Category Archives: Headress

DPM Boonie Hat

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):imageLike other boonie hats, this one has a broad brim, with multiple rings of stitching to reinforce it:imageNote 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:imageThis 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:imageAs 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:image

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Extreme Cold Weather Face Mask

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:CaptureTonight we are looking at one of these facemasks in detail:imageThe 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:imageThe mouth piece of the face mask has a removable cover, secured with Velcro and a single button:imageEach 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:imageThe 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:imageNote 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:imageThis again has a stores label on it with details of the contents and date:imageAs 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:Capture1For 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.

Canadian Army Tan Beret

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:imageThe beret is made of a high quality dark tan wool, with a black broadcloth fabric liner:imageTwo black ventilation grommets are fitted to one side:imageNote also the leather sweat band machine sewn into the brim. A drawstring is threaded through, and secures at the back with a small bow:imageThe inside of the cap has a printed manufacturer’s label, note how the ‘6’ has been mysteriously worn away on the date!imageFrom 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.

AFV Crew Helmet

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.

South African Steel Helmet

My thanks go to Andy Dixon for sorting me out with tonight’s object, a South African made steel helmet. During the Second World War the Transvaal Steel Pressing Syndicate in South Africa produced nearly 1.5 million steel helmets and these were used extensively in Africa, Asia and Italy throughout the war, they also went on to see service in Greece post war. These helmets are fairly common as a large stash of shells came out of Greece a few years back, they were without liners however so like this example replacements need to be fitted. At first glance the helmet looks very similar to other steel Mk II helmets:Note the rough finish on the helmet to reduce shine and the sand colour ideal for the deserts of North Africa (I think this one has been repainted though). The easiest way of determining that the helmet is South African is the set of three holes punched across the back:Originally these were designed to allow a neck curtain to be fitted but no evidence has been found of these being ever issued. The shape of the helmet is also more circular in plan than other Commonwealth Mk IIs, being much more similar to WW1 helmets:Originally the liner fitted had a large oval felt pad in the crown, again similar to WW1 designs, this liner however is a replacement so does not have this feature. The chin strap is a typical World War Two British sprung type:This attaches to the shell with a pair of riveted square lugs:The manufacture of helmets was quite involved. Firstly steel was cut into square blanks:A hydraulic press stamps the shell out of the square of steel:A stainless steel rim is then cinched and welded into place:Before the whole thing is painted prior to fitting the liner:The painter’s protection from paint particles consists of a rudimentary mask and bandages over his hair! After this the helmets are heated in a kiln to cure the paint. British factories in 1939 were turning out 50,000 helmets a week.

REME Field Service Cap

My thanks to Percy Thrower for helping identify this cap as an other ranks version
I am rather fond of the coloured FS cap, whilst war time examples are fetching good money today, especially for the smaller regiments, the post war examples privately purchased by officers and men are much more affordable, as in the case of this REME Other Ranks example that cost me just £9:imageAs can be expected from a post war cap, the quality is excellent, with the cap made up from red and midnight blue panels, piped in yellow:imageThe buttons on the front are made of staybrite anodised aluminium and feature the regiment’s chained horse badge:imageThe Queen’s crown cap badge also has the chained horse, in front of a lightning bolt and standing on the world:imageThis badge was introduced after the end of the Second World War as King George VI was not overly impressed with the design of the wartime one. The symbolism of the badge design is apparently that the chained horse represents power harnessed, the lightning bolt emphasises the electrical nature of the corps and the globe indicates that its members serve worldwide. The badge was designed by Mr Stephen Gooden, the Royal Academician and was approved by the King on 14th August 1947.

Returning to the cap, the inside is lined with a soft chamois leather headband that absorbs sweat and keeps the cap comfortable:imageREME’s official dress regulations indicate that the side cap may be worn with No 7 (Warm Weather Barrack Dress), No 13 (Temperate Barrack Dress) and No 14 (Shirt Sleeve Order) dress. As with all of these coloured caps this would have been privately purchased as they have never been issue items, they remain popular as they are smarter than a beret and more practical than a peaked cap.

Shemagh

The shemagh, also called a keffiyeh, hattah, chafiye or cemedani, is a traditional middle eastern headdress made form a large square piece of cloth (normally cotton). The headdress, known to the British Army as a shemagh, has been issued for many years with examples being used as early as the Great War. The shemagh is worn to help keep sand and dust off the face in desert areas and tonight we are looking at an officially issued British Army example. The shemagh consists of a square of cotton cloth, approximately three feet square:imageAs can be seen there is a subtle pattern to the shemagh, with other examples having this in a darker shade. The edges of the shemagh have the traditional series of little knots to prevent the fabric unravelling:imageThese shemagh are issued in plastic poly bags, folded into a small square:imageA sticker gives the NSN number for the garment- interestingly there is no label on the shemagh itself identifying it as being military issue:imageThese shemagh were to prove especially popular in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan where there was naturally huge quantities of dust and sand- which then got churned up into massive clouds by vehicles and helicopters- they acted as effective dust filters as seen in this photo of a British soldier wearing one whilst sat in an armoured personnel carrier:shemaghThere are a number of different ways to wear the shemagh, the British method is to fold it into a triangle, wrap it round the face and either pull it up over one’s head of push it down like a scarf. In addition to being useful as a head covering the shemagh is also a useful improvised sling, bandage, towel and has many other functions on the battlefield. Interestingly the US military must have recognised this as they gave permission for their troops to use them in the War on Terror, after banning them in the First Gulf War.