Notes on British & French light railway crew uniforms…..

Kindly provided by simon moore

British

The British Light Railway Operating Companies wore standard British Army Service Dress which consisted of ankle boots, khaki trousers and tunic with a grey collarless shirt beneath; the trousers being supported by braces.

The Royal Engineers insignia worn consisted of brass shoulder titles and a ‘GvR’ (George V) Royal Engineers cap badge in brass for Other Ranks and bronze for Officers, badges and devices denoting N.C.O rank were worn on both sleeves with Officers rank being denoted the standard brass shoulder devices.

The later pattern soft Service Dress caps or ‘Trench Caps’ seem to have been worn for the most part with the ubiquitous Mk.I ‘Brodie’ Helmet being worn in forward areas.
Puttees were not worn by all and seem to have been optional, perhaps being more commonly worn by guards who often had to dismount from the train.

Aside from the uniform various forms of overalls and working jackets and over trousers can be seen in photographs, as dictated by the peculiarities of running a railway. Men are also seen wearing the overall leather jerkins, an item of clothing dating back to Medieval long bow men and still worn by troops through to the 1980s, these were most often worn when working on exposed locos like the Crewe Tractors.

French

The French 60cm Light Railways were operated by men of the Artillery, more specifically men from the Régiments d’Artillerie à Pied or Foot Artillery Regiments, the men were mainly from the 10eme Régiment d’Artillerie à Pied until, in 1917, all men operating the Light Railways were transferred to a new unit, the 68eme Régiment d’Artillerie à Pied.

The men wore standard Artillerist’s uniform though this changed a great deal throughout the war as the gaudy red and blue uniform still worn in 1914 was superseded by various designs in the famous horizon blue. The uniform situation is further confused as many of the railway troops, not as reliant on camouflage as the men in the front line held on to more colourful items from their old uniforms long after they had disappeared elsewhere. The basics, irrelevant of colour were, like the British, ankle boots, trousers also termed ‘breeches’ which narrowed at the calf to allow the wearing of puttees. A collarless shirt in plain white or with grey pinstripes was worn with braces to support the trousers and over this a short-collared tunic and a greatcoat or ‘capote’ which was manufactured in various patterns.

Tunic collar insignia.

Above left; triangular greatcoat collar insignia of the 10eme Régiment d'Artillerie à Pied. Above Right; tunic collar insignia of the 68eme Régiment d'Artillerie à Pied.

The insignia was of standard Foot Artillery pattern; red collar patches showing the regimental number in dark green with piping in the same colour. A dark blue-black patch was sometimes also worn on the front of the kepi bearing the regimental number in red. Both Officer and NCO rank was denoted using standard French Army insignia.

 

French Artillery Railway - Uniform hats

Above top; the 1884 pattern kepi worn at the outset of hostilities badged to the 10eme Régiment d'Artillerie à Pied. Above bottom; the 1914-15 pattern horizon blue kepi badged to the 68eme Régiment d'Artillerie à Pied.

The Kepi worn at the outbreak of hostilities was made in dark blue-black cloth with red piping and seems to have been worn by many men until late in the conflict even though it had been officially superseded by a design in horizon blue, this later example can also be seen being worn in various photos. Adrian helmets seem to have been worn rarely by the railway men, when worn they carried the crossed cannon insignia of the Artillery on the front.

As with the British it seems the men operating the French Artillery Railways rarely wore puttees, though over trousers and overall jackets are often seen in photographs, from white through to dark shades though black and white photos don’t allow colour to be determined; these non-uniform items often being worn with the earlier pattern dark blue kepi.

More information is always welcomed – please leave a comment!

First Post!

Well, here we go! This is my first post in the world of blogging…

I have been running the “War Department Light Railways” website for many years. This site includes a good archive of photos & information, but I have not been able to update it as much as I would like recently. I am aiming to use this blog to provide (as a minimum) regular updates on the various WW1 (& related) projects that I am working on or involved with (normally based at the Moseley Railway Trust (MRT), Staffordshire, UK).

Chassis_collection

Ambulance van chassis awaiting collection at Alston.

The story of the MRT is really well covered on the official website - suffice to say, since relocating to its new permenant home adjacent to the Apedale Valley Country Park great progress has been made & I have been able to start consolidating my own collection of vehicles together with the Trust collection. A recent item to arrive has been one of the larger surviving components of a former British Ambulance Van. This had seen post-war service at the famous Smiths Crisp’s Nocton Potato Estates in Lincolnshire, UK. It later passed through both the Lincs Coast Light Railway & South Tynedale Railway before being acquired by myself.

Chassis at Apedale - Moseley Railway Trust.

Seen in this post, the “Van” is awaiting collection at Alston in November 2010 & 1 week later at Apedale, now safely stored awaiting the restoration to start. Many thanks to our friends at the South Tynedale Railway & volunteers back at Apedale for helping with this.

And here is what the finished item will look like….

The finished item...