Hori‑Hori for Survival

One of the many things that became apparent after the American Civil War was that the infantryman needed a means to quickly construct earthworks.

“Hardtack and Coffee” informs us that the quartermaster of the army had wagons of intrenching tools [sic] that were supposed to be supplied to units that needed them.

In practice, there was seldom time to send for these tools, and infantrymen resorted to digging with their tin plates or muckets.

As you can see, there were attempts to modify spike bayonets for the role.

One of the solutions offered after the war was the Rice trowel bayonet, which began to see trials in the late 1860s.

Available on-line is a document detailing the findings of the trails.

While a few officers expressed reservations, the opinion of the enlisted men and many other officers was overwhelmingly positive.

The document describes “rifle-proof” parapets being constructed in as little as nine minutes.

This would be impressive, even with larger modern tools.

The trowel bayonet was clearly superior to the improvised means the troops had been using before.

It also had sufficient size, heft and edge that it could be used to cut saplings and branches, something beyond the current spike bayonet.

Many believed the large, spear-like blade would make a better bayonet than the spike bayonet.

Breech-loading rifles were coming into service, and many were of the opinion that the bayonet might be becoming obsolete. If it wasn’t quite as good a bayonet as the weapon it replaced, this was tolerable and its greater utility made up for this.

The main objection to the trowel bayonet was that troops might be tempted to dig with it while it was mounted on the rifle. This was likely to bend the barrel, damage the muzzle or block the bore. (One reviewer does point out that the trowel was a less effective digging tool used in this way, so the practice will be rare. Someone was bound to try it, however).

Shortly after the introduction of the trowel bayonet it was replaced with a trowel knife. This probably had a better grip than the trowel bayonet, but its rounded tip gives it a less war-like appearance and possibly it was of less utility as a hand weapon. 

Bayonets continued to evolve, but along different lines.
The next step was the sword-bayonet, intended to serve as bayonet or hanger.
Some infantry had carried both bayonets and hangers. Napoleon’s guard around 1815 spring to mind as an example.
By the 1880s, most infantry had long since discarded the hanger, so effectively the sword bayonet was replacing an implement that was no longer carried. Nonetheless, many armies entered the 20th century with sword bayonets, and would be using them until the 1940s at least.
The idea of letting the infantry have their very own entrenching tools had taken root, however.
Infantry entrenching tools got bigger and more sophisticated until they reached the form we know today.
As has been discussed before on this blog, some of these tools are overkill for the non-military user.
It is a hygienic cathole, rather than atomic-proof foxhole, that we generally need.
There are little plastic trowels, of course, but these are not much use for anything else. The trowel bayonet suggests a relatively small digging tool can be a useful survival aid. Is there a modern equivalent?

Seeking to answer this took me to discover the hori‑hori.
In another blog I described how I had seen machetes used as jack of all trades by gardeners in Jamaica.
The hori‑hori is a similar device, but more compact. Not surprisingly, these are Japanese.
The ninja put a similar digging tool, the kunai, to various uses.
The hori‑hori were originally used for gathering wild foods, so technically are already survival tools. A variety of models of hori‑hori are available, but the one I have has a 7 inch blade, so more compact than the 10 by 4 inch blade of the original trowel bayonets.
One edge is serrated, the other can be used to chop or cut, or will be once I sharpen it. (The packaging says it comes “razor sharp”, which apparently means “unsharpened”.)
The blade is a broad spearpoint, with one side slightly concave, as suits its digging role.
Mine came with a nice condura sheath.
Unlike many survival knives, this is a tool the makers recommend that you can pry with.
Price is a bit more than a normal trowel, but this can be offset against the fact that many gardeners think they do not need many tools other than their hori‑hori.
On the other hand, compared to many survival knives and tools, the price is very reasonable.
Make sure that you do not buy a mini‑hori‑hori by mistake! Mine has a blade of 18 x 4.5 cm. I also recommend a stainless steel bladed example. The mirror finish on the blade may have applications for signaling.
The hori‑hori seems a pretty useful tool to have along on a trip or stored in an emergency kit. A useful backup or replacement for a survival knife.

LBE, M-1956

My friend Ralph Zumbro had often referenced “the Pentomic division”, so recently I read “The Pentomic Era” by A. C. Bacevich. This provides an interesting insight into the politics and mindset that was behind this phase of Army history.

What the book does not provide is much detail on the actual organization of the Pentomic divisions. Thus, a few nights ago I could be found wading through an on-line copy of “Infantry”, 1957-1958.

