A Gentleman In Khaki

The Uniforms and Equipment of the British Soldier on Active Service
1899 - 1902
By James Holt

Khaki: A Persian word for dust
•        Uniforms
•        Officers' Headgear
•        Officers' frocks
•        Officers' Equipment
•        Other Ranks' Equipment
•        Other Ranks' Headgear

It was on the North-West Frontier in 1846 that khaki made its appearance in the British Army. Upon being ordered to 
form a Corps of Guides, Lieutenant Harry Lumsden proceeded to buy up all the white cotton material he could find so 
as to outfit his men in practical working garments. These garments were subsequently dyed with river mud. When dried 
they resembled the landscape. It was not until 1896 that Britain adopted khaki as "the uniform for active service". Until 
then there had not been a suitable dye produced. However in 1884 chemist Frederick A. Gatty patented a dye that 
would eventually be used in the manufacture of the Uniform for Active Service. Initially made of cotton drill material, the 
South African climate exposed its short comings in warmth and durability. By 1900 troops were already being issued 
with frocks made of the more durable serge material. The manufacture was identical in appearance to the khaki drill 
frocks, with exceptions in construction to accommodate the thicker material. The khaki frock worn by offficers was 
styled after the blue patrol jacket. But like everything else the khaki frocks varied depending on the source of 

Officers' Headgear
The dawn of the Twentieth Century saw the beginning of the end for the colonial helmet. In service for over thirty 
years, the Boer War was to prove it obsolete. The basic construction of the helmet was cork, covered with cloth, and 
having a removable zinc ventilator atop the helmet. The ventilator was covered in the same material as the helmet. The 
1900 dress regulations recommend a few options for the officer when purchasing his helmet. One, to purchase from 
the government stores a cork helmet constructed of khaki drill material with muslin pugri wrapped around the crown. 
Another was to simply provide a khaki cover for the white foreign service helmet. The Wolsely helmet was the same 
basic construction as the foreign service helmet, with the exception of a wider flaring brim. This helmet had been a 
popular officer choice during Kitchners re-conquest of the Sudan in 1898, but proved too obvious a mark for Boer 
snipers. The Wolsely helmet was retained by staff or general officers while line officers preferred the foreign service 
helmet or the slouch hat. The slouch hat was constructed of lightweight khaki dyed felt. The wide brim offered it's 
wearer sufficient protection from the sun, and was not an encumbrance to a man firing a rifle. Several styles were 
produced locally, as well as English manufacture. By mid 1900 troops embarking for South Africa were issued slouch 
hats as standard head dress. With constant exposure to the realities of war and the climate, the slouch hat took on 
many interesting shapes! Usually worn with the left side of the brim upturned( the Coldstream Guards wore theirs with 
the right side turned up, and a red feather plume ) it was host to many standard, as well as unorthodox badges.
Distinctions of Officers' frocks of the Foot Guards regiments serving in South Africa are as follows:
Grenadier Guards: Brass grenade collar badges, 6 buttons of regimental pattern {Royal Cypher reversed surmounted 
by the crown, with a grenade below the center cypher}arranged singularly down the front, with one per breast pocket 
flap, and two per cuff.  

Coldstream Guards:Brass Garter Star collar badges, 6 buttons of regimental pattern {Star of the Order of the Garter }
arranged in pairs, one per breast pocket flap, and four per cuff arranged in pairs.
Scots Fusilier Guards:Brass order of the Thistle collar badges, 6 buttons of regimental pattern {The Star of the Order 
of the Thistle, with the crown in place of the upper point of the star}arranged in threes on the front of the frock, one per 
breast pocket flap, and three per cuff.

Officers' Equipment
By 1899 most if not all British Officers on active service employed the "Sam Browne" belt, designed by an Officer of 
that name who lost his arm during the Indian Mutiny. Made of brown leather it was functional and practical. Issued with 
double shoulder braces, it was also worn with a single brace worn diagonally over the right shoulder. The belt 
supported the sword by means of a leather frog suspended from the belt. The belt was also host to the pistol holster 
and ammunition pouch. When the impracticality of the sword was realized Officers utilized the available belt rings to 
suspend their haversack or water bottles. Leather was brown for all services except rifles who wore their equipment 

Officers' haversacks were unbleached cotton drill or khaki cotton drill material, black for Rifle Regiments, and slung 
from a strap stitched to the haversack Length was adjusted by means of a brass slide. Some officers haversacks were 
attached to the strap by means of two brass snap swivels.

The water bottle carried by the British Officer during the Boer War was very similar to those carried by the other ranks 
on service on the North West Frontier, and India. Made entirely of aluminum, it was covered in felt or canvas fabric. 
The carriage strap {brown or black leather }passed through four leather loops that were stitched to the felt, or by 
means of a leather carrier. The shades of khaki felt varied like anything else, from, light tan- khaki, to an olive green, 
or to a drab blackish color for Rifle Officers.

