Why dark jackets?

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Why dark jackets?

Postby Pgeddes » 08 Jun 2011 02:39

I have always been led to believe that British soldiers wore either black or dark blue jackets during their time on campaign in New Zealand in the 1860s. This how certainly how they were generally depicted when I was growing up there and this seems to be borne out by a photograph I have a copy of showing General Campbell with a group of officers, NCOs and other ranks on the morning of the battle for Gate Pa, which does not seem to show any appreciable difference in shade between the tunics of the officers (at least one of which seems to resemble a standard infantry officer's patrol jacket, as worn a year or two later) and those of the other ranks.

If this is correct, does anyone know the reason why they might have been issued with these dark tunics for service in New Zealand?
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 08 Jun 2011 16:53

Any photographs of that period were probably on fil that did not render colours into black and white in the way that panchromatic film has done for us since about 1925.

In particular, orthochromatic film renders the red end of the spectrum almost black, and the blue end pale grey, with green somwhere in the middle. White stays as white, but yellow is a very dark grey.

Thus, very dark uniforms are possibly bright red.

Awkward but true.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby mike snook » 08 Jun 2011 19:44

oooh....a little too hasty I think. Blue frocks were indeed worn extensively by the infantry in NZ. I cannot say for sure what the reason was. Speculatively....blue frocks in plentiful supply? They certainly wouldn't want to wear expensive full dress tunics in the bush, ripping them to pieces and soiling them irreparably within hours; possibly in such a far flung station blue was the only alternative.

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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby mike snook » 08 Jun 2011 19:48

....which is not to say red was not also worn by some.

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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 09 Jun 2011 09:39

mike snook wrote:oooh....a little too hasty I think. Blue frocks were indeed worn extensively by the infantry in NZ. I cannot say for sure what the reason was. Speculatively....blue frocks in plentiful supply? They certainly wouldn't want to wear expensive full dress tunics in the bush, ripping them to pieces and soiling them irreparably within hours; possibly in such a far flung station blue was the only alternative.

Mike


Not sure what is implied by "hasty". I chose my words with care.

First, I only said "possibly".

Second, I am knowledgeable on infantry tunics and frocks, but not on the clothing of the garrison of NZ nor any expeditionary force thereto, BUT ......

other than officers and RA and a few departmental units, I doubt if blue frocks were on station to wear as an alternative to scarlet tunics. Such "blues" for line infantry other ranks were, in general, issued only as a first issue to recruits [cheaper]. The smart four pocket high-collar dark navy blue frock affected by many soldiers as walking-out dress in late Victorian and Edwardian period was never an ordnance issue, and Clothing Regs of the period before Great War permitted soldiers to purchase such provided they were of standard design.

I am not saying that blue frocks were not worn in NZ, but I do wonder what the evidence is? Surviving garments? Descriptions? Water-colours perhaps? As an historian of infantry uniform, I am always keen to learn, reconciled to be proved wrong, but as a scientist I always ask for evidence.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby Frogsmile » 10 Jun 2011 12:21

Home Service Dress was worn in New Zealand. The blue serge undress frock was worn for campaigning in the Colony, which was as much because of a shortage of red cloth, as for any tactical reason. The fighting conditions were harsh and often the troops had to wade through swamp water up to their knees with their trousers in rags. In 1862, flank companies had been abolished in the Army, though whilst abroad the distinct bugle horn and grenade badges were still often worn on forage caps.

Patrick Doolan.

Patrick Doolan born into a Roman Catholic family around 1830 in Frankford, Kings County (now Offaly) Ireland, he had travelled and had spent some time in Quebec in Canada where he had married his wife Margaret Clifford from Limerick, Ireland in 1850. Back home, aged 30 years and probably fed up with being a servant, he enlisted into the British Army at his local depot in Birr on 5 September 1859. He joined as Private 281 in the 65th Imperial Infantry Line Regiment.

The 65th wore a forage cap in dark blue with a black band, regimental numerals were in brass. The cap of so-called Atholl or Hummel type, had a pompom or tuft in white over red (battalion coy) or white for a grenadier. His jacket was dark blue with brass buttons and his trousers were navy blue with red welt down the outer seam. He also wore white shoulder and waist belts with brass fittings. Black ammunition box with white regimental numerals, black bayonet and scabbard, white canvas haversack, light blue or grey canteen, dark grey great coat rolled over his shoulder, black shoes.

He went out on Captain Bond's ship "Nugget" leaving Woolwich Arsenal Dockyard on the River Thames, London on 21st March 1860.

The 65th, commanded by Colonel Wyatt, served through much of the fighting of the Maori Wars including at the Waikato War where troops built an attack road into that area driving back the Taranaki Maori from the Tatataomaka block.

