Guest Article By
THE MYSTERY OF
BRUCE HAND & JOHN PAISLEY
Over the years a number of references to Bruce Hand of Australia and John Paisley of Glasgow have occurred in the knife collecting field particularly that specialist area of clandestine and commando knives. Their names, and knives reputedly made by them have appeared in auction catalogues and in both books and magazine articles. However despite inquiries in Australia and Britain it has to date proved impossible to authenticate the actual existence of these two makers.
So why is there an apparent problem with the actual existence of these two reputed makers when there is "evidence" in the form of knives bearing their marks?
Both these makers were recorded as operating during WW2 with Hand reportedly operating into the post war years. Both have been recorded as makers of clandestine blades, with Hand also having been noted as making SOG style knives for the Australian Special Forces along with hunting and skinning knives.
The record on Bruce Hand is somewhat scant but he is reported as being born in London in 1903 as Walter Bruce Hand. He is reputed to have emigrated to Australia in 1920 and at the outbreak of WW2 joined the Australian Army.
Knife making activities are stated to have commenced sometime in the early 1940’s when he is recorded returning to Australia after being wounded. He commenced making thumb knives, lapel daggers and other clandestine blades to supply the Melbourne based company of Alcock and Pierce. After the war he is supposed to have produced skinning and hunting knives. Later in the 1960’s he is recorded as making SOG style knives for the Australian special forces. Hand’s trade mark is noted as being an ampersand "&" symbol.
Besides the SOG knives, illustrations of Hand’s work which have been previously published include a Fairbairn Shanghai style fighting knife and a "rams head" push dagger. One of his rams head push daggers is shown below.
The actual existence of Hand does however need some reflection.
Firstly his name is unknown amongst Australian collectors and besides one knife which turned up in an auction in England, the same piece having previously been in a sales catalog in the US, all examples of his work seem to come onto the market in the US.
Secondly there is the issue of his service with the Australian Army. The service records for Australian serviceman are freely available via the Australian War Memorial Museum and there are no records for a Walter Bruce Hand or anyone else with that surname whose service history, place and date of birth comply with his alleged history.
So we have an Australian maker and ex service man which nothing is known about in Australia.
John Paisley has probably received more publicity than Hand in that he has been mentioned more frequently in various publications. Typical of these are some of the following extracts:
"Located in a narrow street near the railway station in Glasgow was the small shop of the master Cutler John Paisley maker of traditional Scottish Dirks, Skean Dhu's and other fine quality weapons. Although away from the main shopping area and difficult to find, members of the secretive Special Forces who trained nearby had no problem finding their way to his shop as he was known to them as the maker of the finest Clandestine Blades during WW2"
[Authors Note _ In the same item from which this is taken there is reference to Paisley's use of a thistle trademark or the initials JP on his products.]
"Who actually designed the Smatchet is not recorded though prototypes were reportedly made by John Paisley the Scottish bladesmith who produced many clandestine weapons for the Commandos and SOE. The fact that he was located closer to the Commando Training Centre at Achnicarry may have made it more convenient for him to fabricate some of the earliest examples. Though extremely rare, Paisley Smatchet's marked with either a thistle or the letters JP are indicative of his work."
"_ _ _ _ _it was made by John Paisley of Glasgow. Its been reported that his firm was very small with as few as 4 or 5 workmen. He supplied beautifully finished edged weapons mostly of the clandestine variety, at least some by private purchase through military tailors shops and outfitters in and around Glasgow.
"_ _ _ _ _ made by John Paisley of Glasgow. Both blades are fabricated from British pattern 1903 bayonet blades, and have Paisley's wartime code number 1 on the ricasso."
"The elliptical guard is of blackened German silver- marked with a British broad arrow mark and Paisley's trademark J.P. and an X on the top.
"John Paisley the Scottish cutler who supplied all sorts of edged weapons to the WW2 special forces was another major maker of Agents daggers. Paisley's daggers were often favoured over Wilkinson’s due to the formers access to better steel, since the proprietor reportedly worked out a deal with the crews of the Shetland Bus which inserted agents into Norway to bring back high quality Swedish steel."
"Agents knife made by John Paisley Glasgow cutler for export contract to A&P (Alcock and Pierce) in Australia."
"Instep blade, maker John Paisley in packet marked A&P supplier."
