We do seem to have covered a fair selection of underwear on the blog over the years. I am not quite sure why this is, but it is an essential part of military clothing and there seems to be an inexhaustible variety of different designs and patterns. Tonight we have a pair of loose white cotton ‘boxer’ short type undergarments. These came in a large batch of Royal Navy rating’s uniform from the Second World War all from the same chap so I am confident in saying they are Royal Navy issue. The boxers are made of a distinctive weave of white cotton:Compared to some of the woollen underwear we have looked at in the past, these actually look reasonably comfortable! They have a three button fly, with white plastic buttons:Sewn eyelets are fitted in pairs to each side of the waistband:I suspect these are for clothes stops. These were small pieces of string that were used to thread Royal Navy garments together for drying on board ship. They were passed through holes on clothing and tied together. Alternatively these eyelets might have been for a cord to act as a way of tightening the waist in place of a piece of elastic in the waistband. The back of the boxers has a simple stamped stores code:The ‘NXS’ number is a contract number used by the Admiralty to identify an item and manufacturer. The ’36’ will refer to the waist size in inches I suspect. Underwear was standard issue from stores throughout the war, with most sailors receiving two pairs- one to wear and one to wash. I would imagine that many would have added extra pairs to their kitbag, either issue or civilian types, to supplement what seems a fairly meagre allowance.
Men joining the British Army in the late 1970s and early 1980s were issued with dark green underwear. As well as several pairs of truly horrendous y-front pants, soldiers also received two or three dark green vests and it is one of those we have tonight:The vest is a sleeveless design, made of a dark green open weave fabric. A label is sewn into the neck which would have given sizing and care instructions. The vest has seen many washes however so the printing is completely obliterated now:The hems of the vest are sewn with a heavy duty machine sewn seam to prevent them coming undone with the regular washing a garment like a vest would be subjected to:The vest was often called a ‘shreddie’ vest, the name deriving form a popular British breakfast cereal with a lattice shape. The vests seem to have been marginally more popular than the underpants, but generally they were quickly ditched in favour of more comfortable civilian underwear; although by all accounts the issue aertex underwear was useful as a cleaning cloth- apparently they were especially good at cleaning glass with!
Last year we looked at an officer’s mess dress here. Tonight we have another mess dress jacket, but this time for a senior NCO rather than an officer. NCOs have similar mess dress uniforms to officers but frequently they lack certain features like shoulder straps (rank insignia being sewn to the sleeve rather than worn on the shoulder) and piping is likely to be absent or of a different style to the officers in the regiment. I believe this example dates from the late 1930s and is scarlet with deep green facings (although they appear black in these photos):
The lapels of the uniform are in the facing colour of the regiment and normally reflect that used on dress unfirms by the regiments predecessors before WW1. The same facing colours are often used on the collars as well, here piped in white:The bottom edge of this mess dress is piped in red, coming to a shallow point at the small of the back:The mess dress jacket is fully lined:And this example was made by Briggs and Co Ltd:Sadly I have been unable to ascertain exactly which regiment this mess dress was for as all the regulations I have access to only cover officers. Based on these I suspect this mess dress might have been for The Green Howards, The South Wales Borderers or The Dorsetshire Regiment- unfortunately none of these regiments lists white piping in the officer’s regulations but as this might just be an NCO affectation it is hard to get a positive ID.
It is odd to think that despite many advances in the understanding of the human body and illness in hot climates, even as late as World War Two spine pads were considered essential in the tropics. The spine pad had been introduced in the late nineteenth century on the spurious thought that by protecting the vulnerable spine, the effects of sun stroke could be reduced. For a fuller history on this garment please take a look at this excellent post on ‘Military Sun Helmets’ here. It was not just the army which used the spine pad, the Royal Navy included it on their rating’s ‘tropical singlet’ which was an oval necked and heavy garment issued to sailors in the tropics. This was unpopular and sailors frequently wore the standard white cotton flannel instead as it was more comfortable. The Admiralty finally bowed to the inevitable and replaced the tropical singlet with a new shirt, based off the standard flannel in 1938:From the front this garment looks identical to the standard cotton flannel (as indeed it is), with the same blue edged square neck hole:However the rear shows that it has been ‘tropicalised’ by the addition of a spine pad:The spine pad here is a separate shaped piece of cotton sewn to the back of the flannel, rather than a removable piece of quilted cloth common on army shirts:The remarkable thing is that this was ever introduced at all, as early as June 1937 the Admiralty Medical Director had reported, ‘the spine pad is completely useless as an extra protection against the sun’s rays, and only adds to the cost and weight of the article; it should be abolished’. The response from the Director of Victualling replied, ‘there appears to be a considerable predilection for the spine pad amongst personnel of the fleet.’ The spine pad remained and was carried forward!
This tropical flannel was manufactured by B.W. & Co Ltd:Sadly I have been unable to ascertain which company used these initials, but having seen a number of other garment with the same initials they seem to have been contracted by the Admiralty to manufacture rating’s uniforms.
This particular garment was issued to a man named ‘D Lyth’ and his name is stamped into the inside at the back:Sadly this particular tropical flannel has suffered over the year and has been stored in a metal trunk resulting in extensive rust spots.
