The Norfolk Regiment in March 1915: A Soldier’s Kit

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

Company Sergeant Major Walter Hipkin's sketch of a soldier's kit

Company Sergeant Major Walter Hipkin’s sketch of a soldier’s kit

For the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, March 1915 was spent in the hard routine of trench warfare at St Eloi on the Western Front.  A typical month for a soldier would be four days spent in the trenches, four in support, eight in reserve and the remainder of time would be spent resting or training away from the front. During their time in the front line trenches the soldiers would experience extreme discomfort, constant shelling and a stream of casualties.

Inspections were an important part of daily routine in the trenches. This drawing of a soldier’s kit was sketched by Company Sergeant Major Walter Hipkin of the 1st Battalion, as instruction to the men in his company to ensure that they had the correct kit laid out ready for inspection by a junior officer.

Men of 9th Battalion outside a camp hut awaiting a kit inspection at Shoreham Camp, 1915

Men of 9th Battalion outside a camp hut awaiting a kit inspection at Shoreham Camp, 1915

If we take a look at the kit that Hipkin has drawn, some items are more familiar than others. The “housewife” that Hipkin has drawn in the middle of the picture is what soldiers called the kit that contained everything that they would need to carry out repairs to their clothing. The “housewife” was also sometimes referred to as a “hussif.”

The P.H. helmet and the box respirator were vital pieces of kit in the event of a gas attack. The P.H. (Phenate Hexamine) helmet was a gas mask issued by the British Army to protect troops against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases. Box respirators were comprised of a mouthpiece connected via a hose to a box filter, which contained chemicals that neutralised the gas and delivered clean air to the wearer.

Hipkin’s note at the bottom refers to a particularly poignant part of a soldier’s kit.  With the outbreak of war, a new red identity disc was introduced. The idea was that this disc should be removed from the soldier’s dead body for administrative purposes, but this led to many unidentified bodies. Some soldiers had their own additional discs made, but it was not until November 1916 that they were officially issued with two – one to be removed and one to be left on the soldier’s body.

This red identity disc belonged to M. Forster of the Norfolk Regiment

This red identity disc belonged to M. Forster of the Norfolk Regiment

Luckily, Hipkin returned home with both of his discs. He went on to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in September 1918 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1919, then served with the 5th (Territorial) Battalion after the war. He was discharged in 1932, after being associated with the Regiment for over thirty-five years.

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