"Blued grip marked JP with thistle armourers stamp."
"Knife, rare 1941 British Commando Utility Pattern by WE Fairbairn, Officers model by John Paisley of Glasgow. Blued grip area stamped JP with 1 wartime code. Brown leather sheath _ _ _ _ _ _stamped with Paisley's thistle stamp and 41 near throat. Lot includes reprint photo of JP at his forge in Glasgow."
"Paisley suffered from glaucoma and gave up knife making in 1946 emigrating to Australia. His son John Jnr. carried on the business into the 1950's when he closed the business".
"This blade was obtained from John Paisley's son, John Jnr. with the remaining stock after the old shop closed down in the 1950's. The blade bears the daffodil stamp and the number 8."
"An S.O.E. knife made to be comfortably concealed in the sole of a shoe, by John Paisley. Also WD and A & P for Alcock and Pierce."
From the perspective of the origin of these statements, and the fact that the subject of these statements was located in a British City it is interesting to note that all, with the exception of the last of the above, have been extracted from articles, auction catalogues and correspondence which have come from North America. It being of note that this last statement was taken from an auction sale which contained other clandestine items which had previously appeared in a US based sale.
Noting that Paisley was recorded as operating out of Glasgow enquiries were made amongst British based sources including collectors, libraries and museums. The only near reference found was one to a John Paisley listed as a partner in a Jeweller firm located at Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow. But there was no record of a John Paisley associated with the cutlery trade.
Given that this was the only lead the Glasgow commercial and Post Office Directories for the period 1935 to 1950 were examined in more depth. These dates being chosen as they would give a good span over Paisley’s apparent period of work.
In the alphabetical section of the this 1935 directory, 3 John Paisley's are listed, one being noted "Paisley, Jnr., Jeweller see Lindsay and Paisley Ltd". There is no reference against the other two entries to give any indication of their trade or business. In this Directory there are only 9 entries for anybody associated with the cutlery trade, 4 being listed as cutlers, 2 as cutlery manufacturers and 3 as cutlery merchants. None of these entries record a John Paisley. In the jewelery section of this same directory Lindsay and Paisley have 2 entries under Jewelers and Silversmiths-Wholesale and Manufacturing.
A similar situation exists for the period 1940 to 1950, there is no separate listing for a John Paisley cutler. The name of Lindsay and Paisley jewelers does however appear over most of this period. Despite this initial lack of evidence could one of the 3 John Paisley’s found in the record be the one we seek?
Before however trying to unscramble this evidence lets looks at other aspects of Paisley’s alleged history which may help identify him.
One aspect of Paisley's work that is mentioned in a number of the sources which refers to his name and work is the use of the code number 1, though a number 8 is mentioned in one source. The use of code numbers on British military knives during World War 2 is an involved subject. Typically encountered are the broad arrow number or letter marks. These are not manufacturers codes but are inspectors marks which give no clue to the maker. However also used during WW2 were the manufacturers codes which consisted of a letter N, M or S along with a number. Such codes are noted on some British bayonets patterns, but it hasn't been noted on any British issue Military Knife e.g. the Commando Knife. The 3 prefix letters indicate S for South, M for Midlands, and N for North, being the general geographical location in which the manufacturer was based. A full list of codes was published by Ian Skennerton, and with Glasgow being located in the Northern part of the country an N prefix would be anticipated against the Paisley mark. However N1 is allocated to a Albion Motors Ltd of Glasgow, and N8 to Beardshaw and Son Ltd Sheffield.
It should be noted that Skennerton’s listing was drawn from records that dated from around 1943 early 1944 and may thus post date some of the JP marked pieces. Yet it must also be noted that no confirmed records of the British using single number codes such as the number 1 have been heard of or published.
Paisley is reported as using a thistle trade mark although one source said he used a daffodil. A photograph (see below) showing 4 lapel knives reputed to be Paisleys work provided by a private collector has 3 of the knives all bearing different stamps. Although the trademarks are not complete being partially erased by incomplete stamping no two stampings appear to be the same.
Photo Source: Private Collection
Paisley's name is also frequently linked with that of Alcock and Pearce. Alcock and Pearce are a sporting goods company based in Melbourne and they were in existence during World War 2. However an Australian researcher has been in contact with the company and was given access to all their WW2 order books. This provided no evidence to support the link between the two.
