Body shield: padded wrap-over waistcoat made of khaki/green fabric fitted with two patch pockets with button-down flaps to the lower front. The garment is secured by three buttons to the upper right shoulder and a further four that are placed vertically to the right. There is a single short cloth strap that is fitted to the back panel that further secures the waistcoat closed by being buttoned to a short cloth tab fitted to the front right. A strap is fitted to the left of the waist, being a short strap that engages into a metal double-pronged buckle for further adjustment. All buttons are made of wood and are fitted with split pins for removal.
The fabric conceals soft padded sections fitted to both front and back.
At the outset of the First World War no army was prepared for the challenges that were to unfold where thousands of men died as a result of wounds that they might otherwise have survived if they had have worn better protective personal equipment. The widespread use of high explosive artillery shells, which threw splinters, shrapnel and other lethal fragments, on the Western Front inflicted horrendous wounds on those clothed in soft uniforms with little head protection. Protective headwear in the form of steel helmets was adopted by most combatant armies by 1916 and that precaution enabled many to survive wounds caused by low-velocity and secondary impact missiles that earlier would have claimed one in four as fatal. Of all wounds 60% were to the extremities with 20% to the head and neck, and 20% to the torso, therefore other protection in the form of body armour was given consideration. In Britain no fewer than eighteen designs were commercially produced, made for sale and often purchased by anxious relatives for sons serving overseas. First tried in battle in 1915 body armour was, as far as British usage were concerned, used mainly on an individual basis as it never became a universal issue (it is understood that only enough body armour was available to equip 2% of the army).
Of the types used by British personnel, there were three main categories: Rigid 'hard' armour (often composed of metal plates sandwiched between fabric and worn as a vest or waistcoat); Intermediate armour (various forms of small square plates of metal attached to a canvas support to form a protective waistcoat); Soft armour (made of layers of silk/cotton/tissue and linen scraps sandwiched in fabric waistcoat). All three general types had inherent problems: rigid armour was heavy and thus uncomfortable and not practical to wear in the assault, whilst the separate metal links of the intermediate, if hit with sufficient energy, could embed in to the man's body with the projectile, and the latter although sufficient to absorb the impact of low-velocity strikes (as intended), was rendered useless in wet weather when saturated.
This item, of the 'soft' category, was manufactured by the County Chemical Company of Birmingham* and weighed 6 pounds, consisting of a 1-inch-thick wadding of multiple layers of silk and fabric as outlined above and sandwiched within a fabric waistcoat. Reckoned to withstand a pistol round traveling at 300 feet per second, the Chemico Body Shield was lightweight and reasonably effective. Pockets fitted to the front of the garment permitted grenades, a compass, ammunition or tools to be carried for immediate access. Indeed, the Chemico was often favoured by specially trained 'Bombers' who would lob hand grenades into trench networks and bunkers ahead of assault troops and who would require extra protection from his own fragments in such close-quarter fighting. This particular example was used by Lance Bombardier Arthur Edwin Wheeler of the Royal Garrison Artillery who enlisted 15 June 1917 and who served on the Western Front from 17 October until being invalided in 1918.
*Another variation of the Chemico had an additional abdomen pad that could be buttoned to the lower front.
A, Applied by hand in blue ink to the inside back of the waistcoat.
B, Printed in black ink to a white linen label attached to the inside back of the waistcoat.
PERSONAL REQUEST TO EVERY WEARER
OF THE CHEMICO BODY SHIELD
The inventors desire to collect authoritative
evidence of lives saved and wounds avoided
by the use of the Chemoco Body Shield, and
will gladly welcome any letters giving an
account of incidents.
THE COUNTY CHEMICAL CO. LTD.
Bradford Street. BIRMINGHAM