Category Archives: Colonial Empire

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?

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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 Origin of the French Model 1931

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One great irony of the era of imperialism and European colonial empires is that the French reached their colonial zenith as a republic. In fact an overseas empire was seen as a way of restoring the prestige of France following the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. As we’ve noted in past articles the French utilized their own style of “colonial” pattern helmet. Continue reading

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!

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The Songkok – The Headdress of Maritime Southeast Asia

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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

The Russian Colonial Pattern Sun Helmet

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Imperial Russia had one of the largest empires in the world at the end of the 19th century. While the sun most certainly did set on it – it spanned several time zones and stretched from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Pacific. What it did not have was a true overseas colonial empire.

It is true that the Czar ruled many peoples who spoke different languages and had different customs and cultures. Yet Imperial Russia was different than the rival empires of Great Britain, France, Germany or even Italy. It ruled more land that the latter two but it had no true tropical colonies. While it did send forces to China – and units took part in the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) – most of the troops were from the Russian Imperial Navy not actually the Russian Army.

Thus it would seem that the Russians never had a use for a colonial pattern sun helmet. Interestingly the Russians did however use such helmets in small numbers. While the first thought would be that the helmets were used by marine forces traveling with the navy this isn’t accurate. Continue reading