Category Archives: Uniform

British Army Ski March Boots

Skiing in the context of the British Army is rather different from skiing for leisure or sport. The British Army use a method of skiing known as ‘Telemark’ skiing. The encyclopaedia definition of Telemark Skiing is:

Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cuts to skis and heel bindings (like a cable).

Telemark skiing was reborn in 1971 in the United States. Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borcovec are credited with reintroducing the style after reading the book Come Ski With Me by Stein Eriksen. Telemark skiing gained popularity during the 1970s and 1980s. The appeal of Telemark skiing lies in access: long pieces of synthetic fabric, known as skins, can be attached to the bottom of the skis to allow travel uphill.

Telemark skiing uses a specialized type of equipment. Generally, Telemark skiers use flexible Alpine skis with specially designed bindings that fix only the toe of the ski boot to the ski, thereby creating the “free heel”. Oftentimes the heel is attached to the front of the binding by a hinged cable, which holds the ski boot firmly in the binding. These bindings are often non-releasable.CaptureIn a military context this method of skiing is hugely beneficial as troops are often carrying heavy loads and weapons and need to ski in mountainous areas. By having the heel easily removed from the ski it is possible to walk in the skis which makes it much easier to navigate Arctic terrain. In order to work with Telemark skis, a special type of boot is needed and it is a pair of these ski march boots we are looking at tonight:imageThe most distinctive features of these boots are the square toes that slot into the front bindings of the ski:imageAnd a large groove around the heel that allows the spring rear clip on the ski to be easily attached or detached:imageThe base of the soles of these boots are made of rubber with decent grips for use on the ice. Note the brand name for these boots, ‘Skeesol’:imageAt the heel a leather loop is fitted to help when pulling on the boots:imageThis design of boots was used for many years, but this example is dated 1986 and the details are stamped inside the boot along with an NSN number:imageThis design of boot has now been replaced with more modern patterns from companies such as ALCO, but still remains popular amongst some cross country skiers due to how robust it is. This is another great addition to my little Arctic Warfare collection and I just need to get the skis to go with it…

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RAF Stewardess’ Jacket

The roles open to women in the RAF in the 1970s were somewhat more limited than they are today, but one area where many women served was a cooks and stewardesses. The 1971 WRAF recruitment pamphlet explained:

Every day about 100,000 men and women in the Royal Air Force must be fed with well-cooked nourishing meals. Women do highly essential jobs as cooks and stewardesses. They cook in airmen’s sergeants’ or officers’ messes: stewardesses wait at table in officers’ or sergeants’ messes. They might be employed as batwomen. There are also limited opportunities to serve in an airborne role as air stewardesses.

Stewardesses wore a distinctive uniform consisting of RAF blue grey skirt, blouse, tie and a white stewardess’ jacket:imageIt is one of these jackets we are looking at tonight:imageThe jacket is a simple white cotton garment, secured at the front by a pair of removable RAF staybrite buttons:imageStitched eyelets are fitted to each shoulder to allow shoulder boards with badges of rank to be worn:imageThe style of this garment very much reflects the jackets that have been worn by waiters and service staff in expensive restaurants since the beginning of the twentieth century. The white colour shows up any stains, which helps show the customer, or in this case the sergeants and officers, that the garment is indeed clean. The removable buttons and shoulder boards were essential as it allowed the garment to be washed, bleached and starched regularly without damaging them. The inside of this garment has the usual label, strangely though someone has blacked out the part of the description relating to the jacket being for women and a stewardess:imageI am not sure whether the sizing here is the army’s usual system of sizes where each increment means a different height, waist of chest size, or a more conventional sizing where it is actually a woman’s size 6 jacket in the traditional civilian sense.image

