Helmet plates were the badges worn on the Home Service Helmet (HSH) (sometimes known as the Blue Cloth Helmet). This helmet was introduced by the authority of General Order number 40 of 1st May 1878 and so gives a good basis for dating helmet plates. The HSH was made of cork covered with blue cloth (although variations existed such as dark green for Rifle and Light Infantry regiments and grey for Volunteer Corps).
The helmet fittings of spike, chin chain and rose fastenings as well as the helmet plate itself, say much about which battalion the helmet belonged to. Generally speaking, a helmet with gilt or gilding metal fittings belonged to a regular battalion, silver or white metal fittings belonged to volunteer battalions.
Although helmet plates of the regular battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment tended to follow the same design throughout the lifetime of the HSH, it should be noted that between 1878 and 1881 when regimental numbers were still in use, the centre of the helmet plate contained the number 65 for the 65th of Foot and for the 84th of Foot, a silver rose with a silver 84 at the base of the Garter. After 1881 and the disappearance of regimental numbers and the introduction of territorial regimental titles, the number on the helmet plate was replaced with a Union Rose.
Until they were linked to the 65th and 84th in 1881, volunteer and militia battalions had a variety of helmet plate designs, some of which are shown in this chapter. After 1883, volunteer battalions wore helmet plates along the same lines as their regular counterparts but again made in silver or white metal.
The design of the helmet plate is an eight pointed star with the topmost star being displaced by a crown. For Officers, the plates are usually made up of three pieces, the star, the Garter with the laurel wreath and the central device of a Union Rose. A silver plaque is fixed to the bottom of the wreath with the words ‘The York and Lancaster Regiment’.
Other Ranks helmet plates are a two piece construction, the star (or backing plate) and the Helmet Plate Centre (HPC) which is a circle inscribed with ‘York and Lancaster’ and a small laurel spray. A Union Rose in white metal with a gilt centre is soldered to the middle of the HPC. The HPC has loops to its rear which fits through slots in the backing plate which in turn are then held in place by pins fitted through the loops. In this way, a standard backing plate could be used for the whole army with each individual regiment fitting its own individual HPC.
It is often difficult to confirm the manufacturers of helmet plates although records in the regimental archive show that from the early 1870’s through to 1898, the company J & B Pease and Co appear to have been the exclusive supplier of badges, accoutrements and uniforms to the 2nd VB of the York and Lancaster Regiment.
(Note: A scrapbook held in the York and Lancaster Regimental archive belonging to CSgt Piper contains General Funds account reports from the early 1870’s up to 1898. One such report for the year ending 31st December 1876 states that on April 18th Messers J&B Pearse and Co had been paid the sum of £164-10-9d for ‘clothing and accoutrements’. Archive reference 578-K/6/3/1).