Forged in History: Exploring WWI Uniform Buttons of The Royal Marines Light Infantry by Jennens & Co Ltd., London

3 WWI Royal Marines Light Infantry Uniform Bronze Buttons 23mm Antique Militaria

3 WWI Royal Marines Light Infantry Uniform Bronze Buttons 23mm Antique Militaria

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Embark on a journey through time as we uncover the captivating story behind WWI uniform buttons of The Royal Marines Light Infantry, meticulously crafted by Jennens & Co Ltd., London. Join us as we delve into the rich heritage and significance of these historic artifacts, shedding light on the bravery and sacrifice of those who wore them.

Discover the secrets hidden within these tiny yet powerful symbols of courage and loyalty. From the intricately designed bronze tops to the sturdy brass backs, each button carries a tale of honor and sacrifice. Dive deeper into the world of military history and craftsmanship, and uncover the indelible legacy of The Royal Marines Light Infantry.

Evolution of The Royal Marines: A visual journey from 1664 to 1896
Image: Evolution of The Royal Marines: A visual journey from 1664 to 1896.
Source: By Richard Simkin - Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51194096

Uniforms of the Royal Marines

The Uniforms of the Royal Marines mirrored the British Army's, yet practicality prevailed at sea. Amid shipboard duties, Marines donned sailors' "slop" clothing, reserving full dress for watch and guard. At Trafalgar, amidst the chaos, many Marines shed their coats for comfort, fighting fiercely in checked shirts and blue trousers. This blend of tradition and adaptability symbolized their dual roles as disciplined soldiers and seafarers, embodying the Royal Marines' versatility and valor throughout history.

Iconic red uniform coat of the Royal Marines Light Infantry
Image: Iconic red uniform coat of the Royal Marines Light Infantry.
Source: The Great War (1914-1918) Forum https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/304190-royal-marine-light-infantry/

Why Were the Uniforms Red?

Historical Tradition and Precedence

The red uniform, often referred to as "scarlet," has deep roots in British military history. The British Army adopted red coats in the late 17th century under King Charles II. This became a distinguishing feature of British soldiers and was later adopted by various regiments, including the Royal Marines.

Recognition and Morale

The red coat became a symbol of British military prowess and tradition. It was easily recognizable and served to foster a sense of pride and unity among the troops. For the Royal Marines, who were part of the British naval forces, maintaining this traditional color was a matter of heritage and honor.

Practical Considerations

Battlefield Visibility

Contrary to what might seem practical in modern warfare, during the early periods, bright uniforms like red were useful on the battlefield for commanders to see and maneuver their troops more effectively amid the smoke and chaos of gunpowder weapons.

Psychological Impact

The sight of massed ranks of soldiers in bright red uniforms could have a demoralizing effect on the enemy, serving as a psychological tool in warfare. The red color was intended to intimidate and create a formidable presence on the battlefield.

Evolution and Change

Transition During WWI

While the Royal Marines Light Infantry initially maintained traditional red tunics for ceremonial purposes, the practicalities of modern warfare necessitated changes. During World War I, the use of khaki and other more subdued colors became standard in active combat roles to provide better camouflage and protection.

Ceremonial Use

Even as combat uniforms evolved, red uniforms continued to be used for ceremonial purposes, parades, and official functions. This practice honored the legacy and traditions of the Royal Marines while adapting to modern military needs.

Why Were the Buttons Made of Bronze Instead of Brass During WWI?

The choice of materials for the buttons on the Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform during World War I, shifting from bronze to brass, was influenced by several practical and historical factors. Here’s an explanation of the reasons behind these choices:

A bronze button on the Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform.
Image: A bronze button on the Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform.
Source: By Stable MARK, own work, www.stablemark.com

Durability and Strength

Bronze, an alloy primarily consisting of copper and tin, was chosen for its durability and strength. Bronze is more resistant to corrosion and wear compared to brass, making it suitable for the harsh conditions of trench warfare and prolonged field use during World War I. This durability ensured that the buttons would maintain their functionality and appearance under strenuous conditions.

Supply and Availability

During World War I, the availability of materials was a significant concern. The war effort demanded extensive use of metals for munitions, equipment, and other military necessities. Bronze was relatively more available and easier to procure than brass, which required more zinc—a material that was in high demand for other critical wartime applications.

Historical Precedence

Bronze had been used historically for military equipment, and its use in uniforms continued this tradition. The long-standing preference for bronze in military hardware and adornments lent a sense of continuity and reliability, reinforcing the historic image of the Royal Marines.

Transition to Brass Buttons

A brass button on the Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform.
Image: A brass button on the Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform.
Source: By Stable MARK, own work, www.stablemark.com

Post-War Changes and Standardization

After World War I, there was a movement towards standardizing military uniforms and equipment to streamline production and reduce costs. Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, became more widely available and was less expensive to produce in large quantities. This shift was part of broader efforts to standardize materials across military supplies.

Aesthetic Appeal

Brass has a bright, gold-like appearance, which was considered more aesthetically pleasing for ceremonial and parade uniforms. The switch to brass buttons enhanced the visual appeal of the uniforms, maintaining a smart and polished look suitable for peacetime appearances and formal occasions.

Maintenance and Care

Brass is easier to clean and polish compared to bronze, making it more practical for uniforms that need to be kept in pristine condition for inspections and ceremonies. This ease of maintenance contributed to the decision to adopt brass buttons in the post-war period.

The button maker Messrs Jennens & Co: History and Evolution

Messrs Jennens & Co was a renowned British button manufacturing company founded in 1800. The company initially operated under the name Messrs Jennens & Co and later changed to Charles Jennens. By 1912, it had become Jennens & Co Ltd​

Button produced by Messrs Jennens & Co
Image: Button produced by Messrs Jennens & Co
Source: By Stable MARK, own work, www.stablemark.com

Key Milestones and Developments

Early 1800s: Establishment and Growth

Founded in 1800, Messrs Jennens & Co quickly became known for producing high-quality buttons, particularly for military and uniform use. The company operated under this name until around 1832 when it transitioned to Charles Jennens.

Mid-1800s: Royal Connections

From the 1860s, Jennens & Co began marking their buttons with the Prince of Wales plume, signifying their connection and service to the royal household. This emblem became a distinctive feature of their products, enhancing their prestige and recognition.

Early 1900s: Incorporation and Expansion

In 1912, the company was officially incorporated as Jennens & Co Ltd. This period marked significant growth and expansion, positioning the company as a leading manufacturer of military and ceremonial buttons in the UK.

1924: Merger with Gaunt & Sons

Jennens & Co Ltd merged with Gaunt & Sons in 1924, combining forces with another prominent button maker. This merger helped consolidate their market position and resources, further strengthening their capabilities in the industr.

Legacy and Impact

Jennens & Co played a crucial role in the British button manufacturing industry, particularly in the production of military and uniform buttons. Their products were known for their quality and craftsmanship, and the company's history reflects a rich tradition of service and excellence.

For more detailed historical context and specific examples of their buttons, you can explore resources such as the Science Museum Group Collection and the UK Detector Finds Database, which provide extensive information on the backmarks and historical significance of Jennens & Co's products.

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