All three of the armed services have their own dedicated police forces. These police units all have distinctive insignia and uniform variations to make it easy to identify them. Whilst the army use red cap covers, the RAF police have white topped caps, and it is an example of this we are looking at tonight:This cap is worn by NCOs and is of the same design as a standard RAF parade cap, but with a white vinyl top rather than it being made in blue-grey fabric. The white top gives rise to the RAF Police’s nickname of ‘snowdrops’. The white cap was first introduced at the very end of World War Two, originally as a separate cap cover, becoming an integral vinyl top only later. This cap was produced in the early 2000s, and has a label stuck into the underside of the top with the size, 54cm, an NSN number and the identification of the cap type:The front of the cap has a pair of eyelets to allow a staybrite RAF cap badge to be attached:Note the black woven band around the cap, and the blue-grey fabric you can just see above it. This is far more obvious on the rear of the cap:The chinstrap is made of vinyl, secured with two black plastic buttons sewn on either side of the cap:A stiff peak is fitted, shiny black on the top and green on the underside:Note also the faux-leather sweatband sewn to the interior of the cap. These caps are worn both formally on parades:And whilst on duty:Officially the cap is only to be worn by NCOs below the rank of Warrant Officer, WOs wearing a standard blue-grey cap. Unofficially however it seems that some senior NCOs, taking advantage of the latitude their high rank entails, are now continuing to wear the white topped cap to make it clear that they are members of the RAF Police, the cap badge being substituted for the correct design for their rank.
The last dress cap we looked at on the blog was from the Duke of Wellington’s regiment here. Tonight we have another example for you, that of the a ‘Royal’ regiment:A number of different regiment use this combination of colours, including the Royal Artillery:This cap has a far more pronounced ‘saddle’ to the top than is often seen, with a very high crown at the front, falling away to both sides and the rear:This style was very popular during the Cold War, but regulations have tightened up since then and the more regulation version with the flat top is far more common today. The cap has a plastic stiffener inside to get this distinctive high shape. A deep red band is fitted all the way around the body of the cap and a small hole is let into the front of the cap to allow the slider of a cap badge to be inserted securely:You can just make out the piece of brass behind to protect the cap from the badge’s slider. The cap has a shiny patent leather style peak:This is made to look like green pebbled leather on the inside:Sadly this example is missing its chin strap and the small buttons that would have held this to the body of the cap.
The inside of the cap has a pale leatherette headband and a dark brown liner:Originally a paper label was stuck onto this giving NSN numbers etc. This has been removed so now the only sticker remaining gives the cap size:Sadly this cap is a small size, but it is beautifully made, as these things always are, and was an absolute bargain for £2…even if it doesn’t fit me!
Following the end of the Second World War the Canadian Army reviewed its uniforms and introduced a pair of new peaked caps for its troops. One was a lightweight summer cap, whilst the other was a winter cap made of brown serge wool:This cap has a broad peak to keep the sun off and a brown leather chin strap:This strap is secured to the cap by a pair of blackened Canadian army buttons, with King’s crowns on them:Interestingly though, despite the Queen’s crown coming into use from 1952 onwards, this cap wasn’t manufactured until 1954:From the label we can see that the cap was manufactured by the Buffalo Cap Company and is in a large 7 1/4″ size. These details are repeated on a small label sewn into the joint between crown and peak:Photos of these caps in service are hard to find, but I have been directed to this one of a parade in the 1950s where the caps can be seen clearly:These caps actually saw service in Korea but we’re not really suitable as related in Brent Watson’s book “Far Eastern Tour, The Canadian Infantry in Korea 1950-53”:
Helmets were seldom worn on patrol. Instead soldiers wore the equally useless Canadian peaked cap. Designed in late 1950 with the parade square in mind, the cap came in two patterns. The winter version was made of heavy serge and had no provision for ear coverage…Both patterns of peaked cap were incompatible with the hood of the poncho- another item of kit first used by the Canadians in Korea- and undermined its effectiveness. During the battle of Chail-li for example, the peak capped- and poncho clad soldiers of 2RCR were drenched by a vicious 30 minute wind and rainstorm that left them soaked and chilled.
