A Mysterious Australian Military Water Bottle and Pannikin…

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I haven’t yet positively identified which era this is from. I’ve been told variously –

  1. That it’s an inter-war item made for the CMF (AKA the Militia – forerunner of today’s Army reserve)…
  2. That it’s from the pre-World War One era…
  3. That it’s an item of WWII Australian jungle equipment…
  4. That the bottle isn’t for water at all, but is a kerosene or battery acid bottle…
  5. That it’s a reverse Lend Lease item made for US forces in WWII…

There’s no documentary evidence or historical photos to prove any of this either way. I have my own theories on the origin of these bottles, but let’s take a look at the facts, so here’s what we do know about the set –

The Water Bottle

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The bottle is made from sheet metal, and is enamelled black on the inside and green on the outside. Examples of these bottles can be found with black, blue or green exterior enamelling. My two bottles have green enamel. The construction appears to be welded rather than soldered. Unlike the normal MkVI enamelled water bottles in Australian service during the WWI and WWII eras, there are no “tin-can” tops or bottoms, which means no wired rims or soldered seams.

The standard MkVI bottle of the era has an 1150ml (one Imperial Quart) capacity, but this one has an odd 950ml (one US quart) capacity, same as the US M1910 canteen.

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Unlike the normal corked closure of the MkVI bottles, this one has a rather complicated bayonet fitting with a sprung cork gasket inside the stopper. The stopper itself is steel and has a finely knurled edge and an oxidised brown/black finish.

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One of my bottles is completely unmarked, while the other is ink stamped with “RF” and a broadarrow mark on the base.

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These bottles were designed to be fitted with a wool cover as per the standard WWI / WWII MkVI water bottles. Above is a picture “from the internet” of one of these bottles with an original wool cover. The cover is in the same well-aged, slightly hardened and shrunken condition as Boer War and WWI bottles I have handled and owned. In Australia during the First World War at least, the MkVI bottles were issued with a separate wool cover which was to be stitched up by the soldier. One of my own green enamelled 950ml canteens is fitted with a reproduction wool cover since I use it while swagwalking.

The Pannikin

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The Pannikin is of the “Canteen Cup” style. It has a folding handle and nests with the water bottle, in the same fashion of the US M1910 canteen and cup of the same era or the modern canteens and cups in use today by Australia, the US, UK and many other nations’ armed forces.

The Pannikin is made of pressed or drawn sheet metal with a wired rim. There are no seams at all in the body of the pannikin. To the body of the pannikin in soldered a tinned metal plate which mounts the wirework handle.

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The inside of the pannikin is galvanised and since I haven’t cleaned it, the inner surface has cosmolene preservative. Under this, the galvanising appears bright and fresh.

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The outside surface of the pannikin is roughly dip-tinned rather than electroplate tinned. Interestingly, there are places on the outside where the tin is still bright, because it was sitting under the leather straps of the water bottle carrier.

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The wire handle of the pannikin folds under not unlike a modern Australian or a US 1910-to-Vietnam era canteen cup handle. It has a wire loop which is swing down and fitted into a tab, which holds the handle rigid while in use.

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The pannikin nests quite loosely with the green enamelled 950ml bottles and is quite noisy.

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When said bottle is fitted with a wool cover, the pannikin nests perfectly – tight enough to not rattle, but not so tight that it’s difficult to remove the bottle from the pannikin.

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It should be noted that the pannikin also nests well with a felt-covered MkVI water bottle, although the latter can be a little harder to withdraw from the pannikin than the wool-covered 950ml bottle.

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The Pannikin has an “A” stamped on it above an inverted broadarrow. No other markings appear on the pannikin at all.

I believe the pannikin is original to the bottle. Both are old but unissued,

The Carrier

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The carrier is a standard WWI-era (if not before) MkII leather water bottle carrier. These are sometimes known as a “Pattern ’03” carrier, as a “Light Horse” carrier, and in Australian service these were known during WWII as an “OS” carrier – which means “Other Services” i.e. not line units such as infantry, engineers or artillery. Transport drivers used them a lot, as did the VDC, which was our version of the Home Guard.

Best known for their use by the Australian Light Horse during the First World War, these are a great design. I use a modern reproduction one while swag walking. The design is such that the bottle doesn’t need to be removed from the carrier to have a drink, and due to the continuous loop shoulder strap, it moves smoothly and easily without disturbing any other slung or worn equipment.

This one has a few markings on it which are interesting. First is on the cloth section of the shoulder strap, as pictured above, which is marked with “6MD” and “4 13”. 6MD can only mean 6th Military District, which from 1908 onwards meant the Tasmania area. Is “4 13” a date? April 1913?

