New Zealand Military Load Carrying Equipment, 1945 – 1975

Military Personal Load Carrying Equipment, often referred to in the New Zealand vernacular as “webbing”, is the assortment of belts, straps, pouches and other accessories which, when assembled, allows an individual soldier to easily and comfortably carry the tools of their trade, such as ammunition, rations and water to sustain them for short periods. Many period photos of New Zealand soldiers on operations and training from the Vietnam War era to the 1990s provide the impression of an army equipped with an eclectic range of Australian, British and American equipment. This view of New Zealand’s army’s equipment was partly correct. To see how this view was shaped this article provides an overview of the evolution of New Zealand’s military load-carrying equipment from 1945 to 1975.

Commander-in-chief, United States Army of the Pacific, General R.E Haines (right) watching weapon training at Waiouru. 2 May 1970 Evening Post

During World War Two, Operations in Malaya, Burma and the Pacific identified many shortfalls in the suitability of training, tactics and equipment, resulting in the Lethbridge Mission to the Far East during the late war. As a result of the report of the Lethbridge Mission, it was decided to modify the standard 37-pattern equipment to make it lighter in weight, rot-proof and more water-repellent and thus more suitable for use in tropical conditions. This development of the 37-pattern equipment led to the approval of a new pattern known as the 1944-pattern.[1] Post-war, further development of the 37 and 44-Pattern equipment led to troop trials of the Z2 experimental Load Carrying Equipment, which transitioned into the 1958-pattern equipment.[2]

Following World War Two, the Load Carrying Equipment in use by the New Zealand Army was the British 1937-pattern equipment. The 37-pattern equipment was introduced into New Zealand service in 1940, replacing the 1908-pattern equipment that had been in service since 1912. As 37-pattern equipment remained the standard web equipment of the New Zealand Army, the deployment of New Zealand troops to Malaya placed New Zealand in the position of deploying troops to a theatre with equipment that had long been identified as unsuitable. To maintain compatibility with other commonwealth forces in Malaya, 44-pattern equipment from British stocks in Malaya was issued to New Zealand troops in Malaya.

Example of 37-pattern equipment. Image: Simon Moore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwnMIdynO8Y

. Given the environment that New Zealand troops could be expected to operate in and aware of the developments in load-carrying equipment, the New Zealand Chief of General Staff (CGS) requested and received one set of M1956 Web equipment from the United States for trials in 1959.[3]  The American M1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE) had been accepted for United States Army service, with distribution well underway by 1961.

In October 1960, the New Zealand Director of Infantry and Training demonstrated the following web equipment to CGS.

  • 44-pattern Equipment
  • 58-pattern Equipment
  • M1956-pattern Equipment

A report by a New Zealand Officer attached to the Australian Jungle Training Centre at Canungra supported this demonstration with a comprehensive report describing the research and development of Infantry clothing and equipment undertaken by the Australians. The New Zealand report described the Australian trials of the M1956 LCE alongside the 58-pattern equipment. The M1956 was chosen by the Australians, who intended to manufacture it in Australia.[4] However, it was considered unlikely that either the 1956 LCE or 58-pattern equipment would be available to New Zealand until at least 1965 when the initial distribution to the United States and British armies was expected to be completed. Aware that all 44-pattern equipment had been earmarked for use in Malaysia and that it was still in production, New Zealand’s CGS approved the purchase of 6000 sets of 44-pattern equipment to re-equip elements of the New Zealand Army.[5]

Example of 44 pattern equipment, British Corporal, Malaya, Early 1950s. Image Simon Moore https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=2346362332163840&set=a.421629590114595

Following advice from the UK, the 44-pattern equipment in use with the Fare East Land Forces (FARELF) was to be wasted out as the 58-pattern equipment was introduced, implying that the New Zealand Battalion would need to be equipped with the 58-pattern equipment before the ceasing of maintenance of the 44-pattern by FARELF. With this in mind, a recommendation was made to purchase 6000 sets of 58-pattern equipment instead of the 44-pattern equipment.[6]

