Friday, 7 January 2011

A little more on uniforms and kit.

All of this is fairly straightforward and obvious really, and so our purpose going forward is to work out how to create (not actually recreate) this uniform and it’s component parts, with an aim of achieving a uniform and reproducible appearance.
The helmet is the simplest component really, as Herge drew what clearly appears to be a Swiss Model 1918/66 helmet.  Fortunately for us these are still available in the surplus/militaria market and EBay and needs no modification, other than possibly a repainting, to be serviceable. 

The Uniform
The uniform, however, is a thornier issue.  What we will need is a presumably wool, although a summer cotton/linen version is possible, uniform coat and trousers cut in a specific 1930’s era style.  At this point I think we can agree that using an original period uniforms is quite unacceptable, if for no other reason than their rarity means that they are to expensive to procure reliably and to dear to modify.  There are two other possible avenues open to us in this quest: surplus East German uniforms* and reproduction ww2 German uniforms*.  East German uniforms are as of yet not too dear to obtain and can still be had for low prices.

The second option is slightly more complicated, but ultimately a more reliable source as the East German stocks will in time dry up.  If we choose to use reproduction uniforms we are freed from a certain amount of guilt derived from using what is a dwindling supply of surplus uniforms.  However, this will still come at a cost.  Just how much is the real question.  A decent quality repro coat could cost $150 on the low end of the scale.  

A couple of points here; one, there is no reason to spend any more than that on a coat that, honestly, you are only going to wear occasionally, and secondly in fact we don’t want or need to be paying for accurate details, unlike reenactors…the cheaper and less accurate versions are just what we need. Since folks are making these uniforms and the reenactors won't use them I say why long as we get them cheap and in the right colour. 

The coats in question appear to be a light green or olive drab in colour and I think some variation in hues will need to be expected and accepted so long as the uniform isn’t a dark green colour like the Bordurian uniforms.  The next detail would be the collar, the originals are clearly of the “stand-up” variety (somewhat unusual for the era) and most coats available to us will need to have the feature modified.  Lastly, depending on which donor coat is used, the cottons may need to be replaced with silver ones.

Well, so long as they match the coat and are free of any external cargo pockets, there is a range of options available.

This is a definite grey area for us.  Clearly something ought to be worn and if you want to maintain a coherent appearance then a period appropriate undershirt is required.  Various undershirts, such as the ubiquitous “T shirt”, existed in the 1930’s and were even issued to soldiers by some nations.  Most European nations seem to have issued a collarless pull over style shirt that would be best replicated by a “Henley” style shirt.  Since private purchases would have been possible, the colour (as long as it is an earth tone) and length of the sleeves is up to the individual.

Unlike the Bordurians who are depicted wearing ankle boots and puttees, the Syldavians appear to be issued with a taller “pull on” style boot not unlike the German jackboot.  In order to replicate this look we have several options: one is to use reproduction jackboots, but like the coat the price is likely to be prohibitive.  Secondly, one could use surplus East German boots…but again as with the uniforms this is a dwindling supply that we may one day run out of.  The third and final option is to use the so-called “engineer” boots that are commonly available today.  While they are likely to be more expensive the East German versions, they are equally as likely to be available in a range of sizes and also cost less than repro jackboots.

The Fez
I have included the fez in the uniform for several reasons: one, it is frequently depicted worn by Syldavian civilians…leading me to suspect that it is part of the national costume.  Secondly, soldiers in dress uniforms (the royal guards and others in the parade scene) are shown wearing white fez’s with a feather and the royal crest.  Its inclusion in the uniform seems fairly logical then.  Presumably it would be made of a material and colour matching the rest of the uniform (felted wool I suspect), although I think the feather might not be included in the field uniform.  Creating a fez shouldn’t be too complicated:
Instructions for a Fez
One small piece of regular felt/wool for the top of the fez (5-inch square).
One piece of felt/wool for the body of the fez (7-inch-high rectangle of felt of a length that is 1/2 inch more than your head's circumference).
Thread and needle.

