Category Archives: Uniform

WW2 British Army Underpants

The most common underwear worn by British soldiers during the Second World War were simple off-white woollen drawers. These were warm and relatively comfortable and came in both short and long length versions. We looked at an example of the Australian made long legged version on the blog here. Tonight we have another example, this time made in the UK and with shorter length:imageThese drawers are simple in construction and like most wartime underwear they do not have an elasticated waist. Instead loops are sewn into the waistband the trousers’ braces slip through these loops before they are buttoned to the inside waist of the battledress:imageThe fly is secured with three plastic buttons:imageThe bottom of each leg has a reduction woven cuff that helps draw it in to the leg:imageThe size, manufacturer and date are stamped in the inside in black ink:imageJB Lewis were a specialist hosiery manufacturer that seems to have been in business for the 1890s until the 1970s. Their main factory was in Nottingham and an article in 1898 described the factory:

The Nottingham warehouse, recently enlarged by taking in the adjoining premises, lately occupied by Messrs. Coombs and Co., Limited, has a total frontage of about 120 feet to Stanford Street and consists of a block of building of six floors, of which the following is the disposition:—On the basement are the rooms for packing and dispatching goods, and the boiler and engine houses for the heating apparatus, by which the whole of the establishment is warmed, and machinery driven. The ground floor is occupied by the receiving rooms for goods brought from the factory, and large stock rooms in which may be inspected in convenient form samples of the firm’s manufactures, to which we shall take occasion to make further reference at a later stage of our notice. The counting-house and general and private offices are situated on the first floor, and above these are additional store rooms and warehouse accommodation for stocks held in reserve.

As the outcome of the rapidly-increasing development of their trade, Messrs. J. B. Lewis and Sons, Ltd., were compelled to find a more commodious site for their manufacturing operations, and thirteen years ago removed their extensive works to Ilkeston, which were erected from special designs to meet the requirements of the business, and were again extended in 1890. By the courtesy of the management, our representative was permitted an opportunity of inspecting this fine establishment, and we are thus enabled to present a description of the more prominent features of organisation and equipment of a thoroughly modern and up-to-date hosiery factory. Passing through the entrance gates from the road, we find a block of two-storey building containing the offices, over which are the press shops and embroidery room, and within a short distance arrive at the main structure, a handsome block of four storeys, with a frontage of upwards of 100 feet, and 43 feet wide, and a side wing 92 feet by 43 feet. The basement of the building is used as yarn cellars, extending the greater portion of the length of the premises, in which are stored raw materials in the various qualities required in the manufacture of hosiery, and adjoining is another cellar where waste is kept, and also two spacious and well-arranged mess rooms, furnished with seats, tables, and every convenience for the hands, next to which is a room equipped with all necessary utensils, heated by steam, for preparing meals, etc. On this level also is the engine-room, containing a fine engine of 70 h.p., and boiler-house in which steam is generated for heating as well as motive force and manufacturing purposes. A lift communicating from the basement to the top of the building conveys us first to the ground floor, where we are introduced to the webbing room, furnished with circular machines; and next to a large apartment 100 feet by 43 feet width, well lighted and lofty, in which is installed a complete plant of Cotton’s patent hosiery machines for pants, vests, hose and half hose. The winding-room, 93 feet by 43 feet, is fitted with a large number of engines for winding yarn on the most improved principles, the machinery in this department being capable of winding 12,000 lbs. of yarn per week. On another floor is a room 93 feet by 43 feet, devoted to the manufacture of seamless hose and half-hose by automatic machines; the patent and rib machine room, and a room in which is placed a plant of Paget’s patent principle, for the production of underwear. The next apartment is arranged with long tables, at which the cutting and stitching of men’s underwear is conducted; and in order following are the circular, web, and rolling machines, with finishing rooms for Cotton’s patent goods, which, in common with all other departments, are provided with counters for giving out and receiving the work, where it is carefully examined and checked by experienced overlookers to detect any fault, ten of these officials being engaged in various parts 

Early Pattern Auscam Shirt

A few years ago the blog covered an Auscam shirt here. Recently I have been kindly given another Auscam shirt by a good friend of mine and I recently compared the two shirts side by side and it was clear that the two shirts were of slightly different patterns. The previous shirt was dated 1994, this example is 1990 dated:imageHaving spoken with various Australian collectors, it seems the patterns changed over around 1990 to 1991 and it was a gradual roll out of the new pattern, with the old design slowly being phased out as shirts became too tatty for service. This earlier pattern shirt was issued to the Australian Army from about 1988 for just a few years and this example has an embroidered badge sewn on the sleeve:imageIt is interesting to place the earlier pattern shirt alongside the later variation to compare the two patterns. On the left is the later pattern, on the right the earlier pattern. The most obvious difference is in the breast pockets, the earlier pattern has far more square pockets, the later pattern has them attached on a slant:imageThe sleeves are also different, the earlier pattern has a reinforcement panel along the forearm, which was deleted on the later pattern. The shape of the cuff securing tab also changed. The earlier design is pointed, the later pattern is cut square on the end:imageThe final difference between the two patterns is that the later pattern has added a pen pocket to the upper left hand sleeve:imageThis early pattern shirt is dated 1990 and the label inside indicates that it was made in Victoria and has an NSN printed on as well as a sizes, 100L:imageWilliam Dytes recalls:

I was in the cadets for a while, we didn’t like the old flat pocket uniforms as they got damaged a lot easier and looked out of place when everyone else had slanted pockets.