Example of 58-pattern equipment. Image Simon Moore. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=2080097568790319&set=pcb.2080098398790236

In a June 1961 memorandum to Cabinet, the Minister of Defence highlighted that the current 37-pattern equipment used by the New Zealand Army was not designed for Jungle operations and was unsuitable for carrying the extra equipment the soldier engaged in this type of warfare required. No longer used by the British Army in any part of the world, the stage had been reached where the replacement of the 37-pattern should be delayed no longer. As the 58-pattern could not be made available to New Zealand for some time and field trials had cast doubt on its suitability for use in the Southeast Asia theatre, it was considered that re-equipping of the New Zealand Army should proceed with the 44-pattern equipment. The 44-pattern equipment had proved itself and was known to be suitable in the theatre where New Zealand troops were most likely to be employed. It was assumed that by the time the 44-pattern equipment needed replacement, the full facts on the suitability of the 58-pattern and the M1956 web equipment would be available to make a more informed decision on its adoption by New Zealand. It was recommended that Cabinet approve £45645 plus freight to purchase 6000 sets of 1944 Pattern equipment. [7]

By October 1961, it became clear that the 58-pattern was to be the standard issue web equipment for all United Kingdom forces worldwide and that distribution to the forces in Malaya was to happen much earlier date than earlier expected. Because of this, the Army secretary desired further investigations on the suitability of 58-pattern web equipment and, if favourable, confirm costs and potential delivery dates. With the requirement for web equipment again in flux, the submission to purchase 6000 sets of 44-pattern equipment was withdrawn pending further research.[8]

By May 1962, plans for reorganising the New Zealand Army from a Divisional to Brigade Structure were under implementation.[9]  With approximately 50000 complete sets of 37-pattern equipment distributed to units or held in stores, this was deemed suitable to equip the bulk of the Territorial Force and Training units. The 58-pattern equipment was now in serial production and was the standard issue for all United Kingdom troops, with distribution to operational units in Malaya and Germany underway. Information received earlier was that because of limited production, stocks of 58-pattern would not be available for release to New Zealand for some years had been revised. It was now possible that the release of 58-pattern equipment to meet New Zealand’s requirements could be achieved earlier than anticipated. Based on this revised information, New Zealand’s Cabinet approved funding of £58750 on 10 October 1961 for 6000 sets of 58-pattern Web Equipment. [10]

Before placing a firm order for New Zealand’s requirements of 58-pattern equipment, reports received from Malaya in late 1962 indicated that the 58-Pattern equipment was, in its present form, unsuitable for use in operational conditions in South-East Asia.[11] It was anticipated that modifying the 58-pattern equipment to suit the conditions would take two to three years, an unacceptable delay in procurement as far as New Zealand is concerned.[12]

As the decision on New Zealand’s web equipment remained in flux, the New Zealand Battalion in Malaysia continued to be equipped with the 44-pattern equipment maintained under a capitation agreement with the United Kingdom. At New Zealand’s expense, one hundred sets of 44-pattern equipment were also maintained at New Zealand Battalion Depot at Burnham Camp to support reinforcements.

M1956 Web Equipment

As the time factor involved in modifying the 58-pattern equipment was unacceptable, and New Zealand was receiving an increasing amount of American equipment, the decision was made to trial the American M1956 pattern web equipment. The M1956 equipment had already been introduced into the Australian army, so twenty sets were purchased from Australian stocks for New Zealand’s trials.[13]

Following user experience in Malaya revealing that the 58-pattern equipment was falling short of the requirements for jungle operations, a series of investigations and user trials established that the US M1956 pattern equipment was suitable for use by the New Zealand Army. The funding for 6000 sets of 58-pattern Web Equipment was requested to be reprioritised to purchase 10000 sets of M1956 equipment direct from the United States and 400 sets of 44-pattern equipment to equip the increment for the FARELF held in New Zealand.[14]

With funding endorsed by the Minster of Defence and approved by the Cabinet, orders were placed for 10000 sets of M1956 web equipment direct from the United States. The first consignment arrived in New Zealand in early 1964, with 289 sets immediately issued to the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) and 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery.

