Some Service Customs 


An example of the custom that continues to evolve or change over the years is the banyan, a special kind of party peculiar to the navy. In spite of the changing nature of the banyan party, there are three constants: it is always a fun occasion, it is held outdoors, and the emphasis is on good food, good drink and good fellowship — something along the lines of the old-fashioned picnic.

Banyan in the navy originally meant a meatless, and therefore an unpopular, day. As a sea term, it dates from the seventeenth century. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were banyan days designed to conserve the supply of kegs of "salt-horse," that is, salted-down beef, during sea passages which often took many months. The staple on banyan days was a kind of porridge made from dried peas.

The term is derived from the Banians, a caste of Hindus in India, who abstained from the use of meat on religious grounds, a reverence for life.

While this practice continued well into the nineteenth century, flag officers were not above changing the rules when the operational situation warranted. Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Gardner, writing to the Admiralty from his flagship HMS Queen in 1794, informed their Lordships:

... when the British fleet was in sight of the Enemy ordered the Company of His Majesty's Ship the Queen to be supplied with an allowance of Pork for their dinner, it being a Banyan day; and finding them exceedingly fatigued after the actions of the 29 May and 1st June, I directed them to be served with half an allowance of wine more than their daily portion. ...

He closed with the request that the ship's purser be compensated for this extra expense!Footnote 1

Banyan days gradually changed from meagre or lean days to much more pleasant ones. For one thing, especially in private ships or detached squadrons on lengthy voyages, fishing from the ship's side was encouraged, and this diversion from ship's routine was much enjoyed. Also, seamen became adept at stowing away palatable foodstuffs of the more tasty kind acquired during "runs" ashore or by barter from bumboat proprietors in harbour. These "goodies" would be brought out in the various messes to tide over otherwise drab meals.

Also, captains came to understand that picnics ashore, particularly on an isolated beach far from civilization where desertion would likely not be attempted, were good for ship's morale. Perhaps one such occasion was in 1850 when HMS Thetis, a beautiful sailing frigate of thirty-eight guns was on passage from Valparaiso to her station at Esquimalt. Moresby tells of a picnic ashore on the coast of Chile when, "after a glorious supper of fish, grog, songs and bonfire, we started at a late hour to return [to the ship], and found we had mislaid the boatswain!"Footnote 2

The idea of parties ashore in rather isolated locations continued, particularly in training squadrons, well into the 1950s. After a week of strenuous training exercises, watch and watch about, day and night, frigate such as HMC ships Beacon Hill and Antigonish would send all but the watch ashore in Bedwell Harbour or near Port Hardy in British Columbia waters, for a banyan of beer and hamburgers. In such places there were no distractions and sailors under training were not likely to get into any mischief!

In 1971 when Her Majesty the Queen was in British Columbia waters in HM Yacht Britannia, the royal family, on passage from Powell River to Comox, put ashore in Stag Bay for a quiet picnic. This allowed one of the escorts, the destroyer HMCS Qu'Appelle, a bit of relaxation. "After a full day of activities which included a fishing derby, crab hunting and oyster picking, all bands enjoyed a quarterdeck "banyan" of steaks and broiled oysters."Footnote 3

While sailors will always look forward to getting ashore, the banyan, owing to social and technological advances, is also changing. Today, most ships of the fleet are miniature aircraft carriers, providing uncluttered flight decks for helicopters. And the men of the fleet in the 1970's are a much better educated and more sophisticated lot than their predecessors. As a result, and in spite of the attractions of big-city ports, banyans today are often held right on board ship, even in harbour, and splendid occasions they are.

Indeed, so popular is the modern banyan that even submariners with their restricted upper deck are not to be denied. Providing the sea is quiet to avoid someone being washed overboard from the narrow casing, a half oil drum can barbecue the most tasty steaks to be washed down with a cool beer beneath a sunny sky.

