Merrill’s Marauders

Continuing our theme of US military patches of units based in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theatre during WWII, today we have badges from one of the most famous special operations units of the time: the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) – otherwise known as Merrill’s Marauders.

These three US made examples all have the cut edge and flecked back. They’re nice and limp which adds to their authenticity and show no glow under UV light. It is very hard to find originals like these as the unit only existed for about a year between 1943-44. When they were reassigned into the 475th Infantry to make up the Marshall Task Force, some of them carried on wearing their old unit patches along with the new ‘MARS TASK FORCE’ ones, seen here.

These later patches were made in the Indian theatre and are very rare indeed. Alongside it is the chain stitched Ledo Road patch, worn by the unit who undertook the huge undertaking of constructing a road from Ledo in India to Burma. It was a then unparalleled feat of engineering snaking 271 miles through dense jungle.

The ‘CBI’ Patch

This week we’re featuring some rather splendid American ‘China Burma India’ theatre patch – otherwise known as the CBI.

It was never an intended formation sign or unit patch but came about because of the need of the US Military Police to identify armed forces personnel. With all nations wearing khaki, this was nigh on impossible.

In August 1942, Brigadier Frank Dorn came up with a patch featuring the sun of China and the Star of India incorporated into US colours. He had a few samples made in India and wore the first one on his left shoulder at a high level staff meeting. He had the other samples sent as production guides to Indian manufactuers. Before long it was standard issue for all US personnel based in China, Burma and India.

Easily the most desirable patches are the theatre made hand-sewn examples of silk, velvet and bullion wire.

The wartime US made examples are more common and should have  a cut edge, flecked reverse and be quite floppy. Nor should they glow under UV [black box]  light. This shows a nylon presence which was not used during the war and would therefore denote a fake.

Additionally, it was not uncommon for pilots, including illustrious ‘Flying Tigers’, to paint the detail on their leather jacket or to have equivalent patches made up of pieces of leather.

Chindit Patches

Founded and led by Brigadier Orde Wingate, the Chindits were a Long Range Penetration Force who undertook two notable missions behind enemy lines in Burma in 1943-44: Operations Longcloth and Thursday.

The name of the force derives from the  sugestion  of  Burma rifles Captain Aung Thin, DSO. His idea was  to use  the name  Chinthe, the guardian of the Burmese temples, along with Wingate’s research on the Chindwin River.

Wingate himself designed the patch: a large golden-orange Chinthe with a temple in the distance and a dash-dot-dot-dot at the base as Morse code for V (Victory). Sadly, he would never see the patch worn as he died in a transport plane crash on 24 March 1944.  

The first chindit patches were issued on the start of a month’s leave after training. A leaflet issued with the patch dated 26th april 1944 states “THIS IS YOUR BADGE, IT MEANS YOU ARE A MEMBER OF SPECIAL FORCE, YOU ARE PROUD OF SPECIAL FORCE. ALL RANKS SPECIAL FORCE ARE PROUD OF YOU”.

The Indian-made patch was hand made in many forms with silk or bright wire details and these were among the largest British formation signs ever made during the war, measuring up to 7-8.5cm across. Chindit shoulder titles were also made and sold in local Indian Bazaars. However, these were never  officially issued, being deemed irregular and not to be worn [ battalion orders india no 56 / 280 ]. Machine woven insignia appeared on the market for sale to veterans and anyone wishing to purchase them right up to today so the collector must be wary. The ones pictured here are, of course, the genuine article!

Open as usual this Saturday!

While a train might be as hard to get hold of as this vintage postcard of the Folkestone Express (departing from Charing Cross!), the serious business of collecting goes on.

Calling at all stops from Burgeoning Curiosity to Avid Enthusiast, the Charing Cross Collectors Fair surges ahead regardless with the most fascinating ‘rolling stock’ to be found anywhere in London… See you there!