This photograph of a group of junior officers relaxing was taken sometime around 1960. You can tell they belong to the Canadian Army because of the cap badges, if you know what you’re looking for. The fellow in beret second from right, who just happens to be my father, wears the cap badge of the Royal Canadian Regiment, while the fellow seated far left is a Royal Canadian Dragoon (I can’t make out the other cap badges). You can tell they are junior officers because four of them visibly wear three pips on their shoulders showing that they are captains, reflecting the evolution of our military from the British Army.

Today Canadian Army officers wear the American-style bars that we adopted in 1968, but earlier this month it was announced that we are going back to the future. As my brother the Mad Colonel put it, it’s “Not quite back to brown uniforms, boots and puttees but getting there”. These changes were announced by the Rt. Hon. Peter McKay in early July before he finished his tenure as Minister of National Defence. The commander of the Canadian Army, General Devlin, has said this:

“The restoration of these features is a significant step in the restoration of the Canadian Army’s traditions,” said Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin, Commander of the Canadian Army. “Symbols and traditions establish links to soldiers’ heritage, and are important. It is very significant that our non-commissioned members have the prospect of being able to bear the same ranks as their forbearers, and our officers will proudly wear the same insignia worn by Canadians who fought in the First and Second World Wars and Korea.”

This somewhat oversized graphic shows the rank insignia that Army officers will adopt. Non-commissioned members will keep their rank but in some cases will return to old rank titles such as Sapper, Bombardier, Fusilier or Guardsman rather than Private, depending on their regiment.

Since I have spent the last three years working with British Army personnel at CFB Suffield, I am familiar with British army insignia and know things like how a Major’s crown is smaller than a Warrant Officer’s crown. My colleagues without this experience will struggle at first. While I respect General Devlin’s desire to honour our heritage, I do find it slightly ironic that no one currently wearing officer’s rank in the Canadian Army is old enough to wearing the British-style rank of my father’s day. That generation has either passed on or is in retirement. It’s also curious that, as Colonel Ian Hope wrote of his time leading Task Force Orion in Afghanistan in 2006, our interoperability in theatre in the last decade has been with the US Army, so that culturally we are more like them now than we are like the Brits. American and Canadian soldiers can currently look at each other and understand the rank insignia, but there will be some Yanks scratching their heads in future theatres until they figure out our “new” ranks.

Fortunately for me, this is all above my pay grade and it won’t matter in the short term as I am shortly taking off the uniform for two years while a soldier-student, so it’s back to school before it’s back to the future. In two years from now, I’ll be putting on a new-style army combat uniform with (possibly, depending on the time it takes to phase this in), three captain’s pips and maybe a major’s crown to look forward to one day. For army chaplains, though, a vexing question presents itself. The combat uniform slip-on (the piece of fabric worn on the chest of the combat or everyday uniform to show rank and trade) only has room for three captain’s pips, which is why British army padres of captain’s rank wear crosses on their collars and the word “Padre” as part of their name tag. With the current Canadian slip-on for army padres, there is enough room for both the rank bars and the cross (or crescent or torah scroll). What will Canadian army padres of captain’s rank wear when we go back to the future? Black puttees, perhaps?

0 Responses

  1. You said "American-Style" bars. I think that would be the Navy. The other arms (Army, Air Force, USMC)still use the odd silver-gold bars/leaves/eagle/stars style.

  2. As a Brit, I have to say this is all rather exciting. Our rank insignia is a little confusing to our Allies, but then I suppose everything foreign to us is. Don't even start with Corporals of Horse and Regimental Bandmaster, and all sorts of crazy things like upside down chevrons and so on.

    Might I suggest, Padre, that you have some slip-ons made up (if you're allowed). Almost all UK units have semi-official rank slides which include text at the bottom, with quite a few totally personalised ones too. This sort of thing:

    Perhaps you could arrange your pips, with 'padre' beneath it? Just a thought.

  3. Great photo Mike!

    It's good to see your military going back to it's traditions again. I read only recently about the Air Force becoming the Royal Canadian Air Force again. It's ironic in many ways that the British Army has over the last 20 years lost so many of it's old historic regiments. History and traditions seem to be fading fast here. 🙁

    Interestingly some British senior officers have started wearing a mix of US and British rank insignia! Big debate (and often quite amusing) on the subject here:

    Best wishes,

  4. Mike,
    As you have no doubt noticed, not only does the UK captain's rank fill the full slip-on, the UK slip-on is also slightly larger that the Canadian. This allows the starts and crowns to be embroidered large enough to be distinguisable from eachother. I have seen the new velcro rank patches and they will be smaller still. Either the new uniform and patches will have to be redesigned right from the start, or we may see the rank squeezed into so tight a space as to make Lt difficult to differentiate from Maj until you are so close that the salute is already late.

    I don't know what that will mean for the placement of the padre identifier. Maybe it will go on your name tape in place of the crossed swords.

  5. Padre,
    There is nothing American about the current (soon to be replaced) Canadian officer ranks. When our rank system was looked at as a whole, it was a unique Canadian system that reflected elements of all the previous services.

    I have posted my thoughts in enough places that I won't repeat them here, suffice it to say that I and the Canadian soldiers I speak with are not excited to see this change imposed.

  6. I think the fellow beside the Dragoon is a Service Corps cap badge, the one above him an Artillery badge, and the one next to your Dad an Engineer badge.
    Who was your Dad, Michael … I knew some Petersons in The RCR.

    [the GMail address is only because Picasa forced it on me!]

  7. Padre – McG's comments are only one of a number of comments by serving soldiers. There are just as many in the military community who appear to hold the opposite opinion that he apparently does. I, for one, am also glad to see this change, mainly because the stars and crowns never actually disappeared. They have always been part of the full dress and mess dress uniforms of many regiments, and the CF "bars" always seemed like a half-baked, half-way measure with little history or thought behind it.

    Michael Dorosh