This is where your re-enacting character comes to fruition, after you have all of your basic load out of uniform, weapon and combat gear you can start adding items to make you less of just a manikin and more of a World War 2 Paratrooper with an identity and a background story.
Identity discs (dog-tags)
The easiest and one of the more important items to start with has to be a set of identity tags, stamped up with your details in the correct method. These can be gotten from a whole range of places, and dependant how fussy you are, can even be got from Soldier of Fortune. The tags are not as correct as like too say they are, but it's close enough. There are some much better companies however, I use one in Belgium, he stamps them up and the tags are spot on in every details to the original WW2 tags, unlike almost every other company.
When you join the unit, you'll be issued a serial number and all your details will be taken, so once we make you ID documents, they will contain all the correct details. This serial number will be on lots of your kit. Including the tags of course.
The U.S. Army began issuing serial numbers to help avoid mixing the records of people with the same name. Each number has its own meaning, besides being a sequential numbering system.
Some prefixes were used in World War I. However, the following system began shortly before World War II. The first character gives us a lot of information.
1 = Enlisted in the Army (in other words, volunteered rather than drafted)
2 = Federally recognized National Guard
3 = Drafted
4 = Drafted
O (that’s the letter O, not a zero) = Male commissioned officers
W = Male Warrant officers
T = Flight officers (Army Air Force)
L = Commissioned officers of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
V = WAC Warrant officers
A = WAC enlisted women
R = Hospital dietitians
M = Physical therapy aides
When you have an 8-digit serial number, the second number shows the Service Command. This narrows down where the person enlisted or was drafted. If you have a serial number for a member of the WAC, look at the number after the letter prefix. There’s an exception. Remember those serial numbers that begin with “2,” showing National Guard service? You need to look at the 3rd digit. The second digit for those will always be a zero.
1 = Connecticut Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
2 = Delaware, New Jersey, New York
3 = Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia
4 = Alabama, Florida, Georgia Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
5 = Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia
6 = Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
7 = Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming
8 = Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
9 = Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington
0 = When the first number is 3, the zero means he was drafted outside the U.S. (301 indicates Panama; 302 indicates Puerto Rico)
Exactly like today, any item of clothing with pockets always gets stuffed full of items. The military uniform these soldiers lived in would be no different. From simple items like period coins and bank notes. Chewing gum packets. Receipts. Identification and other paperwork. Notebook and pencil. Envelopes/writing paper. Small bibles. If you can think of something small, it was probably rammed into a soldiers pocket at some point. You almost have complete freedom here!
You know at the point you need a footlocker to put all your kit in, that this hobby has taken over! However, there is almost no reason to take these to an event, it is a handy way to store and keep all your items organised well at home. There was no strict order that a foot locker should be laid out in, mainly as soldiers would all have very different contents. However, it had to be both neat and organised.
Not only are the contents completely up to you, but you also get some freedom to name/number and unit it should you wish and have the talent to do so!
A very interesting WW2 original footlocker belonging to an Afro-American soldier. Who covered the inside of the lid with photos of his girlfriend or wife and also a piece of Americas darker history of a segregated shower sign, although its tiny. So may be on some type of leaflet? Clearly though this made an impact on this soldier enough to put it on the inside of his footlocker!
For myself, this is probably one of my most guarded, most used and the handiest of all my items! Original WW2 dated mess kits in great condition can be picked up with as little as a £10, sometimes less, then postage is your only problem. However, a few days ago I paid a mighty £3 for a 1945 dated mess tin, and paid £6 postage all the way from the US. Result! I asked the seller if he had any more. He said yes, nicer ones too. A deal was struck, in fact I had a whole pile of items. $10 shipping for the lot! £10 a mess tin. Both being Knapp-Monarch, being made slightly more famous during the Band of Brothers scene when Malarky is talking to the German PoW and tells him "that was about the time I was tooling propeller shafts at Monarch" They also stamped out mess kits during the war.
There are plenty of sellers selling reproduction Knife, Fork & Spoon (KFS) sets, in fact the design didn't really change for decades. You should pick up a set for around £10. The spoon is all you really need for your impression, usually kept in the pocket of a jump suit. However, trying to eat a fried breakfast with just a spoon is a challenge!
Almost 101st trooper took took a complete mess tin into the jump, it was just something that could be done with out. The canteen cup filling in the role of the mess tin and usually just a spoon being used as both fork and a knife as well as its intended role of a spoon. However, a complete mess tin is a really handy thing to be used either before the public arrive at shows, or after they go and for training weekends.
Tent / Bedding
Second to eating, sleeping being the other thing I do best at in life. All enlisted soldiers would have been issued a PUP tent, these are a little more tricky to source. However, with some looking about they can be found at reasonable prices. The earlier style, with one end open are less popular and sell for less. However, if you want a closed tent, you'll need 4 tent sections to make one loooooong tent! Pup tents are a hand thing, they are small, easy and quick to put up, dead easy to take down but not that much room inside them! Even less when you think they were designed for two men and their kit!
They also don't come with a ground sheet, the idea was to gather up grass, hay or anything else similar that was available to form a base/bed, pack the sides of the inside of the tent with something to keep in the warmth. I used a couple of large grain sacks, they just about get you off the ground and give a barrier between the floor. However, being a little more creative I could have made my self more comfortable. I'm just lazy and I sleep like the dead, so it never bothered me.
