It was Monday, the 5th of December 2016, that my dear friend and co-author Brain Moyse telephoned me with the exciting news that he had finally found the evidence which solved an ongoing mystery we had collectively been working on for many years - a mystery that had captivated and frustrated Fairbairn-Sykes knife collectors in equal amounts for decades.  This mystery was the meaning behind those handful of rare First Pattern F-S Fighting Knives that are stamped on the pommel with the five digit serial number 30946 along with an individual ‘unique’ number stamped on the opposing side.

As this topic had been a pet project of ours for many years, we decided that a collaborative article was our best option.  This would enable us to get all the relevant information out there to historians and collectors alike in one purposeful effort, laying this mystery to rest while making a significant and historical contribution to the known details about the iconic Wilkinson First Pattern Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.

Brian’s excitement was understandably palpable and as he related to me the details surrounding his latest discovery, there was no question that he had found indisputable evidence to finally solve this elusive mystery once and for all.  The  numbered First Pattern F-S Knife mystery was finally solved and as our enthusiastic and impassioned discussion continued, the topic of how to proceed with this new information weighed on our minds. 

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~ Mystery Of The 30946 Wilkinson First Pattern F-S Knives....Solved..! ~


Brian Moyse & Roy Shadbolt



As I write these sentences I feel myself reliving the excitement and enthusiasm with which Brian and I passionately discussed such topics in person during visits to his Texas home, on countless telephone calls and through hundreds of emails shared back and forth. 

After the aforementioned telephone conversation in early December (2016), Brian and I realized that perhaps not much progress would be made during the holiday period and that our best plan of action would be to gather all of our research together over the coming weeks with a plan to get cracking on our article in the New Year.  Emails went back and forth as planned and collating all the details was moving along as expected.  As 2017 dawned and the new year came and went, we were gearing up for delving into the job of writing the article proper.  However Brian's and my plan never came to pass.

“BREAKING NEWS” was written in the subject line of an email I received from Brian on Friday 13th January (2017).  As I read through Brian’s brief but direct email, I could scarcely believe what I was reading.  My heart began to sink further and further as the narrative made clear the subject.  In Brian’s usual to the point and matter of fact way, he simply wrote a short email stating that he had just discovered that he had terminal cancer and did not have long to live.  No prognosis was shared but reading between the lines it was clear that time was very short.

The wonderful, selfless and true gentleman that was Brian, went on to thank me for our friendship and apologized for (me) “not having much of a co-author”.  It was just an incredibly short twelve days later on the Wednesday 25th January 2017 that at 75 years old Brian left us.

As the months have passed and the challenges of coming to terms with Brian’s loss have been ever present, our article and Brian’s important historical discovery has constantly been in my thoughts.  I realized right away that I could not write this article without telling Brian’s story and sharing with you all the indomitable detective, passionate historian, true gentleman and dear friend that Brian was.

The very fine example shown here at right is

number 96.  The opposing side is stamped

with the now familiar number of 30946.

As one can clearly see each number

has been individually stamped

by hand.

But as I write and with a heavy heart I must relate that our tale must take a darker turn of events.

~ Introduction ~


Brian and I first connected some years back as he had recently acquired a splendid Wilkinson First Pattern F-S Fighting Knife and in an effort to learn more about it, contacted me.  As we both were ex-pats from Britain who shared a love of history, and military history in particular, we soon became firm friends.

I recall our first telephone conversation as if it was yesterday.  Brian was enquiring about some initials ( JD ) scratched into the leather scabbard of his newly acquired First Pattern F-S Knife (shown adjacent) and wanted my thoughts on how he could go about tracing the original owner's details - presumably a British Commando.  Brian’s enthusiasm dropped somewhat when I made it very clear that such a task was all but impossible.  I explained that having owned hundreds of F-S knives I have occasionally come across similar details marked on either the knife or scabbard.  On many occasions I had explored all manner of avenues to ascertain the identity of the original owner and with very few exceptions failed abysmally.  British military service records for this period are for the most part still classified and as Commando and Special Forces personnel were volunteers, this also meant that serial numbers were of little help (if known) having been issued when joining one's initial regiment and long before any volunteer posting.  Even having a name and serial number is absolutely no guarantee that one can find out anything useful, let alone just having such scant details as the owner's initials.  

