British WW2 Wolseley Sun Helmet (‘Pith Helmet’)
Khaki cloth over stiffened felt shell, foil piece with four eyelets, ventilator at the crown, plain khaki puggaree, leather head band, leather chin strap.
The inside of the leather band on the left side is marked with ‘0’, a War Department mark with broad arrow, and ‘764’.
Sun helmets made of pressed pith from the Indian sola plant were first recorded in use by the British Army during the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1840. These helmets were light yet relatively strong and were designed around maximising shade for the wearer’s head. They were considered essential for Europeans to cope with tropical conditions which native inhabitants were more immune to, so all colonial powers adopted some version of the helmet during the late 19th century. Most were made of cork, not pith, but the old name stuck. It was not fully understood at that time that it was extreme heat, not the sunlight itself, that was the main cause of sunstroke, and that Europeans were not much more at risk than locals. Nonetheless, the shady helmets did help to beat the heat.
Those in British service were initially white, but this stood out to the point that during the Zulu War, British troops used tea or mud to dye the white helmets brown, and khaki helmets were thereafter adopted as service wear for the Army, the white version kept as the dress uniform.
The Wolseley Pattern cork helmet was introduced in 1899 to replace the 1870s ‘Foreign Service Helmet’. It was named after the British Army’s Chief of Staff Sir Garnet Wolseley, although his level of involvement in its design is unknown.
Wolseleys of this style were worm during WW1 and WW2. This appears to be a WW2 wartime model, distinctive by its construction of felt stiffened with shellac rather than true cork, and its liner of aluminium foil. Foil liners were not widely produced until the mid-1930s, but became standard in wartime sun helmets because experimentation found that heat radiating inwards from the outer shell of the helmet was the most significant means of heat transfer to the head. Troops They were in many cases replaced by the Indian ‘Cawnpore’ type helmet, which was lighter and more comfortable to wear.
Sun helmets of all types were abandoned as service uniform by the British Army shortly after WW2, but the white Wolseley is still used in the dress uniforms of several British and Commonwealth units, including the Royal Marines, Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, New South Wales Mounted Police, Sri Lankan Police, and the military bands of the Australian Army and the Bermuda Regiment.
The foil lining is mostly intact, but has worn through in one place where it contacts the ventilator at the crown. The manufacturer’s label has been lost – one can see the mark at the back of the head band where it was glued in place. Some pilling and light staining to the outer cloth.