Sunday, 5 February 2012

Tommy: from Service Dress to Battledress

During the First World War the soldier had worn a Service Dress suit of khaki serge in the field and at home. Though intended to be warm and serviceable, by the late 1930s it was deemed to be unsuitable for modern mechanised warfare, restrictive of movement during active service. Though Service Dress was worn by the BEF in France, it was to be supplanted by the uniform known as battledress. ‘Battledress’ was to define the profile of the British Soldier throughout the Second World War and well into the postwar period. It was an innovative design that was to be copied to a certain extent by both the German and American armies later in the war. Officially designated as ‘Battledress, serge’, it comprised a suit of khaki serge cut as a short jacket and voluminous high-waisted trousers. The jacket had a closed collar, but would be worn open at the collar by officers with shirt and tie. Complex to tailor, with its concealed buttons, this pattern was to be supplanted the simplified ‘1940 pattern’, which had its plastic buttons exposed on the blouse front, and other simplified features. This pattern was to be the work-a-day dress of the British soldier in the later part of the war.

 This soldier of the Royal Army Service Corps (successor to the Army Service Corps in the Great War, named Royal for its services in that war) wears 1940 pattern battledress. He also carries insignia that demonstrate that he belonged to the British 'Liberation Army' of the 21st Army Group in the Low Countries of the Netherlands and Belgium. He wears the beret-like General Service cap that came in at the close of the war, and the chocolate-brown plastic cap badge, introduced for economy.  In all ways, he is illustrative of the new army of 1944–45, his uniform and insignia largely unrecognisable to those men liberated from POW camps across Europe.

Peter Doyle's new book British Army Cap Badges of the Second World War (Shire), written with Chris Foster, is now available from Shire (here).

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