The Mysterious Vietnam War Mary Poppins Platoon HAHO Parachutist Badge

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Mary Poppins Platoon Combat Qualification Gold Wing with the ARVN Jump Status Indicator for comparison. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

This “Mary Poppins Platoon Combat Qualification” parachutist badge (left) is one of the more interesting unofficial/novelty airborne badges in my collection.

Two variations of the badge are known to exist. A silver badge, described as the ‘basic’ wing and a second type with a point at the apex of the umbrella plus a gold wing which is referred to as the MPP Combat Qualification Gold Wing. As can be seen in the picture it’s design draws heavily on the ARVN Jump Status Indicator insignia which was worn by members Vietnamese Airborne personnel who were on jump status. The umbrella canopy may reference the pocket badge worn by the French Indochina period 1st Indochinese Parachute Company (1er Compagnie Indochinoise Parachutiste – 1 CIP) or it may be a reference to the French slang term le pépin, which means either parachute or umbrella.

Two of the first Vietnamese parachutist units. Top: French (Drago) manufactured miniature badge for the 1st Indochinese Parachute Company (1er Compagnie Indochinoise Parachutiste - 1 CIP) which existed between 1947 and 1951. Like the Mary Poppins Platoon insignia, this badge also features an umbrella in place of the parachute. Whether the connection between the two is intentional or coincidental is unknown. Bottom: Local made badge fo the Escadron Parachutiste de la Garde Cochinchine which was raised in Hanoi in 1949. Both these units became part of the nucleus of the newly formed 1st Vietnamese Parachute Battalion (1 BPVN) on the 1st of August 1951. Collection: Julian Tennant

Two of the first Vietnamese parachutist units. Top: French (Drago) manufactured miniature badge for the 1st Indochinese Parachute Company (1er Compagnie Indochinoise Parachutiste – 1 CIP) which existed between 1947 and 1951. Like the Mary Poppins Platoon insignia, this badge also features an umbrella in place of the parachute. It is unknown whether the connection between the two badges is intentional or coincidental. Bottom: Local made badge for the Escadron Parachutiste de la Garde Cochinchine, raised in Hanoi in 1949. Both these units became part of the nucleus of the 1st Vietnamese Parachute Battalion (1 BPVN) in August 1951. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

It may be that this link to the Indochina era 1 CIP is purely coincidental and the umbrella symbolism refers directly to the fictional character of Mary Poppins as described in COMBAT Magazine’s Mil Terms dictionary, which also includes a picture of the badge and states,

“MARY POPPINS : by reference to the children’s nanny who was possessed of magical powers, which were best exemplified for High-Altitude High-Opening (HAHO) parachuting by her use of an umbrella to descend back to earth after whirling around in the atmosphere. Introduced in 1934 by P.L. Travers, this FICTIONAL CHARACTER could not only slide up banisters, but could walk into a picture, understand what dogs are saying, and travel around the world in seconds. Julie Andrews played the part of this nanny in the 1964 namesake film, which was shown to troops in Vietnam. An informal (and very unofficial) skill badge depicting this nanny with her deployed umbrella was adopted during the Vietnam-era as a sardonic symbol of High-Altitude High-Opening (HAHO) parachuting.”

I am not sure of the original source of information for that definition and I wonder if the MilTerms dictionary piece is somehow linked to the story ‘behind’ the “Mary Poppins Platoon” insignia that was originally published in the Vietnam War Veterans Trivia Newsletter Vol. 1 No.2.

That account relates a somewhat amusing and far-fetched tale which is too incredulous to be taken seriously or believed. It attributes the badge to a combined ARVN Ranger and MACV airborne forces “Mary Poppins Platoon.”

The article, which is shown below, describes the adventures of Sergeant Nguyen Van “Stosh” Kozlowski, a Eurasian soldier of mixed Vietnamese and Slavic heritage, serving in the 32nd Battalion of the 5th ARVN Ranger Group who, after a heavy night drinking is deployed on a HALO mission into North Vietnam. Hung over and with his brain still muddled by alcohol he, inadvertently deploys his parachute immediately after exiting the aircraft and rides the canopy all the way back to III Corps and to cut a long story short becomes one of the founding fathers of the High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) concept. Promoted to captain, the now Dai Uy Kozlowski is tasked with building the “Mary Poppins Platoon” of HAHO parachutists which goes on to have a somewhat interesting combat record plagued by mishap and misadventure.

Mary Poppins VN newsletter

The article published in the Vietnam War Veterans Trivia Newsletter and also in ‘Chute & Dagger’. Based on some of the statements, it seems clear that it was intended as a joke and not to be taken seriously and so I suspect that it does not accurately explain who made the badges or why.

 

The newsletter article was definitely written to entertain rather than as an accurate historical record of a real unit and I suspect that this insignia could simply be a novelty item rather than an actual parachutist ‘qualification’.  But, I also wonder what the real story behind the badge is. Maybe there is a connection to High-Altitude military parachuting in Vietnam, but if so, who had them made? Why? And who were they given to?

