A Brief History of Australian Naval Uniforms

By John Perryman

Director Strategic & Historical Studies.

 

Introduction

In November 2008, disruptive pattern navy uniform (DPNU) was officially introduced in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). A practical rig, it is far removed from the more traditional naval uniform popularised throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.  Today customary ‘sailor suits’ are reserved chiefly for ceremonial occasions, however, on those occasions when they are worn, they serve to remind Australians of the longevity of their Navy, its traditions and its consistent contribution to our nation’s maritime and economic security over more than 100 years.This article traces the origins of Australian naval uniforms following a process of continuous evolution as shifting social attitudes, new technologies, wars, and even religion have all influenced changes to the apparel worn by members of the senior service.

 

Origins

Australian naval dress descends directly from that worn by the Royal Navy (RN) in the late 19th century. When the Colonial Naval Defence Act 1865 was passed, which permitted the Australian colonies to raise their own naval forces, officers of the RN had been wearing a standardised form of uniform for over one hundred years. In the case of men, uniform for petty officers, seamen and boys, collectively known as ratings, was formally established in January 1857. Both officers and ratings of the RN, dressed in their smart blue or white uniforms, were recognisable the world over as belonging to the most powerful navy afloat and it was hardly surprising that the Australian colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland each decided that their infant naval forces should be similarly attired.

 


Left: Lieutenant JS Dumaresq dressed in a late 19th century Royal Naval frock coat and cocked hat. Australian born, Dumaresq served in the Royal Navy, but was destined to later take command of the Royal Australian Navy fleet. Right: A Royal Navy gunnery rating wearing late 19th century uniform that popularised the 'sailor suit'.

The Admiralty, however, concerned about certain legal aspects surrounding Australia’s new naval forces, was adamant that colonial naval officers and men were not to wear uniforms that could not be distinguished from those of the RN. Consequently, the colonies adopted RN uniforms but with minor alterations to rank lace, buttons and cap ribbons which satisfied the Admiralty’s requirement. These minor differences also served to distinguish one colonial naval force from another and before long a number of distinctive buttons, cap ribbons and a variety of rank lace featuring triangles, diamonds, crossed-anchors and stars began to appear throughout the colonies.

 


Left: A Lieutenant of the colonial Victorian Navy. Note his distinctive diamond rank lace and distinctive gold button (inset). Right: Queensland Marine Defence Force officers adopted a triangle in lieu of the Royal Navy's loop, or executive curl as it was officially known. Inset: A gilt button of the type worn by QMDF officers.

Officers of the South Australian colonial naval forces initially adopted crossed anchors to distinguish their apparel from that of the Royal Navy. Left: Captain JCP Walcot, Commandant of the South Australian Naval forces. Right: Commander CJ Clare.

By the early 1880s the uniform that stylised the ‘sailor suit’ had evolved with seamen generally appearing in blue serge or white duck (heavy cotton) jumpers, frocks and bell-bottomed trousers. On frocks and jumpers a blue jean collar decorated with three rows of white tape was worn. Contrary to popular belief the white tape did not commemorate Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s victories at the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar for even the United States and German navies made use of this distinction from a very early time. Both jumpers and frocks were worn over a white, square cut flannel shirt, the neck of which was also bound with blue cotton tape. A black silk scarf worn around the neck and secured to the front of the jumper with blue or white tape tied in a bow added a certain amount of panache to the appearance of the wearer. The addition of a white lanyard, also worn around the neck and tucked inside the jumper completed the ensemble.

 


Left: A colonial petty officer and rating of the the Victorian naval forces. The white stripe on the trouser leg of the junior rating was peculiar to the Victorian naval forces.

The rig was designed to be practical. The voluminous cut of the bell-bottom trousers enabled them to be removed rapidly, irrespective of footwear, and discarded to improve the chance of survival should a sailor go overboard. The seven horizontal creases ironed in each trouser leg enabled the garment to be concertinaed and rolled, inside out, so that they remained clean, taking up little room in lockers or kit bags. This method also prevented them from further unwanted creasing. The number of horizontal creases in each trouser leg was incidental although a popular belief emerged that the number was chosen to represent the seven seas.

