Monday, June 8, 2015

The Soldier's Kit

The centennary of World War 1 has created enormous interest in many people for information about their military ancestors.  In order to help interpret digital images of A.I.F. personnel and provide more detail of military life the following breakdown of Australian Anzac ‘Kit’ has been prepared.

The individual AIF infantryman was issued with a universal kit or duffle bag into which he packed the following:
  • 2 Pairs of brown leather hob-nail-soled ankle boots, with one psare pair of laces.
  • 1 pair of braces
  • 2 pairs of woollen cord Commonwealth Pattern breeches.
  • Field Service Cap or Slouch Hat, with 2 spare chin straps
  • Greatcoat
  • Jacket – Service Dress
  • 1 pair of Puttees -. Fabric strapping for lower legs.
  • Dungaree jacket and trousers
Other pieces of kit included insignia and rank badges, and training garments including white canvas plimsolls and hat. He was assigned three brushes: hair, shaving and tooth. A comb, razor in a case and soap were his allotted toiletries. Underclothes were essential and each man was given two pairs of cotton drawers (underwear), 2 singlets, 2 flannel shirts and 3 pairs of socks. To keep out the chill he was allotted a jersey and khaki cap comforter. Essentially a woolen hat, this was often worn under helmets or during trench raids. All of the essential smaller items were contained in a ‘holdall’ and supplemented by a ‘housewife’, The Housewife was a holdall/pouch containing a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool (for socks), 50 yards of linen thread wound around card, needles, brass dish buttons and plastic buttons for shirts. The personal kit it would be finished off with the essentials of a knife, fork and spoon, that could be used with the D-shaped mess tin. Additionally a service knife was issued, which contained a marline splicing spike, a tin opener and lanyard.

Soldiers wore a British Pattern 1908 webbing arrangement in leather and/or heavy canvas.  Developed for the British Army, this pattern was the most advanced arrangement at the outbreak of the war and utilized by most Commonwealth armies, having the one main advantage that it could be taken off and on in one piece without the probability of losing any pieces. The basic arrangement consisted of the following components:
  • 3 inch wide waist belt, with two angled 2 inch buckles at the rear
  • 2 inch wide shoulder straps, attached to the aforementioned buckles
  • Left and right hand ammunition pouches, consisting of five individual pockets, three underneath and two above. 
  • Haversack – this could be worn in a variety of positions and methods from middle of the back to below waist belt
  • Water bottle and carrier
  • Entrenching tool and helve carrier – a two piece device and the handle of which is carried strapped to the bayonet scabbard, and attached to the bayonet frog
  • A large pack was also carried, almost always on the back. Valise straps attached the pack to the wearer.
As the Australian infantryman evolved as a fighting entity, especially into the main Western Front European theatre, the essential kit also contained a gas mask, personalized cold weather accessories and preferred trench fighting weaponry, such as knuckle-dusters, clubs and pistols. Officers might privately purchase trench periscopes, binoculars and personal accessories that could more readily be stored in dug-outs.

The Australian Infantryman was also assigned ‘emergency rations’, only to be used as a last resort and consisted of corned or ‘bully’ beef, hard tack biscuits, tea, salt and matches. In situations like that of the Gallipoli campaign, such rations were regularly called upon. Official kit was supplemented by personally acquired ‘unofficial’ kit, which, if withdrawn during official inspections, was tolerated. Souvenirs, collected from the battlefield or bought from local merchants, regularly found their way into a soldiers pack.

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