Instructions for distributing the M1956 web equipment were issued in June 1964 by the Quartermaster General. The initial purchase of 10000 sets of M1956 web equipment was to be issued to the Combat Brigade Group (CBG) and Logistic Support Group (LSG) units. Units of the Combat Reserve Brigade Group (CRBG) and Static Support Force (SSF) were to continue to use the 37-patten webbing.

 NMDCMDMOD (for CMD Trentham UnitsSMDMOD StockIssued SAS/ 16 Fd Regiment
CBG & LSG312230304012028310289
1st Reinforcement Reserve3162606198  
School of Infantry 40    
TOTAL343833304072226310289

As the issue of M1956 equipment progressed, units of the CBG and LSG were to hand back stocks of 37-pattern equipment to their supporting District Ordnance Depot except for

  • 08-pattern packs and straps
  • 37-pattern belt, waist web
  • Frogs bayonet No 5[15]

The 37 Pattern belt, waist web, was to be retained by all ranks as a personal issue authorised by NZP1 Scales 1, 5, 8 or 9. The belt and bayonet frog were to be worn with Nos 2A, 64, 6B, 7A and 7B orders of dress when other equipment items were not required to be worn.

Equipment Maintenance Policy Statement (EMPS) 138/67 issued by Army Headquarters on 20 November 1964 detailed that except for the CBG and LSG, 16000 sets of 37-pattern equipment were to be maintained for use by remaining elements of the New Zealand Army.[16]  EMPS 145/65 was issued on 12 February 1965, detailing the management of 44-pattern equipment in New Zealand. The First Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) in Malaysia was to remain equipped with the 44-pattern web equipment maintained by the UK under the existing capitation agreement. Other than 100 sets of 44 Pattern Web equipment maintained at the Battalion Depot in Burnham, there was no provision for equipping 1RNZIR Reinforcements and increments of 31 Medium Radio Sub Troop who could be expected to deploy to Malaysia at any time. EMPS 145/65 rectified this by establishing a stockholding of 400 sets of 44-pattern equipment at the Main Ordnance Depot (MOD) at Trentham

Approval was granted in November 1965 by Army HQ for the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC) and NZSAS to blacken their M1956 web equipment. The Royal New Zealand Provost Corps (RNZ Pro) was also approved to whiten their M1956 web equipment. This approval only applied to unit holdings, not RNZAC, NZSAS or NZ Pro members attached or posted to other units.[17]

By April 1967, most of the New Zealand Army was equipped with the M1956 equipment. The exceptions were.

  • The New Zealand Forces in Malaysia and South Vietnam, who used both the M1956 and 44-pattern equipment
  • The SSF, National Service Training Unit (NTSU) and New Zeeland Cadet Corps (NZCC), who still retained the 37-pattern equipment

The manufacture of 37-pattern equipment had long been discontinued, and New Zealand stocks had reached the point where although having considerable holdings of individual items, based on the belts as the critical item, only 9500 sets of 37-pattern equipment could be assembled.

Based on the projected five-year supply to the NTSU, Army Schools, Camps and the NZCC plus 10% maintenance per annum, there was a requirement for 12000 sets of 37-pattern equipment. Arranging production to meet the shortfalls was deemed cost-prohibitive, and as continued maintenance could not be guaranteed, it was decided that additional sets of M1956 equipment were to be purchased. The additional sets were to be purchased on a phased program over several financial years, with 5000 sets of 37-pattern retained for the NZCC.

Disposal of the 37-pattern was to be phased over three years.

  • 1967 all items surplus to 9500 sets
  • 1968 3000 Complete sets
  • 1969 all remaining 37 Pattern equipment less 5000 sets for the NZCC.[18]

M1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE)

In 1967 the New Zealand Army trialled three sets of the M1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE). Not specifically designed to replace the M1956 equipment, the M1967 equipment was designed for use in tropical environments and was introduced into the United States Army service in 1968.

