White Christmas: Captain Wallace on Christmas Eve 1944

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Vitals

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, U.S. Army captain and popular entertainer

European Theater, Christmas Eve 1944

Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Merry Christmas Eve! The prologue of perennial holiday cinema classic White Christmas begins exactly 75 years ago today, Christmas Eve 1944, as the title card tells us…

Private First Class Phil Davis is proudly assisting Captain Bob Wallace, evidently a known entertainer on par with Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, or—um—Bing Crosby, as they host a “yuletide clambake” for the men of the fictitious 151st Division, providing the type of entertainment that Davis boasts would cost $6.60 or even $8.80 stateside. The guest of honor, the division’s beloved commanding officer Major General Tom Waverly (Dean Jagger) is late to arrive, but he makes his way up to the stage just in time for the “slam bang finish” after Bing’s sentimental and definitive rendition of the title song, “White Christmas”.

“Crosby sings it to soldiers in the opening World War II sequence, as he had done for real a decade earlier, and the camera pans across the men listening and yearning for home, many with their eyes closed,” wrote Jeremy Arnold in Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season. “The set looks artificial, like a conjured memory impression, showing the point to be not realism but the nostalgia that the song and setting evoke.”

The events of the evening unite Wallace and Davis together for life after the jittery young private saves the crooning captain’s life by pushing him out of harm’s way as a brick wall nearly falls into them during the aerial attack. The next day, on Christmas, Captain Wallace dons a camouflage neckerchief as he visits Phil in the infirmary… and a legendary partnership is born!

In reality, Christmas Eve 1944 was just over a week after the German military launched a surprise offensive that began a month of brutal winter combat which would become immortalized as the “Battle of the Bulge” and would deliver a pyrrhic victory for the Allies as the largest and bloodiest single battle bought by the United States during World War II and the third deadliest campaign in American military history.

What’d He Wear?

Bob and Phil don seasonally festive garb over their fatigues in the form of the red jacket and requisite stocking cap from a makeshift Santa suit, consistent with the enduring Santa Claus image popularized by Thomas Nast at Harper’s Weekly and Haddon Sundblom’s Coca-Cola advertising.

Apropos his in-universe rank and status, Bob sports what appears to be the better of the two garments, a crimson pullover tunic with a shirred horizontal front yoke and a button-up placket that extends from the neck down to the waist, decorated with two large white “buttons” on the front that match the piled fleece-like trim and tassel of his nightcap. While Phil’s red pullover V-neck tunic is unadorned at the shoulders, Bob’s are decorated with two white fuzzy lines on each, perhaps indicating where he’d otherwise be wearing the double-bar insignia of a U.S. Army captain if he was sporting his service uniform.

PFC Davis and Captain Wallace kick off a decade-long partnership by entertaining the troops on Christmas Eve. While Bob may have the better costume, Phil deserves a few points for going the extra mile by piling white fur trim into the tops of his combat boots. Both performers also strap their ammo belts over their respective Santa suits.

PFC Davis and Captain Wallace kick off a decade-long partnership by entertaining the troops on Christmas Eve. While Bob may have the better costume, Phil deserves a few points for going the extra mile by piling white fur trim into the tops of his combat boots. Both performers also strap their ammo belts over their respective Santa suits.

At the conclusion of the instrumental dance number that opens the film, the performers ditch the Santa outfits worn over their combat uniforms and Bob takes center stage in his field jacket, jeep cap, and the ammo belt that been fastened over the waist of his Santa suit.

Captain Wallace wears a standard issue M-1943 field jacket in olive drab, the U.S. Army’s designation for the dull shade of green used for combat fatigues from World War II through the 1980s. At the outset of the war, GI fatigues were made from olive drab #3 (OD3) cloth until olive drab #7 (OD7) was introduced in 1944. The field jacket remains one of the most recognizable aspects of the iconic M-1943 uniform pattern, also referred to as the M1943 or M43, the Army’s attempt at a standardized combat uniform that could serve all functional areas in all climates by constructing its pieces from a light-wearing but wind-resistant cotton sateen cloth.

The length of the jacket was extended from the M-1941 field jacket onto the thighs, with the earlier garment’s single slash pocket on each side replaced by four reinforced bellows pockets, each covered with a pointed flap that closes through a hidden button. There are two pockets stacked on each side with one above and one below the cinched waist, adjusted by an inside drawcord. The field jacket has a convertible revere collar that can be buttoned to the neck or worn open at the neck and laid flat like the lapels of a suit jacket or sports coat. Below the neck, the jacket fastens with six drab plastic sew-through buttons covered by a front fly. The jacket also has epaulettes (shoulder straps) and the set-in sleeves are finished with button cuffs that can be closed on one of two buttons.

