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The Story of the Sun Helmet Continues

A New Year and new information continues to be uncovered on the sun helmets. It has been nearly four years since Stuart and I launched the site, and we have discovered facts and offered new insight into this most fascinating of subjects.

We’re always interested to hear from our readers.

Once again we wish to thank Benny Bough, Pedro Soares Branco, Enzo Faraone, Dr. Chris Flaherty, Roland Gruschka, James A. Holt, Clive Law, Shea Megale, Piero Pompili and Michael S. for their excellent contributions to this site.

This story won’t end anytime soon.

Peter Suciu
January 2016

Polish Sun Helmets of World War II

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As we have previously noted many nations that had no colonial empires had soldiers don sun/pith helmets at various times. One of the more unique examples of this is Poland – a nation that didn’t even exist as an independent land for almost 150 years.

After achieving independence in 1918 and fending off an invasion by the Soviets in 1920 the nation of Poland was again occupied by invaders again in 1939. With the nation occupied by the Germans – as well as the eastern portion of the nation essentially annexed by the Soviet Union – many Poles fled to Great Britain to continue the fight to liberate their nation. The terms of the Allied Forces Act 1940, which was an Act of Parliament passed in late 1940, gave legal authority for the recognized sovereign governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland – all of which were under German occupation – to raise, equip and maintain independent armed forces on British soil.

These Polish soldiers eventually formed the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, and headed to the Middle East where they joined Free French soldiers in liberating pro-Vichy French Syria and Lebanon. This Division later served with General Montgomery’s Eight Army in North Africa, and throughout this campaign was outfitted in British tropical uniforms and sun helmets.

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Havelock Neck Curtains in Modern Combat

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Photo: Digital Commonwealth of the Massachusetts Collections Online

Since its introduction in the middle of the 19th century various military forces have used neck curtains as a way to shield the harsh rays of the sun from a soldiers neck. First introduced in India circa 1842, the neck curtain – commonly dubbed a “Havelock” – was not limited to use in India, or even by the British military. The French Foreign Legion may be one of the best examples of a military to use the neck curtain – in part thanks to movies and books, which showed the Legion in North Africa with a kepi and havelock. However it seems that even in the recent past military planners have considered how these simple neck curtains could be incorporated with modern combat helmets. In the 1970s the American military tested some helmet covers that could be left unfolded in the back as a way of creating an ad hoc Havelock neck curtain.

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Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince

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Few military forces wear the sun helmet as its primary headdress, but one exception is that of the small military power of Monaco. All together only 255 soldiers serve in Monaco’s military (the Force Publique) – making its military the third smallest in the world after Antigua and Barbuda, and Iceland – and of those 119 officers and men make up the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince (Prince’s Company of Carabiniers). Many of the NCOs and soldiers are local, but the officers generally served in the French Army or Republican Guard. Today the unit’s primary headdress is a white summer helmet based on the French 1878 pattern.

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Headdress of the Transjordan Frontier Force

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Formed in April 1926 as a para-military border guard to defend the northern and southern borders of the Transjordan, this unit was also an Imperial Service regiment. It drew its cadre from the Arab Legion, and replaced the disbanded British Gendarmerie, which itself had been founded following World War I to protect Transjordan. The unit was led by British officers, who typically donned sun helmets or visor caps – while the locally raised troops wore the Ottoman-styled kalpak, a type of headdress that was also worn by the Palestine Police Force and Arab Legion. Continue reading

The New Zealand “Lemon Squeezer”

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Less well-known than the Australian slouch hat, the New Zealand campaign hat – known as the “Lemon Squeezer” – has since World War I been closely linked to the Kiwi soldier. The iconic hat was introduced by William George Malone, an officer in the New Zealand Military Forces, and issued to soldiers serving under his command in the 4th Battalion of the Wellington (Taranaki) Rifle Volunteers. The hat was adopted by Malone’s unit as it was meant to mirror the outline of Mount Taranaki on New Zealand’s north island.

The hat, with its tall peak allowed “run off” in the rain, proved popular with the Wellington Regiment. It was then adopted by the rest of the New Zealand Infantry Division on January 1, 1916 – by which time it had already seen its baptism of fire half way around the world. Continue reading

The Malagasy Pith Helmet of the Merina Kingdom

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An Imperial Guard Helmet of the Malagasy Kingdom from the reign of Queen Ranavalona III. This is the only known surviving example and it is in the Musee de l’Armee in Paris

The French invasion of Madagascar in 1897 ended the Malagasy Protectorate, but this brief war could also be the first time that forces on both sides worn sun helmets. It is just one part of a strange and somewhat fascinating story of the fall of the Merina Kingdom, two English adventurers and the annexation of the island nation. Continue reading

Art of the Helmet Revisited

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Back in late 2012 we offered a quick look at how the American pressed fiber helmets were used as a canvas for some very talented artists. One of the helmets that we included was one from Wake Island, which featured a number of signatures. Now some new, and fascinating, information has come to light on the helmet from a reader. Continue reading