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Home > Digger's Vests
Many of the first men to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force slept rough, warmed only by their own coats and blankets. In training camps, while under canvas in winter, pneumonia would take its toll. After the hard slog of training marches during the day, the cold desert winds of Egypt would chill to the bone. The European winters of the Great War were reported to be the worst for over sixty years. Men died of pneumonia or froze to death in the flooded, muddy trenches, unable to move and restore circulation lest they invite sniper or shellfire. In the finest Australian tradition, their people at home did not sit back, they responded with a practical solution of their own.
APPEAL FOR SHEEPSKINS - 20 November 1914 Raymond Terrace Examiner
An appeal for the purpose of providing not only the men of the Australian Expeditionary Forces but as many as possible of the British “Tommies” on active service, with a tanned sheepskin waistcoat has started. The waistcoats will prove of great value to the troops during the winter in Europe, and a sample garment has met with the approval of the military experts. It was decided to push ahead with the work of organisation without delay.
TANNED SHEEPSKIN CLOTHING COMMITTEE - 20 November 1914 Raymond Terrace Examiner
A circular from the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney explained that a committee was buying skins from Sydney wholesale butchers, getting them tanned and made into vests.
The committee was seeking donations of money to be used pending donations of skins from the country. A donation of 6s would provide comparative comfort for a soldier at the front and would be instrumental in saving his life.
By 1916 75,510 waist coats and 61,193 insoles were sent to soldiers at the front.
At the time it was said, ”Australia rode on the sheep’s back”. However, wool and sheepskins were being exported to overseas mills for processing. Governor Sir Gerald Strickland said “the movement behind the ingenuity and design of the waistcoat had taken a typically Australian product direct from the producer to the consumer. I hope that when the war is over this movement will be the means of establishing a new permanent industry in Australia.’
The ‘Diggers Vest’ was a practical gift of caring and community support that saved many lives of the soldiers at the Front. Significantly, the vests also gave birth to a new Australian Sheepskin Industry which would in time serve Australian servicemen during World War I, World War II and benefit all Australians. The following letters illustrate these points.
“My Dear Miss Bishop, We
appreciate your thoughtfulness. Every article is useful, and the
Germans will be a busy crowd trying to knock us out of our sheepskin
"The weather is chilly here. Some of the boys are on furlough from France. They say the mud is simply awful, up to their waists in places. They almost all wear sheepskin vests over their tunics and find them very warm, especially as they are unable to have their blankets with them. One boy told me he had not seen a blanket for weeks”.
Nurse Stobo 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford Kent,
The “Digger’s Vest”™, As warm as those who gave them, As tough as the Diggers who wore them.
Australian War Memorial
Advertisement Sydney Mail 1916
Shipping & Returns
Shipping & Returns
For orders within Australia:
Returned item must be post marked within 14 days from initial receipt of item.
We stand by our products and offer a total quality guarantee. Our products will be free from any material defects or faulty workmanship however if a defect manages to slip thru undetected prior to sale, this defect will become apparent within 90 days and you will receive 100% of the purchase price by either an exchange or refund. Wear and tear is not covered by guarantee.
Different computer screens will display colours in the photos differently. As such, displayed colours should be used only as a guide and expect some slight differences when receiving your product.
Care and Cleaning of your Sheepskin Coat or Vest
Before wear and when new, spray the suede (outer) of your sheepskin coat/vest with a rain and stain guard that is made for suede or leather. This will protect it against water spotting and will help it resist soiling. Re-apply yearly, especially in autumn or re-apply after vest becomes wet and has been fully dried.
To spot clean the wool of the coat/vest, mix a solution of sheepskin shampoo and conditioner and water and sponge through the wool. Do not soak through to the suede. Brush the wool when nearly dry to fluff it up.
To spot clean the skin of the coat/vest, using a suede sponge or suede brush only, brush the suede (outer) of the coat/vest brushing in the reverse direction of the nap. A layer of baking soda applied directly over soils or stains will help with liquid or grease spots. Sprinkle directly over stain and allow to sit for 1-2 days. Using a vacuum cleaner and a clean brush attachment, vacuum the baking soda to remove from coat/vest.
Also, alcohol free wet wipes (such as baby wipes) are very effective in removing light soling. Wipe over in the direction of the nap 3-4 times (never rub in both directions as this will scuff the nap) and leave to dry naturally.
The most important thing to remember about cleaning a coat/vest is to try to clean the spot or stain as soon as it occurs.
When a coat/vest becomes soiled overall, it should be professionally dry cleaned by a dry cleaner specialising in leather, suede and/or furs. Be sure to ask if the dry cleaner is experienced with leather, suede or sheepskin.
If your sheepskin coat/vest ever becomes significantly wet, be sure always that you dry the coat/vest slowly without placing it in direct heat. Once it dries completely, remove water spots with a suede sponge or suede brush, then re-apply rain and stain guard.
To store your sheepskin coat/vest, placing an old cotton shirt over the top of your coat/vest will help prevent dust soiling. Never store your coat/vest in plastic for long periods as the sheepskin cannot breathe and condensation may occur. Hang and store in a cool place away from direct sunlight.