• War-stained: British Combatants and Uniforms, 1914–18

      Ugolini, Laura (Taylor & Francis, 2014-08-05)
      Historians have long recognised the role of military uniforms in marking the transformation of civilians into servicemen. However, this was not a simple transition, completed the moment individuals put on service dress shortly after enlistment. Rather, the process of transformation continued throughout servicemen’s life in the military, reflecting changed circumstances that might include a move to a different war theatre, promotion or illness and injury. Focusing on the experiences of British soldiers during the First World War, this article explores the meanings of uniforms as servicemen were transformed from raw recruits into experienced combatants. It questions the extent to which the stained and worn uniforms that seemed the inevitable outcome of front line duty were seen as consistent with the manly heroism expected of soldiers, paying attention not only to the army authorities’ insistence on ‘spit and polish’, but especially to combatants’ perceptions of the effect of dirt on their own identities and sense of self. Thus, this article argues, the transformation into combatants involved potentially dangerous and degrading encounters with dirt and vermin, but also the development of strategies – centred on bodies and on uniforms – that sought to counter the threat of long-term harm and pollution.