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This was an cheap ebay pickup a couple a years ago.

A badly smashed Royal Australian Air Force pith helmet from the second world war.

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CPL Smith M.W

No 12413

185(S?)00(3?)

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12413

CPL Smith M.W

RAAF

(Almost damaged my eyes trying to decipher it :unsure:)

Are there any way of reserching this Corporal?

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Hope this is of some help.

Name SMITH, MAX WINDUSS

Service Royal Australian Air Force

Service Number 12713

Date of Birth 2 Mar 1914

Place of Birth LAUNCESTON, TAS

Date of Enlistment 24 Jan 1941

Locality on Enlistment HAWTHORNE

Place of Enlistment MELBOURNE, VIC

Next of Kin SMITH, MRS

Date of Discharge 30 Nov 1945

Rank Corporal

Posting at Discharge 1 Reserve Personnel Pool

WW2 Honours and Gallantry None for display

Prisoner of War No

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2002.

Info from the great aussie web site:-

http://www.ww2roll.gov.au/

Cheers

Chris

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Hi RaZpuTiN,

Welcome to the club! :beer:

Shame about it being crushed like that. :o I wonder if it's possible to get it restored? :unsure: It's a nice piece and the first I've ever seen. :jumping:

Dan :cheers:

Edited by Hauptman
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Heres my beaten up one. Not quite the same but it did belong to a airforce corporal and an antipodean one as well though this one is RNZAF not RAAF. Believe the pith hat itself is American. Kiwis in the pacific used a bit of American gear so is not that unusual. Can make out most of what is written on the brim it says ?NZ408783, Cpl D Fenwick, RNZAF, Espiritu Santo?. Espiritu Santo is in the Vanuatu chain of islands in the pacific and was first used as a base for bombers then fighters by the RNZAF

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Hi Chris,

Nice piece. Just out of curiosity... did they use any type of insignia on these or were they just plain as you've shown? I'm mostly familiar with those used by the Germans in WWII so there's alot of don't know about these. But I've always liked piths.

Thanks for sharing this one. Hope perhaps you can find more on the original owner.

Dan :cheers:

Edited by Hauptman
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Hi Dan,

It does look as though my pith did have insignia of some sort on. It?s not all that clear but if you look at the first photo you can see a little tear in the fabric covering just a little bit above where the brim begins. The cut goes right through so a cap badge may have been worn on the front. The only thing is that normally the lugs on the back of a RNZAF cap badge are side to side not top and bottom as would fit in this case so I am not sure what would have been worn on the front of this one. Looking through photos of kiwis wearing this type of headgear they all appear to have been worn without insignia but I guess it was up to the individual as to if he bothered putting a badge on it.

I would like to find a little bit more about the original owner and wrote to our Ministry of Defence here in NZ when I first got it, but they wrote back saying as they had not received any notification of his death they were unable to provide me with any info because of privacy laws.

Cheers

Chris

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Hi Dan,

It does look as though my pith did have insignia of some sort on. It?s not all that clear but if you look at the first photo you can see a little tear in the fabric covering just a little bit above where the brim begins. The cut goes right through so a cap badge may have been worn on the front. The only thing is that normally the lugs on the back of a RNZAF cap badge are side to side not top and bottom as would fit in this case so I am not sure what would have been worn on the front of this one. Looking through photos of kiwis wearing this type of headgear they all appear to have been worn without insignia but I guess it was up to the individual as to if he bothered putting a badge on it.

I would like to find a little bit more about the original owner and wrote to our Ministry of Defence here in NZ when I first got it, but they wrote back saying as they had not received any notification of his death they were unable to provide me with any info because of privacy laws.

Cheers

Chris

Hi Chris,

Perhaps you could write to some veterans groups there and see if perhaps someone may know of him. Stranger things have happened. I do hope more info turns up.

On the insignia I'll keep my eye out for similar piths and see if I can find out what would have been worn there. And perhaps one of our fellow members knows more about these and can chime in here. Be great if someone had some pics of them with insignia being worn.

It's very similar to the ones our U.S. forces used for a time in certain theaters. I've seen them with Marine insignia as well as Army and am sure they were probably used by the naval forces and the Army Air Corps and early Air Force as well with their appropriate insignia.

