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Demob: why was some uniform returned to army?


dressedforwar
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I wonder if anyone can help me. I am trying to understand the reason why greatcoats and belts were returned at the end of the war. I understand that £1 was given for the return of greatcoats, or sometimes £1 was held back from War gratuities until it had been handed in. Why were these elements of uniform - presumably often in a worn condition, required? Was it perhaps to do with the sense that they should not suffer the indignity of being used for civilian life, or could it be simply a matter of thrift/ salvage - or even some army regulation of which I am unaware? I would be very grateful for any help or suggestions. Thank you

Also, do you know if Central Powers forces required any similar returns? Did they receive demob suits or any financial help at the end of the war? Thank you again.

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Also, do you know if Central Powers forces required any similar returns? Did they receive demob suits or any financial help at the end of the war? Thank you again.

Germany had a complex demobilisation plan in place which was meant to get soldiers home and into civilian clothes and employment in a structured and highly organised fashion. However this was based on the assumption of a German victory or, at worst, a stalemate. In the event the entire government structure intended to manage it had collapsed before the end of 1918 so one would imagine chaos regned

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Chisledon Camp, south of Swindon, became a demobilisation centre . According to its commanding officer, Baron Dunalley (Henry Prittie) in his memoirs, Khaki and Rifle Green (Hutchinson, 1940), steel helmets were popular souvenirs, though when one visitor thought the men would like to retain their tattered greatcoats as mementos there were no takers. The reason emerged when civilians complained that men arriving by train had left 'a lot of little things behind them', resulting in a delousing station being set up. Then church leaders thought it a shame that the returning heroes had to go home in rags so a re-clothing section was instituted to issue them with clean khaki (which, Prittie thought, would soon be sold for what it would get).

Moonraker

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Thank you both very much indeed. I have been working away at a project about clothing during this war, and it is marvellous to find people interested in the same matters.

I understand about the breakdown of German planning, and the fact that clothing on returning soldiers was often infested from the front - however, I am still puzzled why the army would pay for the return of coats and belts. Were the men reluctant to give them up despite their lousy state? Why didn't they just give them alternative coats? Or money to buy them. Why take money from them for their return? I have discovered that despite shortages in the line, after the war there were substantial stores of new military clothing that eventually were sold off. This makes my suggestion that there could have been some purpose for the old coats seem very unlikely... do you think?

One of the difficulties I've had - in talking about the significance of clothing during the war - is that whereas women often discuss not just what they are wearing, or hope to wear, but their attitude to the clothing... whereas, having listened to and read many accounts now of men at war, clothing is only mentioned usually in passing, food much more - and yet, in such a war of attrition it is hard to believe the many discomforts and small comforts clothing offered must have sometimes loomed large in daily life. I suppose it would have seemed unmanly?

Thank you again

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I understand about the breakdown of German planning, and the fact that clothing on returning soldiers was often infested from the front - however, I am still puzzled why the army would pay for the return of coats and belts. Were the men reluctant to give them up despite their lousy state? Why didn't they just give them alternative coats? Or money to buy them. Why take money from them for their return? I have discovered that despite shortages in the line, after the war there were substantial stores of new military clothing that eventually were sold off. This makes my suggestion that there could have been some purpose for the old coats seem very unlikely... do you think?

Army clothing was divided up into four categories, with different rules attached to them - the Field Service Pocket Book 1914, page 181 gives the following:

"38. CLOTHING.

1. The arrangements for the clothing and equipment of an army in the field are controlled by the director of ordnance services,under the instructions of the I.G.C.

2. Clothing is divided into-

a) Personal.-Ankle boots and shoes, caps, drawers, canvas suits, service dress suits, puttees, sashes, cardigan waistcoats, trousers, tunics, leather gloves, foreign service helmets, gauntlets, cotton drawers.

These become the property of the soldier, and may be sold by permission of the O.C. the squadron, battery, or company (in peace only).

b.) Public.-Greatcoats, full dress head-dresses, knee boots, leather breeches, jack spurs, leggings, waterproof capes, purses and belts for Highland regiments.

These must be returned to store, and are the property of the public.

c) Necessaries.-Badges, blacking, laces, braces, brushes, button brasses, combs, forks, grease tins, worsted gloves, holdalls, hosetops, housewives, knives, razors, shirts, socks, sponges, spoons, spurs swan-neck, towels vest.

A free list of necessaries is supplied to each soldier on enlistment, and this has to be kept up afterwards at the soldier's expense, for which an allowance is made to him (in peace only). On field service, necessaries are issued free to replace losses not caused by negligence.

(d) Sea-kit.-Clothes bags.

More to come!

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It was an offence under the 1894 Uniform Act for a civilian to wear a uniform, or part of one, so this would be one reason why uniforms had to be handed in. Governments of all hues, and the armed forces, would not have wanted uniforms being brought into disrepute, possibly by ex-soldiers wearing them whilst begging.

Old uniforms which could not be reissued could be salvaged for other uses.

