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Battle Dress

Battle Dress was the specific title of a military uniform adopted by the British Army in the late 1930s and worn until the 1960s. Several other nations also produced variants of Battle Dress during the Second World War, including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa, and after the Second World War, including Belgium and The Netherlands.

Battle Dress also inspired the military uniforms of other nations such as the United States (who copied the Battle Dress Blouse directly with the M1944 "Ike" Jacket) and Germany (whose copy of Battle Dress was called the Felduniform 44). General Eisenhower reportedly liked the British Battle Dress so much that he insisted the US copy the uniform, and his regard for the uniform led to it being nicknamed for him.


After extensive field trials of other uniforms,1 Battle Dress was adopted by the British Army just prior to the Second World War as a replacement for the Service Dress that had been a combined field and dress uniform since the early 1900s. The uniform, said to be inspired by ski-clothing of the time, consisted of two garments:

  • Battle Dress Blouse - a waist length, fly fronted garment of heavy wool with two breast pockets and a collar done up at the neck.

  • Battle Dress Trousers - loose fitting wool trousers of material matching the blouse, with buttons for braces as well as belt loops, two hip pockets, a rear pocket, and two external pockets; one on the (wearer's) upper right thigh, designed to hold a First Field Dressing, and a larger pocket on the upper left thigh, commonly called a "map pocket".


Newly recruited soldiers in Ontario, 1941, wearing brand new Battle Dress. Note the slip on shoulder titles and Field Service Caps. Ontario Archives Photo.


As well, a new headdress called the Field Service Cap was also introduced into the British Army at this time, to replace the unwieldy Service Dress Cap.

Battle Dress was issued widely beginning in 1939 in the British Army, and Canada had already made plans to produce its own, though no uniforms were actually produced before Canada went to war in 1939. Canadian production was slow at first, and suitable garments were not always procured from an industry fumbling its way into a war footing. At least one Canadian regiment was disappointed to find that blouses and trousers produced by separate factories varied widely in colour from each other.

On the whole, however, Canadian Battle Dress would be distinct from British Battle Dress in terms of colour (Canadian wool was of a darker and greener shade) and quality (Canadian firms produced Battle Dress in a greater variety of sizes), and after the middle of the war, in terms of cut.

(Above left) Early pattern Battle Dress Blouse, showing the Slip-on Shoulder Titles of The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada as well as CANADA flashes; Battle Dress insignia was austere before 1941.

(Above right) 1949 Pattern Battle Dress Blouse, showing the open collar design, as worn during the Korean War. Insignia is for a staff sergeant of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. The formation patch of the 25th Canadian Brigade is worn on both sleeves; when 2PPCLI joined the 1st Commonwealth Division in 1951, the divisional patch replaced the Canadian brigade patch on the left sleeve. Medal ribbons indicate service in Italy and North-West Europe in the Second World War; the oakleaf on the 1939-45 War Medal ribbon indicates a soldier Mentioned in Despatches.

(Right) British Battle Dress Blouse of the so-called P40 Style. This BD was issued on occasion to Canadian soldiers in Italy. The khaki drab shade was lighter than in Canadian blouses and there were several variations to the original 1937 pattern. In late 1940 the British began using Arm of Service strips in various colour configurations, 2 inches wide by 1/4 inch high - Canada did not use these strips. The strip in the illustration is that of the Royal Artillery.


The so called P40 or Pattern 1940 Battle Dress (also known as "austerity pattern") was introduced to the British in 1942; it deleted the fly front and the front buttons, as well as pocket buttons, were now exposed. Canadian Battle Dress did not undergo these changes, however, making Canadian Battle Dress all the more desirable to British soldiers who could obtain it and wear it.

The only major variant to Canadian Battle dress was the replacement of the hook and eye fastener to a simpler button and cloth tab, in about 1943.2

Other nations produced Battle Dress during the Second World War, including Australia, Britain, India, New Zealand, and the United States, who produced "War Aid" Battle Dress. Many foreign patterns of BD were worn by Canadian soldiers serving in Italy, as Canadian shipping to and from that theatre was limited and resupply tended to be from British sources.

A version of Battle Dress intended for working clothing was produced from denim with several manufacturer's variants and widely used by Canadians, either over top of wool Battle Dress as an extra layer in cold weather (or to protect the wool battle dress), or on its own in hot weather.

Canadian soldiers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were similarly restricted to British resupply and may have worn replacement clothing of British manufacture, as well as receiving an issue of the special Parachutist's Trousers, a variant of BD with a box pleated map pocket, lined in leather, replacing the standard map pocket, two reinforced rear pockets instead of one, and a special pocket for a knife on the right outer seam.

Lieutenant G.P. Comper (left), who fought at Arnhem as a CANLOAN officer, talks with Major-General E.G. Weeks at the first annual reunion of CANLOAN officers, Royal Empire Society, London, England, 14 April 1945. Comper wears British Battle Dress of austerity pattern. The blouse is distinguishable by the large patch pockets. The first field dressing has a large box pleat. General Weeks wears austerity pattern Service Dress, with patch pockets on the upper chest, and simple slit pockets on the tunic skirt, with a cloth belt rather than the Sam Browne belt.

