My great uncle, Sergeant Jack MacPherson, served with the 28th Infantry Division in Europe. He was wounded during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, returned to duty in March 1945, spent several months on occupation duty, and came back home with this fire helmet. He just turned 97; his memory of the battlefield is amazing but the little things in between are a bit foggy. Does the emblem on the front help identify from which town or village this came? His father was a fire chief in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, so the helmet was likely a gift for him. I appreciate any leads you can provide. —Cliff Danley, Jonesborough, Tenn.
I was unable to discover the particular town from which your great uncle may have liberated this item, but I may have narrowed it down to a region. The helmet looks like a Prussian-style fireman’s helmet manufactured in the late nineteenth century—but the insignia on the front definitely appears to be French in origin. I suspect the helmet is also missing a defining characteristic: a protective brass comb designed to reinforce the leather crown of the helmet and protect the wearer more effectively against falling debris.
The mix of German and French influence on this piece, along with Sergeant MacPherson’s affiliation with the 28th Infantry Division, leads me to believe he recovered the helmet from somewhere in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The province of Alsace-Lorraine changed hands between France and Germany numerous times, first to Germany in 1871 as a result of France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian War. The Treaty of Versailles returned the province back to French rule in 1919 but, of course, by 1940 it was in German hands once more.
The 28th Division operated frequently in or near the Alsatian region from September 1944 until the reduction of the Colmar Pocket and final withdrawal of German forces in February of 1945. —Larry Decuers, Curator