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Battle Dress

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1937 Pattern Blouse & Trousers

A two-piece woollen serge uniform introduced in 1937 to replace the old Service Dress (SD). SD was totally unsuitable for modern warfare and was largely unchanged from the late Victorian era and a revamp was necessary. Various designs were trialled and it came down to two choices: a cotton drill design not dissimilar to more modern combat clothing, and a curious khaki woollen affair - Battle Dress (BD).

Typically, it was less ally-looking uniform that was chosen - wool considered by those in Whitehall to offer better overall protection and being more hard-wearing than cotton.

BD consisted of a pair of voluminous trousers with a large frontal pocket and a short, tight-fitting 'blouse' with two breast pockets and an integral waist buckle. The whole ensemble was to be complimented by ankle gaiters and a universal khaki Field Service Cap (or alternative head wear of regimental pattern). When worn correctly it looked half presentable. When worn incorrectly it made the wearer look like a badly packed kit bag.

BD was applicable to all ranks for field use - though officers were given slightly more latitude and wore collars and ties with an open neck. ORs wore the blouse closed at the neck. Highland units wore kilts in lieu of the trousers, though this was generally for Barrack Dress and 'walking out'.

In 1940, a revised pattern was introduced for economy reasons. This '40 Pattern BD was of a lesser quality and there were a few minor visible differences with the earlier batches, notably:

  • Exposed buttons
  • Pleatless pockets
  • Less lining

Canadian BD was of better quality and was of a noticeably darker green. It was also available in RAF blue-grey and navy blue for the Andrew. Only aircrew wore BD in the RAF and the navy generally restricted its use to officers and petty officers who wore it ashore, in HM Submarines or the Fleet Air Arm.

The khaki BD was worn throughout the Empire and it lasted well in to the 1960s - with minor alterations to the design - a smarter open-necked version replacing the wartime patterns.

BD was complimented by 'denims' - a two-piece outfit of the same pattern as the BD but in a lighter cotton materiel that was easily laundered. Denims inevitably found their way in to field use - especially in hotter climes, e.g. Italy and North Africa.

Overall, BD was an improvement over its predecessor, but was inferior to the more modern combat clothing worn by US personnel. For field use it was largely obsolete by the time of its introduction. Whilst offering the wearer some degree of protection from the elements, it was uncomfortable, took ages to dry when wet and was high maintenance in barrack wear - wool not holding creases for more than ten minutes. Hated by thousands of National Servicemen, its passing was mourned by few.