One thing I came across was an article (p.34, April-June 1958) on the new “universal, individual load-carrying system.”.
Although the designation is not used, this is the M-1956 system that served in Vietnam and was replaced by what was essentially a nylon version.
What caught my eye was the author divided the soldier’s load into three groupings: Battle load, existence load and protection and comfort load.
“Combat load” was the battle and existence loads,
“Full field load” was all three.
Before entering “close combat” the soldier could jettison the existence load “except bayonet or fighting knife, first-aid pouch and other essential items”.
What were these loads?
The battle load was defined as the individual’s weapon and ammunition and weighed 25 lb. This was still the era of the M1 Garand, although the M14 was just coming into service.
The existence load included emergency rations, medical items, canteen and canteen cup, toilet articles, one pair of socks, poncho and bayonet or fighting knife, and weighed 20 lbs.
The comfort load included a sleeping bag, extra clothing and “personal gear” and weighed 10 lbs.
The existence load was carried in the combat pack. Presumably the protection and comfort items could be stored in the sleeping bag carrier.
An illustration in the article declares that clothing and other personal items can be carried inside the sleeping bag roll.
Oddly, it shows a shaving kit as existence load, which you would think was a toiletry and comfort or personal.
Thus either load could be removed by just releasing a few clips. Full field load was therefore 55 lbs. Compare this to the 1877 load in a previous article.

The idea of dividing and packaging the gear as several categories is interesting, although some of the details can be challenged.

Why is the bayonet/ knife and first-aid pouch not part of the battle load? These would probably be carried on the webbing anyway, so would not be jettisoned with the combat pack/existence load.

One of the canteens on the webbing and part of the battle load makes sense, but the canteen cup is less vital and should be a pack item. 

Essentially this approach has the soldier carrying two packs, the contents of each having different functions and different priorities.
You can create a similar system by having a large pack and one or more smaller packs that clips onto or fits in the larger.
It is a set of ideas to play around with.

Kephart: Dressing for Cold Weather

Following the description on Kephart’s Autumn Outfit, I will add his recommendations for dressing for cold weather:

Cold Weather Clothing.— The main fault of most cold weather rigs is that, paradoxically, they -re too hot. You go out into '“twenty-some-odd” below zero, all muffled up in thick underwear, overshirt, heavy trousers, and a 32-ounce (to the yard) Mackinaw coat. Very nice, until you get your stride. In half an hour the sweat will be streaming from you enough to turn a mill. By and by you may have to stand still for quite a while. Then the moisture begins to freeze, and a buffalo robe wouldn’t keep you warm. Conditions vary ; but for average winter work put on two suits of medium weight all-wool underwear, instead of one heavy one, moleskin trousers (heavy Mackinaws chafe), wool overshirt, Mackinaw shirt worn with tail outside, so it can easily be removed and worn behind you when not needed, the rubber “overs” and socks mentioned above, a Mackinaw cap with visor and ear flaps, large, old kid gloves, and thick, woolen mittens held by a cord around the neck. In buying Mackinaws get none but the best quality. Cheap Mackinaw is shoddy, or part cotton, and soaks up moisture like a sponge. A good grade sheds rain so long as the nap is not worn off; then it can be waterproofed by the lanolin process. It is noiseless, and stands rough usage. The natural gray color is best, except where the law requires you to wear red for protection against gun-bearing fools. (About this, saith our friend Crossman: “Yes, some fellow might take you for a deer if you wore an inconspicuous color in the woods, but what would you? He’d take you for a zebra if you wore green and yellow, or shoot you for a forest fire it you wore flaming crimson.”)
In the previous section referenced to above Kephart writes:
Rubber Footwear.— I never wear waders for summer trout fishing, but early spring fishing is a different matter. Wading stockings require special hobnailed shoes to go over them. I prefer a pair of light hip boots and separate wading sandals studded with nails. This combination costs less than the other, is more durable, and the boots by themselves are serviceable for general wet weather wear, marsh shooting, and the like. Light rubber boots of first-class quality will last as long as the common heavy ones, and have the advantage that the legs can be turned inside out clear to the ankle for drying. They need not weigh over 3 or 3½ pounds to the pair, and the sandals a pound more — together no more than the high-topped leather boots that I have been objurgating. Have them large enough for both socks and oversocks, then your feet are not likely to get “scalded”. Carry a couple of “eezy-quick” menders, and have a rubber repair kit among your possibles in camp.
For hunting big game In wet snow and slush the best footwear is a pair of rubber shoes with ten-inch leather uppers, weighing a bit over two pounds. They should have heels, if you go into a hilly country, and rough corrugated soles. Dress the feet with soft woolen socks, and over these draw a pair of long, thick “German socks” that strap at the top. The latter are warmer than the loose felt boots worn by lumbermen, lighter, more flexible, fit better, and are easier to dry out. The rubbers should fit properly over the heavy socks, neither too tight nor too loose, but especially not too tight or you risk frostbite! Thus equipped, a still-hunter is “shod with silence.” For cold weather the vital necessity is suppleness of the foot, and here you have it.