Finally, there is a more recent new twist to the banyan as evidenced by the experience of the ship's company of the twenty-two thousand ton ship, HMCS Preserver. Traditionally, the banyan has always been a self-starter, the initiative coming from within the ship. In 1974, when the Preserver landed many tons of supplies as a gift from Canada to the impoverished people of an isolated parish in Haiti, the Haitians responded by joining the Preserver's company in one tremendous banyan on a nearby island, a party which featured calypso music and folk dancing as well as the ship's band, a very colourful scene under gasoline generated lighting rigged by the ship's electricians.Footnote 4

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The Boatswain's Call

One of the oldest customs of the fleet today is the use of the boatswain's call, "making a pipe" to pass an order. The instrument itself, which is essentially a whistle suspended on a chain round the neck of the boatswain's mate or the quartermaster and made up of parts called the gun, buoy, keel and shackle, has changed little in five hundred years service in the Royal Navy.

"To pipe" means to sound the boatswain's call and follow up with the spoken order, usually over the ship's broadcast, such as "bands to stations for leaving harbour" or "special sea dutymen to muster." On the other band, some pipes are orders in themselves requiring no spoken word, such as "bands to supper" or "pipe down." The boatswain's call epitomizes the smooth, orderly fashion in which the routines of the twenty-four-hour day on board a warship at sea are conducted .

Some idea of the timeless practicality of the pipe may be gained from the definition given in Falconer's Dictionary of 1815:

Call, a sort of whistle, or pipe, of silver or brass, used by the boatswain and his mates to summon the sailors to their duty, and direct them in the different employments of the ship. It is sounded to various strains, adapted to the different exercises, as hoisting, heaving, lowering, veering away, belaying, letting-go a tackle, &c., and the piping of it is as attentively observed by sailors, as the beat of the drum to march, retreat, rally, charge, &c., is obeyed by soldiers.Footnote 5

One can imagine the impression on the mind of a sixteen-year old midshipman joining his first ship and hearing for the first time the sound of the pipe as it floated out over the water. The ship was HMS Blonde, frigate; the place, the anchorage at Spithead, England, in 1793. "After a severe pull we got alongside as the boatswain and his mates were piping to dinner."Footnote 6

The captain standing on the stairs of the ship and a row of sailors piping.
The captain of HMCS Preserver being piped aboard for the first time at the commissioning of the ship at Saint John, New Brunswick, July, 1970.

"Piping the side" is a form of salute honouring certain personages as they board or disembark from one of HMC ships. If that person boards from a boat he is piped twice, once as the boat approaches the ship and again as the person mounts the accommodation ladder. If the arrival is over the brow or gangway, he is piped once. Here again, this ancient call is associated with the giving of orders.

In the days of sail, captains often had occasion to visit other ships in company, perhaps for a council of war, or to repair on board the flagship "booted and spurred," that is, with sword and medals, to "collect a bottle" for some misdemeanour such as needlessly crossing his admiral's bow, or simply to dine with a brother captain. Perhaps it was because of heavy weather, or typical eighteenth century portliness from over-indulgence in port wine and multi-course dinners, that certain personages such as flag officers and captains were lowered into their barge, or hoisted on board, in a contrivance not unlike a boatswain's chair suspended from a whip at the yard arm. This spared them the exertion of climbing the accommodation ladder. Piping the side today sounds very much like the notes of yesteryear which meant "hoist away," "handsomely" and "avast hoisting."

In recent years some changes have been introduced regarding piping the side. Over the centuries the ceremony has been considered a purely nautical one in that the honour was accorded exclusively to the sovereign; a member of the royal family in naval uniform; flag officers; captains of HM ships and foreign naval officers.Footnote 7 "No Military Officer, Consular Officer or other civilian is entitled to this form of salute."Footnote 8 Today's regulations reflect the single Service nature of the Canadian Forces, for this honour is now accorded to "General officers of the Canadian Armed Forces when in uniform."Footnote 9

Another change that bas come about is reflected in the statement: "The side is never piped in a shore establishment."Footnote 10 The fact is that today this custom, carried out with spirited dignity and precision, is a much cherished tradition in the naval divisions, HMC ships Donnacona (Montreal) Star (Hamilton) and York (Toronto).