On the 18th September 1865 he was discharged with a gratuity at a town called Otahuhu , New Zealand. Patrick remained in New Zealand until his death, aged 57 years, in Auckland on 21 January 1887.

A water colour of this soldier (with particularly full beard) is shown below.

RAMC Journal: JR Army Med Corps 156(1): 54-56

"The health of the troops fighting in New Zealand was generally
good. This was as a result of several factors; better rations, the
healthy climate, more comfortable uniforms for the conditions
prevailing - the red tunic had been replaced by a blue serge smock,
flannel shirt, trousers and gaiters with a better boot being issued. In
the summer a white cap cover was also issued.
A notable factor
in the maintenance of the health of the force was the appointment
of a Sanitary Officer to the staff of the Commander in Chief;
Surgeon MacKinnon toured the troop encampments advising on
health and testing local water supplies.
Initially his recommendations went largely ignored but after the
Commander in Chief ordered all commanding officers to cooperate,
his recommendations were complied with. Amongst
his other recommendations was that all refuse should be burnt, all
soldiers to have a toothbrush, the issue of spirits should be
controlled, salt meat to be replaced by preserved meat and the
provision of fresh vegetables, cheese and butter".


Source: MacKinnon WA. A Brief Narrative of the War in New Zealand During the
Years 1863, 1864 and 1865 Embracing the Sanitary History of the Force’,
Army Health Report 1865 HMSO, London; 1865
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 10 Jun 2011 12:30

Yes, that is the received wisdom, but where is the evidence ....... step forward NZ member please! Was blue more sturdy than scarlet for a frock? Was it cheaper? Was scarlet for replacements unobtainable? What was the design of the blue, regarding pockets, buttons etc? I would love to know more, as I clearly know nothing on this one!
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby Frogsmile » 10 Jun 2011 14:21

grumpy wrote:Yes, that is the received wisdom, but where is the evidence ....... step forward NZ member please! Was blue more sturdy than scarlet for a frock? Was it cheaper? Was scarlet for replacements unobtainable? What was the design of the blue, regarding pockets, buttons etc? I would love to know more, as I clearly know nothing on this one!


I have posted further details above, you replied mid-way through my composition. As for the design of the blue frocks, they are remarkably similar, indeed almost identical to the uniform used by ships companies of Royal Marines right through until between the two world wars. You can see the 5 buttons, the relatively loose fit typical of a 'frock' and the single large pocket and flap on the left upper chest. It has made me wonder if this same frock (or its forerunner) is also the one issued to all soldiers embarking on troopships and referred to in the thread here on that subject. Ergo, perhaps they were issued from Naval stores, or copied and made up locally. Either way there is no doubt that blue frocks were worn.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 10 Jun 2011 15:00

Thank you, a good answer and I am convinced about the blue frocks but WHY? Perhaps we will never know.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby Frogsmile » 10 Jun 2011 15:12

grumpy wrote:Thank you, a good answer and I am convinced about the blue frocks but WHY? Perhaps we will never know.


The contemporary 'health' report (above) states quite simply "more comfortable uniforms for the conditions prevailing". I am not sure if red 'frocks', or indeed any other 'frocks' had been issued in the Army elsewhere as early as 1864 and, as you know, their looser fit later became very popular. It may well be nothing more than that the fitted red tunics were deemed uncomfortable and impractical in the extremely humid and otherwise wet conditions and if these blue frocks were available, as now seems likely, then it was a simple matter of using them. They seem to have been lucky to have the kind of enlightened commanders of the later Wolseley school. There will be a record of the details somewhere in the military archives - no doubt. These scruffy, but practical uniforms are very reminiscent of similar khaki coloured versions worn in South African bush campaigns in the 1840s and 50s and I suspect that some of the senior officers in NZ cut their teeth on the fighting there and remembered the utility of the dress that was worn. There is nothing like hard campaigning to drive the martinet out of senior officers.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 10 Jun 2011 15:37

Got it in one: frocks had only just about been invented!

This is DSV Fosten, Military Modelling magazine many years ago:

.......... during the 1860s NCOs and R&F infantry India began to be issued with loose fitting singlebreasted unlined frocks ..... plain red, some facing collars cuffs, point ended shoulder straps, white numerals, five brass buttons, rounded skirts, large slanting pocket with flap left breast ....... troops serving in NZ ..... similar style blue frock .......
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby Frogsmile » 10 Jun 2011 20:20

grumpy wrote:Got it in one: frocks had only just about been invented!

This is DSV Fosten, Military Modelling magazine many years ago:

.......... during the 1860s NCOs and R&F infantry India began to be issued with loose fitting singlebreasted unlined frocks ..... plain red, some facing collars cuffs, point ended shoulder straps, white numerals, five brass buttons, rounded skirts, large slanting pocket with flap left breast ....... troops serving in NZ ..... similar style blue frock .......


