This page provides some information on uniforms and clothing used by Machine Gunners. It is not intended to provide technical information on the uniforms but more about how they were used and worn by the Machine Gunners themselves.

Specific Machine Gunner Equipment

Cape, Machine Gunners

Also an item covered by Load Carrying Equipment, this was worn to provide protection of the Machine Gunner from the hot and heavy weapon. It is rarely seen in period photographs to show the extent of its use but often referred to, including up to the 1939 Small Arms Training manual.

Army Order 164 of May 1916 inserted an authorisation of one cape per gun into the clothing for the Territorial Force to be held by units having machine guns. Table IV of the ‘Instructions regarding the issue of clothing and necessaries during mobilization’ issued with Army Orders 1st May 1916, identified that two capes per gun were issued to General defences, Schools of Musketry, Schools of Instruction and the Royal Military College.

Clothing, Machine Gunners.

Special capes and gloves for the use of machine gunners for lifting and carrying the gun when hot are approved on the scale of two capes and two pairs of gloves per machine gun detachment.

Indents should be sent to Ordnance Officers concerned.

General Routine Order 502 dated 1 January 1915.

A version was also manufactured by Australia.

Gloves, Machine Gunners.

A pair of protective gloves of heat-resistant woollen cloth, possibly including asbestos, with a leather pad on the palm, and a slit to allow for the trigger finger to protrude and fire while wearing.

Army Order 164 of May 1916 inserted an authorisation of one pair per gun into the clothing for the Territorial Force to be held by units having machine guns. Table IV of the ‘Instructions regarding the issue of clothing and necessaries during mobilization’ issued with Army Orders 1st May 1916, identified that two pairs per gun were issued to General defences, Schools of Musketry, Schools of Instruction and the Royal Military College.

Clothing, Machine Gunners.

Special capes and gloves for the use of machine gunners for lifting and carrying the gun when hot are approved on the scale of two capes and two pairs of gloves per machine gun detachment.

Indents should be sent to Ordnance Officers concerned.

General Routine Order 502 dated 1 January 1915.
P1080106

It’s believed that the Gloves in the VMGCRA collection are the only surviving examples.

Masks, Machine Gunners

A simple cloth mask with four holes: Two for the eyes and two to loop over the ears to hold in place. It then has a simple cloth tape to secure around the head or to the hat or helmet being worn.

Masks for Machine Gunners.

A special pattern mask, for attachment to service dress caps, has been approved for issue to machine gunners. These masks will be issued on a scale of 16 per Regiment or Cavalry or Battalion of Infantry, as supplies become available.

Indents should be submitted to Ordnance Officers concerned.

General Routine Order 786 dated 19 April 1915.

A 5 Corps Routine Order in May 1915 clarified that they were not issued to the Motor Machine Gun Batteries.

The tables of the ‘Instructions regarding the issue of clothing and necessaries during mobilization’ issued with Army Orders 1st May 1916, identified that one mask per soldier was a ‘special article’ issued to machine gunners only on their mobilization abroad.

P1080105

The example of the Mask in the VMGCRA collection has been identified as belonging to Private Victor Walter Room who joined the Machine Gun Corps from the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He survived the Great War and was discharged from the Corps on 19 May 1920.

General items

This section includes some more information on the items of uniform that would have been worn by all soldiers, including machine gunners.

Identity discs (commonly known as ‘dog tags’)

Introduced through Army Order 287 of September 1916, the identify discs were issued in pairs: an upper disc in green (“Disc, identity, No. 1, green) and a lower disc in red (“Disc, identity, No. 2, red). The upper was an irregular octagon and was issued with six inches of cord and the lowed disc then attached at approximately 1 1/4 inches below. Both were marked with the soldier’s service number, initials, surname, unit and religion.

Army Order 287, September 1916.

Army Order 324 of October 1916 clarified the purpose of the discs.

XV. Identity Discs.-

With reference to Army Order 287 of 1916, in case of the death of an officer or soldier in the field, the lower disc, known as “Disc, identity, No. 2, red,” will be removed and disposed of in the same manner as heretofore.

The upper disc, known as Disc, identity, No. 1, green,” will not be removed but will be buried with the body.

