Physical fitness has always been an essential part of army life- high levels of fitness are expected of men and sports and games are felt to help foster a competitive team spirit. This was especially true in the Second World War where conscripts had to be moulded into a fighting force, whether they liked it or not. With men who were not always in the best physical shape the PTIs had their work cut out. Men were issued plimsolls, an aertex shirt and blue cotton PT shorts:These have an elasticated waist and a simple two button fly:The inside of the waistband has a simple label, giving details of the manufacturer (Bukta), the description ‘Shorts, Gymnasium’, a /|\ mark, ‘size 3’ and waistband of 34”:Faintly visible on the actual shorts is a date of 1942.
Barry Davitt had some experience of PT in the army:
Here, I was told by the sergeant to change into P.T. kit and get out on a cross-country run. I explained to him that I had just had some teeth pulled out. “GET READY AND GET OUT!!” he shouted, so I did. Clad in a sweater, P.T. shorts, socks and army boots, I set off with the rest through the town and across country.
Later he had more experience of wearing PT kit:
So, we got over our stint on the Barrack Square, went back to the Barracks and the usual cry: “OUTSIDE IN FIVE MINUTES IN P.T. KIT.” It wasn’t another cross country run, this time it was to the gymnasium. We entered the gym to find chaps in white sweaters waiting for us. These are known in army terminology as P.T.I.s, Physical Training Instructors. Big fine men who told us straight away that they were going to make us strong like them. I had a bit of a paunch, but nothing much. One of the P.T.I.s came to me and said, “Where are you from Laddie, what work did you do?” I said, “I’m from Sheffield and was a furnace man.” “Drink much beer?” he asked. “Oh, one or two pints, you know,” I replied. “Right, we’ll knock that belly off you for a start,” he informed me.
The things we had to try to do was unbelievable, the P.T.I. took a running jump, landed hands first onto a vaulting horse and said, “Right, line up and do that!” We lined up and in turn, ran to the vaulting horse and jumped. The younger lads managed to do it quite well, but me, I was at the stage where I couldn’t jump on a bus. I had to try, but my effort should have been filmed. The jump I did had never been done before and my landing neither. I went over the horse and finished upside down on the floor, wedged in some fashion against the vaulting horse on the back of my neck.