In our latest interview, we had the pleasure of catching up with our good friend Mike Stockbridge. We discuss with him how he first got into collecting historical memorabilia as well as examining the individual stories behind the WW2 related items that make up this collection, including a very interesting Luftwaffe wrist compass.
How did you first get into collecting historical memorabilia and what drew you to history and in particular the Second World War?
My interest in History really started when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I started to receive Christmas and Birthday presents of History Books, Models, Toy Soldiers, etc, and stopped growing up from there! Today, anything to do with History is of interest to me. I probably spend far too much time reading all the Historical postings on Facebook and Twitter!
From an even earlier age, my Dad used to take the family to the Biggin Hill Air Show every year. This is where my interest in the Second World War, really started, particularly in WW2 Military Aircraft. This progressed to reading those Commando Comic Books, Model Making and playing with my Toy Soldiers, which were all hand painted in great detail by me. I’m ashamed to say, I much preferred anything to do with the Germans, who I thought had better Aircraft and Equipment than everybody else, and whose Uniforms and Kit looked a lot smarter to me. Eventually I developed a much more politically correct attitude to things, and the Germans started to take a pasting from my British and American Troops, a bit like the War really. For some reason my interest didn’t extend much to the Russians or Japanese, and that remains the same today.
As for collecting Historical items, apart from one or two things that I occasionally acquired, this really didn’t start until much later in my life. It was mean’t to be part of a business venture, but very soon became a hobby instead!
How long have you been collecting for now and how large is your collection?
I have been collecting on and off for many years, but I didn’t really start to seriously collect Wartime related Military things until around 15 years ago.
The collection is really not as large as you might think. If I were a tidy person and kept things all together, it would fit comfortably into a small Bedroom. Sadly, I will need even less space in future as it is now getting considerably smaller. Last year I started to refine the list of things I wanted to keep and have been disposing of unwanted items since then. The Wife was very happy about this decision!
Can you still remember your very first item that started it all off?
When I was around 12 years old I swapped something at School for a French Adrian Helmet. That is the very first thing I can remember. What I swapped for it and what happened to the Helmet has long been forgotten. I also remember having a few bits of shrapnel, bullets, and shell cases, which were quite common things for Schoolboys to have in those days!
Where do you find all these fantastic historical gems?
Auctions, Antique and Boot Fairs are my favourite hunting grounds. Occasionally I will acquire something privately, or from eBay. However it is getting harder to find things, and these days I spend most of my time looking at Boot Fairs, where with luck and knowledge I sometimes manage to find the occasional piece of Mikes Old Tat!
Having seen a number of photos on twitter which you have kindly shared, you have an impressive array of WW2 related items amongst your collection, including various gas masks, helmets, a 1940s board game and much more. I was hoping you could tell us a little more about these items’ stories and any others that hold a particular significance to you.
Firstly, let me say that I didn’t set out to collect any particular item of wartime memorabilia, as my interest covers virtually everything that was in use at that time! The only thing I’ve never collected are deactivated weapons.
I like to find the more everyday things used, like personal items, pieces of kit, tools, photographs and paperwork. This is partly because these things can still be found if you know where to look and can recognise what they are, and are still usually fairly cheap to buy.
So here are some of the things I have kept with a few details and information about them.
WW2 BRITISH HELMETS
These were some of the first things I started to collect and at one time were a fairly common thing to find. Nearly all have come from Boot or Antique Fairs, and here are three that I have, including two rarer ones, the Airborne Helmet, and the Mk III ‘Turtle’ Helmet.
The standard Helmet during most of WW2 was the Mk II and here is a nice 1939 dated one. I’ve found and owned quite a few over the years, and they still turn up occasionally at Boot Fairs where they are often cheap to buy. I’ve never paid more than £10 for one!
The Airborne or Para Helmet is a much harder one to locate and can be a very valuable item if of the right type, date, and condition. I’ve only ever found two, the first dated 1944, which would have been a fantastic find had it not been painted silver which was impossible to remove! I sold it when I found the one you see here, which is in excellent condition but is actually dated 1956. However, visually it is virtually identical to the wartime dated ones, although not as valuable.
