The Service Kit of the Infantry Soldier (1901)

By Major G.W.W. SAVILE, Middlesex Regiment
United Service Magazine, Vol. XXII (New Series), Apr to Sep 1901

I lately read a most interesting article in the United Service Magazine on certain articles of the soldier's equipment, and as it is a subject that I am much interested in, and regarding which I have invited N.C. officers and men to give me their ideas on the different articles of clothing and equipment now issued to them and also any improvements they would suggest after their experience of using the things during the present war; I therefore venture to forward our combined views on the subject with the object of inviting discussion and obtaining suggestions from a larger circle of all ranks—in the hope that we may see some of these "suggestions" carried out in the coming Army Reform.

Equipment—All ranks seem unanimous in condemning the present valise equipment, and the majority propose the adoption of a brown leather bandolier and bandolier belt, each holding fifty rounds with a leather cap over every five or ten rounds to prevent them falling out. The bandolier belt should be fastened by a large buckle like the Sam Brown belt and the shoulder-bandolier by a small strap at the side to keep it steady.

Brown leather is better than the new webbing bandolier. The only web belt that I have seen had this fault, that the weight of the cartridges stretched the webbing and as there was no cap or covering over any of the cartridges they naturally fell out, [Footnoted: See "Sundries" U.S.M. Feb. 1901. The fault complained of did not appear to apply to the bandolier described therein.—Ed. U.S.M.] which is one of the faults of the present pouches. A great advantage claimed for the belt and bandolier is, that the weight is more evenly divided over the whole body instead of resting on the liver and spleen as in the present equipment which I have found very trying when sleeping with the equipment on. This still leaves a difficulty as to how the other fifty rounds should be carried, which are served out before going into action, but here I would suggest that they should be carried in a pocket in the haversack for which an improved and stronger description is proposed. For company officers and sergeants, whose time is best taken up looking after their men firing and watching the shots, less rounds are consequently necessary, and I think a pouch might be worn on the belt to carry their field-glasses, which should be served out to all section commanders, say four pair of field-glasses per company.

The valise should be abolished as useless; we have not seen one since the war began, all these having been sent back to the base, but in its place a small canvas waterproof bag should be substituted—such as is, I believe, served out to men of the Artillery but not to the Infantry. Under existing arrangements a man has no place where he can put his spare shirt and pair of socks except rolled up inside his blanket, where they often get wet through and are liable to fall out. For convenience of packing in carts, these small kit-bags might be placed inside a large bag similar to the tent bag and one be served out for the men of each tent.

Water-bottle—The present enamelled water-bottle covered with felt is too heavy, and is always a weight to carry even when empty. I have found an aluminium one covered with felt a great success in India and South Africa; it is very light and keeps the water nice and cool. I think however it could be improved by fitting a cup on to the bottom with the strap passing round it, the cup should be covered with felt as well, or it would get very hot. A screw stopper would be better than a cork which is apt to wear out and leak. The water-bottle should be large enough to hold a quart and should be hollowed out on the inside to fit against the hip. The bottle should be fastened to the strap by swivels so as to take it off easily to drink out of or to re-fill it. The water-bottle strap should be of webbing, and not leather.

Mess Tin—This is the most useful article the soldier carries, but it could be made lighter if made of aluminium. The drawback to the mess tin is, that if a soldier has to cook a hasty meal, and then continue his march, he must put it on with the black still on it, as it takes some time to clean it off and the black leather mess-tin covers, or khaki covers, soon get lost and were hardly ever seen after the beginning of the campaign. I am told that one of the advantages claimed for the aluminium tins is that the black rubs off quite easily after they have been on the fire, and like the water-bottle they are delightfully light. Of course the aluminium should be thicker than that generally used for cooking-pots to stand the hard usage.

