The New Pioneer: How Soldiers Kept Their Buttons Polished

Soldiers were expected to carry a lot of equipment with them while on the Front line. From a gas mask to an extra pair of socks, soldiers were prepared for the rapid changes demanded by modern warfare. Lesser-known to many, however, soldiers also carried a brass button polishing guard. Made of a thin sheet of brass, the polishing guard protected the soldier’s uniform when polishing the brass buttons still fixed to their uniform. 


Image: [The New Pioneer Equipment Protector, 1918]. Collections CCGW/CCGG

As representatives of the army, soldiers were expected to reflect the standards and values of the force in which they served. When soldiers were out of the trenches, they often had to ensure that the buttons of their uniform were shined. While tedious and time-consuming, soldiers used the brass button polishing guard to avoid staining the fabric with excess polish. To avoid this altogether, many soldiers acquired a second set of buttons that they would keep polished at all times, exchanging them with their everyday buttons for special occasions, such as parades and inspections. [1]

The brass button polishing guard pictured above was made by the well-known silversmith Frederick Narborough of Birmingham. The New Pioneer Equipment Protector, patented in 1918, superseded the Pioneer Equipment Protector and was made of different shapes so that it could easily fit different parts of the uniform and equipment, such as the brass vertical wound stripe. Often kept in a haversack, the polishing guard was carried on the soldier ready to clean his kit at any time.

Today, the tiny firm which once manufactured The New Pioneer Equipment Protector, continues to run an office out of Birmingham. Instead of a polishing guard, however, the firm is now a leading Ministry of Defence contractor, as well as a leading supplier of military ceremonial equipment worldwide, including Canada. [2]

References

[1] Greenhous, B., McWilliams, J., Steel R. J., Schackleton, K. R., Cassar, G. H., & Cane, B. The Torch We Throw: The Dundurn WWI Historical Society. Dundurn: 2014, Chapter 7.

[2] Ammo & Company Limited. All Arms Marketing and Manufacturing Organization. Retrieved from http://www.ammoandco.co.uk/downloads/All%20Arms%20Ceremonial%20Brochure.pdf

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