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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.