Khaki Jacket from the Second Boer War
Today’s object is a private’s khaki uniform jacket dating to the 2nd Boer War period, 1899-1902. Khaki, from the Hindustani word for dust- or soil-coloured, was the first attempt by the British Army to develop a form of camouflaged uniform.
Prior to this the British army had fought wearing the heavy wool scarlet
doublet or jacket, which we can still see today when soldiers perform some ceremonial duties. This type of cloth may well have been suitable for the cold, damp, conditions of Europe in the beginning of the 19th century, however as the British Empire expanded the British Army found itself fighting campaigns in hot countries, where heavy wool was far from a good idea.
By the late 19th century military thinkers of the time were beginning to comprehend the effects of climate on their soldiers wellbeing, and uniforms began to be adapted. Sir Garnet Wolseley ordered grey linen uniforms to be made for the soldiers under his command during the Ashanti campaign, 1874.
The colour was first worn by soldiers in the Indian Corps of Guides, raised in 1846 by Sir Henry Lawrence, the most senior British figure in the North West Frontier area of India, now the Khyber area of Pakistan. The North West Frontier was long a disputed territory controlled by fierce mountain tribes, mainly Pashtuns, which was eventually taken over by the East India Company when it annexed the Punjab in 1849. According to some historians the idea of khaki came from these Afghan tribes, who used the colour effectively to hide amongst the rocks and snipe on Indian Army soldiers on patrol.
Initially the guides were supplied with examples of their own, native, clothing. But in 1848 the Guides commander ordered khaki uniforms to be issued. The first British units to be equipped in khaki occurred during the Abyssinian Campaign of 1867-68 when Indian Army troops under the command of Sir Robert Napier journeyed to Abyssinia, modern day Ethopia. The success of the colour of uniform convinced the British hierarchy to adopt it, and it was formally used in the Mahdist and 2nd Boer War, 1884-5 and 1899-1902 respectively, as the standard field pattern uniform.
Following the British victory in the 2nd Boer War the British government called an election, hoping to harness the goodwill in the country into votes. This was successful and this election became known in the popular press as the ‘Khaki Election.’ This term continues to be used today to describe elections following military victories.