The British Uniforms of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

The British Uniforms of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

For centuries, the British army was known
for its bright red coats, but by the late 19th century those uniforms were no longer
practical in the field, and by World War One their uniforms had evolved considerably, and
that’s what I’m going to talk about today. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War
special episode about British army uniforms in the First World War. Let’s look back a bit. The accurate long range repeating rifles of
the late 19th century did indeed make the bright scarlet uniforms impractical since
they stood out as targets, and the British army fought in red for the final time at the
Battle of Ginnis in 1885. After that, khaki field dress was worn. Khaki had been worn
in India since the 1850s and steadily grew in popularity. In 1902, the khaki Field Service
dress was introduced, though the red coats were still used for parades and home service. This uniform was revolutionary in that the
same tunic and cap was now worn by both infantry and cavalry, and by 1914 uniform differences
between those two branches had all but disappeared, with only small variations like in button
style and cap badges remaining. The cavalry did not, however, use the webbing the infantry
used to carry ammunition, instead using the 1903 Pattern leather bandolier. When World War One began, the British army
uniform was one of the most practical of all the warring nations. Khaki gave better concealment than the French
blue and red or German field grey uniforms. The standard British uniform, from head to
toe included: the 1905 Pattern dress service cap, a woolen peaked cap with an oilskin lining,
yes, it made you sweat. The cap had a regimental badge and a brown leather chinstrap. Soldiers
still wore the 1902 tunic, fastened by five buttons, and with reinforced shoulder straps
with the soldier’s regiment or Corps in metal on them. Tunics had four large pockets
with flaps and buttons. NCO rank was sewn on to the tunic’s upper arms with badges
and stripes on the lower sleeves for things like long service, good conduct, number of
times wounded, or special skills. Worn underneath the tunic was a collarless blue-grey standard
issue shirt. The trousers were also 1902s and worn with
braces or a belt. The lower leg was wrapped in khaki cloth puttees, wound counter clockwise,
and providing support and protection. Soldiers often slid their cutlery into their puttees
to keep them safe. On his feet, the average British soldier wore brown leather “ammunition
boots” with hobnail-studded soles. As the war progressed, there were a few uniform
changes. The tunic was simplified and the service cap
was supplemented by the winter service, or Gorblimey cap, but the big change in headgear
was the Brodie helmet. Introduced in 1915 and made widely available in early 1916, they
were sometimes called shrapnel helmets and were painted a drab khaki. The helmet was
designed by John Brodie and was steel with a double inside liner. All troops, regardless
of rank, wore them. Almost 8 million had been produced by the war’s end. Over their uniforms, the British infantry
were equipped with 1908 Mk 2 webbing from which all of their kit hung. This included
150 rounds of ammo, entrenching tools, a bayonet, a canteen, and a small pack for clothing and
rations. Officers’ uniforms differed in a number
of ways from that of the regular soldiers. For starters, their uniforms were privately
purchased from military tailors, though made to a standard pattern. In 1914, the new pattern
was single-breasted with an open collar and narrow lapels. This was worn over a drab shirt
and khaki tie. Like the regular soldiers’ tunic, the officers’ had four pockets and
five buttons, but officers wore their rank insignia on their cuffs, enclosed in lace.
Their uniforms often favored breeches over trousers, and tall boots. Officers’ equipment
included field glasses, a compass, a .455 caliber Webley revolver, and the 1897 Pattern
officers’ sword. These were worn suspended from Sam Browne belts. When the war began, officers carried their
swords into the field, but that resulted in scenes like that described by John Lucy at
the Battle of the Aisne, where he saw 9 of his regiment’s officers “…waving their
naked swords” killed in a single day. The swords marked the officers as choice targets
for enemy marksmen. By 1915, officers could most often decide for themselves if they carried
swords into battle or not, and by 1916 they were ordered to send their swords back to
Britain. Also by 1916, the high death toll among officers
meant that many men were commissioned from the ranks, and poorer soldiers did not have
the means to purchase tailored officers uniforms. The War Office began giving a 50 pound uniform
grant so that officers could all equip themselves to an “acceptable standard”. General and staff officers had further uniform
variety. General officers had their insignia not on
their cuffs, but on their shoulder straps. You could tell staff officers from battalion
officers by the red tabs worn on their collars overlaid with gold chain braid denoting rank
and staff affiliation. Admin officers had blue patches and intelligence officers had
green patches. Armbands were commonly worn by divisional and brigade staff to show their
branch of service. The British army also adapted its uniforms
to the climate in which the soldiers found themselves. That army fought all over the world and colonial
experience helped with creating uniforms that could hope with the heat of the day or the
cold of night. The warm weather uniform was a cotton khaki drill uniform with both trousers
and shorts. It was a lighter khaki than the 1902 dress. In hot climates, like Palestine
or Gallipoli, soldiers often wore just their grey undershirts. Also in warmer climates,
the Wolseley Helmet was common. It was cork and covered in cloth. But the first winter of the war saw the British
army scramble to equip its men for the cold of the Western Front. They issued goatskins to be worn over the
tunics. These would be used throughout the war, as well as greatcoats and fleece jackets.
Those last were nicknamed Wooly Bears or Teddy Bears for their appearance and Stinkers for
the smell they gave off when damp. Leather jerkins provided some protection from rain,
and they were mainly sleeveless and lined with the wool used to make blankets. They
were quite well liked by the troops, as they were warm but still allowed freedom of movement.
These were still being issued in the Second World War. Now, there were tons of variations depending
on the origin of the unit. Canadian, Australian, Indian, New Zealand,
South African, and so on all broadly followed British uniform patterns but with differences.
Sometimes big differences. Even in the home isles, the Highlander Regiments, for example,
wore kilts with khaki aprons over them to reduce visibility, but all that is a topic
big enough for a special of its own, which we’ll do later on. Today was just a general look at the most
standard British army uniforms of the war. Actually, it’s quite an interesting topic
and I encourage you to look it up yourself to learn more about it, since if you have
an army it’s not just enough to give them guns and some strategy, you have to dress
them to best protect them from both the enemy and the elements, and how you do that can
have a significant effect on the individual battles and on the outcome of the war as a
whole. Thank you Matthew Moss.

