Working through the East Africa General Routine Orders (GRO) for 1916 at The National Archives, I spotted a reference to ‘one wide awake hat’ – never having heard of a hat being awake, I thought it required investigating… here’s what I found…
Also known as a Quaker hat or a wide-brimmed hat and it’s similar to what we refer to as a safari hat – well an old-fashioned one. There are modern day equivalents, not quite wide-awake but based on the same principle. And for variation, here’s an 1860s USA one.
Why it’s called a ‘wide-awake hat’ is explained here – it has no ‘nap’!
It also features in a few African related novels and histories: The Apostle of South Africa by Adalbert Ludwig Balling, 2015; A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and contexts for Pynchon’s novel by Steven C. Weisenburger, 2011; James Hannington of East Africa – Bishop Martyred for Africa by Charles D. Michael, reprint on 1920 book; Across Africa vol 2 by Verney Lovett Cameron, reprint of 1877 journey.
So, in what context was it used in the GRO?
It featured on 17 April 1916 in GRO 263 regarding the Scale of Clothing to be issued, referring back to 4 April orders.
‘one “Wide-awake” hat per Cape Boy is authorised’, along with ‘1 pair of sandals for Nandi Scouts, Zanzibar African Rifles and Baganda Rifles’ and for Indian troops and followers – item 1 ‘Jackets, khaki, may be issued in lieu for Indian Officers and Civilian subordinates’
Item 20 – ‘or Knickerbockers in lieu’
Well, we now know about the wide-awak hat, but knickerbockers?
Wikipedia helps on that front to an extent, but the link to the Indian army and India is still obscure, although this image suggests the men might well be wearing knickerbockers tucked into their puttees and also the West Indian Regiment. And a collection in New Zealand has a pair dating to 1916 manufactured in India.
I wonder what the sandals were made of then? Today, the Masai and others tend to use old car tyres. Alas, no picture, although they may well have been similar to sandals Gandhi wore, but this article tells of the company which manufactured African sandals during the war and raises more questions: mosquito boots! and they’re required urgently for East Africa!
Who would have thought that a small mention in a GRO would lead to a lesson in fashion…