Not a 30946 numbered knife but an early production First Pattern belonging to Jimmy Dix (inset) of No3 Commando and the knife that inspired Brian to search out the origin of the numbered knives.

Brian was at this point in time quite new to the F-S knife area of study and collecting and I was quite resolute that he should give up any hope of finding out who this ‘JD’ fellow was and just enjoy this F-S for the splendid knife it was.  How wrong I was, as I would soon learn that Brian was both a wonderful historical detective and had a determination and indomitable spirit to match.  

Over the months and years that followed Brian not only discovered the initials belonged to Jimmy Dix of No3 Commando, but subsequently would make contact with Jimmy’s longtime friend Richard Ashley (now deceased) resulting in a visit to meet up on a trip back to Britain.  Brian would once more reunite the history of this original owner with the F-S knife.  You can read all about the Jimmy Dix First Pattern and Brian’s story of discovery in the April 2017 issue of Knife Magazine ‘A Tale Of Two Knives’.

Brian’s tenacity and passion for history would be a hallmark of our relationship over the years as countless emails and telephone calls would go back and forth on many military and knife topics.  But perhaps the one topic that remained with us year after year was the as yet undiscovered reasoning behind the 30946 numbered First Pattern F-S Knives.  We both knew that there had to be some very practical and logical reasoning for these knives to be numbered in this way and we were both convinced that the information must be out there somewhere or known by someone.  

I must confess as the years rolled on and all my efforts proved fruitless, my enthusiasm waned.  But Brian was always there with an excited phone call or email to spur me on again and again.  Something in me knew that Brian was going to get to the bottom of this mystery and as fate would have it, I would be proved right.

~ The ‘30946’ Numbered  Knives ~


Anyone who has an interest in collecting or studying the British Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Fighting Knife likely has an appreciation for those original knives we now call the First Pattern.  Manufactured by Wilkinson Sword of London from November 1940 until August of 1941, they were produced in limited number before being replaced by what we now refer to as the Second Pattern.  It is unlikely that any collector, be they casual or more dedicated has not seen, heard about or read of the few examples of First Pattern knives that are known to be stamped with the number ‘30946’.  As these knives appear to be rather elusive, Brian and I as part of our ongoing research decided it would be a good idea to start recording all known examples.  Over the many years we have been studying these knives, I have positive records of only 37 known, surviving examples.

Perhaps equally interesting as the 30946 number stamped into the pommel is the fact that nearly all known examples are accompanied by a separate number, the latter being marked in the same manner but on the opposing side of the pommel.  

30946 plus unique number below:                100                200                300                400                500

  1. *This knife is ‘not’ an F-S see comments further down.

  2. ** These knives are marked 30946 but with no individual serial number.

The five digit number of 30946 has always been presumed to be a serial number of some kind but the reasoning and logic behind it has (until now) always been unknown.  The other numbers accompanying this appear to be an individual, unique numbering system specific to identifying the knife itself, rather like the unique serial number one finds on modern firearms.  Out of the forty two known examples, two knives carry the five digit 30946 number only, whereas the remainder also have their unique number.  The known numbers are shown in the following chat.












































With the lowest known numbered First Pattern being 23 and the highest being 485, it would seem a reasonable assumption that these knives represented a numbered batch of 500 knives.  With no number above 500 ever having been observed (to my knowledge) then the working hypothesis of a batch of issued knives numbered no more than 500 certainly seems to hold water.  This working theory has always been accepted within the F-S collecting community.  But what of the other serialized number of 30946?

