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Rescuing rusted artefacts and little pieces of military history

Most military memorabilia / militaria will arrive in far from mint condition. Once issued and used, especially if lost in battle, military artefacts tend to be a bit battered about.

Whilst a bit of wear and tear can add great character and enhanced display potential, there are pieces that have been stored so badly, or are in such poor relic state as to need some genuinely life-saving treatment.

There are quite conflicting schools of thought on whether to leave every piece of militaria entirely as it is, or to attempt some form of cleaning or restoration. Each piece should be judged on its merits in this regard, as some items will be ruined by cleaning. Historic Japanese sword blades being a good example.

There are however certain pieces that warrant an attempt at cleaning where improper storage or misadventure has covered up a genuine hidden treasure.

We recently found ourselves in this position with a batch of helmets that came with a grouping of veteran bring backs from the WW2 North African, Mediterranean and Pacific campaigns. Poorly stored an exposed to humidity for decades, these great helmets had accumulated surface rust, grime and ‘who knows what’ that was clearly covering some good paint and detail.

After much deliberation it was decided to give these a bath in Oxalic acid to try and remove the surface rust and grime to see what was hidden underneath.

With proper PPE (goggles, masks and gloves) to protect from the fumes and corrosive acid, we carefully dipped each helmet into its bath and awaited the results.

It was pleasing to see paint, decals and even soldier’s names and numbers emerge from the muck as the oxalic acid did its job on the rust without seeming to touch leather liners and fittings.

Even though there are schools of thought that say to leave everything as it is, we occasionally see the benefits of a good clean for items that have hidden beauty waiting to be rescued from the rigours of their age and history.


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