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Second is a stamp on the bottom of the carrier which reads “9 19 CMF M”. I can’t really decipher that, but the “19” could be 1919 and the “CMF” is probably “Citizen Military Forces” i.e. the Militia.

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There are two names written on the carrier, one of which has “1918” under it which can just be made out.

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There are no manufacturer’s markings and the carrier has the straps sewn together rather than with copper rivets and burrs as per my 1918 and 1942 dated examples. I’d say it was originally issued in 1913, sent back to stores where someone received it in 1918, then reissued to a Militia soldier in 1919. It’s not a stretch since you often find WWI-manufactured examples which have WWI AND WWII service numbers scribbled on them.

I don’t know if this carrier is original to the set, but it has been with it for a LONG time – since the pannikin was new as evidenced by the bright, untarnished patches of tin on the pannikin underneath the leather of the carrier.

Addressing the rumours…

It’s an inter-war item made for the CMF…

Maybe. I’m not sure if that style of construction was used during WWI, the pre-WWI or the inter-war era. What about galvalisation? Well, it was first used on an industrial scale to protect metal components in Wales in the 1840s, so the tech was certainly available in the 19th Century. In the early 20th Century, from 1900 onwards there were galvanising works in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

That it’s from the pre-World War One era…

Maybe. We know that the galvanising technology was available. The wool cover on the example earlier in this post definitely looks original to the bottle and certainly looks as weathered and hardened as the WWI and Boer War examples of water bottles I’ve owned. The carrier, assuming it is part of the original set, has a 1913 date.

That it’s an item of WWII Australian jungle equipment…

Maybe, but I think it pre-dates WWII by several decades. Looking at what it is – i.e. a 950ml water bottle with a nesting cup, it’s pretty much the same concept as a US M1910 canteen and cup. Australia couldn’t directly copy the US items since our manufacturing base wasn’t equipped to manufacture such items out of valuable aluminium or corrosion resistant steel materials at least not until the end of the war, so the idea of a home-grown US style canteen and cup set makes sense. The green bottles could have been made on the existing production lines and the pannikin is pretty simple. However, where are the usual “D/|\D” markings which appear on most Australian equipment of the WWII-era? I believe the bottle and pannikin pre-date the introduction of the “D/|\D” marking, which was at least 1942.

That the bottle isn’t for water at all, but is a kerosene or battery acid bottle…

Nope. But there’s a reason why people have thought this. After WWII, a whole bunch of blue enamelled bottles of this type were released as army surplus. They were purchased by a kerosene company, pasted with a paper label, filled with kerosene and sold as handy kerosene decanters for filling lanterns, stoves, heaters and fridges. I have heard of them being used for sulphuric battery acid as well. Personally I think it was greedy bastardry for this company to be selling water canteens filled with poisonous liquids. I wonder how many kids suffered poisoning from these during those days? I don’t think the army would have commissioned a poisonous liquid container which looked just like a water bottle, fit perfectly in a water bottle carrier and had a matching cup!

That it’s a reverse Lend Lease item made for US forces in WWII…

Highly unlikely. The US Army ordnance Corps has very rigid specifications for all equipment, and these canteens and cups would not have met them since they don’t use the specified materials, closure types or shapes/sizes. The bottle with cup doesn’t quite fit in a US M1910 canteen cover. Australian industry, like British industry could have manufactured canteens and cups to the specifications, but using enamelled steel instead of aluminium or corrosion resistant steel. There are so many of the pictured enamelled water bottles floating around that it’s unlikely they were prototypes for a US contract. They appear to have been made in made in huge numbers.

So do you have a theory, or can you poke holes in my logic? Please post away.

One thought on “A Mysterious Australian Military Water Bottle and Pannikin…

  1. Hi,
    Almost certainly not made for U.S. use, as you are correct instating that it would have been marked as such. In WWI, the French produced M1918 mess kits for the US, made of tinned steel instead of aluminum, and were stamped with “U.S. 1918 FRANCE” (date of manufacture and country of origin). During WWII, some U.S. equipment was produced overseas, most commonly web gear and uniform items, but it was all marked with “U.S.” I have a WWII canteen marked “U.S. 1945 BELGIUM”, but it’s made out of corrosive-resistant steel (CRS), the same as U.S. made canteens. A limited number of early-war canteens were made using enameled steel, but proved unsatisfactory and were soon dropped.
    Another theory might be a limited purchase of already existing designs from a civilian contractor to
    make up for early war shortages of equipment (?). Another example of civilian equipment finding its way into military service, prior to entering World War I U.S. Army officers purchased their own mess gear, most often from civilian sources. Abercrombie and Fitch produced a combination mess kit and canteen (similar to the British pattern) that was popular, but would not have been marked as “U.S.”.
    Hope this helps.

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