Wally's war

Military clothing memories

By Nicola Benge

Photo:Young Wally in army gear

Young Wally in army gear

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus archive

Photo:Wally and chum in naval gear

Wally and chum in naval gear

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus archive

Photo:A suit but not the demob suit

A suit but not the demob suit

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus archive

Wally Kersey's life in uniform

Wally spent his early years in the forces and so got used to wearing uniforms of one type or another. He returned to Hangleton after four years away in the forces and married Nancy.

Dedicated cadet

At the age of 12, I was a volunteer in the Naval Reserve, so when war started, they disbanded us at the King Alfred in Hove and then I joined the Brighton Sea Cadets and later the Hove Sea Cadets in '42. Two evenings a week I was an apprentice at Caffyns garage, I went to night school two nights a week a then sea cadets at the weekend, so I was either in cadet gear or work gear, I didn't get to go out much socialising.

Wearing mufti

When I did wear mufti, it was: flannels, a jacket, pullover, shirt and tie. I always had clean, polished shoes. I was 13 when my dad was killed in the war. He was strict and made me learn needlework and cooking in case of emergencies.Mum would unpick a coat so she could reverse the material and the worn cloth would be inside and unseen.  This increased the life of a coat or garment. Shirt collars would be 'turned'. This was especially common between the wars.

The right stuff

I was in the cubs, the scouts and age 12 joined the sea cadets. We wore the blue jackets uniform. Bell bottoms and a blue collar and later a peak cap, black tie and white shirt with a jacket. 'The cadet uniform was blue serge bell bottom trousers, blue jean collar, three white bands around the edge, a black silk which was folded to two inches wide with a white lanyard around the neck secured by black tapes of regulation length of six inches at the bottom of the V front of jacket. There were seven creases in the trousers for the seven seas, also so you could fold them up to put in your locker, cos of space on the ship, you turned them inside out, folded them up and did the same for the jacket and collar.

In the Navy

In the Navy, we wore blue hats in the winter. In the summer, from May to 1st October, we had a navy blue cap unless serving in the Middle and Far East where we wore uniforms of whites (tropical gear). The name for the uniform of the lower deck ratings was 'A Square Rig'. This was jacket and bellbottom trousers and navy blue jersey. This was replaced with a white front in the summer.  Petty Officers and above, their uniform was different and was referred to as Fore Aft rig which was Navy Blue jacket trousers, white shirt, black tie, cap with peak, white material cap covers if needed in summer or tropics. We wore white hats, which we had to white paste with 'Blanco'; you could also get 'Blanco' in khaki colour. Nowadays everything is white plastic instead. With those hats, if it rained, the 'Blanco' used to come off. We had starched collars and hot collars, which we had to do ourselves.

The wrong trousers!

After my basic training in the Royal Sussex Regiment, I was transferred to REME with most of my time spent with Water transport and with attachments to the Royal Marines in the Middle East. My pre-services training for the Navy did help me get to sea but in the wrong colour uniform!

During my time in the Middle and Far East in the desert, I wore Khaki Drill shorts, a khaki shirt during the day and khaki trousers at night. This was in Tobruk. We wore gaiters to keep our trousers clean. During the army in Africa in the winter, it was so cold, we wore normal army kit. Often it would require overcoats to be worn on guard duties In February, in the wet season, there was torrential rain and everything flooded on the desert and we all lost our kit. We used to suffer desert storms, locusts and 'shitehawks' (birds like hawks), you had to watch your dinner so the birds didn't get your food.'

Give us some .. uniforms, chum

Army Uniforms were mainly Battle Dress during World War II. The uniform was of a rough serge of khaki colour. It consisted of a blouse type jacket, trousers, boots and the gaiters. When the Canadian army arrived on our shores, their uniforms were of the same types as ours but were of a better material quality. Also, the colour of jacket and trousers matched with ours. We had to be lucky for the colour match, as they were made in different factories. Many soldiers would scrounge for the Canadian uniform and wear them for best.

In 1951 I got called up to the Korean War with the cadets as a reservist. I used to have a hat with fur around the edge and big flaps that you could fasten up, or let hang down over your ears to keep them warm. I used to wear it during the winter when I took the dog for a walk. I've still got my army beret somewhere. Most men wore their uniform when they went out, No 1 dress. The important thing was to be clean and tidy.

Demob suits

We were given 'demob' clothes when we left the army - a two piece single breasted suit, shirt, tie, a trilby, raincoat, shoes and socks. We had clothing coupons then, so you would save your coupons for your fiancées wedding clothes. 'I was a reservist in the army. When anyone was finishing up their service, they'd sell you their uniform so it cost much less, because they were really expensive.' When we got married, I wore a blue suit made at a shop in Brighton. It was made specifically for the wedding, and I had a couple of fittings. I had new shoes too. I didn't wear my demob suit. Nancy's dad wore his demob suit to our wedding. They were all a certain style. You could tell they were a demob suit. We still had clothing coupons in the early 1950's, so if you went to southern Ireland, you'd take an empty suitcase and buy clothes, including American imports, to bring back. I got a pair of blue suede shoes!

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 03/04/2008.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.