The origin of the blue jean collar stems from the days of sail when it was popular for sailors to plait and tar their hair in a ponytail, the intent of the collar being to prevent the tar from staining the uniform beneath it. The black headscarf, that was once used to absorb sweat in crowded gun decks, is today worn only as a decorative feature comprising a strip of black silk secured by tapes and a bow to the front of the jumper. Also now decorative in nature is the white lanyard to which a seaman’s knife was once secured. In days gone by the knife would sit snugly in a pocket stitched to the front left breast of a seaman’s jumper. The pocket was later moved inside the jacket and out of sight remaining there until well after World War II. If the knife was required for use, the lanyard was slipped from around the neck and looped around one’s waist providing ready access.

 


The design of seamen's jumpers initially incorporated a pocket on the front left breast to accommodate a dirk that was secured to a white rope lanyard worn around the neck. The rating at the left wears the distinctive cap ribbon of the New South Wales Naval Artillery Volunteers and a black leather 'snake-belt' around his waist. Below: A seaman's dirk of the type attached to the white rope lanyard. This useful tool included a blade, marlin spike and screw-driver.

Headwear for seamen consisted of either a peak-less round blue or white cloth cap, or a straw sennet hat for use in hot weather. From 1868, all caps and hats worn by seamen had black hat ribbons with gilt wire lettering bearing the name of their ship tied around them. The position of the bow securing the ribbon, however, moved variously and during World War I & II could often be found positioned over the left eye. Eventually it was decreed that all cap ribbons would be tied with the bow sitting neatly above the left ear.

Chief petty officers (CPO) were dressed in double-breasted long jackets fastened with gilt buttons, matching trousers and peaked caps of the same design as officers.  The caps were embellished with a gilt wire badge depicting the sovereign’s crown above a rope-fouled Admiralty pattern anchor on a black background. For CPOs of the seaman branch, the crown was of gold and the anchor was of silver. For all others, both were of gold. Engine room artificers had one further distinction; the background on which their anchor was affixed was purple instead of black.


Examples of early cap badges worn by Chief Petty Officers c.1901. Later, when a laurel wreath was added, this design was adopted by petty officers. The badge at the right is an an example of that worn by Chief Petty Officer engine room artificers of the Royal Naval Reserve.

Later, in July 1920, a new cap badge for CPOs was introduced into the RAN.The new badge featured a silver anchor surrounded by a narrow wreath of laurel leaves in gold, surmounted by the Tudor crown. Thereafter, the cap badge previously worn by CPOs was adopted by petty officers that had attained four years seniority. These badges continue to be worn to this day.

 


Cheif Petty Officers spanning more than 100 years of naval service.Today 'Chiefs' are easily recognisable by their distinctive cap badge and category badges worn on the lapels of thier No1 jackets.

By 1890 the variety of uniforms available to officers was extensive with a uniform available for every conceivable occasion, ranging from the impressive double- breasted full dress uniform, to the uninspiring yet practical sou’wester foul weather hat. The late 19th century was also a time of great technological change. Sail was giving way to steam and wooden hulled ships were replaced by ironclads equipped with high calibre guns in lieu of cannons. With this new technology came the need for more specialised officers and ratings to man the ships and in a very short period of time a variety of new trades appeared throughout the navy. With these new trades came the introduction of non-substantive rate badges that were worn on the right arm to identify specific specialisations. Some of the earliest of these included gunners, stokers, artisans and signalmen. Substantive badges, denoting rank, were worn on the left arm along with good conduct chevrons.

 


A selection of early, red embroidered, rate badges. Top L-R: Leading Rate, Ordinary Signalman, Gunlayer 3rd class. Bottom L-R: Stoker, Chief Armourer, Marksman 1st Class.

 


A field gun crew from the South Australian Navy colonial ship HMCS Protector c.1897.

