Another rant (buttons and bows)

So, on the Army rumour net, which, to be clear, is right less than half the time, I heard that there are plans to bring back both the Sam Browne belt and patrol dress uniforms. I wore both, quite proudly, in the “good old days,” which, I can assure you, were not all that bloody good at all.

Now, a highly polished Sam Browne belt looks good ~ and trust me, it takes hours and hours of work to get it looking good ~ and many of our allies still wear them …

… but let us be very clear, again: the Sam Browne serves no useful purpose, and, if not well polished and/or if it’s worn over an ill-fitting jacket it can make an officer look sloppy.

It is very possible to look very smart without the aid of a Sam Browne belt …

… which brings us to the issue of patrol dress uniforms ~ the “dress” jackets with high collars and the trousers with stripes.

But first, this is a rant because I’m annoyed.

Why am I annoyed?

Well, it goes back to early in 2010 when a CPC MP, Guy Lauzon, the MP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, introduced a Private Members bill in the House of Commons to imgres1reintroduce the Navy’s Executive Curl. I didn’t think, at the time, that it was much of an issue; boy, was I wrong! In fact, the Navy admirals all got behind it, and it happened. But it was a small thing and, generally, not very expensive, and no one was really upset, not about that, anyway … not, at least, until early 2013 when proposals surfaced for the Canadian Army to revert to pre-unification (i.e. mid-1960s) ranks for officers. Once again I thought it would come to nothing, especially because the Army Commander had said, publicly, that he opposed the idea, but, yet again, I was wrong … and so was (now retired) Lieutenant General Peter Devlin.

What we learned was that a very few, but very well connected, to the Conservative Party, army officers, all either recently retired or serving reserve force officers had pushed this and the Minister of the day, having nothing much else to offer the military, went along, despite the disinterest of the official Army. The new/old badges were reintroduced.

What these activist officers really wanted was a return to “the day before Paul Hellyer ended the world.” I found that odd, to say the least, because, unlike me, none of the activist officers about whom I learned had been in the Army when Paul Hellyer was minister, but they had heard all the stories from old retired folk at the bars of their various regimental messes and they convinced themselves that the “old days” were good. Meanwhile, while they were scheming, their confrères had been fighting and dying in various places while wearing the new uniforms and the new rank badges. New traditions were being forged.

The main objection to reverting was not really because anyone really liked the “new” (since 1968) rank badges, it was because it was perceived as a waste of staff time and of taxpayers’ money when soldiers couldn’t get proper boots and the logistics vehicle fleet was grounded because we couldn’t afford to buy spare parts … but, suddenly, we could afford to buy pips and crowns? It just didn’t make military sense. Then, to top it all off, the costs skyrocketed because it was British_officer_rank_ww1discovered that the ranks on the sleeve left permanent marks (indentations) on cuffs of the green service dress uniforms, so all officers (and there are too many officers, especially senior ones, for a force our size) had to be issued with new jackets! That did cause a great deal of upset.

Now the activists didn’t get everything they wanted … someone took a look at the ranks and noted that we had brigadier generals, a rank that hadn’t existed in the Canadian Army for 40ish years, from the early 1920s until the late 1960s, so they went all the way back to World War I to resurrect the brigadier general’s rank. Why on earth, many wanted to know, if we were going all that way back, didn’t we stick with ranks on the sleeves, a mix of pips and crowns and stripes, like we wore in the real old days? That’s right: we wore stripes, almost like the ones Mr Hellyer imposed, back in the First World War … when we had brigadier generals, too. But the activists were neither well-read nor really interested in history and tradition … they just wanted to undo everything Paul Hellyer had done. It was (Conservative) partisan nonsense of the most mindless sort. And they succeeded with the help of a Conservative government that cared so little about the military that it could be led around by a small cabal of activist officers. The upshot was that we got this …


… and that caused another fuss because the star, the “pip” in Army terms, is the star of the Order of the Bath, a uniquely British order that is not applicable to Canada. It is, indeed, the same “pip” I wore back in the early 1960s, but it was the one imposed on a colony by our British imperial overlords.