It was quickly recommended that a broad brimmed bush hat, such as used by the British, be introduced to replace the peaked cap in combat.
The boonie hat has to be one of the most successful items of military headgear ever designed, as popular today with soldiers as when it was introduced over seventy years ago. Over the decades the design has changed subtly with a lower crown and wider brim being the most obvious changes, along with changes to fabric to match the current combat uniforms. Tonight we have our first example in the long lived Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM):Like other boonie hats, this one has a broad brim, with multiple rings of stitching to reinforce it:Note also the tab and eyelet for attaching a piece of string to act as a chin strap to. The broad brim keeps both sun and rain off the wearer’s face and neck. The crown of the hat has metal ventilation grills and loops for attaching camouflage foliage to:This example has a fairly early style of label sewn inside, it has an NSN number but is one of the early examples with this feature. It is also in a very generous size of 60:As ever ARRSEpedia has a wonderfully irreverent description of the boonie hat:
At one time they were very hard to find and possession of one marked the individual out as either being one of them, someone who’d been to a hot posting like Belize, Hong Kong or Cyprus, or (more often than not) someone who was simply a big-timing walty cnut who’d been shopping at Silverman’s.
The variation of styles that can be achieved by their wearers is quite staggering. RLC mongs and RAF techies tend to adopt the ‘Eastwood’, whilst anyone worth their salt either alters theirs by cutting down the brim (the origins of this date back to Malaya, when peripheral vision was enhanced), or purchases a tailored SF-style example available from several commercial suppliers in that never ending pursuit of allyness.
In this photograph from Belize, these well camo-ed troops show off a selection of bush hats:
Looking like something out of a horror movie, British troops operating in Arctic conditions are issued with white cloth face coverings to protect themselves from frostbite in the sub-zero temperatures:Tonight we are looking at one of these facemasks in detail:The facemask is made of white fabric, with two holes for eyes, slots being provided above to allow the straps of a pair of goggles to be fitted through the mask:The mouth piece of the face mask has a removable cover, secured with Velcro and a single button:Each face mask comes with two spare covers, allowing them to be replaced for the purposes of hygiene as this is obviously the area of the mask that will collect most germs:The face mask creates a layer of warm air between the wearer’s face and the frigid temperatures that protects the soldier form frostbite. A Royal Marine Daniel Murphy of Bradford explains their effectiveness:
‘When I first saw the face masks I thought “what’s this?” but they obviously work. I actually had to pull mine off because I was getting too hot.’
The face mask has a small label sewn into it with details of its NSN number and manufacture:Note also that the fabric has been treated to make it flame resistant. This particular mask dates from 1993 and was supplied in a ziplock bag:This again has a stores label on it with details of the contents and date:As in the case of the wristlets we looked at earlier this month, the MoD’s ‘Black Book of Kit’ includes an entry on the facemask, indicating it was introduced prior to 1991:For the collector of British Army Arctic equipment, these facemasks are easily available online and are frequently not more than £3 or £4 for a brand new set.
Unfortunately, like so many things, the militaria market has a small number of bad eggs who will fake or adulterate items to try and make a quick profit. One common method is to try and alter dates to make them ‘wartime’ on the basis that wartime dated items are more desirable than post war items. Sadly tonight’s object has been subject to this, with some unscrupulous individual trying to alter the date of this Canadian beret from 1946 to 1945! Luckily it is still a very nice object and I picked it up for a very cheap price so I cannot complain:The beret is made of a high quality dark tan wool, with a black broadcloth fabric liner:Two black ventilation grommets are fitted to one side:Note also the leather sweat band machine sewn into the brim. A drawstring is threaded through, and secures at the back with a small bow:The inside of the cap has a printed manufacturer’s label, note how the ‘6’ has been mysteriously worn away on the date!From this we can see that not only is the beret a nice large size, but that it was also manufactured by The Dorothea Knitting Mill Ltd of Toronto. This company produced berets for the Canadian military for many years, and indeed the company is still in existence today.
