Goatskin in the trenches


One of the smaller installations at Somerset House’s Fashioning Winter is devoted to the winter kit issued to soldiers in the trenches of WW1 in 1914 and 1915 and is curated by Benjamin Whyman of the London College of Fashion.    Three yellowing newspaper articles poignantly depict soldiers departing for the front kitted out in goatskin jerkins over their uniforms.  These, together with woollen balaclavas and sandbags filled with straw, were intended to help the soldiers withstand the bitter conditions.  These reports seem designed as propaganda, describing the effect as “teddy bear” though the reality was more likely to be lice-infested, heavy and damp.   Certainly, while striding into a bitter wind walking across Waterloo Bridge, I was glad to be benefitting from more modern forms of insulation.

There is a reference to the jerkins in the work of one of the war poets, possibly Siegfried Sassoon but I haven’t found it yet, perhaps someone else will know it?



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