It has been quite some time since we looked at the denim battledress blouse used by the British army as a working dress throughout the Second World War and beyond (see here). Thanks to my good friend Andy Dixon I have now been able to complete the uniform with the addition of the matching pair of trousers:It must be remembered that these denim uniforms were designed to be worn over battledress and so are cut generously. As the label on the waist band reveals, this pair of trousers is also a large size to begin with so they are pretty enormous!As can be seen from the label these trousers were manufactured by William Ewart & Sons Ltd in (I believe) 1940. The trousers closely mirror the matching serge battledress examples, with button belt loops:And a pleated first field dressing pocket:Interestingly this pair is missing the large map pocket on the thigh, and there is no evidence of it ever having been sewn on:How this pair slipped through quality control I don’t know, but as it looks like it was never issued, presumably the flaw was never noticed until it was surplussed. The trousers have a button fly, with pressed brass buttons:Note also the buttons on the rear of the waistband, used to secure a pair of braces to the trousers. Whilst the denim blouses are out there and fairly easy to find, the trousers always seem to be that little bit scarcer- presumably because they wore out quicker anyway and were useful on the civilian market as work clothes in the post war period. Certainly a wartime dated pair such as this one, even with its missing map pocket, is a nice addition to the collection and fills an important gap.
The British Army’s campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan took place in arid desert conditions for much of the time. Despite this, temperatures were not universally high and at night the ambient heat could plummet rapidly. Therefore, in addition to desert DPM shirts, the army issued a heavier field jacket in the desert camouflage:The design of this jacket is clearly a copy of the equivalent CS95 design in temperate DPM. It has two angled breast pockets secured with the distinctive looped tape buttons:And a further two patch pockets on the skirt:It fastens up the front with a zip that is covered by a Velcro fly:A single front mounted tab is provided for rank insignia:A small Union flag is sewn onto the sleeve:As with all modern combat clothing a label is sewn in giving sizing and care instructions:These uniforms were ubiquitous in the early days of the campaign in Afghanistan and here Brigadier James Cowan, commander of the task force in Helmand, can be seen wearing one in 2010:It must be said that the fabric used in this jacket is not particularly thick, but the CS95 uniform and by extension this desert pattern uses a layering principle. Beneath the field jacket would be a shirt and t-shirt layer, the air trapped between each layer then being effective at keeping the wearer warm.
One user who had experience of various different types of uniform outer layers gives his assessment:
Worst combats ever were those on issue when I was in NI in 1991 – single lines of stitching, so the seams would fall apart when you knelt down, and pockets would drop off. Superseded by the interim 94 pattern stuff (similar cut to the Cbt 95 smock – but made of fabric that held more water) : school report would say “an improvement, but could still do better”). At last line infantry had as standard issue a buttonless zip-front smock with decent sized pockets, and sturdy construction (the things that made para smocks attractive): zip front and generous sizing means you can stuff ammo or whatever inside the thing for ready access in a hurry.
Windproof smock – all the advantages of the 94 smock, and is bloody excellent in dry cold. Not so clever in wet, muddy conditions. The fabric’s just too thin, and the ingrained dirt that goes with infantry trench-living will abrade it like feck, so it disintegrates, suddenly (a characteristic of all 100% cotton clobber). The hood’s a pain in the arse, even in Noggieland, where (for all the usual good tactical reasons) it was seldom used, except in the most severe cold (like -40).
Field jacket has to be tops – all of the advantages of the better kit listed above, and designed to minimise the drawbacks of all of the others (like, it’s cotton, so it will wear out . . . but would you prefer something that lasted longer but melts into your flesh when flash-heated by an explosion?) – plus all the clever touches like ripstop fabric and things to tie your compass to.
Tonight we are looking at an example of a rating’s white cotton shorts:The white shorts worn by ratings, senior rates and officers were all very similar and there are a number of patterns based on where and when they were manufactured, with ‘bazaar’ made examples also thrown into the mix. I suspect that from the RN’s point of view, as long as they were white and looked roughly in line with the proper pattern they weren’t too worried about minor detail differences! It is normally the waistband where differences can be found, many using a pair of brass friction buckles to secure them. This example however uses two white plastic buttons:White buttons are also used to secure the fly:Button down belt loops are provided around the waist to hold an RN money belt:The belt worn with this uniform was usually white as the blue example rubbed dye off onto the shorts. Slash pockets are provided on each hip:This example has a small label sewn into the inside of the waist band indicating it was made by Harrods in 1943 and is a 34” waist:Shorts had long been in use with the British military and no-one thought too much about them. It was therefore a shock to British sensibilities when complaints were received in Florida of all places. GS Guinn in his book “British Naval Aviation in World War II: The US Navy and Anglo American Relations” explains:
In Florida, the Royal Navy’s standard tropical white shorts were frowned upon as being offensive to local tastes and so, unless cadets were in their formal whites, they spent most of their time in khaki trousers and long sleeved khaki shirts. British trainees were unable to understand the nature of the offence to which shorts could give rise. They expected Americans to behave and think like British citizens and were surprised when they did not.