PUZZLE OF THE COLORS OF THE DIAMONDS WORN ON FUR HATS
BY NORTH CHINA MARINES
Thanks to information shared by twenty one former North China Marines who once served with the Peking and Tientsin detachments, some unanswered questions about the colored diamonds worn on their fur hats are very close to finally being cleared up. The photographs above and below include a picture of Sgt William E. Killebrew wearing his hat with diamond and modern reproductions of these colorful devices worn behind the eagle, globe, and anchor insignia. Skimpy historical documentation on these brass and enamel diamonds has recently been significantly updated by the first hand recollections of the former North China Marines who actually wore them. Eleven of the group interviewed remembered the color of their diamonds. Five of those queried still have the devices they were issued prior to 8 December 1941! As part of a research project for a forthcoming book on Marine Corps emblems, Dr. Frederick L. Briuer, with the help of these former North China Marines, has been able to confidently determine the units associated with five of the probable six different colors. The existing written documentation and surviving black and white photographs are quite consistent with the recollections as well as the few surviving diamonds owned by those former North China Marines interviewed by Dr. Briuer. The recollections and literature categorically identify Headquarters Company Peking as white, A Company as dark blue, B Company as red, C Company as powder blue, and D Company as yellow. The powder blue diamond was worn first by the 62nd Company in Peking prior to 1 January 1933, after that the companies lost their numerical designations and were called A, B, and C companies. In March of 1937 C Company was transferred to Tientsin and a new D Company was formed in Tientsin from Marines transferred from Peking. The new D Company Marines in Tientsin wore a yellow diamond. Curiously, none of the North China Marines interviewed ever remembered having seen the green device and nothing has yet shown up in the literature to explain a green diamond. It is possible that a Headquarters Company or a Headquarters Detachment was formed in Tientsin in 1937 or early 1938, when troop strength was at an all time high at this post. Perhaps a Headquarters Detachment wore a green diamond? It may have been in use for a very limited period prior to the significant attrition in troop strength that occurred prior to capture by the Japanese. This could possible explain why none of the North China Marines interviewed remembers it. More information is needed from former Marines who may remember or may actually have such a green diamond. Anyone who can help clear up this puzzle is encouraged to send e-mail to email@example.com Although Briuer has photographed authentic diamonds in five different colors, no green diamond has ever been verified or photographed.Those who do not use e-mail go to the Contact Us page on this site.
The photograph at the top is of the hat and insignia worn by Colonel Robert Louis Skidmore who served two or three tours in North China. The light blue diamond was worn by the 62nd Company during the early thirties. Below is a photo of Sergeant William Edward Killebrew wearing the fur hat and wool overcoat used by the North China Marines (Sgt Killebrew died in a POW camp in Japan as a result of treatment by the Japanese). As the entire contingent of North China Marines was marching down the road approaching the Woosung POW camp in February 1942 they were wearing their fur hats and wool overcoats. The Marines and civilians captured on Wake Island who were already held at Woosung thought the men in fur hats approaching the camp were Russians.
Sgt William E. Killebrew was born 16 Nov 1916 in Illinois and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1937. He was serving with Headquarters Company in Peking at the time of capture. He was held at Woosung POW Camp near Shanghai until November 1942 when he was sent to Japan and held at Fukuoka 3-B. Sgt Killebrew died there on 10 February 1944.