The New Zealand trials found that the M1967 equipment was comfortable and weight-wise was similar to other web equipment in use. The pack worn on the belt was found to be heavy when fully loaded, and a pack similar in size to the 44 Pattern should be introduced, and the belt pack reduced in size by one-third.

It was identified that all the pouches required stiffening and that the plastic fasteners were not firmly attached to the pouches, although easy to operate. While using Velcro was found simple to operate, it was seen as a disadvantage due to noise and its inclination to pull apart when wet or under stress.[19]

As the M1956 was still being introduced, no further action was taken towards large-scale procurement of the M1967 equipment. However, many elements of the M1967 equipment were included in the design of the M1972 All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE), which was introduced into New Zealand Army service in the 1980s.

Example of M-1967 MLCE. Image Simon Moore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwj59bifFMk

Although the 44-pattern web equipment continued to be used by New Zealand units in Southeast Asia, by October 1967, the decision had been made to standardise the M1956 equipment across the New Zealand Army, and no stocks of the 44-pattern equipment were to be retained in New Zealand.   All stocks of 44-pattern web equipment held by the MOD in Trentham for 1RNZIR Reinforcements and increments of 31 Medium Radio Sub Troop were issued to 1 RNZIR based at Terendak camp in Malaysia. As this stock held by 1RNZIR was wasted out, it would be replaced by M1956 web equipment. [20]

Large Ammunition Pouches

The Australian experience had shown that although the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) Magazines fitted inside the M1956 ammunition pouch, it was a tight fit, especially when the webbing was wet. The initial solution was to modify 37-pattern pouches and fit them to the M1956 equipment. By 1967 the Australians had developed an indigenous ammunition pouch for the M1956 equipment., The Australian Ammunition Pouch Large (8465-66-026-1864) was manufactured out of cotton duck material and measured 81/4 Inches high by 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep.

Australian Pouch Ammunition Large

To ascertain the suitability of the Australian large ammunition pouch for New Zealand service, fifty Australian pouches were sourced as a standardisation loan in 1968.[21] Feedback for the troop trials identified a lack of stability in the closure of the lid, causing the loss of ammunition and magazines. Following an investigation by the R&D Section, the RNZAOC Textile Repair Sections (TRS) modified the Australian pouches by replacing the lid fasteners with the same fasteners found on the standard American M1956 pouch and stiffing the fastener tabs. The modifications proved satisfactory in further Army Trials, and a new specification (DRDS-ICE-1) was produced with four Standard Samples provided to 1 Base Ordnance Depot (1 BOD).[22]  The modified New Zealand Pouch was codified in the New Zealand supply system as Pouch Ammunition Large (6746-98-103-4039).[23]

Detail of New Zealand Large Ammunition Pouch riveted lid fasteners

Although the R&D Section had ascertained that the manufacture of the pouches was possible in New Zealand using imported components, the initial production run of 20000 pouches was contracted through the Australian Department of Supply to be included in the current Australian production run.[24]  By 1974 the first production run of 20000 had been completed and returned to 1 BOD for distribution, with 2/1 RNZIR in Burnham one of the first units to receive the new pouches. In May 1974, 2/1 RNZIR submitted defect reports stating that the pouches were poorly designed, with the canvas tongue used to secure the lid failing, pouches becoming insecure, and magazines dropping out.[25]

The investigation by the Directorate of Equipment Policy and the R&D Section found that the faults were not a design problem but a quality assurance issue in that the pouches had not been manufactured following the specification.[26]   Comparing the Australian-manufactured pouches against the specification, the R&D Section identified the following visually detected defects.

  1. Canvas used to manufacture strap-holding assembly instead of webbing.
  2. Clip end strap is wrongly sized.
  3. Release tab is of incorrect thickness.
  4. Polypropylene stiffener not inserted in release tab.
  5. The male fastener is not secured to the PVC stiffener.
  6. The reinforcement piece behind the male fastener is not included (between the PVC stiffener and lining).
  7. Additional smaller reinforcement piece inserted between the outer cover and the male fastener.
  8. Broad arrow marked on the outer cover and not specified.

