Some Distinguishing Marks 

A badge is a sign, a symbol, a distinctive mark, intended to identify its bearer. The origins of this concept of identification are lost in the mists of prehistoric times. However, the system of badges and other identifying symbols employed in the Canadian Forces has come down to us through our European heritage. In the days of chivalry, knights fully armed and helmed needed signs on their shields to indicate their identity, just as the famed standards had done, more than a thousand years before, for the legions of the Roman Empire. Thus it is that the badges and other marks used in the Canadian Forces today are inextricably bound up with the history and traditions of the units of the Service they identify. Some of these symbols are only months old, others go back to the very beginnings of the nation and beyond.

The four-arrowhead breast pocket insignia of Mobile Command dates from the year of unification of the Forces, 1968. The thunderbird of 426 Squadron was born of wartime service in 1943. HMCS Skeena's leaping salmon, cast in bronze, appeared on the destroyer's after canopy just after her commissioning in 1931. The bounding springbok of the Royal Canadian Dragoons had its origin in an incident of the Boer War in 1900. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment), established in 1862, shares with regiments such as the Brockville Rifles, the North Saskatchewan Regiment, and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the well known eighteenth century device, the tasselled bugle-horn of the skirmisher. These unit badges number in the hundreds,Footnote 1 visual symbols of the magnificent achievements of Canada's military forces in peace and war over the years of our storied past. They are also a constant inspiration to the men and women of the forces who proudly serve the Canadian people today.

In addition to unit badges, there are several symbols used in the forces, each of which serves to identify and each of which has an origin of considerable interest. One of these is the roundel, which shows the identity of Canadian Forces aircraft.

When the first aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps arrived in France in 1914, their pilots soon found out how necessary it was to be able to identify themselves as British. They were fired upon by friend and foe alike! Several markings were tried, including the Union flag which, at a distance, unfortunately, looked very much like the cross device used by the enemy.

Eventually, the RFC turned to their French allies who had already devised a roundel of concentric red, white and blue circles inspired by the tri-colour flag of France. The British simply reversed the colour order, placing the blue on the outside and the red in the centre. The roundel used in the Canadian Forces has evolved from that of the French through the adaptation made by the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.Footnote 2

In 1921, the short-lived Canadian Air Force was permitted to use, as its own, the light blue ensign of the Royal Air Force which displayed the roundel in the fly. Three years later, on 1 April 1924 the Royal Canadian Air Force came into being and its identifying mark continued to be the British roundel used throughout the empire to identify military aircraft.

It was in 1940, during the Second World War, that the RCAF was authorized to replace the inner red circle with the red maple leaf. However, this step was delayed until after the close of hostilities. Canadian military aircraft began to wear the maple leaf roundel in 1946.Footnote 3 Finally, it was in a decision of 1965 that the eleven-point, stylized maple leaf of the new national flag became the centre-piece of Canada's roundel.Footnote 4

The adoption of the maple leaf as an emblem of the people of Canada became more and more popular commencing early in the nineteenth century. Gradually over the years it has become very well known the world over by a variety of avenues, not least of which being its display in HMC ships. A current regulation reads: "Ships are to wear a red maple leaf in the form of a metal badge ... on each side of the funnel, (or) on the side of the hangar for DDH 280 Class (that is, the new Tribal Class destroyers such as HMCS Iroquois)."Footnote 5 The wearing of the maple leaf badge on the funnels of Canadian warships is a tradition stretching back some six decades.

In November, 1917, four wooden patrol vessels of the Royal Canadian Navy, called drifters, put to sea from Halifax escorted by HMCS Shearwater, sloop, bound eventually for service in the Royal Navy off the west coast of Africa. Manned mainly by Canadian sailors, it was not long before these tiny ships sported bright green maple leaves on their funnels.Footnote 6

During the Second World War, the wearing of the green maple leaf as a funnel badge was officially authorized by the Naval Board. In those days all of His Majesty's ships from whatever country of the Commonwealth, proudly flew the white ensign. The maple leaf badge readily identified a ship of the Royal Canadian Navy. This symbol carried over into peacetime, but the colour of the maple leaf was changed from green to red, much as it appears today.

The maple leaf on the funnels of HMC ships points up a tradition bridging a century, the funnel band to designate ships of a particular force or formation. Today, destroyers and lesser ships are organized in squadrons, yesterday in flotillas or groups. In the Second World War in the Atlantic, some frigate groups displayed a numeral on the maple leaf funnel badge to indicate a numbered escort group. But perhaps the best remembered funnel band of the Royal Canadian Navy in the long Atlantic battle was that of C-5 Group of the Mid-Ocean Escort Force, at first called the Newfoundland Escort Force.

