The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) Other ranks uniform 1914-1918
This is the second in a series of blogs about First World War uniforms and covers the basic aspects of the Australian Imperial Force other ranks uniform during the First World War.
At 11pm, on 4 August 1914, English time, Britain declared war on Germany. Australia immediately pledged her support and offered an initial force of 20,000 men. The offer was quickly accepted.
At that time Australia had a home-service army based on universal conscription for part-time service in the citizen’s forces. However this scheme was only in its infancy and it was decided to raise a totally separate force for overseas service. This force was named the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and recruiting commenced on 10 August.
The authorities were faced with the enormous task of recruiting, clothing, equipping and training a force for war almost from scratch. Despite this immense amount of work the 1st Australian Division sailed from Australia on 1 November 1914.
In such a short time there was little opportunity to design a special uniform and distinctive insignia for the AIF. The slouch hat, breeches and puttees were already in use by Australian forces. The shirt worn by the citizen forces instead of a tunic was discarded as being unsuitable for overseas service, and a tunic designed just before the war was adopted. However, during the early stages of the war it was not unusual for the AIF to run out of the new uniform and to issue the old citizen forces uniform for training purposes.
The basic items of clothing worn by the Australian infantryman during the First World War were:
- A uniform tunic known as the ‘jacket service dress’, worn with khaki cord breeches.
- A soft grey flannel shirt without collar.
- Underclothes consisting of a vest and drawers. These were regarded as a major rampart against skin disease.
- Puttees which covered the leg from ankle to knee with a spiral of woollen cloth, commencing from the inner side of the ankle, and winding forward and upward.
- Pair of tan ankle-boots.
- Pair of socks, either woollen or cotton.
- Khaki woollen greatcoat, the soldier’s chief protection against cold and wet, and often his only bedding.
- The khaki felt slouch hat or service cap.
- Service cap
The following comments apply only to the Australian Service dress uniform which was issued to all ranks of the AIF, was the uniform most widely worn, and was distinctively Australian.
With its tunic, breeches and slouch hat, the Australian uniform had a distinctive silhouette compared to British and other Commonwealth uniforms. The khaki Service Dress tunic was made from Australian wool and was devised as a result of consultation between medical and physiological advisers and officers of the Department of Defence. It provided the soldier with a garment which was comfortable, serviceable and hygienic.
Unlike the British Army tunic, the Australian issue was loose fitting, to allow free movement of the arms, chest or neck and to permit circulation of air. At the back it was pleated to provide a double thickness of cloth down the spine. It had two pockets on the chest; two larger ones in the skirt and another on the inside to hold the first-field-dressing packet.
The tunic buttoned at the neck and wrists and had a stand-and-fall collar. Regimental buttons were not worn. Buttons were made of a plastic like composition, plaited leather or oxidised copper. The latter bore a design featuring a crown above the maps of Australia with the words ‘AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES’.
The tunic was worn with khaki cord breeches of the riding pattern. There was little difference between the breeches worn by infantry and those worn by mounted troops. Breeches were laced below the knees and worn with either woollen puttees or leather leggings. The main weakness of the uniform adopted for the AIF was the puttees, widely worn by many armies during the First World War. These had their origins in the British experience in India in the 19th century – ‘patti’ is Hindi for a bandage or wound cloth. Soldiers considered them awkward and restrictive, and they bound the legs too tightly, preventing proper circulation of blood. They were considered to have largely contributed to the cause of a complaint known as ‘Trench Foot’. Mounted, artillery, service corps and motor transport troops wore leather leggings instead.