Check Out What These Military Uniforms From The British Empire Look Like Today

These cigarette cards from the 1930s show the uniforms of soldiers from different regiments from across the British Empire. Eighty years later the differences are striking.


During the 19th and early 20th centuries cigarette companies frequently included so-called “cigarette cards” in packs of cigarettes. The cards helped cigarette packs keep their shape and many companies made the cards into a form of entertainment, depicting medals, animals, and famous people. During the 1930s, John Player & Sons brand cigarettes ran a series of cards featuring soldiers of the British Empire. The contrast between the soldiers of then and today, eighty years later, are striking.

Cape Town Highlanders

Cape Town Highlanders

Cape Town Highlanders

Among European settlers in South Africa was a stream of Scottish immigrants that arrived by ship to carve out a new life on the African continent. Print Collector/Getty

The Cape Town Highlanders was a regiment consisting of Scottish immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. The regiment was formed in 1885 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Highlanders fought in the Boer War of 1899-1902 and World War I (in both Africa and on the Western Front). In the coming World War II, they would fight in Abyssinia, North Africa, and Italy.

Cape Town Highlanders

Cape Town Highlanders

The Cape Town Highlanders were equipped as mechanized infantry during the 1970s and 1980s, as part of the South African Defense Force (SADF) 71st Motorized Brigade.Jaco Marais/Getty

The Highlanders fought in the two decade long “Border War” against Angola that took place in Namibia. After the end of Apartheid in 1994, the regiment continued as a racially integrated unit to serve the new national government. In 2019 as part of an army wide reorganization, the Cape Town Highlanders regiment was renamed the Gonnema Regiment.

South Africa Regment Louw Wepener

South Africa Regment Louw Wepener

South Africa Regment Louw Wepener

The majority of white South Africans are the descendants of Dutch immigrants. Print Collector/Getty

The descendants of these settlers became known as Afrikaners, and one South African Afrikaner regiment was Regment Louw Wepener. The regiment drew recruits from the Orange Free State region and was part of the South African Infantry Corps. The soldier depicted wears a green jacket, pith helmet, and orange sash. On his sleeve are three stripes signifying the rank of sergeant. The regiment served in Italy in World War II.

South Africa Regment Louw Wepener

South Africa Regment Louw Wepener

After World War II Regment Louw Wepener was redesignated Regiment Bloemspruit.Getty

It served in the war in Angola in the 1970s and 1980s as motorized infantry, deploying ground troops from armored personnel carriers (APCs). The regiment continued on after the end of Apartheid, serving as a reserve infantry unit in the new integrated armed forces, and in 2019 was redesignated the Mangaung Regiment. These South African infantrymen are serving as part of a peacekeeping force in Burundi and carry R4 assault rifles.

Australian Infantry

Australian Infantry Solider

Australian Infantry

Australia became an independent nation on January 1st, 1901 and subsequently organized a national army.Print Collector/Getty

The army was generally small, as the faced few if any immediate threats but was prepared to come to the support of Great Britain in the event of war. Australian infantry were generally militia units activated only during wartime. Infantrymen were armed with Lee Enfield bolt-action rifles and wore the traditional Australian Army “Slouch Hat”. Australian troops served in both World War I and World War II.

Today’s Australian infantry are full-time professional soldiers.

Australian Infantry

Today’s Australian infantry are full-time professional soldiers.Ian Hitchcock/Getty

The soldier pictured here is from 2RAR, also known as 2 Royal Australian Regiment. An amphibious unit, 2RAR is trained to carry out landings from the Royal Australian Navy’s amphibious ships--a particularly important role given Australia’s strategic location in the Indo-Pacific region. This soldier is armed with an Austeyr EF88 assault rifle and carries an American-made Javelin anti-tank missile. The army still issues Slouch Hats, though they are no longer worn in combat.

Australian Light Horse

Australian light horse units adorned their Slouch Hats with emu feathers to distinguish them from other units in the Australian Army.

Australian Light Horse

Australia’s vastness required ground forces capable of self-deploying across long distances, and as a result the government formed twenty three light horse (cavalry) units.Print Collector/Getty

As cavalry, light horsemen wore riding boots and carried bandoleers of rifle ammunition above the waist. Light Horse units fought in World War I in Palestine, at Gallipoli, and on the Western Front. Cavalry units later became tank formations, fighting in New Guinea and Borneo in World War II. Light horse units adorned their Slouch Hats with emu feathers to distinguish them from other units in the Australian Army.

