Military hats past and present

Wellington at Waterloo 1815, collection of the National Army Museum, London

Wellington at Waterloo, lithograph by Robert Alexander Hillingford, 1815 (c). National Army Museum, London

This issue of Insignia Insights highlights unique military hats of past and present. Forage caps, baseball style caps, sun hats and winter toques are just some items among the many uniform insignia TrimTag supplies. Looking into to their origins, we discover a lot about military uniforms dating from the Regency era of two hundred years ago.

During the Napoleonic Wars, both sides wore military hats and insignia for both practical purposes and pomp. Some hats even became heroic and lifesaving at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo (main image).

Hats from the past have changed, but some continue playing practical and ceremonial roles. Like most military uniforms, headwear designs have to do with soldiers’ duties. Read on to learn the origins of a forage cap, and when a soldier would wear a shako cap. And, discover what fearsome headdress is still worn today by different Canadian Armed Forces units as part of their ceremonial dress kitbag.

Horses and undress forage caps of Wellington’s 33rd

Forage Cap 33rd Regiment 1812 Calderdale Museum

Photo: Forage Cap, 1812, courtesy Calderdale Museum

A forage cap has something to do with British forces horses.

Originally, forage caps were invented specifically for the cavalry, who had to spend considerable time gathering food for their horses – known as forage. The term became applied to all “undress” uniform caps. AgeofRevolution.org

Undress uniforms were worn doing ‘fatigues’ duty. Duties could include cooking, cleaning, or foraging for food or fuel. The Duke of Wellington’s 33rd Regiment of Foot began wearing forage hats in 1812.

A forage hat is made of comfortable knit wool, felted for warmth and waterproofing. A pompom closed the top and made the hat flop over or flatten out. The regimental number 33 is embroidered in red on the contrasting white band in this example from the Calderdale Museum.

Today’s toque or peaked forage cap?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a toque as a close-fitting knitted hat, often with a tassel or pom-pom on the crown’. One might think a knit toque would be today’s close Canadian relative of forage hats for the military, but it is not. The CAF dress manual describes what a peaked uniform forage cap is, and how it is to be worn:

Forage Cap. An undress peaked cap which may be worn with army full and undress uniforms. Originally designed for casual and fatigue wear in the field (“foraging”). CAF, Dress Instructions, Technical Definitions

Today, peaked service or forage caps with regiment insignia are part of undress uniforms. Knit toques without pompoms, are part of winter undress uniforms. Recently, baseball style caps have been added for summer. The Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force, RCMP and many Canadian police, fire and EMS services have all three types of hats in their kit.

Casual military hats & Covid-19 duties

Surprisingly, some CAF units wear casual ‘street wear’ items such as peaked baseball-style caps, toques and fleece hoodies. It has to do with their duties.

Five Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups are part-time army reservists. Wearing a traditional red ‘hoodie’, a baseball hat or toque is part of their distinctive military uniform issued in 2016 (shown in sketch). A red raincoat, and winter outer jacket makes their uniform better suited to their duties carried out in remote, northern and coastal areas.

Joining together earlier this year, 3 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and reservists from both the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Navy formed Task Force (TF) Lakehead. Their mission was to assist with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to remote communities in Northwestern Ontario.

...with TF LAKEHEAD we get to apply our skills in our own backyard – helping our neighbours, friends, family and fellow citizens of Northwestern Ontario.”  – Lieutenant Commander Nathanael Moulson, Army, Navy Reservists team up to fight COVID-19, CAF, March 25, 2021.

How shako military caps were life savers

Military hat proved to be a lucky soldier's Shako cap from Battle of Waterloo

Photo: Shako cap, courtesy Calderdale Museum

Replica military hat a peaked shako cap of the33rdfoot reenactment group like that worn by British 33rd Regiment of Foot infantry at the Battle of Waterloo

Photo: courtesy the33rdfoot via Instagram

Back two hundred years, when out on a campaign, a British soldier had to wear and carry his own kit. Infantry wore a tall black felt shako cap with a leather peak when on parade, marching or in combat. Their forage caps were usually carried rolled up inside the top. This was a practical and affordable way to give extra protection to the head when in close battle. Turns out, shako caps could save a soldier in a couple other ways.