Traditionally, the side is piped when a corpse is brought on board, taken ashore or committed to the deep.

The term, "pipe down," has been used for several centuries in the navy and is one of those expressions that has been accepted in civilian life. It has meant variously: a holiday from all work that is not essential; an admonition to keep quiet after "lights out"; or, simply, an order to dismiss the bands from the deck when a particular duty bas been carried out on board ship. The antiquity of this pipe, so popular today, is to be seen in the era of Trafalgar in the case of the new commanding officer of HMS Diamond. "The hands were turned up and his commission read." Turning to the first lieutenant of the ship after the ceremony, the captain ordered: "That's all, pipe down if you please, sir."Footnote 11 A long tradition related to the boatswain's call which is little known outside the navy is that whistling is forbidden in HMC ships so that it will not be confused with the pipe.

With the possible exception of the seaman's knife the boatswain's call, in whatever form, is probably the oldest, and certainly the most distinctive, item of personal nautical equipment. How old is now known. A form of pipe or whistle was used in the galleys of ancient Greece and Rome to control the stroke of the oars manned by slaves. In the course of time the call or pipe evolved in that cradle of western civilization, the Mediterranean, into the practical whistle of command, but also into a form of symbolism, the whistle as a badge of office, and also as a highly regarded badge of honour.Footnote 12

In the time of Henry VIII, an ornate whistle of gold on a golden chain was the badge of office of the Lord High Admiral of England. Something of the aura surrounding this golden call may be seen in the action of Sir Edward Howard in the sea fight with the Chevalier Prégant de Bidoux off Briest in 1513. When Howard, the Lord High Admiral, was surrounded and cut off on board the French flagship, his last thought before being felled was to hurl his precious badge of office into the sea.

None else, he cried, shall wear, and mocking say
This was his badge, token England's might,
High Admiral of England.Footnote 13

The boatswain's call's long heritage in control and command at sea was well known to Shakespeare. In the first scene of his drama, The Tempest, he has the master calling to the boatswain:

....speak to the mariners: fall to't yarely [nimbly],
or we run ourselves a-ground: bestir, bestir. [exit]

and the boatswain shouts to the crew:

Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare,
yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to th' master's whistle.

The same kind of control and command, this time in battle action, is to be seen in an eyewitness account of Drake in the Golden Hind in the Pacific off South America in 1579.

About nine o'clock at night, the English ship crossed the course of San Juan's vessel and, immediately, came alongside ... they blew a whistle on the English ship and the trumpet responded. Then a volley of what seemed to be about sixty arquebuses was shot, followed by many arrows, which struck the side of the ship, and chain-balls shot from a heavy piece of ordnance carried away the mizen and sent it into the sea with its sail and lateen yard.Footnote 14

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The Changing of the Guard

A very popular feature during the summer months in the nation's capital is the colourful ceremony known as "the changing of the guard." Though the guard duty itself is carried out at Government House (sometimes called Rideau Hall), which is the residence of the Governor-General and the home of Her Majesty the Queen when residing in Ottawa, the elaborate pageantry and military precision of the changing of the guard occurs daily on the lawns of Parliament Hill.

Some one hundred and twenty-five officers, non-commissioned officers and guardsmen participate in this centuries-old ceremony. Essentially it is the relief of the old guard by the new. Attired in their traditional bearskin headdress and scarlet tunics, the guardsmen present a stirring scene as, attended by a band, they parade their queen's colour (when Her Majesty or the Governor-General is in residence) and their regimental colour.

Commencing in 1959, the public duties detachment of the Regiment of Canadian Guards performed this duty every summer for eleven years. Today, two militia regiments share the responsibility — the Governor-General's Foot Guards of Ottawa, and the Canadian Grenadier Guards of Montreal.

