Uniform and Equipment

Service Dress Cap
Service Dress Cap

This cap was adopted for use by the British army in 1909. It was worn by all enlisted men in the infantry and cavalry. It was made of khaki serge with a small, re-enforced peak which was green on the underside. It had two small General Service (GS) buttons at its sides to secure a brown leather chinstrap. The cap had a wire stiffener in the crown to give it its smart look. This was often removed by soldiers in the trenches for comfort. The cap badge has a brass slide on the back and literally slips onto the cap. As the war progressed and metals became more scarce, 'economy issue' cap badges were issued, made totally out of brass. The SD cap was replaced in 1915 by a soft cap with ear flaps, known as a 'gorblimey.' However this proved to be even less suitable for trench warfare as it provided a haven for lice! Thus for most of 1916 the stiff cap became the soldiers' standard headwear again until the adoption of the trench cap.

Service Dress Cap
Trench Cap
Trench Cap

Introduced in late 1916 this cap was a good solution to the problem of soft headear in the trenches. While the helmet was worn it could be rolled up and stored in the pack. At all other times it was comfortable and could be smart depending on the inclination of the wearer. The below photographs are of an original cap (badged to the Sommerset Light Infantry). Note the black, tarred lining which gave the cap some rigidity while still being pliable enough to roll up. Some caps were made without this liner, but based on surviving examples, seem less common. The chinstrap was made of brown leather.

Trench Cap
1902 Pattern Service Dress
1902 Pattern Service Dress

By the time of the Boer War it had become clear to British generals that the days of the army fighting in scarlet tunics were over. The army had been experimenting with khaki (derived from the Indian for 'dust' coloured) since the mid 19th century and they had become standard issue by the end of it. In South Africa uniforms were made of thin drill material not appropriate for mainland Europe. Thus a new woollen uniform was needed and the result was the 1902 pattern Service Dress. In terms of design it was not a radical departure from the standard uniforms of the time. It was a five button, four pocket tunic with shoulder tabs. The chest pockets were pleated and the shoulders were re-enforced with 'rifle patches' to protect them from wearing out. The colour however was something new; remember that the French went to war in 1914 in scarlet trousers and kepis and the Germans with their uniforms piped in bright colours. Pictured is an original 1902 pattern jacket (note how the previous owner added an extra hook and eye under the collar for a smarter look). These have become very rare and should not be used for living history. The later 1922 pattern jackets (made until the 1960's and still easy enough to get today) are very similar, but there are certain differences that I will attempt to highlight. First is the colour, uniforms in the Great War were a little greener than the dark brown uniforms adopted later. Secondly under the collar of 1902 pattern jackets there are two darts of material, and the collar itself is unlined. Finally the linings in 1902 pattern jackets were white at the start of the war and darkened to fawn by the end, but were never the khaki seen in postwar garments. A variation of the jacket was the 'utility' version, an economy measure introduced in 1915. This simplified version lacked the rifle patches on the shoulders and the pleats on the pockets. Many were issued even to the end of the war alongside the regular jackets. The medal ribbons displayed here are the 1914-1918 Star, a Long Service Ribbon, the Victory Medal and the Star of Gallantry



The straight legged trousers were made from the same khaki serge material as the tunic. The original pattern have pockets, but these were done away with in the 'utility versions.' Both had a button fly and also had buttons around the waist for attaching a pair of braces (or 'suspenders'). Originally these buttons were arranged in pairs, but in 1918 the regulations stated that the buttons should be sewn on in singles to save materials. The limited lining was of white or off white cotton or denim. The cavalry wore woollen breaches. These had re-enforcements sewn directly onto the inside legs. Original trousers are even rarer than the tunics, even 1922 pattern trousers have become hard to find now. However good reproductions of the 1902 pattern are available from a number of sources.