Lets now look in more depth at the evidence regarding the three John Paisleys found in the Directories.
One of the claims about Paisley is that his shop was located in a narrow street near the railway station. It will be noted that John Paisley the Jeweler was located at Royal Exchange Square. Whilst this address is near Queens Street Station, which is one of 4 stations in Glasgow, this is not a narrow street but a substantial city square. The other two Paisley’s had addresses at Toryglen Street and at Shieldhall Road, Govan. Neither of these are in a narrow street near a railway station.
None of the 3 found has any indication in the Directories to indicate that he was a cutler. However the lapsing of the entry for Lindsay and Paisley i.e. 1956 could be construed as very roughly tying in with the statement that "His son John Jnr. carried on the business into the 1950's when he closed the business". However the link with Lindsay can only be considered very tenuous noting the alleged location of Paisley's premises in comparison with that occupied by Lindsay and Paisley and the fact noted previously that no firm of John Paisley and Son has been located.
John Paisley partner in Lindsay and Paisley Jeweler does however seem to be dismissed from the hunt because of inconsistencies in the records revolving around the statement that John Paisley gave up knife making in 1946 and emigrated to Australia. If he is the one we seek why is he still listed as a partner of Lindsay and Paisley and his residential address still recorded at 18 Central Avenue in the 1950’s. He may have remained a distant sleeping partner in the firm but this does not explain the problem of his home address.
Also if the John Paisley we seek was a partner in the firm of Lindsay and Paisley is it not more likely that any knives that he did make would have been marked with the name of the Company, and that the Company would have had Cutler mentioned against their name in the Directories of the period.
Readers will no doubt have noted that one of the references to Paisley which came from an auction sale includes the statement "Lot includes reprint photo of JP at his forge in Glasgow". The existence of a photo reportedly showing Paisley at his forge has also been raised in private correspondence, and a copy of this photo has been examined and is shown below It has not however been possible to authenticate this photo as being of John Paisley though it does show a man of about 50 years of age standing in front of a large forge. His style of working clothing which includes a flat cap could range from anywhere between the two World Wars to the 1960’s.
Photo Source: Private Collection
We thus have a situation where :
A maker of clandestine and other knives has been referenced in a number of articles and other material originating from North America. But no corroborative evidence can be found in the Trade and other Directories appertaining to the city in which he is reported to have worked.
Except for one minor exception all material marked JP appears in the North American market and none in his alleged country of origin.
Noting the reference to him being a Dirk, Skean Dhu and Claymore maker, no example of his work has been located in any of the likely Scottish Museums.
The reported wartime code number stamped on Paisley's wares does not align with the published facts on the markings applied to British World War 2 edged weapons.
A Glasgow based cutler with no more than 4 or 5 employees is supposed to have forged a link with an Australian firm, supplying them with clandestine type items such as lapel daggers. Yet evidence from Australia does verify such a link.
Although some of the evidence gathered is inconclusive a number of conclusions and further questions must result from the lack of corroborative evidence i.e.
a) A number of highly respected authors have mentioned Paisley’s name but what was their source? Some of their information may have relied on the anecdotal and some may have been drawn from the information given in the sales list.
b) The lack of corroborative evidence could indicate that his output was of very limited size or that he was a pure back street operation. But what of the inconsistencies in the known facts about markings used by the British during WW2 and the marks which appear on his reputed wares?
c) Is it likely that a Glasgow manufacturing cutler and maker of dirks, claymores etc. would go unrecorded in the City Directories?
e) If the John Paisley we seek was a partner in Lindsay and Paisley is it likely that he would still be recorded at the same residential address years after he is reported to have emigrated?
f) Do the initials JP actually stand for John Paisley, if they don’t who or indeed what do they represent?
g) Are there other research channels yet to be explored which would confirm Paisley’s existence?
h) Why do knives bearing his initials only appear on the market in another country thousands of miles away from his home city?
i) If none of the above questions can be answered what are the true origins of knives marked JP?
So what is the truth about Bruce Hand and John Paisley? Did they actually exist, are they fact or fantasy? That is left to the reader to decide.
But as one highly respected collector and author once commented in respect of these two
"I cannot think of a similar situation where the research of a maker or the history of a knife has been so fruitless in the verification of its very existence".
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