Australian Army cavalry

Australian Light Horse

Light horse units still exist today as Australian Army cavalry and armored (tank) formations. Nicolas Asfouri/Getty

One such unit is the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry), based in Brisbane. The regiment is equipped with Australian Light Armored Vehicles (ASLAVs) and acts in the armored reconnaissance role, searching for enemy units on the battlefield. The 2nd/14th Light Horse served alongside U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Here an ASLAV vehicles patrol downtown Baghdad, 2004.

New Zealand Mounted Rifles

New Zealand Mounted Rifles

New Zealand Mounted Rifles

New Zealand sent more than a thousand mounted riflemen to fight in World War I for the Allies.Print Collector/Getty

The New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. Kiwi cavalrymen wore a uniform similar to the Australian cousins, including an ammunition belt for their Lee Enfield rifles worn diagonally across the chest. Two significant differences were their own particular hat, known as the “mounted rifles hat”, and the wearing of leggings instead of riding boots.

New Zealand Mounted Rifles uniform

New Zealand Mounted Rifles

Today’s New Zealand maintains its cavalry tradition with Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, an armored regiment based at Linton Military Camp.Kerry Marshall/Getty

The regiment is equipped with the New Zealand Light Armored Vehicle (NZLAV), an 8x8 armored reconnaissance vehicle similar to the Australian ASLAV. Each NZLAV is equipped with a 25-millimeter M242 Bushmaster rapid fire cannon, a MAG-58 machine gun, and can carry seven soldiers. A similar unit is the Waikato Mounted Rifles, a reserve reconnaissance unit.

Nigeria Regment

Nigerian Regiment soldier

Nigeria Regiment

British control over Nigeria began in 1861 with the annexation of Lagos and continued until 1960, when it was granted independence.Print Collector/Getty

The Nigeria Regiment garrisoned the Britain’s West African colonies including Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. Soldiers wore a zouve-style red jacket, khaki drill shorts, and a red fez adorned with a palm tree. Nigeria regiment troops fought in Africa during World War I against German-backed forces in Cameroon and East Africa, and in World War II in Burma. The soldier carries a Lee Enfield rifle, a staple of British and British colonial forces until the 1950s.

Nigerian Regiment

Nigeria Regiment

After Nigerian independence in 1960, the battalions that made up the Nigeria Regiment were folded into the new national army.Audu Marte/Getty

The Nigerian Army fought the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970 and is a frequent contributor to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. In the 2010s the Army was committed to fight the Islamic State in West Africa, Boko Haram, and a breakaway faction known as Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP). The soldiers here are armed with AK-47 and AK-74 assault rifles and wear a mish-mash of uniforms of local manufacture, including one using the U.S. Marine Corps’ MARPAT desert uniform.

Singapore Volunteer Force

Singapore Volunteer Force solider

Singapore Volunteer Force

The Singapore Volunteer Force was a volunteer militia raised to protect Singapore, one of Great Britain’s most important far eastern colonies.Print Collector/Getty

Singapore was a small state a great distance from the rest of the empire, and the city needed to be able to hold out against enemy forces until relieved. The Singapore Volunteer Force helped suppress a rebellion by Indian (empire) troops in 1915 and supported the defense of the city from Japanese attack in February 1942. The volunteer here is dressed in a tropical uniform with shorts, a pith helmet, and wears a Sam Browne-type belt.

Singapore Volunteer Force

Singapore Volunteer Force

Singapore achieved independence in 1959. Today’s equivalent of the Singapore Volunteer Force is the 2nd People’s Defense Force, a militia-type organization that supports the defense of this city state of 5.6 million people.dvidshub.net

The 2nd People’s Defense Force’s operational arm is the Island Defense Task Force, tasked with medical response, providing security at military bases, chemical, biological, and radiological warfare defense, and liaison with law enforcement. Today’s Singaporean soldiers are among the best equipped in the world, dressed in digital camouflage uniforms and carrying SAR-21 assault rifles.





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