Of these defects, only serials 3 to 7 were directly considered to contribute to the deficiencies and the initial concerns raised by 2/1RNZIR and would require rectification, and a modification instruction was produced.[27]  Modification of the pouches would take until September 1977 to be completed.[28]

Due to the Broad Arrow Mark included on the first batch of 20000 New Zealand Large Ammunition Pouches, these items are often misidentified as Australian pouches by collectors.

White Web

By 1973, 37-pattern belts, rifle slings and bayonet frogs remained in use as ceremonial items. Whitened using proprietary shoe cleaner and paint, these items were badly worn with the whitener flaking easily and were easily marked by weather, fingerprints and the rubbing of other equipment. The M1956 pattern web belt was not considered suitable as a replacement as it was operational equipment requiring the breaking up of complete web sets to provide items for ceremonial events. Following the British lead, a polythene, four-ply woven fabric of similar appearance and texture to the 37-pattern equipment was approved for use by the Army Dress committee in October 1973 as a replacement for the whitened 37-pattern equipment. With the sling and bayonet frog designed for the SLR, these would be purchased with either chromed or brass fittings. The material for the belts was provided on rolls which could be cut to the required size. Buckles and keepers were 37-pattern buckles and keepers drawn from existing stocks that had been chromed and polished.[29]

Combat Pack

By 1974, one of the few pre-1945 items of load-carrying equipment remaining in New Zealand service was the 08-pattern pack. Long identified as an unsuitable item, several trials had been conducted since the mid-1960s to find a replacement combat pack. Although a few alternative items had been investigated as a replacement, the 08-pattern pack remained the principal combat pack of the New Zealand Army.

In 1969/70, the requirement for 15000 combat packs to replace the 08-pattern pack was identified. Following evaluation by the equipment sponsor, the Australian Army Combat Pack was selected as a basis for developing a New Zealand combat pack. The Australian pack was chosen from a wide range of military and civilian packs, with the design modified to meet the particular training requirements of New Zealand. The modifications to the Australian pack were limited to comply with the following:

  • The pack must be compatible with Australian Army equipment.
  • The pack must be compatible with M1956 equipment currently in New Zealand service.

Against the advice of the R&D section, the Australian pack was modified by the New Zealand Army without a proper study being conducted.[30] The decision to bypass the R&D process resulted in a prototype process that extended from 1972 to 1974.[31] By June 1974, trials on the prototypes resulted in the setting of a standard design for a production run of one hundred packs for further trials.[32]

The New Zealand version of the Australian combat pack was eventually accepted into service in 1975/76. Never a satisfactory pack, the R&D section began investigations to find a replacement in the early 1980s, with the American ALICE pack introduced as an interim replacement in 1984.[33]

New Zealand modified Combat pack

Conclusion

Entering the Second World War with web equipment of the same pattern used since 1912, New Zealand’s Force soon began to be re-equipped with the most modern British web equipment, the 37-pattern from early 1940. Near the end of the war, New Zealand was kept abreast of the development of web equipment, and when New Zealand troops arrived in Malaya in the early 1950s, they were issued with the most modern type available for jungle warfare, the 44-pattern. As the New Zealand Army reorientated from providing a Division to serve in the Middle East to providing a Brigade Group to serve in South East Asia, it could not wait for the British to develop their new 58-pattern for tropical conditions and examine other types. Following Australia’s lead, the American M1959 equipment was adopted in 1964, with components of this type serving thought to the early 2000s. With five different types of web equipment either adopted or trialled between 1945 and 1974, it is no surprise that components got intermingled. This led to Kiwi soldiers’ preferences and experiences leading them to create webbing sets that they found practicable rather than options prescribed in SOPs or instruction books leading to the outside impression of the New Zealand army been one equipped with an eclectic range of Australian, British and American equipment.


Notes

[1] 86/Development/47 (SWV1) Report on the Development of Personnel Fighting and Load Carrying equipment 1942-48 February 1949. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern,” Archives New Zealand No R17189098 (1944 -1966).

