Serjeant Grenfell’s Embroidered Stable Belt

Stable Belt - Serjeant Grenfell

A stable belt is a striped coloured belt made of webbing, worn by the armed forces.  Every regiment and corps of the British Army has its own stable belt, usually with bright colours and stripes to identify each regiment and corps. During the First World War however, they were all khaki in colour and were used to keep up the work breeches of servicemen whilst they were carrying out duties such as mucking out stables. Modern day stable belts have moved on from being an obscure convenience before the First World War to being a very recognisable part of the informal dress of the British Armed Forces.

Stable Belt of Serjeant Grenfell, 10th Battalion DCLI.

The term “stable belt” originates from when UK cavalrymen would place the surcingle around the waist when cleaning the stables and tending to their horses. In the 1950s they spread to all branches of the armed forces, adding a splash of colour and individuality to the drab khaki working uniforms. Initially they were resisted by many senior officers, who saw them as too individualistic, but they soon became accepted throughout the UK forces – and have now spread to the forces of several other countries. The “gymnastic belt” of some countries now has a similar appearance and use, but the name reflects its origin from physical training equipment.

The original cavalry stable belts buckled at the side to avoid chafing the soldier’s stomach as he bent down during stable work and also to avoid marking or catching on the horse harness, but many stable belts are now clipped at the front, sometimes behind a metal belt plate (usually bearing the badge of the regiment).

A Wounded Soldiers Needlework       

Serjeant Grenfell served with the 10th Battalion DCLI, an Infantry Pioneer Battalion – these unsung heroes provided the heavy manual labour in the forward areas that was vital to the success of every battle on the Western Front. Serjeant Grenfell was wounded on 5th August 1916, during the Battles of the Somme, while his Battalion was digging trenches in the Guillemont area under heavy artillery fire.  He can be seen in this hospital photograph sitting up on the left with his cap, in which you can just make out the DCLI cap badge, on his bed. During times of convalesce soldiers were encouraged to take up needlework whilst in hospital as a therapeutic past time, surprising perhaps, but many soldiers produced exquisite work. Serjeant Grenfell was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his actions on that day at the Somme.

Hospital photograph showing Serjeant Grenfell sitting up on the left with his cap.