Consequently, in cases where a body can be reached and identified but cannot be brought back for burial, the lower disc will be removed, to ensure proper notification of death, whilst the upper disc will remain as a safeguard against loss of identity when it becomes possible to bury.

The two discs will be worn round the neck, as directed in Army Order 287 of 1916, by all officers and soldiers on active service, and neglect to wear the discs will be regarded as a breach of discipline.

Army Order 324 of October 1916.

Headdress

Steel helmets

Introduced in 1915, the steel helmet became one of the most recognisable pieces of the British soldier’s equipment and the ‘Tommy helmet’ was synonymous.

At the start of the Second World War, the Mark II helmet was in service. In the early months of the war, an issue was identified with the helmet lining coming loose. This was described in Army Council Instruction 685 of October 1939.

For troops proceeding overseas to India, they were required to hand in their steel helmets before embarkation. This order was issued on 27 January 1940 yet rescinded in early 1942 by Army Council Instruction 492 of 1942.

An Army Council Instruction (407 of 1942) was issued to ensure that soldiers did not blanco the chin straps of their helmet and that “should chin straps on steel helmets become dirty or greasy, they will be washed in warm soapy water and then thoroughly rinsed in clean water to remove all traces of soap.”

Field Service Cap

This is the ‘side’ cap commonly seen on other ranks at the start of the Second World War. It was worn with a cap badge but the cap badge was not held securely if it had a straight shank; therefore, a separate clip was supplied for it from March 1940 onwards, as authorised by Army Council Instruction 262.

Uniforms

General instructions for the wear of uniforms in the Second World War were issued in Army Council Instruction 466 of May 1940.

An Army Council Instruction on what insignia would be worn and how it was to be worn was issued in September 1940 (No. 1118 – Dress-All Ranks). This included the colour of the Arm of Service strips worn by different units. As machine gun battalions were part of the infantry, they wore the scarlet arm of service strip and scarlet-backed officers’ rank badges.

To manage metal supplies, plastic badges were introduced during the Second World War. Originally this was a select list of Corps and Regiments; however, it was extended in early 1942 to incorporate all arms of service, with exceptions for those where it wasn’t practicable. The machine gun battalions included at least the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and Cheshire and Middlesex Regiments with plastic variants of their cap badges.

Battle Dress

Consisting of a blouse and trousers, the Battle Dress uniform was introduced to replace Service Dress in the late 1930s. The initial version – Battle Dress, Serge – was found altered to speed up manufacture and reduce cost. One of the modifications was a lining to the collar; however, prior to this being issued, soldiers could add a piece of khaki drill or other similar material to prevent chaffing and irritation. This was authorised in March 1940 by Army Council Instruction 306.

As of April 1940, men were required to be issued battle dress prior to them joining the British Expeditionary Force in France.

This modification was amended in May 1940 (Army Council Instruction 513) and would be carried out at public expense for other ranks, but not officers. It also allowed for a similar modification to happen with service dress.

A complete modification of design was notified in July 1940 in Army Council Instruction 788. This is what is commonly referred to as ’40 pattern’ by collectors and reenactors.

Braces

As part of the uniform, men wore cotton webbing braces to support their trousers. These were not elasticated and were issued in several sizes. Clarification on which sizes should be issued to which men was given in Army Council Instruction 555 of May 1940.

Anklets

When in Battle Dress, British soldiers wore webbing anklets to replace the puttees they had worn with service dress. This gathered the trousers and protected them from wear as well as limiting the amount of dirt and, to a limited extent, water into the top of the boot.

Army Council Instruction 1239 of October 1940 instructed that soldiers wearing battle dress off duty out of barracks had to wear anklets.

Boots

Leather boots worn by the British soldier required treatment with dubbin to preserve and waterproof them. They were allowed 1/2 oz. of dubbin per week (Army Council Instruction 1488 of November 1940).


Sources

  • General Routine Orders, courtesy of the late Joe Sweeney.
  • The National Archives, WO 95/753/1-2, 5 Corps Adjt and QMG War Diary 1914 Dec to 1915 Jun.
  • The National Archives, WO 123/58, Army Orders 1916.
  • The National Archives, WO 293/24, Army Council Instructions 1939.
  • The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.
  • The National Archives, WO 293/27, Army Council Instructions 1942 Part I.