Kitchener’s New Armies were gathering pace both in training and in spirit, but arms and equipment were still not forthcoming.
By late September, those men of the 7th Battalion, who were to form part of the first New Army, known as K1, received as far a possible the last remaining stocks of khaki serge from Depots and stores. The 8th Battalion, who were to form part of the second New Army (K2) were by the end of October, clothed in the simplified ‘Kitchener Blue’ uniform and in parallel, the 9th Battalion who were part of third New Army (K3) were dressed the same. By the time the 11th (Cambridgeshire) Battalion were issued uniforms, as part of fourth New Army (K4) they were issued with uniforms of the same style as traditional service dress but in dark blue cloth. Khaki would still not arrive for at least another few months but at least they men were all dressed alike.
Rifles were is short supply. Old antiquated Japanese Arisaka’s were pressed into service with the 2/5th Battalion, then based at Newmarket, whilst units of the 2/6th Battalion at Ipswich received Martini-Henry rifles from the 1880s.
Equipment too was a problem. The two manufactures of cotton webbing; the Mills Equipment Company and M. Wright and Sons, were flat out, producing their quota of 20,000 sets per week but with over a million men now under arms (and most still housed under canvas), it would be several months before enough sets could be issued to all recruits.
In desperation, the War Department turned to Britain’s leather industry which had become largely redundant when it came to military equipment to help them through the crisis. The result was the '1914 Pattern' leather equipment, which took attributes of the 1908 webbing equipment and the older 1888 buff leather equipment to make a 'stopgap' set that would serve the army well throughout the conflict.
Originally it was issued in a variety of shades and finishes. The 11th Battalion were issued theirs in unvarnished natural leather, and quite often incomplete. The 7th got their belts came first, with the other pieces arriving later. Thus on 31st December 1914, an Army Council instruction decreed that all sets of leather equipment would henceforth be dyed an even shade of 'London Brown.'
The photograph above of Private Fred Borley from Tostock, is a clear indication of the equipment shortfalls of late 1914. He was yet to receive a bayonet, entrenching tool or waterbottle. His rifle has no sling but at least his uniform is khaki. The tunic being the newly introduced 'simplified' pattern; designed to cut back on expensive manufacturing. Fred’s mottled and incomplete appearance was typical of the many new recruits into the Suffolk Regiment at this time.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.