Todd Fitzgerald remembers the introduction of the new uniform:

This is the original pattern issued to Land Army circa 1988. First units issued were 1 Bde  (mechanised) in particular the Tattoo Regiment which was drawn from the 1st Brigade, were part of the issue as they toured on the Bicentennial Military Tattoo from Aug – Dec 1988

1960s ‘Drawers, Cellular’

In British Army slang ‘shreddies’ is the term for any pair of underpants (although the more disgusting the better). Although today it refers to all different types of pants, its origin comes from the green “drawers, cellular” that were issued for tropical use in the early post war period. These undergarments were made from green cellular cotton, and the open weave resembles quite closely the popular British breakfast cereal ‘shreddies’- hence the name:imageThis pair of mint, unissued underpants date to the mid-1960s and have a simple open fly:imageThe drawers are held up by an elasticated waist:imageWhilst the label sewn into the rear indicates that they date from 1965 and were made by prisoners at one of Her Majesty’s Prisons:imagePrisoners could earn small amounts of money by working whilst incarcerated and sewing small items for the military was a common task given to inmates. Previously we have seen a housewife sewing kit made at a prison and this pair of pants was another item produced by the prison service. All these items are fairly simple, nothing of the sophistication of a smock or pair of trousers seems to have been entrusted to the prison workshops!

One old soldier remembers being issued with these underpants:

Oh Yes! I had completely fogotten about the good old ‘Drawers, Cellular’ or as we used to call them. Drawers ,Dracula’! I never ever had ‘The pleasure’ of actually putting any of the three pairs we were issued on my Body! I used to use mine on Bullnights for cleaning the windows! They bought the glass up admirably!…..

Another old soldier’s website gives the following definition:

Drawers Dracular – Real name Drawers Cellular, jungle-green cotton underpants with draw strings, designed to castrate unwary A/Ts, so reducing the need for putting bromide in the tea. The most diabolical underwear ever designed. Indescribable. And why cellular?

My thanks go to Jon Mills who kindly helped me add these to my collection.

Woollen Comforts Knitting Pattern

The production of knitted goods for military personnel was a major source of woollen items such as gloves, socks, hats and jumpers for the services during the war. To meet this demand from the country’s knitters, various companies produced knitting patterns which could be bought for a few pennies and had the patterns for a number of different garments. Tonight we have a knitting pattern described as ‘Service Woollies for Air Land & Sea’ with a fetching picture of a man wearing some of the items standing in front of a training aircraft:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (2)This is a rather more substantial pattern than most, running to ten pages, and so cost 6d when new. The inside of the front cover has a number of the items that the keen knitter can make illustrated:SKM_C30819021912051These are all fairly standard garments like cardigans, scarves and gloves.The remainder of the pamphlet has the knitting patterns themselves:SKM_C30819021912051 - CopyKnitting comforts was undertaken by women (and men)up[ and down the country and with many girls learning to knit when they were still young children it was a skill that millions shared. Rita Sarin was a child and she joined in knitting comforts:

I used to love doing knitting on four needles. I used to make loads of pairs of socks and used to like turning the heels. I don’t think I could do it today unless I was shown – but I made loads of gloves and scarves. We used to make gloves on four needles. When you did a finger you’d get so many stitches on each needle and then knit round and round until you’ve got a finger done and then cast off and then do another one, then do the thumbs. I did that at school – we all used to sit — I used to hate sewing, I still do now – but I used to do an ever so a lot of knitting until my thumbs got bad, and that’s all I did at school, was knit! The school mistress used to say to me “Rita Flower did you do your sewing last week?”, (because we used to have to knit one week and sew the next), “Yes I did!” But I never did of course! I always said I did my sewing last week but I never did. I used to hate it. I remember doing khaki gloves and socks, and black for the Navy, and sort of bluey for the air force we had all those colours, I can remember that as plain as day, sitting at my desk knitting.