A point of interest is that the new detachment arriving for guard duty is called "the duties." Once it has passed an exacting inspection by the adjutant who sees it is properly turned out and fit to perform guard duty only then is the detachment called the "new guard" and the officer commanding takes over his command.Footnote 15

Following the inspection, the colours, with their armed escort, are marched through the ranks. Then the old guard pays its compliments to the new by presenting arms, and the compliment is returned. This is followed by the ancient Ceremony of the Key in which the commander of the old guard turns over the key of the guardroom to the commander of the new guard. The two guards then change positions, march past the adjutant and leave Parliament Hill, the new guard to take up its duty, the old to leave its cares behind.

To most observers, the changing of the guard means "spit and polish," colour, precise movements and the spirited music of the band. It is refreshing to see another view, the good-humoured grousing but solid sense of duty traditionally inherent in the make-up of the guardsman. A veteran Cold-streamer put it this way:

We did lots of ceremonials in the Guards — troopin' the colour, guardin' the Tower of London, and what not. Stood on parade four and five hours at a time — with a 14-day detention if you fainted. The trick is to keep your weight off your heels. That's why Guards' boots bulge in front — lots of room to wiggle your toes without anybody knowin'!Footnote 16

The Commission

"Commission, in a military sense, is the authority by which every officer acts in his post."Footnote 17 This eighteenth century definition assesses the meaning of a parchment or linen-backed paper scroll which a man or woman receives on becoming a commissioned officer. The queen's commission is a delegation of authority to exercise command, on behalf of Her Majesty, over one's subordinates. In Canada, the commission scroll is signed by the Governor-General as the queen's representative, and by the minister of national defence.

Over the centuries, the sovereign's commission has, from time to time, been changed in wording, but for the most part the format and message conveyed have remained constant. The officer commissioned is named, his duties and obligations are outlined in general terms, and there is an expression of trust and confidence in him. In the Canadian Forces, an officer may be given only two commissions, one when he is first commissioned, usually in a junior rank, and a second if he should reach the rank of brigadier general or commodore. An officer holds his commission at the pleasure of the sovereign.

The commission scroll bears the coat of arms of Canada. The signature of the Governor-General is in the centre, over which is the impression of the Governor-General's privy seal. The signature of the minister of national defence is at the base of the scroll which reads:

Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God of The United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.


(Name in Full)

HEREBY appointed an Officer
In Her Majesty's Canadian Armed Forces

With Seniority of the day of 19

We reposing especial Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty Courage and Integrity, do by these Presents Constitute and Appoint you to be an Officer in our Canadian Armed Forces. You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your Duty as such in the rank of Or in such other Rank as We may from time to time hereafter be pleased to promote or appoint you to, and you are in such manner and on such occasions as may be prescribed by Us to exercise and well discipline both the inferior Officers and men serving under you and use your best endeavour to keep them in good Order and Discipline. And We do hereby Command them to Obey you as their superior Officer, and you to observe and follow such Orders and Directions as from time to time you shall receive from Us, or any your Superior Officer according to Law, in pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in you.

IN WITNESS Whereof Our Governor-General of Canada hath hereunto set his hand and Seal at Our Government House in the

City of Ottawa this day of

in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and

and in the

Year of Our Reign.



