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Officer clothing on leave


FrancesH

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Hello chaps, I feel sure someone asked about this before but I can't find it through search. Did officers on leave in London wear uniform? I think they did have to?

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Thank you, James, that's certainly my feeling too!

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On 26/04/2023 at 11:57, FrancesH said:

Hello chaps, I feel sure someone asked about this before but I can't find it through search. Did officers on leave in London wear uniform? I think they did have to?

As always, it depends.  It appears from March 1915 they were not permitted to wear uniform in night clubs in London, on the other hand there are examples of establishments offering discounts to officers and men, "in uniform"

Context then was important:-

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Sunday Mirror 14 March 1915

from BNA

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Thank you so much Ken! I tried to find newspaper references to uniform/non uniform on leave but clearly I was using the wrong search term. This is brilliant, many thanks.

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I like the assumption that all young officers were champagne drinkers and that the possibility of a private partaking was inconceivable!

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Another story from the Western Morning News 20 August 1914 where a Keith Arnold Braden was summoned for wearing the uniform of a 2nd Lt of the RGA in a theatre in London, convicted and sentenced to one month's imprisonment at Bow Street Magistrates.  He had initially been challenged by a Lt Ridley 2nd Grenadier Guards who saw him wearing the uniform in the stalls of the Empire Theatre.  Lt Ridley challenged him because it was "usual for officers to wear evening dress to the theatre".  I guess pre-war customs still prevailed a fortnight or so into the war.

Or, from the Liverpool Echo 18 December 1916 following the introduction of food rationing and restrictive menus in hotels etc. where wearing a uniform meant a discount on a meal.

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There was of course an expose in the Sunday People on the 5th November 1916 of "Flash Tea Shops" where it was alleged the customers/clients were mainly young officers in khaki.

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All from BNA

Seems champagne wasn't the only thing the young officers were deprived of.  As noted earlier I don't think there were hard and fast rules apart from night clubs and it appears convention amongst the regular officers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you for these additional comments on the topic. It seems clear that some wore uniform, some didn't. If you were going to get a discount AND ran the risk of being abused as a 'war dodger' perhaps most people chose to stick to uniform?

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As a general principle the pre war standards were meant to apply to Army officers.  During the day walking out dress for officers was usually drab khaki service dress throughout the war, but as gentlemen were expected to dress for dinner, then in the evenings the common dress was black tie#, or white tie if attending the theatre, or opera.  If merely in a drawing room before dinner a lounge suit was permissible**.

All of that said there were inevitably those who didn’t always conform.  That tended to be especially so in the second half of the war, when social attitudes were beginning to change, but also because after heavy casualty rates among junior officers significant numbers of the middle classes had been commissioned and often didn’t own black tie, and certainly not white tie.  In its own, understated way, it was the beginnings of a social revolution.

# in peacetime, ‘mess dress’ (a special dinner uniform) was worn when dining in the mess (barracks).

**it’s important to understand that much of the ‘tone’ expected was set by individual regiments.  These requirements weren’t usually written down as that implied that gentlemen didn’t know how to behave.  Instead the adjutant specifically was expected to keep an overwatch and speak to anyone that overstepped the mark.  He was aided when in a benign environment by a senior subaltern resident in the officers’ mess accommodation, who acted similarly on his behalf when he wasn’t present.

The more exclusive the regiment then the less likely there was any need for intervention.  The Guards, Rifles and Cavalry (where the vast majority of the landed and estate owners were) were considered at the top and then there was a pecking order that might be disputed if anyone tried to voice it.  Nevertheless it was there.

 

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Edited by FROGSMILE
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5 hours ago, FrancesH said:

perhaps most people chose to stick to uniform?

I think that's probably right.  I have been looking in the DORA Regulations and Army Orders but I don't think there were any hard and fast rules during the war.  Soldiers had to be properly turned out when 'walking out' from barracks, but once on leave at home my guess is anything goes.

The Regular Army officers would I suspect have maintained pre-war conventions (as in the example above of theatre going above) and there are accounts in the literature that a regular officer, among other qualities was expected to have a certain 'style'.  The expansion of the Army meant officers or 'temporary gentlemen' were drawn from younger men and increasingly promoted from the ranks.  They would have neither the means nor the inclination to follow those conventions indeed, some of the few regulars often considered them to be 'uncouth', as far as the traditions and expectations of their behaviour.  What was seldom in doubt was their courage.

I'm sure certain establishments were beyond the means of most other ranks but certainly behind the lines in France and Flanders there was relatively strict segregation of establishments used by officers and men. Jerry White in "Zeppelin Nights London int the First World War" has a few quotes describing "officers, soldiers and civilians....", the distinction assuming the former were in uniform.  

Another more practical reason was that during the war most clothing manufacturers were turned over to the need for khaki uniforms.  Civilian clothing would have been in short supply.