Likewise, the Mk III ‘Turtle’ Helmet is quite rare to find. It was first used on D Day but was only in service for a short time before being superseded by the very similar and much more common Mk IV. Mine is one of the first, dated 1944 and completely original apart from a slightly different shade of green paint applied to the outer shell at a later date. I like to think that it probably was used on D Day but apart from the correct date I cannot prove it!
Gas Masks were once a very common thing to find at Boot Fairs and I used to have quite a few. The only ones I have kept are the ones that I’ve shown here.
The first is the standard British issue to all civilians at the outbreak of the War. I particularly like this one. It’s a ‘been there done that’ item! On the lid it’s marked ‘Dad’ in pencil, and there is a wax ring mark where a lighted candle was once placed upon it. I can imagine the original owner, sitting with his family in the Air Raid Shelter, in the dark except for the candle they have lit and placed on top of the Gas Mask Box, Bombs raining down all around!
The second is also British, a later version which I think were issued to ARP Wardens and Civil Defence Workers etc. Also shown is an Anti-Gas Eyeshields pack (which is basically a piece of clear plastic type material) and a tin of Anti-Dimming ointment, both of which look pretty useless to me! This particular Gas Mask is in an excellent condition and still looks as good as new.
The third is the British Military issue version, as used by our Troops at the start and during the War. This one is dated 1936 and not in the best of condition through years of storage in a shed, none of these Masks were a very pleasant thing to have to wear and this one looks particularly uncomfortable.
The final Gas Mask is also a Military type and looks quite modern. In fact it was first issued in 1944. This one, missing it’s Filter, is interesting as it’s a Canadian issue. You can tell this by the Red Crown and C.F. stamp mark on the side.
Note that it is now recommended that old Gas Masks should no longer be put on and worn, the danger is that the filters (particularly in some of the British Gas Masks) may contain Asbestos, and there is a potential risk of inhaling harmful fibres should they be worn. It is therefore no longer considered advisable to put one of these old Masks on, a thing most of us at sometime or other have probably done!
It might also be worthwhile to quickly mention the other hazards that can be found in old Military equipment. Explosives, Live Ammunition, Gases, Chemicals, etc. can all potentially be present. For example, a lot of collectors now know and appreciate that there is a hazard from the Radium paint used to illuminate the dials in old Compasses, Watches, and Aircraft Instruments, etc. Dismantling without taking the appropriate precautions and risk breathing in the radioactive dust particles that may be present inside them, is not recommended!
So, whatever you decide to collect, consider and find out if any hazards might be present, and also if it’s legal to own it. I remember going to a Boot Fair once, opening an old tin and finding it full of 9mm Bullets, all live. The Seller was completely oblivious to the fact that even owning them without a Licence was a serious criminal offence. Needless to say, they were quickly removed from sale and taken to the local Police Station.
I’m sure you will have heard of these, but probably better known as a ‘Goolie Chit’.
Made of Silk, they were issued to Allied Airman operating in the South East Asia theatre of the War. It was hoped that the local natives would be able to read one of the printed languages on it, and assist the Airman in evading capture by the Japanese in the event of having bailed out over enemy territory.
This example is one of the British versions and was bought at a local Auction several years ago. It is in excellent condition apart from some Drawing Pin holes in each top corner where it had been displayed at some point.
Here we have an RAF Standard Issue ground to air communications signalling device, known as a Heliograph. This particular version was first issued during WW2 and remained in service for many years after. It would have been carried in the pocket of a ‘Mae West’ Life Jacket, it’s principle purpose to attract the attention of an overhead Aircraft from the ground or in the sea, and communicate with it (assuming the Sun was out) by flashing in Morse Code.
Mine came from a Boot Fair, but if you would like to own one, they can be readily obtained on eBay and are generally reasonably priced.
VINTAGE ‘AVIATION’ BOARD GAME
This old Board Game was first produced around 1920 by H P Gibson & Sons, and this particular Edition dates from the 1940s. It must have been reasonably popular, as an updated version was still being made into the 1960s.
