Category Archives: British

Helmets are not new under the Sun

ILN Oct 23 1847 Helmet smaller

From the Illustrated London News of October 23, 1847 (Author’s collection)

One of the great mysteries regarding the origin of the classical “colonial pattern” sun helmet is how it obtained its distinctive shape, one that was truly of Anglo-Indian origin, but which was copied throughout the world. Continue reading

Staff Officer Bombay Bowler

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As the British Army had phased out the Wolseley helmet completely after World War II, staff officers, brigadiers and general officers had to make due with other forms of tropical headgear when serving in remote stations such as Singapore, the British West Indies and the various African colonies before independence.

There appears to be a brief resurgence of Indian pattern helmet including the Bombay Bowler in use by some British officers serving in tropical stations. This would be a bit ironic as the first sun helmets used by British forces originated in India – but of course the Wolseley does remain in use for the Royal Marines, while other cork helmets have been used for ceremonial purposes for units such as the Gibraltar Regiment. Continue reading

An Interesting Photo

British Officer GroupClick on the photo for hi-res.

This photograph was sent to me by a fellow contributor that is clearly a mixture of young and old (and rather portly) British “officers.” Interesting to note the “pips” on the soldier seated far right and the brass buttons on most. Also note the variations in the tunics of these British soldiers, and the fact that Sam Browne belt’s do not sport holsters nor sword frogs.

What isn’t so clear is when or where this photograph was taken. Obviously we can narrow it down to the latter decades of the 19th century based on the uniforms, equipment and notably the helmets – the “where” is the other mystery. The terrain appears generally flat without much foliage, but is this South Africa, the Sudan, India or elsewhere?

Continue reading

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

A London Pith Helmet

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A pith helmet in the capital of the British Empire might not seem that odd at all. A helmet made of pith with a London maker/retailer stamp does seem a bit more odd – especially when one considers that the majority of helmets produced in Great Britain were in fact made of cork. As we’ve noted cork and pith are two distinct materials, and English hatters opted for cork, which came from nearby Portugal; while we have found that Indian hatters worked with sola pith, which was more common in the subcontinent.

There are no doubt countless exceptions to the rule, and both Roland Gruschka and I have discovered Wolseley helmets that seem to have been made in India. This is interesting as the Wolseley was a helmet largely produced in cork. Shortages of the material in World War I resulted in helmets with straw bodies as noted by two examples in my colleague Stuart Bates’ collection, and during World War II shortages of cork resulted in helmets being produced out of pressed felt. Continue reading

A Famous Goggle Type

Guards Officer 1886Goggles have been used at least since the American Civil War by Artillerymen and then Railway Engineers. Garnet Wolseley was an observer during that conflict and may have been instrumental in their introduction into the British Army for the Sudan campaigns of 1882-1885. However this article is concerned with “The Newbold Type” used by the British, Americans, Japanese and others. Continue reading

History and Headdress of the Palestine Police

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A Palestine Police sun helmet and kalpak (Collection of the Author)

Following the First World War the British found themselves with new territory carved out of the Ottoman Empire, which included Mandatory Palestine. To help administer this new “mandate” the British formed the Palestine Police Force. It was established on the First of July, 1920 by High Commissioner Herbert Samuel’s civil administration which took over responsibly in Mandatory Palestine from General Allenby’s Occupied Enemy Territory Administration . Continue reading