Saturday, 11 July 2015

11th July 2015 - Of Hospital Blues and Why Post Vans are Red

Thought for the day:" Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie"

Down on the South Coast for a day visiting family. A pleasant drive down to Barton on Sea in the sunshine though the skies threatened rain and storm most of the way down.

But we got there in one piece and a nice evening with the family..

And in the spirit of my friend Mr Morgan the Barber Surgeon..  we sat in the House Martin restaurant and pub and my father in law, whose 87th birthday we were celebrating, told us a little anecdote about his father who was invalided out of the first world war after one of the big battles - possibly the Somme.

It seems that after the soldiers started returning injured, not all were visibly scarred and were the subject of abuse from those who thought that they were just cowards...   This was the time that his father came back - very badly injured but not in any place that could be easily seen.

It seemed that after a while, the powers that be decided that there should be a way of identifying these heroes of the war - and started dying the army uniform blue - so that when worn others could see that the individual was not a shirker but one who had fought and survived..

When he arrived in England, a battle wounded soldier was sent to a hospital specialising in his type of wound or to one of the numerous convalescent establishments scattered throughout the UK. There, he was issued with "a special hospital uniform consisting of a blue single-breasted jacket with a white lining - worn open at the neck, blue trousers, a white shirt and a red tie. To complete the outfit he wore his own khaki service cap with its regimental badge." The suit was also known as the ‘blue invalid uniform’, ‘hospital suit’ and ‘hospital blues'. Curiously - it usually had no pockets!

This 1916 card, illustrated by R. Stoddart, commented on A Bad Fit of the “Blues.”   Not everyone who wore the suit was happy with it. On 20th October 1916, The Times recorded that a Mr Randell, "is to ask the Secretary of State for War on Tuesday whether he is aware that the blue uniform supplied to the wounded soldiers seems to be defective, in the outer skin of the garment, which is of flannelette, when washed shrinks at a rate from the lining, and that this problem produces an unsightly and bad-fitting garment; and whether flannel clothes cannot be given to the wounded instead."
It seems Mr Randell’s suggestion was not acted on and complaints of the sometimes ill-fitting suit continued to be voiced and one or two postcard publishers joined in the protest.

Complaints were also made by patients who found the suit was too large. For instance, in November 1915, Private Dolden was sent to No.26 General Hospital, and said that after a few days there he "was given a suit and what a suit! The hue was oxford blue, with white facings. Judging from the size of the particular suit that was handed to me it must have been intended for a Life Guardsman. I had to turn the trouser legs up till the turn-ups nearly reached my knees, so that the white facings were quite a spectacle. The bagginess allowed plenty of room for bending... A flaring red necktie added quite a socialistic touch. "
Numerous photographic postcards from the Great War survive today that depict British and Commonwealth soldiers wearing the blue hospital uniform. Commercial photographers in the UK visited both military and civilian voluntary hospitals and snapped pictures of single and group gatherings of the convalescents there. The pictures were reproduced as postcards and each man would usually buy one or two copies to send to friends and relatives.

On 12th August 1918, a letter appeared in The Times signed by ‘F.D.M.’, who asked, "At the present time we are all unhappily familiar with the blue uniform of wounded soldiers...Can any of your readers tell us the origin or history of the blue invalid uniform?" On 12th September readers provided some suggestions. Lieut-Col Walter H. James provided the most simple and practical answer for its existence. "The uniform...was probably introduced because it could be easily washed", he said.

And so Albert Joseph Payne was engaged by the Post Office as he got back to full health..  Not as a postman, though later this became his profession, but in painting the horse driven Post Vans of the early 20th century. Now, these days we know that even after the re-branding of BT ( formerly part of the Post Office) the Post Office Van has always been painted red. We know that the red post vans of today are the same as those over many years. Indeed as a late teen I owned an old Post Office Van Morris 1000 - affectionately known as a Moggie Thow Van - with a mattress in the back and an old 8 track cartridge stereo for sound system  - but it was definitely Red... 

But as the story develops it seems that this was more luck than judgement - as Albert Payne - responsible for the painting of the vans - was quite clearly very colour blind!!  I recall at our wedding he was wearing a brown jacket and light green trousers - he thought he was wearing a full suit !!!
I thought nothing more about it - only seeing the evidence in photographs later .. and no-one else thought anything about it either.....

But Albert painted the vans and luckily the colour of the pots was red - he would not have known any different.  So - had there been a mix up - then today the Post Office might well have been a Green One !!!

And so with those few thoughts I will go and hunt for a glass of wine - and maybe a small scotch as a nightcap - I am sure my father in law will join me  - and wish you good night


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