By Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR, 1975-82)
Although the RMR has been wearing the same cap badge for 100 years, there have been many interesting variations produced over the years. Since the history of this venerable badge deserves to be known, we are lucky that an account of the birth of the badge has come down to us from seven decades ago.
In early 1915, while the 14th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was training at Salisbury Plain, in England, the unit was told it needed a distinctive badge to wear in France, in the front line. But what did it wear before that, during the five or six months after the unit was formed in August, 1914?
Possibly the Canada general service badge, which was in the shape of a maple leaf, or maybe the three companies from the 1st Regiment, Canadian Grenadier Guards, wore their badge. Then the three companies from the 3rd Regiment, Victoria Rifles of Canada would have worn their own badge, as would the two companies from the 65th Regiment, Carabiniers de Mont-Royal.
Lt. H. Salmon, who worked in the orderly room as an NCO clerk at the time, volunteered to “sketch out a few designs” since he was a “draftsman and designer,” as he said in the July, 1944, number of the Intercomn, the newspaper of the RMR.
The first thing he did was ask the commanding officer, LCol Frank Meighen, if the RMR’s status as a royal regiment had been approved. The CO said yes so Salmon said, “In that case, we are entitled to the ‘Garter, Motto and Crown.’”
Salmon showed a finished sketch to the adjutant of the 14th, Capt AP Holt, who said, according to Salmon, “don’t trouble to finish the others as I believe this one will be satisfactory.”
The Colonel concurred, said Salmon, and “it met with the approval of the other officers. The Adjutant immediately rushed to London by car to have it registered and gave an order for the manufacture of a large number of badges.”
Salmon added that at the time, he would have “preferred something more elaborate, but the general opinion was that nothing over ornate would be considered. Today (1944) the badge is one of distinction and is revered as an emblem that represents a Regiment second to none in its activities both in wartime and peace.”
This is certainly an endearing account of the birth of the badge, and who is to say it didn’t happen that way at all? But we know that Meighen did not have official approval to call the 14th Battalion a ‘royal’ regiment. In fact, that approval finally reached the 14th after the end of the war. Better late than never, as they say, but over six thousand men, of which 1,192 who never came home, wore the badge proudly.
The RMR owes its name to Col Sam Hughes, the minister of militia and defence. Volume One of the regimental history states that Hughes started calling the newly-formed 14th Battalion the ‘Royal Montreal Regiment’ when the unit was getting organized in Valcartier with the rest of the 1st Contingent in August, 1914. Widely known and feared for his energy and capricious moods – he liked firing or promoting officers on the spot – few if any were prepared to argue with the mercurial minister.
Three firms manufactured this badge during the war, according to the 1994 Charlton Standard Catalogue of First World War Canadian Infantry Badges. JR Gaunt of England made theirs of browning copper, William Scully Ltd of Montreal made it of browning brass and Tiptaft, of Birmingham, England, made it also of browning brass. The guide does not mention an officers’ pattern badge.
As for collar badges, miniature versions of the cap badge were worn by the officers, while the troops wore the brass C over 14 on the collars of their service dress jackets.
The heraldic description of the badge, as described in the 1964 DND book The Regiments and Corps of the Canadian Army, reads as follows: “A maple leaf inscribed “ROYAL MONTREAL REGT” within the Garter and motto “HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE” surmounted by the Crown and resting on a scroll bearing the word “CANADA”.
After the war, the same JR Gaunt badge was worn by the other ranks, in brass. The officers presumably wore a bronze badge and collar dogs with their khaki service dress uniforms. Eventually they adopted a scarlet mess kit uniform and gilt collars were worn with that.
Some officers also wore a blue uniform complete with a black tie and open collar. Its forage cap featured a silver and gilt badge, manufactured by JR Gaunt, or William Scully. The troops also wore an impressive brass shoulder title, RMR over CANADA.
Sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, the design of the maple leaf in the middle of the cap badge changed slightly. The original badge displayed what can be called the ‘broad tipped leaf.’ Now the leaf featured sharp tips. The reason for the change is unknown.
During the Second World War, the troops kept shining their brass badges. But after the RMR became the 32nd Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment in January, 1943, black berets were adopted and the officers wore gold and silver bullion badges on them. These are exceedingly rare.