Regulations of Wear

Officers were permitted to tailor the collar of their blouses so as to wear a collared shirt and tie providing they retained the ability to close the collar when parading with troops.3

The United States produced Battle Dress uniforms for use by the Commonwealth, these uniforms were known as "War Aid" Battle Dress.4

Battle Dress in shades of postman blue and navy blue were also produced for the Commonwealth flying services (such as the Royal Canadian Air Force) and Commonwealth naval services (such as the Royal Canadian Navy/Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

1939 Battle Dress Blouse
1949 Battle Dress Blouse
Collar: Closed fall collar.
Front Closure: 4 or 5 button concealed fly, integral waist strap.
Pockets: two box pleated breast pockets, two internal.
Introduced: 1939
Purpose: General use - work, dress, walking out, combat.
Replaced: Service Dress
Replaced by: 1949 Battle Dress

Collar: Open collar.

Front Closure: 4 or 5 button concealed fly, integral waist strap.

Pockets: two box pleated breast pockets, two internal.

Introduced: 1949

Purpose: General use - work, dress, walking out, combat.

Replaced: 1939 Battle Dress

Replaced by: Combat Dress

Post War

After the Second World War, individual Commonwealth nations developed their Battle Dress uniform into both a parade and a field uniform. Canada began to develop other uniforms, notably Bush Dress in the late 1940s, though Battle Dress still remained on inventory as a field uniform.

The British introduced a British Pattern 1949 Battle Dress into their Army, and several changes to their Battle Dress were made after the Second World War. Broad lapels were added to the Battle Dress Blouse, giving it an open-collar design similar to Canadian 1949 Pattern. Buttons on the pockets remained exposed, though a fly front was restored to 1949 Pattern BD. The trousers were also altered. 5

Canada only widely produced one more version of Battle Dress after the war, though some minor differences in interim patterns will be found in a limited number of garments. Pattern 1949 Battle Dress had broad lapels added to the Battle Dress Blouse, giving it an open-collar design. As well, the back on 1949 Pattern BD Blouses were generally one piece; wartime battle dress blouses had a vertical seam down the back.

A tan shirt was issued to be worn with a black necktie by Other Ranks. Some use was made of older Khaki Drill shirts as an interim measure.

The First Field Dressing was also removed from the trousers after the war.

Battle Dress continued to be worn as a field uniform during the Korean War and up to the introduction of Combat Dress. It was retained for dress wear up until Unification of the Armed Forces, and into the 1970s by some Reserve units.

At right, Battle Dress as worn during the Korean War; Major Garth Evans at centre wears postwar BD blouse and trousers (lacking the first field dressing pocket on the upper right thigh); man at left wears Second World War era trousers with the dressing pocket on the thigh.

Colour and Shade

Scale modellers, artists and re-enactors all worry about the "correct" shade of the Battle Dress uniform. The truth is that there really is no one correct shade.

A look at original samples will reveal that no two items of army clothing ever really looked the same (as an aside, the East Germans in the 1970s and 1980s came close, by the use of large amounts of synthetic material.)

Many difference factors conspired against the possibility of finding two sets of Battle Dress in precisely the same shade:

  • different manufacturers

  • different dates of manufacture

  • different material lots

  • different dyes used in creation of those materials

  • different lengths of exposure to sun, salt water, and chemical impregnation (ie the use of anti-vessicants before D-Day)

  • storage facilities and stores that did not bother to keep matched BD suits

Even during the intial issue of Battle Dress in 1939, blouses and trousers were being produced by different factories; one regimental history noted that the colour was so vastly different that there was reluctance to issue the trousers and blouses together.

The correct approximate shade of Canadian BD is darker and greener than British BD. The best way to research the shade it to look at surviving examples. The book Uniforms of the WWII Tommy has useful colour photos, as do some other books. Unfortunately the photos of Canadian BD in The Canadian Soldier have been heavily colour corrected. There are also some colour photos in the webmaster's CANUCK: Volume I. Internet photos may not be a reliable indicator of colour, depending on individual monitor settings.


Waist-length denim jackets (known popularly as "jean jackets" in the decades after the Second World War were inspired by Battle Dress; another example of military clothing inspiring popular fashion.


  1. Davis, Brian L. Uniforms and Insignia of the British Army.

  2. Tyler, Grant. Drab Serge and Khaki Drill: The Foreign Service, Universal Service, Battle and Combat Dress Jackets of the Canadian Army, 1899-2003 (Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada, 2003)

  3. Dorosh, Michael A. Dressed to Kill (Service Publications, 2001.)

  4. Gordon, David B. Uniforms of the WWII Tommy (Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 2005.)

  5. Jewell, Brian and Mike Chappell. British Battledress 1937-61 (Osprey Publishing, 1981.)

Further Reading

  • Dorosh, Michael A. Dressed to Kill (Service Publications, 2001.)

  • Gordon, David B. Uniforms of the WWII Tommy (Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 2005.)

  • 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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