December 7th "a Day which will live in infamy." It passed with little notice from the media. (You notice I did not say the News channels.) One of the main comments from the bland news, repeated by one and all as if from some 1984 Orwell directive, "This is the first year there are no survivors of the USS Arizona present at the ceremony." Well since I am writing a book on WW-II commando knives I have a very keen sense of how few survivors there are of that terrible war. Here is a photo of some rosy cheeked youths of No. 3 Cdo. who had just driven out the Germans and reclaimed the town for the native inhabitants. They are British but armed to the man with American Thompson sub-machine guns. One wonders how many of them survived the war and are still alive today. This is the real lost generation not (as Sociologists would have us believe) a population of Millenials living in their parents basements emerging only at meal times or to buy the latest X-box video. For all of you out there who served in the past or are still serving today, God Bless you and look over you. You are not forgotten by all.
Here is a snippet from the introduction to my book.
Back in the 1970s when I first began collecting F-S knives there was no internet and therefore no email. How many of you can imagine life before the internet? I bought one of my earliest World War Two First-Pattern Wilkinson knives via a land-line phone and snail-mail from a small knife shop a continent away. This knife came from way out in Oregon. My purchase was based on a tiny photo in a magazine called “Fighting Knives.” In the photo the shop-owner was holding two knives. I had to use a magnifying glass to identify the knives because the whole photo was not much bigger than a postage stamp! Despite the seller’s assertions that it was an original World War Two Wilkinson First Pattern knife I was skeptical. My skepticism was based on the fact the seller’s asking price was too low. Finally I decided that even if the knife was a post-war reproduction by Wilkinson it was still worth his asking price. I sent him a check for one hundred and twenty five dollars (no Paypal™ back then either). I will long remember that cold Christmas morning, opening the mailing tube with trepidation, and being greeted by that reassuring smell of aged leather and musty steel. Damned if it wasn’t a genuine World War Two Wilkinson First-Pattern knife worth approximately nine hundred dollars at the time. The moral of this story is, if you are a dealer, and a collector questions what you are selling, be nice to him and maybe he will explain that what you have to sell is more valuable (or not) than you think. Another tip is do not use knife collecting price guides twenty years out of date. We have steadily added to our collection of First Pattern knives since buying that one, but none so cheaply as that one from Oregon.
 “Fighting Knives” was published by Larry Flint with Greg Walker as editor. In my opinion it was the finest magazine ever published on the topic.
Is there any value in folktales? How reliable is tribal knowledge? I guess like most things it depends on the source. Sometimes it all depends on our maturity, where we are on our path of discovery. For example I once believed there were only 500 first pattern knives ever made. My source was incorrect but only through time did I learn better. I also used to inspect every top nut for the magical crimp marks to ensure the knife was legitimate. Over a period of years and the purchase of many hundreds of knives I learned that there was no single style of top nut. I discovered there was no single or correct mark. Once I understood that the marks were caused by the jaws of a bench vise I knew that the positioning of the nut and the amount of force applied would indent the soft nut differently. The magic was gone, replaced by experience.
I think this learning process occurs in many spheres of our lives as we grow in knowledge. Differences in knurling or styles of crow’s feet (↑) bother me less now. I have discovered that there is no magic formula for what is a legitimate Fairbairn-Sykes of any style. Robert Wilkinson-Latham quoted Shop foreman Charlie Rose saying: “there was a war going on.” I have seen blades ground crooked, sheaths made over a ½ inch too long, handles with casting flaws, knurling that was botched, guards on upside down, a dozen varieties of top nuts, inspection stamps running off the edge of the guards or double stamped, and all sorts of anomalies. So what? This is what makes collecting interesting. What is more valuable a book of regular postage stamps or one stamp incorrectly printed? Literally hundreds of thousands of 3rd pattern knives were produced. Which is more valuable? The thousands of them with identical stamping or the oddball stamped A2, or A COY etc.
So, some of the folktales, like those about the “correct” top nut marks, or the “true” purpose of the triangle grind near the guard, are useless bits of folly. Blades got broken and replaced. This required removing the top nut. The “mysterious” triangle grind simply tapers the blade to allow it to enter the opening in the guard. There was no magical clamp used to “draw the blades.” Wire is drawn, blades are either forged or stamped out. What is interesting is that many of the older folktales have proven true. For example the one about 1st pattern knives with 3 inch guards, Stephens had it right. The stories of commando daggers made from bayonets is also true and “WSC” stamped on certain blades is correct, Windrum had it right, (despite what other websites and forums might say). So it is erroneous to say that all folktales are untrue. It would also be incorrect to say they are all true. Only with time and familiarity, research and study, can you begin to sort the wheat from the chaff. Just do not get caught up in the minutia that obscures the bigger picture. And just because you have not seen it does not make it a fake.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it was brought to my attention there is another website out there whose webmaster, an authority on knives and the F-S in particular, has maligned my credibility. He does not name me but it is a small world when discussing Fairbairn websites. I visited there and found my website quite put down, and other authorities (dead and alive) being bad-mouthed. One in particular is condemned as an outright forger and faker. This vitriol is unbecoming and the reason why I have taken the position of not being judgmental of other’s opinions or questioning their correctness. At the age of 70 years, I have been collecting these knives probably as long as any person alive, that person included. His fascination, or obsession, with ferreting out what he considers fakes has poisoned the well of conversation. I have always respectfully credited him on this website with information he has provided, although I know behind my back he and his friends are saying rather unkind things about me and this website. That’s okay, that’s his prerogative. I shall refrain from following his lead and being baited into acting in a similar fashion.
