~ The Wilkinson First Pattern F-S Fighting Knife ~


November 1940 - August 1941

~ Introduction ~

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The Wilkinson Sword First Pattern F-S Fighting Knife is unquestionably a classic amongst military fighting knives and continues to be an enduring design.  Arguably the most influential knife design of the twentieth century, it has been copied and reproduced by countless knife makers and its influence on modern knife design can be seen in many fine knives to this day.

Not surprisingly, this historically significant knife has attracted a plethora of myth and stories, most of which have been created by misguided individuals sometimes with less than honorable intentions.  What follows are some of my own observations and opinions based on personal experience and personal examination of over ‘sixty’ original Wilkinson First Pattern F-S Fighting Knives.

Details of First Pattern design, development and production are based on documented facts obtained from contemporary internal Wilkinson Sword documentation discovered by Robert Wilkinson-Latham during many years of painstaking research.  Mr Wilkinson-Latham has generously shared all of his research with me, some of which is presented here.  These details along with ‘many’ fine original examples kindly shared by fellow collectors and friends throughout the world will I hope present an unprecedented resource for collectors and researchers offering a unique insight that to date has never before been available.

The First Pattern F-S was conceived on Monday, 4th November 1940 at a meeting held at the office of the managing director of Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd,  John (‘Jack’) Wilkinson-Latham.  Joining ‘Jack’ that Monday were three other gentleman; Charlie Rose, William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes.  Charlie Rose was one of Wilkinson’s most talented and experienced engineers and as head of the Experimental Workshop, his input on design, development and production would have been invaluable.

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~ The Beginning ~

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Fairbairn and Sykes, having been tasked with training Britain’s newly-formed Commando’s and the clandestine operatives of the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) in ‘unconventional warfare’, were meeting with Jack Wilkinson-Latham on official duty.  They needed a Fighting Knife suitable for their particular style ‘silent killing’ and Wilkinsons, with their long history of military arms manufacture and bespoke knife making, were the ideal choice to supply such a weapon.

The original page from the Wilkinson ledger clearly shows the meetings location of 53 Pall Mall, the date of ‘4 November 1940’ and present J.W.Latham Mr S (Sykes) Mr WEF (Fairbairn) and Mr R (Charlie Rose).

© R. Wilkinson-Latham

A design was soon agreed upon and it would appear that expediency was of paramount importance as just ten days later on 14th November (1940), a contract was received for 1,500 knives to be supplied before the end of the month.  The now well-known moniker of First Pattern that we are so familiar with today was obviously not yet in use.  Interestingly however and before Wilkinson was able to supply the first batch of F-S knives, there was an initial request for Wilkinson to supply a quantity of their ‘Hunting Knife’, as a stop-gap measure.  Wilkinson of course was happy to assist and is known to have supplied one gross (144) of their commercial hunting knives while they were tooling up for production of the F-S.

784

R.B.D.

F-S

The original Wilkinson ‘Commando’ knives.  The model 784 and R.B.D. commercial hunting knives were part of the ‘one gross’ (144) order supplied on the 16th November 1940 as a stop-gap measure while Wilkinson were tooling up for production of the now classic ‘First Pattern’ Fairbairn-Sykes Knife (show far right).

Starting with the November 4th meeting and ending with the last order for 51 First Pattern knives on August 11th, 1941 (order #1482), the First Pattern was in production for a total of  nine months and six days.  It is difficult to precisely determine the exact number of First Pattern knives produced, but when referring to Wilkinson’s order/contract books for the period, we can approximate the number at around 7,500.  From current ongoing research and those knives known to be in collections, it would appear that the survival rate is  conservatively less than 5%.  Although these figures are approximate, they do give us an idea of the scarcity of this knife and an understanding of its desirability within the collecting community.  In part I for one feel that ‘any’ original First Pattern F-S should be treasured regardless of condition.

Contrary to some erroneous reports there were no pre-production First Pattern knives and at that time only ‘one’ prototype or pattern knife was made.  This singular knife was used for setting up tooling and was subsequently disposed of.  Although no records survive concerning this incident, we do have a firsthand account.  Robert Wilkinson-Latham, while working as a Craft Apprentice (c1963) asked Charlie Rose (the original engineer on this project) about any prototype knives.  He said that he only made one knife and that “Mr., Jack [Jack Wilkinson-Latham] took it up to town, we then ‘tweaked’ it a bit ....... there was a bloody war on!   We used it for tool making and then slung the bits in the official scrap bins”.  These, then, are the facts as we know them.  Extreme caution should be exercised when contemplating a purchase of any knife purporting to be a First Pattern prototype or pre-production knife made by Wilkinson Sword, as no such knife exists. 

Unlike the subsequent patterns that followed it, the First Pattern would for the most part remain very consistent in its design with very few production anomalies or manufacturing variations.  As a result most First Pattern F-S knives are nearly identical to one another in somewhat of a ‘standardized’ pattern.  There are of course a few exceptions to this; for example those knives that are stamped with the number 30946, those very few original examples known with a three-inch long crossguard (the standard being two inches) and those early production knife that have a number of features that clearly make them distinct from later examples.  All of these ‘variations and production anomalies’ are dealt with the specific section dedicated to this topic (see top navigation bar).  Generally the rest of the knife (and scabbard) still conformed to the ‘standard’ pattern having a commonality with most other First Pattern knives.  However such variations - however minor - does give the committed collector some exciting opportunities to discover knives that are both rare and interesting.

An exceptionally rare example of an early production First Pattern F-S.  Such variations of the First Patten are rare but certainly makes life interesting for the F-S collector.

~ Well Worth Looking For ~

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This great photograph clearly shows the First Pattern in use, although just one of the many ways in which a Commando could wear his knife.  Also note there is no insignia on his battle dress blouse; this was normal operating procedure during raids.

Of interest in the caption is the use of ‘Special Service’ (soldier) as this was the original official term for these units prior to the adoption of the term ‘Commando’. Apparently the abbreviation of the Special Service to SS was deemed to close for comfort considering its relationship to the Nazi ‘SS’ (Schutzstaffel) forces they were fighting.

~ Modern Reproductions ~

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Although First Pattern production was soon replaced by the ‘new design’ (Second Pattern) this was not the end of this original design.  With the increased interest amongst collectors Wilkinson Sword (prior to their closure in 2005) released many ‘commemorative’ F-S Knives and the First Pattern was also represented.  The example shown adjacent dates from the 1990’s and although a beautiful knife in its own right, the details of its construction differ enough that it would be unlikely to be mistaken for their original circa 1940/1 First Pattern F-S Knife.  Although one must still remain cautious as I have seen at least one example recently that was ‘artificially’ aged, no doubt in an attempt to possibly deceive and unsuspecting collector.  If you are contemplating a purchase of any F-S and are unsure then I’m here to help, always feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

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