The wording of this modern Canadian commission may be compared with that of a lieutenant's commission in 1809 in the Honourable Artillery Company of London:

... you are, therefore, to take into your charge and care the said Company, and duly to exercise the inferior officers and soldiers of the same in arms; And also to use your best care and endeavour to keep them in good Order and Discipline, commanding them respectively to obey you as their Lieutenant. And you are also to obey your Superior Officers (according to the Discipline of War) in pursuance of the Trust reposed in you.Footnote 18

A later commission of the same unit, dated 1879, looks more like the modern format. Beginning with "Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, &c," it uses the ancient formal language of the sovereign addressing a subject: "To Our Trusty and Well-beloved, Greeting."Footnote 19

Indeed, there is little change from this Victorian commission to a Canadian army commission of 1940, except that emphasis is placed on the trust and confidence the sovereign has in the newly appointed officer. Signed at the upper left by the Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone, the commission reads in part, after the formal greeting:

We, reposing especial Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty, Courage and good Conduct, do by these Presents Constitute and Appoint you to be an Officer ... to exercise and well discipline in Arms, both the inferior Officers, and Men serving under you and use your best endeavours to keep them in good Order and Discipline ... according to the Rules and Discipline of War, in pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in you.Footnote 20

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A post-war commission in the Canadian army signed by Viscount Alexander of Tunis in 1949 was identical to the wartime version except for changes such as the sovereign no longer being Emperor of India and the deletion of the words "Dominion of" in reference to the nation.Footnote 21

A commission in the Royal Canadian Air Force signed by the Earl of Athlone in 1945Footnote 22 and one signed in 1950 by Viscount Alexander of TunisFootnote 23 were in almost all respects identical to those of the Canadian army, including the minor changes in wording. Indeed, the scroll used in 1959, in the new reign, revealed few changes from that used by the air force during the Second World War.

The introduction of a common commission after the unification of the Services in 1968 has removed a historic, but rather curious, aspect of the naval officer's commission. While the former army and air force scrolls emphasized, by repetition, the trust and confidence in the newly commissioned officer, the navy, while mentioning these qualities, ended up with the dire threat: "you will answer the contrary at your Peril."

The anomaly may be explained by going back to an earlier time when there were marked differences between the actual control of the British army and the Royal Navy. The sovereign delegated his authority directly to the subalterns in the army, but exerted no direct control over the navy. The royal authority was delegated to, and jealously exercised by, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, even to the wording of commissions, hence the threat was an admiralty threat.Footnote 24

Two other differences in naval commissions, though minor ones, were that they bore the personal arms of the sovereign, and the newly appointed officer was invariably addressed as "Mister" But the major difference was in the language used.

A commission in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (the RCNVR — who during the Second World War formed by far the great majority of the officers and ratings manning the fleet), signed by the Earl of Athlone in 1945, read in part:

By the Governor-General and Commander in Chief of the Dominion of Canada .... By virtue of all powers me hereunto enabling, I do hereby constitute and appoint you a Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, Charging and Commanding you in that rank to observe and execute the General Printed Instructions for the Government of His Majesty's Naval Service ... And likewise Charging and Commanding all Officers and Men subordinate to you ... to behave themselves with all due Respect and Obedience to you their Superior Officer.Footnote 25

Oddly enough, the traditional admiralty threat is not in the RCNVR wartime commission, but it was in that of the permanent force navy of the post-war period. This document is an interesting one, because, besides bearing the personal arms of the sovereign, it shows the queen as granting the commission. It also contains the admiralty threat of old. Moreover, "good conduct" of the army and air force becomes "integrity" in the navy and the admonishment about subordinates behaving themselves is forgotten.

A commission in the Royal Canadian Navy signed by Governor-General Georges P. Vanier in 1960 reads:

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

To Mr . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  hereby appointed Lieutenant Commander in Her Majesty's Canadian Fleet.

We reposing special Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty, Courage and Integrity, do by these Presents Constitute and Appoint you a Lieutenant Commander, Royal Canadian Navy, Willing and Requiring you from time to time to repair on board and to take upon you the Charge and Command of Lieutenant Commander in any ship or Establishment to which you may hereafter at any time be duly appointed, or the charge and Command of any other Rank to which you may be promoted or appointed, strictly Charging and Commanding all the Officers and company of the said Ship or Establishment subordinate to you to conduct themselves jointly and severally in their respective employments with all due Respect and Obedience unto you, and you likewise to observe and execute the Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Royal Canadian Navy and such Orders and Instructions as you shall from time to time receive from Naval Headquarters or from your Superior Officers. Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer the contrary at your Peril. And for so doing so this shall be Your Commission.Footnote 26

