The beret is a form of
headdress with a long history of use in the Canadian Army.
1900 - 1939
use of the beret in the British Empire began in the 1920s, when British tank
crews began searching for an alternative to the khaki forage cap (known as a
Service Dress Cap). The stiff, high-crowned, peaked cap was impractical for use
in the confines of a tank, and the serge material was easily stained. In 1924,
taking their cue from French tank crews who had worn two different styles of
Basque beret in the First World War, the black wool beret was adopted. The
central "stalk" found on the crown of the French beret was omitted, and a silk
adjustment ribbon, tied at the back, was adopted. The ribbons were to be tied
and cut off, or tucked up under the hat and not allowed to dangle freely as is
the custom in many armies today.
The first unit of the Canadian Army to adopt a beret as standard headdress was
the Essex Regiment (Tank), who did so in May of 1937. Canada did not have a tank
regiment of its own until the creation of the Essex. Only five other tank
regiments were created in Canada, and all were considered infantry units and
retained their previous headdress. Photo at left comes from a British training
manual dated 1935 and shows a soldier of the Royal Tank Regiment wearing the
black beret. (Scan courtesy Ed Storey)
Noted uniform historian Chris G. Brooker adds the following information on
prewar tank berets:
In the 1936 reorganization
of the Canadian Militia the regiment was one of six infantry regiments
designated as Infantry Tank Regiments adding (Tank) to the regimental
designation. At this time tanks were still thought of as slow moving
armoured support for infantry. This addition of (tank) was a ‘paper’ change
only as Canada had no tanks at the time and only two French built WWI
Renault tanks purchased from the USA on the outbreak of WWII in September
1939. Though named the ‘Argyll’ Light Infantry (Tank) regiment, this refers
to the county, the regiment never being a highland regiment.
The 1943 War Dress Regulations of
the Canadian Army would later state:
"Black Beret (The Canadian
Army and Reserve Army Tank units): Black cloth one piece, large size 11
1/4-inches long x 10 3/4-inches wide, small size 10 3/4-inches long x 10
1/4-inches wide. Bottom bound with black ribbon to a depth of 5/8-inches
through which is passed a black ribbon drawstring 3/8-inches wide and tied
in a bow behind. Two black ventilator eyelet's are fitted in the band on the
right side, 1-inch apart and about 5 1/2 inches and 6 1/2-inches
respectively from the opening for the drawstring. Black silk lining quilted
and at the top and attached to beret at bottom band only. Regimental cap
badge is worn on left side centre badge about 3" from front, bottom of badge
resting on binding. A piece of stiffened canvas, covered with black silk,
about 2 1/2 inches long and two inches wide, is attached to the lining at
the top and bottom only to cover the badge lugs and pin. A flash of horse
hair in equal parts, green, red and brown, 2 inches deep. 3/4 inches wide at
the base, 1 1/2 inches spread at the top, may be worn behind the cap badge
in Undress Order in accordance with regimental custom green portion to the
front, except as follows.
Argyll Light Infantry (Tank):- In addition to the flash as described above,
a diced patch, white, red and dark blue, 6 inches at base, 3 inches at top
and 1 1/2 inches in depth, is worn.
The Essex Regiment (Tank):- a patch of Macgregor tartan is worn behind the
cap badge with 1/2 inch of material showing beyond the edges of the badge,
each edge to be frayed 1/4-inch, no flash is worn."
The six (infantry) tank regiments
The Argyll Light Infantry (Tank)
The Calgary Regiment (Tank)
The Essex Regiment (Tank)
The New Brunswick Regiment Tank
The Ontario Regiment (Tank)
The Three Rivers Regiment (Tank)
During the early part of the Second World War, Cavalry Regiments became Armoured
Car and Reconnaissance Regiments.
After the Second World
War, the khaki beret was retained as an item of dress; the example at
left is dated 1951, with the badge of The Royal Canadian Corps of
Signals with backing cloth. Near left is 1946 beret by the Dorothea
Knitting Mills in Toronto, with the cap badge of The Royal Regiment of
1939 - 1950
The Second World War saw the introduction of many different colours of beret,
and in 1943, the Army as a whole adopted the khaki beret for those not serving
in regiments with distinctive headdress.