 

Operation Market Garden: Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45

Some of the military vehicles on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Military vehicles on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant

Arnhem oorlogsmuseum Arnhem war museum

Parachute Regiment beret. The caption indicated that this beret belonged to a dead British para and was found in Hartenstein, site of the British HQ. Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Like the Glider Collection Wolfheze, the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum (sometimes referred to in English language search engines as the Arnhem War Museum) is another private museum in the Arnhem area.

Owner Eef Peeters started collecting militaria as a boy, storing his collection at first in his home, followed by a shed and then finally, in 1994, moving the collection to its current location, an old school, in Schaarsbergen. The collection does not focus specifically on Operation Market Garden but paints a much broader picture of what happened in Arnhem and the surrounding areas during the war years. This includes a number of objects relating to less popular subjects including collaboration and the Dutch Nazi Party, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB).

This is an old-style museum concentrating on artifacts, rather than interactive displays. It’s a fascinating and at times eclectic collection of items squeezed into the available space. A lot of the memorabilia is not captioned in English, so I had to rely on my rusty Afrikaans/Dutch skills to interpret some of the captions, but the staff were helpful and friendly. When one of the volunteer staff members found out that I was a collector, after I asked if there were any antique or shops around which may have militaria for sale, he invited me into the office to show me some of the original items that were available for sale to help fund the museum upkeep. But, whilst I was tempted by a couple of period Dutch National Socialist badges, I decided that I had better try to maintain focus on my airborne interest and left empty handed.

Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Arnhem War Museum 40-45.

Display featuring uniforms worn by soldiers of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Polar Bear Butchers” after their shoulder sleeve formation sign and a 6 lb anti-tank gun as used by the 1st Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery during the battle for Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

If you have a car, Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum is about 10 minutes drive from central Arnhem or if you are using public transport can be reached in under half an hour via the #9 bus departing from near Arnhem Centraal train station.

Arnhems Oorlogsmuseum 40-45

Kemperbergerweg 780
6816 RX Arnhem

Telephone: +31 (0) 26 4420958

https://www.arnhemsoorlogsmuseum.com

Opening hours:

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 17:00, however the ticket office closes at 16:30 hrs.

Admission prices:

Adults: € 9.00
Children up to 4 years old:  free
Children 5 to 12 years old:  € 7.00,-
Adults 65+: € 7.00

Note that there is no ATM at the museum, and they do not accept credit cards.

Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Arnhem War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

A T34-85 and Flak gun at the front of the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando patch

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2

Congo Mercenary 10 Commando (Commando Kansimba) patch type 2 (Julian Tennant collection)

This is a recent addition to my collection. It is an original shoulder patch used by the mercenaries of 10 Commando who were under the command of Colonel Jean Schramme in the 1960’s. This version is known as the 2nd pattern of the patch and is distinguished from the earlier type by only having the outline of Lake Tanganyika in blue, whilst the first version had the entire lake in blue silk. Both of the original patches were made using the precise, machine embroidered, silk-bevo style of construction as seen in this example.  Collectors should note that there are numerous fakes of this badge, many of which originate from the same fakers who make all the ARVN and US Vietnam war patches that can be found on ebay and at the War Surplus market at Dan Sinh. If you are interested in the mercenary insignia used in the Congo during the 1960’s, I would recommend that you try to find a copy of the late Gerard Lagaune’s excellent privately published reference, Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs.

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays

Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs by the late Gerard Lagaune. The text is in French and it is privately published so it may be difficult to find now that he has passed away, but it is an excellent reference detailing the parachutist and commando insignia from thHe countries surrounding the ‘great lake’ Tanganyika in Africa. Included are full colour photographs of the various mercenary unit insignia worn in the Congo during the 1960’s.

10 Commando formed part of the 5th Mechanised Brigade, which was raised on the 1st of November 1964. The brigade was controlled by approximately 60 Belgian officers and had around 350 mercenaries of various nationalities under its command.  Number 10 Commando was led by Belgian mercenary, Jean Schramme. “Black Jack” Schramme was a teenager when he went to the Congo to run the family plantation, located to the north-east of Stanleyville and it should be noted that despite often being seen wearing the beret of the 2nd Belgian Commando Battalion (and contrary to some of the information he presented in his biography), there is no evidence that he had ever qualified as a commando or served in the Belgian Commando Battalion prior to his mercenary activities.

In the troubles that followed independence in 1961, Schramme fled to Uganda and then moved to Katanga where he took part in the fighting, forming a group recruited from local tribes near the Kansimba region which he referred to as the “Leopard Group”.  After that period of fighting ended in 1963 he moved across the border into Angola before returning in 1964 with his now named 10 Commando which operated out of Fizi-Baraka to the East of the province of Maniema and not too far from a plantation that he had once controlled.

Jean Schramme's somewhat embellished biography, "Le Bataillon Le

Jean Schramme’s biography, “Le Bataillon Leopard”. On the cover he is shown wearing the beret of the Belgian 2nd Commando Battalion and 10 Commando patch on his shoulder. The first pattern machine made silk-bevo patch with the full blue Lake Tanganyika is also shown, albeit in B&W.

