projectile had a maximum effective range of 570 yards (depending on the size of cordite charge used), and could create a crater 5 feet deep and 14 feet wide. The ideal mortar position was a 6 feet wide by 9 feet deep sandbagged pit with the weapon’s heavy wooden bed at the bottom and room for the crew to load the mortar.
Crews could manage to fire approximately once every two minutes. Much slower than the lighter 3 inch Stokes Mortar and but faster than the heavy 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar. The mortar comprising of just its tube, bed, stand and ignition system weighed 320 lbs (145kg), not including the accompanying tools and the Temple silencer system which could be fitted (which weighed 47 lbs or 21 kg alone).
Typically manned by a 5 man mortar crew comprising of an NCO, gunners, and ammunition bearers. To operate the 2 inch mortar a cordite charge was first placed down the tube, the projectile’s shaft was then inserted on top of the charge, the projectile’s fuse was set and checked and a new blank cartridge chambered in the ignition system. The crew then got clear of the weapon and pulled the lanyard to fire the mortar. To reload the crew ran a clearing stick down the tube and then repeated the loading process.
Interestingly, the 2 inch Medium Mortar, like the larger 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar used a cut-down rifle, which screwed into the ‘breech’ end of the mortar tube. This particular mortar has an 1894-dated cut down Lee-Enfield MkI as its ignition system, the cutdown rifle has a wooden insert in its magazine well but it still has its rear volley sight attached. This reusable system replaced the T-tube Friction ignitor, which was in high demand by Britain’s bigger guns. The Lee-Enfield-based system enabled the cordite propellant charges to be ignited by a blank .303 round instead. The rifle’s trigger was pulled with a lanyard from nearby cover. These cutdown ignitor rifle are sometimes confused for Obrez-style Lee-Enfields.
The weight of the cordite charge used dictated the range while a variety of different fuses were used with the projectiles, these screwed into the nose of the bomb. The sphere was about 9.3 inches in diameter with a 2 inch thread for the fuse at its head and a cup for the 22 inch long, 2 inch thick solid cast iron stick or spigot at its base. The sphere was filled with high explosive (Amatol or Ammonal). The high explosive bombs were painted white with a green or pink stripe around their middle.
They were often deployed in batteries of four with three Royal Field Artillery medium mortar batteries attached to each division. The mortars were predominantly tasked with cutting enemy barbed wire and destroying enemy trenches and forward positions, such a machine gun nests.
Captain Griffith described a battery of 2 inch mortars opening fire on enemy lines:
“A pop, and then a black ball went soaring up, spinning round as it went through the air slowly; more pops and more queer birds against the sky. A stutter of terrific detonations seems to shake the air and the ground, sandbags and bits of timber sailed up slowly and then fell in a calm deliberate way. In the silence that followed the explosions, an angry voice called out in English across No Man’s Land, ‘YOU BLOODY WELSH MURDERERS.’
The 2 inch medium mortar entered service in spring 1915 and remained in use into 1917 with British and Empire troops. It was used on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia. Over 800 were ordered initially with 675,000 bombs, many of the mortars were made in railway and agricultural machinery workshops, allowing larger factories to focus on more complex weapons. The 2 inch mortar was superseded by the larger bore Newton 6 inch mortar later in the war. Some of the remaining 2 inch projectiles were re-purposed as makeshift anti-tank mines, buried in no man’s land in anticipation of possible German tank attacks.
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