Just when we think that the mystery of the 30946 F-S knives could not get more intriguing some new details of a similarly marked knife appear but this time ‘not’ on an F-S First Pattern.  On this occasion we see it on a commercial hunting knife..!  This knife (below) came with impeccable provenance and originally belonged (along with an un-numbered First Pattern) to Jimmy Dix of No3 Commando.  Along the tangs spine it is stamped with the 30946 number along with the unique identification number of 8.  Although marked in a similar manner to the F-S knives, on very close examination it appear that the set of stamps used is ‘not’ identical to the ones used on the F-S knives!  I am convinced that all knives in question, even the hunting knife, are totally genuine (I have personally examined the hunting knife) so where does this leave us?

This intriguing knife (along with an un-numbered First Pattern) was owned by Jimmy Dix of No3 Commando.  Like the previously mentioned numbered knives this also is marked (along the tang spine) with the 30946 number and the unique identifying number of 8.

Brian Moyse collection

~ Unraveling The Mystery ~


It was a long and arduous research project that was undertaken to discover the mystery of the 30946 numbered First Pattern F-S knives.  The first real tantalizing break came with the discovery of multiple similar five-digit serial numbers relating to the British military during the WWII period.  Aside from the 30946 number on F-S knives, a 30576 number had been observed on a metal tag purporting to be from Auxiliary Unit store's crate.  As the mystery deepened it also became more illuminated when some photographs were studied that appeared to show military personnel with near identical code numbers stenciled onto their kit bags.

Private collection

A splendid example of the 30946 numbered First Pattern.  Complete with original and correct scabbard and with an individual serial number of 285.

After further research, two photographs were identified showing 2 & 4 Troop of No3 Commando with the number 30944 marked on their kit bags.  Additional investigation subsequently revealed that the images had been taken at Tilbury Docks in Essex, England and were indeed of No3 Commando returning after their D-Day landing in Normandy following their fight across Europe.  The connection between a similar series of numbers and Commando units seemed to be tangible indeed but as little more could be gleaned from these images, solving the mystery still seemed elusively out of reach.

A further image surfaced and again had a similar number applied to a soldiers kit bag.  This image had the number of 30960.  The image turned out to be that of 40 Royal Marine Commando, 24th January 1948 at HMS Ricasola, Malta Shore Base, en route to Hifa Palestine.  Although the image (and possibly the number) related to post WWII it was still (as it turns out) very much worth pursuing.  As such, contact was made with George Gelder (Lt Col RM (Ret)), historian at the Royal Marine Commando Association in Portsmouth, England.  This contact proved most fortuitous since at the time he was also working on a WWII project about the 116 Infantry Brigade Royal Marines and was dealing with similar code numbers.  In his email reply he mentioned that our project code numbers reminded him of “Embarkation Numbers” which were painted on all kit to make sure it went to the right ship and to the correct destination.  Additionally these five-digit numbers might also be known as ‘Unit Mobilization Serial Numbers’, or ‘Unit Service Numbers’.  

Continuing to follow this trail, contact was made with a Canadian, Mark W Tonner.  Mark, as it turned out, was an authority on markings of this sort having authored a number of articles on such topics.  He was most helpful and pointed out that the British military actually had manuals with specific instructions about how the marking of equipment should be accomplished.  As emails went back and forth on this topic we became convinced that we were at last onto something tangible.  Mark then related something that would turn out to be critical, “In regards to your query about a list of unit serial numbers for the Army Commando of the British Army during the period of the Second World War, The National Archives (Kew, Richmond) would contain what you are looking for.  WO33/2223 - Index to field force units: Serial numbers - approximately 440  numbers A3 size pages.  “index to Field Force Units part 1:  Index by Serial Number dated May 1944”.

A period photograph of No2 & 4 Troop of No3 Commando with the Field Force Unit Serial Numbers 30944 marked on their kit bags. Taken at Tilbury Docks in Essex, England and were indeed of No3 Commando returning after their D-Day landing in Normandy following their fight across Europe

With this new lead, for the first time we had the potential for an actual real and reliable document to research.  With a purported 440 pages contained within the document we could only hope that some small piece of information would yield the facts we needed to finally solve this mystery, never mind that the document itself was in Britain!