Waterproof Sheet—This has been found most useful by the men in this campaign, not only as a ground sheet but as a waterproof cape. Ever since my regiment gave up carrying their great coats the men have carried the waterproof sheet rolled, and whenever the heavy tropical rainstorms came on, the sheet was used as a cape and tied with a piece of string round the neck. But the fault found was that it was too short to keep the legs dry. I would therefore suggest that the next issue of sheets be made broader, which will also be better when they are used as ground sheets or tentes d'abris, and with a buckle and strap to fasten the sheet as a cape, probably three buckles and three straps would be better still to keep it from blowing open. I think the sheet should be 6 feet 6 inches by 4 feet broad to serve this double purpose.

Head Dress—This is an important item, as it affects one's comfort largely for the whole day long. The present home helmet is a thing of misery and always gives me a headache, all the weight being in front and down on the forehead, owing to the large helmet plate and badge. The Indian khaki helmet is much better in this respect, but with the pointed peak one always has to tilt it back before you can see with your field-glasses, or if you want to fire lying down you generally have first of all to turn your helmet round. The majority of the men are in favour of the slouch hat which certainly is very comfortable and looks smart; but I doubt if it is a sufficient protection against a tropical sun—it certainly would not do in India. But why attempt to have one sort of head dress for all climates? No one does in mufti. Why then try for the impossible in uniform? I am told that when the slouch hat gets thoroughly soaked, the brim is apt to droop over the eyes—and this, if it be the case, offers a serious objection. The Egyptian sun hat worn by officers of a good many regiments seems to be as good as anything, as the brim is well up over the eyes and the weight is very fairly divided over the head. The hat also covers the cars which the helmet does not.

Field Service Caps—The present cap is very useful for wearing in camp and at night, but khaki serge is a more suitable material than cloth.

Forage Cap (Officers).—At present, so far as I know, there is no such cap sanctioned for officers. Why not give them the present staff cap uith a different coloured band? It appears to be a most serviceable cap, and with a khaki cover, is a useful head-gear on service or for manoeuvres.

Haversack.—As the soldier carries everything in this, it should be slightly larger than the present pattern and decidedly stronger. I think a canvas haversack would be better as it should be water-proof to prevent the rations being destroyed as I have found to happen on wet days with the present one. I think four little pockets might be sewn to the back of the haversack with covers to button over, to hold a packet of ammunition each. This with ten rounds in the magazine will make up the one hundred and fifty rounds to be carried. There should also be a division inside the haversack to keep the food separate from other things packed in it.

Clothing: the Coat.—Khaki drill is certainly better as a wearing material than serge which goes at the points, elbows, knees, etc., in no time, but the drill is rather too thin for all the year round wear, and a stouter material for the coat might be found more after the stuff one used to get from Callicut and other missions in India as shikar cloth, which was very strong and warmer than the ordinary drill. The coat should have a loose turn-down collar and with four pockets.

Trousers.—These should not be worn, but breeches, or knicker-bocker breeches, loose at the knee with continuations of the same material down to the socks; such an article can then be worn in camp or at night with or without putties or gaiters. As to material, the breeches having to stand more wear and tear than the coat, they should be made of some kind of corduroy more the class of stuff worn by navvies. This would last for months, whereas with the present serge and drill, how common it is to see men going about in rags. Breeches should be laced and not buttoned.

Whilst on the subject of clothing let me note the great nuisance all metal badges of rank and names of regiments were on the shoulder-straps, as they were always catching in the rifle or sling, besides making it most uncomfortable when the rifle is resting on them; they should be in worsted worked on to the shoulder-straps if worn at all—but why not go back to the old plan of officers wearing their badges of rank on the collar where they could be easily seen, which is just the reverse when on the shoulder, and the name of the regiment worn on a piece of coloured cloth at one or both sides of the helmet? With khaki, buttons should be bronzed and not worn bright.

Boots.—The present ammunition boot is good enough, but the soles should be pegged or rivetted instead of being sewn on; as in kopje climbing the stitches get cut and the soles come off whilst the uppers are still in quite serviceable condition. Boots should be either nailed at the heels and toes or have steel tips, the nailing I think is the best as it prevents slipping on the dry grass. A supply of Blakey's boot patents should always be kept by the regimental shoemakers for hasty repairs.

