REDCOAT AND KHAKI?
Redcoat or Red coat is a historical term used to refer to soldiers of the British Army because of the conspicuous coloured red scarlet uniforms formerly worn by the majority of regiments. From its official adoption in 1645, when Parliament created the New Model Army, to present day, although it has evolved from being the British infantryman's ordinary uniform to a garment retained only for ceremonial purposes.
Khaki is a colour, a light shade of yellow-brown. Khaki is a Hindustani (Urdu) word meaning "soil-coloured" and is originally derived from Persian literally meaning "soil", which came to English from British India via the British Indian Army in 1848. It was first introduced as a military uniform, and was called both drab and khaki - khaki being a translation of the English drab light-brown colour. The khaki uniform is still worn today in its multi-terrain pattern (MTP) form.
The khaki drill or drab uniform, as introduced in India as far back as 1848, was used there long before its acceptance into the British Army as service dress. In India it say use during the Indian Mutiny and the fighting on the North-West Frontier. Some form of khaki made brief appearances in South Africa, Aden, Malta, Egypt, the Suakin expedition and the Ashanti War, but it was the Sudan campaigns of 1884-85 where khaki was seen widely used in a military campaign, or at least outside of India. It is interesting to note that the Sudan was also the last place where the redcoat was worn in battle.
There was a great reluctance to remove the redcoat as battle dress, with arguments made for its retention during the Sudan campaign as it would "Impress the natives". Actually it probably played no part with impressing the natives and did really more impress the Victorian’s with British military tradition, pride and patriotism.
"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".
OBSERVATIONS.HC Deb 13 March 1882 vol 267 cc781-5 781
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 782 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 783 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 hardworking 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 out walk 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 Lloyd 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 there- 784 fore 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 785 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.
Image Source: National Army Museum - "The last stand at Isandlwana," by Charles Edwin Fripp