By Jean-François LEGENDRE
At the end of World War I, numerous experiments were conducted in an attempt to design disposable, thus cheap and reliable, belts for the British Vickers machine guns. Indeed, maintaining and continuously reloading the conventional stripped belts became an extremely difficult task in the tough conditions of trench warfare.
A solution was found with the idea of preloaded disposable belts packet in sealed tin boxes. Consequently, a key feature must be cheap price and ease of manufacture.
Besides the common so-called stripless belts with cartridge pockets obtained either by weaving or by stitching, another, and a considerably scarcer variant, is known as "Mrs. Wardroper's belt." This disposable belt design gets its name from its inventor, Mrs. Annie Emelia Wardroper of London, who patented specific improvements for a machine gun belt in 1919.
The complete British patent specification has been filed under the reference 149,064 on December 4, 1919 and accepted on August 6, 1920. The objective of the claimed improvements is no less to provide a machine gun belt which is cheaper, more easily manufactured, more flexible and more easily filled than those hitherto proposed.
The belt is constructed of two pieces of webbing that are joined together by means of metal eyelets alone, which at the same time form the pocket for the receipt of the ammunition. The eyelet near the upper edge is claimed wider than the others so that the cartridge pocket will be narrower at one end than at the other, and therefore that the cartridge be prevented from cross-feeding. Finally one strip of fabric is claimed wider than the other to facilitate the insertion of the cartridge.
As the author Dolf Goldsmith indicates in his book on Vickers machine guns The Grand Old Lady of No Man's Land, the Wardroper's belts underwent official tests in 1920 but were considered unsatisfactory and the project was dropped.
The potential of industrial applications of these improvements might have been considered important as exactly the same patent had been applied for in France on July 6, 1920 and accepted with patent No. 519.038 on January 15, 1921. However, just like in Great Britain, this belt design had no success in France.
The Wardroper's belt is today an extremely scarce collector's item and although some short fragments might surface from time to time, no surviving complete belt has ever been reported so far to the author.
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