Anybody that knows anything about the British army would immediately recognize the Sam Browne belt. It was used on the uniform of soldiers in World War I but actually originates from the 19th Century. The history of the Sam Browne belt, in other words, is long and interesting. Sam Browne was an Army Officer. During the 19th century, he spent some time serving in India. In these days, all officers word a sword as part of their uniform, suspended from a “frog”, which was a metal clip. However, this was quite uncomfortable and caused the scabbard to slide, particularly when running. In 1857, the Indian Mutiny took place, which was a particularly bloody and deadly mutiny. Sam Browne served during this uprising and got caught up in the fighting around Seerporah on August 31st, 1958. He charged a rebel cannon and found himself under attack. As a result, he suffered two sword cuts in his left knee and arm, actually severing his arm at the shoulder. Although he survived, he was no longer able to draw or control his sword.
Sam Browne hence designed the concept of a sword belt, looping it over his right shoulder. This meant the scabbard was held in such a way that he was still able to draw it. The belt across the shoulder hooked into a heavy leather belt around his waist, with several rings that could hold other accessories. It included a holster on the right hip, as well as binoculars. The concept quickly caught on, with more and more cavalry officers taking on Sam Browne’s “belt” as part of their uniform. Interestingly, within the Infantry, people used two suspenders rather than a cross belt. This was invented by Basil Templer Graham-Montgomery. It is still not agreed upon who held the original design and who modified it. During the South African Second Boer War, the belt really became part of the standard uniform. Here, two vertical straps – one across each shoulder – were adopted.
The Sam Browne belt is very easy to recognize. It stands for conflict and war, but it was also used to denote the rank of officers in the British army. Any movies that show the British army in action – for instance, Poirot and A Passage To India – will use the Sam Browne belt on their cast. After World War Two, however, fewer members of the British army started to use the belt. This is due to the fact that uniforms changed in design and because most officers no longer carried a sword. However, it is still used by military forces across the world to this day. In particular, a Regimental Sergeant Major or other Warrant Officers such as the Royal Marines still have the Sam Browne belt as part of their formal uniform.