[2] 86/Dev/54 (SVW1) Instruction for troop trials of Z2 Experimental Load Carrying Equipment ibid.

[3] New Zealand Joint Services Mission Washington DC JSM 1/3/13 ARM US Army Load Carrying Equipment (Web) dated 23 September 1959ibid.

[4] Attachment to JTC – Canungra dated 21 October 1960 “Stores – New Infantry Equipment for New Zealand Army,” Archives New Zealand No R17189007 (1959-1970).

[5] Army 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment dated 20 December 1960 “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[6] Army 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment dated 20 December 1960ibid.

[7] Memorandum Minister of Defence to Cabinet dated June 1961ibid.

[8] 246/60/12/adm Army Secretary to Minister of Defence 2 October 1961ibid.

[9] Damien Fenton, A False Sense of Security: The Force Structure of the New Zealand Army 1946-1978, Occasional Paper / Centre for Strategic Studies: New Zealand: No. 1 (Centre for Strategic Studies: New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, 1998), 111-20.

[10] Army 246/60/12/Q(E) Brigade Group Equipment Replacement Web Equipment dated 8 May 1962 “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.” -pattern equipment

[11] BM 2 to FE16002SD General HQ FELF to The War Office (Brig Q Eqpt) 1958 Pattern Web Equipment dated 4 October 1962: ibid.

[12] 57/62 NZ Army Liaison Staff, London to Army HQ dated 17 October 1962 ibid.

[13] Army 246/60/12Q(E) Sample US Pattern Web Equipment dated 12 December 1962 ibid.

[14] 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment for the Field Force dated 18 October 1963 ibid.

[15] Army Reqn 208/63/Q(E) dated 9 June 1964 -Distribution of M1956 Web Equipment “Cookers – Web Equipment: Pattern ’37,” Archives New Zealand No R17189095 (1940-1971).

[16] EMPS 138/64 of 20 Nov 1964 ibid.

[17] Army HQ Army246/60/12/PS3 of 19 Nov 1965 ibid.

[18] Defence (Army) 246/60/2 of 26 April 1967 ibid.

[19] 1 Ranger Squadron NZSAS, Trial Report US Lightweight Equipment dated 21 March 1968″Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern,” Archives New Zealand No R17189099 (1966 -1969).

[20] Army 246/60/12/Q(E) EMPS 145/65 Frist Revise dated 5 October 1967 ibid.

[21] “Cookers  – Web Equipment: Slings, Bandoliers, Ammunition Pouches: Development,” Archives New Zealand No R17189101 (1968-1970).

[22] Def HQ/R&D Section 82/1974 dated 28 Jun 1974.”Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches,” Archives New Zealand No R17231111 (1972-1977).

[23] 246/60/2 of 122055ZNOV70 NZDWN to 1BOD Trentham “Cookers – Web Equipment: Pattern ’37.”

[24] Army 246/60/70 dated 9 December 1971. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches.”

[25] FF 65/38/18/SD Modification of Ammunition Pouch item 10 May 1974. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[26] Army 246/60/17/EP. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches.”

[27] R&D Section Minute no 160/1975 dated 21 November 1975. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[28] Army 246/60/17/SP 22 Pouches Ammunition 22 September 1977. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[29] “Army Dress Committee Decision – White Web,” Archives New Zealand No R17188112 (1973).

[30]  R&D Section 67/1974 Packs Combat date 13 June 1974. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Waterproof Pack,” Archives New Zealand No R17231110 (1972-1974).

[31] Army 246/60/12/EP Sponsor Enquiry Field Pack Olive Green 2 July 1972. Ibid.

[32] Army 246/60/12/ EP Minutes of the final meeting on the acceptance of the Combat Pack held at Army General Staff on 8 June 1973. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1984,” Archives New Zealand No R17311893 (1984).

[33] Inf 26.3 Minutes of a meeting to consider Project Foxhound developments held at Army General Staff 8 June 1984. Ibid.

One thought on “New Zealand Military Load Carrying Equipment, 1945 – 1975

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