Sylvia van Oosten’s mother was another who knitted for the troops:

I remember my mother going to a Women’s Guild during the war and the women sat around knitting for the army and navy. She also brought home wool for knitting socks, gloves, helmets etc. I remember the wool for socks for the navy was very oily and thick and very difficult to knit with. My mother eventually “adopted” a sailor and sent him packets of food as well as the knitting she had done for him. Because of my mother knitting so many socks I also picked up this knowledge and can knit a pair of socks “in no time” without a knitting pattern. I began when I was 9 years of age knitting my own socks. My mother would also cut the worn heel or toe from my father’s socks and re-knit these. We had to be thrifty in the war.

Royal Navy Wet Weather Jacket Liner

The Royal Navy’s foul weather jackets are excellent at keeping rain and wind out, but are not particularly warm, being just a single layer of Gore-Tex. There were two designs of jacket, one with reflective patches on the sleeves and one without. The plain jacket included a quilted liner that could be worn with the jacket to help keep the wearer warm in colder conditions:J50-RN-GoreTex-Jackets-no-hood-open2_2048x2048The design of this jacket liner is very reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s British Army quilted smock liners, but in dark blue rather than olive green. The liner is a sleeveless design:imageThe quilting is in a diamond pattern, with a cotton tape edging around all the seams:imageThe liner has a zip up the front:imageThis allows the liner to be zipped into the wet weather jacket to hold it secure:J50-RN-GoreTex-Jackets-no-hood-liner_2048x2048And a label is sewn into the rear with sizing, NSN number and care instructions:imageThe jackets these liners were worn now seem to have been dropped by the Navy in favour of one universal pattern with the reflective patches and a hood. The new jackets do not seem to have the facility to add a quilted liner and these now seem to be obsolete.

Household Cavalry Number 3 Dress Tunic

Tonight we are looking at a Household Cavalry No3 dress uniform. This was a smart tropical uniform worn for official functions in overseas postings and this tunic was given to me by a friend in a very poor condition, badly stained and missing all its buttons:53182984_10156047718353045_3606907672550440960_nA few hours work with a stain remover followed by a wash and iron and some new buttons brought the jacket back to its former glory:imageSadly the buttons are not the correct regimental pattern, but as they are held on with split rings it should be easy enough to swap them out when I do find the right ones. The Tunic itself is made from khaki drill cotton fabric, with a high collar secured with a pair of brass hook and eye fasteners:imageTwo removable shoulder boards are fitted, each secured with a single staybrite button:imageThe tunic has two pleated breast pockets, each secured with another staybrite button:imageTwo larger but similar pockets are sewn to the skirts of the tunic:imageThe back of the tunic shows an elegant cut with a gently curved central yoke to the rear:imageA pair of staybrite buttons are arranged vertically on each cuff. These do not serve any purpose other than being decorative:imageA large stores label is sewn into the inside of the jacket indicating that it was made in 1957:imageThis jacket was sized for a tall, but very slim trooper. I can find very little out about this pattern of tunic, beyond what can be deduced from the label. It is pleasing however to have rescued it from the bin and brought it back to life as an attractive jacket once more.

Action Working Dress Trousers

At the very end of the Second World War the Royal Navy introduced a new uniform for wear in combat called ‘Action Working Dress’. This uniform consisted of a mid-blue buttoned shirt and a pair of dark blue trousers. It was designed to offer far more protection in combat than the traditional sailor’s uniform and was heavily influenced by US practice of the time. It saw little service during World War Two, but was to become ubiquitous as the Navy’s working dress for the next seventy years and despite updates to fabric and cut would remain in service until replaced in 2015. Tonight we are looking at the trousers from the final pattern of Action Working dress. Although originally made of cotton to be somewhat fire resistant, these garments were later made of manmade fibres until in the Falklands when some sailors found their uniforms melted into their skin. Following this conflict there was an urgent review and new fire resistant fabrics were developed that saw service right through until the end of the uniform’s service. The trousers are made in dark blue and have a slightly shiny look to the fabric due to this fire resistant coating:imageThe trousers are secured with a button and drawstring. Although belt loops are sewn to the waist, belts were seldom if ever used with this rig:imageA button and tab is also fitted to offer some adjustment to the waist sizing:imageA pleated thigh pocket is fitted, the flap of which is secured with Velcro:imageAs is typical, a stores label is sewn to the inside of the trousers:imageOver the years this uniform has had a number of names, my father’s generation refer to them as ‘No8s’ whilst when I was issued them they were always ‘No4s’. The trousers always had to be ironed with a crease, even though they were for working dress and then folded down to A4 size- not always an easy task due to their shape and the number of tucks inwards to make them fit the size. We also wore them with elastic ‘twisties’ during basic training that allowed them to be bloused over our boots, again this was never done again once training was over!

Since being replaced by the new working dress, the older pattern has been cascaded down to many Sea Cadet units which still use the older pattern of uniform until funding permits it to be replaced entirely, but its days are now numbered and it will soon disappear into history.Sailor Holding Berthing Line on HMS Ednburgh