Non executive officers’ specialisations were indentified by different coloured distinction cloth worn between the gold rank lace on their sleeves or undress epaulettes. This gave them a colourful appearance, with mechanical engineers adopting purple cloth, paymasters white, surgeons red and electrical engineers green to name just a few. It is from the green, that the term ‘greenie’ originates which remains in use to this day to describe any personnel of the electrical branch. Officers of the medical and dental branches continue the tradition of wearing distinction cloth to this day primarily to identify them as non-combatants. Officers of the executive branch have traditionally worn none.

 


Left: A full dress uniform of a Surgeon Commander, c.1918, with red distinction cloth clearly visible between the rank lace on the sleeve. Right: Swatches of distinction cloth used to distinguish officers of the Engineering (purple) and Ordnance Branches (blue).

 

The Commonwealth Naval Forces

On 1 March 1901, the Australian States transferred their naval forces and all persons ‘employed in their connexion’ to the Federal Government, creating the Commonwealth Naval Forces (CNF). There were no immediate changes to uniforms and for a period the CNF was a consolidated navy in name only, with each state continuing to wear their former colonial uniforms. It was not until 1904 that new uniform regulations were promulgated. These instructions ordered officers of the CNF to wear the uniform prescribed in the King’s Regulations for officers and men of the RN with only minor modifications to rank lace. This involved the substitution of a triangle in place of the executive curl for seaman officers and the substitution of a gold star for officers of non-executive branches such as paymasters and engineers.

Petty officers, men and boys, adopted the same uniform as that worn in the RN with the exception that cap ribbons were lettered H.M.A.S [His Majesty’s Australian Ship] followed by the name of their ship. This early reference to use of the letters ‘H.M.A.S’ preceding ship’s names is noteworthy, as it was not until 1911 that King George V officially approved the designation ‘His Majesty’s Australian Ship’.

 


Left: Captain WR Creswell was appointed the first Director of the Commonwealth Naval Forces in 1904. He can be seen here dressed in a frock coat laced with the design approved for the new naval forces featuring a triangle in lieu of the executive curl. Right: A junior rating dressed in blues wearing an early cap ribbon lettered HMAS.

The Royal Australian Navy

The granting of the Royal title in 1911, coupled with the arrival of the Australian fleet unit in October 1913, removed any lingering concerns the Admiralty held concerning Australian naval men wearing RN uniform and in 1913 the RAN received approval to adopt the full range of uniforms, badges and insignia of the RN. The only differences that remained between the two were minor changes to buttons and cap ribbons referencing Australia. For many, this was viewed as the final affirmation that Australia’s naval forces, as the embryonic RAN, had come of age. 1913 also saw the formation of the Naval Dockyard Police and the first permanent RAN band that paraded dressed in a version of the uniform worn by the Royal Marines Band Service.


The buttons introduced for use following the granting of the 'Royal' title in 1911. L-R: Black horn button worn by ratings not dressed as seamen, gilt button worn by chief petty officers & petty officers, and the gilt button with rope circlet approved for officers. The tilted anchor is often referred to as a 'lazy' anchor.

In 1914, as war clouds gathered, the rank of lieutenant-commander was introduced taking its place in the hierarchical structure above lieutenants and below commanders. This saw the familiar ‘half’ stripe introduced between the existing rank-lace worn by lieutenants. It did not take long for those serving in the lower deck to coin the term ‘two-and-a half’ to describe officers of that rank.

The following year saw engineering officers granted use of the executive curl on their upper rank stripe and by 1918 the remaining non-executive officers had received similar approval, although the practice of wearing coloured distinction cloth continued until April 1955.

Not all of the RAN’s personnel went to war in navy blue. Members of the 1st Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train, an engineering unit, served at Gallipoli and throughout the Middle East dressed in the olive drab uniform of the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander L.S. Bracegirdle, RAN, saw a need to distinguish between the two forces and designed large, stockless anchor badges to identify them as sailors, these were worn in lieu of the army’s ‘Rising Sun’ badges.

