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RENÉ CHARTRAND, ILLUSTRATED BY RON VOLSTAD
Pte. R.Schwabe, Regina Rifles, 7th Inf Bde, 3rd Inf Div, at Vaucelles, 14 July 1944. Note the field dressing under the netting of his Mk II helmet. (Ken Bell, National Archives of Canada, PA131387)
Until the summer of 1939 the Canadian Army was wearing uniforms reminiscent of World War 1. As with everything else in the Canadian forces at the time, British patterns were closely followed. In 1939 the British War Office sent to Canada documentation and samples of its new Battledress, Serge. During July and August the Canadian National Defence Dress Clothing Committee considered the uniform, and recommended its approval by Canada on 24 August. The Minister of National Defence, the Hon.Norman Rogers, concurred on 2 September, and 100,000 blouses and trousers were ordered four days later, with tenders first invited on 23 September when further samples were available.
With many regiments mobilised from 1 September 1939 the country instantly found itself with an acute uniform shortage. There were no large stocks in store and suitable cloth to make new uniforms was also scarce. By October it was feared that enough Battledress suits might not be available to equip the 1st Canadian Division, which was due to leave for Britain soon. The minister set 15 November as the target date for all clothing and equipment to be 'delivered and ready for issue'; but by 6 November only 3,700 blouses and 6,700 trousers had been delivered. Among various delays, one large clothing firm, the T.Eaton Co., had failed to supply blouses which were 'up to standard'. By 21 November it was realized that only 20,000 Battledress suits could be obtained from available cloth; but they were now being produced rapidly, and suitable cloth was also becoming available in quantity.
Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa in action at Carpiquet, Normandy, 4 July 1944. This was the machine gun battalion of 3rd Inf Div, and under magnification the Vickers No.1, equipped with the WE 37 pistol set, can be seen to display above his divisional patch its dark green arc-shaped title with a squared bottom extension, and yellow lettering 'CAMERON HIGHLANDERS OF OTTAWA/MG'.
The Normandy campaign of June-August, in the notoriously difficult terrain of the bocage country and against determined resistance by some of the best German divisions in the West, saw some of the war's most savage and costly fighting for all the Allied infantry committed to this front. The first 3rd Div troops had reached the edge of Carpiquet airfield on the evening of D-Day - a month before this photo was taken. (D.Grant, National Archives of Canada, PA138359)
By 2 December it was reported that 'there should be no further difficulties' in supplying troops leaving for Britain in the future or those mobilised in Canada. The 1st Division left Canada in December wearing the new Battledress. The crisis had been overcome: on 20 December the Minister of National Defence was able to pay tribute in a radio broadcast to the remarkable speed with which the clothing industry had converted to making uniforms in large numbers, something almost unthinkable less than a year before.
British battle jerkin, 1942-44, front view. This rig, made of dark brown canvas, saw some limited use by Canadian troops of the 7th arid 8th Inf Bdes, 3rd Inf Div on D-Day and in the following weeks. It was theoretically a good idea, but in practice the troops found it too hot for comfortable wear, and its pouches could not be separated; after a short period they discarded the jerkin in favour of conventional web equipment. (Ed Storey Collection)
The millions of khaki wool BD suits made in Canada were generally deemed to be of superior quality to the British model, and became sought-after by British officers and men. In like the British blouse, which went through several changes during the war, the Canadian blouse was always made to the original pattern, with concealed buttons. (The only notable change was the replacement of the collar hooks-&-eyes with a cloth tab from 1943.) Canadian BD was of a somewhat darker bronze/green hue of khaki than the British patterns.
A departure from British practice was the manufacture of a summer cotton version of BD; this was of a light greenish-khaki hue when first issued, settling to a tan shade after some use and laundering. Troops and volunteers in the warmer Pacific coast stations were often seen in the cotton BD, but it was not worn overseas.
A Canadian pattern battle jerkin was designed shortly after the British model in 1942-43. Some 1,500 were produced, of which 1,000 were sent to Canadian Army units in the UK. It was made of brown canvas material edged with lighter brown tape. Instead of wooden toggles as on the British pattern, the Canadian jerkin had black enamelled snap fasteners and belt buckles. Few appear to have been issued, and those only for training in Britain; there is no evidence they were used in battle. (Ed Storey Collection)
Since the shirts were collarless, the enlisted men's BD blouse was worn fastened at the throat. In early 1945 British Army enlisted men increasingly received collared shirts worn with neckties, so the practice was also allowed by the Canadian Army. Some of the first Canadians to be issued this pattern shirt were the 'zombies" drafted following the overseas conscription crisis in Canada. In April 1945, the Canadians - then in Belgium and Holland - 'were now issued with black ties and collared shirts'. The well-known Canadian author Farley Mowatt, then with the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, recalled that the tie itself was known as the Zombie tie, and the resentment of the volunteers [in NW Europe] who were now ordered to wear this symbol of shame was most outspoken'. For the regiments arriving from Italy to join the Canadian Army in the Low Countries, 'the biggest change, and the one that really hurt, was the fact that the Eighth Army's famous Crusader Cross [shoulder patch] had disappeared, to be replaced by the meaningless geometric pattern of the First Canadian Army flash'.