When merchant ship tosses to the German submarine "wolf packs" became extremely serious in 1941-42, part of the antidote lay in the provision of port-to-port close escorts of convoys, including the great middle gap of the Atlantic between the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the western approaches to Britain. The destroyers, corvettes and later, the frigates providing that protection were organized into C groups. One of these was the C-5 group. The funnel of this group sported red and white slanted stripes, and C-5 was promptly dubbed "The Barber Pole Brigade."

There was already an established tradition that when the new Canadian corvettes first put to sea, they were ushered on their way, appropriately enough, to the tune of "The Road to the Isles." It was then only a matter of time when the barber pole funnel marking and the melody that expressed so well the swelling sweep of the Atlantic seas, should come together as the "Barber Pole Song," penned by Surgeon Lieutenant W.A. Paddon, RCNVR, of HMCS Kitchener, corvette.

To this day, some thirty-five years later, the red and white barber pole band graces the mast structure or the radar pedestals of the ships of the Fifth Canadian Destroyer Squadron, inheritor of a proud tradition. And the "Barber Pole Song" is still sung with great spirit wherever sailors gather to the familiar tune, "The Road to the Isles." Here is the first verse and the chorus:

It's away outward the swinging fo'c's'les reel
From the smoking seas' white glare upon the strand
It's the grey seas that are slipping under keel
When we're rolling outward bound from Newfoundland.


From Halifax or Newfiejohn or Derry's clustered towers
By trackless paths where conning towers roll
If you know another group in which you'd sooner spend your hours
You've never sailed beneath the Barber Pole!
It's the grey seas that are slipping under keel
When we're rolling outward bound from Newfoundland.

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One badge in the Service today has enjoyed the spotlight of good-natured controversy. It concerns the breed of the bird with wings spread as depicted in the badge of the air operations branch of the Canadian Forces, adapted from the insignia of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The debate has continued for generations and surfaces in the press to this day — and this despite the clarity of the evidence. Indeed, so familiar is the topic among airmen that the focal point of the discussion is invariably termed "the bird.".

It all started back in 1914 when the British admiralty issued a regulation saying that officers of the newly established Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) would wear an eagle above the gold rank lace on the left sleeve of their uniform jackets. An eagle was also to replace the anchor on the officers' cap badges and jacket buttons. But during the war at sea the flying sailors of the RNAS, large numbers of whom were Canadians, somehow developed the conviction that no sailor worth the salt in his blood could possibly display anything but "a proper seagoing albatross."Footnote 7

Then, in 1918, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the RNAS were combined to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). The rank insignia and the bird of the RNAS were adopted by the new RAF. In due course, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was firmly established in 1924 and the dress regulations for the new air force made it clear that the bird was an eagle. But, sure enough, RNAS veterans in the RCAF soon spread the word about the dastardly conspiracy and "the fact" that the badge of the RCAF was really an albatross.Footnote 8 Even the official word of the College of Arms, "an eagle volant affronté, the head lowered and to the sinister," approved by King George VI in 1943, had little effect on those who proclaimed "it isn't an eagle at all, but — as any clot can plainly see — an albatross!"Footnote 9

There is an interesting side-light to the bird. It is a well known custom in military circles that the major device on collar dogs and lapel badges, if not symmetrical, must always face inwards. For example, to be caught wearing the stag of the Grey and Simcoe Foresters facing outwards is to invite dire sanctions at the bar or extra duty.Footnote 10 Yet the eagle of the air operations branch lapel badge is correctly worn facing outwards, and the reason again goes back to 1914. In the Royal Naval Air Service badges the eagle faced to the sinister, that is, to the wearer's left, the design, it is said, having been inspired by a lady's brooch of the time. When these naval officers were required to wear the eagle on the left sleeve, the bird, of course, faced aft. It still does.Footnote 11

While the badges of all air squadrons, the majority of regiments, and all bases and stations, are surmounted by the royal crown, the badges of HMC ships are all contained within a rope surround surmounted by the naval crown, a device of great antiquity. Somewhat similar to the rostral crown of Roman origin, this symbol consists of a circlet bearing the stems of four ships-of-the-line, each with three poop lanterns, and four squaresails, each spread on a mast and yard and fully filled and sheeted home. The hulls and sails are positioned alternately around the circlet. The naval crown is also to be found in the fly of the Canadian Forces Naval Jack authorized in 1968.