Cloth shoulder flashes were also worn during the war. The original pattern, which was printed, had ‘MG,’ for machine gun, on it (the RMR had been converted to a machine gun unit in 1936). After the unit lost its machine guns the soldiers cut the ‘MG’ off and a new version was made without it. There are many variations, both printed and in cloth, with and without the ‘MG.”
A major change occurred in 1952 when Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne and the Tudor, or King’s Crown, was replaced by St. Edward’s Crown, or Queen’s Crown. That meant the crown on the RMR cap badge had to be changed. In common with the rest of the army, it took quite some time for the new badges to be manufactured.
In fact, it may have taken over ten years. In 1964, when the RMR received its third stand of colours, the officers had a group photo taken and only two or three wore the new Queen’s Crown cap badge!
In the 1950s and 1960s, the officers wore a bronze QC badge on their khaki forage caps, worn with both battledress and khaki service dress. Both sharp-tipped leaf and broad-tipped leaf versions are known. Gilt and silver cap badges and collar dogs were worn with mess kit and blue patrols. The RMR adopted the latter in 1954, the first militia unit to do so.
During the immediate post-war era, the soldiers wore their brass cap badges on a scarlet beret while the officers wore a gold and silver bullion badge. The troops were wearing a blue forage cap, complete with scarlet band, by 1964.
In 1968, a new multi-coloured shoulder flash for the battledress jacket was issued. It replaced the white on khaki flash worn since the end of the war. The new flash had a garish, yellow background.
After unification took effect on Feb.1, 1968, it took about four years for the militia to be issued the new Canadian Forces service dress, usually called CF greens. The officers continued to wear their gold and silver bullion badge on green berets and forage caps while the troops wore brass badges. When you got a new one you had to burn it black with a match or lighter before polishing it with Brasso.
By the end of the 1970s, RMR personnel were wearing anodised cap badges. No more polishing with Brasso. Happily, some dedicated soldiers kept wearing their brass cap badge, happy to display personal pride by shining it daily.
The RMR collar badges issued after the 1960s were not the best quality, both in design and production. The crown was too small in proportion and the finish looked cheap. The officers did not even have a collar badge with a silver maple leaf, as per tradition.
At least the RMR got its regimental buttons back in the late 1970s, at the same time that a gold on green shoulder flash was produced. It was worn on the service dress, work dress and garrison dress jackets.
A cloth badge, round, depicting the RMR cap badge was produced in the 1970s for wear on the bush cap in the field. Its maple leaves were so thin that some called it the ‘marijuana’ badge. A second version was produced years later.
Now that the RMR and its soldiers are celebrating their centennial, with various events and celebrations that are being held from 2014-2015, what are they wearing as insignia?
The other ranks capbadge is still anodised, and very shiny. The collar badges are well designed, for the first time since the 1960s. However, why are they curved? A large, anodised belt buckle is worn with the white plastic belt for ceremonial parades. In the 1960s, the buckle was square with the capbadge fastened in the center.
As for the officers, their gold and silver bullion beret badge is well made. Their collars have a silver maple leaf in the middle, but its quality and finish does not even begin to compare with the classic officer gilt and silver collars worn until the late 1960s.
For the Distinct Environmental Uniform (DEU) service dress jacket, which has been worn by all ranks since circa 1986, anodised RMR metal titles are worn on the bottom of the shoulder straps. Canada flashes are worn under them, near the top of both sleeves. On the right shoulder, the crest of 34 Canadian Brigade Group is worn under the Canada. On the left shoulder, the blue patch of the 2nd Division is worn. The old Land Force Command badge is till worn on the right breast pocket of the jacket.
To sum up, the cap badge of the RMR has had a long and proud history. It has been worn by thousands of soldiers in both peace and war. Simple yet elegant in design, it is not as flamboyant as some other badges but it doesn’t need to be. The crown declares we live in a constitutional monarchy while the maple leaf – with the unit’s title on it – and ‘Canada’ at the bottom proclaims its origin and home. May it be worn forever!
If anyone has more information on RMR insignia please contact the author through this website.