The image at left shows an 1812 Pattern ‘Belgic’ shako cap. It has a bugle horn badge, the insignia of Light Infantry. It belonged to Ensign James Howard, a junior officer in the 33rd Regiment of Foot. At the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, his 18th birthday, a French musket ball shot through the crown, leaving a perfectly visible hole.

I had a very narrow escape that day, a ball passed through my cap and must have been within the eighth of an inch of my head.  — Ensign Howard wrote about his experience.

Shako caps worn by other companies had a large ‘universal’ plate, stamped with the regimental number and the royal cypher ‘G R’ of King George. These large brass insignia plates sometimes acted as a lifesaving shield by deflecting enemy fire.

Replica Regency-era fatigues and combat uniforms from 1812-1816 are worn by The33rdFoot, a period re-enactment group. On parade and for demos they wear red jackets with white or grey breeches. Their shako hats (above, right) with and without an oilskin, are like those worn by private soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo.

Extravagant Headdress of the CAF Ceremonial Guard

This summer, CAF Ceremonial Guards are hopefully resuming the ceremonial changing-of-the-guard. It is a continuing Parliament Hill tradition in Ottawa which began in 1959.

It is modeled on the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, which is performed by the Grenadier Guards. They are among the most famous regiments of the British Army recognizable in striking red and black uniforms with black bearskin hats. This uniform dates from 1815, and came with their regiment’s new name.

Copying the idea of a fearsome fur headdress came after defeating Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guards who wore them. Bearskins were not practical military hats. Instead, this extravagant headgear made the Imperial Guard infantry look taller and more intimidating.

To honour their part in this victory, the British 1st Regiment of Foot Guards had their uniforms redesigned to incorporate a bearskin headdress, replacing their peaked cap (“shako”). They were also renamed the “First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards”, AgeofRevolution.org

Parading on Parliament Hill is a summer jobs of college and university students who are reservists in the Canadian Forces. The guardsmen and women are drawn from two regiments: the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Governor General’s Foot Guards. The former are based in Montreal, and the Canadian Militia’s oldest infantry regiment established in 1859. Created in 1872, the latter are Canada’s senior reserve infantry regiment.

Today’s changing of the guard is purely symbolic. We give it a hat’s off because the bearskin headdress uniquely connects French, British and Canadian military history.

If you arrive on the lawn of Parliament Hill by 9:45 a.m., you can hear an audio presentation in English and French that explains the symbolism, history and proceedings of the ceremony. – OttawaTourism.ca

Modern military hats for dress, mess, service and ceremony

High standards of dress, deportment, and grooming are universally recognized as marks of a well-trained, disciplined and professional force – CAF dress instructions.

As you might expect, describing Canada’s current military garb reveals close connections to Britain. Military hat designs modernize over time, but some old styles remain in use for practical and symbolic reasons. Understanding history, along with uniform definitions supplied by the National Defense Clothing and Dress Committee (NDCDC) helps clear it up.

Trimtag supplies caps, hats, toques and all types of uniform insignia

Military hats now include baseball styles like this Ottawa Fire Service baseball cap ©Trimtag Trading Inc.g

Forage caps, baseball style hats (shown), sun hats, and winter toques are just some of Trimtag uniform insignia products. As well, we proudly supply cap badges, service medals, ribbon bars for dress and mess uniforms. We work with many organizations, including RCMP, CBSA, along with first responders Fire, EMS and Police services across Canada. Ask us how we can help with your uniform insignia today.


Healing symbols of medicine

Healing Symbols caduceus lapel pin ©Trimtag Trading Inc

The above silver winged caduceus lapel pin is supplied by Trimtag Trading Inc. to a number of EMS clients

Seeing progress of science and medicine is a hopeful sign as we enter the second year living under a global health pandemic. Healing symbols worn on the uniforms of EMS paramedics and health care workers aiding our collective recovery are the inspiration for this Insignia Insights post. We examine how two different healing symbols with snakes came into use to identify various practitioners of medicine.

One snake or two?

One healing symbol is the caduceus (see the lapel pin in the featured image). The other is the Rod of Asclepius (Aesculapius in Latin). The caduceus, or staff, has two serpents entwined around it, while the Rod of Asclepius has only one snake.

Snakes may seem an odd choice to associate with medicine. But snakes have a long history as tools of healing in ancient biblical and cultural rituals. Looking further into the origins of these healing symbols reveals different meanings. Understanding how they both came into use by many different kinds of medical practitioners is part of the story.

