Category Archives: Headress

1948 Khaki Beret

The khaki beret was introduced in 1942 for wear by members of the Reconnaissance Corps and motor battalions of Infantry. It’s use was extended in 1943 to personnel of light scout car companies and in 1943 the army authorised its wear by colonels and above, standardising what seems to have already become standard practice. After the war the beret became the army’s standard headdress, although most wore the midnight blue version. The khaki example continued to be worn by some regiments however and tonight we have an early post war example to look at:

Unlike the GS cap, the beret is knitted as a single piece and when laid flat is a circular shape without any seams or stitching in the main body:

A pair of metal eyelets are sewn into the crown of the beret, just above the leather sweat band:

The size of the beret can be adjusted slightly due to a draw cord through the sweat band that is secured by a small bow at the rear:

The interior of the beret is black fabric, with sizing, date of manufacture and maker’s name stamped inside in white:

Occasionally unscrupulous sellers try to modify these to a wartime date in the hope of selling them for a higher price- changing an ‘8’ to a ‘3’ for instance. Happily this example has escaped this fate and remains in good condition and one advantage of buying a post war example is that you can be sure it’s genuine- if you were faking one you would make sure it was wartime dated!

Kangol was founded in Britain in 1920 and its name is an amalgam of three words: K was for knitting,the ANG was for angora, and the OL was for wool.

Other Ranks’ Field Service Cap

Alongside its new battledress uniform, the British Army reintroduced the Field Service cap in 1937. The design dated back to the start of the century and had been used, amongst others, by the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. It had fallen from favour and was largely replaced by regimental pattern caps or the stiff peaked service dress cap. The FS cap, however, was easy to fold flat and tuck into a pocket or pack and so was far more practical than the SD cap. The same design was used for officers and other ranks; the officers being made of barathea (see here and here), whilst the other ranks version was made of plain khaki drab serge:

The cap was to be issued a size larger than a man normally wore and was to be positioned on the right side of the head, with the front just over the right eye:

Technically the cap could be undone and the sides worn down to offer protection to the ears and chin (although thankfully few chose to make the sartorial decision). In order to allow this feature to work, the sides were secured with small brass hooks that looped into metal grommets on the crown of the cap:

A pair of brass buttons were sewn to the front of the curtain that could be undone to allow the cap to be unfolded, but were usually just polished to give a soldierly appearance without being used:

The serge ran into the inside of the cap and acted as a sweat band, wear being seen on the inside of this example:

The crown was made of a cotton drill type fabric, note also the hooks from the curtain visible on the inside. The size, manufacturer and date are stamped into the cap here; 1938, a size 7 and produced by Collett Ltd:

Gordon Spikins was issued one of these caps as a member of the Army Cadet Corps:

We received our uniforms, which consisted of a battledress blouse, trousers (too long for me), a big, wide web belt, 1914 pattern, a pair of gaiters and a “forage cap”. This cap was to be worn on the right side of your head, with two buttons over the right eye. It took some practice to keep the hat on, particularly when you turned, as the hat spun off your head, to the anger of the NCO giving the orders!

Hi-Vis Mk 7 Helmet Cover

Whilst there were many different helmet covers produced for the MK 6 helmet, there were far fewer patterns used with the MK 7 during its period in service. Previously we have covered the standard MTP camouflage version here, and tonight we look at its almost complete opposite. Whilst normally the aim is to conceal the wearer, a hi visibility yellow helmet cover was also produced:imageThese covers were used in a number of situations where for safety it was essential the wearer was visible. Range staff might be issued them to ensure all fires could see the safety personnel, but far more commonly they were used when troops were marching on public roads in combination with hi-vis rucksack covers to prevent drivers from hitting a column of marching men on the road.

