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Thread: Aircrew Battledress Enquiry

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    Default Aircrew Battledress Enquiry

    Morning All

    Can anyone confirm why SNCO rank markings were (apparently) only worn on the right arm of the RAF Battledress jacket? Most images I have seen of Bomber Command SNCO aircrew appear to conform to this policy. Was this in force throughout the war or did they actually wear rank on both arms at one point and did it only apply to Bomber Crews or just aircrew or indeed the entire RAF?

    TIA

    Tony

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    Tony,
    Battledress in the RAF went by a number of official names, but was never officially called battledress by that service! Regardless of this strange fact, the regulations for display of NCO rank would have been general throughout the RAF, and in all theatres where this type of dress was worn, although the dates it became effective in certain theatres may have been somewhat different depending on how urgent it was considered compared to all other pressing information which had to be promulgated, and how easy would be the implementation of such changes. However you are right that there was a time when the chevrons were worn on both arms, then was later restricted to just one. However it is not hard to find photographs showing both styles in use at the same time (transition from the old to the new rules). I think the Osprey publication on British battledress, although primarily concentrating on the Army story, also gives reasonable general coverage to the RAF as well as Naval, Marine and other auxiliary services, including prisons! The Osprey publications on RAF dress also cover the use of battledress, although the specialist Battledress booklet is the most interesting, particularly detailing much of the story of modifications introduced to battledress items as time passed, and frequently the why and wherefore of such changes. And the reason that NCO chevrons were later restricted to just one arm was simply conservation of stocks, even if it meant that the ascertaining of rank of a particular individual could be somewhat problematic at times.
    David D

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    David

    Many thanks for the detailed reply

    As you say, the confusion continues as presumably at one point both arms of an SNCO's carried rank markings - but definitely changed to the right arm only later!

    Tony

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    Hi,

    My understanding is rather that one set of rank markings is easier to undo if shot down and trying to escape from enemy territory.

    Best wishes,

    Jérémie

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    Further to my initial enquiry, I've now discovered the official title was War Service Dress and it was introduced to be worn by aircrew only in December 1940. This was widened to all ranks in 1943 (source - Badges & Uniforms of the RAF Pen& Sword) Unfortunately it doesn't indicate exactly when the switch to "one arm rank markings only" occurred

    Tony

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    Shortages I guess, as I have Polish UK made badges screen printed instead of embroidered.

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    Cannot see that removing evidence of exact rank from clothing when forced down in enemy territory would serve any useful purpose when your officer/NCO status was clear from your own identification discs, which were (usually) well worth hanging onto in most events. Of course ANY recognisable Allied aircrew clothing was bound to attract the attention of German occupation forces, which is why most aircrew on the run abandoned (usually attempted to bury) their original clothing and attempt to get by with what was left until they could beg, borrow or steal civilian clothing. This would greatly assist in continuing on the run with a better chance of contacting (hopefully) friendly locals who might be able to assist with escaping from the country. I am fairly certain that the overriding purpose of restricting issue of just one set of rank chevrons for battledress blouses was to reduce consumption of these items, although I know this appears to be a rather weak argument. However the shortages of just about everything for the armed services often forced the adoption of such conservation measures.
    David D

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    The Evasion & Escape Reports document that the first actions of shot down aircrews were to hide their flight equipments (parachute, Mae West ...) and often to suppress all insignia from their battledress. Indeed, some of them were able to travel in this condition for limited period through occupied countries before finding proper civilian clothings.

    Best wishes,

    Jérémie

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    David - your last sentence is 100% accurate = no change there today!!

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