When it comes to the Indian Wars, it is the cavalry that gets the glory and screen-time. In reality, the infantry or “walk-a-heaps” (as Sioux are reported to have called them) played a significant role. Prolonged travel tires horses. Over a period of weeks seasoned infantry can outdistance cavalry or other horse-mounted raiders.
It seems some of the lessons learnt during the War between States were retained. I came across this interesting passage in the Osprey book “Men-at-Arms 063: The American Indian Wars 1860-1890”
An 18th Infantry captain, Anson Mills, at Fort Bridger in 1866 had his post saddler make leather looped belts for his men, personally obtaining a patent on the idea. In late 1876 the Ordnance Department, which had consistently preferred boxes to belts, finally gave in to popular pressure and had 30,000 canvas and leather 'prairie' cartridge belts made at 1sWatervliet Arsenal. By then virtually no cartridge boxes had been used out West for a number of years.
This light-weight belt had another advantage, besides bringing in a fair sum of royalties to Captain Mills. It reduced the fighting man's load. The Indian-fighting infantryman became one of the lightest loaded soldiers in the world. Lieutenant W B. Weir in 1877 listed an infantryman's full field equipment load as:
60 rounds ammunition and belt 5.40 lbs
overcoat 5.25 lbs
blanket (grey wool) 5.13 lbs
rubber blanket (ground cloth) 3.00 lbs
Springfield rifle and sling (bayonet ommitted from this list) 8.40 lbs
extra clothes 2.00 lbs
full canteen (one quart) 3.84 lbs
five rations: 3/4 lbs meat and 1 1b hardtack per day 8.75 lbs
Total 41.77 lbs (18.79 kg)
Officers, who generally carried a pistol and often some sort of rifle, carried about the same weight. Sometimes the men went even lighter, as shown in General Field Orders No. 2. Department of Dakota, 10 August 1876, in an anti-Sioux campaign: 'No tents whatever will be carried, no companv property, no cooking utensils except tin cups, no. bedding (except one blanket per man) … 100 rounds of ammunition (per man) …Everv infantry officer and man will carry with him two days' cooked rations.'
Osprey “Men-at-Arms 438: US Infantry in the Indian Wars 1865-91” notes: “Most infantrymen on campaign preferred to leave their packs behind at barracks, and carried personal items rolled in blankets slung around their bodies. When the 5th Infantry were ordered on campaign in July 1876. each soldier took only a blanket, a shelter-half, an extra pair of shoes and one change of underwear, plus weapons and ammunition. Sibley tents, iron stoves and other unit gear were carried in company wagons; more lightly equipped columns used pack mules.”
No information on how many wagons a company had is given, but “Hardtack and Coffee” informs us that each ACW Union Infantry company would have two wagons and five for the Regimental HQ.
Men at Arms 438 provides the information that companies were small units compared to modern versions:

Each of the post-July 1866 regiments of infantry was to be composed of one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, one major, one adjutant and one regimental quartermaster (both of the latter being extra first or second lieutenants), one sergeant-major, one quartermaster sergeant, one commissary sergeant, one hospital steward, two principal musicians, and ten companies. Each infantry company consisted of one captain, one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, one first sergeant, one quartermaster sergeant, four sergeants, eight corporals, two artificers, two musicians, one wagoner and 50 privates. The number of privates in a company could be increased to 100 when needed.

Note that only one wagoner is listed. Later on in this section it is stated the average size of a company would be 35 men. The company was the key operational unit. If a company was relatively small, the platoon level was omitted. A platoon had two sections, each of two or more squads. Typically a squad would be a corporal and seven privates. Interestingly, military reformer Emory Upton proposed soldiers manoeuvre and skirmish in units of four, so squads might be further divided.


Kephart's Autumn Outfit

I was certain I had posted Kephart’s list for cold weather trips. Apparently not, so here it is. For many decades I unsuccessfully tried to find out what “German socks” were. Thanks to the catalogue here the mystery is finally solved!
This version of the Autumn outfit is taken from the 1921 version of Camping and Woodcraft, Vol.2 p.143-6:

Kephart: The man who goes out alone for a week or so in the fall of the year, or at an altitude where the nights always are cold, should be fit to carry on his back from 40 to 50 pounds at the outset—of course the pack lightens as he consumes rations. I am not including weight of gun, cleaning implements, and ammunition. He should wear woolen underwear of medium weight, thick and soft woolen socks, army overshirt, kersey or moleskin trousers, leather belt with pockets (not loops) for clips [sic. more likely chargers or stripper-clips than clips] or loose cartridges, hunting shoes of medium height for ordinary use, felt hat, and, at times, buckskin gloves.