100 Replies to “The British Uniforms of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special”

  1. I hate to be a pedant, and I'd happily be proven wrong if you've the sources, but the picture of John Brodie shown at 3:10 is, I think, John Alexander Brodie, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1920-21 and designer of the Mersey Tunnel, not the similarly named John Leopold Brodie, who was the fellow that designed the helmet in question.

  2. I've heard of instances in the American Civil War where, a soldier was saved by a bible. Did this happen in ww1 as well, or were personal belongings(like bibles) not allowed to be on hand?

  3. You forgot: In the trenches officers generally had their rank on their shoulders but until 1917 it wasn't an official option. It was also not looked on too well behind the lines but it gave officers slightly better protection from snipers.

  4. wtf is going on my adblock isnt working i had to watch a full 2 minute advertisement about veterans who fought the most retarded wars ever started by the us vietnam/iraq

  5. The other day I was going through some old things in my loft, found a worn faded box filled with metal files etc, amongst one of them the words "T Hudspith 1925" had been scratched into it. after getting out the old photo albums I found it was my Great Grandfather he was wearing a British uniform and it was dated 1917. Turns out he fought in the Somme and had a few of his fingers removed for whatever reason, and this was him returning to Britain. Sadly he died in his early 50s but his experiences of the war are lost, as anyone who knew him are now dead and according to my father, my grandfather had mentioned he never once spoke of his experiences, but would sometimes sit still and focus on an area in the room start to shake and sometimes even be sick. RIP T. Hudspith

  6. I'd suggest the website karkeeweb dot com, if you'd like to find more info on the insane amount of webbing an equipment variations. It's got so much info and they are still compiling and adding to it.

  7. One obscure sidelight:
    Germany was preeminent in high quality chemical (coal tar ?) dyes for clothing and other materials and prewar British uniforms were made using German produced khaki dye. The huge expansion of the British Army in 1914 soon exhausted their stockpile of prewar German dye but fortunately for them companies in Switzerland "were able to source additional product from somewhere" while British chemists got to work cloning the German product.
    Pierre van Paassen, noted Dutch born journalist and writer who served in the Canadian Army on the Western Front, mentioned in one of his books that the Swiss also 'helped out" in the case of artillery ammunition in the strange situation where the French and Germans had each previously managed in earlier wars to capture quantities of one different model of artillery gun on each side where the sole source for more ammo was located within the now at war with them again enemy country.

