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DateOriginal Topic
18th May 2004'Camo' cork helmets
By Miguel
We all know the overseas cork helmets were stained with tea or coffee in the field so they were not so visible.

Am I the only one who found this sudden concern for camouflage somewhat odd, coming from soldiers who were:

a) Wearing red coats and white leather straps
b) Marching and fighting in large, close formations along with heavy supply trains
c) Facing an enemy with no trained marksmen and (very) close combat tactics
d) All of the above while drums and bugles were sounding.

There had to be a reason for staining the helmets, but has anyone heard of a different, more plausible explanation?

Canary Islands
18th May 2004Bill Cainan

I think you will find that the staining of the helmets (and the removal of the helmet plates) had nothing to do with camouflage. It was just so difficult to keep the helmet whitened and the plate polished on campaign in Southern Africa, that both practices were quickly abandoned. Staining the helmets (with tea) would also, at least, keep them all looking the same ! The same applied to the leather equipment.

21st May 2004Bill Cainan

I've had a re-think on what I said on the 18th and have ploughed through my AZW book collection to see what I could find.

In "Campaigning in South Africa and Egypt" by Major-General W C F Molyneux is the following:

"The white helmet and accoutrements of the Regulatrs show at great distances even in the bush. They should be coloured with coffee or boled mimosa-barek, and when wanted for parade again can be pipe-clayed up as neat as ever."

Although this was in relation to the Cape-Frontier war (which imnmewdiately proceeded the AZW) it would have applied to the 1st and 2nd Bns of the 24th, who went on to form part of the British invasion force in the AZW. So, yes, it was an attempt more at "not standing out" than pure camouflage.! If you link this point to watching "Zulu" and "Zulu Dawn" (where in both the helmets and equipment were left white) you will see that the first thing you notice is the "whiteness". The red coats (which would have been faded by 1879) are not so obvious as one would think. However, I do take your point that the other factors you mention would obviously detract from any efforts made to "tone down".

21st May 2004Sheldon Hall

In fact most of the private soldiers' helmets in ZULU DAWN (unlike those in ZULU) are brownish rather than pure white.

21st May 2004jim
boled mimosa-barek
Is this a type of Boer porridge?
21st May 2004Bill Cainan

Well spotted, it should have read "boiled mimosa-bark" - that's what happens when you use a Welsh keyboard !


Yes, you're right "Zulu Dawn" did make the effort to use brown helmets and no helmet plates (and a mixture of brown and white leather equipment). However, the point I was making about White helmets standing out at a distance, is well illustrated in "Zulu Dawn" by some of the NMP.

Thanks to you both