It is my intention to give as much positive information as possible here. Yes I will make mistakes, but I am in no way profiting from purposely disseminating wrong information. My sole intent is to continue to provide an open forum for people to learn, discuss, and ask questions about the full story of the Fairbairn-Sykes knives. I believe that I have shared more openly and freely photos and information of some of the rarest F-S knives than any other website on the World Wide Web. Many times per week I assist visitors with identifying their knives and provide them with some idea of the value and rarity (or not) of the knife in question. And Yes, I try to steer them away from outright fakes. This is the way I will continue to operate, the other sites be damned with their malicious banter. The writer on the other website said you don't have to handle a knife to know its a fake. I say you don't have to be a herpetologist to know a snake. Thank you for being such loyal visitors and making this site the most visited ever on the F-S knife!
To conclude on a more positive note, here is an interesting gift to recently come into my possession. Wishing all of you a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.
I received another incredible gift from my friend in California. This time it was a selection of S.O.E. type weapons he found in a tool box. They needed some cleaning he said but I found they simply needed wiped down with an oily rag. He had ingeniously slotted a piece of cardboard to affix them to for shipping. I got a good laugh out of that and asked him if this was the Poor James Bond S.O.E. kit? It is difficult to show in a photograph the details of the tiny triangular blades and the temper colors on some of them.
It is amazing how much work was invested in making these minuscule tools of mayhem. At one time I had no clandestine weapons and now thanks to my friends in the collecting world I have a wonderful assortment. Some were very expensive and others of equal value were simply given to me. I commented on this phenomenon of gifting to a good friend and how I felt a sense of indebtedness. He replied I should not look at it that way because obviously the donors had picked me to be the "curator" of these special goods, knowing I would take proper care of them. I suppose that is true but either way it is a debt I cannot fully repay. Perhaps by placing them in my book and crediting the donors I can in some small way credit them with the gifts. Here is the poorman's S.O.E. kit.
I cannot believe it has been over a month since I posted here. Early September the college where i teach began its fall semester. That is what has absorbed all my spare time. I have spent some time working on my F-S book and what i consider Volume One is about 95% finished. I am adding a few late arrived knives and writing an appendix of miscellaneous "stuff".
Some people have advised me to get the book printed in B & W, to make it more affordable. I think if you have visited here and seen the knives in color you would be reluctant to buy a book in black and white. I would be. So I am looking for a company that can handle it in color and do a nice job of printing and binding. I want good quality paper and sharp images. The only books i am finding that have what I want are being printed in China!
I have been trying to boycott Chinese goods for many years now. Besides who knows what sort of control over sales I would have if its printed in a country known for copying designs, hacking computers, stealing patents and infringing on copyrights? I don't have connections with any museums or publishing houses. I have written two text books for use at the college where I teach and have them printed locally. BUT a one hundred page soft bound color book from them would cost me around $60. Right now my single volume is a little over 225 pages! Writing the book has been the easy part. Getting it in print is the tough part.
I have been stalling a little too, trying to finalize some information on John Paisley. Writing the Paisley story is like sitting on a cactus. You know the answers are there, but like the tiny needles of a cacti, prick you as they might, finding them and extracting them is nearly impossible. I know fellow writer Ron Flook will get a chuckle when he reads this. But Ron, I have not given up. There is more of the story to be found.
I continue to find new knives in styles and shapes I have never seen before. The diversity astounds me! Visitors to the site also provide me with a never ending array of unusual knives. Many times the knives are worn and beat third pattern knives but sometimes something really unique will show up. So keep contacting me with your stories and photos. Especially the stories! I just bought a crude second pattern from a man in Australia and it came out of a case of F-S and O.S.S. knives. They were evidently WW-II stores for men fighting in the CBI (China, Burma, India) theater. It will be the second knife I have bought from him. Thanks to Al Gore inventing the internet (Yeh right) I have been able to buy knives from literally every corner of the world. Just ask my wife. Partly those acquisitions have been assisted from sales of my personal knives on this site. If you see a knife you are interested in email me. I am flexible and willing to work with you on pricing. Keep in mind if you are located in England or Canada the postage will be expensive. Thanks to all of you for your support. Photo is a recently acquired J Clarke & Sons in less than pristine condition.
Well gang the book is coming along but it is not finished. The bad news is I had to break it into two volumes. There was so much material I would have had to throw half of it out if I wanted to fit everything into one volume. What would be the sense in that? It is still over two hundred pages long, heavily illustrated, and not finished. I spent hundreds of hours on it this summer and hoped it would be done before I started back teaching at college.
