Post-WWII polish-type web renovators

Inspired by the Royal Tank Regiment’s use of boot polish to blacken their webbing it was suggested in 1947 to the War Office that this practise should be extended to all units. The method was much less messy and time-consuming than the traditional cake of Blanco, a rag and water – and was much more practical in use too, giving both colour and waterproofing as well as being easy to touch up.

The authorities did not take kindly to the idea but the War Office did ask the Ministry of Supply to produce something like boot polish, in the right colours, to take the place of traditional Blanco.

The answer came in an experimental renovator with a wax content which made it not only waterproof but shiny (dates for certain August 1949 if not before, made by Patrol Polishes Ltd of London W1 – see here). With camouflage in mind, the War Office sent it back with a request that the shine be taken out. As it turned out, this was not entirely possible, and the Army had to accept a certain amount of shine.

Soldiers tested the new renovator in the Ministry of Supply’s Clothing and Stores Testing Establishment at Chatham and it had world-wide troop-trials in 1951 and 1952. A number of proprietary cleaners were also tried out but none was found as good as that produced by the Ministry of Supply.

NAAFI has now been asked to arrange for a manufacturer to produce the Army’s renovator, and it will be sold exclusively by NAAFI. It may cost the soldier slightly more to treat his equipment the first time with the new renovator that it did with Blanco. Afterwards, however, it should be cheaper to keep the equipment looking smart by retouching. The renovator must be used sparingly to prevent caking.

The renovator can be used on 1944 pattern webbing. This was waterproofed and it was forbidden to use Blanco on it. The new renovator, it was claimed, will improve the waterproof properties of the equipment.

The ousting of Blanco ended the clouds of dust rising from rifle slings when large parades were ordered to present arms and it also meant the end of countless Blanco jokes. The one the manufacturers liked best concerned a Guardsman who staggered into an outpost, after days lost in the desert, gasping, “Water, Water!” He was handed as water-bottle, and croaked, “At last – at last I can Blanco my webbing.”

The Pickering’s new tinned ‘polish’ type renovator was supplied in RAF Blue-Grey in 1954 with the Army being supplied at the end of 1954 in the Army approved colours of KG3, 61, 97 and 103.

Change number 6355 in The list of Changes for December 1954

Buff- K.G. No. 61 (Cat No HA 13694)
Khaki, Green, Dark – KG No.3 (Cat No HA 13693)
Light – KG No. 103 (Cat No HA 13696)
Medium – KG No 97 (Cat No HA 13695)

The above are introduced for service to replace the following
Olive Green No.3 (Cat No HA 12802)
Olive Green No.D61 (cat No HA 12804)
Olive Green No.C103 (Cat No HA 12805)

Dated 3rd September 1954.

The trade name of Blanco had gone and was replaced by Pickering’s – the end of an era for sure.

Subsequently, products like Quippy and Fleet came to the market as competitors (fairly easy, being established manufacturers of similar product types) but Pickerings and later Properts were the official and approved products. White was never supplied in this form though, as a satisfactory product couldn’t be produced, so the age-old cake was retained along with more liquid bottled and tubed products. Quippy production continued until after 1989.

Still, in the form of noun-turned-verb Blanco retained its place in Army life as squaddies busily ‘blancoed’ their webbing. Well, ‘polishing’ or ‘renovating’ your webbing just doesn’t sound right!

Finally, a nice nugget of information comes from contributor Duncan Nisbet, that gives testament to the ‘polish’ type renovator’s waterproofing qualities “One of the advantages of the 50’s Pickerings was that a recently blancoed side bag could be turned inside out and used as a water carrier. Did that a few times.”

Written by David Pratt