Category Archives: Headress

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

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:imageAs 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: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, these days however they are almost exclusively used by officers 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.

Desert DPM Bush Hat

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:imageIts 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:imageMetal vents in the crown aid ventilation:imageWhilst loops are sewn around the base of the crown to allow vegetation and camouflaging materials to be slotted in:imageUnlike earlier designs, this hat has an adjustable elastic chin strap fitted, secured through two eyeleted fabric tabs sewn inside the hat:imageThe 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:imageAgain 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:imageThese 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!

WW2 British Army Dispatch Rider’s Helmet

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:imageThe distinctive feature of the helmet is the leather curtain that goes around the neck and under the chin:imageThe liner of the helmet stands off from the shell with a couple of large compressed wool pads:imageNote 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:imageThe crown of the liner has a set of white tapes, secured with a string, that again can be adjusted for fit:imageThe liner on this helmet is in superb condition and was made in 1942 by Briggs Motor Bodies:imageAs 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:imageBy 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:imageThe 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:imageHere 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:d-day_-_british_forces_during_the_invasion_of_normandy_6_june_1944_b5028These 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!