RN ratings working and action clothing in WW2

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    Malcolm Lewis

      A recent episode of the BBC Sunday night drama series “World on Fire” featured HMS Exeter in the Battle of the River Plate, December 1939. The ratings were seen in action in their square rig, collars and all, and the guns crews were not wearing anti-flash clothing. Their caps were navy but their “flannels” (shirts) were white, not navy woolen jumpers as were worn with “winter rig”. Maybe as Exeter was operating in the South Atlantic the crew might have been in whites. Lots of question marks but TV producers should be better advised.
      My question is what was the working rig in the RN in WW2? When I joined in the 1950s, we wore No 8s – comfortable shirts and trousers.

      David Hepper

        I believe Number 8 Action Working Dress was introduced at the end of WW2, c.1944/45 I believe. Prior to that, it would have been square rig or overalls I think.
        In the photographic collection in the Imperial War Museum, a variety of dress can be seen:

        Wearing overalls, anti-flash gear and helmets:


        Wearing square rig, anti-flash and helmets:

        Overalls and anti-flash:

        Certainly the biggest omission in the TV drama was the lack of anti-flash gear … but this may have been because it would have obscured the actors faces …

        Malcolm Lewis

          I am grateful to Peter Hulme in New Zealand, subscriber to the Marhst naval history website site, for sending me official photos of HMNZ Achillies pictured close to the Graf Spee after the Battle of the River Plate. The ship’s company are in tropical whites or blue boiler suits. At actions stations they are wearing anti-flash gear.

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