Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Goodbye Campaign Hat, Hello Overseas Cap

Most of the Doughboys who went "Over There" in the First World War were wearing  the 1911 Campaign Hat (or the 1912 Marine Corps version) with its distinctive "Montana Peak" when they departed.  The Campaign Hat was issued by the U.S. Army for general use for three decades, right up to the early days of World War II.  Check out  From Here to Eternity  on Netflix if you would like to see its later use.  

The Campaign Hat Associated with the Doughboys
However, if you look at photos of Doughboys in France during the last stages of the war, you will see that, if they are not wearing a helmet, they're wearing a flat, foldable cap that sits on their heads like an envelope.  Their felt broad-brimmed campaign hats had been taken from them and cut up for other uses such as slippers for hospital patients. The Campaign Hat had become a major storage problem for the AEF.

In 1918 the Army decided that Doughboys serving in France needed headgear that was comfortable to wear, yet could be stored in the pocket when the helmet was donned. The solution was an an Americanized version of the fatigue cap issued to the French Poilus. Since the boys were overseas, it was given the name "Overseas Cap."  The troops, as is their habit, also gave it their own nicknames, one of which that is still X-rated and naturally enough stayed popular with the troops of all services throughout the 20th century. In 1940 the cap was authorized for wear in the U.S. and was officially renamed the "Garrison Cap."

In 1918, three different versions of the overseas cap were issued. It is not uncommon to see photos of units with individuals [un-uniformly] wearing each of the styles. These caps allow one, though, to interpret shipboard photos of the Doughboys. If the men are wearing campaign hats, they are on their way to France or just arrived. If they are wearing overseas caps, they are on their way home.

Correction to the above:  I have confirmed what one of our commentators has pointed out — that the troops in the late embarkation rush in mid-1918 were issued overseas caps before they left the States for Europe. 


  1. Ahh...the "beloved" garrison cap - until replaced by the black beret, one of the most useless piece of headgear ever issued (though as noted, they did fold nicely)

  2. Interesting. Always wondered where the moniker "Overseas Cap" originated.

  3. Campaign hats do however appear in some photos of U.S. troops in France. Some men managed to hold on to them.
    Jim Cameron

  4. Pretty sure that by the summer of 1918 soldiers turned in their campaign hats at the Port of Embarkation and drew their overseas caps and helmets.

    For example, my great uncle, Frank J. Turner, 8th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division wrote to sister from Camp Mills on 27 October 1918: We are going to leave for France tonight, we got caps, helments [helmets] and [w]rap[p]ed leggin[g]s this afternoon and were examined this morning, we emptied our bed ti[c]ks out.

    1. Daniel – I have searched photos from the Port of Hoboken and have discovered that, indeed, you are correct. The latter troops heading to Europe were issued overseas caps rather than Campaign Hats. I've noted the correction in the article.

      Thanks for keeping us on our toes.


  5. Thanks, my grandfather managed to return home with both of his hats. But he was not frontline, but a buck sergeant in the 156 Aero Squadron. He ran a rigging crew in Leeds England for Avro trainers.

  6. This hat has a historical commemorative meaning, thank you for sharing such a wonderful post.

  7. Thanks for all the info posted here. My father just passed away and I received his fathers campaign hat from WW1. There is a very interesting story that goes with that hat. Wish I could share it all with you. The hat is in pristine condition and a wonderful remembrance of my grandfather. Also, it is now over 100 yrs. old. Destined to be a family keepsake. Mike Fisher

  8. MaRine Corps drill instructors still wear the campaign had as a symbol of their postion. No mistaking who is in charge. Semper Fi