Home' Air Force News : April 25th 2013 Contents 9
April 25, 2013
A THREAD of Air Force heritage has passed over to
Tropical Service Dress, known to many as 'Drabs',
was officially retired on April 21.
The retirement was announced in October 2012 as
the uniform no longer reflects Air Force's contemporary
While Tropical Dress has been criticised by some for
being old fashioned, its retirement sparked many others
to don the uniform as much as possible.
For its proponents, Tropical Dress was a proud lega-
cy of Air Force's heritage.
SQNLDR David Burns, Research Officer with the
Office of Air Force History, said the uniform's origins
are linked with the establishment of the RAAF in 1921.
Originally, Air Force personnel had a blue winter
uniform and white summer uniform.
"The white uniform was quickly found to be imprac-
tical and was replaced by a khaki uniform of long pants,
long-sleeve shirt and black tie," SQNLDR Burns said.
Khaki shorts appeared in 1931 for physical training
activities, but full Tropical Dress did not start appearing
That was the year the RAAF Orders of Dress was
brought in line with that of the Royal Air Force, which
had a No. 6B Tropical Dress in service since the 1920s.
It was similar to the Tropical Dress as we know it
today -- drab shorts, long socks, a 'bush-type' shirt, and
black shoes. A black tie and jacket could also be worn.
The establishment of bases in Northern Australia
from 1938 saw the Tropical Dress being issued to per-
sonnel based there.
When 3SQN deployed in the Middle East in 1940, its
members arrived in Egypt wearing Tropical Dress with
slouch hats and pith helmets.
During the defence of Milne Bay in 1942, the image
of RAAF Kittyhawk pilots wearing Tropical Dress, with
sheepskin-lined boots and survival vests, became iconic.
The uniform endured into the Cold War, but saw a
brief retirement in the 1970s.
"Both summer and winter uniforms were replaced in
1972 by the all-seasons blue-grey uniform," SQNLDR
David Burns said. "When the new uniform -- which con-
sisted of long pants and long-sleeve shirt -- was found
unsuitable for wear in tropical areas, the drab tropical
uniform was retained."
Attempts to replace Drabs with a similar uniform in
blue likewise failed to materialise.
For a long time, Tropical Dress could only be worn
on southern bases if it had been issued to a member who
had previously served at a northern base.
It was soon available to purchase at southern bases
however, and could be worn in warm weather periods
outlined by each base's commanding officer.
Drabs retire in style
Air Force says farewell to
Tropical Service Dress
LOOKING THE PART: Above, RAAF Base Amberley
personnel get into the spirit by posing with a selection of
classic cars and a retired Caribou aircraft. Left inset, RAAF
Kittyhawk pilots in Tropical Dress and sheepskin-lined boots in
Papua New Guinea in 1942. Main photo: LAC Dan Pinhorn, historical
photo courtesy Australian War Memorial
STRIKE A POSE: Complete with Khaki long socks, Tropical Service Dress is being retired as it no longer reflects Air Force's
contemporary identity. In a nostalgic farewell to Drabs, Air Force members posed for photos at locations around Australia.
Pictured above is FLTLT Rush Gunaratne, left, and SQNLDR Terry Sing Lee (in pith helmet) in front of a Kitttyhawk at the
Australian War Memorial, and below left, from left, SQNLDR Tony Kiernan, FLTLT Donald Wilson, SQNLDR Sing Lee, FLTLT
Gunaratne, WOFF Mark Hull and FLTLT Gerard Markham. Above inset, RAAF Base Wagga members in their Drabs, from left,
SGT Justin Leguen, WOFF Gav Willmett and WGCDR Chris Ellison.
Photos: CPL Aaron Curran and WOFF Paul Wutzke
ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Below right, with 37SQN C-130Hs in the background, RAAF Base Richmond personnel, from left,
FLTLT Alex Garner, FLGOFF Brendan Buell, FLTLT Shaun Donnelly and FLGOFF Harry Frecker, cycle down the base flightline
in their Drabs. Below right Inset, a similar view of 3SQN members riding bicycles in Ismailia, Egypt, in 1940.
Main photo: LAC David Said, historical photo courtesy Australian War Memorial
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