This pattern may need slight adjustments or improvements to fit your needs.

First, therefore, measure the circumference of your head. If your head is larger or smaller, you will want to take that into consideration when cutting the pattern.

Second, print your pattern. The printed pattern should be full size. Then cut the pattern out, adjusting as needed. Rough fit the paper pattern to your head to make sure of the fit before cutting.

Third, cut out your material.

Fourth, wrap the long piece (the body of the fez) around your head and use several pins to fix the two ends together where you wish to sew them. At this time, make sure the conical angle of the fez is to your liking. Sew the two ends together leaving the top quarter inch free. Eventually, the top quarter inch of felt will be folded inside the fez and will be sewn to the top of the fez. If necessary, cut away any final excess felt.

Fifth, turn the body of the fez inside-out. Bend the top quarter inch of felt outward. You will need to make a few cuts in the felt so that it folds outward properly (three or four should be sufficient).

Sixth, take the top of the fez and lay it on top of the folded down quarter inch and pin the two pieces together. Remember that once the top of the fez is sewn on, you will turn the fez right-side out again. Therefore when placing the top of the fez onto the body, place the side that you want to show on the bottom.

Seventh, sew the body and top of the fez together by stitching the folded down quarter inch to the top of the fez. If necessary, you may make a few small cuts around the edge of the top of the fez to avoid gaps.

Eighth, turn the fez right-side out and shape the fez to your liking

“Bread bag”
Call it a bread bag, a haversack, musette bag, etc…you ought to have one.  In form this is simple enough: rectangular, with a flap closed by two snaps or buckles and suspended by a single strap.

Something like this ought to suffice:

Canteen and cover
Hmm…a dilemma here.  I would like to avoid using the military gear of other nations here, for one it is generally very recognisable and for another it’s rather expensive.  In order to develop a reproducible canteen and cover we need something that is easily obtained and modified.  The idea that I’m inclined to run with is this: take a stainless steel water bottle (or aluminium I suppose) and replace the cap with a cork.  Rough up the exterior with sand paper and give it an olive drab paint job.  Next sew a felt/wool cover for it (the pattern and instructions are roughly the same as those of the fez…but with different dimensions).  Add a shoulder strap with OD cloth webbing.  Easy.

Magazine pouches
Super cheap reproduction WW2 German pouches or similar should suffice.  Often these repros are available in either brown or black…either is suitable I think, so long as they match the waist belt.

The likely standard issue firearm of the military would be a locally produced firearm based in part on either the 1888 Mauser or the 1896 Krag-Jorgensen Rifle, and frankly I am leaning heavily towards the 1888.  Partially this is due to so many nations using rifles that were based, at least in part, on these rifles (Including Herge's Belgium), as well as the few depictions we have don’t seem to completely fit or exclude either. 

So clearly we will need our own version of this presumably bolt action rifle. Since this will be for display only, the non-gun in question can be fabricated with what I believe to be reasonable simplicity.  The hardest part of this is procuring the various fittings (barrel, trigger, trigger guard, bolt), and as luck would have it we may have an answer in the Parris Mfg Company, which has been producing a child’s size Springfield M1903 rifle (which is in and of itself a Mauser derivative) with an oddly adult sized bolt action for around $20.  If one were to cannibalize the fittings off of this toy they could be used to make our prop rifle far more believable.  Just an idea for now…at some point in the future I will add a tutorial to cover the construction method.

Oh, and what of the officers?  Yes, we must indeed think of them. The King and others are frequently depicted with small automatic handguns.  While many of these would have been issued, some percentage of these would have been private purchases. So in all probability one should expect to see a range of small European made handguns in .38 and 9mm calibers.

*The observant among you will note that I have posited that a surplus E.German or repro WW2 German uniform will work for this impression despite stating that in the post WW1 military reforms the nation based its new uniform on an Anglo-French design.  This is true.  However, aside from the collar (which will have to be modified anyway) the uniforms aren't that different and since every nutter out there wants a German uniform they tend to be cheap and plentiful...unlike French and British uniforms which are terribly pricey.

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