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The beret is a form of headdress with a long history of use in the Canadian Army.

1900 - 1939

Military 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 were:

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 Canada.

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 armoured officer.

 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 uniforms.
The Pacific Coast Militia Rangers had a pale green beret made from cotton duck as part of their distinctive uniform.

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 maroon beret.

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 beret.
 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 colour.
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 cherry flash.
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 - purple flash.

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 infantry battalions.

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 desired shape.

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.

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