British MKI

General Information: The first helmet used by British soldiers in the First World War, the War Office Pattern Helmet (see “British Brodie”) had deficiencies that needed to be addressed. Chief among these were the raw edge which could cause injury. Other problems included reflective paint, and complaints about the liner being hot and slippery. To address these problems, a new helmet, based on the previous design, was created. This was officially designated as “The Helmet, Steel, Mark I” and is referred to as the Mark I or MKI for short.

The MKI had an improved liner system and a mild steel rim that overlapped in the rear. The helmets were painted khaki color with sand added to make the finish non-reflective. A trial batch of 1,000 of the new helmets were sent to France in early May 1916 and approved by field authorities in mid-May. Formal approval for the new design came in early July 1916. Production of the MKI ended in February 1919 at which point just over seven million of the helmets had been manufactured.[1]

The helmets bear the initials or trade mark of the steel manufacturer and the batch number. MKIs were made in just one size, but they came with four different liner sizes. The sizes are embossed on the leather straps attached to the helmet dome. In the middle of that cord is a paper label that reads, “Tighten Cord and Adjust Net to Fit the Head.” Since these labels were fragile, they tend to be missing on surviving examples of WWI British helmets. On the inside of the liners, there is a red ink stamp that reads: “Brodie’s Steel Helmet Registration No 652,800 War Office Pattern. Patent No 11803/16.” In mid-1917 a rubber ring or “donut” was authorized to be added to the crown to serve as an additional buffer between the wearer’s head and the top of the helmet.

Displayed Example: I cannot quite remember, but I believe this helmet came to me as part of a lot of helmets that I purchased at an auction a few years ago. It is a complete example of an earlier version of the MKI without the rubber donut device in the crown. The size, 7 ¼, is embossed on the leather strap attached to the crown. The original owner wrote his name and rank on the same section of leather strapping: “CORP. LIT TLEF[IELD]?”

Collector Notes: The British MKI is not a very difficult or expensive thing to acquire, although finding one in very good condition at a good price may require some patience. I have noticed the price of these seems to be creeping up these last few years compared to the MKI’s American cousin the US M17. Helmets with unit badges or flashes command higher prices. The early arriving members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) had no helmets when they reached Europe. The British supplied these troops with approximately 400,000 MKIs.[2] The M17s were issued later, including to a large number of doughboys who never saw combat or never left the United States. Many of these helmets remained unissued at war’s end. The MKIs issued to American soldiers, therefore, have longer histories and were worn by people who were more likely to have been in combat than the wearers of the M17s. For this reason, in my opinion, the American-used British MKIs have more cachet than the M17s, although M17s are cool too.


[1] Haselgrove. 2006. pp.361-362.

[2] Haselgrove. 2006. pp. 670.

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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