Rod of Asclepius

Statue of the Greek god of healing holds the Rod of Asclepius. Photo by Michael F. Mehnert, Museum of Epidaurus Theatre

Asclepius, photo Michael F. Mehnert

EMS pink epaulette with the healing symbol with a single snake known as the Rod of Asclepius

Epaulette reflecting the Rod of Asclepius, supplied by Trimtag Trading Inc.

Belonging to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, his tool makes an obvious connection to medicine.

That explains why the Royal College of Physicians, and the Paramedic Association of Canada use the Rod of Asclepius in their logos. Many other modern healthcare practitioners, ambulance services, EMS and medics use this healing symbol for their identities.

On this embroidered pink slip-on epaulette, worn to create awareness for Breast Cancer in October of each year, the Rod of Asclepius is centred over a red maple leaf. In addition to this item, Trimtag supplies standard epaulettes and other uniform insignia items to various paramedic services.

Military medical healers

Borrowing from ancient mythology to create insignia is a common practice of many military organizations. Providing medical support to operations, exercises and training, army medical personnel were among the first to begin using the Rod of Asclepius on uniforms in the late 19th century.

the single serpent on a staff…has been generally regarded as a more fitting emblem for the medical profession. The badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and of other medical corps within the British Commonwealth, shows a staff with one serpent entwining it. – W.H. Hattie, M.D., Canadian Medical Journal, 1928

Different healing symbols Canadian Army Medical Corps coin vs U.S. Army Medical Corps.

L: Royal Canadian Medical Services Assoc coin R: U.S. Army Medical Corps

In 1898, the Royal Army Medical Corps was formed in Britain. The single snake emblem soon spread throughout the British Commonwealth, including Canada. The Royal Canadian Army Medical Department formed in June 1899.

According to Doctor Hattie, the badge of the French medical service also uses the healing symbol with a single serpent. The American’s chose a different healing symbol: a winged caduceus.

In 1902, the United States Army Medical Service adopted a device with two serpents wrapped around a staff with wings outstretched. The US Public Health Service (now the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, or HHS), and the US Marine Hospital soon followed.

This began the common acceptance of the winged caduceus as a medical emblem in America.

Caduceus became the winged wand of Mercury

Caduseus is held in this relief sculpture from 1660s on the Royal Amsterdam Palace, photo C. Messier

Mercury, photo C. Messier

Caduceus healing symbol on York Region Paramedic Services shoulder patch

Caduceus on York Region Paramedic Services shoulder patch supplied by Trimtag Trading Inc.

The Greek god Hermes, (the Roman Mercury), is a swift messenger and divine herald. Apollo, his half brother, was the one who warded off disease and healed the sick.

So why did the ‘winged wand of Mercury’ become associated with medicine?

Because he achieved peace by throwing his rod at two fighting snakes. His caduceus became a symbol of healing when the snakes wound themselves around it peacefully instead.

Much later, although exactly when or why is not clear, wings were added to the top of the caduceus. We speculate it may be the evolving mythology of Hermes’ speed appearing as wings on his sandals or helmet.

Adding wings could also have been influenced by one of Henry VIII’s court physicians. Sir William Butts (1485-1545). Supposedly a serpent and winged device were part of his personal crest. Butts and other physicians to the king created medicinal recipes based on traditional medieval remedies like herbs, lapidary and even unicorn horn! (There are more unicorns later…read on)

We see two pairs of wings on a marble relief sculpture of Mercury at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam dating from about 1660. He holds a winged caduceus, and wears a helmet with wings. Writing in the Canadian Medical Journal in 1928, Dr. W.H. Hattie admits, “It is difficult to say when this latter device (with wings) came into use as a medical emblem.

Snake fights. Personal branding. Maybe wings were a mere flight of fancy by artists expressing lofty ambitions of their sponsors. The reason wings got added on top of the caduceus is lost to history.

Official shields and creative license

In 2018, the Canadian Heraldic Authority granted the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada its own official shield of arms. The elements include unicorns in reference to their ‘healing powers’.

