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The Story of the Sun Helmet Continues

We took a bit of a break in the first half of the year, but we’re back and devoted to telling the story of the sun helmet and its place in military history. Stuart Bates and I remain passionate about this topic and we continue to research and explore this fascinating subject with intense zeal.

We’re also 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
August 2015

An Indian Wolseley?

IW2The story of the Wolseley helmet is well documented, but occasionally even we come across something a little different. In this case it is a helmet that has the basic shape of a Wolseley and at first glance could possibly be dismissed as a “child’s helmet.”

The story gets interesting however. This helmet, which is a bit of a cross between a Wolseley and a polo style helmet, was apparently made in India. Moreover, while we have noted that the English helmet makers principally worked in cork with the Wolseley – with straw and felt also serving when there were shortages of cork – this Wolseley style helmet is made of sola pith!

Continue reading

Full and Undress Headgear in India

The 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) charging at Lucknow.

The 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) charging at Lucknow.

During the Indian Mutiny both Full Dress and Undress headgear was worn. Cavalry, as shown above, initially adopted a turban wound around the base of the metal helmets but how effective this was is debatable. Infantry soon adopted the Havelock cover, named after its creator Major General Henry Havelock, which covered both the cap/shako and included a neck curtain. Cavalry soon adopted a full quilted cover. Continue reading

The Forgotten American Experimental Sun Helmet

EHS1Following the end of the Second World War American military planners considered a number of replacements for the M1 steel helmet, yet it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the PAGST (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) was developed. It was made of Kevlar and was a major departure from the steel helmets that had been used since the First World War.

However, during the 1950s the American military also apparently considered a lightweight helmet for use tropical areas where the rays from the sun were often as much as a problem as enemy bullets. The helmet was never adopted and this author has only once even seen an example for sale. Continue reading

Tropical Disease and the History of Military Head Nets

American1

An American Army tropical “Pressed Fiber” helmet and mosquito net from the Vietnam War era of the late 1960s (Author’s Collection)

The military sun helmet was introduced to save lives, not from bullets or even spears but from quite literally from the sun. The European soldiers – first the British but later the French, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese and Germans – fell victim to sun stroke and heat stroke in their respective newly obtained colonies. The sun helmet offered protection from the sun and along with better tropical clothing likely helped save countless lives beginning in the second half of the 19th century.

The other problem facing soldiers as well as diplomats, colonists and workers was tropical disease. Among the most deadly was yellow fever. Even today in many tropical regions – especially Africa and South America – yellow fever continues to be a major problem. Today nearly a billion people live in an area of the world where the disease is common. Yellow fever originated in Africa but spread to South America through the slave trade in the 17th century, and since that time there have been major outbreaks in the Americas, Africa and even Europe. Continue reading

A Helmet of the 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles

Helmet frontThe helmet is attributed to Major James Skitt Matthews, born in 1878 in Wales, and died in 1970 at the age of 92 in Vancouver. James Skitt Matthews was a well known figure around the Vancouver area, and was appointed Vancouver’s first archivist in 1933. He was also a much respected historian of the city and amassed a huge collection of photos relating to Vancouver. In his early life he joined a local militia unit in 1903 and at the outbreak of war in 1914 was transferred to the Regular Army and fought with The Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles throughout 1916 to 1918 during World War One. His tough no nonsense style made him something of a hero to his men in the trenches. Continue reading

The Songkok – The Headdress of Maritime Southeast Asia

Songkok1

Often misidentified as a fez, the “songkok” is a different type of headdress that has been worn by both soldiers and civilians alike in South Asia. Today it is a type of headdress widely worn in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and even in parts of the Philippines.

The songkok is likely based on the fez, where it spread to South Asia by Ottoman sailors. A type of songkok was also worn in parts of the Ottoman Empire and even parts of Africa. So while there is a connection between the fez and songkok and these headdresses are similar in that there is no brim and the shape and height of the hats are quite different. Continue reading