This is about the most fearsome looking allied helmet from World War One as you will ever see. In today's world, we have a tendency to associate skull and cross bones as a sign of rebellion.... perhaps a tattoo on a member of a motorcycle gang, a rock band's t-shirt, or in a Disney pirate movie. We often forget that there was once a time where this symbol actually meant what it stood for...a symbol of certain death if the viewer didn't heed its warning....perhaps on a bottle of poison, a high voltage sign, or in this case, a sign of a soldier's commitment to killing his enemies.
The worn and battered surfaces of this helmet tell quite a story both in wear and in painted symbols and partially worn writing. You can spend hours looking at this helmet and never get bored with something like this. The skull and bones at the front are well-painted but the age and chipped paint from hard combat usage depict the hardships faced by millions of soldiers who fought in that terrible war some 90 years ago. The helmet is in the standard green sand paint used by both British and American troops showing lots of wear. There are 3 small dents at the top that show decades of patina formed around worn top edges of the indentation revealing almost certainly been there from the time of the war. The top of the helmet has a playing card painted on the top...the Ace of spades I believe braced by other cards around it that are badly worn. At least one card has a word but it too is quite worn. The back of the helmet reads "AEF". while the left side has a reddish colored object that resembles a football or diamond symbol with more writing. Looks like "Triple? something?". The right side has a pair of standing lions holding a shield with a third lion on the plate. There is another motif in gold paint beneath. The inside of the helmet is complete with original liner and chinstrap with wonderful painting underneath the rim of every place the soldier who wore this helmet travelled. We can only hope that he returned safely back home. It appears his name was L.B. Havens. The first towns are in England. From there, the locations quickly change to French ones as the list goes on. See Photos. Here are the places he painted: Liverpool, Winchester, South Hampton, Le Havre, Nantes, Bouguenais, Le Mans, Mayet, Mansigne, Pontvallain, and Brest.
I must admit, at first we thought this probably belonged to a soldier in the historic British 17th Lancers who were called the "Death or Glory Boys". Their official motif was a Skull and Crossbones which they adopted as a tribute to one of their fallen Generals in Quebec during the 1760's. They were later immortalized in Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade".
However, upon contacting an expert on the 17th Lancers, Mr. Terry Brighton of England who happens to be writing a book on the Lancers, he astutely observed several details that lead to the true identity of this helmet.
In letter No. 1, Mr. Bright writes: " Sounds like an interesting item. I don't like identifying anything without seeing a photo, but I'm pretty sure I know what this is. The skull and crossed bones made you think of the 17th Lancers, but I'm guessing the AEF stands for American Expeditionary Force. I think this item is the M17 helmet worn by the AEF in Europe in World War One. These American troops arrived in Britain at Liverpool and Glasgow - and Liverpool is first on the list of place names this guy records. The M17 was a copy of the British helmet, and was first manufactured in Britain, then later in the US. Sounds like LB Havens had quite an artistic flair. I'm guessing he added the skull and crossed bones to scare the hell out of the enemy! I'm preparing a book on the history of the skull and bones, so if you ever take a photo of this helmet I would love to have a copy. Here is letter #2 (after showing the photos, Terry was able to identify this as a rare American 5th Division Helmet) Hi Brent Thanks for the pictures of the helmet - really interesting. As final proof that this is an American Expeditionary Force helmet, the AEF sailed from Southhampton on the south coast of England to Le Havre in France. LB Havens writes 'South Hampton', and only an American would write this as two words - in England it is one word. Looking at the photos I wondered why there was no divisional insignia on the helmet - then I realised that there is. The American 5th Division had a red diamond as its insignia and was known as 'the ace of diamonds' division, and also as the 'red diamond' division. What is interesting is that the Germans called the 5th Division 'the red devils'. That term does not derive naturally from a red diamond, so I wonder whether the division unofficially made considerable use of the skull and bones. It looks from the photos as if all or part of the skull and bones was originally red, which certainly would give rise to the name 'red devils'. I would imagine this is quite a rare helmet! Terry" Upon closer inspection, I must concur, as the playing card with the diamond is readily visible. Upon a little bit of additional reading, Terry was right! This was the early symbol of the US Army's 5th Division. This was a full square division formed in Dec. 1917 at Camp Logan in Texas. By May, they were already in France where they received additional training in trench warfare from French Officers. The symbol on the left side (which I thought initially a football or a lemon, is a hand-painted 5th Division Diamond or rhombus. As for the skulls and crossbones, here is something we found on the society of the 5th Divisions website: The origin of the 5th Division's motto, "We Will," is not known but it has definitely been established that it was used in World War 1. It was the German enemy in the St. Mihiel campaign who gave the men of the division the name by which they are known today. They called them "Die rote Teufel"- -which in English is "Red Devils!" Here is some additional information about the 5th Division's time in France during 1918 we found on www.5thid.net :
In the beginning of June, 1918 the 5th Division was assigned to the 7th French Army in the Anould section of the Vosges mountains. Over the next month, the 5th Division conducted numerous patrol and raiding missions and successfully repulsed several German attacks along their lines. On July 14 the 5th Division was reassigned to the St. Die sector and relieved the French troops which had been defending the area.
