The Humble Buttons Wartime Secret
The Quartermaster (Q) in the Bond films, who produced and demonstrated gadgets for James, always intrigued me. It became an expected scene in the film when he demonstrated Bond’s assigned tools for the mission, and it was a near guarantee that each and every piece would prove to be invaluable.
I was reminded of those gadgets when I heard about the humble buttons wartime secret. Buttons are the bane of some detectorists; they don’t like finding them, but I hope this little story makes them stand back and take a second look.
It was during WW II, that the British Directorate of Military Intelligence had boffins developing secret ways of concealing tools and instruments in everyday objects. Hopefully, maps and other objects hidden in or on uniforms wouldn’t attract attention.
Firmin of London made the brass uniform buttons and many other military buttons found by detectorists, but this one was different for it contained an escape compass. They were issued to RAF pilots before they set out on an operation to help them find their way home if shot down over enemy territory. The Canadian Air Force also had a version and it is shown here courtesy of Jean- Patrick Donzey, curator at the Online Compass Museum.
The button unscrews, revealing the compass. The story goes that when the Germans became aware that the compasses existed, changes were made with the screw reversed so any attempts to find them would simply tighten the thread! There were also Bakelite buttons with magnetised metal fixings with dots on the back. When hung from a thread, they pointed north.
The RCAF button pictured above was supplied from the excellent Online Compass Museum COMPASSIPEDIA (with permission) and is worth a look. If you are on Facebook, a page has recently been started, and announces news recently published on the website of COMPASSIPEDIA, which displays hundreds of antique compasses and the history of their invention, development, usage etcetera.
The moral of the story is that when you find another military button, take a careful look – it could just contain a compass, but it’s highly unlikely; they were checked in after every sortie. But if you do find one, please let me know.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Some of you may not know this but I once manned a helpline for distressed detectorists. I remember a caller who contacted me late one night with a very distressing tale.
“Hi, I need your advice on a serious problem. I live in Thornley County Durham, not far from Randy Dee, and have suspected for some time now that my wife Tracy has been cheating on me. The usual signs: If the phone rings and I answer, the caller hangs up. She goes out with ‘the girls’ a lot, and let’s me go detecting whenever I want. I try to stay awake to look out for her when she comes home, but I usually fall asleep.
Anyway, last night about midnight, I hid in the garage behind the car. When arriving home, she got out of someone’s motor, adjusted her dress and proceeded to walk nonchalantly to the front door. It was at that moment, crouched behind the car and in amongst my detectors, that I noticed a hairline crack in the Deus coil. Is that something I can weld with some kind of Epoxy resin, or do I need to replace the whole unit? Please advise.”