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Oh, thank you. That explains matters. It makes it rather impressive then, given that it was strictly speaking against army regulations, that soldiers were in fact permitted to keep their greatcoats - the £1 offered to persuade them to return it. Just the sort of anomaly that's interesting I think. Thank you very much for your post.

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Oh, thank you. That explains matters. It makes it rather impressive then, given that it was strictly speaking against army regulations, that soldiers were in fact permitted to keep their greatcoats - the £1 offered to persuade them to return it. Just the sort of anomaly that's interesting I think. Thank you very much for your post.

The usual practice was that a soldier after demob received a voucher for £1 if he handed his greatcoat in to a railway station or similar. After the war ended and the number of men serving in the armed forces was being drastically reduced there was simply a huge surplus of materials that was no longer required. This included uniform and other equipment. Greatcoats, being "public property", in theory could not simply be given away, thus if a soldier wanted to keep his he essentially had to pay the £1. The Government got back some of it's money and reduced the surplus material at the same time, the soldier got a perfectly servicable coat. There are accounts of men who had to travel home on foot rueing their decision to take the £1 when faced with rain and other foul weather, and others who kept them and found them very useful for many years to come.

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The usual practice was that a soldier after demob received a voucher for £1 if he handed his greatcoat in to a railway station or similar. After the war ended and the number of men serving in the armed forces was being drastically reduced there was simply a huge surplus of materials that was no longer required. This included uniform and other equipment. Greatcoats, being "public property", in theory could not simply be given away, thus if a soldier wanted to keep his he essentially had to pay the £1. The Government got back some of it's money and reduced the surplus material at the same time, the soldier got a perfectly servicable coat. There are accounts of men who had to travel home on foot rueing their decision to take the £1 when faced with rain and other foul weather, and others who kept them and found them very useful for many years to come.

One of the reasons why Kagan developed Gannex (or so he told me) was because the British Army Great Coat was singularly good at soaking up water and retaining it (as a refugee he'd worn a surplus one for a while) so that whilst it was good in cold and dry weather it was foul in cold and wet conditions.

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I finally get it about the £1 business - thank you so much. Re the quality of the greatcoat, I have just read an account of a soldier being castigated for trimming the end of his greatcoat which had become saturated and later heavy with mud which he could not budge. Another account of them being used as rather inadequate stretchers.

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Oh, thank you. That explains matters. It makes it rather impressive then, given that it was strictly speaking against army regulations, that soldiers were in fact permitted to keep their greatcoats - the £1 offered to persuade them to return it. Just the sort of anomaly that's interesting I think. Thank you very much for your post.

Not Army regulations - the law it was, applying to everybody.

When it became briefly fashionable in the 1960s for the hip youth (groovy, Daddy-o) to wear old uniforms, there were calls in the Telegraph correspondence columns to prosecute the bounders under the 1894 Act.

Now, it wasn't necessarily an offence to possess the stuff, just to wear it.

Incidentally, the offences of wearing medals to which there was no entitlement was created by another Act, not this one. To be specific, 1881 Army Act. The Service Acts are applicable to everybody, unless it is clear that certain provisions only apply to servicemen.

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. Re the quality of the greatcoat, I have just read an account of a soldier being castigated for trimming the end of his greatcoat which had become saturated and later heavy with mud which he could not budge.

This was a widespread problem, and the order was repeatedly issued that this practice was not to be done but was still often ignored. Eventually from mid-1917/1918 a solution was found that involved sewing extra buttons and cloth tabs on the inside of the coat, so that the bottom could be rolled up out the way. See posts 22-23 and onwards in:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=66171

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Hi all,

there is a very nice photograph dated around 1920 in Hever Castle, Kent, showing the staff/gardeners some of whom are wearing SD jackets. If my memory serves me correctly one of which is the economy pattern. So other items of clothing were still being used also.

Dave

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I know one couple who say that a grandfather went back to the UK after the war, and was forced to hand in his greatcoat and then pushed out into, literally, the snow. He was so disgusted that he got on a train to Liverpool and then a ship to Canada.

He came back from Canada, eventually, in somewhat mysterious circumstances. They think he was at least involved in a murder! but anything else is unknown.

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Thany you all very much - it's been fascinating. Very interested in the button and tab solution - and also the idea that so much depended not just on the law and regulations but also perhaps on those in charge at a particular demob. Also - what might possibly be of interest to this site - I found out that the label 'Pure New Wool' was adopted to distinguish items that were not made from recycled war uniform - with their connotations. Thank you

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Hi all,

there is a very nice photograph dated around 1920 in Hever Castle, Kent, showing the staff/gardeners some of whom are wearing SD jackets. If my memory serves me correctly one of which is the economy pattern. So other items of clothing were still being used also.

Dave

As in post 5, basic items of soldiers clothing became his own property. Part of the reason things like original SD trousers, shirts, boots, cardigans, etc, are rare today is they were perfectly usable as-is in civvy life, and used to death. A ficticious example, but if you watch "Steptoe and Son" Albert is often shown wearing an original WW1 issue cardigan, which gradually becomes more and more delapidated as the series progressed...

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