Mother knew best: Vests proved their worth to a soldier

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The Independent Online

The string vest's reputation as the least sexy and most annoying of garments is undeserved – it really is an undercover war hero.

A Ministry of Supply study from 1956, among documents just released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, was based on experiments with members of the 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the Suez canal zone in the summer of 1955.

With temperatures soaring to 98F (36C), soldiers were ordered to try out different models under their bush jackets and rate whether vests had any "definite advantage" as a summer garment.

Sixty per cent of the participants did not usually wear vests at all. But of 14 men two were "converted" by the experiments, the authors said.

In their recommendations they noted sternly: "In view of the resistance to any vest by subjects accustomed to doing without, efficient indoctrination and a generous period of experience are important in any future assessment."

The less stringy "Sherpa" vest came out on top. Among its noted benefits were an ability to "obviate the difficulties of dragging and doffing".

But one response recorded appears to have summed up the attitude of many towards vests in Egypt. After hearing a list of the benefits, one soldier said: "But, er ... I don't think I'd like to wear one regularly."