One piece of British/Commonwealth militaria that is consistently misidentified is the cobalt-blue enamelled water-bottle. Although its color often leads people to assume it is an accoutrement from the Great War, blue water-bottles were produced well into the post-WWII era. This brief overview of the commonly encountered variants will, hopefully, serve as a guide to collectors and allow them to determine for themselves whether a bottle is being misrepresented by a seller. This list is by no means complete or perfect and any input/pictures from other members of this forum would greatly contribute to the general knowledge!
The Bottle, water, enamelled. (Mark V.) was introduced in March 1903 and featured a funnel spout as seen below…
This pattern was replaced in a few months by the Mk VI which was identical, with the exception of a normal spout. The Mk VI was one of a number of patterns used by British and Empire Forces in the First World War and the Interwar years. It was replaced by the Mk VII in November 1939, which featured a small wire ‘eye’ for the stopper cord and often green enamelling. Although many Mk VII water-bottles were produced in a green color, blue was still used on some variants. This leaves the wire loop as the only dependable difference between the Mk VI and the Mk VII.
The Mk VI water-bottle used in the First World War was officially of the form with a molded, rounded top and a “tin can” type base. These lacked any type of wire ‘eye’ since stopper cords were stitched directly to the felt covers.
Another Great War Mk VI variant featured “tin can” type top and base, which give the bottle a more rectangular appearance (again with no loop of any kind).
Yet another variant featured a flatter, molded top and a completely flat base.
If you are looking for a British enamelled water-bottle from the First World War, it should be one of the three aforementioned styles.
With the start of the Second World War and the introduction of the Mk VII, a number of variant blue-enamelled bottles were produced across the Empire.
The National Electric & Engineering Company, Limited and Kia Ora Galvanizing, Limited produced around 2,000,000 cobalt-blue Mk VII bottles. These are often identifiable by their removeable felt covers (with a drawstring closure) and use of wooden or rubber stoppers. When the cover and stopper are missing, New Zealand water-bottles can be identified by their “tin can” type top and base (very similar to the Great War variant) and, more importantly, the presence of a wire ‘eye’ at the BACK of the neck of the spout. Note the rubber stopper and the location of the wire ‘eye’ on the example below
Canada’s first Mk VII water-bottles were very similar to the Mk VI’s of the First World War, complete with cobalt-blue enamel, old pattern felt covers, and 18 inch stopper cords. However, Canadian Mk VII’s featured a wire loop on the left shoulder of the bottle that was completely obscured by the cover. Canadian bottles were very close to the official pattern with a molded, rounded top and a “tin can” type base.
Bengal Enamel produced large quantities of crudely made cobalt-blue Mk VII water-bottles after the Second World War. These were most likely used by the Bangladesh and Indian armies, which were still using Pattern 1937 webbing. It is unclear if Bengal Enamel produced these Mk VII’s during the Second World War, since the earliest examples seem to date from the 1950’s. Indian water-bottles have a A)“tin can” type top (slightly curved) and base B) flared spout and C) conical neck joint with a D) wire loop to the left side. Most Indian water-bottles are marked on the bottom and a variety of stoppers are seen including cork, wood and rubber.
After the Second World War, the Royal Air Force produced huge quantities of cobalt-blue Mk VII water-bottles. These often have the blue-grey wool covers that were introduced postwar. Prewar and wartime RAF water-bottles used drab covers concealed by blue-grey Pattern 1937 sleeve carriers. These bottles are often sold as First World War Mk VI bottles, despite the presence of the wire ‘eye’ welded to the left shoulder and neck of the bottle. RAF bottles follow the official pattern with a molded, rounded top and a “tin can” type base.
Australia manufactured the following smaller variant water-bottle, most likely in the interwar years, with a metal ‘bayonet mount’ stopper.
Australia produced truly Mk VI water-bottles during the Second World War, that lacked any form of wire loop. These bottles featured stopper cords stitched directly to their covers, rounded shoulders within a flat “tin can” seam on the top and a “tin can” type base. Second World War Australian bottles also feature stoppers marked with Australian “D/|\D” acceptance marks as well as acceptance marks directly on the bottles in the form of letter codes surmounted by a broad arrow.
It is unclear to the author whether or not Australia produced its own Mk VI water-bottles during the First World War and if these are distinguishable from later examples. Any input from Australian members would be greatly appreciated!
I hope this overview has been interesting and informative. Thanks for reading!