Great Coat
Great Coat

The British infantry went to war in 1914 with a heavy, single breasted greatcoat for protection against the cold. It was made out of a darker shade of wool serge than the 1902 pattern uniform and had a lined interior. The greatcoat buttoned up to the neck and was closed with a single hook and eye at the wearer's throat. It had two pockets at the front and was adjustable at the back by means of an arrangement of two straps and three large General Service buttons. The cavalry and the officers of all wings wore a double breasted greatcoat. The one shown here is an original greatcoat of the same pattern, but most likely postwar manufacture. These originals surface occasionally, but most people end up either converting a double breasted coat (which became standard issue for all arms of service by WW2) or buying a modern reproduction.

Leather Jerkin
Leather Jerkin

It soon became clear that the greatcoat was not practical enough for trench warfare. It became very heavy when wet (the thick, lined serge acted like a sponge) and it was too long; becoming too easily caked in mud and weighing its wearer down. The first solution was to introduce an animal skin jerkin. It could be sleeved or sleeveless and was normally made of sheep or goatskin. However this proved to be little better than the greatcoat as it was equally absorbent and smelled terrible when wet. These jerkins are only commonly seen in the winter of 1915.

By 1916 a much more practical leather jerkin had been introduced. It was sleeveless and had four leather 'football' buttons to close it. It was lined in wool and was very warm. These jerkins were so successful that they remained standard issue in the British army until the end of WW2 and with many other armies into the 1960's!

'Grey Back' Shirt
Grey Back Shirt

The standard shirt for the British army since Queen Victoria's reign was made of wool flannel and was blue-grey in colour. It featured a buttoned half front and was collarless, being finished with a strip of cotton so as not to irritate the soldier's neck. It was roughly knee length with a bib of wool flannel on the front which came to a point at a strip of white cotton. This was intended for the soldier to put his number on (although this never seems to have happened). Good reproduction shirts, like the one shown, can be bought cheaply from a number of sources.

Puttees

For most armies of the world at the beginning of the 20th century knee-length leather boots were what was in fashion for their troops. The British army however had to work to a budget since Britain's main military power was traditionally her navy. Instead of tall leather boots, the British soldier wore ankle boots and puttees. These were 9 feet long lengths of wool serge that were wrapped around the legs (from ankle to knee for infantry and the opposite way for cavalry). They had a length of cotton at their top end which was wrapped around the leg and tied off to secure them. At the outbreak of war the troops wore curved puttees that were bent in opposite directions so as to conform more easily to the soldier's left and right leg. Many manufacturers replaced these with straight cut puttees which were much quicker to produce, although they had to be worn in by the troops. Officers would often privately purchase better quality ones. The most common brand was 'Foxes.' These were better made than that issued by the Army and can be easily identified by a small brass disc at the bottom edge which marks each puttee as 'L' and 'R' respectively. The colour of puttees seems to have varied through a range of drab browns and greens. Interestingly, ankle boots and puttees were much better suited to the muddy conditions of trench warfare and by 1918 most armies had adopted them. While originals can still be found it is recommended that they not be used at events where they are likely to have a hard time. Instead buy a reproduction pair or make them yourself by buying three of the (post war) short length puttees, which are widely available, and sewing them together.

Weapons
Boots

The standard issue boot was the B5 'ammunition' boot. It was made of thick roughside out leather with wooden pegged soles and was ankle length. On home service they were issued in black, but on active service they were issued in cheaper brown (apart from for the Royal Artillery who were apparently issued black ones throughout the war). The soldiers would have to black them up for parades. The laces were also leather. The boots were studded by the Regimental cobbler and so a variety of patterns and styles are seen. Either a pair of leather soled Navy deck boots (made up until the 1990's) or a new reproduction pair (better but much more expensive) make a good substitute to the originals.

