Action Working Dress Trousers

At the very end of the Second World War the Royal Navy introduced a new uniform for wear in combat called ‘Action Working Dress’. This uniform consisted of a mid-blue buttoned shirt and a pair of dark blue trousers. It was designed to offer far more protection in combat than the traditional sailor’s uniform and was heavily influenced by US practice of the time. It saw little service during World War Two, but was to become ubiquitous as the Navy’s working dress for the next seventy years and despite updates to fabric and cut would remain in service until replaced in 2015. Tonight we are looking at the trousers from the final pattern of Action Working dress. Although originally made of cotton to be somewhat fire resistant, these garments were later made of manmade fibres until in the Falklands when some sailors found their uniforms melted into their skin. Following this conflict there was an urgent review and new fire resistant fabrics were developed that saw service right through until the end of the uniform’s service. The trousers are made in dark blue and have a slightly shiny look to the fabric due to this fire resistant coating:imageThe trousers are secured with a button and drawstring. Although belt loops are sewn to the waist, belts were seldom if ever used with this rig:imageA button and tab is also fitted to offer some adjustment to the waist sizing:imageA pleated thigh pocket is fitted, the flap of which is secured with Velcro:imageAs is typical, a stores label is sewn to the inside of the trousers:imageOver the years this uniform has had a number of names, my father’s generation refer to them as ‘No8s’ whilst when I was issued them they were always ‘No4s’. The trousers always had to be ironed with a crease, even though they were for working dress and then folded down to A4 size- not always an easy task due to their shape and the number of tucks inwards to make them fit the size. We also wore them with elastic ‘twisties’ during basic training that allowed them to be bloused over our boots, again this was never done again once training was over!

Since being replaced by the new working dress, the older pattern has been cascaded down to many Sea Cadet units which still use the older pattern of uniform until funding permits it to be replaced entirely, but its days are now numbered and it will soon disappear into history.Sailor Holding Berthing Line on HMS Ednburgh

One comment

  1. In the RCN, they were unfit the 80s or 90s, called “No 5s”. When I transferred to the RAN in 1998, they were still called No 8s there, at least by older hands.

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