It has long been a fairly accurate truism that conflict is a catalyst for wider changes in both military and civilian circles. Whilst this is obvious with larger developments- WW1 influenced the development of more reliable combustion engines and aircraft development, WW2 gave rise to the jet and space age- it is also true on a much smaller and more prosaic level as well. This is aptly illustrated by tonight’s object- a 1944 pattern jungle vest:On the face of it this seems an odd object to illustrate advances in technology. It is a simple garment made of cotton with machine sewn seams and openings:However the leap is one of thinking. This vest was introduced in the wake of the Lethbridge Commission which looked into all aspects of Britain’s war in the jungle and instituted route and branch reforms from a tactical and strategic level down to what an individual soldier wore and carried. It must be remembered that just five years before men serving in the tropics were still being issued padded cholera belts and spine pads and it was felt that woollen undergarments were essential wear for white men in these regions. It must be said that many of these obsolete practices had died out by the middle of the Second World War, but the Lethbridge Commission still found plenty of things to change.
It is obvious from this garment that the major influence on the new jungle equipment was the US Army. The standard British undergarments of the period were made of wool, with long sleeves and legs:The use of lightweight comfortable cotton was far more suitable for the far east, and to make the clothing in green rather than white acted as a far more effective camouflage in the field. This vest, combined with cotton boxer shorts very much followed contemporary American men’s fashions- the much earlier adoption of central heating in the US meant woollen undergarments were no longer essential to keep warm in a way they still were in the UK where cold and draughty houses were more the norm than the exception. It is a sign of how effective the changes introduced by the war were that the old style woollen undergarments worn by nearly all in the 1930s were looking hopelessly out dated by 1945 and men’s fashions in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s reflected American practice far more closely than they had before the war.