Skip to main content

Development of Dress for the Post War Army

Journal Edition
Article DOI
10.61451/NNNNNN

THE designs of dress for the Post War Army have been announced and, as is to be expected with something that is right next to a man’s skin, a great deal of interest and discussion have been aroused.

The success of the new uniforms and the reaction of the soldier to them will depend not only on the garments themselves but also upon his understanding of the methods used in arriving at the final decisions. Those whose own views have been confirmed will, no doubt, be quietly satisfied, but those who had wanted something else will accept the results much more cheerfully if they know that all possible factors were considered.

The Purpose of Military Uniform

We must first be clear as to the purpose of military dress. Primarily, it is to facilitate the work of the soldier and at the same time, enable him to be clearly recognised as a member of an army in accordance with the requirements of International Law. Secondly, it is to promote morale and sustain the prestige of the service. For the first purpose, functional efficiency is the prime requirement, and, as with a weapon, considerations of tradition and sentiment must give way to the demands of efficiency for modern war. For the second purpose, however, good appearance and traditional features lake pride of place, so much so, that in the British Army the final approval of walking out/ceremonial dress rests with His Majesty The King.

Failure of the Dual Purpose Uniform

In the past, and particularly in Australia, uniforms have been designed to combine both purposes in the one garment, but all recent experience, both here and in the British Army, RAF, and US Army, has demonstrated that this is impossible. For general duty, a uniform that gives the utmost freedom of action, with plenty of pockets and made of a tough material, is needed, whilst for social and formal occasions, the requirement is for something pleasing to the eye. Any attempts to meet both these requirements in the one garment have resulted in something that satisfies neither.

The Fighting Man’s Point of View

To ensure that all requirements would be considered a “Committee on Post War Dress” was set up, embracing an officer of the General Staff to watch the fighting needs, an officer of the Adjutant-General’s Staff to attend to matters of morale, health and ceremonial, and a member of the Development Division of the Branch of the Master-General of the Ordnance responsible for actual research and technical development.

Fact Finding

The first task of the Committee was to examine all available information, and to obtain an early forecast of the productive capacity of industry as well as of the date to which stocks of existing patterns would last. It transpired that stocks would last to mid-1949, and that, apart from some capacity for immediate manufacture from army cloths in stock, industry would not be able to undertake military orders until mid-1948. It was also ascertained that the materials in stock were mainly war-time substitutes and unsuited to the making of uniforms of the desired standards.

Examination of overseas developments showed that the British Army and the RAF had both completed their proposals for post-war dress. In each case a Committee had examined large numbers of witnesses of all ranks in all areas of service in order to get both preferences and the results of experience. Both had confirmed that Battle Dress was eminently suited to modern mechanised warfare, but had made a number of detailed improvements to it. The British Army had adopted a blue walking out/ceremonial uniform with coloured trimmings distinctive to corps and regiments and the Australian Committee obtained a sample of this uniform. The Canadian Army had confirmed battle dress for post war wear with alterations almost identical with those made by UK. Canada likewise was considering a distinctive walking out/ ceremonial dress. The US Army, which had adopted a modified British battle dress during the war, had confirmed it for all ranks for post-war wear, and had carried out a test of opinion amongst 30,000 soldiers, with the aid of the Survey Research Centre of the University of Michigan, on “Dress” uniform, and had decided upon a blue one. New Zealand intended to standardize with the UK in both battle and walking out/ceremonial dress. Of particular value were the methods used by these other countries in research and development, great use having been made of “opinion polls” to ascertain both the results of soldiers’ experiences and their preferences and reactions.

Expert Opinion on Materials and Tailoring

The Committee next set up a subcommittee of experts to study materials, and another to study designs and patterns. The first examined all the suitable materials available in Australia, as well as those produced in UK for the British and US Armies, others produced during the war in Australia for the US Army, and certain of those used by Canada and New Zealand, whilst the other went into points of design that would aid comfort and serviceability, as well as facilitate quality mass production.

Battle Dress versus Service Dress

To settle the argument over the respective merits of Australian service dress and battle dress, comparative users’ trials were carried out by armoured, infantry and signals personnel, who were required to report on an exhaustive list of points concerning each uniform under every kind of activity normally undertaken by the soldier in barracks and in the field. The results were conclusive; on every point battle dress was superior. Questions were asked even on “the effect on morale and feeling of well-being of the soldier on ordinary occasions when in public” and on “the appearance after being slept in as might be the case when travelling by train.”

Questions of Regimental Tradition

The heads of all arms and services were called before the Committee to give evidence concerning the retention in the uniform of traditional features peculiar to their corps. In this respect, it must be remembered that certain corps, such as the Royal Australian Artillery, have a history that reaches right back to the time of State defence forces, and that the States of Australia sent contingents to the Sudan War of 1888 and to the South African War. Special thought was given to the very difficult problem of perpetuating traditional features of the not very satisfactory uniforms worn by the AIF in World Wars I and II.