The Game is for two players and is played on a board which represents the Sky. There are 84 pieces (42 to each player) of different values, representing aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, balloons, and searchlights. A part of each side of the board is marked as an Aerodrome. The object of the game is to land Troops via one of your Troop Carriers onto your opponent’s Aerodome. The first player to do this is the winner of the game!
Not the easiest game to play, it does require some skill and a good memory. If you want to get hold of one, they can be found for sale on good old eBay!
AIRCRAFT IDENTIFICATION PLAYING CARDS
Whilst I can recognise the silhouettes of the individual Aircraft, I’m not sure how these were used as Playing Cards. A form of ‘Snap’ perhaps?
An interesting wartime item, they show how easily some enemy aircraft could be confused with allied aircraft. Not good if you were in charge of an Anti-Aircraft Battery!
WW2 BRITISH ARMY KIT
Below is a selection of British Army Kit and Headgear all from WW2. These sorts of things are still readily available, particularly from Military Shows, such as the War & Peace Revival held in July every year. This is the biggest Show of it’s type in Europe and well worth a visit!
BRITISH ARMY JACK KNIVES
The iconic British Army Jack Knife, probably the best Knife of it’s type in use during WW2 and for quite a few years after.
Here are four examples I have, each one from different manufacturers and in the two principle types available, spiked version and without. With hundreds of thousands being made, these can still be found readily, especially at Military Events, although most of mine came from Boot Fairs where I tend to find several every year.
WW2 GERMAN ASSAULT OR SELF PROPELLED GUN PERISCOPE/SIGHT
A rare find, and probably one of the most unusual Military things I have ever found at a Boot Fair!
German Armoured Vehicle Periscope/Gun Sight manufactured by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (Code BEH). This could have been used on a number of types, but most probably the Stug III or Jagdpanzer IV. German optics during the war were excellent, and this example is no exception.
It is in nice condition with good original paintwork and has to be one of my favourite things in the collection!
LUFTWAFFE WRIST COMPASS
Many of the items that I have acquired over the years have little or no known history attached to them, other than the basics such as age, use, origin, etc. But this standard issue Luftwaffe Wrist Compass is very special to me as it was ‘found’ by an old friend of mine during the War. It was given to me last year, and I am still researching all the details, but here is the story behind it I have managed to piece together so far.
On the evening of 23/6/44, Junkers Ju 188F-1 F6+JL 281620 from 3/(F).122 took off from Soesterberg Airfield in the Netherlands on a Night Photo Reconnaissance Mission of the English East Coast Ports. It was carrying two cameras and a crew of five.
Flying above near total cloud cover, the Junkers ended up crossing over the Suffolk Coast where it was located and caught by Night Fighter Mosquito XVII HK257 from 25 Squadron, Piloted by W/C Wight-Boycott DSO and Navigator F/L Reid.
The Junker was shot down and Oberlt. Kasper, Oberfw. Hupke (Observer), Uffz. Morweisser, and Uffz. Werkhausen were all killed. Uffz. Scheel survived, being flung out of the Aircraft as it crashed. He eventually surrendered himself at the local Post Office.
My friend, who was 14 years old at the time and lived nearby, heard the Aircraft come down. Early the next morning he decided to go looking for souvenirs of the crash. luckily for him he ‘found’ one or two things, including the Compass (with one of the strap links missing were it broke) that you see here. This year, I hope to get more details and try to visit the crash site, although most of the wreckage would have been cleared a long time ago.
Thank you to Mike for talking with us in what I am sure you will agree, has been a fascinating insight into his WW2 collection.
You can find out more about Mike’s ever growing array of historical memorabilia by following him on Twitter : @stockotrader #MikesOldTat
Have you any WW2 related items?
We would love to hear about them in the comments below.
Photo Credits: Spitfire and Mustang formation flying at Biggin Hill Air Show, Flugzeug Junkers Ju 188. All other images contained in this post have kindly been provided by Mike.