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British Military Uniforms: Why Was Khaki Used
Lieutenant Harry Lumsden was forming a regiment of cavalry and infantry in Peshawar, Northern India. He thought that his men should be dressed in loose fitting clothes the colour of mud. The soldiers were often involved in skirmishes with local tribesmen, so they need a uniform which was comfortable to wear and blended into the countryside. Lumsden got the cloth for the uniforms dyed a brownish grey colour in the local bazaar. It was called 'khaki' from the Urdu word meaning dusty. Lumsden's regiment went into action for the first time in December 1849 and they were known as the 'mudlarks'.
This was not the first time men had worn cothing to try and conceal them. During the American War of Independence, many of them American colonist's fighting the British wore their fringed lined hunting shirts. The Americans could snipe at the highly visible British redcoats, then slip away unseen. Up until the invention of long range weapons, the visibility of soldiers in warfare did not matter very much. Most battles were pitched battles fought in set patterns. Elaborate and colourful uniforms were worn to distinguish the two different sides in the battle. Military finery set soldiers apart from the rest of the population, they gave men a feeling of glory, glamour and most importantly, a sense of belonging to an army.
Soon other regiment stationed in India took up the idea of dying their white linen uniforms a khaki color while on active service. Local bazaars used local dyes, so the shade of colors varied from place to place. The idea spread quickly to all British regiment in overseas postings and from 1886 there was an official announcement that all British troops serving outside the united Kingdom had to wear Khaki.
In 1899 British soldiers fighting in the Boer War in South Africa wore Khaki to make themselves less conspicuous in a war of ambush and sniping which developed in the hills and open country of the Transvaal. Back home in Britain the word Khaki was synonymous with the Boer War. People were asked to support the war by voting Khaki in the Khaki election. When World War One started in 1914, the elaborate costumes of war from the nineteenth century were well and truly gone All soldiers and officers in both sides of the war were wearing the camouflage colour of Khaki. Mud coloured like the trenches, dust coloured like the roads the soldiers march along and green like the forests they were destroying: Khaki was the colour of reality. Today soldiers all over the world dress uniformly in Khaki, the showy and flamboyant colours have gone.