Due in part to their practicality, field jackets have transcended their military origins to become popular among civilians, with both the M-1943 and the more current M-1965 in frequent demand. Countless designers, fashion houses, and retailers have crafted their own approach to this venerable military outerwear, but the best-wearing examples prove to be original mil-spec or surplus jackets followed by relatively accurate reproductions such as these M43 jackets offered by Amazon, At the Front., and WWII Impressions.

♫ I'm dreaming of a field jacket / Just like the ones troops used to wear... ♫

♫ I’m dreaming of a field jacket / Just like the ones troops used to wear… ♫

Buttoned to the neck under his field jacket, Bob wears the olive brown woolen flannel service shirt in the M-1937 pattern. The M37 field shirt was designed with a structured convertible collar that could be worn open at the neck sans tie or buttoned up and worn with a tie. Given the informality of the context, Bob would have no need for a tie but buttons his shirt all the way to the neck likely for warmth. Pinned to his right collar leaf, he wears the twin silver bars denoting his rank of Captain, while the left collar leaf is adorned with the golden crossed rifles indicating his branch of service in the infantry.

Bob never removes his jacket to show more of the shirt, but we can assume that it has the two flapped patch pockets on the chest and button cuffs that were standard across the M37 shirts. At the Front offers several reproductions including the WWII M37 Wool Shirt, the cotton US Flannel Shirt, and the WWII US Army Officer Wool Shirt (and the cotton alternative US Officer Flannel Shirt), both of the latter with epaulettes added.

The skirt of Bob’s field jacket covers much of the identifying details of his trousers, but we can be relatively sure that he’s not wearing the same herringbone twill (HBT) combat pants as PFC Davis wears, as Bob’s trousers lack the telltale bellows pockets on each thigh that are seen on Phil’s OD7 pants. Bob likely wears the cotton field trousers that were introduced with the M-1943 uniform which, unlike the HBT pants, have side pockets and welted back pockets. In addition to the belt loops for officers like Bob to wear their standard-issue khaki cotton web belts with gold-finished buckles (differentiated from blackened metal enlisted belts), the M-1943 field trousers had adjustable tabs on each side to cinch the fit around the waist by fastening the short tab to one of two buttons. (As with many other items in Bob’s uniform, you can read more about these pants and order a pair for yourself at At the Front or WWII Impressions.)

WHITE CHRISTMAS

 

Bob wears well-shined russet brown leather derby-laced shoes, likely the “low quarter” service shoes that officers typically wore with service or dress uniforms. They are perhaps too formal to accompany the field jacket and jeep cap, a combination that would call for service boots like the rubber-soled cordovan Type II ankle boots that were introduced shortly before the U.S. entered World War II, replacing the earlier leather-soled versions. 1944 was the year that the Army authorized replacing the Type II Service Shoes with “roughout” reverse upper shoes and boots as Phil appears to be wearing, but Bob sticks with the earlier polished grain service shoes that lend him a nattier stage presence for his Christmas Eve clambake.

For the most part, Bob seems to be wearing these shoes with the issued olive drab socks… but one quick glimpse—a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment—shows a flash of red between the bottoms of his trousers and the low tops of his shoes as Phil saves his life from the falling wall, suggesting that Bing Crosby was already wearing the colorful hosiery that Bob Wallace would so proudly wear during his civilian life a decade later.

In addition to the bright red socks, Bob appears to now be wearing burgundy calf oxfords rather than the derby-laced service shoes of the previous scene.

In addition to the bright red socks, Bob appears to now be wearing burgundy calf oxfords rather than the derby-laced service shoes of the previous scene.

Despite their gap in ranks, both Captain Wallace and PFC Davis wear ribbed knit “Jeep caps” for their Christmas Eve show. Officially designated the “Cap, wool knit, M1941”, these brown caps—officially made from olive drab #3 (OD3) wool—were introduced by the U.S. Army in February 1942 and meant to be an intermediate layer that provided padding underneath heavy “steel pot” helmets with a six-stitch “starfish pattern” atop the hats to coordinate with the webbed helmet linings.

Jeep caps became popular headgear on their own as soldiers would sport them without their helmets (think “Radar” on M*A*S*H), much to the particular consternation of General George S. Patton. Patton, who was borderline obsessive about his and his subordinates’ appearance in uniforms, so despised the unpolished look of jeep caps that he would personally remove them from the heads of soldiers and imposed fines on their wearers. The punctilious general must have been considerably relieved when the jeep cap was phased out of service in favor of the more structured field cap that was issued with the M-1943 uniform.

Davis and Wallace can be grateful that the fictional General Waverly was considerably more accepting of jeep caps than the very real General Patton.

Davis and Wallace can be grateful that the fictional General Waverly was considerably more accepting of jeep caps than the very real General Patton.