In his pack there would be a spare suit of underwear and hose, a cruiser or “stag” shirt of best Mackinaw, moccasins or leather-topped rubbers, and German socks.
In pockets and on the belt he would carry the same articles mentioned in my summer* hiking list.

A mere shelter cloth is too breezy for this season (there will be no opportunity to build a thatched camp, as the hunter will be on the move from day to day). He needs a half-pyramid tent, say of the Royce pattern (Vol.I., pp.85-91) but somewhat smaller, and weighing not over 4 pounds.

Bedding is the problem; a man carrying his all upon his back, in cold weather, must study compactness as well as lightness of outfit. Here the points are in favor of sleeping-bag vs. blankets, because, for a given insulation against cold and draughts, it may be so made as to save bulk as well as weight. For a pedestrian it need not be so roomy as the standard ones, especially at the foot end. Better design one to suit yourself, and have an outfitter make it up to order, if you have no skill with the needle. An inner bag of woolen blanketing, an outer one of knotted wool batting, and a separate cover of cravenetted khaki or Tanalite—the weight need not be over 8 pounds complete. Your campfire will do the rest.
A browse bag is dispensed with, for you will carry an axe and can cut small logs to hold in place a deep layer of such soft stuff as the location affords.
The short axe may be of Hudson Bay or Damascus pattern. There should be a small mill file to keep it in order, besides the whetstone.
The ration list is based on. the assumption that the hunter’s rifle will supply him, after the first day or two, with at least a pound of fresh meat a day. If it does not, go elsewhere.

There are plenty of good ways to cook without boiling, stewing, or roasting in an oven (see Vol.I.), which are processes that require vessels too bulky for a foot traveler to bother with.

Either the Whelen pack sack or a large Duluth one will carry the whole outfit. Both have the advantage that they can be drawn up to smaller dimensions as the pack decreases in size, or for carrying the day’s supplies when most of the outfit is cached at or near camp.
The following outfit is complete, save for gun, ammunition and cleaning implements.
For a longer trip than one week, a reserve of provisions can be cached at some central point in the hunting district.

Pack sack, with tump strap…2lb 12oz
Pillow bag*…3oz
Rubber cape*…1lb 5oz
Mackinaw stag shirt…1lb 8oz
Spare underwear, 1 suit…1lb 8oz
Spare socks, 2 pairs…5oz
German socks…12oz
Axe and muzzle…1lb 12oz
Cooking kit, dish towel, tin cup*…2lb 2oz
Cheese cloth…2oz
Mill file, 6 in…2oz
Wallet, fitted*…6oz
Toilet articles*…6oz
Talcum powder*…2oz
Toilet paper*…1oz
First aid kit*…5oz
Spare matches, in tin…6oz
Alpina folding lantern…8oz
Candles, ½ doz…8oz
Emergency ration [probably the “camper’s emergency ration” mentioned on p.167]…8oz
Tobacco, in wpf. bag…8
Spare pipe…3

Total pack without provisions …28lb 120z

One Week’s Rations (not including fresh meat)
Baking powder…4oz
Meal, cereal…1lb oz8
Milk powder…8oz
Egg powder…8oz
Dried apricots, prunes…1lb
Total [weight of food]…13lb 6oz
Provision bags, etc…10oz

Pack complete…42lb 12oz

The articles starred (*) are same as in summer hiking list already given.
Moccasins are to be large enough to fit over the German socks. This foot-gear is used in still hunting in dry weather, and on cold nights. The camper sleeps, when it is frosty, in fresh underwear and socks, army shirt (dried before the fire after the day’s use), trousers, stag shirt, neckerchief rigged as hood, German socks, and moccasins. When he has to get up to replenish the fire, or in case of any alarm, he springs from his bed attired cap-a-pie.

Camouflage: Does Size Matter?

This particular train of thought probably started as I was watching Westworld. In one scene we see a parked truck, as shown below:

Geometric urban camouflage patterns are nothing new, of course. What is notable about this example is the use of obliques, and the size of the elements used. The pattern appeared even more effective on the show than it does in the still. My eye kept losing parts of the shape and I had to remind myself that I was looking at a truck.
I have reached the conclusion that shape-disruption is one of the most important properties of a camouflage, and that this is where so many modern camouflage schemes fail. To hide a man we must first stop him appearing man-shaped.
The other day I happened across a booklet I have called “Camouflage Simply Explained” by Lt.-Col. Cyril H. Smith. Leafing through it I came across a statement that hiding an objects shape required bold patterns. The section on personal camouflage draws from Langdon-Davies, but the pattern illustrated by Smith is different from the one Langdon-Davies suggests for field and forest. As you can see, it uses large, bold elements.

