Rather fitting in this period of remembrance is this rare 1st issue 1915 Pattern Brodie Helmet having once belonged to two different WW1 casualties of the famous “Accrington Pals”, one an enlisted man and the other an officer.
The Helmet’s present configuration is that of its last owner 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Bartlett.
The “Accrington Pals” were officially the 11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. This home town battalion is probably the most famously evocative of WW1 British units due it’s special “friends kept together” local recruitment policy being combined with its then catastrophic deployment on the first day of the 1916 Battle of the Somme where the battalion was notoriously all but wiped out.
To confirm the Accrington Pals's place in history as the ultimate tragic WW1 battalion, following the 1916 Somme disaster the battalion was reconstituted with further localised recruitment, only for it then to be absurdly similarly decimated in the heavy fighting of the next Battle of the Somme during the German Spring Offensive of 1918.
Poignantly, through two different unfortunate owners, this Helmet spans both the 1916 and 1918 Somme disasters of the Accrington Pals.
The Helmet consists of a rare 1st issue 1915 War Office Pattern Helmet shell with 1916 Somme Battle overpaint and superb battalion pattern East Lancashire Regiment helmet decal applied to the front, with then a scarce officer’s private purchase liner fitted to the interior.
The War Office Pattern Helmet shell seen is of the rare very first type adopted by the British Army in October 1915. These first issues are characterised by very distinctive paintwork, a raw edge, and most easily discernible, by the narrow chin strap bales as seen.
By early 1916 the Helmet's narrow chin strap bales, a known weak point, were changed to a different larger model. This enlargement of the bale loops and bigger metal rivet supporting section made the new bales much stronger. These improved wider chin strap bales were then formally taken up by the subsequent new Mk 1 Helmet launched in mid July 1916, this new helmet though effectively only reaching the front from September onwards.
The first issues of the 1915 War Office Pattern Helmet were also painted a very distinctive apple green colour. This vivid light colour itself only lasted until April 1916 however as by this time, with the upcoming Somme offensive in mind, British High Command deemed it to be too visible and helmets were ordered to be painted over in a specially prescribed dark khaki colour.
The 1915 apple green shell on this Helmet has been painted over in exactly this special pre-offensive April 1916-ordered manner, in certain areas however that all important 1st issue apple green colour of the shell is still visibly showing through.
720 Accrington Pals took part in the Somme attack of the 1st of July 1916. Of these an incredible 584 were killed, wounded or posted missing; this necessitating the broken remnants to be withdrawn from the line in the days that followed.
It is from this historic disaster that the shell of this Helmet comes, worn by one of the Accrington Pals casualties of that fateful day and then collected after the attack by the battalion for re-issue since no longer of use to the original owner. 1916 Somme photos show this amazing post battle helmet collecting in operation.
At the time of that first Battle of the Somme this recycling of their helmets policy by battalions was absolutely standard practice. Helmets had not long been on issue in the British Army then and as such they were a scarce and valuable commodity.
The service number and initials “TM" of that first Somme casualty are still visible scratched on the Helmet, this at the 7.30 and 1 o’clock positions as viewed in my image of the Helmet’s underside.
Though for the most part illegible, the presence of a service number reference on the shell is most significant as it certifies the Helmet’s 1916 Somme casualty was an enlisted man as British officers did not have service numbers in the First Word War.
Having been retrieved from the battlefield it would seem this particular Helmet was then kept in battalion stores with an obviously large number of other Accrington Pals casualty helmets while the battalion was reconstituted, this since it was only re-issued to its next owner 2nd Lieutenant Bartlett a year later when that officer joined the battalion.
2nd Lieutenant Frederick Harold Bartlett was born on the 24th of January 1893, prior to joining the Army he was a 23 year old theological student. He applied to become an officer in December 1916, and following his training, in September1917 he joined the Accrington Pals at their Depot in France, this located at Thélus near Vimy.
It is evident from the Helmet’s present configuration that, as was common, the newly commissioned 2/Lt.Bartlett took a comfortable private purchase Hawkes self fitting helmet liner to France with him, and then had the Thélus depot’s workshop fit this more practical ventilating replacement liner to the War Office Pattern Helmet upon having that battalion Helmet issued him. At issue 1915 War Office Pattern Helmets had a tonged liner and wadding which went all the way up the inside of the Helmet to the single rivet fixing point at the top, this was known to get uncomfortably hot in wear. Replacing the single rivet 1915 issue lining was easily achieved as the special Hawkes self fitting ventilating liner seen here was by design fitted with the turn of just one screw equally at the Helmet's top.
Rather nicely 2/Lt.Bartlett has in addition handwritten the “December 1916” start date of his officer career to the leather headband of his liner, plus his name “F. Bartlett" to the inside of the chin strap.
Presumably Bartlett’s further intention was to later write his army leaving date on the headband as well when that time came, this plan being derailed however by his subsequent casualty status.
The Helmet is presently fitted with 2nd type one piece chinstrap instead of the 1915 1st type two piece chin strap initially issued with War Office Pattern Helmets.
Despite the presence of Bartlett’s name upon it it is not so easy to say for certain when this chin strap was actually fitted. As early as June 1916 issue replacement chin straps of the 2nd type as seen here were fitted to repair War Office Pattern Helmets, these a precursor to the formal adoption of the rimmed Mk1 Helmet in July 1916 which had such 2nd type chin straps fitted to the helmet and liner as standard.
Though one cannot be definite, in my opinion the 2nd type issue chin strap seen on this War Office Pattern Helmet must have been a battalion replacement made for a June/July 1916 repair as it is fixed directly to the chinstrap bales in the repair manner of the early 1st type chin strap fixings, and not fixed through the bales to the liner and dome as on later helmet fixings.
In addition, I can see no reason why Bartlett would want to replace a perfectly useable 1st type two piece chinstrap in the first place if this was still on the 1916 stored War Office Pattern Helmet when this was issued him in 1917; this especially true given officer’s helmets often have private purchase two piece chin straps fitted to them regardless. With all this in mind I believe Bartlett simply put his name to a chin strap that was already on the War Office Pattern Helmet.
On the 21st of March 1918, seven months after Bartlett joined the battalion, the Germans infamously launched their deadly “Kaiserschlacht” Spring Offensive. This another notorious disaster for the British Army during which it suffered very heavy losses. With macabre irony this murderous 1918 offensive was fought all along the old Somme killing fields of 1916.
It is during this bloody last ditch Somme strike by the German Army that 2/Lt.Bartlett became a casualty. The East Lancashire Regiment having several battalions directly in the path of the German offensive, one of which was the Accrington Pals.
In the first week of the Spring Offensive the Accrington Pals lost half their number with 350 of these casualties occurring in just one day.
On the 22nd of March 1918, the critical second day of the offensive, Bartlett was wounded during the battalion’s fiercely fought rearguard defence of the Somme village of Hesbecourt. This whilst wearing this actual Helmet. He was then invalided home to England six days later.
After that Bartlett took no further part in the war. He convalesced in England until war’s end after which he resigned his commission.
This unusual state of affairs of course means 2/Lt.Bartlett’s Accrington Pals Helmet is a rare time capsule, untouched beyond Hesbecourt's ferocious fight.
The Helmet is thus complete and in very good condition overall with only a tiny amount of long dead insect nibbling to the liner band where Bartlett has written his December 1916 Army joining date. The chin strap is pliable and strong with the shielded naming to the inside of it undamaged.
With the Helmet comes 2/Lt.Barret's identity disc. This was found tucked behind the liner band; to prevent loss it is presently secured to the liner band via its drawstring.
An historic helmet.
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