Robert Graves, stated at the end of the war, " I discarded my uniform having worn nothing else for four an a half years and looked into my trunk to see what civilian clothes I still had.  The one suit, other than school uniform which I found no longer fitted."*

His experience must have reflected those young officers who went straight from school into th New Armies.

*Cited in 

Representations of soldiering:

British army uniform and the male body during the First World War

PhD Thesis Jane Tynan London University  2009

https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/5656/

My be of interest if you have not seen it.

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Thank you Ken and Frogsmile for your comments, all of which sound very plausible. So we can say that those who joined straight from school, or came from less elevated social circles, would not have the outfits in their wardrobe which tradition expected: those who did, however, probably went on wearing them, I would imagine, not least to distinguish themselves from those 'less elevated social circles'. Although I didn't get responses to this question for some days and began to think there wouldn't be any, the quality of response has turned out to be very high. Many thanks to all. It's done a lot to bring the picture of officers on leave to life.

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Vera Brittain wrote in her book Testament of Youth that quite early in the war, officers were keen to show off their active service status when home on leave, as her fiancé did; she described him as modishly shabby. She goes on to say that later in the war, it was “comme il faut” to model oneself on a tailors dummy. 

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I was looking at the comments on my phone and did not see the wonderful pictures sent by Frogsmile! Absolutely love these. Thank you so much!

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2 hours ago, FrancesH said:

I was looking at the comments on my phone and did not see the wonderful pictures sent by Frogsmile! Absolutely love these. Thank you so much!

I’m glad to help a little Frances.  For visual reference I thought that three particular TV dramas took the time and effort to research properly and get appearances quite accurate:

1. Downton Abbey.

2. Testament of Youth (1979 version)

3. The Monocled Mutineer (1986).

Edited by FROGSMILE
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I realise that the question was about officers. The situation for ORs was somewhat different. I assume that the cloth of the WW1 OR uniform was little different from that of the WW2 BD as worn by post WW2 National Servicemen. That was not a comfortable material to wear and was rarely worn by anyone on leave. Honiton Camp 1952.

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ViewView

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2 hours ago, PhilB said:

I realise that the question was about officers. The situation for ORs was somewhat different. I assume that the cloth of the WW1 OR uniform was little different from that of the WW2 BD as worn by post WW2 National Servicemen. That was not a comfortable material to wear and was rarely worn by anyone on leave. Honiton Camp 1952.

image.jpeg.24cc853fef675feb8abd393955981afb.jpeg

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Phil during WW1 things were different and soldiers were obliged to wear uniform when out in public, including of course the wounded recovering and on days out from hospital and convalescence.  They might perhaps have worn their own clothes in their homes but everyone knew who’d joined up and in any case no one would want to expose themselves to strangers with white feathers.

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51 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

  They might perhaps have worn their own clothes in their homes but everyone knew who’d joined up and in any case no one would want to expose themselves to strangers with white feathers.

As you say, Frog, everyone would know who’d joined up and who hadn’t in those parochial days so not much risk of exposure to being “feathered”.  

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On 02/05/2023 at 16:56, PhilB said:

As you say, Frog, everyone would know who’d joined up and who hadn’t in those parochial days so not much risk of exposure to being “feathered”.  

Yes at home in their villages of origin I agree.  Anecdotally it seems most men wore their uniforms out of doors, although there are tales of it having to be laundered/cleaned by their womenfolk beforehand during the early leave periods after they were first established.  There soon was established a routine for men going on leave though, whereby they reported to a combined mobile Bath unit and clothing store at the Base, where they handed in uniforms, bathed, and then were issued a different uniform (along the lines of - here’s one that I prepared earlier)**.  Once spick and span they drew any pay owing and reported to the port of embarkation to catch the cross channel ferry and then onward leave trains.  The leave system had become a well oiled machine.

**also intended as a delousing process.

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Edited by FROGSMILE
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More wonderful pictures -- thank you so much Frogsmile. However, your latest batch raises a new question -- did soldiers go on leave with their rifles, then? This has never occurred to me, I thought they would leave them with their battalion, but these soldiers are clearly armed. 

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On 03/05/2023 at 16:53, FrancesH said:

More wonderful pictures -- thank you so much Frogsmile. However, your latest batch raises a new question -- did soldiers go on leave with their rifles, then? This has never occurred to me, I thought they would leave them with their battalion, but these soldiers are clearly armed. 

Yes Frances, combatant arm** soldiers took their rifles with them on leave, but handed their ammunition in before departure from France. This was not unusual at that time.

Incidentally the third to last photo shows Blighty bound soldiers lining up on a gangway to board a cross channel ferry at Boulogne Sur Mer.  Notice the French woman selling sundries to her captive audience.

**those issued with an individual personal weapon, at that time largely the infantry and cavalry only.  Ergo you will not see a RAMC orderly, or siege gunner with a rifle on leave.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Thank you once again Frogsmile!!

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