The cap badge is a special part of British Army headdress that took shape in the late 1800s and continues to be worn today. Each regiment in the British Army has a rich historical lineage filled with achievements and traditions reflected in these unique badges.
Cap badges have a long and complex history. The concept behind their creation dates back to the Middle Ages, when nobles used various heraldic insignia, colors and symbols to identify themselves and rally troops under their command on chaotic medieval battlefields. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army introduced red coats and silver uniform badges to Parliamentarian soldiers, which created a new unity among the previously diverse local troops. In the years that followed, regiments were raised and funded by private colonels, who designed their own badges. In 1751 King George II issued a Royal Warrant with the aim of placing the regimental symbols under royal control; however, this effort was not entirely successful. In 1806 Regimental Apparatus began to be regulated by a Regimental Colors Inspector, an office controlled from then on by Heraldry College of Arms. The ultimate approval of designs, mottoes and crests worn in the military have since rested with the authority of the British Monarchy.
How British Badges Stay Unique
Although overseen by royal authority, the regiments were allowed to retain their individuality. Indeed, the British Army has shown an exceptional ability to preserve what might be called the “birthright” of individual regiments despite mergers and changes over time.
Each cap badge is intended to embody the essence of its regiment. The anatomy of a cap badge may include:
- Symbols or wording representing battle honors
- Ancient or heraldic imagery
- A motto (often in Latin, but also in other languages such as English, German or French)
- Symbols indicating the duty or expertise of a particular regiment
- Mythological figures or beasts
So how did regimental badges come to be worn on caps? During the 1800s, the British Army went through a crisis in military fashion that pitted style against practicality. Average soldiers endured a changing series of notable headgear, including shakos, spiked cloth helmets inspired by the uninviting German Pickelhaube and even an infamous mushroom-shaped forage hat known as Brodrick. The Brodrick was universally despised by wearers due to its unflattering appearance, so much so that a 1906 news report claimed that a British soldier had committed suicide due to his humiliation at having to wear it. During this period of dress upheaval, the Army realized that it was possible to display regimental crests on helmet plates. This was done and eventually the crests were displayed on the caps.
When did British soldiers first wear cap badges?
The first cap badges were worn by British soldiers in 1897 and conformed to a general style in 1898. The advent of khaki service dress resulted in a variety of peaked khaki caps, which tended to be more practical, comfortable and pleasing to the eye. Finally, the Army had developed a workable solution to the hat crisis and had also found a way to place a regimental identification mark on soldiers’ headgear. This evolution resulted in the standard cap badge of the modern British Army.
During the First and Second World Wars, the majority of cap badges were made from copper alloy metal, with many “bi-metallic” versions also in brass and white metal. Due to metal shortages during World War II, the British resorted to producing plastic cap badges. These are known as plastic economy badges.
Cap badges have become a source of pride for soldiers. With elegant designs echoing medieval heraldry, badges provide a visible link to a soldier’s unique regiment, with all its glory, quirks and traditions. The badge connects the soldier’s service to the heroism of his predecessors in past wars. The regimental badge on the cap badge gave soldiers a sense of belonging to a distinctive, yet shared, British tradition. Cap badge designs were also often replicated as “lovers badges” to be worn by loved ones.
MOnty cap badges
During World War II, Bernard Law Montgomery, the first British general to wear battle dress, became famous for wearing the regimental cap badges of soldiers under his command to identify himself to his troops and show his pride. for their accomplishments. Montgomery’s unorthodox manner of wearing cap badges did not conform to Army dress regulations and was frowned upon by military officials, but he won his cap badge battle.
Montgomery’s example demonstrates that cap badges are versatile and can be worn not only on peaked caps, but on a variety of other military headgear, including berets and loose hats. Cap badges are also worn on turbans by the Sikh military.
A distinctive sight during both World Wars, cap badges continue to be worn by soldiers of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries today.
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