Updated: Dec 14, 2021
The first No4Ts sniper rifles were transported in modified Bren Chests, after a little time and feedback a custom chest was envisioned that could keep the rifle and its key parts / accessories safe during storage and transportation. The examples that remain in original Bren chests indicate that the heavy metal band was removed from the lid and all the internal blocks and features removed and the typical 2 bulkhead block cradles produced SA No 15 style - other changes include deleting the chain lid stops and using the leather equivalents and relocating the carry handle blocks and a rope handle from the ends to the middle of the long sides - as it could now be carried by one person.
The purpose built Chest Small Arms No 15 used metal hardware that was high street / hardware store standard at the time - also the screws, which are now hard to find / specialty store in in raw steel with a countersunk slot drive. Having a few rifles pass by and through my possession I became interested in the other parts in the CES and then of course the chest to keep them.
I have now seen and documented several original chests, some really authentic reproductions and with re-enacting becoming a cottage industry with different replicas from around the world.
The chest is designed to hold the rifle sans sling and telescopic sight in two felt lined cradles, which have removable caps (held on string). In the center cavity there are block of wood to locate and secure the scope tin with the scope within it. At the left hand end there is a thick felt padded space to secure the spotting telescope in its carry tube. This leaving the right end cavity to take the rolled up 1907 leather sling. I have seen a couple with other odd things here too - like scrim scarves.
The No15 chest is different to a Bren chest (back of the line up in the photo below) being taller and wider and the Bren much more heavily built, the lid is remarkable for its steel band around its edges - armour plated indeed! The Bren chest is so heavy that is designed with thick rope carry handles housed on the chest ends for a two man lift.
The No15 chest (middle two of the lineup in the photo above) is different to the C No7 rifle chest (front of the line up in the photos above) as it is taller to house the scope tin and spotting scope beneath the rifle, otherwise the chest is the same width and length. The C No 7 hasps and clasps have protective wooden surrounds and the lid is one board and does not have end caps per the SANo15. The Canadian chests seemed to have pioneered using cut down web rifle slings to make sturdy carry handles.
Some re-enactors I have known have spoken of converting one chest type to another - in reality they are different animals doing the same tasks.
This 1944 dated SA No 15 chest came to me from a popular auction site. Bidding stopped at a lower price than expected, I guess others could not see through the flaking paint to the "good bones" beneath.
These chests are intended to keep the insides and contents pristine and serviceable while the outside shows the rigors of the world. This one shows that all the wood and metal components are intact, along with the felt lid seals. It needs new leather handles, a scrape, sand and paint, then renewed labels and stencils. This one was made in 1944, perfect for my 1944 BSA sniper set and accessories! You can just make out the end caps on the lid above - these were added to the design to provide "along grain" flat surfaces to ensure a good seal.
So with a light scraping and sanding there was considerable evidence of early and original stenciling. These really "popped" when rubbed down with copious methylated spirits in preparation for paint (they were only photo evident when wet this way - otherwise almost disappearing when dry like invisible ink)
In the center of both sides of the chest are the standard "CHEST S.A. No15 Mk1" stenciled markings - interesting to observe them in different sized letters and fonts on the same chest. On the rear left there is (was) "(HAIFA) PALESTINE, NOT PRESERVED". This chest had been part of the expedition to secure British governed Palestine in the 1946 to 1948 period against uprisings by Jewish and Arab factions. This would have been the outbound destination and information - it was sent ready to use - no degreasing and commissioning before work. On the right side of the rear there is (was) "OSD BARGE. WEEDON, (NORTHANTS)" this refers to the central arms store for the UK - Weedon, a large 200 year old store / fort. It was accessible by the Grand Union Canal up until the latter half of the 20th century. "Northants." is an abbreviation for Northamptonshire. The previous destination marks would have been painted over to conceal them when this one was applied and most relevant. On the front left there is (was) "4320, 614/AD/MEMO)/V/3227, ESCORTABLE STORES". On the front right there is "RIFLE" and a large (2 inch) "BA 6247" - this appears to be a catalogue number for the assembled CES kit within (from VAOS) and not an early Maltby serial number. I have seen several of catalogue numbers stenciled on chests - I have still to find a reference source to explain them or explain why are they so different /prolific - I would imagine a new CES assembly number for every significant addition or modification of its contents (addition of the triangular sling swivel in 1944, staking of the scope bracket and scope cradle screws in 1946 etc..). I have had stencils made to reproduce most of the generic stenciled phrases are available in the Store.
The triple red stripes on the lid were found during the strip down of the old paint layers. These were used to identify controllable stores in a shipment or holding area and ensure they were escorted and accounted for (and placed under lock and key at every opportunity). There are several versions of this marking observed on various chest examples - from big bands of red around all sides of the center of the chest to large single bands around each ends. I can only suppose that these stripes were contemporary to the post war storage in Weedon or Haifa. Another feature that appeared while prepping for paint was the marks, grooves and remaining U staples of the chest being roughly bound closed with wire - looped and stapled 3 times around its body and length - presumably for extra security in shipment - or to bind it to other items in the shipment - more scars and signs of deployment..
This chest will also serve as a demonstrator / trials study for restoration and reproduction parts and kits that I am developing and perfecting.
Here we see new hasps, lid felt seals and new folded leather handles with blackened slot head screws and washers. Piece by piece the hardware has been studied and documented the sent out for reproduction to exacting standards, now we are able to offer complete chest kits:
I have now started studying the period war department drawings, an example 1944 real chest and a Warren Wheatfied reproduced chest to start to make repair parts and new chest parts kits. Starting with the rifle partitions and battons from an approved hardwood. The whipping chord cap retainers have also been knotted with "perfection loops".
The first dozen sets of battons and partitions / cradles is now in the woodshop and taking shape with felt for a trial in the real chest as potential repair / replacement kits.
A few sources have worked together to photograph original test markings to compare font details, colors and markings to the current commercial copies (top) and the exact reproductions developed by our brother business in the UK.
I see other chests on my travels and photograph features for reference. Here is a nice example of a lid label, which I used to print up copies for myself and others. The lower example also shows a join in the wood which is now open - making a side from 2 or 3 planks was acceptable - the board having been made with circular saw grooves and biscuits / fillets and glue.
Here are samples of the SANo15mk1 stencils that were applied to WW2 authentic examples found - 3 distinct versions of contents and verbiage have been observed based on the year of production / printing / actual contents of the chest (which varied throughout 1943 to 1945 and beyond).
Warren Wheatfield of Canada produced a small run of reproduction SA No 15 chests for collectors. These feature the longer 4 screw lid hinges which are typical of Canadian built chests (especially the CNo7 trainer rifle chests). The Robinson screw heads which feature both slot and star drive in the same head / bit.
These just in (May 2021) at our Brother Business in the UK - 6 original SANo15 chests to salvage, document and restore. These have already yielded manufacturer marks, hinge hasp and latch hardware details and a variety of original stenciled marking details. More to come as they are assessed and repaired and readied for sale.
Not wanting to document Bren chests in a different thread - were are some more photos and details from a really nice example I just acquired to store my Canadian Inglis Semi-Auto Mk2 Bren in (sold Sept 2021 having built the full chest / CES):