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! A footlocker can also make a fantastic kit display at events. Nothing looks more impressive than a large tent all opened up with a row of cots and at the foot of each bunk an open footlocker all laid out ready for inspection. There was no strictly order that a foot locker should be laid out in, 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!
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 do a good job of an extra layer over, or under you!
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.