Between World War I and the outbreak of World War II a variety of new categories made their appearance including divers and dental mechanics. CPOs uniforms were also altered slightly when approval was given in January 1926 for three large gilt buttons to be added to the cuffs of blue jackets and white tunics. The combination of buttons on the cuffs coupled with the wearing of non-substantive badges on the lapels of the blue jacket became synonymous with the CPO rank.

 


Above: The Siebe Gorman standard diving dress and rate badge introduced for ratings qualified as 'hard'hat' divers.

In March 1928 a new style of RAN button was introduced, comprising a vertical stockless anchor replacing the previously worn ‘lazy’ anchor. This style has endured to this day, albeit since 1953 with the St Edward’s crown in lieu of a Tudor crown.

 


Left: Officer's full dress epaulettes were often purchased privately and secured, along with cocked hats, in velvet-lined tin chests. In the RAN these were worn chiefly with frock coats. Above: Gilt buttons were struck from blanks using hob dies such as the one seen here to impress the design on the face of the button. These examples are of the buttons that replaced the 'lazy anchor' device that were introduced on 13 March 1928.

The onset of war with Germany on 3 September 1939 triggered another technological revolution that saw the armed forces of the industrialised world rapidly advance in ways not previously considered possible. With new technologies and innovation came the requirement for a host of new categories in the RAN and a much more practical approach to dress. At the beginning of the war many battles were fought in what today would be considered to be ceremonial uniforms. By the war’s end, thousands of sun-tanned Australian officers and sailors could be found throughout the Pacific, with bare chests or clad in khaki open necked shirts, shorts and sandals.

 


Left: Leading Signalman JW Varcoe, DSM, (John Longstaff, oil on canvas, 1921, AWM ART 02996). During World War I and the early stages of World War II it was not uncommon for ratings serving in the Dominion navies to go into action wearing this uniform. Over time, a much more practical approach to apparell was adopted as can be seen in Henry Hanke's painting of Able Seaman J Walker who is dressed in a protective anti-flash hood and gloves and who wears an inflatable life-belt. (AWM ART 22171)

World War II also saw the institution of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) and the Royal Australian Navy Nursing Service (RANNS). From 1941, Australia’s first female sailors could be found performing a variety of critical jobs ashore dressed in navy blue jackets, skirts and felt fur hats. By the end of the war they too had added a more practical khaki coloured working rig to their kit that was better suited to the hot Australian climate.

 


Left: Third Officer J Cowie and Telegraphist MJ Walton, both of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, captured on canvas by Henry Hawke (AWM ART23956). Note the pale blue rank lace and diamond shape curl that distinguished officers of the WRANS. Right: Physiotherapist MM Lindon wearing the 'walking out' uniform approved for the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service in 1942.

 


Following Imperial Japan's entry into World War II in December 1941, Australia's naval forces were deployed variously throughout northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific where the climate necessitated a much more practical approach to naval dress. By the war's end in 1945, members of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service could also be found serving in northern climes.

The women’s services were briefly disbanded after the war but in 1951 the WRANS was resurrected. In the same year, post war kit was approved which saw the introduction of light blue embroidered badges for ratings and the distinctive tri-corne hat for officers, CPOs and petty officers. Later the RANNS was also reinstituted and they too adopted their own distinctive uniforms and insignia, more befitting with their role as nurses.


Left: Post-war kit for members of the WRANS was approved in March 1951. At that time the tricorn hat in use by Britain's Women's Royal Naval Service was adopted for wear by officers and senior rates with winter uniform whereas as a white wide-brimmed hat was approved for use with summer rigs.

WRANS officer candidates embarked in a work-boat in Sydney, they wear white HMAS CERBERUS cap ribbons to denote their status as potential officers. Above: A cap of the type seen in the accompanying image and an example of a distinctive blue-embroidered rate badge worn by post-war WRANS.

 

Australia’s reserve forces played a significant role throughout World War II serving in theatres the world over. Generally they wore the same uniform as officers and ratings of the permanent forces although officers were easily distinguishable by their waved rank lace that appeared in two different styles. One for the Royal Australian Naval Reserve Seagoing (RANR(S)) and another for officer of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR) and Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RANVR). All were coined to be officers of the ‘wavy navy’ because of their distinctive rank lace.