The cover was packaged in a small plastic bag:imageA stores label is stuck to the outside of the bag with a barcode, stores code and description printed on it:imageThis is repeated on the internal label:imageThe cover is a simple cloth bag, with a string around the bottom edge to draw it tight around the helmet shell:imageThe helmet cover is made in yellow, with a broad reflective strip surrounding the whole cover. There is obviously no need for camouflage loops, but the distinctive tab and press stud for securing items to the helmet is retained:imageThese helmet covers are ridiculously cheap on the surplus market, this example cost me just £1, and whilst they are of limited utility as a collector it is always nice to have a full collection of all variations so I have been pleased to add another one to my collection.

British Painted Steel Book Review

One thing you can be sure of with a Military Mode Publishing book is that the photography within will be absolutely top notch, the latest release from this publisher, Oliver Lock’s “British Painted Steel” is no exception and the book is crammed full of fantastic images of different World War II painted helmets in high definition.

The British Army never had a universal policy on painting insignia on helmets, with some units and divisions going in for it heavily, whilst others kept their helmets completely plain. The insignia itself was equally varied, ranging from simple painted flashes to highly detailed decals of Regimental cap badges. This book does an excellent job of illustrating the wide variety of these helmets than can be found. The wide range of these helmets means that this is hardly a comprehensive study, but it does give a good impression of the variety of these painted helmets to be found by the collector.

The book however is of perhaps even more interest in illustrating both camouflaged helmets; both those sporting painted camouflage and those with a variety of camouflage nets (plus some combining both). In many ways this is of more value than the painted helmets as there has been debate on the correct sort of helmet net for as long as I have been involved in living history, with many different renew actors swearing blind that one design is accurate and the rest not- this book dispels the myths and shows the wide variety of helmet nets and scrim used.

The emphasis is very much on Western Europe, so although it would have been nice to see some examples of the Malta ‘stone wall’ camouflage pattern, or some of the marked naval helmets, both are absent from this study. This is not necessarily a problem, but something the purchaser should be aware of.

The text in this book is rather scant, the emphasis being on the photographs, and for a 173 page book I managed to read it cover to cover in 25 minutes. At £40 a copy this then makes you ask questions about its value for money, however the photography is superb and it is a distinct pleasure just to leaf through and enjoy the images. I suspect that this is a book for the specialist collector rather than the casual militaria fan for whom one helmet is enough in his collection. If you do specialise in this area though I can thoroughly recommend the book.

It is available from Military Mode Publishing here.

Rest Centre Zuckerman Helmet

Rest centres were locations set up by local authorities to process those made homeless by bombing. These centres were normally in school or church halls and offered short term accommodation for those bombed out of their homes, as well as food and access to services to allow alternative housing to be provided, new ration and identity papers to be issued and any other advice and support people might need. These centres were manned by a mix of local authority employees and volunteers, the WVS having a major role to play in providing hot tea and food as well as distributing aid. The workers at these centres were lightly equipped, but some at least were issued with steel helmets to protect them as they went about their duties. Tonight we have a wonderful example of a Zuckerman helmet marked up to a rest centre worker:imageThis helmet is in the standard light grey paint, put a dark green panel has been painted on the front with the words ‘Rest Centre’ neatly painted on this:imageThe Zuckerman helmet was specially developed for civilian use and whilst not offering the ballistic protection of a military helmet, it was ideal for protection during air raids. Examples were issued by local authorities and it was also available for purchase by civilians for a few shillings.

The design was officially called the ‘civilian protective helmet’ and was pressed from manganese or mild steel in two shell sizes, medium and large. This example is a medium, as indicated by the ‘M’ stamped into the underside of the shell:imageThe other stamp on the underside of the rim indicates that it was made by Rubery Owen Company Ltd of Leeds in 1941:imageThe underside of the helmet shows the liner and the loops for a chin strap:imageChin straps were not supplied with these helmets, but users were advised that they could add their own and examples turn up with a wide variety of different chin straps, some as sophisticated as the standard army ones, others just a piece of ribbon.