This pattern is similar to those given by Langdon-Davies for rocky and urban terrain. Bold patterns, using proportional large elements.
Smith also addresses the camouflage of RAF aircraft, which also shows bold, large elements. These patterns were used well into the jet age. Similar patterns are used by some Russian ground vehicles. 

RAF patterns were painted adhering to a template, so all aircraft of the same type should have an identical pattern (although in the early part of the Second World War the pattern was mirrored for even-numbered aircraft).
I don’t know how these schemes were arrived at, but observe:
  • Band width loosely approximates the height of the fuselage.
  • Bands may branch.
  • Bands are oblique
  • Bands typically divide a wing or fuselage into between four and eight parts. This may be more on long-bodied aircraft.
Looking for similar camouflage schemes turned up some interesting images:

The last three are interesting, since they may be the first ever camouflage jackets known by the term. Created by the artist Louis Guingot, the pattern was called “Léopard”. Only five examples were made. Shows good contrast between the elements and uses natural-looking hues of green and brown. Could teach many latter efforts a thing or two!

Some charming attempts at Langdon-Davies’ sniper suits. He would not approve of the separate eyeholes and pink flesh visible, however!
Curious, I performed a little experiment using a pattern I generated. Like most modern camouflages, the pattern is too green, but will serve to investigate the effects of element size. The same pattern was resized so that it was 250, 350, 500, 600, 750 and 1000 pixels square. Results suggest that even larger elements may be more effective.


Field Jacket Features

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.
The term “field jacket”, “combat jacket” etc can be ambivalent. In some instances it refers to the primary outermost layer of an outfit, which may be a tunic or shirt-like garment. In other instances it refers to a garment intended to be worn over your primary clothing.
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/overgarment needs room for several layers of underwear if needed.

Victorian Shades of Grey

Today I came across an interesting thread on a forum.
This establishes that khaki (beige)/drab uniforms had been adopted for their resemblance to mud or dirt rather than vegetation.

Further down were two intriguing extracts:

The article from The Times reports some experiments performed to study the effect of uniform colour on visibility. The term “camouflage” would not be coined until the First World War.
The recommendation is for the adoption of a tunic, trousers, greatcoat and helmet cover in the grey then currently worn by the 3rd Devonshire Volunteers (3rd Devonshire Artillery Volunteer Corps?).
A tunic of scarlet, blue or green would be worn with the dress uniform and one of grey used for undress and active service.
More practical might have been to issue the home service helmet in grey and have a more decorated cover for parade wear.
I have been unable to determine how light a shade of grey this was, nor if it was a “warmer” or “cooler” grey.
The suggestion that existing white equipment be stained with an umber solution may imply that it was a warmer shade.
The shade of brown the equipment would have dyed is also unknown. Presumably this was of a similar shade to the grey.
I like the thought that evidently went into this report. Since grey will go with nearly anything, a smarter uniform can be created by just changing tunic colour.
Grey Home Service Helmet
Some volunteer regiments already wore grey home service helmets.
The second extract (shown first on the original page) is an account of a discussion in the House of Commons that predates The Times article and may have inspired the experiments reported.
Soldiers of the Rifle Brigade are described in the report as wearing black when their uniform is actually dark green with black equipment. Although the dark green rifle uniform is often attributed to being a form of camouflage, it was unlikely to be so in practice in terrain other than dark forests.
Of particular note in this extract is the discussion of poorly designed uniforms that restrict the soldier.
Jump forward to just before World War Two and you will hear similar discussions.
Then again in the 1970s and 80s.
And if we now look at modern combat wear, we still see overly tailored uniforms that restrict movement, air-circulation and provide poor camouflage.

