Scout Shirts

Cambridge District Scout Archive

The headline photograph is from 1917

In the beginning

The description in Scouting for Boys below is a reasonable starting point for a brief overview of Scout shirts.

‘The Scout Shirt or Jersey is a free and easy thing, and nothing could be more comfortable when the sleeves are rolled up.  All Scouts have them rolled up because this tends to give them greater freedom, but also as a sign that they are ready to carry out their motto.  They roll them down only when it is very cold or when their arms may become sunburnt.  In cold weather the shirt can be supplemented with warmer garments over or, better, under it.’

The original shirts could be of many colours but uniform to a troop.  The 1912 Cambridge lists (below) give khaki, grey, green, dark green, blue, navy blue and dark blue. The HQ Gazette was selling shirts in khaki, navy and blue.  All these are mid to dark hues, colours for working clothes.   The finish on the cloth of the era softened the tones and the result was a soft working outfit not a dress uniform. 

Some early Troops altered shirts several times.  This change could be readily achieved, if necessary, by dyeing the shirts, a standard home skill. The 1st Cambridge changed shirt colours three times, the last on becoming Sea Scouts in 1913. 

Many photographs of younger Scouts show large shirts, hand me downs or bought for growth. Those below, showing by the sleeve length that they are the right size for the boys, are clearly cut to allow layering beneath.

Extra layers under, as advised C T Wood’s album

Some early pictures show the bulk of ‘tucked in’ shirts. Note the high waist, the cut of the times, which allowed room to grow but also provided a solid overlap and ‘kept the kidneys warm’, a concern of the era.   As late as 1947 the idea of abdominal chilling as a factor in illness was the subject of a British Medical Journal paper. Mothers retained this belief for many more years.

The thickness of early shirts and the generous cut encouraged them to be worn as intended, as an outer layer, with extra garments under if required. 

Shirts were usually depicted as tucked into the shorts. However this is not always the case. Tunic shirts, buttoned at the neck but not down the front, were also worn. 

A 1928 photograph of the 23rd Cambridge shows older Scouts wearing a knitted tunic shirt, the younger Scouts a scout shirt They can be seen on the cover of Scouting for Boys and in this 1931 picture of the B-P family.  In 1939 the ‘Victory of the Shirt over the Tunic’ was announced somewhat prematurely. In ‘Scout Tests and How to pass them’ published in 1938 and 1939 the task for the Tailor Badge was to sew a Scout shirt and shorts to fit himself. The given pattern was a tunic shirt with a 40″ from shoulder to tail

Peter BP (right) in a tunic shirt

Troop requirements

The 7th Cambridge are sporting button down collars in this photograph of 1935. The uniforms are not quite identical suggesting a number of manufacturers.

The stretcher, below, was constructed in 1950’s ‘It was the best way to make something to carry an injured person. To make it quickly you unbuttoned your top button held onto the staves then someone else pulled your shirt off – instant support as long as the person you were about to carry was not to heavy’. (T Claydon 2021) The lanyards are discarded but the scarves presumably now also part of the construction. A tunic would be stronger than mere buttons and some of the photos in the set show tunic shirts.

The introduction of new sections brought variations as regulated by POR, not least the sea scout jersey. The shift of materials was not regulated. New manufacturing techniques were developed which gave strength without bulk and a greater national wealth allowed summer and winter uniforms for some. The styles sold in the Scout Shop showed the way.

Dated c 1928 – badge types from both before and after this date co exist on this shirt from the 9th Cambridge. Short sleeved it is thick and has a robust construction.
This shirt of the 13th Cambridge, with Senior Scout epaulettes, is from the years between 1946 and 1967. Short sleeved it is thinner.

‘Guinea Pig’ shirts for Scouts were advertised in the 1930’s; they have no tail and can be tucked in without an unsightly bulge, sacrificing warmth for style.

Wolf Cub Jerseys

The Wolf Cub Jersey stayed fundamentally the same for many years. The picture below shows an assortment of Jersey colours and shapes, but they all have badges sewn in place. Without any further date it may be that this is from the middle of WW2 when there were no coupons for Scout uniform and no clothes to buy them with if there had been.

The 13th pack, whose scarf was ‘temporarily: Navy, light blue inset border, flash of group colours’ for some part of the war, displays a mix of colours in this photograph from the 13th Archive.


Ken North recalls the 1967 change in Guide uniform to an aquamarine blouse. The result was that it could only take a white layer beneath, whereas the previous battledress blouse in dark blue could take warm layers beneath. At a Remembrcance Service shortly after the change the Guides were nearly frozen whilst the RAF contingent paraded in their Greatcoats. He considered that the Guides had not been given adequate opportunity to discuss their needs. This was in contrast to the Scouts who were given the opportunity at this time and, from other archive sources, on other occasions to contribute. See Scout Hats

Cambridge Archives

1924 7th cambridge (County School) Court of Honour agreed ‘that all the Scout Troop might have their sleeves cut off about 1″ above the elbow.’

1925    Wide game on the Gogs with 9th and 7th (Ken with 13th) …all three troops wore grey shirt and blue shorts at that time.                  Ken North

The colour of shorts is rarely noted.

1936    ‘Gilcraft’ wrote in the Cambridgeshire County Gazette, that we should roll our sleeves up, but that he preferred his cut to the elbow. 

Details of Uniforms of Cambridge Town 1912        (Based inside the town boundaries)

1stKhakiCambridge Blue
3rdDark bluePink
4thnot givenBlack
5thGrey Purple (school colours)
6thGrey Chocolate/ light blue
(school colours)
8thGrey Dark blue
9thGrey Dark Green
10thGrey Mauve
11thGrey Khaki
12thGrey Light and Dark blue
13thGrey Brown
14thGrey Red
15thGrey Silver Grey
16thGrey Red

Cambridge District 1910 to 1913 as Troops were formed. (Outside the town boundaries)

1stDark Green Dark Green
2ndNavy BlueBlack/ white
3rdDark Green Grey
4thKhaki Red
6thKhaki Khaki
7thKhaki Khaki/ blue
8thKhaki Red/ Grey
9thKhaki Khaki
10thKhaki Dark Blue
11thKhaki Orange
12thKhaki Khaki
13thDark BlueLight Blue/ Crimson
C T Wood’s album 1914 Several Troops with differing shirt colours

Wolf Cub Sweaters

We do not have a similar list of Wolf Cub jumper colours. It is known that the 23rd wore grey. My own pack, in another town, wore a dark navy blue until 1967. I was one of the very last in the pack to wear the old colours.

See also ‘Shirt sleeves’

JWR Archivist Feb 2019