The liner itself is made of leather with a tape crown, this ensures that there is a large gap between the top of the liner and the helmet shell itself offering more protection from falling debris. Sadly, despite the excellent condition of the shell, the liner in this helmet has perished considerably over the last eighty years:imageThe helmets were distributed with the liner unattached and an instruction sheet advising users how to set their helmet up for use:

MINISTRY OF HOME SECURITY

THE CIVILIAN PROTECTIVE HELMET

INSTRUCTIONS FOR ASSEMBLY AND FITTING

The Civilian Protective Helmet is issued unassembled in three parts – body, lining, and lace.

The steel body is in two sizes and the liner is in six sizes – i.e. three sizes to each size of body, as follows –

The medium body (stamped M) takes linings of 6 and a half, 6 and three quarters and 7.

The large body (stamped L) takes linings of 7 and a quarter, 7 and a half, and 7 and three quarters.

Fig 1 shows the general shape of the helmet. Although the body is symmetrical in shape the line of lacing holes is sloped so that when the lining is assembled to the body the helmet has a front and a back. The back comes down lower to protect the back of the head.

The letters L and M stamped under the rim at the back indicates the size of the helmet body.

How to assemble the Helmet.

(i) Take a lining of the required size and a body of the size to fit the lining – see above. (NB – It is essential that the right size of body be used with each lining size.) It does not matter which part of the lining becomes the front or back; but it is usual to assemble it so that the join in the headband is at the back.

(ii) There are eight pairs of lacing holes in the steel body, corresponding with the eight loops on the lining (A ‘pair’ of holes means two holes close together – about 1 inch apart. There is a space of about 2 inches between two pairs.) A loop should be placed behind and between the two holes which form one pair, and the lace threaded alternately through the lacing holes in the body and the loops on the lining as show in Fig. 2.

When the lacing is finished lace should be visible outside the body of the helmet between each pair of holes, and should be invisible between the two holes which form a pair (see Fig. 1).

(iii) When the lacing has been completed, draw the lace tight and tie it firmly in a bow. It will be most satisfactory to form the tie inside the helmet (ie alongside one of the loops in the lining) and at the back, where loose ends can be tucked away, and not outside the helmet, where the tie will be more liable to come undone.

The lacing can be done with any strong piece of cord or lace of the right thickness if the lace originally provided gets broken.

How to fit the Helmet.

The wearer of the helmet should see that it fits well. The leather band of the lining should fit as closely as possible around the head without being too tight. If it is too loose and the next size smaller is too tight, the lining should be padded with layers of paper or other material inside the leather band.

When the fit around the head has been made right, the helmet should be worn to see whether it comes down far enough, or too far, on the head. This can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening the piece of cord which is threaded through the webbing band at the crown of the head. The brim at the front should be about level with the eyebrows when the helmet is worn in a comfortable position on the head. (Note – the cord must not be loosened so much that the head nearly comes in contact with the steel body. People with high-domed heads may find it advisable to wear the helmet above eyebrow level.)

Chinstrap or Carrrying Loops

No chinstrap is provided because it is not likely to be necessary except in rare circumstances. Nevertheless lugs are provided inside the helmet on either side through which a piece of tape can be threaded if desired, to form either a strap (to be worn either under the chin or at the back of the head) or a carrying loop.