  8. I was digging around in my grandmothers basement a few weeks ago, stumbling across a lone photograph of a man, around 16, in British uniform. He was in what was called a "Hero shot", where a picture would be taken of a soldier before going to war. He was part of the Newfoundland Regiment and was wounded by a mild gunshot wound in his upper right face and eye in 1916, He returned to active duty later that year and what he did in that time remains unknown to me. He died from a gunshot to the gut outside of Amiens during the Spring offensive of 1918, "Kaiserschlacht." I have yet to see if anything remains of his war experience (Uniform parts, helmet, cap, pictures, diaries, letters, etc.)

  9. I would like to vouch for Military History Visualized ( I was subbed to him before viewing this video and he is really worth checking out.

  10. Thanks for making this vid. It really helps my research. In my spare time I'm working on a WW1 graphic novel about a British boy who fights on the western front and ends up being killed by a firing squad of his own country men.

  11. Need more detailed info about the uniforms and equipment?

    I got a lot of information about Commonwealth soldiers and their clothing.

    Please let me know if I can help;)

    Kind regards,


  12. Was it true that some British units used panty hose in the trenches to fight against the affects of gas attacks?

  13. A WW1 khaki soldier's cap was once brought into my history class at school, along with other militaria. I was struck by how rough the cap material was. It must have been uncomfortable to wear, especially if tunics and trousers were from the same material.

  14. My Great Great Uncle enlisted into the Newfoundland regiment in 1916 at 16 years old, lying his age and claiming he was 19. Standing at 5'4, he fought as reinforcements at Beaumont Hamel (The Somme), he was hit in the eye with a bullet and survived. Now fighting with one eye, he went through normal trench life until 1917. Where on April 12th, outside of Aisne, he was hit in the stomach with shrapnel. He was taken back to his trench on a rubber tarp, and died in the open. He was just 17 years old.

  15. Great episode! For those researching, this video is interesting for British uniform as well

  16. Their web gear was among the best. Didn't know about the leather jerkins lined with wool. Sounds practical. The helmet design was widely copied by many nations

  17. Dan Snow did a special on British WW1 uniforms on BBC. Don't know if you knew that.

  18. Can someone explain to me the rational of field officers wearing ties?
    Is it just British wartime pride, to 'keep the men looking up to you?'

  19. 3:18 "all troops regardless of rank wore them"… except that guy on the far left …his name was Scotty…he was a strange one.

  20. Great video! The British Empire force's uniforms were similiar but varied. Australian Tunics differed a fair bit from British ones. As did Canadian but all in that classic Khaki!

  21. The slouch hat which Australians wore before arriving on the western front and out of the line after the issue of helmets are still a feature of the Australian army dress uniform. At the Gallipoli landing some Australian troops had peaked caps like the British, with the rising sun badge.

    Australian uniforms did not have shiny brass buttons and badges like the British but those of a dulled copper appearance which did not reflect the sun. One of the ways you can distinguish Australian from British troops in old photos.

    Instead of individual regimental badges, (the infantry were organised in about 1000 man battalions, not regiments) all units had the 'rising sun' badge, actually originally a wall plaque of a semicircle of bayonets, on their hats and uniforms. That is the distinguishing feature of Australian war graves in Commonwealth war cemetaries.

    Each battalion wore a cloth shoulder patch distinguishing the five divisions of the AIF. The shape gave the division, a rectangle for the first division, a diamond for the 2nd and so on. The lower half of the patch distinguished the brigade, and the upper part the battalion of that brigade.

    Artillery and light horse had diagonal and vertical dividing lines on the patches.

    Battalions were recruited from geographic locations, and my great grandfather from Western Australia was in the 11th battalion of the 3rd infantry Brigade, 1st division, colour patch shown here:

    Move the mouse over the photo here for detail of other infantry battalions, artillery and light horse.

  22. I have a question about Gallipoli: Did any British units where Khaki Drill Tropical uniforms besides the Gurkhas? All the historical photos I can find shows the British soldiers wearing the standard 1902 heavy wool uniforms.