 


Left: Leading Signalman S Chant of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve dressed in 'blues' and wearing a cap ribbon of H.M.A. NAVAL RESERVE. Note also his marksman's 'cuff-rate' worn on his right lower sleeve. Right: Lieutenant W Frame, DSC, MM* wearing the distinctive 'criss-cross' rank lace of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (Sea-Going).

Left: An example of an epaulette of the type worn by dental officers (orange distinction cloth) of the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve. Centre: Surgeon KM Morris, RANVR, wearing his double-breasted service jacket with RANVR lace clearly visible on his sleeve. The Wavy Navy lace was discarded in March 1951 and instead the letter 'R' was worn within the executive curl on rank lace to denote officers of all branches of the reserve forces.

Left: Writer (clerk) AE Cary, RANR dressed in class III uniform that was worn by ratings not dressed as seamen. In addition to his non-substantive 'writers' badge he wears RANR badges of the types inset. Cary was killed in action in HMAS Perth (I) during the Battle of Sunda Strait. Many RAN warships were crewed my men of the Reserve forces during World War II. Right: Royal Australian Naval Reserve National Servicemen pose for a photograph c.1950. Note the RANR (NS) cap ribbons and sleeve badges.

Chaplains too, have been a constant in the RAN since its inception, although it took many years for them to gain approval to wear naval uniform. It was not until 1940 that a peaked cap and distinctive cap badge was approved for them to wear with a basic form of naval uniform replacing traditional clerical attire.

 


Left: The device introduced for RAN chaplains to wear on shoulder boards to identify their status as. Right: The RAN Chaplains cap badge is similar in design to that worn by commissioned officers excepting that the laurel leaves are black instead of gold.

The lessons of World War II saw the RAN introduce a dedicated air arm into service and from 1947 a proliferation of new trades and specialisations began to appear. Soon pilots, observers, air crewmen, aircraft handlers, meteorologists, photographers, safety equipment personnel and myriad other air engineering trades swelled the ranks of the RAN. Flying clothing was introduced as were a host of new non-substantive rate badges and other items of uniform including the black wool beret.


Captain V.A.T. Smith, DSC, RAN, wearing his distinctive aircrew observers wings on his left breast. Note that he has retained the wings awarded to him under the reign of King George VI - distinguishable by the ‘King’s’ crown. This was common practice among many who had earned their ‘wings’ during wartime. Top: An example of a black wool beret adopted not only by aircrew but also naval apprentices and junior recruits. The establishment of a Fleet Air Arm saw numerous new non-substantive rate badges introduced and a number of specialist flying badges such as the pilot qualification badge and aircrewman badge depicted here. In 1966 gilt metal brooches replaced gold embroidered flying badges.

 

In 1948 the electrical branch was instituted and with it came the first appearance of the familiar crossed lightening bolts on badges of the electrical category. Previously electrical duties had been discharged by men of the torpedo category.

Action working dress, comprising a light blue, long-sleeved shirt and dark blue cotton drill trousers, made its debut in March 1948. This practical hard-wearing working rig could be considered to be the forerunner of today’s DPNUs as it was one of the first uniforms to place practicality over appearance.

 


Left: In use from 1948 through to the late 1990s action working dress was the forerunner of DPNU. Right: Junior recruits at HMAS Leeuwin, WA, report for duty dressed in action working dress and black wool berets. Those wearing class II caps are dutymen.

Another practical introduction followed in May 1950 when a new short-sleeved white bush jacket was introduced for officers of captain’s rank and above for use in tropical climates. Bush jackets remained an optional item of kit until 30 July 2009, at which time they were removed from the approved RAN clothing list. Today it is an optional piece of kit.

 

With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 the RAN again found itself on active service. For those who served throughout the conflict it is often remembered for its freezing winter temperatures which saw many personnel resort to wearing warm civilian apparel in conjunction with their uniforms in an effort to keep warm, a lament of sailors since they first put to sea.