There were, apparently, some efforts to adopt grey uniforms and in at least one campaign both khaki and grey were used by the British Army. Note that some illustrations show combinations of grey and khaki. Also note references to stained “off-white” equipment.
Shown above is a Coldstream Guards uniform from the Sudan campaign.
The suggestions about dying white equipment seem to have been only partly observed, however, and presumably buckles and buttons were still polished.
It is worth noting that later designs of military uniform covered buttons with a fly front, like a paletot coat.
Indian-based units (the greater part of the British Army) seem to have already adopted khaki.
Khaki uniforms seem to have been cotton drill, while grey were woolen serge.
Which would have been adopted would have been of considerable economic interest to the cotton and wool producers of the Empire.
Wool production was mainly within the British Isles, while cotton production was in the overseas areas of the Empire.
History suggests the cotton growers had the more influence.
So, with a few twists of fate, the familiar image of the Victorian soldier in khaki with white equipment might have been in grey, with umber equipment and bronze buckles. 
Perhaps the army might have adopted grey serge for temperate climes and cotton khaki for hotter postings. Or use grey trousers and greatcoat with a khaki service tunic.
Some other armies of the time issued “summer” and “winter” tunics, often of different shades and cloth types.
The Times of March 29th, 1883:
The report of the Colour Committee appointed by the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief to consider and report what colour, suitable for military uniform, is least conspicuous, was published yesterday as a Parliamentary paper. The Instructions given to the Committee were as follows:
"Having regard to the increased range of rifled arms and the consequent exposure to troops to fire at great distances, that exposure of troops to fire at great distances, that exposure continuing and being enhanced as they approach the enemy, it is desirable that Her Majesty's forces on active service should wear uniform of the colour ascertained to be the least conspicuous.
"It is observed that the use of a neutral colour – Khakee – is general in India, and at the same time that at least four colours are generally worn by Her Majesty's troops elsewhere, each of these (except, perhaps, in the case of the green worn by the Rifles) having been adopted without reference to their greater or less visibility.
"It appears, under these circumstances, desirable that, in the first instance, before the question is discussed with reference to other considerations, a scientific enquiry should take place as to the comparative visibility of different colours suitable for military uniform in the field.
"His Royal Highness has recommended to the Secretary of State that two or more persons of undoubted scientific authority on the question of this character should be invited to co-operate with a small number of officers with a view to carry out any practical experiments which may be necessary for the complete discussion and utilization of known facts on this subject.
"A committee composed as follows: President. – Lieutenant-General Sir. G.J. Wolseley, G.C.B.,G.C.M.G.; members – Major-General R.B. Hawley, O.B.; Major-General J.H.F. Elkington, O.B.; Director of Clothing – has been appointed to consider this question.
"Professors Abel and Stokes will co-operate with the Committee, and as the utility of the enquiry will depend upon the nature of the questions submitted to these gentlemen, it is recommended that this should be arranged with one or both of them beforehand.
"The Committee will cause experiments to be made as to the visibility of various colours, and the relative merits of – scarlet, green, blue, khakee, and gray (warm or cold shade); and report what colour suitable for military uniform is under all the ordinary conditions of war, the least conspicuous.
"Supposing the colour found to be the least conspicuous is not scarlet, green, or blue, does it possess such advantages over those colours that the Committee would recommend its general adoption.
"It is recommended that the practical experiments necessary to test the various colours had better be carried out at Aldershot.
The following is the report of the Committee:
"On the termination of the experiments by the scientific members of the Committee and on the rendering of their report, the Committee desire to lay before the Secretary of State the conclusion to which they have come, after careful consideration of that report.
"In accordance with the instructions of his Royal Highness the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, at the first meeting of the Committee Professors Abel & Stokes were consulted on the best means of carrying out the scientific inquiry as to the comparative visibility of different colours suitable for military uniform in the field. A detailed account of these experiments will be found in their report, which is submitted herewith.
"It may be briefly stated that a series of experiments were carried out under varying conditions of weather, atmosphere, surroundings, and background – the object being to make them as exhaustive as possible. Various members of the Committee were present during these experiments, which were under the immediate superintendence of Professors Abel and Stokes.
"The result was to eliminate all the colours at present used in the dress of the Army, and the glaring conspicuousness of white and scarlet was at once evident.
"On the other hand, the neutral colours, more particularly the Indian 'Khakee' and certain volunteer grays, were indistinct even at short distances, and, in comparison with the Army colours, all but invisible at long ranges.
"The question was in the end narrowed down to a shade of gray, which, besides its character of invisibility, stands exposure to rain and sun without fading.
"The Committee recommend that this gray (now worn by the 3rd Devon Volunteers) should be adopted as the service dress of the Army.
