Important 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap - Published
This most important piece, which in the brief official parlance of the RFC "1915 Scale Of Provision For Aeroplane Squadrons" (Issue Flying Kit List) is simply designated as "Caps, fur lined", is another artefact from an early WW1 grouping of items attributed to Air Mechanic 859 Charles Albert Cordeaux RFC.
For information on Cordeaux's career with the RFC (and later RAF) please refer to my earlier listing relating to his Identity Discs.
The Flying Cap offered here was perhaps issued to Cordeaux, a Wireless Technician, for his occasional aerial duties of 1915-16 and as such it is an extremely rare survivor of the very first General Issue of Flying Cap for the Royal Flying Corps of 1915, this pre-dating by over a year the General Issue "Caps leather, summer" (better known by its RAF re-designation of Mk1 Flying Cap).
The RFC was created in 1912 and at that time it was a very small unit. Up until 1914 Issue flying kit was very limited in number, as the number of Other Ranks Aircrew in this period was itself very limited. During this pre-WW1 period Issue flying headgear was of two specific types, either hard shell "helmets" to provide protection from shocks, or soft shell "caps" to provide protection from the cold, with the Issue of the hard shell protective helmet type dominating. When the War Department did Issue soft leather Flying Caps during this period, due to the very limited number needed these were mainly bought in small batches from the motoring trade and therfore a number of different patterns were worn. One of the most prevalent of these pre-WW1 Issue soft leather patterns however was the distinctive "Lappet" Pattern Flying Cap with it's long leather tapes (lappets) fastening at the top of the head; the pattern from which this Flying Cap is a direct descendant. A rare photograph of the RFC Issue Lappet Pattern Flying Cap is shown on page 23 of Mark Hillier's definitive book on the Royal Flying Corps, the full evolution of RFC Flying Headgear is copiously described in this book, for space reasons only a précis of the evolution can be given here).
After the outbreak of War in 1914 Military Aviation grew in size exponentially and so did the number of Other Ranks Aircrew. Very quickly it was found that the hard type protective flying helmets on dominant Issue to such Aircrew were impractical under wartime conditions and so by 1915 these were relegated to training use only. In order to fill the void and provide a practical piece of flying headgear for the large number of Other Ranks Aircrew now rapidly emerging, in 1915 the distinct pattern of "Caps fur lined" was added to the RFC Issue Flying Kit List (Scale Of Provision). This 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap was a simplified version of the pre-War Issue "Lappet" Pattern with the only difference in essence being that the long lappets were now converted to a more practical short chinstrap and buckle arrangement, this Pattern being sealed by the RFC in May 1915 as Pattern No. 8402 (see page 12 of Mark Hillier's book).
It would appear that the conversion was done at factory level from Issue Lappet Flying Cap "blanks" as visibly on this example there is no discernible difference between the chinstrap colour and the rest of the Flying Cap, plus the redundant leather channels at ear and skull level which guided the original lappets to the top of the head for fastening are still in position. It is assumed that the conversion was kept to such a basic necessity minimum by the RFC due to the expedience of the hour. The fact that the lappet ear and skull guiding channels remain in position on 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Caps does however make them easily recognisable in period photographs and an example of one such photo is shown on page 37 of Marc Hillier's book. Both Major James McCudden VC and Major "Mick" Mannock VC were Issued the 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap when they were Other Rank/Officer Cadets in the RFC, and both continued to wear it throughout their extensive flying careers as numerous period photos testify. McCudden's 1915 Pattern Flying Cap was removed from the site of his fatal crash of July 1918 and it is currently on display in the Imperial War Museum along with his Flying Gloves and Maternity Tunic. Images of that Flying Cap can be found online; as can be seen the Cap retains all the distinctive and redundant lappet guiding channels, is well used, and has darkened considerably due to the extensive wear.
In contrast to the latter however, this 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap is in near pristine condition. It has seen only light service wear as Cordeaux perhaps used the Flying Cap infrequently in the 1915-16 period that he was stationed at Abeale Aerodrome as he was not regular Aircrew (see Identity Discs Listing). At the end of his deployment at Abeale Cordeaux left Aerial Wireless Telegraphy altogether for two years and so this Cap was not used further. Upon his return to Aerial Wireless duties in 1919 the flying kit Cordeaux was to use was greatly impacted by the fact that the technology surrounding Aerial Wireless had considerably evolved during his two year absence. In the 1915-16 period when Cordeaux used this Flying Cap Observers transmitted Morse code messages ground wards to Artillery Batteries, but were not equipped with receivers and so did not require Flying Caps carrying headphones. However the introduction of air to ground Wireless Telephony (voice radio) in late 1917 led to the indispensable use of either, specially produced Flying Caps incorporating telephone pockets over the ears (see page 43 of Mark Hillier's book), or, much more commonly, earphones being worn slotted onto elastic straps so that they could be used with the standard Summer/MK1 Flying Cap now Issued, the substantial earphones being able to be held in place by that Cap's wide press-studded ear flaps. Since Cordeaux only ever flew in his capacity as a Wireless Technician he would not have been able to re-use his 1915 Pattern Flying Cap for this purpose upon his return to Aerial Wireless duties in 1919 as, not only did it not possess any such wide press-studded flaps, but also it was plainly now obsolete in regards to Aerial Wireless duties in any event due to its retained (and narrow) "lappet channels" covering the ears, this obviously making the fitting of any headphones whatsoever impossible. I believe that it is on account of Cordeaux having to use a totally different Pattern of Flying Cap for his flying duties in Ireland in 1919 that his 1915 Pattern Flying Cap has survived; there is no doubt that this Cap has remained in its beautiful lightly used 1915-16 state.
The leather is soft and pliable, with just two very small holes to the leather close to the front left hand edge when viewed. Wonderfully the Cap's leather retains its original light tan issue colour. All the stitching is without fault, the leather covering to the buckle is undamaged, and the fur is completely devoid of mothing or loss. It has a lovely Government Manufacturer's label stating a good size 7, plus the 1915 date; as well as having a clear Government Issue stamp of the letter "A" over broad arrow, indicating equipment intended for "Air use".
Aside from McCudden's in the Imperial War Museum, this is the only 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap in existence that I know of.
These stopgap "Caps, fur lined" were only Issued for a little over a year before being superseded by the "Caps leather, summer" (Mk1 Flying Cap) in the latter part of 1916. The scale of manufacture itself was far smaller than for the Mk1 Flying Cap which was manufactured in far greater numbers and for far longer.
The RFC Scale Of Provision For Aeroplane Squadrons for 1915 states that only 25 of these Caps were designated per Squadron that year (see page 4 of Mark Hillier's book). It is little wonder therefore that the 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap is so rare today. Given the rarity this actual Cap is the one featured in Mark Hillier's book to demonstrate the 1915 Pattern RFC Flying Cap - "Caps, fur lined" (see pages: 25, 48, & 49).
An undeniably important Flying Cap in the evolution of RFC Issue Flying Headgear, in incredible condition, and quite possibly the sole survivor of the type in private hands.