RAF Stone Tropical Shorts

The RAF has long maintained overseas bases in hot climates, these are either temporary airstrips such as those used in conflict zones, or more permanent airfields such as RAF Akrotiri. For more formal wear at these tropical bases, traditional khaki shirts and shorts were often worn with simple khaki shorts being used through to the present day. Traditionally these were made from cotton but from the 1970s onwards these fabrics were replaced by polyester or poly-cotton blends and traditional fastenings such as buttons were replaced with Velcro. Both these changes made the garments easier to wash as manmade fibres do not stain as easily and there is no risk of buttons being damaged from frequent laundering if they have been replaced with Velcro. Tonight we are looking at a pair of RAF tropical shorts that I believe date from the 1980s:imageThey are made of a khaki shade of poly-cotton known officially as ‘stone’ and are of a traditional design. The fly and waist belt both secure with Velcro:imageWhilst Velcro adjustment tabs to change the sizing are included on either side of the waist:imageOne plastic button is used, to secure the rear pocket over the seat of the shorts:imageA wider look at the rear of the shorts is interesting in showing the sharply defined creases in the garment:imageManmade fabrics can hold these creases far better than traditional cotton and even many years after these shorts were last used the creases remain. The label inside the shorts helps with dating:imageThe metric sizing indicates that these shorts were made after the 1970s whilst the style of label and the washing instructions are typical of 1980s or 1990s labels. These shorts were made by Compton and Webb, one of the largest manufacturers of military uniforms up until the late 1990s when like so much procurement, manufacture moved to China.

Today the shorts are worn in warm weather as part of the No7b uniform of the RAF as a semi-formal working dress for officers and senior airmen.

Warrant Officers No2 Dress Jacket

In the early 1960s the British Army reviewed its uniform requirements, with the ending of National Service it was returning to a small peacetime professional army and it was felt there was a definite need to modernise. New combat clothing had started to be introduced and the old battledress relegated to a parade uniform. The problem was that it was not very smart, leaving troops looking like sacks of potatoes if not carefully tailored and it required a lot of maintenance as it was still made of wool. A new dress uniform, known as No2 dress, was introduced that was based on the officers’ service dress but made of manmade fibres to reduce the amount of care it would need in service. The new uniform was trialled in 1962 and rolled out as the 1964 pattern a couple of years later. This design would remain in service, with minor modifications until the introduction of FAD in the 2000s that finally did away with any distinction between officers and other ranks uniforms. Tonight we are looking at a very early example of the No2 jacket dating from 1966:imageThis particular example has staybrite buttons for the Staffordshire Regiment:imageThe jacket closely mirrors officers’ service dress and has two large pockets in the skirts and a pair of buttoned, pleated patch pockets over each breast:imageA pair of shoulder straps are fitted, each secured with a staybrite button. I was surprised how long these straps were and how far from the point the button was fitted, a larger portion of the strap goes under the collar than on many garments:imageOriginally the collars of this jacket would have been fitted with matching staybrite collar dogs. Sadly these are missing on this jacket, but the holes where they were once attached can still be seen:imageGoing forward I am going to try and track down a pair of badges to finish off the jacket. Rather than the leather Sam Browne belt used by officers, other ranks were initially issued with cloth belts, with anodised aluminium staybrite buckles. This example has sadly been cut short:imageThe rear of the belt had two cotton tapes secured at one end with a press stud, these passed through corresponding loops on the rear of the jacket to hold the belt in place:imageThis jacket was originally worn by a warrant officer and his large embroidered badge of rank is sewn to the sleeve:imageInterestingly this has a King’s crown on it, suggesting that the regimental tailor was using up old stock when he badged this jacket up. Later warrant officers would tend to wear officer’s service dress rather than other ranks No2 dress, but this example seems to be correct and the rank professionally sewn on so it would seem that at the introduction of No2 dress at least some WOs used it as well.

The inside of the jacket has the label with sizing and the date of 1966, indicating the early production of this particular No2 dress:imageThe jacket was manufactured by H Lotery, who were a clothing company from Whitechapel in London who made a variety of military clothing for the War Department and later for the MOD during this period.

Cold Weather MTP Cap

I always like a bargain and so whenever I see a hint of camouflage in a pile of jumble I get a little excited. A few weeks back I spotted the distinctive colours of a piece of MTP poking out of a huge pile of clothes on my second hand market. Pulling said MTP out revealed it was a very nice MTP Moisture Vapour Permeable Cold Weather cap and the price was a very welcome 50p! The cap is designed for use in cold weather and so features a large pair of ear flaps that come down either side of the face to secure under the chin:imageThese can also be lifted up and fastened to the top of the hat, much like a deerstalker:imageVelcro is fitted to the two flaps to allow either position to be adopted:imageThe cap has a peak on the front of it, with a piece of wire fitted all along the brim:imageThis wire allows the peak to be adjusted to suit the wearer’s preference and it will stay in that position. This is especially useful in the winter where winds are strong and the soldier’s hands are probably full with equipment and can’t be used to adjust the peak constantly.

