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.
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 are much more affordable, as in the case of this REME example that cost me just £9:As can be expected from an officer’s cap, the quality is excellent, with the cap made up from red and midnight blue panels, piped in yellow:The buttons on the front are made of staybrite anodised aluminium and feature the regiment’s chained horse badge:The Queen’s crown cap badge also has the chained horse, in front of a lightning bolt and standing on the world:This 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:REME’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, these days however they are almost exclusively used by officers as they are smarter than a beret and more practical than a peaked cap.
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:As 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:These shemagh are issued in plastic poly bags, folded into a small square:A sticker gives the NSN number for the garment- interestingly there is no label on the shemagh itself identifying it as being military issue:These 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:There 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.
Commonly seen in photographs of soldiers relaxing after a patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq, the issue bush hat has been in British Army use for many years in a variety of camouflage patterns. The bush hat is a simple floppy cloth hat, with a large brim to help keep off the sun:Its origins go right back to the Second World War and the Indian jungle hat we looked at here. Whilst the design has been modified over the last seventy years, the basic similarities are still clear. The hat itself has a broad brim with concentric rings of stitching to help stiffen it:Metal vents in the crown aid ventilation:Whilst loops are sewn around the base of the crown to allow vegetation and camouflaging materials to be slotted in:Unlike earlier designs, this hat has an adjustable elastic chin strap fitted, secured through two eyeleted fabric tabs sewn inside the hat:The chin strap is often removed and thrown away. Around the rear of the inside is a sewn in flap with Velcro on it that allows a detachable neck curtain to be fitted to help keep sun off the back of the neck:Again these are seldom worn and this strip is often removed from the hat. Indeed modifications to these hats are fashionable amongst many; with common changes being to reduce the width of the brim and the height of the crown in the search for ‘allyness’. This hat is obviously unissued, and comes in a useful 59 size:These hats are still produced, but today come in the current MTP camouflage; having been issued and worn one of these myself on exercise in Cyprus a few years back, I can attest to their utility and indeed my MTP example is regularly packed in the suitcase for summer holidays even now!
At the start of the Second World War the British Army did not have a dedicated motorcyclists helmet- dispatch riders and other motorcyclists having to make do with the brimmed MkII steel helmet. Unfortunately this helmet caused neck injuries if the wearer had an accident; as a stop gap a papier-mâché pulp crash helmet was produced but it offered no ballistic protection. Clearly what was needed was a steel helmet that could protect the wearer from both crashes and in the field. The army turned to their rimless parachutists helmet shell and married this with a new liner to make it suitable for use on a motorbike:The distinctive feature of the helmet is the leather curtain that goes around the neck and under the chin:The liner of the helmet stands off from the shell with a couple of large compressed wool pads:Note also the laced adjustment at the rear of the liner to ensure the helmet is a tight but comfortable fit. The wool liner at the front is covered in a dark leather, the inner sweat band in a contrasting shade and a softer grade of material:The crown of the liner has a set of white tapes, secured with a string, that again can be adjusted for fit:The liner on this helmet is in superb condition and was made in 1942 by Briggs Motor Bodies:As can be seen the helmet is in a good 6 ¾” size, but this seems to be generous as my 7 ¼” head can just about fit in!
Either side of the leather neck curtain has a series of punched holes to help the wearer hear:By all accounts this was not successful as one dispatch rider recalled that in the desert the only way he could tell an enemy aircraft was pursuing his motorcycle was when he saw its shadow or the dust kicked up when it started firing at him- needless to say he jumped off pretty smartish at that point! A felt patch is sewn on the revers to aid the comfort over the ears:The helmet is secured with a leather strap and buckle arrangement, the strap having a keeper that prevented it from being removed fully from the buckle. A Newey stud helped secure the loose end of the chin strap:Here we can see Military Police dispatch riders of a beach group wearing the helmets whilst they chat to French civilians on D-Day, 6th June 1944:These helmets are getting rarer now as so many have been converted into parachutist’s helmets for re-enactors, this one is about as nice as you can get and a great addition to my collection, especially as it only cost a tenner!
A few weeks back we looked at a blue and orange Royal Navy deck crew cloth helmet here. Since then I have managed to add a yellow example to my collection which we will be taking a closer look at tonight. As mentioned previously, the yellow helmet was issued to aircraft handlers and directors. This helmet is virtually identical to the previous example apart from its colour, therefore tonight’s post will mostly focus on photographs of this piece, for further information please refer to the earlier post.
