WW1 Scout Equipment

WW1 Scout Equipment 1

So to add to Carl Mitchley‘s brilliant kit tutorials on what Tommy would have worn throughout the Great War. Another of our member Kieran has supplemented it with what a typical WW1 British Army Scout would have worn. So here is the additional equipment carried or loaned out to scouts for their duties on the Western Front. This is what a battalion scout of the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment would have used in early 1918.


The practice and kit used in scouting was built up over the course of the war, from the very different demands of scouting for manoeuvring armies in 1914, to that required in trench warfare

WW1 Scout Equipment 1
WW1 Scout Equipment 1

Each company employed a few scouts, who may have done the duties on a rota or semi-permanent basis, who would have received various degrees of additional training and equipment.

Each battalion also employed several permanent scouts, and a scout officer, who were sent away for intensive training at one of the Schools of Scouting, Observation, and Sniping which were established behind the lines in France.

Battalion scouts were usually drawn from the more adventurous privates and NCOs, issued with additional equipment, and accorded distinguishing marks on their uniforms.

WW1 Scout Equipment 2
WW1 Scout Equipment 2

The standard uniform and equipment of the British infantry would have been the primary kit used by all scouts, with certain additions. So, to start with we have the usual 1902 Pattern, Service Dress Jacket, badged up as a member of the 10th Essex.

On the lower right arm are the blue Overseas Service Chevrons, denoting three years served in theatre during the war. These were first issued in early 1918, with each stripe denoting a year, while a red stripe would indicate overseas service during 1914.

Below that is a spare 1908 Pattern, Webbing Belt for suspending equipment when not wearing full webbing. In the right corner, is the late war pattern steel helmet, worn at all times while in the trenches.

WW1 Scout Equipment 3
WW1 Scout Equipment 3

A watch was invaluable as a tool for a scout, as their duties required long spells in isolation recording the movements in enemy trenches. By 1918 wristwatches had become very common in the British army, as prices had lowered, and a standardised pattern had been settled on by the various manufacturers. These were still a private purchase item, meaning there was still a good deal of variety. By the late war, the metal grills attached to early war watches had been replaced by mineral crystal glass which was now highly resistant to breakage.

For daytime observation binoculars were also essential. These came from several different manufacturers across Europe, and were stored in a leather case. As expensive though essential items they were likely issued from battalion stores to individual scouts while on duty.

WW1 Scout Equipment 4
WW1 Scout Equipment 4

Starting in the top right, moving clockwise, we have the Verner’s Patten, Prismatic Marching Compass, a private purchase waterproof wallet, a Mark II Protractor, and a trench map for the sector around La Boisselle. All items essential for finding your way and taking distances and bearings for any enemy activities observed.

These would all be recorded, sometimes along with field sketches in an AB153, Field Message Book, shown on the left. The individual drawn maps, sketches and notes, were to be signed and dated, before being torn out and sent to battalion HQ for study. On top of the pad is a blue tin, which once contained a bicycle repair kit, but has been repurposed as a pencil case. The contents of which can be seen in the previous photo, and consist of red, blue and black pencils and a rubber.
The tin in the centre holds two boxes of matches and a packet of 10 Woodbine cigarettes, a great comfort on downtimes after a long stint on watch.

WW1 Scout Equipment 5
WW1 Scout Equipment 5

On the lower left arm of their service jacket, battalion scouts wore a forest green brassard. This was introduced as standard practice in late 1917, though various schemes seem to have been in operation earlier, on an ad hoc basis. The brassard denoted the battalion scout’s status and made him easier for officers and NCOs to find in a sea of khaki. Brassards were intended to be held on with a buckle, but this was found to be ineffective, so most battalion scouts simply sewed the ribbons on.

Above the brassard is a Vigilant Trench Mirror. A private purchase item, available from 1914, which could be attached to the tip of a bayonet or knife to hold above a parapet or round a corner. Allowing the scout to observe while not being exposed.

WW1 Scout Equipment 6
WW1 Scout Equipment 6

On the upper right arm of the service dress is the battalion patch for the 10th Essex, and just below is the brass badge of a Scout, Second Class. The symbol of the fleur-de-lys was adopted for the infantry scouts and then the Boy Scouts by Robert Baden-Powell. He was apparently inspired by its use as an arrowhead to show North on maps.

Second class scouts were those from the lower ranks, while scout sergeants would have been first class scouts. To denote the difference a cross was added to the bottom of the badge. Though two different badges were produced, it was often found easier to cut off the cross from the more plentiful first class badge. This can be seen on the example here.