At the back of the hat is a Velcro tab and simple plastic buckle that allows a degree of size adjustment:imageA piece of elastic is also included inside that helps keep the hat secure to the wearer’s head:imageAn elasticated chin strap is fitted as well. Even just trying this on the strap was annoying so I would not be surprised if this elastic was frequently taken out in service:imageA standard label is sewn into the hat, here showing that this example is a ‘large’:imageNote also the colour of the fleece lining to the cap, here is a pale coyote brown. Earlier examples came with a black lining and at some point they swapped the colours over. Presumably this was because if worn with the flaps up, the black would show up like a sore thumb in the snow. These caps are very well made and like much modern British Army Goretex equipment they are very popular with hikers as a cheaper way of getting top quality wind and waterproof clothing. At the price this was a very nice addition to my collection.Royal Marine Reserves in Norway During Winter Training

73 Pattern RAF Tropical Shirt

In the early 1970s the RAF went through a major review of its uniforms and a number of new pieces of clothing were introduced taking advantage of new materials such as man-made fabrics and new forms of fastening such as Velcro. The cut of these garments was also radically changed to present a more modern (for the 70s) appearance that brought the uniforms closer to what was considered fashionable for the day. As well as the blue grey uniforms worn in the United Kingdom, the designers were also let loose on tropical clothing and tonight we are looking at the results of this, the 1973 pattern RAF tropical jacket introduced at the same time as the 1972 pattern No 2 uniform back in Britain:imageThis garment is made in the tradition khaki shade used by tropical clothing since the Boer War, however instead of being made form cotton it is made of a polyester blend. In form it is quite reminiscent of the wartime battledress, with a high waist and fixed collar. It does however come with short sleeves to suit it for wear in warmer environments. The front of the jacket and the waist secure with large pieces of Velcro:imageFurther Velcro is used for the adjustment straps on either hip:imageAnd to secure the top flap of the interior pocket:imageA pair of shoulder straps are fitted, again secured with Velcro, and on this jacket they came with rank insignia already attached:imageThis design clearly remained in use for some time as the label on this example has metric sizing:imageMetric sizing did not come into widespread use until the late 1970s and it seems this jacket is dated 1979. Opinions on the 72/73 pattern series of RAF clothing do not seem to be very complementary with most who wore them regarding the garments as looking too ‘un-military’ and a design which by trying to match contemporary fashions dated very quickly. I would also question how comfortable this garment would have been in hot climates, man-made fibres of this period being notoriously uncomfortable in warm weather as they did not ‘breathe’ in the same way cotton, aertex or more modern breathable fabrics can.

Medical Technician’s Trousers

Update: My thanks to Richard Aixill for providing some more information on these trousers which has allowed an update.

Most militaria collectors tend to focus on combat clothing or other distinctly military items of clothing. Alongside these though, are a large number of pieces of work clothing that look very similar to their civilian counterparts, but are purchased for military use. Items such as specialist clothing for medical use are normally identical to their civilian counterparts but have labels and markings that indicate they were part of the military stores systems. Tonight we have an example of just this sort of item with a pair of medical technician’s trousers:imageThese are made of heavy duty white cotton and are simple, loose fitting trousers. The waist and fly are secured with white plastic buttons:imageAnd a metal slider is included for waist adjustment:imageSimple slash pockets are included at each hip:imageAnd a buttoned rear pocket is fitted to the seat of the trousers:imageThe label in the waistband of the trousers shows they are military issue as they have an NSN number and gives details of sizing:imageThe 22G code indicates they were issued to the RAF and they date from around 1979. They were manufactured by Remploy, a government owned factory that offered employment to disabled men and women and a firm that won many contracts from the military in the post-war period.

I have struggled to find much information on medical technicians in the Army during this period, I have got a description of what an ‘Operating Theatre Technician’ was expected to do in 1979:

Operating Theatre Technicians are selected from RAMC trained soldiers. They prepare operating theatres and assist surgeons, anaesthetists, and hospital sisters during operations in hospitals and field units both at home and abroad…

A medical technician though was a more general term for any other rank member of the armed forces in a medical role and these trousers were probably worn by both these and those with a more specific role in military healthcare of the period: the white colour indicating their use in a ward or hospital rather than in front line service.