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!

Quite the Patch

We’ve featured military patches before on this blog but this is a real rarity. Often patches owe their value to the short time frame in which they existed. The overwhelming needs of war meant that squadrons changed roles, moved bases, were merged with others or even disbanded.

It is a tremendous help in authenticating a patch to have the provenance and, happily, this is the case here. This Canadian made felt patch belonged to RC113232 J C Donnelly and is complemented by his worn out identity disc, CANADA nationality title, Observer and Navigator half wings. The 149th (Torpedo Bomber) Squadron was originally formed on 1 October 1942 and Donnelly received this patch on 1 July the following year. By 15 March 1944 the sqaudron had been disbanded but not before seeing service in an anti U-boat role off the pacific coast.

Kings of Sling – Part II

Back in April we posted details of a multi-purpose sling/bandage/tourniquet produced by the St John’s Ambulance Association in the early 1900’s. This is a slightly later version dating from the First World War. While it may at first glance seem identical, there is one key difference: our mustachioed Edwardian gent is now clean shaven.

This was a sad consequence of what one historian described as a definition of progress: with each new war they find a new way of killing you. Poison gas had proved to be one such invention. As gas masks were developed to counter this weapon, the need for an airtight seal was paramount for them to work. So the British Army – which had actually made moustaches compulsory for the previous 56 years – at last dropped the regulation in 1916.

A Moment’s Peace

Bought at the Market last week is this evocative photograph of two British ‘tommies’ during the Great War. Bought by a fellow dealer, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military, he was also kind enough to give us his informed view of what we can learn from this century old primary source.

The ‘Carte Postale’ on the reverse tells us it was taken in a French studio with standard props of a chair, backdrop and unlit cigarette. It’s possible that the two are related, even brothers, and the fact that their uniform pockets are bulging and that they have uncleaned boots might well mean that the pair were taking advantage of a break from the front line when this was taken. Also significant perhaps: neither of them are smiling.

The characteristic snake belt both men are wearing was part of the 1914 leather pattern equipment issued to early Territorial’s and Kitchener battalions. The standing soldier’s cap bears the badge of the Ulster Rifles along with pioneer collar badges of crossed pick and rifle. It’s therefore most likely that he was a member of the regiment’s 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd County Down) (Pioneers). They landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as pioneer battalion for the 36th (Ulster) Division in October 1915 for service on the Western Front.

His seated companion is wearing a cap badge of the Finsbury Rifles along with the typical black buttons of a rifle regiment. An educated guess would be that he quite probably belonged to the 2/11th battalion  of that unit which moved to France in February 1917 where they served on the western front for the duration of the war.

Next week, we’ll have a look at a similar photograph from the Great War, also taken in France but featuring two soldiers from the other side of No Mans’ Lead.

Kings of Sling

The classic cloth triangle to immobilise or elevate an injured limb has been a staple of first aid for centuries. Arguably though, no organisation better demonstrated its versatility than the Saint John’s Ambulance Association.

Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has recently obtained this model of medical efficiency from the early 1900’s. Showing two dozen practical applications from tourniquets to splint braces, the illustrations are so clear and easily understood they could have been drawn up by IKEA.

Thread Badge of Courage

As the US got more heavily involved in Vietnam, the need for unit patches had to scale rapidly. Often these were supplemented by individual units who would have them made locally based on their own drawing or design. The patch would be ready next day and the design kept as a template for future orders.

Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria says that the key to collecting Vietnam patches is to look out for when and where they were made. Beyond that, it’s worth keeping an eye out for any unusual patches, such as might have been made for small special forces units.

GIANG DOANTUAN THAM : River Patrol Recon Force 61
A pair of locally made US patches from early in the Vietnam conflict…
…and the reverse showing the handiwork which created them.

As an example, a pair of hand made badges like these would be highly sought after. They were commissioned by the Green Beret Special Forces who made up the first boots on the ground in Vietnam. Their official designation here was the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, – Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG).

A badge with rainbow effect for the ODA-6 7th Special Forces Group

Holocaust Memorial Day

As regular readers will know, Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria consistently sources the most marvellous historical items for us to feature. However, although this blog has featured some really quite remarkable treasures over the last few years, in my view none of them have been either as poignant or as precious as these: letters written by an inmate of Dachau concentration camp.

A very fitting post for Holocaust Memorial Day, they are a haunting reminder of one of humanity’s lowest points. There are four letters in all, dated 14-2-194, 7-6-1941, 1-9-1941 and 12-4-1942. Written by Johann Jaworski to his wife Maria at an address which appears to be No.(/Apptment?) 37, Horst-Wessel-Strasse, Litzmanstadt. Litzmanstadt was the Nazi name for the Polish city of Łódź, part of which had been turned into a ghetto following the invasion of 1939. It was the second largest ghetto in the whole of occupied Germany.

As for the street name, this was one of thousands of streets which were renamed after figures revered by the Nazis. Horst Wessel was a brownshirt leader who was assassinated by two Communists in Berlin. Goebbels subsequently used his death for propaganda purposes and the Horst Wessel Song became the party’s official anthem.

It is rare indeed to find such letters but even more unusual to have the envelopes which held them. Few people who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis wanted to keep the envelopes bearing a stamp with either his image or former President Hindenburg. Both letters and envelopes bear the camp name, the terms and conditions of use and have been stamped by the camp censor.


A Souvenir from Burma

What on first glance appears to be an ordinary brass bell of the sort which might be found above an old fashioned grocers door is actually a campaign souvenir given to some of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers fortunate enough to return home from the Third Burma War in 1885. While the regiment lost some of its men in battle, many more died from disease.

The choice of a bell came about because during the campaign, the First Battalion had brought three large bronze bells back to Britain: two from the Buddhist temple known as the Incomparable Pagoda in Mandalay and one found in India. One of the Temple bells ended up in Wrexham on a brick pillar outside Woolworths before finding a more decorous home in the Burma Garden of Bodhyfryd Memorial Hall.

Of course, the detail which identifies this as one of the souvenir bells in question and authenticating its age of 136 years is the RWf stamp on the inside. This particular one retains its lead clapper but the traces of glue on the inside of the bell show that it was at some point set to ‘silent’! And if you’d like to see it close up, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has confirmed that the bell will be on display and on sale this Saturday at the market.