"As it would, however, be unadvisable to break entirely with the traditions attached to the red uniform of the British Army, the Committee recommend that red or scarlet (and blue or green for corps wearing those colours) should be retained for full dress; but that on all other occasions the gray should take the place of the present undress. By this arrangement the Committee think the advantages, as recruiting, to be gained from an attractive uniform will be retained, while at the same time men and officers will become familiar with a colour which, there can be no question, is the best for active service. The Committee consider that the greatcoats and trousers should be of this gray colour, and that a gray helmet cover should also be issued.
"Intimately connected with the question of the colour of the uniform is that of pipeclayed belts and white haversacks. White, under all but very exceptional circumstances, is the most conspicuous colour of all, and it would avail little to substitute gray for scarlet if the white accoutrements are retained. By the use of an umber colouring (of a similar nature to pipeclay) the belts may be made nearly invisible at a distance, and its employment permits their colour being changed at will.
"This colouring, as prepared by Professor Abel, has been practically tried and found to answer remarkably well. The Committee therefore recommend its general adoption throughout the Army, the umber belts to be worn at all times on active service.
"The haversack, instead of being of white material, should be of the same colour as the belts.
"No practical test was made as to the conspicuousness of the shining metal portions of the soldier's uniform and accoutrements, but it is evident that in sunlight these would attract the eye, and so weaken the advantage gained by the use of gray uniform and brown belts. The Committee therefore recommend that all ornaments, buttons, &c., of the gray uniform should be bronze, and not polished; and that on active service a brown lacquer should be applied to the bayonets, metal scabbards, and all other bright portions of the accoutrements.
"G.J. WOLSELEY, A.G., President
"GEORGE D. RAMSAY, Director of Clothing.
"F.A. Abel.
"H.C. REYNOLDS, Major, D.A.Q.M.G., Secretary
"July 25, 1882."
OBSERVATIONS.HC Deb 13 March 1882 vol 267 cc781-5:
§ COLONEL BARNE rose to call attention to the dress of the Army, and said, that, had the Forms of the House permitted, he should have been glad to have moved the following Resolution:— ‘That the present conspicuous colour and tight-fitting Dress of the Army interferes with the efficiency of the soldier and causes the unnecessary loss of many valuable lives.’ He had brought forward the subject last year, when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War admitted that a change ought to be made in this respect, and suggested that he should bring the matter on when the Estimates for Soldiers' Clothing were discussed. He regretted that he had not done so; but when the time came two-thirds of the House were absent, and he deferred bringing the subject forward, in the hope that it would receive a more satisfactory discussion than it could have obtained last year. Nothing had yet been done in the matter, and he should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman really intended carrying out what he had said? He did not complain of want of alteration in the uniform of the Army, because those changes had been frequent, and he knew that some of the small alterations which had been made had been of a vexatious character, and had been the cause of great expense to officers. Last year the right hon. Gentleman ordered the stars to be removed from the collars of the officers to their shoulder straps, and this slight change, which did no good whatever, cost each officer in the Guards about £20. The other day he was talking to an old Militia officer, who told him that since the year 1852 his headdress had been changed no fewer than eight times. His (Colonel Barne's) complaint was that the alterations were made in an entirely wrong direction. First, with regard to the colours worn, it had been found by the Emperor Napoleon that the most conspicuous were white, black, gamboge, and then scarlet; thus, the dress of our Army was composed of the most conspicuous colours that could be found. The Rifles, for instance, who ought to be the least visible, were clothed in black, which was the second most conspicuous colour. Modern warfare consisted largely of battles between two lines of skirmishers, each armed with weapons of precision, so that the loss of life was necessarily conspicuous amongst the more conspicuous body. This was proved by the experience of our men in the conflict with the Boers in South Africa, and more recently by the testimony of the Austrians in Herzegovina. Our losses in the Transvaal War were, generally speaking, due to the superior marksmanship of the Boers, and their ability to pick out our men, whereas the English soldiers complained that they could see nothing of the enemy except their heads. It was found that the grey dress of the Rifles was far less conspicuous. That colour was also advocated by Military and Volunteer officers who had tested the point. He also advocated a change of colour on the ground of economy, for the scarlet dye took the oil out of the wool and impaired its durability. He objected to the tight-fitting tunic, because it did not allow the lungs to expand in a natural way when a man began to ascend a hill, or to do any kind of hard work. The regulation trouser was also objectionable, because it gave an immense drag at the knee, especially if it got wet through. He should like to see the British troops dressed in a Norfolk jacket, breeches loose at the knee, and gaiters, with a light helmet, which would not impede the men in their work. He could not move the Resolution of which he had given Notice; but he had ventured to bring the subject under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, in the hope that he would consider it, and make a move, if possible, in the direction indicated.
