Service Dress 1903-Unification
Khaki Drill


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Khaki Drill


The word Khaki today refers to a shade of brown, best described as a light sandy shade of tan. The name comes from khak (Persian:soil) which came to English as one of many Hindi/Urdu loan words, in this case meaning earth-colored or dust colored.

British Army troops started using khaki uniforms in India; Brigadier Sir Harry Burnett Lumsden is reported to have made the first issue of such clothing in India in 1848. Other sources state that the British Army first used khaki drill clothing during the Kaffir War on 1851-53, when the 74th Regiment of Foot was so clothed. Previously, white had been the colour of tropical and temperate climate uniforms.

The uniform became widespread issue in uniforms worn by the 52nd, 61st and 74th Regiments during the Indian Mutiny. In the Abyssinian Campaign of 1868, a directive was made stating that khaki clothing would be worn on the march to Magdela. Other early use of khaki clothing was in the Second Afghan War of 1879 and the Gordon Relief Expedition of 1881. By 1885, most of the Indian Army had adopted khaki.

The new uniforms were not popular with Queen Victoria, who described it as "hideous" after a military review in 1884. The use of khaki clothing was restricted to overseas use, and prohibited within the British Isles. In 1885, lightweight khaki Service Dress was authorized for Officers for overseas wear.

Canadian Usage

Canadian soldiers first wore khaki in the Boer War; it was introduced in Canada as well, but was not authorized for wear within Canada until after the First World War.

The term "Khaki Drill" came to refer to both the type of uniform, and the cloth it was made from. KD material was generally a hard-wearing denim, with items of Canadian manufacture typically having a golden yellow hue as opposed to British uniform cloth which was browner.

Summer Dress, as it became known between the wars, consisted of shorts, shirts and a jacket. These uniforms were worn in Canada during summer months (generally May through September inclusive). For Other Ranks this jacket was cut similarly to the Service Dress, with a stand and fall collar, no rifle patches on the shoulders, and only two external pockets, on the chest. Long puttees were generally worn with summer dress. Officers wore uniforms patterned on officers' Service Dress, and as their uniforms were privately purchased, some leeway was allowed in matters of material and style.

During the Second World War, Other Ranks' pattern KD jackets were replaced with a newer pattern, being an open collar design based very closely on the new Canadian pattern open collared Service Dress jacket. Long pants were also made in KD material to be worn with the jackets, and web anklets replaced the puttees in some cases.

KD was not issued to soldiers going to the United Kingdom. KD, or Summer Dress, was worn by Canadian soldiers in Hong Kong and Jamaica and other tropical climates, as well as in Canada during summer months as specified by commanders.

In Europe, Canadian troops serving in North Africa and later Sicily and Italy wore British, Indian and US (War Aid) manufactured KD uniforms exclusively, as Canadian KD was not sent to Europe due to limited shipping space. British KD garments included a variety of uniform components including Aertex shirts, shorts, jackets, and trousers.

Officers Khaki Drill uniform, patterned after the Service Dress uniform, as worn during the Second World War. This example is from the gallery of the King's Own Calgary Regiment museum at The Military Museums in Calgary.

Sergeant H.E. Cooper of the 48th Highlanders of Canada as photographed on Sicily on 11 August 1943. Canadian troops in the Mediterranean wore foreign made Khaki Drill clothing due to the difficulties of getting supplies to that theatre. Tropical uniforms like this were issued out for the summer months, then withdrawn in the autumn in favour of the warmer Battle Dress for the winter months. Library and Archives Canada photo.


After the Second World War, Khaki Drill was replaced by the green Bush Dress for summer and tropical wear, though the shirts may have been issued with Battle Dress for some time after the shorts and other uniform components were replaced. Tropical Worsted uniforms appeared after the Korean War, and Canada later issued several Tropical Uniforms beginning in the 1960s.

No special tropical or desert footgear seems to have been widely used by the Canadian Army in conjunction with Khaki Drill. Special headgear included the Summer Helmet.


  • Tyler, Grant. Drab Serge and Khaki Drill: The Foreign Service, Universal Service, Battle and Combat Dress Jackets of the Canadian Army 1899-2003. (Parks Canada, 2003).

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