With the creation of the Canadian
Armoured Corps, the black beret became their standard headdress also, and many
infantry regiments converted to tank units during the Second World War. The
black berets were highly prized. General Montgomery added much to the mystique
of the black beret by wearing one regularly, adorned with two cap badges (one
from the Royal Tank Regiment, the other indicating his status as a general
officer). Canadian General Guy Simonds, commander of II Canadian Corps in
Northwest Europe, also adopted the black beret despite not having been an
|| British Commando units adopted a
green beret. While Canada never created commando units, some individuals
did serve in British Commando units.
||The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
adopted the maroon beret as worn by British airborne forces. The colour
may have been selected by the novelist Daphne du Maurier, wife of
General Frederick Browning who pioneered the British airborne arm.
||The First Special Service Force, a
bi-national special forces unit created in 1942, adopted a red beret as
part of their dress uniform. Canadians made up from 33 to 50% of the
Force at various times before its disbandment in late 1944.
||In 1943, the Field Service Cap was
officially replaced with the khaki beret, similar in colour to the
green-brown khaki wool material used in the construction of Battle Dress
||The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers had a
pale green beret made from cotton duck as part of their distinctive
1950 - 1967
The large coloured flash can be seen in
this photo, taken on a leadership course in 1954. Clearly visible are badges
worn by soldiers from many different corps and services, including the Royal
Canadian Army Service Corps, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, Canadian Provost
Corps, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps, and the Royal Canadian Electrical and
Mechanical Engineers. Photo courtesy of Ed Storey..
(Doug Townend has provided much
of the following information in this section.)
A series of coloured
berets was introduced in 1951, following the announcement of Adjutant
General Instruction 507/1951 dated 24 Oct 51. Stating that "The khaki
beret is to be abolished" it outlined that "all corps except Royal
Canadian Armoured Corps and Royal Canadian Infantry Corps will wear navy
blue beret with sewn-on coloured flashes." Units of the Royal Canadian
Infantry Corps were to adopt a red beret, and rifle units a rifle green
beret. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry were permitted a dark green
beret. No infantry or armoured units (who retained the traditional black
beret) were to wear coloured flashes. (The obvious exceptions to this
announcement were Scottish, Highland and Irish units). Individuals who
were parachute qualified appear to have been permitted to wear the
The coloured flashes
referred to were five inches wide at the base, cut in the shape of a
half moon and the cap badge was worn in the centre of the flash. The
troops hated the large flash and on 7 Jan 54 AGI 54/3 was issued to
direct that the blue berets were to be modified by the removal of the
coloured flash. The cap badge was to be mounted on a coloured flash cut
to shape, 1/8 inch wider than the dimensions of the badge.
Photo courtesy of Ed Storey.
As with most wide-spread uniform
changes, especially in peace time, the changeover was slow. Khaki berets
continued to be worn by soldiers in Korea and at home. Other types of caps, such
as the Yukon cap and peaked winter cap, intended to be replaced by the beret,
soldiered on in many instances for several years.
||The armoured corps retained their
traditional black beret.
||Rifle Regiments adopted a rifle green
|| Individuals serving in parachute
units were entitled to wear the maroon beret.
||Units of the Royal Canadian Infantry
Corps (excepting Highland, Scottish, Irish and Rifle Regiments) wore a
red or scarlet beret.
||All other corps adopted a very dark navy
blue beret, intended to be worn with coloured flashes behind the badge.
Also referred to as Midnight Blue, the berets appeared almost black in
||The Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers,
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Canadian Postal Corps - blue flash.
||Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical
Engineers - dark blue flash.
||Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, Royal
Canadian Army Pay Corps- yellow flash.
||Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps - dull
||Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, Canadian
Provost Corps, Royal Canadian Artillery, General List - red flash.
||Royal Canadian Dental Corps, Canadian
Intelligence Corps - green flash.
||Royal Canadian Army Chaplain's Corps -
In about 1956, the coloured
berets were officially replaced by navy blue forage caps with coloured bands.
1967 - 2000
The three armed services (Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian
Air Force) were combined in the late 1960s (Unification) to become the Canadian
Armed Forces. Many distinctive items of dress peculiar to each individual
service was done away with. The beret was retained as a standard form of
headdress, to be worn for all occasions; in the field, as part of work dress,
for walking out, or for ceremonial parades. Alternate forms of headdress did
exist for some orders, including the Field Cap as worn with the Combat uniform,
and the Forage Cap as worn with the new CF dress uniform (and later, the
Distinctive Environmental Uniform (DEU) that replaced the CF).
When the three services were
unified in 1967, a Rifle Green beret was adopted throughout the new Canadian
Forces. When the services returned to distinctive uniforms in the 1980s, the
rifle green beret was retained as the Canadian Forces standard.
Image:berettank.gif The armoured corps retained their traditional black beret.
Soldiers serving in
parachute units also retained their traditional maroon beret. At the
time of Unification, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was the full-fledged
parachute capabile unit, though other subunits and reserve units may
have worn the maroon beret also. After the disbandment of the CAR in the
1990s, the maroon beret continued in use by "jump companies" attached to
||Soldiers on United Nations missions were
permitted to wear the blue beret of that organization.