The khaki beret was used by the Canadian Army from 1943 onwards to replace the Field Service side cap and was far more fashionable than the British GS Cap, leading to them becoming prized acquisitions by British troops of a sartorial nature. One thing to note about the design of the Canadian beret is that it is noticeably smaller in the crown than equivalent British examples of the period, and this seems to have been a conscious choice by the military, although it is still considerably larger than modern berets.
My thanks tonight go to my friend, and fellow Huddersfield Market lurker Michael Fletcher who has kindly helped me add tonight’s rather impressive helmet to my collection. In the 1970s a new helmet was introduced for armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) crews. This was made of fibreglass and included built in communications systems, this helmet had a distinctive flared out shape:It must be stated that this helmet was not designed to offer any ballistic protection, AFVs move at speed and have many sharp protrusions inside, the helmet was designed to prevent the crew smashing their heads on these as the vehicle lurched around. The back of the helmet rises up to allow the wearer to turn and raise his head easily without the helmet catching on the back of his head:A large microphone is fitted into the helmet that can be adjusted to sit in front of the wearer’s mouth:This is coupled with a pair of large headphones inside the helmet:These headphones put a great deal of pressure on the wearer’s head, leading to headaches after prolonged wear, soldiers quickly tried to find alternatives as recalled by one user:
Note the Velcro tabs sticking out of the ears. Pull them tight and stick them down and it allowed you to adjust the pressure of the earpieces on your ears. In theory. In practice, the Velcro was worse than useless and the earpieces acted as clamps on the ears, inducing dreadful headaches. Many, many crewmen managed to find fault, any fault with the helmet and return it for repair, to be issued with a HIB (Headset Infantry ‘B’ Vehicle) or SUH (Staff, User headset) in its stead, which they retained permanently.
The helmet has a long wire with a connection plug on the end to allow the helmet to be plugged into the AFV’s radio system:The helmet also has a raised housing on the right hand side with a small cylindrical metal cover:Removing this reveals a small connection port to allow a respirator microphone to be attached when the helmet was being worn with an S6 respirator:Whilst a good idea in theory, in reality the NBC microphone was not issued very often, as one wearer recalls:
The helmet was designed to be worn over an S6 respirator. Plug an NBC mike into the earpiece, clamp the NBC mike onto the exhaust port on the front of the respirator and you could work the radio in NBC red conditions. Otherwise, talking through the boom mike (or a Larkspur hand-held mike) was as much use as talking with hand over mouth and nostrils pinched. NBC mikes were as common as rocking-horse droppings. The plastic adapter that attached it to the S6 was non-existent. As regimental signals stores’ man, one once nearly crossed my path. I say nearly, because it didn’t get to the other side: it went straight in my pocket. I never had a problem talking on air whilst at NBC red.
The helmets were not originally fitted with chinstraps, but at some point in the 1980s one was fitted, with a black fastex buckle and Velcro adjustment:The top of the helmet has a webbing cradle and a padded ring to help support the helmet on the wearer’s head:It is on one of these webbing straps that a small stores label can be found, indicating the helmet’s use and NSN number:Happily for the collector, the helmet had a date written into the inside of it when it was accepted into service by the stores’ man of the unit it was sent to, indicating that it dates 16th July 1988:
Here we see an example of the helmet being worn on an arctic exercise in the mid-1980s. The helmet is combined with and arctic goggles/face mask, that the wearer has pushed up onto the top of the helmet:The helmet was issued with a heavy duty nylon bag to store and protect it in when not in use:This has a pair of strong handles on the top:And secures with a drawstring:The bag has a large printed label sewn inside that gives instructions on how to care for the helmet:Like the helmet, the bag was produced by Racal Acoustics Ltd and has its own store’s label with a separate NSN number:These helmets were never hugely popular and have long since been replaced in British Army service, they are however an unusual and impressive design and I am very pleased to have finally added one to my collection, especially when it is in such nice condition as this one.