Why dark jackets?

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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby jf42 » 29 Jun 2011 11:26

There is an article in 'Military Illustrated' (No.53) October 1992 by Michael Barthorp - 'A Lost Sketchbook: The 71st Highland Light Infantry on the North-West Frontier, 1863'. The sketchbook was lost in a fire at the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum and the sketches only survive as dark monochrome photos that fortunately had been made as records. However, the article is accompanied by two pages of colour illustrations worked up by Donald Anderson interpreting the images.

As one would expect, Barthorp discusses the subject thoroughly. Re: the scarlet frock he says "Following the general introduction in 1855 of the tunic as the upper dress garment throughout the Army (doublet for Highlanders) the old undress shell jacket began to be replaced in India, from 1856, by a loose-fitting serge frock, skirted like the tunic, but with only five buttons in front and usually a flapped, left breast pocket, in the same colour as the tunic." (p.45)

The images also show what are described as white "air-pipe' sun helmets. First seen in the Mutiny, these were recorded being worn by British battalions based in India as early 1860. Worn with red pagris by the 71st HLI
in Ambeyla, they were quickly replaced by the forage cap (Kilmarnock bonnet) when it became clear what a fine target they provided for the enemy.

There are also photographs of the 101st Bengal Fusiliers (I think), wearing the frock at the time of the Ambeyla campaign, some with sprigs of pine in their forage caps, but I haven't been able to find a reference just at the moment.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby jf42 » 10 Aug 2011 12:22

The photograph to which I referred was of men of the 71st taken at Peshawar on their return from the Ambeyla valley. It is believed to show a section of sharpshooters, distinguished by fir sprigs attached to the badges on the diced bands of their Kilmarnock forage caps. All wear scarlet frocks apart from one who is in shirtsleeve order.

71st HLI at Peshawar after Ambeyla.jpg
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby jf42 » 10 Aug 2011 12:52

Here is a contemporary photo of men of the 93rd Highlanders guarding prisoners after Ambeyla. They wear scarlet frocks cut away to accommodate the sporran. Some of the men appear to have medal ribbons along the top of the breast pocket flap. Unlike the 71st, the Highlanders wear full beards.
93rd guard prisoners after Ambeyla.jpg
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Re: Why dark jackets?

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Bluey Jackets
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby MMaranda » 20 Dec 2015 23:14

Greetings All,

I am new to the forum and a beginner to reenacting the British Victorian period. I have been following and reading many of the topics. This topic on Navy Blue Serge Fatigue Jacket, I found very interesting. I have a friend that says this jacket was also used in the Northwest Frontier. He cannot bring evidence for this. Does anybody know for certain about this. I cannot find any reference to it's use there, only to the New Zealand. Any help would be much appreciated.
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Re: Why dark jackets?

Postby NZWARS » 31 Jul 2017 11:58

It is always interesting to read discussions such as this and there has been some worthwhile contribution to the subject.

However, I will add. The frock coats of the style used in NZ were generally based on a frock coat that had seen use in India from the 1850s and seems to have been adopted in regulations around 1864. As some units had already been in India and India, along with Australia, was a source of supplies, being somewhat closer than England, this is likely to have had an influence. Blue was the predominant colour for these undress coats, but not the exclusive colour. There is photographic evidence of the red version being worn and I have an example in my collection that was found in NZ.

There are many theories as to why the blue was adopted, but if you have examined proper period uniforms, you will see that the ORs Red is brick red, it is a ‘dirty’ red when compared to later red uniforms and fades to a dull brownish colour. Indeed, in the forests of NZ, it would probably afford as good a camouflage as the blue, if not better. What makes both a massive target is the buff equipment. On this basis and as clearly commented on by Alexander, the suggestion that blue was for camouflage is pure fantasy. I believe the reasons are more along the lines of a suitable shirted garment being required to replace the very short undress shell jacket, and thus afford the soldier better protection and warmth, similar to the dress tunic. This requirement would need to be filled relatively quickly and locally, from the fabric available (Contracts were being awarded to suppliers here in Australia for blue coats) so it is likely that a case of needs must, saw blue in predominant, but not exclusive use.

In Australia and New Zealand, the Fencibles/Enrolled Pensioners had been clothed in blue, as were many colonial police. This probably lead to a good supply of blue cloth.

I have in my collection, a very early 1860s photo of an officer of the 65th He is wearing a privately purchased frock coat, in what appears to be blue, over his scarlet shell jacket, the collar and cuffs of which are quite clear. This would add extra warmth for the chest, but the skirted frock gives better overall protection.

Keep the interesting stuff coming.
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