One point to note is that this example is actually dated, with a faint /|\ mark and date of 1963 visible:The job role of aircraft handler is still in existence in the Royal Navy and without carriers they have been employed at the various Royal Navy Air Stations and more importantly the commando ships such as Bulwark and Ocean. The following is a useful description of the role and training undertaken by a modern aircraft handler by someone in the branch:
Your training as an Aircraft Handler will be split into two phases,
1.Fire-Fighting, you will spend approximately 6 months of training in this field, it covers all aspects of domestic and aircraft crash rescue procedures in line with their civilian counterparts, although watch this space with regard to the domestic phase. You will receive civilian recognised qualifications which is relatively new. So if you don’t like heights, confined space breathing apparatus or the physical nature of firefighting in general then this is definitely not for you.
2. Aircraft Handling is approximately three months and in essence teaches you how to move aircraft around a flight deck by various means and how to remain safe and unharmed in arguably the most hazardous area of any ship. You will be a specialist at aircraft moves at sea, any monkey can be trained to push an aircraft ashore hence why they allow squadron AET’s to do this task and generally you do not do this ashore unless showing the AET’s how to do it correctly.
When you have completed training you will spend time on the fire station at one of two Air Stations, Culdrose in Cornwall or Yeovilton in Somerset. You will be a piss boy at first but with experience you will be moved on to drive the fire vehicles and gain all the driving qualifications such as LGV, Hazmat etc.
When the QE class carriers are being sailed around the world in the near future you will be working on the deck with all types of aircraft, ours and foreign. Believe me this is the only area of the ship people will be remotely interested in. It’s also a small tight knit branch which has a band of brothers attitude which is quite often envied by other branches and rightly so.
Introduced in 1985, the Mk 6 Helmet was the first non-steel combat helmet to be issued to all arms of the British military. It was to see service for over twenty years and was officially superseded in June 2009 by the Mk 7, although it remains on widespread issue to this day. The helmet is typically issued with a cloth cover in a variety of different patterns, including in this case desert DPM:Under the cover the helmet is made of a dark green ballistic nylon, the shininess of the finish clearly showing why covers are used:The Mk 6 was a major move forward for the British Army as it was designed to work with ear protection, radios and respirators. Additonal kits could be added to the helmet to offer eye and neck protection for riot control. This helmet is a Mk6 helmet, with the original configuration of foam pads inside to offer cushioning to the wearer:This was later upgraded on the Mk6A with a mesh top piece that velcroed in. The helmet uses a chin strap that connects at three points; either side and the rear and has a soft chin cup that secures with a tab and press stud:The cover fitted to this helmet has a series of elastic loops that allow camouflage to be added:The cover is unissued, and in a large size:There are two sizes of cover, and four sizes of helmet to fit a variety of head sizes. The leaflet that was issued with the helmet offers some more information on it (see here for the full leaflet):
- This General Service Combat Helmet consists of an outer protective shell of many layers of resin bonded ballistic nylon and a shock absorbing liner. This is fitted with soft, leather covered foam comfort pads and the helmet is secured by a cotton chin strap with a 3-point fixing and quick release fastener.
- This helmet has been extensively tested and trialled. It gives more ballistic protection from shell and grenade fragments than did the Mk.4 steel helmet. It covers more of the head than the steel helmet and gives excellent protection against severe impact and bumps. It will also protect against heat flash without catching fire itself.
- The helmet is fully compatible with personal weapons and the great majority of weapon sighting and fire control equipment. The ear cut-outs allow space for CLANSMAN Headsets (Inf and B Vehicle, staff user and PRC 349 single ear piece) and approved ear muffs/defenders.
- A DP camouflage cover is available for all sizes of helmet (one size for small and medium and another for large and outsize) and has loops for retaining garnish. The cover is made of polyester cotton to be sufficiently durable. Tests have shown that it presents no melt hazard if set on fire. A shite ‘arctic’ cover is also available.
- When required the helmet can be converted for internal security and similar work by addition of a 3mm thick polycarbonate transparent visor and a flame resistant absorbing neck protector. Suitable instructions for this conversion are contained in the kits.