 


Above: At times service at sea can prove particularly unpleasant for personnel exposed on the upper deck necessitating a need for robust foul weather clothing as can be seen in these images taken during the Korean War.

On 6 February 1952 King George VI died and Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. The change in monarch marked the end of over fifty years of rule by successive British kings, all of whom had adopted the Tudor crown as the symbol of their authority. After Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953, the St Edwards Crown was adopted, replacing the Tudor Crown on badges, insignia, buttons and accoutrements of the Commonwealth’s armed forces.

 


After HM Queen Elizabeth's coronation in June 1953 a revised pattern naval officer's cap badge was introduced incorporating the St Edwards Crown. Know colloquially as the 'Queen's Crown' it also replaced all existing Tudor Crowns on badges, buttons and accoutrements.

May 1952 saw the establishment of the Clearance Diving (CD) category and from September 1954, the letter ‘C’ was added below the diver’s non-substantive rate badge to indicate the CD qualification. The 1950s saw the demise of officer’s distinction cloth (with the exception of the medical and dental branches) and the abandonment of waved lace for officers of the reserve forces. They instead adopted a small letter ‘R’ which was centred in the loop of the executive curl. This too was done away with in 1986.

With the 1960s came the missile age and the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and 1972 elements of the RAN undertook continuous service in Vietnam as sea, ashore and in the air. Once again it was the environment in which RAN personnel were serving that influenced changes to uniforms, placing practicality ahead of appearance. Both clearance divers and aviators of the RAN could be found serving ashore in Vietnam dressed in army style ‘jungle greens’, while in ships on the gun line, officers serving in the RAN’s destroyers adopted the khaki uniforms worn by their counterparts of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet. The 1960s also saw the RAN band shift out of their Royal Marine styled uniforms and into traditional naval rig.

 


Members of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam arming a gunship prior to a mission. Integrated with the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company it was designated an 'Experimental Military Unit' adopting the badge and unofficial motto see here.

Left: A gold wire example of the attractive ordinary musician’s badge incorporating the basic device of a lyre embellished with a laurel wreath. This combination appeared on all other musician non-substantive rates. Far right: An example of a qualified musician’s badge. Prior to January 1960 RAN musicians were dressed in a derivative of Royal Marine Band unifoms.

On 25 July 1966 the Naval Board approved the introduction of a distinctive badge for wear by qualified RAN submarine personnel. The badge was of gold-plated gilding metal in the form of a brooch depicting two dolphins, nose-to-nose, supporting a crown. Its design is attributed to Captain A.H. McIntosh, RAN, (Retd). Since that time the badge has been proudly worn by thousands of RAN submariners who have earnt the right to wear it on their left breast.

 

 


Left: Nicknamed the 'kissing kippers' the RAN submarine qualification badge has been worn with pride since 1966. Right: The white polar-necked submarine jumper has also become a symbol of serving in the 'Silent Service'.

The introduction of gilt metal qualification badges for submariners inspired a revision of the existing patterns for aircrew badges and in 1966 approval was given for gold plated, gilding metal badges to replace existing cloth flying badges.

 


Top: The revised Aircrew qualification badges introduced in 1966. Top: Pilot. Left: Observer. Right: Aircrewman.

In 1971 the rank of Warrant Officer was reintroduced into the RAN having been abolished in 1949. Warrant Officers had orignally worn a single thin stripe and executive curl on the sleeves of their jackets and on shoulder boards to signify their rank. The new insignia comprised the Australian coat-of-arms which was worn on the sleeves of blue jackets, and as a small gilt device on epaulettes. The cap badge introduced, seen above, was a deriviant of the existing Chief Petty Officer's badge.