Now, at that time (2013) there was a proposal to have “pips and crowns,” but with uniquely Canadian pips based on the star and the cross of the Order of Military Merit …

… that would have pacified many Canadian nationalists in the Army, but, sadly in my opinion, the activists won the day.

Some people, including me, wanted to go farther ~ if we had to go down that road at all ~ and adopt something similar to what the Indian Army has, but using a distinctively Canadian “pip” and a distinctively Canadian device, the Governor General’s lion, instead of the crown …

Indian Army Ranks and possible Canadian devices

… the Indians have preserved the familiar and widely used Commonwealth system but they have adapted it to use uniquely Indian symbology.

Then came the Air Force who replaced perfectly serviceable gold colour ranks with “old” air force blue and grey …

… but, for the generals, they kept both the “old” (196s) Army style shoulder rank and the “new” (1930s and ’40s etc) Navy style ranks! But, at least, they didn’t need to replace all the tunics!

Anyway, we seem to have managed to spend way too much money on “buttons and bows” when soldiers sill cannot get boots and the logistics vehicles are still grounded due to lack of parts for maintenance and we appear to have satisfied only a few activists.

Back to patrol dress.

My first question is why?

My next question, assuming no one cares about “why,” is blue, like most of us who actually served way back when wore, or green? Green, a dark, rifle green, is the current Army colour and also has a long and proud history as a Canadian Army colour …

I don’t care if we get back to patrol dress or not, IF, that is, it is to be 100% at the private cost of officers, warrant officers and sergeants, but if there is to be any public money involved then I do care, a lot.

If we are going to spend public money of uniforms then let us rationalize them.

Service members need:

First: Operational clothing …

… which is designed for each service and, sometimes, for different functions within a service, and see this, a peeve.

Second: Work clothing. Now work will vary, a lot, by job and environment:

There are, probably, three or four “work” uniforms for every of the dozens (hundreds) of tasks in the Canadian Forces, and they need to be practical, easy to care for, comfortable, appropriate for the work at and hand, and, whenever possible, neat and tidy, too …

Third: Ceremonial Uniforms, which will also vary by service custom and tradition …

… but what the Canadian Army doesn’t need is a “business suit.”

The Canadian Army’s “business suit” was, 125 years ago …

… and then 25 years after that … and 35 years later.

The US Army, an institution we seem to almost slavishly follow, has, in fact, gotten rid of its business suit …


… and replaced it with a variant of their old, 19th century, “dress blues:”


If Canada is going to spend even more public money on “buttons and bows” instead of on things that are of real, operational, combat value, then we should do the same:


… the operational “business suit,” worn when we really mean business, the day-to-day “working dress” in all of its variations, and a dark green “dress uniform.”

If someone thinks we need “business attire,” presumably to attend meetings with civilians, then we can, as the US Army does, “dress down” the dress uniform or …


…. issue everyone with a blazer, a regimental tie and grey trousers.

But, for heaven’s sake, if we’re going to issue yet another Army uniform then let’s please replace something. Oh, and forget the Sam Browne belts, no one wants to polish the damned things and they look horrible if they are not well shone. And, if we’re going down this rat hole let’s go all the way and have a Canadian Army rank system, too.

the-good-idea-fairy-11_1b269570-76fb-11e5-9d61-41ab8e878eddPlease Minister Sajjan, when the “good idea fairy,” in the form of those activist officers, visits your headquarters, as it certainly will, advocating for additions to Army’s uniforms, tell the military chiefs to banish it (them) to the darkest depths of military hell. If you cannot or will not do that then, please, go the whole hog and give us a uniforms and rank badges for a real, 21st century, Canadian Army, not a pale imitation of the one I joined well over a half-century ago and in which I very proudly served. It’s 2016, Minister, as someone else might have said, not 1966.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

6 thoughts on “Another rant (buttons and bows)

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