§ LORD ELCHO said, he entirely agreed with the hon. and gallant Member who had just sat down (Colonel Barne), that an unnecessary expenditure had been thrown upon officers by the alteration in the collar and shoulder straps, also that soldiers should wear a dress thoroughly adapted to the work they had to do, and did not think he could add anything to what he had said. As to the question of expense entailed by the changes in the uniform, such as altering the mark of rank from the collar to a shoulder strap, he believed the cost to an officer involved by the renewal of uniform in accordance with the changes was about £20, which he was bound to say was a very unnecessary expenditure. As regarded the question of convenience and comfort in the matter of uniform, he was an advocate of easy clothing, as the movements of a soldier should not be constrained by his uniform. The clothing of the hard-working navvies was loose, and they wore a strap under the knee to prevent the dragging of the trousers. He believed it was a fact that if two men, equal in all other respects, were set to walk, one dressed in knickerbockers or a kilt, and the other in the present uniform of a soldier, in course of the day the former would very considerably outwalk the other; and, besides, trousers were not so fitted for work as other descriptions of clothing. The Secretary of State for War was the person really responsible for the efficiency of the uniform; and he wondered how his right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for War, who was a most kind and indulgent man, and about as sensible a one as he (Lord Elcho) was acquainted with, when he went down every day to his office could bear to see the sentries with trousers so tight at the knees and baggy below, that it seemed impossible for them to go up and down hill without splitting them. The trousers were, in fact, the very reverse of what they ought to be. It was the custom to ridicule the "peg-tops" worn by the French troops; but they were much more sensible than the trousers of the English soldier. Then, in the Cavalry, the clothes were so tight that the men could hardly mount, and only did so at imminent risk of splitting their trousers. He hoped his right hon. Friend would give his attention to these matters, which were by no means trivial, but essential to the welfare and efficiency of the Army, and would see especially that good and efficient leggings were supplied. He would now turn to the question of colour. As regards the colour, the War Office Volunteer Committee had reported in favour of the Volunteers being clothed in red. He had on his right his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berkshire (Sir Robert Loyd Lindsay), who was a Member of that Committee. He was a great advocate of scarlet, and, having won his Victoria Cross in red, naturally thought there was no colour like scarlet for the British soldier. But he (Lord Elcho) did not share in that partiality, and he therefore obtained permission for the regiment he commanded to retain their old grey uniform; and he hoped that, instead of the whole Force being put into red, they would be turned into grey. When the Army went to India, the soldiers were dressed in a uniform khaki or dust colour, and in the Ashantee campaign the dress of the London Scottish was adopted. At the time of the Edinburgh Volunteer Review, he met Sir Frederick Roberts, after he had been round looking at the troops as they were drawn up, and that officer said— ‘I only wish an order would come out that within five years every Volunteer should be clothed in grey instead of red. I am so struck with grey as being a very much better colour than red.’ He (Lord Elcho) had great hopes that, instead of all the Volunteers becoming red, there was some chance from some thing he had heard—and perhaps his right hon. Friend would tell the House if he was right—that the working dress of the Army would be made grey. He was told that experiments were being made at the present with a view of testing what really was the effect of colour at distances in Woolwich marshes and elsewhere. With the small Army we were able to put into the held these were matters of the greatest importance, for it simply meant whether in action a greater or less proportion of our men were to be hit or not. Recently, wishing to try some experiments with a range finder, and sighting a Martini-Henry rifle, he had a target erected at 2,000 yards distance. Had that target been grey, he would not have seen it at the distance; but he covered it with red Turkey twill, and saw it flaming at the other end like a danger signal on a railway. To give them an idea of the accuracy of the weapon, every shot from that distance would have gone into a space not larger than the Palace Yard, or into a regiment in column. Whether they could see men or not at that distance, would depend on the colour of their dress; and with the view of effecting a saving of life, as well as on the score of convenience and comfort, the question of uniform was one which should be thoroughly gone into.
§ MR. CHILDERS said, he was sure no Member of the House would complain of the character of the remarks which the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Barne) and his noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had made. He must, however, take exception to one of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member about small alterations of uniform, and especially about the change made above a year ago in the marks on the collar and shoulder strap denoting rank. For these he (Mr. Childers) was not responsible; but he had clearly informed the House last year that henceforward the Secretary of State would be responsible for changes in uniform, and to this declaration he adhered. As to the particular object of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, he quite agreed in his general position that, putting colour aside, the fighting uniform of a soldier should be as appropriate for fighting as the shooting dress of a sportsman or gamekeeper was for the pursuit of game. In one respect the authorities were hardly responsible for undue tightness of dress, which they did not encourage, and which was the result often of commanding officers wanting their men to look smarter, and tightening their tunics. On the question of colour, he proposed to offer some explanation, when they were in Committee, as part of his general statement. He would only say now, that there was more to consider than the mere question of greater or less visibility, important as that was as a factor in the case.