1960s Boonie Hat

The floppy bush or ‘boonie’ hat has been a mainstay of British Army tropical headgear since the Second World War and we have covered numerous variations of it on the blog over the years. Tonight however we are looking at a transitional design that sits between the World War Two design we looked at here and the introduction of the DPM hat in the mid-1970s:imageThe hat is a shade or two lighter in colour compared to the wartime design, however that may just be down to extensive wear and fading. The design is broadly similar to its earlier incarnation, with circular stitching round the rim to reinforce it:imageAnd loops for vegetation to be attached:imageThe top vents are covered with brass grilles, however this hat has clearly had a hard life and they are heavily corroded:imageOne new feature to this pattern of hat is the addition of two fabric tabs with metal grommets in them on the underside of the hat:imageThese allow a chinstrap to be threaded through if required. The inside of the hat has a stamped size, 7, and both an NSN number and what appears to be an old style stores code:imageThis suggests that the hat was made in that transitional period in the 1960s when NSN numbers were just starting to be introduced. This boonie hat was clearly used, as the original owner has written his name and regiment  inside in permanent marker:imageThe boonie’s longevity is due to a number of factors. It is comfortable, effective at protecting the wearer’s head from sun and rain and can easily be folded flat to put in a pocket:imageIt also has that indefinable ‘allyness’ that soldiers are always seeking- the wearer of a battered boonie is automatically a grizzled veteran who has seen much action (regardless of whether he used his boonie for years in the jungle or had just bought one from Silvermans…). These hats are then customised as one ex-regular explains:

They’re cut down – it’s a fashion statement with a modicum of practicality. It is important to remember that all British soldiers strive to look “Ally” at all times. There are three levels of Ally (1) not-Ally (2) Ally (3) Ally as Fuck.

Issue kit or cheap civvie stuff is Not-Ally. Issue kit altered or supplemented with expensive or special forces stuff is Ally and rare, foreign and very cool stuff whilst standing over the body of a terrorist and chomping a cigar whilst staring 1000 yards into the distance is Ally-as-Fuck.

The issue bush hat has a large brim. It is there to protect against sun, fire ants dropping down the back of your neck and provide shade when fighting those ungrateful ex-colonies in South East Asia.

The problem is that the brims get wet and droop and look shite (the trick is to sow in some copper wire to keep it rigid). However, that big brim will maintain not ally and prevent moving to the hallowed Ally status. Therefore soldiers cut them down (or have tailors do it) – Three reasons in order of importance.

  1. It allows you to get a better tan increasing your chance of getting laid on R&R or on your return.
  2. The long brim is too long and flops annoyingly, shorter is smarter and more soldier like
  3. There isn’t a rule against it, therefore it is fashionable to do it.

Mk6a Helmet

We seem to have been looking at a lot of modern British helmets and their covers this year and we continue tonight with the Mk6a helmet. The Mk6a was introduced in 2005 and saw a number of enhancements over its predecessor. The ballistic qualities of the ballistic nylon the helmet is constructed from were enhanced and so the helmet is marginally heavier than the Mk6. The manufacturer claimed that there was a 40% improvement to its performance over the earlier model. To make it clearly distinguishable from the earlier pattern it was made in black rather than green:imageThe other major upgrade was to the internal harness to make the helmet more comfortable for sustained wear. The earlier MK 6 had a simple drawstring to adjust the fit and was notorious for being uncomfortable:imageThe new mark added a mesh panel where the helmet fitted to the top of the head:imageAnd padded panels at both front and back:imageOn this example its former owner has clearly decided that this needed further enhancement and a first field dressing has been rolled up and tucked into the top of  the helmet to add further cushioning:imageThis was a common field modification done by soldiers who could be expected to spend many hours if not days wearing the helmet on operation. Despite the upgraded liner, many soldiers still wished to improve the liner:

if you deploy to theatre try and get one of them foam doughnut (not jam type) shaped things that the septics stick in their lids, make them mucho mucho comfy, if you are wearing a mk6a out in theatre, try removing the liner and fitting a para liner.

Another soldier used the First Field Dressing method:

What I normally do is use the old first field dressing, which I find to be the most comfortable mod I have used and I never found it too bad as far as sweating goes. Anyhow considering your most likely gonna be in stinking sweaty sandy countries and wearing personal protective equipment which is the weight of a small house it won’t make that much of a difference.

The first field dressing modification was not universally favoured:

FFD fans seem to stand out in the crowd – makes them look like they’re hiding a napper like Beldar from ‘The Coneheads’ the lid sits so high.