Alright who out there (besides Ron Flook) knows what sort of knife this is? I'll give you a couple clues. It came in a box with a Smatchet and another similar dagger. It was made in India during, (or possibly even after) WW-II. It is named after a famous British general who fought the Japanese in Burma.
For those of you who asked how my book is coming I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is I am rewriting a lot of it. I had to lay it aside for months at a time due to other obligations. Now that summer is here I determined to get it finished. BUT when I started going through it to do a light edit I found that I had lost the flow by carelessly plugging in new information. So that is the bad news.
The good news is I am making good progress. The book will be a little shorter but a lot more readable with better flow and more new photos and information. Since restarting on it I have made contact with several people very important to the story. They are a Mr. Yeaton, son of Kelly Yeaton, William Cassidy, author of “The Complete Book of Knife Fighting,” and a man whom I refer to as Fred. Fred is an anonymous source who actually owns the original F-S that Fairbairn commissioned from a friend in London. The exciting part is that the friend was not Wilkinson Sword Co. Yes you’ll have to buy the book when it’s done to find out who that friend was. In addition to new information I have added some one of a kind knives and more clandestine weapons like hat-pins and sleeve daggers. So the good news tends to outweigh the bad news. Exciting stuff I have been learning!
Here is one of the recent additions to my collection. It is a second pattern blade which has an antique dagger handle and pommel added. The silver guard is the F-S style. It is lying on my keyboard to give me inspiration during a break. The knife came is a metal scabbard with a leather frog. The back of the frog is identified to the owner with the words: QSM Grant. I am told that QSM stands for Quartermaster Sergeant Major.
Here are some important tips on buying third pattern knives to keep you from buying a knife that is not what it is advertised as. A knife with a handle like this is not brass handled. It is an alloy handle whose black surface is gone and with the copper flashing showing. Underneath this is an ugly, grey alloy handle.
A handle with obvious mold parting lines down each side is not a WW-II knife. It is post war and usually not very good quality. The other give-away is the roughly sheared and thin cross-guard whose edges were not polished
Knives with handles like this in brass or blackened are NOT WW-II and they are NOT British Commando Knives. They are made in Pakistan and usually of poor quality. Some have short blades and others have the traditional 7 inch blades. The British Commandos never used Pakistani knives. Another clue is there is no Top Nut.
Knives with Guards stamped: "Sheffield England" are almost always Post-World War II knives. Knives stamped on the guards: NATO 1979 are definitely Post-war!! I have seen some advertised as original WW-II knives and dated to 1979. The war ended in 1945 in case you were sleeping that day in history class.
These numbers on the handles are mold numbers were used to track quality issues. They range from number 1 through 4. They have nothing to do with model or pattern numbers. A number 2 does not designate the knife as a second pattern. I have had "experts" on Ebay argue this with me! Got any questions, email me and I will respond.
Here is a snippet from my forthcoming book:
More germane to our story is the research into the use of a fighting knife. Fairbairn soon determined there was no suitable fighting knife to be found in Shanghai. So in 1930-31 Fairbairn, along with his compatriot Eric Sykes, set out to design a fighting knife to suit their specific methods of combat. Their production of a “suitable” fighting knife began by experimenting with and converting readily available obsolete bayonets. Documenting that enterprise is a major part of our story.
Some of the best sources of information on these early knives were William Fairbairn’s son John, and daughter Dorothea. John was a Captain in the British Army. While living in Shanghai Dorothea Fairbairn was only a teenager. In 1941, despite her youthful age, she was already deeply involved in the war effort as a Secretary for the S.O.E. assigned to Station XII, Aston House. (Much later in her life she described to Leroy Thompson her memories of her father’s involvement in knife making in the 1930s in Shanghai.)
“Dorothea Fairbairn told me more than once that she remembered her father bringing home various experimental knives made from bayonets early in the war.”
So, beyond any doubt, we know right from the beginning of our story, fighting knives were being made “from bayonets” in the early 1930s in Shanghai, China. Many people have testified to such activities and we shall hear from them in due time. Another principle player in this story is a young American Marine, Lt. Samuel Yeaton. Lt Yeaton arrived in Shanghai in late December of 1931.
John Fairbairn described the making of the first Shanghai model F-S fighting knives saying they used a hunting knife he describes as a “Pig Sticker” for inspiration. John Fairbairn says: “It began with a hunting knife, a very nice hunting knife, and we thought what a lovely weapon this was. It was a pig sticking knife actually, but we made our first knives from the tops of bayonets, there in the armory” It might have looked something like this magnificent Shakespeare knife manufactured by the Wilkinson Sword Co.
 When Fairbairn and Sykes arrive in England they find themselves in the same situation, where the military had not considered fighting knives a necessary part of a soldiers gear.
 Noted author of “Commando Dagger” and many books on military topics.