Arms: Or a star of life Azure its rod of Aesculapius Or all within an orle of maple leaves Gules. The crest: A Canadian Inuit dog courant proper. Supporters: Two unicorns Or armed and unguled Azure crined Gules standing on a rocky mount proper.- Canadian Heraldic Authority

Today, heraldic traditions and artistic license continues with both symbols of healing. And some designs are just for special occasions.

Unlike the PCC’s shield is the modified logo, (shown left). It was created for the 2020 Paramedic Services Week held virtually last May. A mask and eye shield is over the caduceus healing symbol and atop the blue star of life and red maple leaf.

Paramedic Services Week happens this year on May 23-29, to engage the public and recognize exemplary service. Perhaps a time for you to buy comemorative coins, or donate to support and honour the service of paramedics.

Fundraising rides are hopefully resuming later this year. They help the Canadian Paramedic Memorial Foundation fund the building of a National Monument in Ottawa. It will mark the dedication and sacrifice of all Canadian civilian and military paramedics who have lost their lives in the line-of-duty.

Ask about Trimtag’s EMS insignia

Trimtag Trading Inc. creates all types of healing symbols on uniform insignia. We make shoulder crests, pins and epaulettes for EMS paramedics and health care workers, whether your logo has Mercury’s winged caduceus or the Rod of Asclepius.

If your organization is on the front lines of our essential healthcare system, contact us for more information or to get a quote. Thank you for taking care of us, and stay safe.


Crowns and heroes

Gilded crown atop the reconstructed Gate of Honour at the Chateau de Versailles

Gilded crown atop the replica Gate of Honour at the Chateau de Versailles

To know which leader is in charge, look for the largest headdress, tiara or crown. They are usually finely crafted from rare feathers, beads, or precious gold and jewels. Crowns are one of the most historic and ceremonial hallmarks of leadership.

We begin 2021 wishing all goodwill with optimism for year under a new, healthier regime. Continuing our Insignia Insights series, we start by sharing stories of notable crowns of history, and their role in an epic epidemic.

Royal recycling

Signifying who is at the top, whether tribal, royal or religious, crowns are the ultimate status symbol.

Napoleon's tiara designed by Marie-Etienne Nitot House of Chaumet 1805

Napoleon’s Tiara, illustration public domain

Crowns are highly visible decorative motifs like those on the re-created Chateau de Versailles Gate of Honour. Originally built in the 1680s, the gilded iron gates are one of many symbolic objects destroyed during the French Revolution in 1789. The fate of the crowned gate foretold the ending of the monarchy under Louis XVI.

Placing crowns on the heads of a new leaders is a highlight of ceremonial coronations, signifying a regime change. That moment is a feature of many paintings, monuments and trinkets. A royal rebranding to inform the masses.

Remaking crowns into fresh designs for a new era was a job of court appointed goldsmiths. Working with inherited jewels, and sometimes the spoils of war, when reparations could be paid in gold and gems.

Napoleon’s Tiara made by his official jeweler, the House of Chaumet, is an example of such royal recycling. Not made for the new emperor. He sent this crown along with an insulting message to the conquered Pope.

Crowns that changed the world

Crowns are the signature spikes on the coronavirus shown on this CDC image

Photo: coronavirus by Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS, courtesy CDC

Looking back at 2020, we quickly learned how an invisible crown became the icon of a new global power. Spiked proteins are the hallmark of a strain of a new virus with the nickname “corona”.

It is that signature crown which took charge last year. Spreading illness throughout the world, making us all subjects of pandemic history.

Seeing how quickly scientists began genetically harnessing the crown of spikes on the coronavirus gives us ammunition to fight back. We are witnessing a rapid and historic development of vaccines. Enabling our immune systems to recognize and neutralize the viral intruder is the crowning triumph of science and medicine.

While awaiting worldwide inoculation, we note some crowns serving a different purpose.

Queen Victoria’s crowns

Queen Victoria's sapphire crown designed by Prince Albert 1840

Queen Victoria’s sapphire crown at the V&A

Wearing the Royal Crown Jewels, Victoria was crowned Queen of the British Empire in June 1838 during her coronation at Westminster Abbey. She was just 19. Two years later she married her love, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Taking gems from her old pieces, Prince Albert designed a new sapphire and diamond cornet for her soon after they married. It has the Saxon Rautenkranz, or circlet of rue (rue is a herb), an element of Prince Albert’s coat of arms. He commissioned Joseph Kitching of Kitching & Abud, the official “Jewellers to the Queen” to craft it.

