Every week we shine a light on a different object from our collections that you may not have seen before. This week we have a Brodie steel helmet – British Army issue, it is named after its inventor, the engineer John Leopold Brodie. At the start of World War 1 (1914-18), soldiers were going into battle with no metal protection for their heads. Due to the high level of head injuries from shrapnel and debris, a strong helmet became a necessity.
In September 1915, a design patented by John Brodie was selected as the British Army’s standard head protection. The design meant the helmet could be cut from a single sheet of steel, and then pressed to form a ‘soup bowl’ shape. This made the helmet stronger and easier to produce. Nicknamed the ‘Battle Bowler’, the helmet was secured using a leather chin strap. Originally a green colour, they were padded on the inside, making them more comfortable to wear. Introduced to soldiers from early 1916 onwards, the helmet led to decreased head injuries, but the design lacked protection to a soldier’s neck and lower head.
The Museum example seems to be the modified helmet approved in summer 1916, as it has edging on the rim – one of the issues highlighted on the first helmet production was that the edge of the brim was sharp and could cause injury.
This particular helmet was used by a member of the ‘Black and Tans’ who were recruited by the British Government to support the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in suppressing the republican movement in Ireland. The name ‘Black and Tans’ derived from the military issue tan and black uniforms they wore. Between early 1920 and the Anglo-Irish Truce in July 1921, almost 14,000 ‘Black and Tan’ recruits, including many Great War veterans, served in Ireland where they earned a reputation for violence and brutality against the civilian population. They were disbanded in 1922 with the formation of the Irish Free State.
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