Today we start a new series looking in detail at the 1914 pattern leather equipment set. I must prefix this series by explaining that the set we are looking at is a good reproduction set, rather than being a genuine set. I do not normally include reproduction sets on the blog, however the original items are now rare, expensive and fragile and so when this set came up at a fair price I jumped at it and as it is pretty accurate I will be using it to help explain the components and use of the set.
The British Army went into the Great War with one of the most sophisticated accoutrements sets of any nation with the 1908 Pattern set. This innovative set was made of pre-shrunk cotton webbing, was well balanced and could be taken on and off as a single piece without the need to undo or remove individual components. Unfortunately, it was only possible for two manufacturers to produce it as the ammunition pouches needed specialist reduction weaving looms. When war broke out, Kitchener called for volunteers and within a few weeks over 200,000 men had come forward. These men would need training, uniforms and equipment before they could go to the frontlines in France. It was clearly impossible to produce enough sets of 1908 pattern webbing to equip all these men and whilst there were sufficient stocks of obsolete equipment for initial training, a new set was needed for combat, one that could be quickly manufactured by an underutilised part of the British industrial economy.
The answer was to turn to the leather manufacturers of the country. Traditionally leather had been used to manufacture equipment and these firms retained the technical ability to produce leather accoutrements but since the adoption of the 1908 pattern set, these manufacturers had either closed down, diversified or just clung on. The skills, capacity and resources were there, all that was needed was a pattern of equipment for them to manufacture.
The new equipment was based on the 1908 webbing set but was not an exact copy. Instead of the individual cartridge pockets used on the 1908 set, the 1914 set reverted to more traditional methods of carrying ammunition, and tongued buckles were used throughout. The new set did retain the balance of the 1908 set, however, and could still be donned and removed as a single piece. The new equipment was approved on 30th August 1914 and detailed specifications sent out to manufacturers on 11th September 1914. The new equipment was issued extensively to the ‘Kitchener Armies’ and was a sign of the ‘new soldier’ so men never took to the pattern, wanting to replace it with the 1908 set as soon as they were able. Sidney Rogerson explains, “When the Regiment had landed in France in November 1914, every man had naturally been equipped with webbing, but of recent months the new reinforcement drafts had arrived with the unsightly leather belts and cartridge pouches such as were issued to Kitchener’s Army, until there were almost as many men with leather as with webbing.
Efforts were constantly being made to discard the leather, for not only was it clumsy, unsightly, and difficult to fit, especially when wet, but it was held to be the badge of the new arrival or temporary soldier.”
- Ammunition Pouch
- Supporting straps
- Water Bottle carrier
- Entrenching tool cover
- Bayonet frog and helve carrier