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Британские войска на Ближнем Востоке (1916-1918) / British Troops in Middle East (1916-1918)

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Hi Andrew!


It's been a long time coming, but here's some commentary on the two photos . . . :smile:


Photo 9


Wearing what appears to be a fur-lined leather flying helmet, plus goggles, this man is most likely a pilot or observer with the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.), and probably an officer. Although motorcycle despatch riders were often issued leather helmets, for the reasons described below it is unlikely that this man is a motorcyclist.


A multitude of commercial patterns of flying helmets and goggles were available for officers of the R.F.C. to purchase privately. A number of these patterns were also officially adopted by the War Office, for issue to those Other Ranks of the R.F.C. who served as aircrew; in addition leather helmets were purchased for motorcycle despatch riders (although in practice the Service Dress cap was far more widely worn by despatch riders when on the road).


Although dressed in a very casual manner, being in ‘Shirtsleeve Order’ with no definite indication of rank, the style of shirt worn by this man makes it probable he is an officer. Whereas ‘Other Ranks’ were issued a grey (or silver-grey) collarless flannel shirt (known as a ‘grey-back’) with partial opening down the front, this aviator wears a privately purchased khaki-drill shirt with collar: this was the type worn with a tie under the open-collared ‘Jacket, Khaki Drill’, as worn by officers. The use of an officer’s shirt therefore precludes this man from being a despatch rider.


This officer wears a ‘Garstin’ style leather wristlet, also known as a ‘pouch strap’, which was a popular method of allowing a pocket watch to be worn on the wrist. British pilots flew with the pocket watch Mark IV.A (1914) and Mark V (1916), which inside the aircraft became chronometric instruments.



Photo 10


This man is immediately identifiable as belonging to one of the ‘Mounted Services’, due to his wearing of riding breeches, which were standard wear for all ‘Other Ranks’ of mounted units. These khaki breeches, made of Bedford Cord (from 1916 also manufactured from serge) were worn irrespective of climate: thus in temperate climates they were worn with the khaki serge Service Dress jacket, and in hot or tropical climates with the light cotton jacket known as the ‘Frock, Khaki Drill’.


Looking at the shade and cut of this man’s jacket, we see that he is wearing the serge Service Dress jacket (in this case, the early-war Emergency/Modified pattern, without breast-pocket pleats). Use of the serge Service Dress jacket in the desert was not unusual: although ‘Khaki Drill’ was the British Army’s standard uniform in the Balkan, Egyptian, and Asian Theatres of War during World War One, in climates where night temperatures could drop severely (as in the Middle East), or where there was significant seasonal variation in temperature (as in the Balkans), ‘Khaki Drill’ would be mixed freely with elements of serge Service Dress, to produce every possible mixture of clothing. We see this illustrated here, as this man is wearing the ‘Helmet, Universal, Khaki, Wolseley Pattern’, which was regulation headdress in hot climates. Completing the identification of this man as a mounted serviceman are the puttees wound from the knee to boot (dismounted troops wore them wound from boot to knee), and also the standard ‘Jack Spurs’, which for ‘Other Ranks’ were fastened with a leather strap.


The white, plaited cord, lanyard around this man’s left shoulder is not a dress embellishment, but a functional item, securing the 1905 pattern Clasp Knife in the left breast pocket. Before 1914, the Clasp Knife was only on general issue to mounted troops, and as a result the white lanyard became, by default, the mark of ‘Other Ranks’ of the ‘Mounted Services’ (however, the certainty of this identification became blurred during the Great War, when Clasp Knives, and lanyards, became general issue to dismounted troops as well).


On his lower left sleeve, this soldier wears the lone chevron of a single ‘Good-Conduct Badge’, indicating 2 years unblemished service. Above the chevron is the 1st Class Machine Gunner’s skill-at-arms badge (a wreathed ‘MG’); this indicates that this man belongs to either (i) the machine-gun section of a cavalry regiment of the Regular Army, (ii) the machine-gun section of a Yeomanry regiment of the Territorial Force, or (iii) the Machine Gun Squadron of a cavalry or Yeomanry Brigade.


In 1914, each regiment of regular cavalry and territorial Yeomanry possessed a machine-gun section, with two Vickers-Maxim machine-guns (the British Army’s new machine-gun, the Vickers Mark I, was only slowly being introduced into service). In order to concentrate firepower in the hands of higher formations, the decision was taken in October 1915 to establish the new ‘Machine Gun Corps’ (M.G.C.), formed into infantry, cavalry and motor branches: within a cavalry or Yeomanry brigade, regimental machine-gun sections would re-badge as M.G.C. (Cavalry), and amalgamate to form a ‘Machine Gun Squadron’ (in the cavalry and Yeomanry regiments, new machine-gun sections were formed, but in place of Vickers-Maxims or Vickers Mark Is, they received the lighter ‘Gun, Machine, Hotchkiss, .303-in, Mark I’).


This man wears the ‘Bandolier Equipment, Pattern 1903’, specifically the 90-round bandolier issued to ‘Other Ranks’ of the cavalry and Yeomanry, which had 5 cartridge pockets riveted to the front, and four pockets on the back (other mounted troops wore the 50-round bandolier, with just 5 cartridge pockets on the front). However, with the introduction of the Hotchkiss, troops of the machine-gun sections of cavalry and Yeomanry regiments were issued a special bandolier, with three large rectangular cartridge pockets on the front, and three on the back (each pockets taking a 10-round, later 9-round, feed strip). These Hotchkiss bandoliers soon became the mark of a cavalry or Yeomanry machine-gunner, and therefore it is most likely that the man shown here is serving with a Machine Gun Squadron of the M.G.C. (Cavalry).

Edited by cmf
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Hi Andrew!

It's been long time coming, but here's some commentary on the two photos . . . :smile:


Hi, Chris! Thanks a lot for such a detailed description of these photos! :Laie_99:


Photo 9

(...) this aviator wears a privately purchased khaki-drill shirt with collar: this was the type worn with a tie under the open-collared ‘Jacket, Khaki Drill’, as worn by officers. The use of an officer’s shirt therefore precludes this man from being a despatch rider.


Are you sure he wears khaki-colour shirt? Its shade seems to be very light, nearly white :scratch_one-s_head:

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Hi Andrew,


That's true! 'Khaki Drill', being a light sand coloured, twilled cotton cloth, was prone, through constant washing and being bleached by the sun, to fading to an extremely pale, nearly white, shade. For an officer's privately purchased shirt, depending upon how light the original khaki shade had been, or the weight of the cotton, the fading process could be quite extreme!

Edited by cmf
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