World War II British Women’s Uniforms Book Review

When it comes to researching World War II British womens’ clothing and uniform there is one book I always reach for on my bookshelf, Martin Brayley and Richard Ingram’s book, World War II British Women’s Uniforms in Colour Photographs. This book was first published in 2007 and has gone on to become the go to reference guide on its subject for many collectors and re-enactors. The book follows on from the authors’ previous books on male clothing and again is predominantly focused on modern reconstructions with well captioned images in full colour of women actually wearing the uniforms. All three services are covered, but the emphasis is on the ATS as they had the wider selection of uniform issued to women performing a wide range of roles.

The photography is superb and the images are given enough space to be clearly visible, with most reconstructions taking up the full height of the page, with smaller images arrayed around them to show details and a smattering of period illustrations for rarer items of clothing and to depict specific things that would not be practicable with a modern reconstruction. Accompanying these images is detailed text that shows the authors have gone through original clothing orders to discover the introduction dates of many garments. The text is detailed and well written and explains what was introduced, what it looked like, who used it and occasionally some context to explain how it faired in service.

The book is not a history of the women’s services ( there are plenty of other books that cover this) but does provide an interesting insight into the practical challenges thrown up by the expanding role of women with in the armed forces during the war and it is interesting to see how the military authorities only expected women to do a limited range of clerical and domestic tasks when war broke out and as that expanded into roles such as supporting anti-aircraft batteries in the field, barrage balloon operators and crew for harbour launches the need for far more practical clothing came about. It is telling that the only coats issued for the first year of the war were thin rain coats that were completely unsuited for the jobs women were performing and small sized male clothing had to be substituted until purpose designed working clothes were ready!

As well as the WRENs, ATS and WAAF, the book also covers all three services nursing staff, with ward uniforms and more practical combat uniforms covered, as well as the insignia worn on them which can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. Altogether then, the book is very comprehensive study of this subject and even 14 years after it was first published no other book has come close to rivalling this volume for its coverage and detail. If you are interested in the British military in World War II, this book is an essential volume for your bookshelf and is available on Amazon for under £15 here.

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