I just stumbled across a dealer who sells two OD closed shelter halves for £35! Bargain, although this is without pegs or poles, those are bot cheap and easy to find. Its the shelter itself that can be the tricky bit to find. HOWEVER! Before you all start getting excited, these are in used condition, most are wartime dates, with a few being just post war. They may have small repairs, loose buttons etc. So be aware of this. OR alternatively you can buy two really nice examples of the open ended canvas PUPs from the same seller for £105 (again, no pegs or poles) these are at GI SUPPLY. (they also make excellent T-handle entrenching tool covers)
I recommend getting a good sleeping bag though. Preferable green, just as its easier to hide from the public. Don't get an original, it will get destroyed quickly. Although you do see original WW2 sleeping bag covers. Those can be put over modern sleeping bags. Failing that, the issued WW2 brown blankets are really easy to purchase now. Always around the £20 mark. Throw those over your sleeping bag and the public never know! Also that does a good job of an extra layer over, or under you!
Just be aware that although PUP tents are great for sleeping in, for most events we won't be using them as the 101st didn't jump into Normandy with them.
Almost all items of clothing would at some point have been marked with what has become know as laundry marks. In the pattern 'A1234'. A being a first letter of your surname and the 1234 being the last four digits of your surname number. This was to solve the problem of returning items of clothing back to soldiers when it was washed on mass either by the military or civilians in England.
The more standard stamps that are found all have the same sort of look to them, see the photos. These were all custom made on order and the stamps are found on almost everything! Sometimes you'll see multiple soldiers stamps on one item where it has been handed in and reissued. A unusual and weird things to do as a reenactor as its unlikely for our kit to get too mixed up, but it is another example of high attention to detail that we do which takes very little effort. You could either write it on in ink, either a marker or pen. You could make a rubber stamp yourself. As I'm sure it would just involve cutting some rubber and sticking it on a bit of wood. I recently as a bit of an experiment had a stamp custom made for with my sons laundry mark on it and it came out and works fantastic!
Original example below of a stamp and markings inside a pair of trousers.
If anyone wants a stamp to be made with their details, then just give me a shout. Happy to do it at the price they charge me and you can save a few quid if you don't order the ink with it and just use mine.
Keep it clean! - wash kit
Every soldier would have certain items to keep clean. Some the bare minimum and others would have everything to stay as clean and fresh smelling as possible. My own kit is shown below as I portray an officer I felt that I maybe should have a more inclusive wash-kit that the average stinking rifleman.
Just like everything else we carry, this wash kit isn't for show. The razor is used, the shaving dish contains a block of modern shaving block to be lathered up using the brush. The Kolynos tooth powder is full of modern powder (trust me when I say that filling it is amusing). The tooth brush is a really good quality repro. The Pebeco toothpaste is a fantastic reproduction that is full of modern toothpaste specifically made for the living historian in mind. The metal soap box has a cut down block of soap inside.
Just like today, most men had a wallet and being in the army wasn't too different. You still had to keep money and similar items somewhere, some opted for money belts, others kept on using a wallet. Modern wallets usually have far too many slots of credit cards. Where as period ones would only have between 2-4. These being used for calling cards, receipts and tickets. Below shows a modern wallet that has had the middle section removed, that section had about 8 credit card sized slots! So had to go. The paper money is from the books sold on eBay that we make and the coins are all original.
Excellent, my favourite topic! Food! Everything modern can and will be hidden. Modern tins and can can be easily disguised behind paper printed labels. Either the odd can of British can that someone felt really necessary to take, or French/Belgian that has been 'liberated'.
Chewing gum can be easily slipped out of its original label and then replaced with wartime ones.
Lifesavers are in fact the long packs of fruit polos, so even the contents of those look like the originals.
The small boxes of Milk-Duds are in fact chocolate covered raisins and are proving a real winner with a few of our members.
With a little imagination anything can be turned into appropriate wartime food. Rustic loaves of bread I wrap in brown paper. The same with slabs of cake and shortbread fingers, in fact brown grease proof paper is really handy!
We have a good supply of labels made by Miss Drop 44 that can be utilised and if they don't fit, we can edit them or make things from scratch for those odd sized cans like the can next to the Campbells soup one shown above.
Life's little luxuries
Sometimes when you have to carry all your kit in your musette bag, even the smallest luxuries make all the difference you you being miserable of not when you spoke for breaks. I drink vast amounts of coffee and so every chance I get, out comes the coffee and milk cans, tiny box of sugar, ration heating block and my canteen cup.
For some it seems every break is all about lighting up a smoke. Modern cigarettes or tobacco can be put into all sorts of packets, boxes, wrappers or bags. Matches are a really useful things, you may not smoke, but I bet you like hot food and a nice warm fire!
Light! - Flashlights/Candles
For most soldiers it was next to impossible to get a flashlight, there was huge shortages in supply and the demand was vast. For most soldiers at night they had to reply on the good ol' candle. These again were always in demand and would often be request in mail sent home. Usually one of the most commonly requested items, secondary to food and things like gloves and scarves.
Sounds hardly like anything exciting, but these simple scarfs made by various organisations back in the US would prove really handy. I have seen guys wrap it around there neck, round there head under the helmet, use it as a pillow on top of other items to make it more comfortable and I'm sure given some thought it has other uses. I can supply these scarfs to anyone that wants one. £15 with a label or £12 without.