First over their Santa jackets and then over their field jackets, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis wear the wide web cotton M-1936 pistol belt with three rows of grommets equally spaced around the belt with a brass hook closure in the front. While Phil appears to be wearing the khaki version, Bob’s duller-colored pistol belt is likely the olive drab #3 with its gunmetal-finished hardware that started to appear around 1943, according to At the Front. Neither man actually wears a pistol holstered on the belt, instead they wear the two standard flapped canvas pouches. On the right front side of Bob’s belt, he wears a long olive drab M-1924 first aid pouch with “U.S.” stamped in black (though this is worn in the center of his back when strapped over his Santa jacket); directly to the left of the front buckle, he wears a double pouch ostensibly to carry two magazines for his unseen M1911A1 pistol.

Luckily for Wallace and Davis, they grab their M1 helmets just as they wrap up the performance with the rousing “Old Man” number, and they thus have their helmets in hand when the enemy shelling at the conclusion of the song sends everyone strapping on their helmets and running for cover. Both men wear their helmets over the jeep caps, fulfilling the intended purpose of the latter. Bob has his rank insignia painted in white on the front of the olive drab steel helmet.

Wallace and Davis' helmets undoubtedly prevented them from getting even more wounded after the famous falling wall incident that indebted Bob to Phil for life.

Wallace and Davis’ helmets undoubtedly prevented them from getting even more wounded after the famous falling wall incident that indebted Bob to Phil for life.

The next day, Captain Wallace visits the infirmary to check on Davis after the private saved his life. He wears essentially the same attire, his field jacket still scuffed from the previous day, but sports his garrison cap (also known as a “side cap” or “field service cap” to the English) with the twin silver bars for his rank of Captain affixed to the left side. The cap is made from the same dark olive drab wool serge as Army service uniforms of the era that have a brown cast.

The most notable addition to Bob’s wardrobe, and one that has not gone unnoticed by the White Christmas-watching Twitterverse (as first called out by @ElisaBecze in 2011 and again mentioned by @DanSchkade last November), is the silk scarf that Bing wears tied around his neck like a day cravat, patterned in a multi-green camouflage. While almost certainly not a standard issue part of the M-1943 uniform, Bing’s camo silk scarf was mentioned as one of the reasons “why White Christmas is awesome” in the Life of Ando blog, published just a few days before Christmas 2009, and—as of December 2019—there’s an entire Twitter account (otherwise unrelated to the movie or actor) called Bing Crosby’s Camo Ascot.

Bob reviews the duet that Phil intends for them to perform together.

Bob reviews the duet that Phil intends for them to perform together.

The long sleeves of Bob’s field jacket fully cover his wrists throughout these scenes, so we can’t tell if he’s wearing the same gold wristwatch on a curved brown tooled leather strap that Bing would wear throughout White Christmas as well as some of his other movies throughout the period.

Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Captain Wallace’s Festive Fatigues

Combined with the green of his combat uniform, Bob’s red Santa suit jacket and stocking cap makes the outfit both festive and seasonally appropriate for his Christmas Eve revue!

  • Olive drab (OD7) cotton M-1943 field jacket with 6-button covered-fly front, four bellows pockets with covered-button pointed flaps, cinched waist with inside drawcord, and adjustable button cuffs
  • Brown wool flannel M-1937 uniform shirt with convertible collar, front placket, two button-down flapped chest patch pockets, and button cuffs
    • Silver double-bar Captain (O-3) collar device pinned to right collar
    • Golden crossed rifles infantry insignia pinned to left collar
  • Olive drab (OD7) cotton flat front M-1943 field trousers with belt loops and adjustable button tabs, side pockets, welted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Khaki (OD9) M-1937 cotton web trouser belt with brass knurled-bar buckle
  • Olive drab M-1936 cotton web pistol belt with brass hook-and-closure, carrying:
    • Olive drab canvas M-1924 first aid pouch
    • Khaki canvas double magazine pouch (“Pocket, Magazine, Web, M-1923”) for two M1911 magazines, worn on left side
  • Brown ribbed knit wool M-1941 “Jeep cap”
  • Dark cordovan brown leather cap-toe derby-laced ankle boots (“Service Shoes, Type II”)
  • Olive drab wool socks
  • Green camouflage silk scarf

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie, and I hope that all who celebrate have a very Merry Christmas!

The Quote

Okay, dynamite, we’ll give it a whirl, huh?

One comment

  1. Old Grunt

    Great movie. I have a copy of it that was recorded off channel 22 here in Pittsburgh back in 1987, commercials and all. And I still have my M65 field jacket with all my patches on it, though I replaced my last old unit patch with my dad’s Berlin Brigade patch from 1953. Spent one Christmas in Korea up on the DMZ back in the 80s, and this film always brings back the melancholy of longing for home while you’re away serving.

    Like

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