Eleven glittering sapphires are set in gold and surrounded by diamonds set in silver. The crown can be worn in a closed circle coronet, or open at the back as a tiara. It is just one of several tiaras and crowns Queen Victoria inherited or had made. This is the crown she chose to wear for her portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1842.

It is a portrait that takes her image right around the world. Its the great jewel of the young queen. – Victoria & Albert Museum, Senior Curator, Richard Edgecumbe, video, April 11, 2019.

This coronet is the star of a new jewelry gallery unveiled at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019, the bicentenary year of Victoria and Albert’s birth.

Since it’s founding in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures, the V&A has been educating designers, makers and the public by showcasing exemplary design and decoration. Housing over 2 million artifacts, it is the world’s largest repositories of decorative arts and design spanning 5,000 years. And it is free for all to access (except during a pandemic).

Honours system

Royal Victorian Order medal awarded to Governors General of Canada

Royal Victorian Order medal courtesy DND

Besides crowns, hallmarks of the Victorian era include advancements in science, medicine, arts and industry. During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837- 1901), several new orders were added to the British Honours system.

The Royal Victorian Order medal is a dynastic order of knighthood originating with Queen Victoria in 1896. It is given at the discretion of the sovereign for service.  The eight-point Maltese cross RVO medal was first made by the same jeweler who crafted her sapphire crown.

Governor Generals of Canada, and the 54 Canadians recieving the award since 1972, can use “CVO” (Commander of the Victorian Order) after their name.

Note the Royal Cypher in the centre. VRI (Victoria Regina Imperatrix) are the superimposed gold letters on the crimson enamel oval. The Imperial State Crown, sometimes called a Tudor crown, sits atop the blue enamel riband with the motto VICTORIA in gold.

Retaining symbolic elements of the British Crown reflects Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy. These insignia from the Victorian era may seem unnecessary now, but have a role in recognizing service and Canada’s unique history.

Heroes and royal charters

VON Victorian Order of Nurses Argyle St Ottawa designated National Historic Event in 1997

VON Argyle St Ottawa, courtesy Parks Canada

Occurring in the late 1800s were severe shortages of nurses, doctors and hospitals in Canada, especially in remote areas. Learning of these dire circumstances was Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, wife of John Hamilton-Gordon, Canada’s 7th Governor General. Described as a liberal Scottish aristocrat by supporters and detractors, Lady Aberdeen was a champion of the idea to form an order of visiting nurses.

Undaunted by resistance of some ‘medical men’ concerned about proper training, Lady Aberdeen enlisted help from a Harvard doctor. He literally wrote the book “Nurses & Nursing”, and created the Waltham Training School for Nurses considered gospel by the legendary Florence Nightingale. Proposing a name for the order in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee drew criticism, and also helpful in overcoming objections:

Strategically invoking the sovereign, the VON affirmed women as active citizens in a northern nation, a female equivalent of the North-West Mounted Police. –Veronica Strong-Boag, biographi.ca

Signing up the first 12 nurses into the Order in November 1897, the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria in March 1898. A few months later, they were granted permission to wear the same badge as those give to the Queen’s Nurses in Great Britain and Ireland.

Predating provincial public health, hospitals and the Canadian Nurses Association was the VON. Traveling with a basic kit and homemade uniforms, they delivered care, compassion (and many babies) to people across Canada. All these organizations are on the front-line of COVID-19 today. More than 6,000 VON Canada nurses, and almost equal number of VON volunteers are continuing their mission. They are providing charitable nursing, home care and social services in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Heroes worthy of new honours?

Front Line Workers lawn sign hearts and heroes in Canada

Early in the present pandemic, people banged pots and stuck plastic signs in their lawn thanking ‘front line workers.’  Those sounds and signs have faded. And the challenge has only increased.

We think all those who continue making it possible for the rest of us to get through tough times are deserving of more formal recognition. This is a moment when Canada could create a new more permanent insignia and honour the heroic everyday people fighting the pandemic battle.

We are not alone. Learning that the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada is advocating for a ceremonial medal for exactly that purpose to be inaugurated in 2022. It is part of a controversial proposal for a Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Honouring the thousands of ordinary Canadian heroes with a gesture of thanks is the least we can do. Just think what a great inclusive national celebration it could be.