In the UK every year we mark the end of the First World War on the 11th November at 11am with two minutes silence. This act or remembrance and thanks is not only on behalf of the soldiers who fought between 1914-1918 but all those who have fought on behalf of the British Commonwealth then and since. On the Sunday falling nearest this date, official heads of state and the military also perform a Service of Remembrance along the streets of Whitehall, London. On the radio today I listened to this moving service and also a momentous event in history as the current head of state for the Republic of Ireland laid a wreath on behalf of those who fought in World War One from Eire, a huge mark of the change of mood within this land which has had a turbulent relationship with the UK.
I for one have been significantly influenced by military clothes my whole life. As a small kid I used to attend the annual Royal Tournament where the audience could purchase military surplus supplies. For a couple of years at least I wore little else on my bottom half except my camouflage combat trousers and I still enjoy their baggy comfort. One piece of clothing many in and out of the armed forces enjoy wearing is the shemagh (pronounced “schmog”) which originates from the Middle East. It is a scarf-type wrap commonly found in arid regions to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well to protect the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand. For these uses it has been adopted by many military forces all over the world as a standard issue garment. Some troops use olive or khaki ones with black stitching as an addition to their camouflage.
Previously, I was rather anti-shemagh as the posh kids at school used to wear them as a fashion accessory and a status symbol of having been on holiday in luxurious places like Dubai. However, my great childhood friend Rob takes one with him wherever he travels and began to change my attitude towards this humble scarf. He first used one on his epic solo cycle from Cape Town to Istanbul, then took it as a symbol of good luck, as well as practicality, on his charity 1,000 mile run called Run for Love 1000, and again on his walk across Africa researching voodoo traditions.
Last weekend I saw a shemagh for sale at the Imperial War Museum in London but there is little point in having one unless you know how to tie one. Fortunately, the website The Art of Manliness has a helpful photo and video tutorial of how to tie it should you need it for protection. Otherwise, this accessory is best wrapped simply around the neck with the two ends draped on each shoulder.