Gaiters or Putties.—I put gaiters first as I like them best myself, but I know many prefer the putty. For coolness and comfort I found nothing to beat the R.A. Mountain Battery gaiter which laces up the front. This is a capital marching gaiter and will turn spear grass which the putty won't, besides it never comes down or gets too tight whilst the putty often does both.

The Great Coat.—When the soldier carries his great coat he should have it in a sling of a similar pattern to that worn by officers, so as to have it always ready for use when required. For carriage in a sling the great coat can moreover be done up by the soldier without help, whilst this is not so when it is worn on the belt. The material of the military great coat is good enough but the shape is hopelessly out of date. Just take up the Field or Land and Water and see the loose baggy sleeves and sack back of the present comfortable coats for all sporting purposes; then look at the tight sleeves and drawn-in back of the soldier's coat. You may say, "Oh, that is because he has to wear his equipment outside his coat," but surely this is the wrong way to wear them? Give the soldier a good loose coat with champagne-bottle shape sleeves and then he can put it on over everything and be able to use his rifle at the same time without bursting the arms out of the sleeves. Then again, pockets; look at the miserable little pocket the military coat has and compare it with the all-round pocket of the sporting coat which will take a rabbit or anything else. How much more does the soldier require a good lot of pockets when he often has to carry in them everything that won't fit into his haversack! The coat should have more lining down the back to keep the vital organs warm on a cold blowy night. The present cape is useless being too short and might be abolished, as the waterproof sheet cape proposed will serve its place.

The Balaclava cap and a khaki-coloured jersey or Cardigan waistcoat with long sleeves should be served out as articles of clothing to every soldier; they are easily carried and are very useful to slip on when the sun goes down.

The soldier's clasp knife is useful, but do give him a tin-opener [Footnoted: Since writing the above I have seen the last issue of the clasp-knife which is excellent in every way, and "has" a tin-opener, so my suggestion on this heading was in the right direction.—Author.] as part of it; he lives more or less on tinned food during a campaign and generally has to use his bayonet before he can get at it—good bayonet exercise perhaps; but bad for the bayonet.

A small pocket Bible or Testament should be issued to every soldier in place of the large size now given to recruits.

Worsted gloves should be part of the soldier's kit on service as the nights and early mornings in the cold weather are severe. I have seen men wearing socks on their hands at one time when no gloves were procurable.

Boot Laces.—The present leather lace is too weak, all laces should be of porpoise hide, as though more expensive at first they last as long as a pair of boots and are therefore cheaper in the long run; though where efficiency comes in I don't think cheapness should have any weight.

Drawers.—Nearly every man now wears drawers and they were much appreciated when sent out as presents last year. They should form a part of the "free kit."

Knife; Fork and Spoon.—The present knives and forks are useless on service being big to carry and making holes in the haversack. A combination knife and fork should be issued to all men, the spoon either being combined or served out separately. The "dessert spoon" size is the most suitable for all-round use.

The Hold-all is of little if any use and might very well be abolished.

The hair brush, military pattern small size, should be part of the infantry soldier's free kit. It is issued to the other branches so why not to the infantry man?

Enamelled cups were carried by all ranks, from Lord Roberts downwards, in every case where they were procurable. These should certainly form part of the kit and they should be attached to the water-bottle by a swivel-hook.

To sum up, it seems desirable to consider what articles are required by the infantry soldier on service and how they should be carried. I think that the following articles are necessary when starting on a campaign, and would suggest their being transported as follows:—

This I think should be a soldier's kit for peace or war, so that on being ordered on service he has everything at a moment's notice.

Other articles of dress etc. necessary at home, such as tunics, cloth trousers and so on, should be packed and sent to the stores at the depot when a soldier is ordered on service.

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