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WW2 British Army Collarless Shirts

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The khaki wool flannel collarless pullover-style British Army shirt first appeared during the early 1930s, replacing the grey-colour shirt of WW1 vintage, and lasted until 1944 when replaced by an almost identical version with an attached collar.......

 

Pre and early wartime versions feature grey "gunmetal" buttons, later issues plastic/fibre.............

 

Does anyone know what sizes these were made up to ? I have a 2, 4 and 6, but am convinced they go even larger...? The size number is usually found ink-stamped on the inner neckband.........:-)

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The largest size marking I've seen/had is size 8. This was about a 46-48" chest and probably a 16-16.5" collar. I have a size 8 in the late war collar attached issue and these normally have a small white label at the neck. I have also seen the late war type size stamped in ink on the neck band of the collar.

 

I believe the same sizing system was also used on the earlier greyback shirts. I have a WW1 example pre Oct 1917 (pointed cuffs) and that is a large size. I will check the sizing just to be sure of my facts!!

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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Had a look at my notes and found that WW1 shirts were issued in sizes 1 to 9.

Never seen a size 9 WW2 example but it seems there may have been such a size which was probably a 48-50 chest or thereabouts. Shirts were always made roomy of course!

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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I have a couple of the old WW1-type grey-back shirts......this item survived from around the 1870s right through to the early 1930s......you can even see them being worn in the film "Zulu" !!

 

One example I have has the pointed cuffs (on the upper edge) and a neckband in white with a blue stripe running around and buttons that appear made from horn or bone.......

 

The other has a plain white neckband and plain cuffs but small "gunmetal" finish buttons........

 

Both have the bib-front and a small section of white tape reinforcement at the bottom......

 

Both are original.......so how many variants of this are there ? Both are woolen-flannel, one in a distinct blue-grey colour, the other far more grey............

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Not sure of the earlier history as my interest starts with WW1. I believe the use of silver-grey flannel dates to 1899, so the use of greyback shirts in Zulu may not be strictly correct, but as I say out of period for me.

 

The pattern of shirts we are talking about here date originally to October 1900 ie silver-grey flannel the bluey grey shade you mention. The use of the other grey shade dates from 1904 when the pattern was slightly amended. Both shades were subsequently used without any significance. The neckbands were white at this stage and the buttons zinc plated tinplate.

the next change was in October 1907 when the standard pattern used throughout WW1 was introduced. The length was increased and the size range increased from 5 sizes to 9. The pointed 'rifle' cuff was added to this pattern in minor changes in 1908 when both greys were amended again. It seems that the ordinary grey shirt did not have the bib front and maye have been a cheaper version for the Territorial Force, TF, as it then was.

 

The next change came in August 1914 when the blue and white cotton ticking was authorised for the neckband. A simplified pattern was introduced in 1915, mainly changes to the cut and the amount of material used in order to save resources. The final change was in October 1917 when the cuff reverted to the plain pre 1907 style. Other colours were introduced from 1914/15 natural cream coloured flannel was authorised and even black and striped flannel were used, those these were much less common.

 

The shirts then remained unchanged until the 1930s when they were replaced by the khaki version. This was a more closely fitting shirt, though still roomy by modern standards, the sleeves in particular being more closely fitting. Of course these did not have the bib front either.

 

Hope this is of interest.

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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It seems earlier shirts were also grey flannel (but not silver-grey though) and may go back to the 1860s or earlier, so Zulu would be correct. Way out of my period of interest. It would be intriguing to find out when grey shirts were first worn in the British army though!

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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Paul, thank you for the very informative replies....you learn something on this Forum every day ! :D

 

I'd agree with you that the bib-front may have been discontinued on some versions as an economy measure to save material....after all, its function was probably either to help shape/stiffen the front or to provide additional warmth across the chest.......this would follow other economy items of uniform around the time, such as the khaki serge utility jacket/tunic....

 

The 14-pattern example I have with the ticking collar appears fully standard apart from the small bone or horn buttons (a sort of yellow colour, no doubt deteriorated through age)......but appear totally original to the shirt (that is also WD-marked), so I am assuming that these are just another wartime economy or manufacturers variation...?

 

Were these shirts made by numerous clothing contractors during WW1 ? I assume that prior to this, say up to 1914, they were made in the Royal Army Clothing Factory(s)...?

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As far as I know the pattern without the bib had been dropped by the start of WW1. They were termed 'grey ordinary' and the flannel used was of a cheaper type. Once the war started a standard pattern was adopted. The RACF did produce a lot of the issue clothing but there were other manufacturers involved particularly for items such as shirts which tended to be made by specialist firms. Add to this that prior to WW1 and for a short time after the war started, the purchasing of TF uniforms equipment and insignia etc was organised and paid for by the County TF Associations.

Inevitably there was variation in the patterns and some private firms like Hobsons and Mills Equipment Co did very well for themselves providing Gucci variations of service dress and equipment.

 

Some of the wealthier TF associations like the TF Battalions of the London Regiment for instance, spent a lot of money with some of these companies. In some instances these Battalions continued these arrangements once the war had started despite the best efforts of the War Office to stop the practice on grounds of economy. It's worth remembering that such TF Battalions were only 'adopted' by the War Office after volunteering for active service. Some seemed to carry on as if they were private concerns! This led to some wierd and wonderful kit in the early days, particularly equipment and insignia.

 

I have a series of original letters from the QM of the Queens Westminster Rifles ordering large numbers of embroidered 'QWR' shoulder titles from Hobsons. This continued from late 1915 until the end of the war even though the Battalion was in France and officially under WO control. In other words they had a completely private supply chain of their own financed by the Battalion and friends at home.

 

As regards the shirts, there was variation in buttons but most seem to have been tinplate. The other thing to remember is that many of these shirts were civilianised after the war and worn by working men, which is why they are so hard to find today. An added complication is that grey flannel shirts were made for the civvy market as well. Unless they have the military bib front it's difficult to be certain of origin unless they are marked in some way. TF kit would not have government ownership markings as it was in effect privately owned.

 

Cheers

 

Paul

Edited by 43rdrecce

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Thanks for the further info Paul. Have you ever come across some of the Indian-manufactured grey and khaki flannel shirts ? Seems the grey type in various styles continued amongst the Indian Army and possibly some other Commonwealth troops well into WW2......

 

Incidentally, both my greyback shirts were found quite by accident.......one from an old theatrical costumers (though it is a genuine WD-marked item) and the other found within a large pile of old surplus clothing (mostly underwear, long johns, etc) being sold off from a long established surplus store during the early 1980s......I don't think I spent more than a fiver for both....:-D

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