During 1940 British manufacturing was being stretched to its limits, both by the sheer volume of goods required, but also due to loss of capacity by enemy action. Priority for items such as clothing had to go to the regular forces, second line units like the Home Guard were a long way down the pecking order and various substitutes were provided that were unique to the force. Some of these substitute items were to remain in inventory throughout the war, others were to be quickly replaced when supplies of the original item were restored to normal levels. In the latter category was a garment unique to the Home Guard; the cape:
My thanks go to Andy Dixon for helping me add this one to the collection. The Home Guard Cape was a replacement for the greatcoat which was in short supply in late 1940 after air raids had severely disrupted the clothing industry in the East End of London. The Home Guard needed an over-garment to cover their thin denim uniforms which were insufficient to keep the wearer warm on cold nights and it was suggested that an ‘Austrian Pattern’ cape be produced which would be simpler to manufacture than the service greatcoat. On 16th October 1940 500,000 capes were ordered, with delivery starting in November 1940. The cape is made of the same serge as the battledress, with five large buttons up the front:Inside the top half of the cape is lined with shirting material:And two straps are sewn in to allow the cape to be attached to the shoulders:This then allowed the cape to be opened and slung back out of the way:This hardly seems practical as the cape trails near the ground and would get very muddy very quickly! Two pockets are provided inside the cape:And a button and button loop are provided down the edges:These allow the cape to be buttoned into rudimentary sleeves, as seen in this photograph of an officer inspecting a Home Guardsman:The capes came in five sizes and each originally had a manufacturer’s label sewn in, sadly my example has lost its original label, although the outline of the stitching where it was attached can be seen:The War Office instructed that ranks were to be worn in the usual positions- easy enough for officers with their rank on shoulders, but much harder for NCOs- where about exactly should sergeants stripes or a Warrant Officer’s sleeve batch be sewn?
It is fair to say the capes were never popular, and as early as September 1941 moves were made to get rid of them and replace them with standard greatcoats. Although a buyer was sought for the surplus capes none could be found and they soldiered on until the War Office relented and made them obsolete in November 1942, supplies of greatcoats being sufficient by this point. These capes were quickly disposed of with little sadness, today therefore they are a rare and unusual piece of Home Guard uniform and when the opportunity came to add one to my collection I couldn’t turn it down!