On the march officers carried their greatcoat from two buff {black for rifles} leather straps attached to a Khaki {black for 
Rifles} web belt. The belt was slung over the right or left shoulder while the greatcoat rested against the small of the 
officers back. This does not appear to be a comfortable arrangement! To better conceal their rank officers browned, or 
dulled their rank insignia and began to carry rifles, discarding their Sam Browne belts and swords, and now bearing 
their loads like those in the ranks with their 1888 pattern Valise Equipment.
Other Ranks' Equipment

By the time of the Boer War, the pattern 1888 valise equipment had been in service 11 years, and like the army's 
tactics the short comings would soon become apparent. Commonly referred to as the Slade - Wallace equipment 
{named for the two officers who patented it }it was intended to be an improvement on the 1882 pattern valise 
equipment. The pattern '88 waist belt was constructed of buff leather,in a three section design. On each side of the 
waist, the belt tongues passed through brass adjustment loops allowing the wearer a proper if not a comfortable fit. To 
the rear of the belt were stitched, into their own "pocket", three brass "D" rings. The outer rings to accept the cross 
brace chapes, while the mess tin strap passed through the center "D". On the front of the belt two additional loops of 
buff leather were worn either side of the general service locket, these loops also bearing brass "D" rings. The shoulder 
braces fastened through these at the front. Two further "D" rings were riveted on the front of the braces themselves.
These allowed the buff leather valise straps to pass through before attaching to the buckles at the front of the braces. 
The ammunition pouches, known as V.E. Pattern 1888 Mk1, carried a total of ninety rounds between the two pouches. 
One pouch carried 40 rounds of .303 - inch ammunition. The other carried 50 rounds. The forty round pouch carried 
two packets, 10 rounds each, on each side of a central partition. A further twenty rounds were carried in tubes. Two 
tubes being stitched to the outside gussets to provide an immediate two rounds without opening the pouch flap. The 
fifty round pouch was essentially the same, though carrying 40 rounds in packets, and 10 rounds in tubes. Up until 
1894 there were a few modifications to the basic design of the 1888 Mkl pouches. In 1894 however the pouches were 
constructed so the flap opened outward. The tubes for carrying individual rounds were stitched inside. To the inside of 
the pouch were found two rows of nine ammunition tubes. The front and back rows of tubes were divided by three 
compartments that held three unbroken packets of ammunition. As with the previous patterns a single tube was 
stitched to the gusset on either side of the pouch exterior for immediate use. Suspended on the left side of the belt was 
the bayonet frog, also of buff leather. This carried the '88 Mkl or Mk2 bayonet whose hilt was steadied by a leather 
strap and buckle.

With the issue of the '88 valise equipment came the introduction of an oval shaped enameled water bottle. The bottle 
was of gray, blue or khaki enamel, with a khaki or black ( drab) felt covering. It was carried on a two piece buff or black 
leather strap. Those troops serving in India who eventually saw service in South Africa utilized a kidney shaped 
aluminum water bottle. This too having a drab felt cover but carried by means of a cotton strap with slide buckle for 
length adjustment. Officers water bottles were based on this design as well as variations issued through WW2.
Slung over the right shoulder was the general service haversack Mk 2. Made of stout canvas it held the days rations, 
the emergency ration, knife, fork, and spoon, pipe and tobacco, and sewing kit. Up until the Boer War, haversacks had 
been issued in a stout linen material, off-white in color. Though with the increasing effort to better conceal the 
individual soldier they began to be issued in a khaki dyed linen. The overall construction remained unchanged. The 
prevailing conditions in South Africa as well as the type of war the British were fighting, amplified the failings of the 
Slade - Wallace equipment.

As the war progressed there was a need for the soldier to become more independent of the base camp and venture 
out onto the veld and fight the Boer, as the Boer fought him. Thus the independent soldier needed to carry an 
increased quantity of ammunition. The 1882 pattern leather bandoliers had been utilized since the start of hostilities, 
but gaining more wide spread popularity were the Mills - Orndorff webbing bandoliers and waist belts. Manufactured of 
a heavy khaki canvas, the standard bandolier carried 100 rounds of .303- inch ammunition. Some soldiers modified 
their bandoliers by adding too them various types of flaps to cover the rounds. As the war progressed the bandolier 
began to be issued with leather or webbing flaps. The issue web waist belt carried a total of 80 rounds of .303 inch 
ammunition. Forty rounds were carried on either side of the waist and each side was covered by a web flap secured to 
the belt by means of three leather tangs and brass studs. This worn in conjunction with the mills bandoliers, afforded 
the soldier the immediate use of 180 rounds of .303 inch ammunition.

Other Ranks' Headgear
The rank and file employed the same basic helmet as the officer class. Though official sealed patterns were provided 
to government contractors, the shape of the helmet does vary depending on source of manufacture. The helmet was 
of cork construction having a khaki cover, or of khaki cloth stitched to the cork. Some regiments on service in India, 
and later sent to South Africa, employed a helmet constructed on a wicker frame with white cloth covering, and papier-
mache covered pugri. The khaki cover for this particular helmet had a two inch band of khaki material around the 
crown. Helmet covers vary in their basic construction ie. some are of a six panel construction while others are of a four 
panel (seams ).

The helmet was also issued with a khaki neck curtain. This was not as popular during the Boer War as it was in the 
Sudan 1898. As with the officers, the other ranks too began to appreciate the practicality of the slouch hat and soon 
became standard issue for troops on active service in South Africa. This was the same basic construction as the 
officers with only minor differences not outwardly noticeable. Other ranks slouch hats as with the issue helmet, bear the 
War Department broad arrow stamp on the interior, as well as, in most cases, date of issue, battalion, regiment, and 
service number of the soldier issued to.

The Boer War of 1899 - 1902 shed light on the inefficiencies of the army's tactics, and the way it had equipped it's 
soldiers. At the end of hostilities webbing equipment had replaced the Slade - Wallace sets, and khaki serge would 
replace scarlet for most occasions other than full dress. By the start of the Great War, Britain would be the best 
prepared army to fight a Twentieth Century war. But these lessons would be hard learned, and often repeated in the 
fields of the Somme, and the mud of Flanders.
Jim Holt