The 5th Division quickly established themselves and ran almost continuous patrols in "No mans land." Prior to the arrival of the 5th Division, German aircraft had flown over the Allied lines at will. That soon changed when a gunner from D Company, 14th Machine Gun Battalion shot down one of the German aircraft. It was the first enemy aircraft ever destroyed by ground fire in that sector. The Germans quickly learned to avoid any area that might contain troops from the 5th Division.
On August 17, the 5th Division went on the offensive for the first time. Early on the morning of the 17th, the 3rd Battalion, 6th Infantry, with machine guns and engineers in support attacked and captured the town of Frapelle, which was the end of a small salient. After a brief but intense struggle against machine guns and artillery, the attacking Americans quickly drove the Germans from Frapelle. After receiving reinforcements, the men of the 5th Division stood ready for a counter attack. Over the next three days, the defenders endured numerous counter-attacks and heavy artillery bombardment. But through it all they held their ground.
The Frapelle offensive was important for several reasons. First, it was the first advance the Allied forces had achieved in almost three years in that sector. Second it was the first time the 5th Division had fought as an in dependant unit.
On August 23, the 5th Division was relieved and sent to Arches for a much needed rest and resupply. There they received new equipment and replacements were integrated into the units. On September 4, the 5th Division again moved to the front for a new offensive. St. Mihiel.
After a series of night marches through mud and rain, the 5th Division moved over 100 kilometers to the staging area at Regnieville. The inclement weather broke before the Germans were prepared. The German high command had anticipated an attack in this area and decided to withdraw. However, because the weather cleared, and the 5th Division had arrived so fast, the attack went ahead 48 hours ahead of schedule. After 4 hours of artillery preparation, the 6th and 11th Regiments commenced the attack. The attacking Americans moved so quickly, they outran their own artillery and attached French tanks. In less than 9 hours, the 5th Division had captured all of its objectives. The men began to dig in and prepare for the expected German attacks.
For three days, German artillery pounded the 5th Division lines and several attacks by the Germans were repulsed. The Division began aggressive patrolling north of the Hindenburg line. On September 17, the 78th Infantry Division arrived and replaced the 5th Division in line. The St. Mihiel operation was an overwhelming success. The 5th Division, who by now had earned the nickname "Die rote teufel" or Red Devils, had killed over 300 enemy soldiers and captured 1,243. Huge quantities of German equipment was captured including many artillery pieces. 21 Red Devils were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The Red Devils pulled back for another rest and resupply.
On October 11, the 5th Division was ordered again into combat. This time to clear a small area called Bois de Rappes. For over a week, the Red Devils attacked some of the strongest German fortifications ever encountered. The Germans also had artillery support from the heights east of the River Meuse. Again and again, the 5th Division attacks the German positions only to be repulsed. Finally on October 21, in a surprise attack, the Red Devils attacked with fixed bayonets under an intense rolling artillery barrage. The Germans fought tenaciously but could not stop the Americans. It took 11 days and almost 4,500 casualties, but the Bois des Rappes was finally in Allied hands. During this action 1 officer, Lt. Samuel Woodfill, was awarded the Medal of Honor and 87 men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The 5th Division only received 4 days rest when they were ordered into another assault. This time their objective was to force a crossing of the River Meuse, east of Bois des Rappes. By November 3, after meeting little resistance, the 5th Division reached the bank of the River. Early on the morning of the 3rd, the 6th Regiment crossed the river with engineers and established a footbridge. The 6th Regiment came under heavy machine gun fire from the heights and was pinned down most of the day. On the 4th, reinforcements crossed the bridge and the Red Devils stormed the heights. On the 5th, the 60th Regiment forced another crossing to the north, meeting heavy resistance. But by the end of the day, the two assault forces linked up and had secured a strong beachhead across the River Meuse in two places.
During the Meuse operation, another Red Devil, Capt Edward Allworth, Commanding Officer of I Company, 60th Infantry, was awarded the Medal Of Honor. General Pershing, commander of the American Forces said of the 5th Division, "This operation was one of the most brilliant military feats in the history of the American Army in France. . . ." Henceforth, the 5th was the "Meuse Division!"
The 5th Division began expanding the beachhead allowing other divisions to cross unopposed. They then began to attack further East, driving 18 kilometers to the Loison River. Shortly after that, the armistice was signed, ending hostilities.
During the course of the war, 9,981 Red Devils became casualties including 1,098 who were killed in action. 351 Red Devils were decorated for bravery and valor in combat against the German Army. On November 27, the Red Devils moved into Luxembourg for occupation duty. 6 months later in the summer of 1919, the 5th Infantry Division returned home and was deactivated on October 4, 1921 at Camp Jackson, SC.
Overall, the helmet is in good condition complete with its original liner and leather chin strap. As described previously, the olive green paint shows a lot of wear and patina from hard living in France during 1918. The wear around the 3 dents at the top is evidence they occurred during its time in service and not after the war. The skull and bones at the front have a menacing look about them but even more so with the hard-fought conditions through which it survived. This helmet does not appear to have spent much time retreating as the paint and "AEF" symbol painted on the back are in better shape than the areas moving forward! Its not often we find a painted World War One Helmet that's ID'D and looks like it saw some action. Some addition research on the man who wore it, Mr. L.B. Havens would be interesting as well.