In 1993 the rank of Warrant Officer of the Navy was introduced in the RAN. This saw the introduction of a new rank badge of the type seen at left. Right: WO-N Gary Wight is congratulated by the out-going WO-N Martin Holzberger following a brief handover ceremony. Coincidentally, both were submariners and can be seen wearing the submarine qualification badge on their left breast.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the introduction of further new non-substantive badges, particularly for technical sailors whose badges were adorned with a variety of stars to denote technical expertise and skill. Specialist badges for principle warfare officers were also approved as were navy blue jumpers, known as ‘woolly pullies’, which made their debut in the mid 1980s. With them came the first of the RAN’s soft rank insignia that was worn on the shoulders. The disbandment of the WRANS followed and for the first time, women adopted the traditional uniforms of the sailor, as the RAN became one service.

 


Left: A leading seaman on duty on the gangway of a guided missile destroyer dressed in a traditional seaman's flannel or 'white-front' as they were sometimes known. The khaki felt fur wide brimmed hat was introduced in the early 1990s to provide protection in tropical or hot climates from the sun. Right: An able seaman dressed in  a 'wooly pully' jumper works in cold conditions on a RAS point.

The introduction of the specialist qualification badge for Principal Warfare Officers was, over time, followed by a range of others denoting specialist qualifications for both officers and sailors. L-R. Principal Warfare Officer, Mine Warfare & Clearance Diving Officer, Maritime Logistics Officer Charge Qualification, Mine Warfare Officer, Engineering Officer Charge Qualification, Fighter Control Officer, Maritime Geospatial Officer, Fighter Control Sailor.

Left: CMDR M Blenkin, RAN, wearing the standard RAN parachute qualification badge on his left breast. Centre top: RAN special duties parachute qualification badge, awarded to clearance divers who had passed Special Air Service selection. Middle: RAN standard parachute badge. Bottom: Senior Engineering/Electrical Sailor charge qualification badge. Right: CPOMT C Frampton, wearing his charge qualification badge on his left breast.

 


In April 1997 new style uniforms were introduced for junior sailors. This saw the traditional bell-bottom trousers and white flannels give-way to straight leg trousers and collared shirts for both male and female sailors.

The next major uniform change came with the advent of the first Gulf War when a need for a more robust form of action working dress was identified. This saw the introduction of grey, fire retardant, combat coveralls that were soon adopted throughout the entire RAN fleet. Around the same time, approval was also given for personnel serving ashore in operational areas to wear army disruptive pattern camouflage uniforms (DPCU). This was to become standard kit for officers and men of the clearance diving branch due to the nature of their work. A second variant, known as disruptive pattern desert uniform (DPDU), featuring sandy coloured tones better suited for operations in the Middle East Region followed and many naval personnel found themselves wearing this pattern while deployed ashore overseas.

 


Left: Members of HQ INTERFET's Naval Component Command, wearing the military pattern DPCU, East Timor, 1999. Right: RAN personnel deployed ashore in the Middle East Region were issued DPDU uniform that was more in keeping with the environment in which they were serving.

 


Seamen on a RAS point in HMAS Darwin secure a hose line. Note the grey fire-retardant combat coveralls they are wearing and personal protective equipment such as hard hats and goggles.

In April 1997, sailors’ famous bell-bottom trousers and white flannels were discarded in favour of straight-legged pants and white collared shirts, subtly changing the traditional appearance of the Australian sailor.

 


Today DPNU has become synonymous with seagoing sailors manning the RAN fleet. Practical and hard-wearing it has proved popular throughout the Navy.

Today the practicalities of naval service, recognition of cultural diversity and the wellbeing of RAN personnel take precedence over staunch traditional nautical appearance. A large percentage of officers and sailors now wear the familiar DPNU as their day-to-day working rig with the more traditional ‘sailor suits’ reserved for ceremonial occasions. Happily when the men and women of the RAN proudly don their ceremonial uniforms they continue to cut an inspiring sight reinforcing the traditions of over a century of service.

 


RAN sailors on parade at Recruit School, HMAS Cerberus.

 

Further information concerning the history of Australian naval uniforms may be found in Kit Muster, Uniforms, Badges and Categories of the Australian Navy 1865-1953 published by the Sea Power Centre - Australia.

 

A companion volume is in the course of production and forecast to be published in 2020.