Shoot, some of our postmen here in the states still wear one nearly identical to yours although in plastic. Definitely keeps the sun out. :beer:

Dan :cheers:

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Hello Dan,

Have found a few shots of kiwis wearing this type of head gear. The top one is of course RNZAF the second shot is of an engineer section in the pacific. This chap looks like he has had a go at camouflaging his one. I believe these are American in manufacture and I have seen one for sale here that had an US manufactures stamp inside. Have seen photos of the US marine one as well and it does look a lot like it.

Cheers

Chris

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Hi Chris,

Great shots of the piths in wear. Although some troops didn't like pith helmets once can definitely see they kept a great deal of the sun off once head and probably shoulders as well. Plus they're light weight... of course not much good in a combat situation when protection is the highest order of concern.

Thanks for sharing these, :beer:

Dan :cheers:

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  • 3 weeks later...

Engineers in pacific.

Some numbr of years ago I catalogued the textile collection of the RNZAF Museum at Wigram (Christchurch, NZ), including several types of Tropical helmets. Most were of the American variety as shown in the photographs of NZ personnel in the Pacific. Others were very similar but manufactured in Canada by the Canadian branch of one of the American companies. They are NOT Pith helmets as such, which were generally made in India for the British forces in that part of the world and were made from the pith of a tree called the Sola, this Sola Topee (or similar spellings). Topee (Topi) is a Hindi (Indian) word meaning hat. The RNZAF also received genuine Sola Topees from India earlier in the war, and you sometimes see these in use with the RNZAF in Fiji. RNZAF personnel in the SIngapore/Malaya theatre in 1941/early 1942 (and of course later in India and Burma) were also issued with true "Pith" helmets. The true "Pith" helmet (Sola Topee) was quite light (probably the reaon this material was used in the first place), had a completely flat top with attached ventilator, a thick steeply sloped brim with a thick rolled-under lower edge, and a real pugaree (from Hindi Pagri, for turban) made from cotton (at least I presume it was made from cotton - have only ever seen one for real, many years ago). There was also another type of British sun helmet called the Wolseley helmet (named after Chief of the General Staff of British Army at time of Boer war). Although I have never seen a Wolseley helmet in use in the RNZAF (and doubt they ever were) it is interesting to see this type mentioned (probably in error) in one Air Department Order dated 1944. MOst personnel seemed to dislike the varios types of sun helmets, although fewer thought they were good value. They were issued in large numbers (when available), and were required wear in the tropics, but few personnel seemed to actually wear them as required, preferring morre comfortable soft cotton caps or brimmed hats to the rigid helmets. I have been told that when the personnel were aboard ship on return to NZ at the end of the war they took great pleasure in hurling their tropical helmets (by this time they would have been the American/Canadian type) overboard, or smashing them up. This is probably why these items are EXTREMELY scarce now! And the RNZAF DID frequently wear the "RAF flash" on the side of the helmet in the Pacific, although its wear was erratic to say the least. Incidentally this flash (Dark blue, narrow light blue, maroon) with the dark blue leading (not the maroon/red, as on RAF aircraft fins from 1934) as the introduction of the "flash" predated this order by many years, and would have been based on the earlier fashion in the RAF/RFC, with blue first. The "flash" was only worn on one side of the helmet (cannot remember which, although it is detailed in all the early editions of RAF Dress Regulations). I have also seen the RNZAF Airmen's brass cap badge (and Officer badge) affixed to the front of the helemts.

David D

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I have been told that when the personnel were aboard ship on return to NZ at the end of the war they took great pleasure in hurling their tropical helmets (by this time they would have been the American/Canadian type) overboard, or smashing them up. This is probably why these items are EXTREMELY scarce now!

David D

Dave

I've read this in several personal accounts - "Over the side wi' it!". The other reason for the rarity would be the construction. I've never seen a "pukka" (Hindi: real, genuine) pith helmet which, as you suggest, was made form tree pith. I have however handled a couple of WWII vintage helmets - many, mnay years ago. They were made of cork - ground or chopped apparently and mixed up with gue to make a mouldable substance. With years the cork dries and the glue loses it's grip, so often one is left with a canvas sack, full of cork bits and with a headband attached! I suspect that the "rated" working life of a solar topi was never very long and even the parsimoniuos QMs planned on them wearing out quickly.

The unpopularity of the helmets may have been due to the ease with which they were damaged or the fact that they'd almost certainly fall / blow / get knocked off on any duty more strenuous than sentry go. Plus, they just look "dorky", even by the standards of a profession (the army) with a plethora of odd headgear!

My tuppence worth

Peter

Edited by peter monahan
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