Pre-war badges were 3-4 times larger, however, the smaller pattern had been introduced before 1914. Later in the war cloth versions of the badge started to appear, here shown on the right.

WW1 Scout Equipment 7
WW1 Scout Equipment 7

Night work for a scout involved leaving the safety of the trenches or observation posts and going out in pairs or alone into no-man’s-land. To do this a different set of equipment was needed. Some scouts wore their standard uniforms, stripped of identifying marks, but many chose to swap this for a simple Guernsey. Shown here is the preferred dark green version, knitted using the traditional pattern on the isle of Guernsey, and was likely a private purchase item. This gave the scout a greater amount of movement, and camouflage at night, as well as providing warmth.

The task of a scout at night was to crawl into no-man’s-land and across to a point where they could observe the German positions up-close. Movements, defences, and other details could then be reported back to the scout officer. While doing this they would also locate and memorise routes through barbed wire and shell holes to the enemy lines which gave the best chance of avoiding observation. This information would in invaluable for the planning of other night operations, such as patrols or trench raids.

Folding wire cutters were a highly useful tool for this sort of duty, and could be worn on the belt inside their issue webbing pouch.

As well as a woollen jumper, are a variety of different headwear options. The steel helmet was too distinctive at night and sat too high above the head. Instead scouts chose to wear woollen hats for warmth and concealment. Starting at the top right is the standard issue Cap Comforter which could be used as a scarf, or as shown here, rolled up to form a hat. This was the warmest option and it’s misshapen silhouette was an advantage, but the other possible options were home knitted balaclavas or skull caps, both shown below.

WW1 Scout Equipment 8
WW1 Scout Equipment 8

For protection scouts went into no-man’s-land armed with a small selection of hand weapons. The most coveted of these was the Colt 1911 semi-automatic pistol. This was the standard issue side arm in the US Army, filling the role performed by the Mark VI Webley Revolver in the British Army. Many scouts would have been issued a Webley for night work from battalion stores, however, there were a small number of 1911 pistols ordered by the British Government in .455 calibre, rather then the US .45 ACP. Some of these went to the RFC, but others made their way into the trenches, where they became highly prized as fast and reliable, ideal for issue to trench raiders and scouts. It has a standard British lanyard to prevent its loss at night.

A couple of grenades were also commonly taken on night patrols by scouts. The example here is the Mills Bomb, No. 5 Mark 1, in common use from 1916. Both of these weapons would have been extremely conspicuous should they be used, and were therefore only intended for defence if the scout should be engaged by a German patrol.

WW1 Scout Equipment 9
WW1 Scout Equipment 9

The preferred option for a scout was to remain undetected the entire length of time they remained on duty at night. If a fight could not be avoided duty to the presence of a lone German scout or sentry, then scouts were trained to approach them as silently as possible and use a quick and quiet method to kill their opponent. Some scouts took trench clubs with them for such occasions, while others took knives. Another option was a punch dagger, the example shown here was produced by Robbins of Dudley. They made numerous nasty patterns of punch dagger during the war, which could be bought by soldiers, along with their leather scabbards with belt loops.

WW1 Scout Equipment 10
WW1 Scout Equipment 10

Scouting on the Western Front was obviously a very stressful occupation. Inside this scouts AB64, Soldier’s Pay Book, are a handful of Francs and a Combined Leave and Railway Ticket, allowing for travel from a period of leave at home back to the front. Also shown is an advertisement card for Chez Madame Juliette in Arras, a small establishment where Tommies could get a drink and watch the dancing girls.

WW1 Scout Equipment 11
WW1 Scout Equipment 11

To carry much of the extra kit, scouts likely stuffed most of it in their pockets or in their waist belt. But for longer stints in observation posts or other daytime scouting duties they likely carried extra equipment in their 1908 Pattern Haversack. This could be detached from the webbing set and a cross strap added.

Shown on top are two booklets. One is a French phrase book written by a French priest, Abbe H Delepine, printed in the Pas-de-Calais region. Useful for scouts who no doubt had to interact with French counterparts or when operating in French villages behind the lines or later when mobile warfare resumed.

The final item is a Soldbuch, the German equivalent of an AB64. These were useful items of intel, detailing the unit to which a soldier belonged, his training record, and even his shooting practice scores. Scouts would have searched the pockets of the dead in no-man’s-land and returned with such items to be examined by the scout or intelligence officer.