FIELD SERVICE UNIFORMS
EQUIPMENT, WEAPONS, CLOAKS & CAPES
The concept of field service dress for operations on European soil had not been given much attention in the years after the Crimean War. As it was, most of the British Army’s campaigning had been going on in the Empire and troops had rapidly adapted to conditions with clothing that was more conducive to colonial warfare. Following the experience of the Indian Mutiny, khaki and cotton uniforms were much more suitable in the hot climates prevailing in India and Africa. By the time of the 2nd Afghan War khaki was worn almost universally by troops in India although the Zulu war and the Egyptian campaign of 1882 still saw the army in scarlet, rifle green and blue. The last sight of a scarlet tunic in battle was at Ginnis, Sudan in 1885. The one item that had become universal by 1881 was the foreign (or tropical) service helmet in white or khaki (or with khaki cover) and worn with or without a spike.
When it came to field service uniforms in Europe, there was not much help from the great armies that fought in the Franco-Austrian War (1859), The Austro-Prussian War (1866) or the Franco-Prussian War (1870). They largely wore their parade uniforms with only a few adaptations for service. The Austrians and French wore heavy greatcoats (often without uniform jackets beneath) and the only concession the Prussian and other German armies made were knee boots with trousers tucked in. Soft undress caps were often worn and some shakos had oilskin covers.
So what would a British Army have worn if involved in a European campaign in the eighteen-eighties and nineties? Experiments with drab uniforms had been made in the mid-eighties with some infantry units being issued with them on a trial basis, but they were soon put back in store. There appear to have been no such measures with the cavalry. Clearly, because of their overseas experiences, the British army was ahead of Europe on campaign dress and one assumes that officers and other ranks would have worn undress frocks and perhaps the foreign service helmet which would have been more comfortable especially as the home service helmet was a hindrance when firing a rifle lying down. Certainly, the field service caps or glengarries that were introduced from the 1870s would have been worn extensively. One thing is sure is that the War Office did recognize that uniforms for “Active service and peace manoeuvres” were required and dress regulations reflected that. Ironically, the next large conflict that embroiled Britain was not in Europe but South Africa, where uniforms and equipment designed only for wear on campaign finally became understood.
FIELD SERVICE CAPS
As early as the Crimean War, the foot guards had adopted a flat folding field cap similar to that worn by the rank and file in the Austrian army which itself was an evolution of the ‘bonnet de police’. Other ranks in the Guards continued to wear this cap well into the 1890s as they never took the glengarry into wear. By the mid-1870s this type of cap became popular with British officers serving overseas and photographic evidence supports this where it seemed to be almost ubiquitous during the Afghan campaign of 1878-80. It was often called the “Torin” cap (named after the Irish officer who supposedly designed the British Army version). Although it was authorized for overseas use it did not appear in dress regulations until 1883. It is described as a cap for “Active service and peace manoeuvres” being of blue cloth, 5 inches high with flaps 4 inches high to be folded down when needed. Although dress regulations did not mention it, the wedge top became white in the 2nd and 6th Dragoon Guards. The top and flaps were edged with French gold braid welts as were the front and back seams. There appear to have been several versions of this cap, the most popular being the simple one shown it the first three examples. The fourth was one appearing in the early nineties.
It was also noted that a regimental badge could be worn on the left flap. Unhappily, there is not much documentary evidence for the kind of badge that was worn. The Royal Dragoons were given permission by Queen Victoria in 1880 to wear a silver eagle with gilt wreath over a gilt plinth bearing the number “105” on their side caps. Regiments such as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Dragoon Guards along with the Royal Scots Greys and Inniskillings already had long established badges which were probably used while the 7th Dragoon Guards adopted a special badge incorporating the crowned cypher of the Princess Royal. The King’s Dragoon Guards seem to have adopted the Royal Crest in silver at the same time that it appeared on the helmet plate.