In 1967, 10 Commando was part of the revolt against the government of Colonel Mobuto Sese Seko who had become president two years previously. In early August, Schramme’s 10 Commando captured the border town of Bukavu, holding it for 7 weeks despite repeated attempts by the government ANC forces to recapture the town. On October 29, 1967 the ANC forces finally recaptured Bukavu and the soldiers of 10 Commando fled towards Rwanda crossing the border on the 13th of November 1967, where they were disarmed, ending the existence of this colourful mercenary unit.

REFERENCE BOOK: US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present by Gary Perkowski

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Pre

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present by Gary Perkowski

Hardcover Size: 8 1/2″ x 11″
416 pages featuring 4,144 color and b/w photos
ISBN13: 9780764352553
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

Released in May 2017, Gary Perkowski latest book, US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present, covers the history, training, and operations of United States Army Special Forces, including new, previously  unpublished photos and information regarding the insignia that were designed and worn by the men of the United States Army Special Forces.

The book is extremely detailed with concise information about the lineage, development, structure and training of the USSF before going into chapters on each specific Special Forces Groups (SFG). The SFG’s are further broken down and include extensive photographs featuring insignia, plaques, challenge coins, training/appreciation certificates, and other documents as well as photographs of the teams and men wearing the insignia.

The author, Gary Perkowski has been a militaria collector and historian for thirty years. The past twenty years has been spent researching United States Army Special Forces and this is his second book on the subject of United States Army Special Forces insignia.

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Present builds upon his earlier collaboration along with Harry Pugh and the late Len Whistler, U.S. Special Forces Group Insignia (Post 1975) which was published in 2004 and also the other important references covering USSF insignia, notably Ian Sutherland’s Special Forces of the United States Army, 1952-1982  and Harry Pugh’s 1993 book, US Special Forces Shoulder and Pocket Insignia (Elite Insignia Guide 3).

US Army Special Forces Team History and Insignia 1975 to the Pre

 

REFERENCE BOOK: Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 by Jacques Sicard with assistance from M. Duflot and F. Pitel.

Softcover: 54 pages.
Published by Symboles & Traditions (Paris)
ISBN: None

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

Commandos et Forces Suppletives Indochine 1945 – 1954 is one of the excellent series of insignia reference books published by the French Symboles & Traditions Association based in Paris.

This volume covers the insignia used by French commando units as well as the locally raised Indochinese commando and auxiliary partisan/irregular forces. The 54 pages includes 30 full colour plates featuring the unit badges along with brief descriptions outlining a brief historical overview of the unit and specific information relating to their insignia including manufacturers and variations. Like the other S&T books the text is in French but that should not dissuade any collector of Vietnam and French Indochina period special operations insignia from adding this valuable reference to their bookshelf.

COMMANDOS ET FORCES SUPPLETIVES INDOCHINE 1945-1954

REFERENCE BOOK: Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartlett

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartlett

Hardcover: 63 pages
Publisher: P. Bartlett; 1st edition (1989)
Language: English & French
ISBN 2-950 4247

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

Published in 1989, Philippe Bartlett’s Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923 -1989  is a useful reference for collectors of French insignia. It lists 429 badges, in full color along with information about manufacturer and an estimate of rarity. It also provides some information on how to date French badges by their makers marks which is particularly useful as many of the badges continued to be used for many years whilst others were re-struck later by the manufacturers for veterans groups and the like.

Badges of the French Foreign Legion 1923-1989 by Philippe Bartle

The book was released shortly before Tibor Szecsko’s monumental work on the same topic, Le grand livre des insignes de la Légion Étrangère but whilst Szecsko’s book has more historical information about the various insignia, for non-French speakers such as myself, the Bartlett book’s descriptive text which is in both French and English is a distinct advantage and makes it an invaluable reference in the library sitting comfortably alongside the Szecsko and Colonel Duronsoy’s books on the subject.

REFERENCE BOOK: Les Unités Parachutistes de la Légion Etrangère et Leurs Insignes. 1948 – 2014 by Colonel (H) Duronsoy.

Les Unités Parachutistes de la Légion Etrangère et Leurs Insi

Les Unités Parachutistes de la Légion Etrangère et Leurs Insignes. 1948 – 2014 by Colonel (H) Duronsoy.

No ISBN.
Privately published via Blurb Books (December 2014)

Softcover. 150 pages. French text
 

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Les Unités Parachutistes de la Légion Etrangère et Leurs Insignes is a privately published book which covers the distinctive unit and sub-unit insignia worn by the various airborne units of the French Foreign Legion. This is one of a series of insignia reference books that Colonel Duronsoy, a 30 year veteran of the Legion, has privately published via Blurb books. The French text should not deter collectors as the book features full colour photographs of the front plus back of the insignia used by the Legion Paras since 1948 and despite my lack of French language proficiency I was still able to glean valuable information from the book.

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Colonel Duronsoy’s personal website can be found at http://insignes.legion.pagesperso-orange.fr/insigneslegionetrangere/accueil.html and the book, along with his other reference books on Legion insignia can be bought from the Blurb Books website at http://www.blurb.com/b/5819493-les-unit-s-parachutistes-de-la-l-gion-trang-re-et