British Army issues Greatcoats

Wed, 04/23/1800

On 23 April 1800, the War Office issued a directive stating that every non-commissioned officer and private was to be provided with a greatcoat. This followed the army's severe losses during the winter retreat through Holland. Prior to this time, cloaks and overcoats were retained on a scale of around four per company and were known as 'watch-coats' as they were only for use on guard or sentry duty. Prior to this, many soldiers had worn a waistcoat under their jacket, often made out of an old jacket and procured at their own cost. So too was a sort of overcoat garment known as a surtout that was likely to have been fashioned from red cloth similar to the tunic, or indeeed an old tunic. It was extra waistcoats and perhaps a surtout as well that had protected the resourceful soldier from the cold.

The first pattern was grey with a small cape and in 1812 the officers were to wear a similar item only to be replaced shortly thereafter with a regulation blue cloth cloak. Prior to this, many officers had worn a privately purchased type of civilian cloak known generally as a 'boat-cloak’. The practicality of a cloak over a greatcoat would be appreciated by a mounted officer.