Sam Browne Equipment: Component Pictures and Data (Sealed Patterns)



gatacreIt should be noted, at the outset, that any account of the Sam Browne Belt is bound to be incomplete. There are simply too many variations, which result from manufacturing differences, the purchaser’s choice and regimental affectation. The picture at left, a large format, hand tinted formal photograph, is from Celebrities of the Army, published in 1900, and shows Lt. Gen. Sir William "Backacher" Gatacre, K.C.B., D.S.O. He is wearing a pre Sealed Pattern version of Sam Browne Equipment (no front right dee), but otherwise approximating to Mark I. Although it looks odd, in not being khaki, his jacket is the Serge Frock, an everyday-working dress item.

An officer’s freedom of choice concerning his privately purchased “Sam Browne” resulted in Belts of several widths, from about 1 1/2-inches to 3 plus inches, fastened with a variety of buckles ranging from double to single, from two tongued, radiussed rectangular form, through square cornered rectangular, to completely oval and even two tongued single buckles! Even single tongue buckles existed. The loops for attaching braces varied from semi-circular (“D” shaped), through completely circular, to rectangular. Of these the semi-circular could be high-, medium- or low-arched and even the circular types could vary in size. Brace buckles are square double, rectangular double, oval single, horseshoe single and even non-existent, as studs were sometimes used for adjustment in place of buckles.

Braces varied from 2-inches wide overall, to narrower forms, all of which were further tapered at their running ends to 1-inch. They could be made in one or two pieces, sometimes three. They attached to the rear of the Belt by inwardly-, or outwardly-turned double-backs and the front attachment billets ranged from a few inches overall to nearly a foot. Some had one of the Braces looped for cartridges, others had a leather pocket to hold a whistle on a short strap, either stitched to the Brace, or snap-hooked to a small dee on it. Other examples have brass loops, on the rear of both Braces, for the attachment of a rolled great coat. Some Braces even used spring clips to attach to the dees. At least one known Belt has no sword hook – a billet and stud being substituted, whilst another has no sword rings and a third no brass loops anywhere.

What follows therefore describes the basic designs, using illustrations from the 1900 Dress Regulations for officers and the original List of Change paragraph. Thus far, no example has been noted of the early form of belt, or brace. What is illustrated here is something to kick things off. KW hopes that there will be an explosion of offerings from readers with variant pieces, which are not shown here. With time, the inclusion of these will amply demonstrate how futile it is to attempt any definitive description of the Belt, “Sam Browne”.

The Belt was also listed by 1910, in the Priced Vocabularies. These did not specify who was to wear these, nor did the LoCs, yet the Vocabularies are viewed as being of equipment used, not by Officers, but by Warrant Officers, Staff Sergeants, N.C.O.s and Ordinary Ranks. The Regulations for the Equipment Of The Army Part 2 – Section I Infantry (Regular Army), even in the 1916 edition (printed January 1916),scaled a rifle (in Peace) for all ranks except bandmaster, bandsmen of Foot Guards and pipers. In War, drummers, buglers and range-takers were added to the list. The exceptions are hardly numerous and provisions for their pistols already existed in the Case, pistol, Webley, with leather loops (the open-top holster and the Pouch, ammunition, pistol, Webley, with leather loop. Both of these dated from Victorian times, albeit modified.

Who, then, wore the Cases, pistol, “Sam Browne” and Pouches, ammunition, pistol, “Sam Browne” in the Vocabularies? Whilst a bandmaster might not look odd in a Sam Browne, it would hardly have suited members of the band. Further documentation is required, that might indicate whether an extended and official issue of pistols occurred after the end of 1914. In January 1915, Warrant Officers were separated into Classes I and II and several SNCO ranks were upgraded to W.O. status. Perhaps the 1915 Priced Vocabulary reflects this rise in “almost officers”, who were dressed and accoutred in similar manner. It ought not to be that these S.B.s were for sale to officers, as they were officially required to have a Frog, sword, which was not listed until the 1920 edition. However - to express a note of caution – Scales are one thing, “custom & practice” are another. At the Front, more pragmatic views on weapons probably prevailed amongst ranks above N.C.Os., together with the means – monetary, or opportunity – to augment, or replace the issue weapon. After all, carrying swords in the field was abandoned early on, before the end of 1915. Since the official Staff Sergeants’ weapon was the sword, he would have needed an alternative.

Within the cavalry, the scale of revolver issue was wider, but the 1914 Equipment Regulations still only list the Victorian holster and pouch, mentioned above. There is also the question of what scales existed, that may also have changed, for Departments, i.e. A.O.C, A.S.C., etc.

A partial answer, at least on the post-war situation, is contained in A.C.I. 173 / 1919. This states “…for issue to officers, officer cadets and warrant officers Class I…”. By “…issue…” it is assumed that, for officers at least, there was a facility for them to purchase from the Quartermasters Stores, rather than a military outfitter. It does confirm that, other than scabbards (where swords varied), officers and W.O.s wore identical patterns of Sam Browne Belts.

© R.J. Dennis July 2010