Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

 The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(9) The blue hospital suit

When he arrived in England, a battle wounded soldier was sent to a hospital specialising in his type of wound or to one of the numerous convalescent establishments scattered throughout the UK. There, he was issued with "a special hospital uniform consisting of a blue single-breasted jacket with a white lining - worn open at the neck, blue trousers, a white shirt and a red tie. To complete the outfit he wore his own khaki service cap with its regimental badge." The suit was also known as the ‘blue invalid uniform’, ‘hospital suit’ and ‘hospital blues'. Curiously - it usually had no pockets!

A bad fit of the "blues"

ww1 postcard The blue hospital suit
This 1916 card, illustrated by R. Stoddart, commented on A Bad Fit of the “Blues.”   Not everyone who wore the suit was happy with it. On 20th October 1916, The Times recorded that a Mr Randell, "is to ask the Secretary of State for War on Tuesday whether he is aware that the blue uniform supplied to the wounded soldiers seems to be defective, in the outer skin of the garment, which is of flannelette, when washed shrinks at a rate from the lining, and that this problem produces an unsightly and bad-fitting garment; and whether flannel clothes cannot be given to the wounded instead."

It seems Mr Randell’s suggestion was not acted on and complaints of the sometimes ill-fitting suit continued to be voiced and one or two postcard publishers joined in the protest.


Complaints were also made by patients who found the suit was too large. For instance, in November 1915, Private Dolden was sent to No.26 General Hospital, and said that after a few days there he "was given a suit and what a suit! The hue was oxford blue, with white facings. Judging from the size of the particular suit that was handed to me it must have been intended for a Life Guardsman. I had to turn the trouser legs up till the turn-ups nearly reached my knees, so that the white facings were quite a spectacle. The bagginess allowed plenty of room for bending... A flaring red necktie added quite a socialistic touch. "

Numerous photographic postcards from the Great War survive today that depict British and Commonwealth soldiers wearing the blue hospital uniform. Commercial photographers in the UK visited both military and civilian voluntary hospitals and snapped pictures of single and group gatherings of the convalescents there. The pictures were reproduced as postcards and each man would usually buy one or two copies to send to friends and relatives.

On 12th August 1918, a letter appeared in The Times signed by ‘F.D.M.’, who asked, "At the present time we are all unhappily familiar with the blue uniform of wounded soldiers...Can any of your readers tell us the origin or history of the blue invalid uniform?" On 12th September readers provided some suggestions. Lieut-Col Walter H. James provided the most simple and practical answer for its existence. "The uniform...was probably introduced because it could be easily washed", he said.


 

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