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Khaki flannel uniforms: Kenya, 1950s


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I was recently looking at some photos of British soldiers in Kenya during the Mau Mau emergency during the 1950s. In these pictures, the soldiers were all wearing the khaki flannel uniform shirts. I have one of these shirts, and love to wear it during the winter, as it is a very heavy and warm piece of clothing. I cant imagine wearing a heavy wool shirt while soldiering in the sun and heat of East Africa. What was the reasons for wearing the khaki flannel in such a hot climate?

Thanks, -Jeff

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I can remember visiting Bermuda in the summer of 1952 (?) and happening on a company of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry on a road march. The officer was wearing drill shorts and the flannel shirt, and sweating profusely. He did have the sleeves rolled up. Go figure. Seems to me the Other Ranks were wearing drill top and bottom.

Edited by Hugh
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I remember reading about almost an entire British battalion dropping dead of heat stroke advancing during the Kut el-Amara campaign ca. 1916, with the "official" view having been something like it was good to sweat out tropical fever and supposedly radiational cooling would work best with wool. :banger:

On the other hand, I was talking to a U.S. Marine recently who'd served in Da Nang at the same time my uncle was there with the Seabees, and he was astonished to see the navy guys in plaid flannel shirts in the Vietnamese heat. They just laughed and told him that THEY were of the radiational cooling school (so maybe it did work?...) and at least THEIR clothes didn't rot and fall to pieces like the light military tropical gear.

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My father once told me of meeting an old Zulu who, in the summer heat of Natal, was wearing an army greatcoat. When asked why, my father was told the greatcoat was a very useful item of clothing - it kept the cold out in winter and the heat out in summer. My father could hardly argue with this explanation, since he did not himself wear a greatcoat in either season.

Brett

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I worked in the DRC when it was Zaire and lived in Bukavu. It got cold and during the rainy season I used to wear a jacket. I wasn't too far from Kenya and I know from having been there that there are times in the hills or higher altitudes that it's important to have something heavier to wear. Not all of Africa and particularly parts of Kenya are not Tarzan-like jungles that Hollywood depicts. I'm sure some of the old ex-pats from Kenya can pipe in and give some good tales. :beer: Can you post those photos; it's always great to see pics.

Edited by azyeoman
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In central Nigeria, where I spent 2 years, we had 'harmattan' - 2 or 3 months in the winter when the prevailing wind was from out of the Sahara and there was a 24/7 dust haze which dropped the temperature down to 50 or so. There were even local legends of frost - which I did believe - and snow - which I don't' The other Canadian and I of course made a point of commenting on how warm it was an never wore any but short sleeves, but some of my students had ski jackets bought from second hand clothes merchants, who got bales of clothing from New York, all kinds, and they wore those jackets! :speechless1: Your blood really does thin in a warmer climate.

I wear wool in the summer - Napoleonic era uniforms - an in part believe the wool is cooler theory, but its all relative. "Cooler" is NOT the same as "Cool"! :angry: I've always wondered, but wasn't ever able to ask intelligibly, how our Tuareg watchmen explained wearing black in the Sahara too. Well, technically indigo blue, but so dark it looked black.

:off topic: I always wondered whether it was for the other kind of 'cool', cause they were wicked cool, with their 6'6" height topped with turbans and face veils and their swords, which they didn't wear but carried. Armed soldiers stepped off the sidewalks to let Tuareg men walk past and I once saw two of them sit in a van, unbothered, while everybody else but them and the two whiteys got d**n near strip searched. There were only 6 soldiers with SMGs at the Nigerienne border post, so I think they flet outnumbered by the Toureg! :off topic::cheeky:

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The site has quotes that probably explain much:

So they sent us in there. But the Aberdare Mountains or Hills they were called – they weren’t called Mountains – they rose to 12,000 feet. So you’d another 6,000 feet to go up to get over the top of them and this was very hard because it was difficult to breathe and you were carrying a wireless – everyone took their turn in carrying the wireless, you see. You’re carrying your rifle; your ammunition; your food, you know. So. It was very difficult to work at 10, 12,000 feet you know.

And it was very cold at that height, even in Africa. And also, it rained every night. It wasn’t much rain, it was low cloud and drizzle all the time, so you were pretty dry during the day, but every night your were soaking wet, you know. And you only had a ground sheet to make a little tent with. You know, that’s all you had. No, no sleeping facilities, just lie on the ground and fall asleep, you know

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Two things about the British Army wool shirt ..... I lived in Kenya in my early life (just after the Mau Mau emergency) ... when I was in the hills around Nanyuki and Nakuru in the evenings, I could sure have used one of those shirts ... it could be darn cold. When I returned to England I joined the Army. When I was shipped to Aden from Germany in the latter part of 1967 I was still wearing my standard issue woolen shirt and it was bloody uncomfortable most of the time. As we were only sent to secure the airfield there (about three or four weeks if I remember rightly) for the final evacuation we never got tropical issue. When we went to Cyprus the next year, we were properly kitted out, thank God!! That's the British Army for you!!

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