All good stuff and more added to the sum of knowledge. I too have those magazines somewhere in a box in storage and they inspired me to get 'Thin Red Line', which is......also in a box in storage. The joys of military life!
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby Pgeddes » 18 Jun 2011 16:47

Thanks for the replies everyone.

Here are a few photos dating from the mid 1860s taken in New Zealand.

The first shows a group of officers and men posing around a gun carriage with General Cameron (the figure in paler coloured trousers leaning against the wheel), taken on 29th April 1864, on the morning of the attack on Gate Pa. Most or all of them seem to be wearing blue jackets. To my eyes, the tall officer standing next to the general seems to be wearing something very similar to the 1866 patrol jacket.

Image

The second picture shows a group of officers and men of the 68th outside barracks at Tauranga at about the same time. Again, all appear to be wearing blue. In both this and the previous photo, the large single pocket mentioned above is visible on some jackets.

Image

For comparison, here is a photo of a group of 68th NCOs at about the same time wearing their uniform red tunics.

Image

I wonder, did the Military Modelling article mention the reason for blue frocks being issued to soldiers in New Zealand rather than red ones? I would be interested in knowing whether a perceived shortage of red cloth was the only reason.


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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby colsjt65 » 21 Jun 2011 05:47

Hi everyone. I'm new to this forum, but have been doing some research on the subject. Here are some notes I have compiled -

The skirted fatigue jacket replaced the shell jacket as fatigue dress first in India in the mid-1850s. This regulation fatigue jacket was red. For the Umbeyla campaign in 1863 on the North-West Frontier British troops wore the red serge frock. [British Infantry Uniforms since 1660, Michael Barthorp, p99]

However, those worn in New Zealand were navy blue. Why blue, instead of red? J. E. Alexander commented -
"I was obliged to equip my men for the bush, in New Zealand, in blue "jumpers" (leaving the red tunics in store), because I could not get crimson flannel shirts." He was one who believed that the natural colour for the British soldier is red. He certainly did not believe in troops being camouflaged - he also stated "At 1000 yards, all colours are alike, as I proved; red, grey, green, blue, black, all look hazy, except any man wearing a white cross belt, he becomes a target. [Bush Fighting, General J. E. Alexander, 1873. p. 4]" It does not seem to occur to him that, even if that were true, actions in the bush would be at vastly shorter ranges, and being inconspicuous would be advantageous. This is despite him being a veteran of the Cape Frontier wars, with possibly the most experience of any officer in the country at the time.

In his first book "Incidents of the Maori War" 1863, Alexander appears to take credit for introducing the blue frock to New Zealand. "Troops were now frequently paraded and inspected, and the skirts of the men's great coats were cut off to enable them to wear them in skirmishing in the bush and scrub. This plan I did not think well of, and afterwards when preparing some of the 14th Regiment for fighting, I gave them blue smocks over which the great coat was worn, neatly rolled horse-collar fashion, and ready for the evening's bivouac; a man cannot sleep well if his legs are not covered with the skirts of his coat." However, Alexander did not arrive in the country until 29 November 1860 and never commanded at the front, taking command at Auckland. Only two companies of the 14th were sent from Auckland to take part in the fighting in Waitara from January-April 1861, arriving at the seat of war on 6 January. The rest did garrison duties in Auckland, Napier and Wellington. Alexander left the country before the Waikato War started in 1863.

I have yet to find the actual General Order for constructing and issuing the blue jumpers, but they came into use after General Pratt came from Australia to take command of the war on 3 August 1860. During the battle of Puketakauere on 27 June 1860, the troops were wearing red coats - "The dress in which we were to parade – was, shell jacket or tunic (optional)" [Private Mackenzie, 40th Regiment, from a manuscript account of the Taranaki war; with supplementary account of the Waikato War, D. H. MacKenzie, c. 1860-66] . However at the battle of Mahoetahi on 6 November 1860, the troops were wearing the blue jumpers. Private MacKenzie first mentions blue serge jackets in his description of the dress of the 40th Regiment at Mahoetahi - "This time we were in light order, blue serge jumpers and accoutrements only."
By March 1861 there is a description of the 65th Regiment on parade in campaign uniform and it states that "scarce two jackets were alike and of the whole there were but two of the scarlet hue"[Taranaki Herald newspaper, 20th April 1861 – p. 4] - presumably the rest were in blue.

Bruce Cairns

BTW Paul, but the photo of the NCOs and bugler in tunics, are of the originals of 'my' unit - Light Company of the 65th Regt. - not 68th. :)
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby grumpy » 21 Jun 2011 17:10

A good contribution, and I thank you.
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