Ceremonial and Battle Dress depictions from 1948 AAJ.

(a) Blue Walking Out and Ceremonial Dress. Scarlet Stripe on Trousers, Scarlet Band and Welt on Cap.
(b) Battle Dress for All Ranks.

Opinion Polls

To secure a cross section of the opinion of Australian soldiers of all ranks, a questionnaire of 41 questions with illustrations of various patterns of uniforms and headdress was sent to 1,000 serving members and 1,000 ex-members, of whom 25% were privates, 35% WOs and NCOs, 25% Lieuts and Capts and 15% Majors and above. This questionnaire was analysed on calculating machines by rank groups, areas of service, and by age groups of under and over 35 years. Members’ and ex-members’ answers were examined separately as well as in total. Certain questions of special regimental interest, such as that of headdress, were analysed by arms.

The evidence of all these witnesses became the starting point for designs, and indicated also where further inquiry was necessary. For instance, a majority of the Directors favoured a blue walking out/ceremonial uniform, whilst all except one considered that battle dress should be adopted for all ranks for every-day duty. The questionnaire showed that 78% of those who had worn battle dress preferred it to service dress. Only 15% of either serving or ex-members wanted to retain service dress on grounds of tradition if it were proved inferior to battle dress. For walking out, 48% wanted a forage cap, 28% a beret, 18% the hat, the remainder liking the airman’s “field service cap”, but for ceremonial in a khaki uniform the hat was first choice — the armoured corps would consider nothing other than the beret! Privates wanted a tie with summer dress, but officers wanted to get rid of it. The most decisive opinion was on the type of neck for the ceremonial/walking out uniform, the lowest percentage in favour of an open neck with shirt and tie being that of 76.2% among senior officers no longer serving, and the highest 92.1% among serving privates. A considerable proportion of the “free comments” suggested a colour other than khaki for walking out and ceremonial.

Prototype Walking Out/Ceremonial Uniforms

The next step was to make up uniforms in eight different colours—moss green, dark green, medium green, khaki, indigo blue, dark blue, grey blue, grey—and featuring different designs in cut, back, pockets, flaps, cuffs, as well as two special designs for tropical wear. These were then taken round all the capital cities except Hobart, and exhibited to a cross section of serving soldiers ranging from privates who had joined since the war up to the most senior officers. For BCOF, Tasmania, Darwin and the Washington and London Staffs samples of the different coloured cloths and a questionnaire on colour and points of design were sent to be answered by a similar cross section. For these tests of opinion, where the actual uniforms were shown, the witnesses were given an outline of the whole problem of army dress, and then shown in daylight both battle dress and the alternative patterns of walking out/ceremonial dress worn by selected models. This was followed by a quiz session in which headdress, belts and detachable shoulder straps were tried out with the various coloured uniforms and in which any other questions were answered. In the evening the witnesses were required to bring a lady to view the uniforms in artificial light and another quiz session was held in which the ladies needed no encouragement in voicing their views. At the end of the session, the witnesses were required to answer a written questionnaire on colour and points of design, whilst, by a show of hands, additional reactions of both witnesses and their ladies were obtained on questions of headdress, piping, etc. After answering the questionnaire, ten selected personnel, representing all ranks and conditions of service, were individually questioned by the interviewing officer on a number of points designed to ascertain the feeling towards the method of research and to give a cross check on the opinions sought in the questionnaire.

The results of the investigation into colour and design were conclusive. Blue was favoured in BCOF, Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Darwin, London and Washington; grey blue in South Australia and Western Australia; and khaki in Tasmania. The reasons most frequently advanced for choosing a colour other than khaki were that a complete change was desirable from the work-a-day colour, blue and red were traditional ceremonial colours for the Army, and a colour that would stand out on the parade ground and at the regimental ball was needed to “beat the Navy and the Air Force.” Most considered the special uniform was needed mainly for regimental social functions and for ceremonial parades, and only a minority would wear it for walking out, the majority preferring battle dress or civilian clothes for this purpose.

Ninety per cent of those individually questioned said that they would “feel all right” in battle dress for social and ceremonial occasions, and the same percentage wanted battle dress first if any question of priority arose. Some vigorous discussions occurred on headdress, but the majority favoured a forage cap as being more in harmony with the blue uniform, less likely to be displaced by the rifle or by “eyes right”, and more convenient on social occasions.

CMF Opinion

To get the CMF opinion, the results of all the researches made by the Committee, as well as the draft proposals, and the prototype uniforms, were made available to committees of future CMF Commanders in each state except Tasmania, and the comments of these Committees submitted in full to the Military Board.

Conclusion

As a result of these enquiries, the new uniforms for the Post War Army should he well suited to the various needs of the soldier, comparable in quality to those of other armies and services, and conform to the preferences of the majority of all ranks. They are in accord both with Australian military tradition from the earliest times in which forces were raised in this country, and meet the vital need for standardization of actual fighting kit within the British Commonwealth.