Topic: Soldiers' Load
The Soldier's Kit (1932)
The Glasgow Herald, 19 January 1932
It is unlikely that radical alterations in the pattern of the infantry soldier's uniform will result from its condemnation by the Director-General of the Army Medical Services. Apart from the natural conservatism of the War Office and the Commands who would have to be satisfied that there is good cause for a change, the experience of dress reformers in the sphere of mufti has not been encouraging.
Perhaps the reformers have attempted too much and that too suddenly. There seems little disposition anywhere to "dress by the Left," and the Army is not likely to be found in the van of a "health and aesthetics" movement. Therefore nobody need be surprised if the infantry jib at "a new jacket with a turned-down collar open at the neck in front," and fail to accept, even for health's sake, "a drab Angora shirt of tennis shirt pattern to be worn with a tie." A tie is admittedly lacking in ferocity, but why should it be felt to be unsoldierly it is difficult to say. Officers of the line performed heroic deed with ties immaculately adjusted round their necks in the War, yet that is probably no passport to popularity for neckwear on the Queen's Parade at Aldershot or in the Maryhill Road.
Descending to trousers, it must be admitted that rugged efficiency rather than elegance has hitherto clothed the Army leg. It is proposed to replace the current useful and enduring garments by "something in the nature of plus fours." Most people connect plus fours with golf and country life, but they were developed, so far as is known, from a dressy adjustment of the puttees of the Guards—a withdrawal, as it were, of the skirts of chivalry from contamination with Flanders mud. If they now appear in infantry service kit, Wellington Barracks rather than Walton Heath should be given credit for the inspiration.
Working downwards from the neck to the extremities we come to an item that should have come first under critical fire—puttees. Granted that at the sound of the word "gaiters" no man will hear the bugle and a roll of drums, but peaceful associations ought not to obscure the fact that they do have a real respect for a soldier's veins. Puttees, even when adjust with precision in the best of conditions, look (and often feel) like the makeshifts they are. Given canvas or soft leather, a little steady thinking should produce something better for the parade ground and the campaign.
We look now at the very foundations of the fighting soldier—his boots and the feet within them. Not even a "fu' wame" will keep a linesman in spirit while every step is a pain and an anxiety. The British boot has been justly praised by thousands of "tenderfoot" soldiers who were happily fitted during the war, but those who had to refit on the catch-as-catch-can principle during the course of the campaign will be able to recall their twinges even to-day. They will feel that concentration on the puttee and boot question to the point of fastidiousness is the first duty of the reformers.
A kindred matter is having the attention, we believe, of the Army Council. An attempt is being made to reduce the weight of the infantry soldier's equipment, and while there is an irreducible minimum of gear which must be carried into action and which the men must get the feel of on the march and in manoeuvre, it should be remembered that every ounce that comes off the back will go into the heart. The whole question is governed by present economies, but it is not unlikely that a close kit inspection would reveal adjustments that would in themselves bring savings. An industrial psychologist might serve very usefully in any investigations undertaken. Mechanisation, which is putting more and more spanners into military hands, touches infantry only indirectly. While the remainder of the Army seems to move slowly but surely towards mechanical skills and seats on waggons (wheeled or winged), the soldier on foot remains more or less as he was in the older wars. He therefore deserves all the creature and fighting comforts the wits of Whitehall can provide for him.