British uniforms of the 20th
Century were traditionally plain, even dull.
maroon and blue Pegasus patches identify members of the elite British
Special Air Service (SAS) paratroops.
The red beret is also part of the paratrooper
uniform, here worn with the unique SAS "Who Dares
Wins" cap badge.
Captain initially served as a Sergeant in an Infantry Battalion of the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and he
won his Military Medal (MM) on the Retreat to Dunkirk.
George Medal (GM) was awarded when he saved a French child from drowning
during the period of the "phoney war" in France before Hitler
launched his Blitzkrieg.
his decorations is the African Campaign ribbon (the Africa
Star), worn with a small silver
rosette device. This
indicates that his participation in the North African campaign was with a
unit not attached to either the 1st or 8th British Armies; otherwise
there would be either a small silver "1" or "8"
wears his parachute qualification wings proudly over his left breast
pocket, as opposed to his upper right sleeve. This was a privilege granted to those who
had made at least three jumps behind enemy lines. The Sten
gun, accused by some as being finicky and unreliable, was not the choice of many Paratroops,
but when silenced was almost impossible to hear firing.
The SAS was initially created as a
land based desert raiding force to weaken Rommel's North African
logistics network as well as to hinder aircraft operations. The
reference to "Air Service" was originally a ruse. Their first
successful raid happened in December of 1941, when two groups, with our
Captain, at that time a Lieutenant, destroyed 61 aircraft at two airfields.
When the force ran out of explosives, SAS soldiers began to use their
personal weapons to shoot out the controls.
Another raid was launched
soon after; this time twenty seven airplanes were destroyed. For
individual bravery and excellence of battlefield command he was
awarded the Military Cross (MC) on this second raid.
The SAS operated in Europe as well; in
one operation (codenamed Houndsmith), our Captain and 143 other men were
parachuted with jeeps and supplies into an area close to Dijon, France.
All told, the SAS inflicted 7,733 German casualties in Europe. 4,784
prisoners were captured and 700 vehicles were destroyed or captured. 164
railways were cut, seven trains were destroyed and thirty-three were
derailed. The SAS was also used to "mop up" German war
criminals. They hunted down senior SS and Gestapo agents and brought
them before the War Crimes Tribunal. It was for leading a
successful team in this work that won him the temporary rank of Major
and the DSO.
Following the German invasion of
Poland the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Franco-Belgian
border in 1939. Our Captain was there as a young baby faced Corporal who
started his moustache to add a little visual seniority.
His prewar service as a Cadet meant
early promotion. His Unit sustained heavy losses and mounted a fighting
withdrawal. Here is where he won the first of his 2 Military Medals
"For Bravery in the Field" while attacking a motorized MG
By the time his Unit was evacuated to
England he was a Sergeant acting as a Warrant Officer. A mate who had
been badly wounded gave him the well worn Sam Browne belt.
He now gave up his rifle and started to
wear the .38 caliber Mark 4 Webley
pistol. He was wounded during the
evacuation by a strafing Messerschmitt. Note the wound badge on his left
Back in the UK the Battalion regrouped
and he was posted to 1st Battalion 8th Lancashire Fusiliers which became part of
4th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The Division arrived
in India in June 1942, was sent to Burma in April 1944 and back to India
in April 1945. As a Sergeant he won a Bar to his MM while serving with Brigadier
'Mad Mike' Calvert as one of Major General Wingate's famous
It was also here that he won a
battlefield commission to Lieutenant and his skill and daring as a
leader soon saw him promoted Captain. He finished the war without
further incident and after demobilisation went on to a successful
The RAF allowed a wide
latitude from regulation uniform, especially among its pilots. Many sported
colorful ascots instead of the prescribed black woolen necktie.
Others, like this officer,
eschewed neckwear altogether in favor of a turtleneck sweater.
His pilot's wings identify him as a flyer, and the twin stripes of
braid on his cuffs show that he is a Flight Lieutenant, equivalent to the
U.S. rank of Captain.
His only visible
service ribbon is that of the Distinguished Flying
However, if you were to lift his left lapel, you'd find the unofficial
"flying boot" badge of a pilot who has returned to his unit
after being downed behind enemy lines.
During the Battle of Britain he flew the
famous British fighter plane, the 'Supermarine
Spitfire'. Later in the war he was transferred to a unit that flew Hawker
Hurricanes, the first RAF fighter to exceed 300mph & the first
eight gun monoplane to enter service.
In combat, British paratroops wore a
special steel helmet.
Usually, as shown here, it was covered with
3/8-inch netting onto which were tied bits of camouflage-coloured fabric
in order to break up its silhouette and blend in with surrounding
This captain's khaki webbing bandolier
holds five spare 32-round 9-mm magazines for his MK III Sten submachine
The heavy rope tied round his torso and shoulders is called a
| With a wooden handle at one end and a sturdy loop at
the other, these 6- to 8-foot ropes were used by paratroops and
commandoes to quickly construct ad-hoc bridges and other rigs, such as
for climbing and descending steep terrain. His
darkened face makes him harder to see in dim light. The substance
used may be a grease paint specifically designed for the purpose, or
carbon soot from a charred cork, or even standard boot polish.
When his unit dropped into Normandy in
1944 to make Operation Overlord possible they were supported by glider
borne troops who bought with them anti-tank guns and even light
tanks called Tetrarch. These were landed by the huge wooden British General
Aircraft Hamilcar Gliders.
Away from the battle lines, most
British Paratroops favored the famous red beret instead of the heavy
steel helmet. Many even wore it into battle.
The camouflaged Denison smock is the
distinctive garment of the British Airborne Forces. It was introduced in
1942 and replaced an earlier garment which was copied from the German
This captain wears the first-pattern
Denison with knitted woolen cuffs. Many parachute battalions used
a system of identifying colored epaulet loops on both the smock and
their Battle Dress Blouse.
The maroon loops shown here identify a
member of the 9th battalion of the 6th Airborne Division.