An eighteenth century author stated that the naval crown was given as a mark of commendation "to Officers & who first grapled or Board an Enemy's Ship."Footnote 12 Like the laurel wreaths of ancient times, the naval crown can be traced back to the Romans where it was known as the corona navalis or rostrata (which may have been two distinct degrees of recognition; both are mentioned in Virgil's Aeneid) and was given to the sailor who first boarded an enemy's vessel. In more recent times, the naval crown has been granted as an honourable augmentation to the armorial bearings of outstanding naval officers, for example, Earl St. Vincent and Lord Nelson.Footnote 13

Another heraldic device used in the Canadian Forces is the astral crown, a symbol of quite recent origin. The badge of air command was approved in 1975, the year the command was established, and consists of an eagle rising out of a Canadian astral crown. This latter device may be described as a circlet displaying eight stars around the base and bearing four maple leaves each set within a pair of elevated wings.Footnote 14 Inspired by the astral crown of the Royal Air Force, the Canadian design was approved by Her Majesty the Queen in 1975.

Something of an enigma is the ancient badge of mariners the world over — the foul anchor. A dictionary definition a century ago made no mistake about the connotations of the expression: "An anchor is said to be foul, or fouled, either when it hooks some impediment under water, or when the ship, by the wind shifting, entangles her slack cable a turn round the stock, or round the upper fluke thereof. The last from its being avoidable by a sharp lookout, is termed the seaman's disgrace."Footnote 15 If the foul anchor insignia does, in fact, illustrate one of the worst examples of poor seamanship, no one has ever found the explanation for the badge's highly cherished prestige.

The great age of this badge is not disputed. There is clear evidence in Roman stone, on an English seal of 1601, on a British admiral's flag in 1695, as well as on the arms of various Lords High Admiral and printed title pages.Footnote 16 The foul anchor was the major device of the official badge of the Royal Canadian Navy. It was proudly worn on the sleeves of petty officers and leading seamen, as well as on the shoulders of naval officers in full dress uniform. The foul anchor, true to its long tradition, enjoys an honoured place in the Service today: Canadian Forces badge (1967) and ensign (1967); badge of Maritime Command (1968) and the Naval Jack (1968); and badge of the Naval Operation's Branch (1973).

Still, there is no hard evidence of why "the sailor's disgrace" has occupied such a prominent place in the affairs of seamen and the sea. Perhaps it is simply a matter of design. Some early artist may have shown a remnant of cable bent to the anchor's ring. Then another may have made the device what he thought was more decorative by taking turns with the rope or cable round the stock and shank — artistic license not unlike that of the heraldic device, the "rudder ancien," forming the badge of HMCS Bytown, in which the tiller is backwards on the rudder head, to make a better design.

The badge of the Canadian Forces, which came into use at the creation of the unified force in 1968, is a mélange of the major devices taken from the badges of the former Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force. It is described heraldically:

Within a wreath of ten stylized maple leaves Gules, a cartouche Azure edged Or, charged with a foul anchor Or, surmounted by Crusaders' Swords in saltire Argent and Azure, pommelled and hilted Or; and in front an eagle volant affronté head to the sinister Or, the whole ensigned with a Royal Crown Proper.Footnote 17

The army's contribution to this design is, of course, the crossed crusaders' swords. The origin of this device is an interesting one.

In 1935, an officer in the War Office in London, Captain Oakes-Jones, was commissioned to design a badge to represent the British army for inclusion in a stained glass window of Ypres Cathedral honouring the memory of Belgium's beloved wartime commander, Albert, king of the Belgians. The main device of that badge was the crossed swords and after slight modification, the design became the official badge of the British army in 1938.

Shortly after the Second World War, when it became desirable to have a single badge to represent the Canadian army, the major device, the swords in saltire, were taken from the British badge to symbolize the historic ties between the two forces. Also, the swords were altered in design to represent crusaders' swords in recognition that the Crusades of the Middle Ages had in the Christian view elevated warfare to the dignity of a sacred trust where the sword is drawn only in defence of that which is morally right and of the weak against the strong. The Canadian army badge was approved by King George VI in 1947.Footnote 18

These crossed swords, together with the navy's foul anchor and the air force's flying eagle, within a wreath of maple leaves, the whole under St. Edward's Crown, forms the badge of the Canadian Forces today.

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