Feature Articles - The Memorable Order of Tin Hats

A Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon: Old Bill - "If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it."


The Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) was founded at Durban, South Africa in 1927 and almost immediately the idea caught hold in the U.K., symbolic of the great friendships which had occurred, during and after, the Great War, 1914 -18.

Our Founder, Charles Evenden, more affectionately known as 'Evo' or MOTH 'O', had witnessed life in the trenches and the sense of despair which swept the world after the war.  MOTH 'O' had a vision that REMEMBRANCE was the opposite to FORGETFUL-NESS.

MOTH 'O' had an overpowering belief in common friendship.  He once said, "Friendship is the greatest power given to man, it turns ideals into practical deeds."  He saw a purpose for all veterans, mostly disabled, to band together into units, challenging the common day to day problems within Durban and the Provinces.

He established clubs, known as Shellholes with a regional structure of Dugouts in each of the provinces.  These terms were quite familiar to all ex-service men who not only experienced the trenches but also the camaraderie which developed among allied troops in a time of adversity.

All were familiar with the progress of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather (1888-1959), Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and his cartoon characterizations of 'Old Bill'.  'Evo' was a newspaper journalist and cartoonist himself, thus a friendship between Bairnsfather and Evenden was established.

Before 1936 MOTH GHQ had been housed in an old barn at Albany Grove, Durban, more affectionately known as CHATEAU-DE-WHATHO.  MOTH 'O' and his dedicated staff had found land at the historical Old Fort, Durban and Warriors Gate was opened in 1937.

In 1947, the Royal Family, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were invited to make a surprise visit to Warriors Gate during their Royal Tour of South Africa.

Moth U.K.

In the U.K., the oldest and still remaining pre-second world war shellhole is Windy Corner, Reading.  At its inauguration as the first U.K. Dugout, on Friday 21st September, 1928, at the Vine Hotel, Reading, the unanimous choice of Shellhole Commander was Capt. H. Percy Tate, MBE.

In the early years the work at Windy Corner went from strength to strength, and was well known and respected locally for its grand charity work, among the old peoples' homes, Dr Barnado Boys' Home and hospitals.  They also maintained two Sound Memory Cottages.  In 2003 Windy Corner can proudly take its place as Right of the Line for MOTH U.K.

Command Headquarters (CHQ), England Command, was formed at a meeting at St Stephen's Tavern, Westminster, at 2000 hours, 29th October 1937.  Among those present were Old Bill O.F. Smith, Shellhole Commander C.Cubbins (or Gubbins) and Adjutant V.C. Turner, all of Windy Corner; Old Bill L.Salt and Adjt H.R.Uttley from Jutsome Shellhole; Old Bill A.G. Sattler, Shellhole Commander L.Sinden, Adjt F. Stevens and Paymaster R.W.Lee of Haigh Shellhole.

Still Marching On

In 2003, our 76th year, we are proud to have over 20 Shellholes throughout the United Kingdom.  Those of long standing include:

WINDY CORNER Shellhole - The original Shellhole is still in business, with its proud record, continues helping ex service men and women in the Reading area.  The great Bruce Bairnsfather was once a member.

HILL 60 Shellhole - A circa 1937 shellhole in the heart of Kent.  They continue the TC MH SM with regular visits to hospitals and other charitable work.

PERCY TATE Shellhole - Formed in 1950 and named after Capt. Percy Tate, MBE, the well known and highly respected first Commander of Windy Corner, Reading.

ROYAL STANDARD Shellhole - The first post-WW2 London Shellhole opened in 1958 at Hackney.

GENERAL BROWNING Shellhole - Opened in 1972 and quickly established itself as a strong shellhole with a proud record in the Hackney area.  They formed the first MOTHWA (the Womens' Auxillary) in 1974.  The General Browning Shellhole was a prime mover in establishing the GENERAL BROWNING Club, which in 2003 continues to serve as the home for all UK MOTH.

FIELD MARSHALL MONTGOMERY Shellhole - The great 'Monty' was a proud MOTH, giving permission for a Shellhole to be named in his honour.

During the 1980-1990s a vigorous interest in Mothdom spread north, south, east and west from London.  MOTH comrades introduced more Shellholes named after inspirational leaders, campaigns or events.

New Campaigns - New Shellholes

COLONEL H. JONES VC Shellhole - After the Falklands Campaign, Colonel 'H' relict, kindly gave permission for the Shellhole to be named in remembrance not only to her late husband, but also to all veterans of the South Atlantic campaign.

This era also produced the FALKLANDS and SOUTH GEORGIA Shellholes as further evidence that a younger group of ex servicemen and women are entering Mothdom.

The Bouncing Bomb Shellhole

In 2003 it's the youngest on the line.  Now in its second year since inauguration.  Welcome to the veterans from East Kent.

We are always proud to welcome the on going generations of veterans from Malaya, Suez, Aden, Cypress, Malaya(sia)/Singapore Borneo, South Vietnam, The Border, Rhodesia, Northern Ireland, Falklands, The Gulf, Bosnia, UN Peacekeepers and other campaigns soon forgotten by the general public, on equal terms with those veterans remaining from WW2 1939-45 or Korean campaigns.

One significant feature with our membership is our warm welcome to veterans' who also served with a British Commonwealth or Allied country, thus at anytime, our Shellholes are multi-national.

We also welcome the National Serviceman, Merchant Services and other categories of service.  In summary, we offer something that other Associations cannot provide.  It is truly the case that Old Soldiers', and of course, Sailors' and Air Force men and women Never Die.

We continue to provide the True Comradeship (TC) Mutual Help (MH) and Sound Memory (SM) which are the Three Ideals of MOTH.

Names and faces do change through the years but the original purpose and character of Mothdom lives on.

About the author: Ron Johnston is a Tasmanian.  He served in the Australian Defence Forces 1960-80 and saw service in Malaya/Malaysia, Thailand and South Vietnam.  His wife Audrey also experienced active service in Malaysia.  Somewhere about 1995, Ron was approached by the MOTH, how they found him is still a mystery.  Today, Ron & Audrey live in Telford, Shropshire and their hobbies include local community support, military history, tennis and archaeology.

Contributed by Ron Johnston

A "blimp" was a word applied to an observation balloon.

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