Mk.III* SMLE
Weapons

The S.M.L.E was introduced in 1903 as an improvement over the Long Lee Enfield, which in turn had replaced the Lee Metford (Enfield and Metford describe the rifling used in the barrel, while Lee describes the action). Problems had been encountered with the Long Lee Enfield during the Boer war. Simply put, the Enfield was outclassed by the Mauser rifles employed by the Boers. The Mauser was more accurate, and could be reloaded using a "charger" (A series of bullets stacked together allowing the entire group to be pushed into the rifles magazine in one go). The solution to the shortcomings of the Lee Enfield was the development of the SMLE ('Short' describes the length of the rifle, not the magazine). Shorter than the Long Lee Enfield, the SMLE was revolutionary as it could be used by both infantry and cavalry avoiding the need for a 'carbine' version for mounted troops.The design featured a removable 10 round magazine (the magazine was designed to be removed merely to facilitate cleaning, and was never meant as a means of reloading) which had a significantly higher capacity (ten rounds) than other infantry rifles of the time.The army went to war in 1914 with the MkIII SMLE. However this was difficult to produce and had features, it was felt, the new volunteer soldiers would not be well trained enough to take advantage of. Consequently production began in 1915 of a simplified SMLE MkIII*.Several other versions of the rifle were produced after the Great War, serving as the personal weapon for British and Commonwealth infantry for over 60 years. Originals can still be found reasonably cheaply, although those in good condition or pre-1915 dated do go quickly. It is recommended that members have a live firer (which requires a firearms certificate) and a deactivated rife (which is much simpler for non-firing and non-UK based events).

'1907 Pattern Bayonet

The army at the beginning of the 20th century still believed heavy cavalry would dominate a modern battlefield. Consequently the infantryman would need a combination of rifle and bayonet long enough to reach a man mounted on a horse before he could reach down and use his sabre. With the introduction of the SMLE a new, longer bayonet was needed to make up for the loss in the length of the rifle. The design was the 1907 pattern bayonet. The majority of these, during the war years, were made by Wilkinson, but some were made by other companies and are now quite valuable (Enfield for example). Post war bayonets were most commonly made by Sanderson. The blade was 17 inches long and mounted on wooden grips. While this would theoretically allow a soldier to use it like a sword, this was not advisable except as a last resort. Most bayonets were dated, making finding a pre-1918 one quite easy. If no date can be found, a Wilkinson maker mark is a good bet. The scabbard was made of brown leather (those in service were all dyed black after the war unfortunately), usually with a thick seam along the back. On the metal chape at the top was a tear drop shape lug for holding the scabbard in its frog. In late 1917 this was changed to a round lug. The round ones are most commonly seen since when the bayonets were refurbished after the war their scabbards were often replaced. However if you shop around it is still not too difficult to find the correct type.

Lewis gun

Nicknamed 'the Belgian rattlesnake' by German forces who came up against the weapon in 1914, the Lewis was formally adopted as the standard issue British Army machine gun from the close of 1915. By 1916 approximately 50,000 had been produced. Although in 1915 each British battalion on the Western Front had just four Lewis Guns, by 1917 each infantry section boasted its own Lewis gunner and backup, with battalions by now deploying 46 Lewis Guns.Weighing 12kg the air-cooled 1914 model Lewis Gun featured a 47 (later 97 for aircraft) cartridge circular magazine. By means of an adjustable clock-type recoil spring the gun's firing rate could be regulated, ranging from 500-600 rounds per minute, although shorter bursts were more usual. With its adjustable sights and bipod support the Lewis Gun proved effective to some 600 metres.Weapons As a light automatic machine gun it was considered the best and most reliable available at the time and was soon adapted for use both at sea by the Royal Navy, and for use in the air by aircraft observers (with the Vickers Gun used for forward firing through the aircraft's propeller blades). When used in the air the Lewis' air cooling jacket and fins could be dispensed with: it then weighed just 9kg. With the advent of armoured cars the Lewis found a ready place, and was similarly used both on tanks and - at the other end of the spectrum - on motorcycles..

