Yesterday I wrote about the consideration of grey uniforms for the Victorian British Army. During my researches I turned up a rather nice example of a grey uniform that was used in the Sudan. This has a number of interesting features, other than its colour.
The buttons appear to be brass, showing that the recommendation of using low visibility bronze with the grey uniforms had not been acted upon. The grouping of the buttons confirms the claim that this tunic was worn by a Coldstream Guard.
Other than the colour the most noticeable feature is what appear to be two pleats in the front. If you look carefully you will see these pleats conceal vertical pocket openings that begin just below the second button group. Vertical breast pockets are a common feature of Norfolk jackets. Vertical “Napoleon” pockets are a useful feature if you wear equipment straps. The suitability the Norfolk design for military service was one of the topics discussed in the account of the House of Commons proceedings reproduced in yesterday’s blog. Another feature of Norfolk jackets is the shoulder area is designed for maximum freedom of movement when aiming and positioning a rifle or shotgun. This may account for the atypical cut of the tunic shoulders in the photo. The position of the lower pockets is also unusual. Perhaps placing them further to the sides was more comfortable if the soldier was crawling or firing prone. This position might also make the pockets more accessible if ammunition pouches are worn.
Norfolk jackets provided inspiration for another variety of 19th century military tunic. Some varieties of Spanish and Philippine hot climate tunics incorporated Norfolk features. Some very nice examples are shown on this website. The provision of four lower cargo pockets is a nice feature. I also like the side vents that allow access to a pistol, knife or sword worn on a belt beneath the tunic. Attaching a pistol and survival knife to the trouser belt is a sound strategy. If you have to dump your webbing, for example during a river crossing, you still have a useful tool and weapon. Here it is worth stressing that your primary survival gear should be in your trouser pockets. Jacket and shirt pockets are mainly for clothing accessories and useful items.
Why am I interested in a pair of 19th century tunics? It should be clear they both have a number of features that would still be desirable in a modern field jacket.
Most outdoor coats need more pocket space. This is particularly true in cold weather. Put away a scarf, hat and gloves and your pockets are probably full or overflowing. That may explain why you so often see dropped gloves in the street. Many soldiers complain they cannot use the lower pockets because of their ammunition pouches, but not all servicemen are infantry. Lower pockets should be deep, large and wide for easy accessibility. Having four, like the Filipino jacket, and pocket at the flanks, like both designs is worth considering. Horizontal pockets over the kidneys and a storage pocket in the tail for soft items are features other combat jackets have used. Sleeve pockets are more accessible if the soldier is prone or wearing body armour.
Many field jackets are too warm. It is preferable to have an unlined, or partially lined and add additional clothes beneath if it is cold. Multiple, thin garments can be dried more easily than a lesser number of thicker, lined garments.
Size is another feature to consider when selecting a field jacket. You want to get it at least a size bigger than your bush shirt. This gives room for air to circulate in hot weather and space to wear warm clothing beneath in the cold. For the same reasons, the shirt you wear beneath your field coat needs room for several layers of underwear if needed.