The British Soldier, 1940
When the United Kingdom mobilised in 1939, many of her soldiers were still equipped in uniforms that largely resembled those worn at the end of the Great War, 21 years before. However, a modernisation had, belatedly, been started and the new Battledress Serge was beginning to appear first with the Regular Army and then the Territorial Army.
In September 1939, 1/Suffolk was mobilised and sent to France as part of 3rd Division, joining the BEF in the first week of October on the border with Belgium. They were equipped with the 22 Pattern Service Dress, though their webbing had now been replaced with the modern 37 Pattern. It was not until the end of 1939 that their uniforms were replaced with the newly introduced Battledress, designed with the latest ski fashions in mind and quite unpopular with soldiers upon its introduction.
Seen here is a Private soldier demonstrating this new Battledress uniform. He is wearing the Battledress, Serge, consisting of a short jacket and high-waisted trousers. The jacket fastened to the trousers by a series of buttons designed to prevent the two parting from one another, though in reality this proved largely unsuccessful and was the main complaint about the uniforms. The soldier carries the Short Magazine Lee Enfield No1 Mk3, a rifle that would have been familiar to his forebears as the rifle that won the Great War. It was equipped with a 17 inch bayonet that had been introduced in 1907.
His webbing is the 37 Pattern webbing, evolving from the Mills Company webbing of the interwar period. This consisted of a waist belt, straps and pouches, held together by a series of buckles and brass clips.
On his chest he wears the small box respirator (SBR) carried within a canvas case. This could be worn as here, with a string holding it high on the chest in the 'Alert Position' or worn slung across the body on a strap. Above his small pack, he has rolled his anti-gas cape, a material covered in linseed oil. Held in place by tapes, this cape was carried in such a way as to be easily deployable, simply pulling the straps to release it around the wearer. Accompanying these, there was a similar hood to cover the helmet and various small items contained within the SBR haversack. These completed his anti-gas kit.
The equipment carried in 1940 was recognisable as the forerunner of that worn in 1944. Following the retreat from France, the British Army's equipment was simplified and modified using the lessons learnt in that campaign.