The military police
adopted the red beret, formerly worn by units of the Royal Canadian
Infantry Corps, in the late 1980s. According to John Cameron (http://www.mpmuseum.org),
this was part of a NATO standardization policy. Ironically, Canadian
military police in the Second World War had for the most part refrained
from wearing the red caps of their British counterparts.
||Search and Rescue
Technicians also adopted a red coloured beret in 1976. While a published
history of the "SAR Techs" lists the colour as "red" the Directorate of
History and Heritage confirms that the official colour is termed
International Rescue Orange. In practice it is a bright orange not
unlike "Blaze Orange" used by commercial hunting and fishing outfitters.
||It is not unusual to see
tradesmen from the regular Air Force posted to Army units. After the
adoption of the DEU in the late 1980s, these tradesmen would have worn
either the air force blue beret or the wedge cap with their air force
uniform. However, when wearing the combat uniform common to all
services, the beret was worn. These should not be confused with the
lighter UN beret. (For additional info see below.)
||The Multinational Force
and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai adopted orange berets in the early
1980s as a recognition device. These berets were a rusty shade. Canadian
soldiers have been deployed to this force which had also at times been
commanded by a Canadian.
Notes on the Army Beret
The beret has changed since the end of the Second World War, from a very
full cut, "floppy" headdress to one that is very moderately cut. Second
World War era berets often extended past the top of the ears, modern
berets extend just past the sweatband. Cap badges have always, since
inception, been worn centred over the left eye. The use of stiffener
inside the beret, be it plastic, cardboard, or some other material, has
not been uncommon. New berets were often "formed" by removing the liner
(officially discouraged) and soaking the beret and letting it dry to the
Extended Notes on the
Blue Air Force Beret
Thanks to Major Jason Graveline, J7 LL 2 (Directorate Plans, Doctrine
and Training), NDHQ, for the following information; his experience in
the Canadian Air Force began with Basic Officer, Second Language and
Pilot Training from 1989-1992, followed by service in 423 (Maritime
Helicopter) Squadron as Line Pilot, D/Ops and Det Commander, then Flying
Instructor and Flight Commander at 2 CF Flying Training School in Moose
Jaw between 1998 and 2001, and since 2001, and as of this writing in
March 2004, service with J7 Lessons Learned (DCDS Strategic Lessons
Learned) at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.
SAR Tech Beret. DND Photo.
When I joined in July
1989, all Air Force officer candidates were issued a green beret for wear
with combats. All other orders of dress utilized the wedge or forage cap. In
September 1989, when I commenced my second go at BOTC, candidates were told
to wear their wedge with combats. As I had been issued a green beret, I was
permitted to wear it with combats. It was not uncommon to even see Air Force
staff wear a wedge with combat dress during my time in Chilliwack at CFOCS.
During the remainder of my training, I don't recall seeing the blue beret
yet issued on any of the bases where I was posted: St Jean, Edmonton,
Portage or Moose Jaw.
In July 1992, after receiving my wings, I arrived at Shearwater. After a
year or so, we heard that the TacHel units were being issued a blue beret
for wear with combats and OD flying suits. We were told that both air and
ground crew were getting it and that we, as sea-going personnel, would be
next to gain it as an issue piece of gear. By the mid-90s, the blue beret
was a common form of headdress and was worn initially by air and ground crew
then increasingly by all Air Force trades and classifications (Log, Admin,
EME, etc). It was also during the early to mid 90s that the forage cap
became less common with the DEU although it is still in the CFP265 as an
approved order of dress for CWOs, Officer Cadets (Subordinate Officers) and
Officers only. The beret was also approved for wear with all orders of
dress, including (to my dismay), the 1 series. Essentially, everything from
your work dress/flying suit to your best bib and tucker.
During my time as an instructor, it was rare to see aircrew sporting a beret
though ground crew and support classifications and trades were commonly
wearing it. The wedge was the preferred headdress for most occasions among
aircrew although most students who found themselves going to Portage and off
to helicopter training recognized that the beret would likely become their
"deployed" or field headdress.
Now serving in a staff position in Ottawa, anything goes and I see it all.
The beret is always worn with combat dress. In work dress, the wearer has
the option of wearing the beret or wedge. Officers in Ottawa must wear some
form of DEU (pants and short sleeve or long sleeve/tie) but can wear their
choice of headdress: beret, wedge or forage cap. NCMs can also wear DEU with
the same options, minus the forage cap unless they are a CWO. Aircrew can
wear the beret or wedge with the flight suit.