Vickers machine gun

The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army’s primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps. the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Its last operational use was in the Radfan during the Aden Emergency.Weapons

Steel Helmets
Steel Helmets

By late 1915 it had become increasingly apparent to the War Office that too many soldiers were dying of head wounds. In the trenches the men's bodies were reasonably protected but as shells rained in from above, head wounds were common, and nearly always fatal. The early steel helmets were 'rimless.' This means that they were stamped out of a single piece of metal with raw edges. They had a 'War-Office patent' liner and a two piece chinstrap that fastened like a belt. These helmets were first issued in 1916. Initially they were kept in the trenches and troops leaving an area gave them to the men arriving. By the first day of the battle of the Somme all soldiers had their own Mk1 helmet. The early helmets ranged in colour through brown and green. The helmet shown below is an original shell with a reproduction liner and chinstrap. If you look carefully you can see the stretch marks around the side of the dome of the helmet. This shows this helmet is a very early one since these marks were made because the production method (heat and pressure used in the metal press etc.) had not been perfected yet. These rimless helmets can be found occasionally (often dug up from France) and relined. However because they are more valuable than later helmets some unscrupulous dealers are taking the rims of MkII helmets and selling them as MkI's. To be sure check for stretch marks as this will prove a helmet to be authentic.

Steel Helmets Steel Helmets

Not long after the issue of the MkI helmet the War Office was working to improve it. The result was the MkII. It had a 'rim' of steel welded around the edge of the shell. The rimless ones were quite sharp and had caused numerous injuries to troops who stumbled into each other in the dark and the mud. The below photos are of an unaltered original in excellent condition. As can be seen the MkII had a more comfortable liner. Initially a rubber 'doughnut' was put into the crown to add to the helmets comfort (as seen in the below photo). This was quickly removed as a lavish expense but by late 1917 had been written back into the specifications for new helmets. An instruction label (how to adjust the liner) was also attached inside the crown of MkII helmets and is just visible in the lower photo. The chinstrap was made from a single piece of leather, so no loose ends were left hanging. Finally a more uniform colour was attempted. Whilst variation still occurred, most original MkII's that survive with their paint are of an olive colour like the one pictured. As the MkII's were painted, sawdust or sand was blown onto them. This left a textured finish which it was hoped would reduce their shine (however it didn't work and covers were still the best solution). Original helmets with their liners can still be found, but they should not be used as the leather liners are fragile and will be damaged. Instead find an original shell and have a repro liner put in (we can help you with that). The First World War helmet shell was different to that issued in the Second World War. The latter is unacceptable. A proper helmet shell is not round, but slightly oval. Also an example made between 1915-1918 will be wider at its sides than at its front (again due to imperfect manufacturing techniques).

Steel Helmets
1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment

Designed by a United States Army officer, Captain Mills, webbing was a new form of material made of pre-shrunk cotton. It was much tougher than the leather used for all previous military equipment and did not suffer from the unfortunate problem of shrinkage in wet conditions. After seeing the new American webbing, the British government ordered that a set of equipment of their own design be made using the new material. In 1907 ten sets were tested in India with tremendous success. A year later the new web equipment became standard issue to the British Infantryman. It was a revolution in design, placing no restriction on the chest and being able to be taken on and off in one piece. The top image shows an original set of webbing displayed on an original tunic. The figure carries a full set of equipment in marching order circa 1916. The webbing consists of a 3in-wide waist belt, two 2in-wide braces with buckles,a pair of cartridge carriers, each with five pouches (each pouch holds three chargers of five rounds), bayonet and frog, water bottle and cradle, haversack, large pack and pack supporting straps and the entrenching tool in its head and helve carriers . The canvas covered messtin is seen slung on the rear of the pack.
The lower image shows the equipment worn by a Lewis gunner between 1917-1918. He is in fighting order so the largepack has been removed (left in the trenches) and exchanged for the haversack (also note how the SBR's string is tied). Because the Lewis gun was very heavy a man couldn't carry a rifle too. Thus on this figure the cartridge carriers have been replaced with a leather pistol holster and a small ammunition pouch. The image on the far right shows the ammunition carriers which the rest of the team would have carried. These consisted of four web pouches (two at the front and two at the back) attached to wide shoulder straps and worn as shown over the other equipment.