  23. Just a question… there has been a bit of talk about cap badges & shoulder titles on this video but I've also noticed some soldiers (or perhaps only officers?) in pictures having collar badges.. Would anyone know who'd wear these collar badges and who wouldn't? Couldn't really find a satisfactory answer online.

  24. Hey Indy. Love the show. Can you do the uniforms of the different parts of the British Empire like Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, etc..

  25. Fun but irrelevant fact about the British uniforms!
    They were referred to as "khaki" because it is, in fact, the Hindi word for the color brown.

  26. Order to return their swords home… yea I don't think Mad Jack got that order… though to be fair Mad Jack was in WW2 not WW1.

  27. Why did Tommys keep a spoon in their puttees? Not the most sanitary place to keep it nor secure. Can anyone provide some input? Thanks.

  28. Khaki (खाकी) is a Rajasthani word essentially meaning earthy as in the the desert sands of Rajasthan. The sepoys of British India would dye their white uniforms to match the environment and well the rest is history.

  29. Just a aside on the leather jerkins, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers worn the one his Grandfather had worn in the Desert Rats (7th Armoured Division) in WW2 in the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. His squadron was also in the (reformed) 7th Armoured Division.

  30. Very nice work guys!
    Just missing the American and Italian uniforms, will that be included in the near future?

  31. Interesting what you said about puttees being worn the same way on both legs. I had to wear a smaller version of them but wore them differently. On the left leg we wound them counter clockwise and on the right leg we wound them clockwise. We always started on the inside of the leg so they would finish in the same place on the outside of both legs.

  32. Could you please do a special on the uniforms of the various Navies and Marine Corps of the combatant nations? And more on their combat contributions? The best Army in the world is useless unless you can get it "over there" safely. Not to disparage the contribution of our brethren in khaki, but the Navy and Marines played a very major contribution to ultimate victory.

  33. hey, remember when you said the commonwealths and rest of the empire would get its own uniform special. well, its two years latter.

  34. I wish military uniforms, or at least the regular outfits not the battle uniforms, would return to the same style as World War I and II.

  35. Nice that you noted the changes which had to be made to accommodate men commissioned from the ranks. I have an example of one of these developments in my collection, an officer's shoulder rank jacket made to an 'off the peg' size, rather than being tailor made for the individual, dated 1918.

    It would have been interesting to note the adoption of shoulder rank for officers across the British Army during the war. The cuff rank and attendant worsted braid was decidedly conspicuous so jackets with rank worn on the epaulettes either in metal or cloth became increasingly common though not universal by any means. In 1917 the practice was officially recognized with the cuff rank jacket being finally abolished in 1921

    These shoulder rank jackets were derisively known as 'wind up' jackets by some when they first appeared. Some were newly made whilst others were converted from cuff rank jackets, a friend of mine has a photograph of his great great grandfather a friend of whom in the photograph has moved his rank to the epaulettes and removed the cuff braid from his jacket but the scalloped reinforcing pieces where the rank had been attached to the cuffs can still be seen.

  36. perhaps sad irony how all the early british officer deaths may have helped the army longterm by giving more qualified soldiers positions.

  37. Actually, the British army had been moving away from red tunics since the 1830s. Regiments were encouraged to find locally supplied clothing, at least for fatigue duties, as this proved less expensive when on overseas deployment. Gradually during the 19th century British troops could more and more be found wearing grey, brown, green or blue – according to what each unit had purchased for itself. Change was also of course stimulated by the increasing effectiveness of firearms. Red tunics were worn for the last time in battle in the first Boer war (1881). By the late 1880s all units had adopted khaki as the unofficial standard, with its official adoption in 1902.

  38. Greetings from northern California. New subscriber here.
    Would you care to cover rank insignia as well? It would be helpful.
    With thanks,

  39. As usual, Germans had the best uniforms & equipment. Imagine, if England, Germany, & Russia had been allies. Who would've beaten them? Nobody.

  40. Another point of note is that officers were often picked out as targets due to their habit of frequently wearing jodhpurs and then puttees as lower leg bindings. These gave them a very distinctive appearance different from NCO’s and rangers. The Germans noted them as being “ skinny legged”
    and marked them as officers. They were then sniped accordingly.

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