Then fate intervened.  In an unrelated incident, an email was received from Des Turner, a friend in the United Kingdom.  Des mentioned he would soon be visiting The National Archives in Kew for his own research project.  He knew of our recent developments and generously offered us a time slot in order to pursue some research on our behalf.  Not wishing to take advantage of his generosity with any expectation of asking Des to read through over 400 pages of the document, a specific request was crafted to make best use of this opportunity - “could you please look up WO33/2223 for numbers from 30940 - 30950 and copy any and all information available for these numbers”.  Imagine  our surprise and delight when on the 30th November 2016 an email from Des arrived with a copy of the relevant page and therein lay the information that had been so elusive for all these years - the mystery was finally solved!  The 30946 number found on First Pattern F-S Fighting Knives was in fact a ‘Field Force Unit Serial Number’ relating specifically to No9 Commando....!

Other notable Field Force Unit Serial Numbers Identified are as follow:

30942 - No1 Commando

30943 - No2 Commando

30944 - No3 Commando

30945 - No4 Commando

30960 - 44 R.H. Commando (I suspect the ‘H’ is a mistype and should be ‘M’ for Royal Marine)

30961 - 45 R.M. Commando

30964 - 43 R.M. Commando

30978 - 42 R.M. Commando

So there it is, the first known recorded mention of 30946 issued by the War Office, London May 1944 and unmistakably issued to No9 Commando.  

One discrepancy we don’t have an answer for (and may never) is with the dates.  The Wilkinson First Pattern ceased production in August of 1941, having been replaced by what we now refer to as the Second Pattern.  However, the Index To Field Force book was printed in 1944.  There are two possibilities that present themselves to explain this.  First, the knives were held in stores and not marked up until years later.  Second, the numbers were in use much earlier with this 1944 printing just being a later addition.  As No9 Commando were formed in 1940 it is extremely unlikely such a large quantity of F-S knives (500) would have been retained in stores.  Particularly when one remembers that there was such a shortage of all weapons and equipment in the early days of the war, so the latter scenario seems more logical.

~ Final Thoughts ~


In regards the numbered First Pattern F-S knives, there is still the potential for more research in order to fully understand their place in history with No9 Commando.  As mentioned earlier in this article, we have only thus far identified thirty-seven individual examples, so I’m sure there are more out there and would like to hear from anyone who has examples not already recorded.  

Now that a link has been established between these knives and No9 Commando, it may be possible to look into the history of this unit and glean more details that may be pertinent to this topic.  But that is beyond the scope of this article.  For now and in accordance with Brian’s wishes, he felt it was important to share this new information with the F-S collecting community in order that we all have a more enlightened understanding of the 30946 First Patterns.

In summing up, I would like to end with a few personal comments.  Firstly I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to Brian’s wife, Emmy, who was the most wonderful, gracious and attentive host each time my wife Deborah and I would visit.  And to Brian’s son Allan who went to great lengths to make sure I had everything I needed from Brian’s records in order to complete this project.  

Lastly but importantly my dear friend Brian Moyse should be given full credit for this important discovery.  It was Brian’s tenacity and dedication to solving this mystery that finally paid off.  Brian was a rare individual whose passion for history was infectious and was only surpassed by his character.  Brian was a true gentlemen in every sense of the word.  It was my honor to call him a friend and I will forever be grateful for having known him.

Another excellent example of this rare First Pattern

F-S knife, this time number 286.  On close

examination it is interesting to observe

that the same stamp has been used

on both knives as the number

details are identical.


Ruben Vanratingen collection

Please consider supporting my research, writing and website via Patreon or by direct donation.

Credits & References:

George Gelder (Lt Col RM (Ret)

Mark W Tonner

The National Archives Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

The Imperial War Museum

Des Turner

To view the original Knife Magazine published version of this article - please click here.Knife_Magazine_Article_February_2018_Mystery_of_The_30946_F-S_Knives_Solved.html
The 30946 F-S Knife Mystery Solved..!

Roy Shadbolt (left) with his dear friend and co-author Brian Moyse (right) 1942 - 2017.

A period photograph of 4 Troop of No3 Commando with the Field Force Unit Serial Numbers 30944 marked on their kit bags.

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