The Development of the Mills Woven Cartridge Belt 1877-1956

The History of the Mills Equipment Company

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MILLS WOVEN CARTRIDGE BELT. Recorded by ALBERT A. LETHERN, O.B.E., Managing Director of the Mills Equipment Co. Ltd., assisted by notes prepared by WILLIAM P. WISE, the first Managing Director (up to his retirement), published by THE MILLS EQUIPMENT COMPANY LIMITED, 56 VICTORIA STREET, LONDON, S.W.1.

coverThis thin volume is not only the sole account of the history of the British Web Equipment Industry written by a first hand observer, but it is arguably THE most important work on the history of British and Empire Web Equipment.

Albert Alexander Lethern was "on the scene" when the Mills Equipment Company, Ltd., (M.E. Co.) was founded on 1st October, 1906. Just months before, in April of 1906, he began his career as a junior in its predecessor company, the Mills Woven Cartridge Belt Company of London, England. Still only a youth, Lethern had a hand in the most important Company designs right from the first. He recalled the excitement in the firm caused by the imminent arrival of Major Arnold Burrowes in July, 1906, and was involved in the intense design effort that followed. Although his name does not appear on the original British patent for the Mills-Burrowes Infantry Equipment (which would become the Web Equipment, Pattern 1908 - the single most important design in the history of personal military equipment), Mr. Lethern was listed as a witness in the equivalent U.S. patent, No. 874,945, approved 31st December 1907. He would go on to contribute to just about every design that M.E. Co. produced; would file twenty-six British patents, eleven Design Registrations, and ninety-seven foreign patents; and would eventually rise to become Managing Director of the Company.

pageWritten on the occasion of M.E.Co.’s Golden Jubilee, The Development of the Mills Woven Cartridge Belt 1877-1956 is a short but fascinating history of the British Mills Company and, to a large extent, of the history of British webbing of the 20th Century. Coupled with the facts, many of which are available nowhere else, there are tantalizing hints of history not related – for me at least, this book needs to be ten times as long as it is.¹ The photographs, and there are many, are invaluable to the student of British web equipment. There are occasions when Mr. Lethern’s recollections don’t square up exactly to the historical evidence, but that is certainly excusable in a brief retelling of an old man’s memories of a long and successful career. If you glance through this website, you will see, again and again, references to and quotes from this book.

The pictures above show the cover and title page (signed by A.A. Lethern) of the rare first printing. That edition is almost unobtainable today, but the book has been reprinted at least twice. The first re-issue was, I believe, in the 1980’s. It is in yellow wraps and was issued by The Ordnance Chest. The second re-issue is more recent, and is still readily available in new condition on the internet. It is also in yellow wraps, and was released by R. Stephen Dorsey. I highly recommend that any interested reader acquire a copy.


1. It appears that the Great Man himself did not share this view. R.J. Dennis reports that he wrote to Mr. Lethern in the early 1970s on this very subject. In his reply, Mr. Lethern made it clear that he did not understand the interest. He saw no need for any further investigation into these matters, feeling that “…it had all been written…”.