1901 REVOLVER SETS
To meet the Navies' needs for the dawning century a new standard pattern of landing party webbing sets was developed, termed the 1901 pattern, a note to the lists of changes 11110 read ; "They differ from all previous patterns of Naval accoutrements in the leather employed which is of a darker shade of colour and much thinner," at first sight the revolver set seems rather odd as the revolver is worn opposite the cutlass with the holster on the right which of course means a left hand draw for the revolver, placing the handgun on the wrong side helps weight balance countering the cutlass and ammunition pouch nicely making this a very comfortable set to wear, it is possible that this arrangement was intended to permit a cross hand draw of both cutlass and revolver together which is almost impossible for anyone as right-handed as me so the Jacks of the time would have needed constant practice to make this work.
The Junior Warrant Officer (under ten years in the role) wears a double breasted jacket with a row of three buttons per cuff, originally from 1878 this row of buttons was worn below cuff stripes by commissioned officers until 1891 and then from 1891 until 1918 was worn by Junior Warrant Officers replaced by a half stripe after ten years at that rank, from 1921 onwards this row of buttons would signify a Chief Petty Officer, the holster worn is the widely seen short variant.
The double breasted jacket was adopted in 1889 after two years the ten front buttons were reduced to eight, the cap badge dates from 1846 (although the first version was tiny) and pre-dates the peaked cap by ten years, the longer variant holster was first seen in 1915 to accommodate the longer barreled Webley mark 6.
The major revolvers in Naval service in 1901were the powerful .455 Webleys in marks one, two, three and four, the mark three shown finalized the design of the automatic extractor which pulled spent cartridges from the cylinder when the gun was opened and guided fresh rounds into place, this speeded up the slow reloading process which was the main drawback of all revolvers, 8,000 mark threes were made with military serial numbers but only 2,015 were issued in one batch all to the Royal Navy only in 1897, the remainder were made available for private purchase but their desirability was somewhat limited as the new mark four followed only two years later manufactured from harder metals, over 36,000 mark fours were made until production ceased in 1904, the Naval mark three has a large N stamped on the rear metal strip between the handle grips but the example shown here is marked "Army and Navy CSL" which stands for Army and Navy co-operative society limited so it was privately bought, all mark threes were declared obsolete in the 1930s and as they were returned for repair they were scrapped with the surviving handful being finally deleted in 1947, each mark of Webley introduced a new round and the mark three bullet was based on the technology developed at the Dum Dum arsenal in India of expanding rounds first used for .303 rifles, with a soft blunt nose and low velocity propellant bullets would spread out on impact, deemed un-British this type of ammunition was withdrawn from service and then banned as unlawful by the Hague convention in 1899 so the Navy reverted to the earlier mark two rounds declaring the mark three rounds obsolete in 1902.
The left picture shows the mark one Webley and some 20,000 were in use from 1888 joined in 1896 by the similar mark two, obsolete by the 1930s all were discarded in 1947, the center picture shows the iconic mark six .455 introduced in 1915 with over 100,000 being made, the lead headed mark two round which had a shorter brass case than the mark one became the standard ammunition for the Royal Navies' Webleys until 1939.
There were five standard issue Naval cutlasses beginning with the 1804 pattern which had an iron checkered grip and a 29 inch blade joined from 1845 by a version with an iron ribbed grip and a heavier 28.5 inch blade, the 28 inch 1887 pattern had an iron ribbed handgrip with a black guard, the 1889 model had the same grip with a bright steel guard while the 1900 pattern had a two piece riveted leather grip with the bright steel guard, the last three types featured a slot for a leather wrist lanyard, most had a two figure year of manufacture code stamped near the base as on the example seen here with .03 meaning made in 1903, it also has an E inspection stamp so was made by Enfield, a large x is a proof mark (bent right back without snapping) and the presence of a ships rack number on top means there was almost certainly never a scabbard made for this example.
The Naval ratings jumper was first introduced in 1906 replacing a frock type canvas top, the jean collar dates from 1838 and the silk cap tally was officially introduced in 1868, undetected crime stripes were first seen in 1849 and sennet hats for tropical service were discarded in 1921 for pith helmets.
The first two variants of the left hand draw holster were for the shorter Webleys, a riveted joint was used in preference to stitching, the first model (left pic) had a larger flap and was marginally longer overall than the Mk II type, from 1902 Admiralty directives called for all Mk Is to be locally cut down to Mk II size.
The long Mk III pattern holster was first introduced in July 1915 for the six inch barreled mark 6 Webley, not produced for as long as the shorter variety all types were in service until the 1920s.
Officially designed for 42 rounds the ammunition pouch could hold 2 x twelve round .455 packs or 6 x six round paper packets plus 6 x bullets held on external loops intended to only be used when a situation got dire but were of course generally used first much to the chagrin of Petty Officers, the example shown was made by Martins of Birmingham Limited in 1902.
The cutlass frog worn on the left featured a nicely hinged lower half which tilted aft to aid the withdrawal of cutlass from scabbard, the main body had six rivets to take the strain, from 1903 the main body was made tighter.
The leather belt was holed around its length to accept the brass equipment hooks giving a wide range of adjustment, when one considers the average size of Jacks at the time this adaptability seems remarkable, the fixed slide loop became removable from 1904.
The shoulder straps termed braces were linked together by a rear brass ring which held the mess tin set, the multi-way brass hooks at the brace ends are easy to fit and considerable adjustment is possible via the three inch brace adaptors.
New to the Royal Navy in 1901 were the Dee-shaped mess tin sets, based on an Army design the brown dyed sail canvas cover looped onto the belt and a separate strap joined the brace ring, from 1903 this strap was sewn onto new issue covers.
Although supposed to be replaced by the 1919 pattern webbing the 1901 revolver sets were re-issued in the 1920s as a stop gap due to the slow procurement of 1919 sets caused by a lack of finances, they were then issued again in late 1940 due to the rapid wartime expansion of the Royal Navy with 40,000 temporary officers and half a million "hostilities only" ratings joining the fleets.
The 1940 re-issued pouches had their outside bullet loops removed as this 1901 dated example also by Martins of Birmingham shows, it has also been refitted for further service with a new closure tab, the resurgence of 1901 revolver sets were short as most of this vintage webbing was replaced by newer patterns as soon as possible.
From 1941 at least one manufacturer (Barrow Hepburn and Gale) was offering newly made 1901 ammo pouches in a tawney brown colour although this was not to a Naval contract so sufficient original stocks must have been available, as can be seen these private purchase examples deleted the outside loops entirely, this maker also offered tawney versions of the long third pattern mark six holster which remarkably were still left hand draw despite the fact that the cutlass had retired from front line Naval use five years earlier.
BHG also made a black leather version of the private purchase ammunition pouch from 1941 and black dyed versions of the tawney pouch above have also been spotted.