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WW1 British Army Trench Caps


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From about 1917 onwards the Army introduced a soft version of the stiff SD cap for wear when the tin hat wasn't required....it was designed so it could be stuffed into a pack or pocket when not required...the design featured lines of stitching on the cap band and peak to help retain the shape....


First issue was pretty much as the stiff SD cap, in khaki serge with a black oilcloth lining......but variations can be seen that have a mixed oilcloth & flannel lining, or all cotton drill, etc.....


During 1917-18 it seems that an economy version was introduced that was largely cotton-lined, and the outer material was changed from serge to a substitute cloth. Many collectors refer to this as the "denim" cap but the few I've seen and encountered that fit this description are not made in "denim" (as in jeans or overalls) rather a fine worsted woolen fabric, lighter weight than serge and with a fine ribbed effect to the finish....colour can vary too, from khaki through to a distinct green shade.....


The question is, were these "denim" caps actually made from this fabric, or is it wrongly described ? One such cap I had a few years ago now was made in the same worsted cloth as WW2 British Army side/forage caps......anyone know...?

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Been away for a few days upside down in the depths of my Daimler and have just picked up this thread.


The original stiffened Service Dress Cap was introduced in 1905. At the start of the Great War it quickly became apparent that the rigid tops of these caps were very visible in sunlight and were instantly recognisable to Harry Hun. The first action taken by the men themselves was to remove the wire stiffeners to reduce the effects.

By early 1915 orders began to be issued sanctioning this practice culminating in a GRO (General Routine Order) of June 1915 officially ordering the removal of the wire stiffener and the upright crown support from Service Dress caps.


Steel shrapnel helmets were introduced progressively from November 1915 and by March of 1916 were intended for universal issue. Up to that point they had been regarded as 'Trench stores' and had been handed over from unit to unit in the trenches. Universal issue was finally achieved by the time of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

As soon as the shrapnel helmet was introduced it became obvious that there was a need for a 'soft' cap that could be stored away when not in use.

The soft pattern serge Service Dress cap was introduced in March 1916, though there was an earlier 'soft' cap the Winter Service Dress Cap. This is the familiar Gor Blimey padded wool cap which was introduced from November 1914 and fell out of use by the early part of 1917. Note that these were solely intended for winter use and were not seen as replacements for the original 1905 cap.


There was little change to the 1916 soft serge cap until the early 1920s when a slightly revised pattern was adopted. Interesting that this modified pattern, complete with the lines of stitch reinforcing across the peak, was retained by the Brigade of Guards until the end of WW2.


Reference the original query, in early 1918 the 1916 pattern soft cap began to be manufactured in a khaki gabardine material. Slight variation of the linings exist with American cloth, khaki cotton drill, white cotton drill and occasionally flannel being used for the headlining and sweatbands. This khaki gabardine has a distinctive twilling to the fabric. It proved to be not especially hard wearing and though proofed was rain resistant rather than waterproof.


Ventilators, chinstraps and buttons were unchanged on both these wartime variations (1916 and 1918 patterns) The later gabardine caps are sometimes incorrectly referred to as '1917 pattern' mainly by militaria dealers. At the time uniforms and caps were officially known by the manufacturing pattern number and were not named '1916 pattern' by the military. These pattern numbers were printed on the paper clothing labels (usually a four digit number) but these pattern numbers are not seen on paper cap labels which usually contain only the size, manufacturers name and date of manufacture. Often these details were stamped on the lining of the cap in white marking paint along with a War Office inspectors number stamp.


Please note this is just a potted history but the dates of introduction are correct.





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Thanks Paul ! Just wanted to confirm details for a couple of items in my collection, and didn't want to ever look for a "denim" cap if it never actually existed ! One soft cap I have is made from the same worsted woolen gabardine type cloth seen on British WW2 side caps......any thoughts ? Another is in a much less "hairy", ribbed, green-shaded woolen cloth.....


I have seen one of the post-war "soft" caps retained by the Guards, but it was many years ago now.....in Brian L Davis's superb book "British Army Uniforms & Insignia of WW2" there are a couple of interesting photos......one shows Welsh guards on fatigues just prior to WW2 wearing what looks to be the soft cap (plus old pattern 2-piece white or light khaki overalls) plus another showing a Guardsman in BD wearing a stiff-top SD cap but with the stitched peak (not the headband though) next to a colleague wearing the standard stiff SD cap.........is this another variation style ?


Cheers :D

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