 Miss Fairbairn is probably referring to her time in Shanghai in the mid nineteen thirties.
 Wm. Cassidy “A Brief History of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.”
Let us never forget those brave men and women who are in service, those veterans who have served, and those who died for our freedom. And for those "men" who refuse to stand for the national Anthem you have my eternal disdain. Remembering my Father who was the consummate warrior and lived for a good fight. God Bless America and all our troops, watch over our Nation and our President.
So what types of knives were available and suitable for those troops not enamored with the F-S format? Wilkinson, early in the war, provided what small stock it had of hunting knives and daggers. Many of these were referred to as RBD knives, so named after the designer R. Beauchamp Drummond Esq. whose initials were on the design drawing. These were Bowie like in style and came in a variety of lengths. The Shakespear knife was also an option. They were designed by adventurer Capt. William Shakespear who hunted dangerous game in India. Wilkinson made these knives too.
Then there were all of the assorted punch daggers, knuckle and trench knives from WW-I. Whether they were suitable for combat in WW-2 or not is questionable. But some men either modified their issue knives to have knuckles or ordered custom knuckle knives. The BC-41 is the iconic knuckle knife and some say the “BC” stands for British Commando. To be honest I have not thoroughly looked into that.
Simple hunting knives were a good option, since they provided greater versatility and functionality than the double edged F-S. I have seen photos of commandos reportedly butchering livestock with their command daggers. There is no knife more poorly designed for that chore than an F-S knife! A good folding knife would have been far more useful for those domestic or survival chores.
Many “combat” knives were modified from kitchen knives, made from files or other sharp or pointy tools like awls or sharpening steels. Bayonets and swords were chopped down to more manageable sizes and re-purposed into fighting knives. I even saw a fighting knife made from ½ of a sheep shears. Desperate times demand desperate methods. Many collectors focus on theater-made or modified knives, those created in the theaters of combat. Many of those primitive knives gave more mental comfort than martial advantage. Often the blades were poorly shaped and questionably heat treated. The up-side for today’s collector is they are usually inexpensive to buy and are limitless in style.
So not everyone wanted a Fairbairn-Sykes and many who were issued one did not carry it. I was contacted by one person whose grandfather preferred his leather washer handled dagger over his Wilkinson First Pattern. When you wonder how it’s possible for mint condition F-S knives to show up in sales and auctions, remember not everyone was in love with the F-S knife and some troops probably stuck them away in a footlocker or sea bag and carried their trusted hunting knife.
My next post will be a segment from my F-S book.
In the past 40 plus years I have amassed what may be one of the largest and most diverse collection of Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knives anywhere. At an early age I fell in love with the clean lines and no-nonsense functionality. Notice I did not say utility. The F-S knife is very much a one trick pony. It is a knife specifically designed to kill enemy sentries or soldiers in hand to hand combat.
It was not beloved by all military men during World War 2. Many soldiers complained that it had small metal handles, cold to the touch, slippery when wet, and the round shape made orienting the knife in one's hand in the dark difficult. Some troops wrapped the handles with cordage, leather thongs, or even tape to build up the diameter. These modification also improved the gripping and gave a warmer feel to the handles. They were less concerned about the precise balance than Fairbairn was.
Some of the more adventurous had the handles replaced with various materials. These included stag antler, varieties of wood, kitchen cutlery handles, wooden file handles, leather washers, washers of Plexiglas and metal among other options. Many times the knives so modified provided a better solution than the original handles. On some occasions the owners also replaced the guards but this was not as common a modification. A fighting knife is the most personal weapon a man ever carries and personalization of the knife was often just to reflect his tastes.
The better ones were converted by machinists and people having access to lathes and drill presses. The less successful ones were field modified, sometimes categorized as "Theater-made." Once I had satisfied my appetite for collecting standard models I branched out in search of what are known as "variants." Now variants, unlike theater made knives, are different designs but production made. Some are more common like the ubiquitous wood-handled, while others are more scarce like the hexagonal alloy gripped knives, or the "Polish" smooth handled knives.
Once you begin collecting these there are greater chances of buying a fake or a treasure. The difficulty is knowing which is which. Hopefully once my book is in print you will have a guide to assist you in determining which you have before you put down your hard earned cash. The real enjoyment comes from finding a knife unlike any you have seen before. One tip I would offer is to try to buy knives that have their original sheaths. Usually a person making fake knives does not go to the effort to make a sheath for it.
The next blog will be about alternative knives that were popular with the troops.
You can find out more about me on the "Stories" pages. My hobbies have included training in Japanese martial arts, Kenjutsu, many forms of knife fighting, and tactical firearms. I have written several self published books on muzzle-loading firearms, knife-fighting and gas engines and compressors. I am working diligently on my 400+ page F-S book.