EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES 1939-1945
IN 1939 battledress took the place of service dress. It consisted of a short blouse which left the loins and rump exposed (it was forgotten that the coatee was abolished after the Crimean War in favour of the tunic for this very fault). All buttons were hidden under flies, there was nothing to polish and no identification was visible anywhere. The collar, hooked close to the neck, was turned down as in the service-dress jacket, cuffs were buttoned close to the wrists, two breast pockets outside, two sleeve pockets inside, and a belt with a quick-release buckle completed the ensemble. The trousers had hip pocket, field-dressing pocket high on the right thigh and large patch pocket above the left knee. Anklets, web, with two straps and brass buckles, superseded puttees. The ends of the trousers were tucked into the anklets and then turned over to cover one-third of them.
The officers’ battledress was the same as the men’s, except that worsted badges of rank were worn on the shoulder straps.
The old pattern field-service cap in khaki serge with small silver horn superseded the peaked service-dress cap. By an oversight a departure from Regimental tradition dating from the early 1860’s was introduced when the men were ordered to wear their caps cocked over the right ear instead of absolutely straight. Officers and soldiers with service could easily be identified at a distance by their refusal to comply with the cock.
In 1943, just before the abolition of the field-service cap, the colonel issued an order to all battalions and the I.T.C. to comply with Regimental tradition in the wearing of this hat.
All ranks were allowed to wear the green field-service cap, when not on duty, straight on the head. Only officers of the rank of colonel and above were allowed to wear service-dress caps in battledress.
Officers were allowed to wear out their service dress on duty and officers on first appointment were allowed one suit. The Regimental belt was, of course, worn when on duty or out of barracks and a Regimental cane carried—black with silver knob and badge embossed.
Owing to the shortage of leather a cloth belt with brass buckle was introduced, in imitation of the Royal Air Force, for those who could not acquire a Regimental belt. The number of these was surprisingly few. In the Regiment a square buckle was adopted instead of the Royal Air Force type with cut corners.
In October 1939, the wearing of a brace with leather belts was forbidden by orders of the highest authority. This was greatly resented by officers, who disliked being made to resemble Frenchmen. As the order forbade “a brace,” there were those who argued that the Regiment and Cameronians were not affected; but commanding officers would not countenance this quibble.
The Burroughs type of web equipment as worn during the First German War and between the wars was discarded. The new equipment, once assembled, was superior in every way save one: it did not comprise an entrenching tool. The belt, narrower than of old, was fastened by a clasp with hook and eye; to the supporting straps, wide on the shoulders, two long basic pouches in front to hold four Bren-gun magazines each and a small pack on the back were attached. This small pack was devised in compartments to hold mess-tin, water bottle, small kit and waterproof cape. The soldier was thus more lightly equipped than whilom. But in full kit with old-fashioned pack on back, haversack on one hip and small pack on the other he differed little from his father’s vintage.
Web equipment was issued free to officers to make them look exactly like their men. Instead of the basic pouches it had a case for field-glasses (not available) and two small pouches for compass and revolver ammunition—six rounds. The compass was worn on the left brace above the field-glass case on the belt, and the ammunition pouch on the right brace above the revolver holster. Which, hooked to the lower edge of the belt, hung ready to the right hand. The rest of the equipment was the same as the men’s.
Early in 1940 officers of the Regiment began to wear collars and ties with open battledress blouses, and soon the hallmark of the Regiment—the button (bronzed) and cord loop—began to appear on the collar.
IN 1941 distinguishing colours for the different arms were introduced to facilitate the identification of troops in battledress. These were necessary because all soldiers of all arms were as alike as peas.
Only from one angle was it possible to see a soldier’s badge in his field-service cap and in battle order with a steel helmet he might belong to any branch of the Army.
The colour for infantry was red. A thin strip of red cloth two inches long and three-eighths of an inch wide was worn by all ranks below the shoulder-strap on both sleeves of blouses and greatcoats, one strip denoting the senior regiment in the brigade, two the next senior and so on. Likewise, for officers badges of rank on red cloth were worn upon shoulder-straps.
The Buckinghamshire Battalions were allowed to wear rifle green instead of red.
In the same year the Regimental button and cord loop were adopted by officers of the whole Regiment except the 43rd, whose officers continued to wear their jackets buttoned up to the neck like the men until the early part of 1944.
The adoption of these insignia of commissioned rank originated in the 5th Battalion, then commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W. A. R. Ames, O.B.E.
It is interesting to note that it was the 5th Battalion which, in 1915, discarded the mud-coloured (Bronzed OSD) cap-badge for officers (which had been introduced about 1900) in favour of the rightful silver horn.
The 52nd, on conversion to an airborne regiment, wore a maroon beret. The small silver horn was worn on the left side superimposed on a circular patch of light infantry green cloth. The headband was worn straight across the forehead and the slack of the cap pulled to the right. A title was worn just below the seam on each shoulder, bearing “Fifty-Second” in buff edged with red on a blue field.
The officers of the 43rd and 5th Battalion took to wearing green field-service caps with battledress instead of the khaki cap.
A year later, in 1943, the colonel of the Regiment issued an order to the whole Regiment to the effect that all field-service caps would be worn absolutely straight. This tradition had been broken in 1939 by the 43rd, which allowed troops to wear it cocked over one eye.
In the spring of 1943 regimental shoulder-titles were forbidden. This was unfortunate, because many regiments had spent much regimental money on them, and traditional colours had been chosen by the old infantry regiments. The 52nd was hit by this order and was obliged to discard its cherished titles. And when the official shoulder-titles were introduced and standardised, the results were unimaginative. A request for the Regiment’s to be in white on a light infantry green field was refused.
All infantry except rifle regiments had to wear red titles with the regiment’s name in white.
When it came to the Regiment, “Oxf & Bucks Lt Infty” was refused and instead “Oxf & Bucks L.I.” or “O & B.L.I.” was suggested, two anathemas which made some vomit indignation. Rather than either, “Oxf & Bucks” was accepted, which indicated little enough to please no one.
The request of the Buckinghamshire Battalions for green titles was also refused. Despite their black appointments and green identity strips, they had to wear “Buckinghamshire” in white on a red field.
Early in 1944 service chevrons, one red for each year of service, and wound stripes were introduced. These were so unpopular in the Regiment that scarcely any, except recruits called up from Civil Defence, troubled to don them.
Just before D Day the whole Army was issued with yet another hat, called a cap, general service, which was no improvement on its predecessor. It was a cross between a beret and a tam-o’-shanter and was worn as a kilmarnock bonnet, halo or cloche according to the sartorial taste of particular types. In the Regiment it was worn as far as possible with the headband straight across the forehead.
The silver horn was backed with a circular patch of green cloth.
In 1944 soldiers were allowed to walk out in collars and ties with open blouses. Thus private soldiers without stripes looked more like officers than their non-commissioned officers. This concession was allowed so as to bring a soldier’s turnout into line with an airman’s.