1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment 1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment 1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment 1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment 1908 Pattern Web Infantry Equipment
Small Box Respirator

The SBR was designed in 1916 and began to see service by the end of that year. It was the logical result of British gas mask design and was totally effective at filtering all the gases used between 1914 - 1918 (Interestingly though PH hoods were reissued late in the war to deal with gases that blistered the skin since the SBR didn't give full facial protection). Indeed the design was so successful that its principles were used in all later masks designed up until 1944. It worked by filtering dangerous gases through a canister of charcoal and gauze impregnated with neutralising chemical agents. A canvas covered rubber hose attached the mask to the canister. The mask was made of thinly rubberised canvas. The whole lot was contained in a square bag. The bag hung from an adjustable strap. Thus in areas where gas attack was unlikely the strap would be lengthened and the bag slung over the wearer's shoulder. In the front lines the strap would be shortened and the bag worn over the head and hanging against the wearer's chest in the 'alert' position. The string allowed the bag to be tied around the man to prevent it bouncing around. As with the PH hood the SBR was worn over all other equipment. These photographs are of an original British SBR. The small tin contains anti-dimming compound which was applied to the inside of the eyepieces to try and prevent them steaming up. This example is unusual as the compound was normally contained in a metal tube inside a rectangular cardboard box. The folded card contains a record of the mask's use. The soldier was expected to fill it in so that he would know when the SBR's limited lifespan was over and a replacement was needed. On the front of the card are strips of sticking plaster for making emergency field repairs to the mask and hose.

Small Box Respirator
Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Hood

The PH hood (or 'helmet' as it was officially known) was the second anti-gas hood issued to British troops during the Great War. Prior to this a much simpler hood with no valve was issued. Prior to that, in the very early days of gas warfare, a simple pair of goggles and a gauze fasemask were given to the troops. The PH hood proved to be quite effective and was the standard anti-gas equipment by mid 1916. Its drawbacks were that it was uncomfortable and that the eyepieces tended to move from in front of the wearer's eyes and also to steam up. The hood was impregnated with neutralising chemicals which cancelled out poison gases. The soldier would breathe through the material of the hood itself. He breathed out through a copper tube in his mouth attached to a red, one way flutter-valve. The hood was kept in a waterproof rubber case (known as the 'inner bag') which was held in a cloth bag slung over the soldier's shoulder. The bag had three tin buttons on its strap to allow for some adjustment in length. Even when the PH hood was not standard issue during most of the latter years of the war, photographs still show soldiers wearing the bags to keep other belongings in. The below mask and bag is a good quality reproduction, which are available from a number of sources.

Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Hood Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Hood
Messtin

The 'D' shaped infantry messtin had been in use since the last half of the 19th Century. Originally it was in three pieces, but the central tray had been rejected by 1914. Thus the messtin now consisted of two halves. The upper one contained a fold out handle (or 'bail') which allowed it to be held over a heat source (for boiling water etc.). The lower half had a greater capacity and was intended to hold the main part of the soldier's rations. To this half was attached a carrying handle. The photo below is of an original. However these are getting scarce now, but sources for good quality reproductions have recently opened up.

Messtin

Messtin

The 'D' shaped infantry messtin had been in use since the last half of the 19th Century. Originally it was in three pieces, but the central tray had been rejected by 1914. Thus the messtin now consisted of two halves. The upper one contained a fold out handle (or 'bail') which allowed it to be held over a heat source (for boiling water etc.). The lower half had a greater capacity and was intended to hold the main part of the soldier's rations. To this half was attached a carrying handle. The photo below is of an original. However these are getting scarce now, but sources for good quality reproductions have recently opened up.

Messtin