It’s Time for Whistles to Make a Comeback

A long time ago, I queued up at a store in a training unit to be issued some kit. I already had all my bedding, uniforms, field gear and other assorted military junk, but this was a special store. It held all the magical items that help to make a leader in the British Army. The small pile I signed for included a watch, prismatic compass, binoculars – and a whistle.

It was quite an impressive whistle – a tubular police-style one made of chromed brass, stamped with the old War Department broad arrow mark above the maker’s details: “The Metropolitan, J. Hudson & Co, Birmingham.” It came with a little leather strap to attach it to your pocket button, which I thought was very smart. The noise it made was impressive, too – a piercing blast that made lesser plastic whistles slink away in shame.

I have no idea if that store is still handing out whistles, but it did for a very long time. J. Hudson & Co started making The Metropolitan in 1884 – for the Metropolitan Police, funnily enough – and the oldest I’ve seen with a broad arrow stamp was dated 1900. I got issued mine in 1992, and it was still a perfectly sensible thing to be given. In a noisy environment – and war is not quiet – a whistle is a great way to attract attention or give prearranged commands.

In fact, I was so impressed with my whistle that when the time came to hand it back in, I claimed I’d lost it, and got billed £2.17 or whatever ridiculously low sum of money one “Whistle, White Metal, Officers and NCOs” cost last time the Army bought a batch of them, which was probably sometime in the 1950s. That whistle sat in the pocket of my combat jacket for many years, securely buttoned on through its little leather strap, and it’s still kicking around somewhere in one of my boxes.

Would it be any use today, though? The British Army doesn’t rely on whistles, hand signals or angry shouts to give tactical commands anymore. Since about 2003, every infantryman is issued a Personal Role Radio, which can be used as a section (squad) level chat net with a range of about 550 yards – the US Marines started using the same radio a couple of years ago as the AN/PRC-343. When everyone has a reliable, hard to intercept radio with a lightweight headset and remote PTT switch that straps to their weapon, there’s no need to start blowing a whistle.

However, personally I’d rather hang on to my whistle – and, considering that a GI one costs $1.99 and weighs practically nothing, I think it’s something everyone else should carry, too. It doesn’t rely on batteries, so it will keep working long after all the electronics have died, and it’s a light, compact but very effective way of attracting attention in emergencies. I don’t think its military days have quite ended yet, either.

After years of fighting people who think a goat is advanced technology, we’ve all become a bit slack about the risks of electronic warfare, but with the Russians getting feisty in Eastern Europe, it might be a good time to start thinking about it again. A PRR is a great way to communicate at the lowest tactical levels, but I don’t want to think about how its tiny antenna and hundred-milliwatt signal strength would stand up to one of Putin’s fearsome barrage jammers. You can’t jam a whistle.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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1 thought on “It’s Time for Whistles to Make a Comeback

  1. I’m an Abrams Tanker and I STILL carry my whistle on my LBV. It’s a habit I got into as a Cadet and I figure that even though it’s less than useless in a tank,with Tankers being dismounted more often than not, it’s a good item I’d rather have and not need than the other way around.

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