North West Frontier Impressions

One of the nice things about collecting British kit is that after a certain point, your collection is large enough to allow you to mix and match equipment to make up a large number of different impressions. Tonight I have done that with three new impressions of soldiers serving on the North West Frontier in India in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The North West Frontier was an interesting off shoot of the British military experience and there was an informality of dress when on campaign with a number of unique ways of wearing and carrying uniforms and equipment. These impressions are based heavily around an article that appeared in Military Illustrated Past and Present way back in the late 1980s and written by eminent historian Michael Barthorp. These impressions are not perfect as I am missing certain items from my collection, but hopefully they give an indication of dress on campaign on the frontier.

Gordon Highlander

This Gordon Highlander wears a ‘grey back’ shirt and his kilt with a kilt apron, he is equipped with 1908 pattern webbing, Wolseley helmet and a Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle:imageFrom behind the broad and comfortable shoulder straps of the 08 webbing can easily be seen crossing over just above the belt:imageI am reliably informed that by this period the Gordon Highlanders were wearing full kilt covers rather than just aprons, however as this is all I have, please accept my apologies for this inaccuracy.

British Infantry Man

This infantry man wears the same Wolseley helmet and 08 webbing as the highlander, but wears KD shorts, KD Shirt and has pulled on his jumper as protection against the chilly nights:imageFrom the rear it can be seen that he has set up his 08 large pack in a haversack form with two utility straps to act as shoulder straps:imageAccording to Barthorp the large pack would have held typically spare socks and underwear, trousers, chupplis, eating and shaving utensils, towel, cap-comforter, 48 hours’ rations, mess-tin and groundsheet. Note also the waterbottle carried above the waist on the back of the webbing:imageThis was introduced by the 1st Northamptons in 1936/37 and was soon adopted by many other units on the frontier as it was presumably more comfortable. In this shot of the Ghurkhas manning a Vickers’ Berthier light machine gun on the frontier in 1940, the waterbottle can be clearly seen in this position:IMG_2931 (2)Second Lieutenant, West Yorkshire Regiment

This lieutenant wears the newly introduced 1937 pattern webbing and wears KD Shorts and shirt. This shirt is unusual in having premade holes for a rank pip and a shoulder title, in this case indicating he is a member of the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment. He wears a Bombay Bowler, a much smaller version of the Cawnpore Helmet produced commercially and which became popular with officers in the last years in India. He carries a map case and has a pair of binoculars for observing the hills and passes of the NW Frontier:imageFrom the rear it can be seen that the officer is wearing an aluminium waterbottle, painted green. These were a short lived introduction just prior to WW2 when they were dropped due to the need to conserve aluminium:image

Hopefully these impressions based on an oft overlooked theatre will be of interest and they highlight how kit can be mixed and matched to provide something more interesting than the usual impressions seen at many re-enacting events.


  1. Your blog is great. I just found it through a Google search. Where did you get your WW1 greenback shirt and ’08 webbing kit? Was it Pegasus Militaria by any chance? Thank you very much!

    • Hi Dave, glad you like the blog. The greyback was made for me by a friend and the 08 webbing is a mixture of original straps, belt, waterbottle carrier etc. and repro pouches from WPG

      • Thank you very much. I’m sorry, I didn’t see this until just now, Jan. 19th. I appreciate your help! Happy 2017!

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