SCARLET INTO KHAKI
It was the Tudor Dynasty that began the practice of dressing body guards to the Royal person in red and gold, but in 1660 King Charles II extended this to his entire, standing military force, the New Model Army. Although some parts of the standing army later adopted blue, and even dark green via the influence of King's of foreign origin, in the many decades that followed it was the serried ranks of first red, and later scarlet clad infantry that epitomised a British Army formation drawn up in battle array. It became so strong an image that even today many around the world think first of the Sovereign's Guard outside Buckingham Palace, dressed in their distinctive scarlet tunics, whenever the British Army comes into public focus.
The first insignia of regimental identity was the inscribed button, followed later by markings on cartouche plates, knapsacks and eventually headdress, but it was not until the long tailed coatee was replaced by a tunic in 1854, that marks of unit identity, generally numbers, began to be worn on the shoulder straps of individual British infantrymen. These shoulder titles, as they became known, were generally in the form of brass numerals with loops piercing the cloth and secured on the reverse side with a pin, or they were directly embroidered onto the scarlet straps with white worsted thread. For the most senior enlisted men the thread could be formed from gold wire as a mark of their superior status. By the mid 1860s there were numbered infantry regiments running from 1 to 109, with all except two dressed in the iconic red/scarlet.
The concluding act of the decade long sequence of Cardwell and Childers Reforms occurred in July 1881, whereupon each of those infantry regiments that did not have at least two battalions was merged with another in the same situation. Each pair of battalions were simultaneously linked directly with one, or more auxiliary regiments of militia to create a single, multi-battalion regiment. These new regiments were aligned with a specific area in Britain, or Ireland and allocated a single headquarters and depot where a home and recruitment focus was centred. As part of this process each regiment was given a title that associated them with their new area and the aligned militia, to replace the previous numbers. In 1883 Clothing Regulations were published that laid down the dress and insignia of the enlisted men, and these included shoulder titles in the form of unit names replacing the old numbers. To save expense the titles were kept as short as possible and to cement the new territorial ties they were deliberately focused on the Counties, or regions with which the regiments were now to identify. As well as the expensive tunics used for reviews, the scarlet working garment known as a frock, was also embroidered with a white title on its scarlet shoulder straps. From 1885 metal titles were stipulated for both, khaki and white cotton uniforms used in tropical stations such as India. There were various modifications to both tunics and frocks that are outside the scope of this study, but the 72 shoulder titles, increasing to 74 by 1915, remained largely the same. Always different, the Foot Guards utilised a simple regimental emblem as their full dress shoulder title, and both, fusilier and light infantry regiments topped their titles with a grenade, or bugle horn, respectively.
It was perhaps quite ironic that it was also in that year of 1881 that the British Army came to realise more widely that scarlet uniform and whitened equipment was increasingly unsuited to active service conditions. Whilst scarlet clad infantry still had great moral effect when dealing with recalcitrant tribesmen armed with spears, or ancient black powder weapons, they had become nothing more than clear aiming points for the excellent marksmen among the Dutch farmers against whom they were pitted in the first Anglo/Boer War. However, the wheels of reform moved slowly and despite some more enlightened generals campaigning in sober uniform as early as 1874, it was not until the final stage of the Anglo/Sudanese War that the drab khaki colour long popular on the frontiers of India became the uniform of all in the deployed force. Further development took place in a second Anglo/Boer War, where bitterly cold nights on the veldt led to woollen serge uniforms in 'drab', an earthy brownish khaki, being introduced for warmth and durability. The first design of 1899, followed the same pattern as the scarlet frock and blue trousers of the same period, and a modified version in 1901, took features such as chest pockets from the popular patrol jacket. As a splash of colour and identity many regiments affixed cut off shoulder titles from their scarlet frocks to the side of their khaki foreign service helmets, and later to the turned up sides of slouch hats.
At the wars end in 1902 there was a real appetite for reform and it was decided that scarlet would no longer be worn other than for ceremonial. To replace it a universal Service Dress was introduced for use both, in the field and in barracks that incorporated in its design all the lessons from the recent war. Initially removable shoulder straps with coloured piping were fitted, as shown in the appendix, but woven titles similar to those worn on scarlet garments were added to the upper arms together with numerals indicating the battalion. The removable straps were not found practical though and were replaced in 1904 with twisted shoulder cords, before settling in 1907 upon the same fixed straps that had originally been on the 1899 version. At the same time as these latter were fitted it was decided to replace the titles on the upper arms with brass titles on the straps themselves, thereby returning to a similar method of identity as had been used on the scarlet garments. When in the field these were not to be polished so that they tarnished naturally and did not reflect light. When World War 1 began in 1914 the drab Service Dress and associated shoulder titles were well established and, as scarlet full dress was withdrawn in that same year, the British Army entered a war of national survival equipped with a khaki uniform and equipment that was the most advanced of its type in the world. The long transition from scarlet into khaki was complete.
Undress Headdress Badges
For soldiers in scarlet the day-to-day working headdress was gradually changed commencing in 1868 from the pork-pie shaped, knitted woollen bonnet familiar to generations of soldiers, to a glengarry that had been worn by kilted Scottish infantry since 1851. Fitted with the removable central device of the full dress helmet plate, this headdress was seen as practical and smart, as it could readily be stowed in a soldiers marching equipment, and had trailing ribbons that gave a dashing air to the soldier when walking out of barracks. In 1894 the glengarry was exchanged for an Austrian influenced field-service cap of a similar shape to that worn by officers since 1891. Smaller and neater than the glengarry, it was unsuited to the previous insignia and as a stop-gap measure many infantry regiments wore a collar badge whilst waiting for purpose-designed badges to be devised. By 1898 most of these new badges had been agreed and were gradually issued to units, although this was not an overnight process, as many units were stationed overseas and far slower to adopt new fashions, especially if they were disliked by commanding officers. It is these badges that are shown on each of the image plates. In 1902 a new headdress was introduced to replace the field-service cap. Unpopular because of its similarity to caps worn by German and Russian soldiers, it quickly gained the sobriquet of 'Brodrick cap' after the Secretary of State for War at the time, although it's more likely that its introduction was specifically approved by King Edward VII. An almost identical cap, albeit with a smarter, more stiffened appearance, had already been in use with the Foot Guards since 1900, and existing badges were soon modified to fit the new cap, with a few regiments of the line taking the opportunity to refine their insignia to be neater, or more impressive in appearance. These changes will be shown in the appendices.