I actually redid the whole front end of the book to include some examples of iconic WW-I fighting knives and provide some background into the knives that Fairbairn and Sykes could have referenced before finalizing their design. I am of the opinion that Fairbairn had a rethink of how he wanted the new knife to be modified from the Shanghai F-S model. These changes were based on the difference between fighting Chinese gangsters in light weight clothing, to killing soldiers in heavy uniforms and battle gear. I believe his long voyage home from Shanghai gave him time to reflect on these changes. His basic design was solid, but it needed “beefed up.”
Fairbairn also knew one of the major obstacles he would face was finding a manufacturer who would make what he wanted, the way he wanted it, and who was not already operating at full capacity. We all know who ended up making the first ones. They made hundreds of thousands of them, but were they his first choice? I have the answer to that question in the book.
Daily I check on Ebay for new listings of commando knives. Quite often I find the same knives going around like a child's Merry-go-Round. Why is that? Many of them are very mediocre third pattern knives in awful condition and listed as "Rare." Now I have been known to buy some really beat-up knives if there was any historical value. But, a badly rusted and abused third pattern is just junk. People have bought them and used them for throwing knives, digging in the flower bed, stirring paint, prying open doors or cans or whatever and bent or snapped the tips.
A broken tip does not make them valuable, rust is not a value added patina, deep gouges from some idiot using a power grinder to "sharpen" the knife is not attractive. A cheap 3rd pattern knife in the 60s or 70s could be purchased for under $20.00. Because it is now 40 years old does not make it any more valuable because most of them were cheap junk when Sheffield was cranking them out by the thousands. When I see a cheaply built and badly mauled 3rd pattern for sale for $400.00 I have to ask, is it ignorance or greed? Surely inflation has not added that much to the worth of a worthless knife.
Second pattern knives are different. They were produced in far smaller numbers for a shorter period of time and with greater quality invested in them. Still, now I see people asking upwards of $1,000.00 for a beat up second pattern! I realize they are not making WW-II knives anymore but really, $1,500.00 for a 2nd pattern? I sometimes worry that my website has played a part in this escalation of prices. I hope that instead it would steer people to buy more wisely and not be suckered by all of the falsely patinated Pakistani reproductions. I see several on Ebay right now advertised as genuine WW-II, foot locker find, estate purchases, etc. Many of them are anything but what they claim to be. Earlier in the year I got taken by a 2nd pattern that was purportedly a grandfathers original 2nd pattern. When it arrived I instantly knew i had "been took." It was a modern Nowill & Sons with the finish removed. Maybe the sellers Grandfather lied to him about the knife. I doubt it! Maybe there wasn't even a grandfather involved. But I only got taken for $100.00. I can stand that but if you buy a "genuine" WW-II commando knife for $500.00 plus and it turns out to be a modern Pakistani knife that's another thing.
I hope, foolishly perhaps, that sellers will police themselves morally and try to offer an honest appraisal of their wares. The caveat that "I am not an edged weapons specialist," or "I don't know much about knives" is not sufficient to excuse you from ripping off buyers. Do some homework. If you are selling on ebay you know how to use the internet. Do some research. Putting "rare" in front of a piece of junk does not make it valuable or rare. If you bought it for $15.00 at a flea market or garage sale and mark it up to $350.00 (knowing it is at best only a $15.00 knife) that's not capitalism, that's not good business, that is just pure greed. Rant over
Walnut Handled Dagger: Our second Shanghai Dagger, with the walnut handle, came from the collection of Bill Windrum via Pete Hooker. Pete expressed a desire for his knife to go to a “good collection” and he gave me a price that made it possible. Thanks Pete!
According to Dr. Windrum, Kelly Yeaton identified this exact same knife as matching, in size, one he owned. Kelly referred to his as “an early prototype,” sent to him from Shanghai in 1934. (This turned out to be the knife known as the “Pilot Model.”) Our dagger is stamped on the tang as being made in 1933 and has a nicely turned walnut handle. Unlike later Shanghai daggers the handle profile is a full round in cross-section, not a flattened oval shape.
Our Walnut handled knife is the exact same knife illustrated in Windrum’s book “The Earliest Commando Knives,” page 23. A better photo of it can be found in the book “Military Knives: A Reference Book.” However, despite believing it to be a legitimate knife Dr. Windrum candidly states: “there is nothing about it to link it to a bayonet blade.” I am not sure what prompted Dr. Windrum to say this. I laid Pete‘s Shanghai dagger on top of an original, unaltered, 1888 Lee-Metford bayonet and the two are absolutely identical to within a hair’s breadth. It is my opinion that a skilled craftsman may have simply ground the blade a little thinner and in the process erased the hollow grinds and flat spot on the central spine of the original bayonet blade. I have proof of this happening in several of the half-converted knives I own. Of course it is also possible the maker simply traced the tip of a bayonet blade onto a blank piece of steel, using it as a pattern for this blade and others.
 “Military Knives: A Reference Book” Knife world publications, page 80
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, long range rifles 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.