It has been a custom in all three services for many many years to celebrate a promotion, in which, of course, the promoted one pays for the refreshments consumed in his honour by his friends and fellow members of the mess. It is generally known as "wetting the stripe."Footnote 27

A similar celebration called "wetting the commission" has been observed a long time, too. Describing an incident which occurred three years before Trafalgar, in 1802, the first lieutenant of HMS Volage recounts being on shore and encountering eight "jolly midshipmen" from his ship seated around a table holding a gallon-bowl of strong punch. "Number one" was invited to partake of the punch in honour of one of the "mids" who had just learned of his promotion to lieutenant. The officer wryly noted that the bowl's contents were soon gone despite the taste of parchment and the fact that most of the ink was gone from the scroll.Footnote 28

Crossing the Line

One of the oldest customs of seafaring men, as well as the most boisterous, is the centuries-old, farcical ceremony of crossing the line, meaning the equator. Dating at least from the early seventeenth century, this elaborate occasion for horseplay and skylarking illustrates the sailor's enthusiasm and ingenuity in making the best of an otherwise boring situation. The seemingly endless days of the listless rolling of the windship and the flapping of her canvas, while drifting through the light airs of the doldrums, provided the opportunity for initiating people variously called greenhands, tadpoles or novices, into the "Mystic Rites of the Freedom of the Seas, according to the Ancient Customs of King Neptune and his Watery Realm."

As one would expect, the ceremony has had many variations through the years in dress, props, and procedure, depending on the imagination and talents of King Neptune and his motley retinue.

On the great day, as HMC ship approaches the imaginary line (the ship having been placed out of routine except for the watch, and officers and men alike having taken up every vantage point to watch the hilarious spectacle), a hail is heard from somewhere forward demanding to know "what ship?" An equally great voice replies from the bridge and soon learns that King Neptune is about to board the intruder.

Said to enter by the hawsepipe, a strange company is soon seen on the fo'c'sle making its way aft, led by King Neptune, bearded and bewigged with rope-yarn, oakum and sea-weed, bearing in solemn majesty his crown and trident. In his wake trips the heavily rouged, amply endowed, but suspiciously muscular, Queen Amphitrite, to the tune of a fiddle or recorder and the inevitable ribald remark of the ship's company. Then come the barber, with his huge wooden straight-edge razor and sundry swabs, the doctor, with his large galley syringe, mallet and mystical physic, and, bringing up the rear, the bears, sometimes called constables, with their persuaders.

Having demanded the presence of all the greenhands in the ship's company irrespective of rank, King Neptune lectures them on the impending ordeal to be suffered before being admitted to His Oceanic Majesty's realm as shellbacks (i.e. proper, full-blown, deep-water sailors), and warning them of dire results should they ever in the future neglect to see that all future tadpoles receive similar treatment.

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There follows the time-honoured ceremony of seating the blindfolded tadpole on a tilting plank over a canvas pool specially rigged for the occasion. Each time the candidate opens his mouth to answer a question, he receives the barber's swab of soap lather and eventually is shaved with the outsize razor, with little regard for nose and ears. The physician then proffers his special brand of treatment, including an enormous pill concocted by the co-operative sick bay "tiffy" and the galley crew. Finally, the candidate is tumbled into the pool, there to be ducked thrice by Neptune's willing henchmen, the bears. Of course, through all this, the victim struggles valiantly, resulting in an uproar much to the liking of the jubilant company assembled.

After the presentation of flowery-worded, often artistically executed, certificates to the new shellbacks, King Neptune and his entourage disappear over the side.

While the making of a shellback is traditionally tied to crossing the equator, there are numerous instances over the years, as well as today, where crossing the line has been adapted to crossing the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the Polar Circles, and even the passing of famous headlands such as at the Strait of Gilbraltar or Cape Horn.Footnote 29 Such customs go back into early Canadian history.

