Uniforms of the KAR

The uniform of the King’s African Rifles was relatively consistent throughout the life of the regiment, although there were variations between battalions and over time.

KAR circa 1912 by modern model maker Beau Geste

The uniform in the diagram below is from an askari of the 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalion before the First World War – around 1912.

This askari wears a dark blue jersey and puttees, reflecting the regiment’s colonial policing role, with khaki drill shorts and the black fez inherited by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the KAR from their predecessor regiment, the Central African Rifles; the other battalions wore red fezes.

This askari is not wearing the khaki fez cover with neck flap and fold-down peak that was normally issued for undress or field service, as shown in the modern models by Beau Geste, above right.

The uniform shows the askari’s leather Slade Wallace load-carrying equipment and Martini Enfield rifle with socket bayonet, both of which are Boer War vintage.

Askari, 2nd (Nyasaland) Bn. KAR, 1912

The second uniform, below right, is from an askari of the 4th (Uganda) Battalion in 1917.

He wears a khaki drill uniform with blue puttees and the khaki pillbox cap that replaced the fez in field dress during the First World War – the fez was retained for dress uniform.  Unusually, this askari is wearing boots – most would still have gone barefoot in this period.

He is carrying the 1903 bandolier equipment that was standard issue for the KAR for most of the war, consisting of bandolier pouches attached to the waist belt and canvas supporting straps.  He also carries additional ammunition in a non-standard cloth webbing bandolier.  His rifle is a Lee Enfield 0.303 SMLE with bayonet.

Askari, 4th (Uganda) Bn. KAR, 1917

KAR Askari of the First World War by South African toy maker SAE

The toy soldiers to the left wear pillbox caps, bandolier equipment and puttees – similar to the KAR uniform of 1917.  At first I thought these figures were intended to represent Gurkhas – but they look more African than Asian and there is no sign of the Gurkha’s famous khukri knife.  They were probably made by a company called Swedish African Engineers (SAE) who manufactured toy soldiers in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, to represent the KAR of the First World War.

KAR circa 1917 by modern model maker Dorset Soldiers

The models by modern maker Dorset Soldiers to the right and the vintage cigarette cards, below, show dress uniform on the eve of the Second World War.

Cigarette card from United Tobacco Companies Ltd. Warriors of all Nations series 1937

The fez was retained for dress uniform for the whole of the life of the KAR but the Australian-style slouch hat replaced the pillbox cap for undress and field wear for askari and the solar topee for British officers early in the Second World War.

Boots were introduced as standard for askari at the same time.

Cigarette cards from Godfrey Phillips Ltd. Soldiers of the King series 1939 (left) and Players Military Uniforms of the British Overseas Empire collection 1938 (right) – click on the picture for details of the medal worn by the soldier on the right

KAR by vintage toy soldier maker Lone*Star

The askari uniform below right is from the 5th (Uganda) Battalion in 1945.

He wears the standard field dress for African and Middle Eastern operations at the end of the Second World War, with drill shirt and trousers tucked into webbing gaiters worn with black ankle boots – very like the Lone*Star toy soldier to the left.

His slouch hat has a brown leather hatband and the left brim is fixed to the crown, so as not to interfere with his rifle when aiming.  The blue unit flash and badge are attached to the turned up brim of the hat.

Askari, 5th (Uganda) Bn. KAR, 1945

The final uniform, below left, is from an askari of an unknown battalion in 1956.  His drill shirt and trousers are worn with short woollen puttees, black ankle boots and 1944 pattern webbing. On his head he wears a soft bush hat, alternatively he might have worn a slouch hat or rifle-green beret for undress wear or on campaign.

He carries the 7.62mm SLR L1 rifle with bayonet which most KAR battalions received in the late-1950s.

Askari, Unknown Battalion, 1956

The uniform images on this page are copyright and used with the permission of Uniforms of the World.

Soldier of the KAR, Ceremonial Dress – Painting by J. Gilson from The Royal Logistics Corps Museum