First World War Australian Tunic – a curatorial interpretation of an AIF Universal Pattern Uniform

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The original of this photograph appears on the Facebook page of the Moruya & District Historical Society.  Please click on the fore mentioned link to view the original image and make comment.  Whilst conducting a tour of the Moruya Museum on Remembrance Day 2017, I was asked to explain the intricacies of the Australian uniform worn by our diggers during the Great War.  As a result, I have borrowed this image as an example of the Australian ‘Universal Pattern’ tunic worn during 1914-1918.

This is a curatorial interpretation of an Australian First World War 'Universal Pattern' tunic as worn by Australian solidiers at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

This is a curatorial interpretation of an Australian First World War ‘Universal Pattern’ tunic as worn by Australian solidiers at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

The first thing I look at when I view such historic photographs – is the uniform and any embellishments which are evident. Based on past experience, the general look of this image immediate told me it was a photograph of a WW1 digger, however ….. Please see my interpretation here which leads me to believe the photo was likely taken late 1914 or early 1915.  I have numbered the breakdown from 1 through to 5 to correspond with the below paragraphs:-

1. A brass buckle is evident on his tunic waist belt. This brass buckle is synonymous with First World War tunics (both WW1 & WW2 Australian tunics were referred to as ‘Universal Pattern’ tunics). But the presence of a brass buckle clearly dates the tunic to the 1914-1918 war. The waist belt of the tunic was actually sewn into the tunic itself.  So the belt was not detachable.  However the small brass ‘slider’ buckle could in fact be removed.  The buckle was simply attached to the open end of the belt, by way of a small button.  Undo the button  …. and the buckle could be removed.  I will update this blog in the near future to illustrate this.

Remains of an AIF epaulete recovered from 'Bloody Angle' at Gallipoli (a short distance from Quinn's Post) and held in the Australian War Memorial Collection.

Remains of an AIF epaulete recovered from ‘Bloody Angle’ at Gallipoli (a short distance from Quinn’s Post) and held in the Australian War Memorial Collection.

2.  The number ‘2’ which I have drawn on the Moruya & District Historical Society photo show the epaulete portion of the tunic.  His epaulete shows the standard, curved metal ‘Australia’ title which was made in copper with a black anodized finish. It is a symbol of the AIF or Australian Imperial Force raised for overseas service in both World Wars. Second World War militia diggers serving in the Militia forces from 1939-1945 were NOT entitled to wear this symbol. Unless of course they were members of the AIF serving in a Militia unit … but that is another story. Of great interest in the MDHS photo is the existence of metal “numerals” which were a precursor to the colour patch identification system and tell us which unit he is currently serving.  Unfortunately the Moruya & District Historical Society photograph does not clearly show what numeral is on this soldier’s uniform.  Hopefully the M&DHS can produce a high resolution copy of this image which will tell us more about which unit this soldier served.   Please view the adjacent image of an example from the Australian War Memorial which shows the number “16” which pertains to a unit from Western Australia.  It also shows the ‘Australia’ title.

An example of the 'Australia' copper shoulder title and 29th Australian Infantry Battalion colour patch of the uniform worn by Private C.J. GILES . This excellant example was obtained by Charles Bean who established the Australian War Memorial and now forms part of that collection.

An example of the ‘Australia’ copper shoulder title and 29th Australian Infantry Battalion colour patch of the uniform worn by Private C.J. GILES . This excellant example was obtained by Charles Bean who established the Australian War Memorial and now forms part of that collection.

3. Where I have drawn the number ‘3’ is usually the position on the digger’s tunic where a unit colour patch would be attached. This colour patch would be indicative of the battalion or unit which the man is currently serving. The origins of the colour patch system  started at Mena Camp (Cairo) just prior to the Gallipoli campaign. So based on the fact our soldier is wearing “numerals” (see explanation no. 2) and combined with the fact that he is NOT wearing any colour patch identification, lends weight to the possibility of this photo being taken in Australia circa 1914/1915 prior to overseas deployment.  To illustrate the correct positioning of a colour patch, I have included an opportune image which I managed to take whilst working as Assistant Curator at the Australian War Memorial annex in Mitchell when the uniform of Private C.J. GILES was being conserved prior to display in the new AWM First World War gallery.

First World War style mounted pattern breeches with bedford cord reinforcing on the inner thigh. Note the method of fitting and securing the lower leg opening by way of laces.

First World War style mounted pattern breeches with bedford cord reinforcing on the inner thigh. Note the method of fitting and securing the lower leg opening by way of laces.

4.  This man in the MDHS photo is wearing mounted pattern breeches. This is evident by the eyelets and laces on the lower leg portion of his trousers. All mounted pattern breaches had this style of fastening. Mounted breeches were generally made of Bedford Cord and also had some type of reinforcing materiel sewn into the inner thighs to protect the wearer when in the saddle for extended periods of riding. This reinforcing could be either bedford cord or leather.  Non mounted pattern (i.e. Infantry, Engineers or Pioneers just to name a few) were generally fastened with buttons instead of laces. Non mounted pattern breeches also did not have the reinforcing materiel sewn into the inner thigh area. However be warned that the type and style of breeches a man is wearing could simply be explained by what any given unit Quartermaster had in stock at the time of issue …. or what happened to turn up in supplies. As an example, the breeches on display at the Australian War Memorial as issued to C.J. GILES of the 29th Infantry Battalion have black leather inserts to the inner thigh area and appear to be mounted pattern breaches. The subject in the MDHS photo is also wearing 1903 Pattern leather leggings (commonly and mistakenly called “Light Horse” leggings by modern collectors). Whilst it is true they were generally worn by the Australian Light Horse, they were issued to all mounted troops. Bearing in mind that the Artillery and Army Service Corps were all horse drawn during this era.

A rare Great War photograph of three diggers of the Australian Field Artillery AIF taken in Australia prior to overseas deployment. Of particular interest is the fact they are displaying both issue of headwear ... the famous Australian Slouch Hat and the Peaked Cap issued to drivers, artillerymen and other corps including Infantry.

A rare Great War photograph of three diggers posted to the Australian Field Artillery AIF. The photo was taken in Australia prior to overseas deployment. Of particular interest is the fact they are displaying both issue of headwear … the famous Australian Slouch Hat and the Peaked Cap which was issued to drivers, artillerymen and other corps including Infantry. Those of you with an eye for detail will note the brass slider belt buckle of the man who is seated.

5. Lastly, this digger is wearing a “Peaked Cap”. Inexperienced and modern collectors sometimes claim only officers wore peaked caps. This is very far from the truth. Rather, the peaked cap was a very common item of head wear issued to the AIF and in fact, many troops who landed at Gallipoli wear wearing the peaked cap … rather than the famous Australian slouch hat (Hat, Khaki, Fur Felt). But that too is a whole separate story. All in all …. if I was to tie myself down for a definitive answer …. it is possible the digger subject of this photo is a “Driver” (of horses/wagons) or a member of the Artillery and the photo may have been taken in Australia prior to his embarkation for overseas service.

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About gary

Gary Traynor is Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria which may have been awarded or issued to their ancestors. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the preservation of Militaria and the researching of Military History for well over 29 years. During his travels, he has conducted numerous study trips to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He was also priveleged to have served as a Volunteer Guide at the Australian War Memorial for a number of years. Gary now conducts tours of the Gallipoli Battlefields and the Kokoda Track in New Guinea. He leads the field in his knowledge of the beach head battlefields encompassing Buna, Gona & Sanananda. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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