This short story is a classic example of how items of ‘kit’ were issued, and then re-issued within the Australian Army before and during the Second World War. In the modern era, this ‘kit is now classed as MILITARIA and is collected world wide by keen enthusiasts.
The story evolves around an 03 Pattern Waterbottle. This style of military equipment was patented in 1903, hence the number allocated to the leather waterbottle carrier that was designed to carry the blue enamelled steel – Mk IV and Mark V waterbottles. Colloquially known amoungst modern collectors as a “Lighthorse” Waterbottle carrier, it was in fact used by all mounted troops, drivers and artillerymen who generally were issued with other 03 pattern equipment – such as the leather ammuntion bandolier etc. However, if you look very closely at photographs of the First World War, it is not uncommon to see infantrymen and soldiers from other Corps also utilising this piece of equipment. The advantage, as compared to the 08 Pattern of waterbottle carrier – is that it was a separate piece of kit that could easily be removed from the person in one piece. The 08 carrier which formed part of the Infantryman’s webbing was generally attached to the other parts of the rig and not as easily or quickly removed.
In fact, the 03 Pattern Waterbottle Carrier had a very long and successful service life and I have even seen items stamped with the manufacture date of 1944. Not bad for an item designed at the turn of the century.
Apart from the C.G.H.F. (a Government run factory producing leather items for Military use during World War One) there were a number of private manufacturers – commissioned to make leather equipment for the Australian Imperial Force. One such company, BECKERS of Brisbane made the actual waterbottle carrier, that is subject of this tale. Where it went after leaving the factory in 1916 is not known, but on the body of this particular carrier and the strap near the canvas shoulder piece – is stamped the regimental number “21 L H” which we know to be the 21st Australian Lighthorse Regiment.
The 21st Lighthorse Regiment; prior to 1921 – was known as the 28th (Illawarra) Lighthorse Regiment. When the Militia re-organised in 1921 – it was redesignated from the 28th to the 21st (Illawarra) Lighthorse Regiment and encompassed the localities bounded by Arncliffe near Sydney, Milton on the south coast and Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands of N.S.W. With further changes and re-structuring taking place within the Australian Army prior to the outbreak of World War 2, the 21st L/H was reformed from the 1st/21st L/H (NSW Lancers) as a seperate unit and became known as the 21st Lighthorse Regiment “Riverina Horse”. Its Headquarters was based at Wagga Wagga and it included localities such as Cootamundra, Stockingbingal, Narranderra, Griffith, Holbrook, Urana, Culcairn, Tumbarumba, Gundagai, Tarcutta and Lockhart in N.S.W.
So now we have a waterbottle carrier, made in 1916 and possibly issued to a digger during the First World War (OWNER No. 1 ??) – then placed in stores at war’s end. This bottle was subsequently drawn from Army Stores and allocated to the 21st Lighthorse Regiment sometime between 1921 and 1939. Being an ‘inter war’ Militia unit, one can only speculate exactly how many troopers utilised this bottle – but there are two names on one side of the canvas shoulder strap. Both of these names are crossed out using indelible pencil and heavily faded, but one is almost certainly “K. KRAKE”. The second name starts with the letter “B” and consists of approximately 8 or 9 letters of which the last four are either “bell” or “bolt”. In the absence of service numbers next to these names, we can reasonably attribute these names to either WW1 or Militia service. Either way, they certainly account to being OWNER’s No. 2 and No. 3.
Now here is where it really starts to get interesting.
On the reverse side of the canvas shoulder strap are three service numbers attributable to New South Welshmen in the 2nd A.I.F. – the name “B.FLETCHER and the initials “D.B.W.”
A check of the World War Two nominal role shows a number of men with the name “B.FLETCHER”. As the style of handwriting is different to any other on the waterbottle carrier and does not match any particular service number, it is either a WW1 naming or Militia Lighthorse naming. This makes him possibly OWNER No. 4.
In very neat writing is the start of the service number “NX3”. I would suggest that some soldier has started to write his service number and simply did not finish it. Less likely – is that this bottle was once issued to the man of which this number is attributable to; that of NX3 Kenneth William EATHER. This distinguished soldier enlisted on the 16th of October, 1939 and discharged on the 17th of September, 1946 at the rank of Colonel. He was born in Sydney on the 6th of June, 1901 and whilst possible, I consider this issue to be unlikely. Still, we may class this marking on the bottle as being OWNER No. 5.
There are the initials “D.B.W” and a service number above this, but these have both been heavily crossed out and the service number is totally illegible. Again, this style of handwriting is different to other samples on the carrier, so this may be considered to be OWNER No. 6.
One number which is very legible, is NX23506 with the name “R.L. HARDEN” immediately below it. Records reveal this man to be Ralph Lindsay HARDEN of Murwillumbah NSW. Ralph was born on the 26th of April, 1910 and he enlisted into the 2nd AIF on the 31st of May, 1940. He rose to the rank of Sergeant, before discharging from the AIF on the 15th of October, 1945. The World War Two Nominal Role records his unit on discharge as being the 2/4 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment. His name and number have been crossed out, so quite clearly he was not the last person to be issued with this waterbottle. But we may be safe in assuming that he is OWNER No. 7.
The last service number scribed onto the carrier is that of NX20112 Frederick James STAGG. Born in Marlborough England on the 12th of September, 1909 – he enlisted into the Australian Army on the 04th of June, 1940 from Paddington and discharged on the 29th of July, 1944. The WW2 Nominal Role has his unit on discharge as being the 2/3 Australian Light Anti Aircraft Battery.
As Sgt HARDEN was in the 2/4 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment – and Frederick STAGG was in the 2/3 Light Anti Aircraft Battery, it is possible that these two units shared the same “store” and that the bottle was re-issued from one man to the other.
If all of the possibilities mentioned above, happen to be correct – and the markings which are evident suggest it to be true; then this makes Private Frederick James STAGG to be OWNER No. 8.
Now that’s not a bad service life for one little waterbottle.