In Jesuit Relations, that magnificent documentary of life in New France, for the years 1647-48, is a description of what happened on board ships bound for Quebec on reaching that part of the St. Lawrence River opposite the "Mountains of Notre Dame," when the ship's crew amused themselves "by baptising the new passengers, unless, by means of a present they turn aside the flood of that baptism, which is made to pour in abundance over their heads."Footnote 30


Two centuries later the same custom was being practised in the emigrant ships on reaching the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. On 3 May 1855 Neptune, King of the Sea, boarded the ship Ocean Queen to receive the newcomers on board "this being their first visit to the Banks of Newfoundland going to Quebec in America."Footnote 31

Soldiers, too, on passage to distant stations, have enjoyed crossing the line. Lieutenant-Colonel William Dyott, in his journal, tells of taking his regiment to Barbados and the ceremony involving his troops as they crossed the Tropic of Cancer in January, 1796. He writes:

Then comes on the barber's work, who after daubing the face and head of the fast-bound stranger with the vilest of all possible compositions, of tar, grease, etc. etc., proceeds to shave him with a piece of old iron, which not on1y takes away the sweet scented fine oily lather, but scrapes the face (carrying some particle of skin with it) to that degree to cause howlings most hideous.Footnote 32

Nor are modern soldiers adverse to participating in the good-natured festivities of crossing some imaginary line at sea. In April, 1951, the Royal Canadian Regiment, bound for Korea, crossed the 180th meridian of longitude in the Pacific and duly marked the occasion with "certificates of the Order of the Golden Dragon" signed by no less a dignitary than Davy Jones himself.Footnote 33

At one time, crossing the line was an ordeal of considerable hazard. In January, 1782, a regiment of Light Dragoons was in a convoy of the Royal Navy out of Portsmouth, headed for the East Indies. On crossing the equator, eighty-one people paid tribute, leaving one seaman and two boy seamen as the only greenhands. They were "accordingly ducked three times from ye Lee Main Yard Arm."Footnote 34

A good description of this rough and ready method of entertainment on board ship is in a journal kept nearly a century earlier in 1702, in the Arabia of sixteen guns.

This day likewise we crossed the equinoctial line, into the Southern part of the World ... The manner of ducking is this; there is a block made fast to the main yardarm, through which is reeved a long rope, one end whereof comes down on the Quarter Deck, the other to the water, at which end is made fast a stick about a foot and a half long thwartways, on which the person sits across holding fast with his hands the rope as it goes up having a running knot about him; when being ready he is hoisted up-close to the yardarm, by the people on the Quarter Deck, and at once let run. His own weight from that height plunges him under the water, as low as the ship's keel; then they run him up again a fast as they can and so serve him three times, then he is free and may drink with the others that paid.Footnote 35

Sailors over the centuries have enjoyed the high jinks of crossing the line, but ever since the advent of the long-range aircraft, there's been a new twist to the ancient ceremony where all the hilarity is at the expense of the novice. High above the clouds, over the equator, the Arctic Circle, or even the Pole, the same tradition prevails, albeit with new factors introduced, such as cramped space and speeds measured in the hundreds of knots.

But the people of air transport command (now group) ingenious as they are, have made adequate adjustments. King Neptune is now the captain of the aircraft and he has only a few henchmen, just enough to attend to the blindfolding of the unfortunate tad pole, who now on bended knee listens to a litany of transgressions, all the while his left hand suspended in a hastily concocted preparation (warm vegetable soup and shaving cream are quite standard ingredients); there follows a thick beverage of mushroom soup and ginger ale, and on removal of the blindfold, the cold water treatment!Footnote 36

However, to compensate in part for these indignities, the now fully fledged member of the "Winged Order of Neptunus Rex" is given a handsome, signed certificate, much like the sailor's, so that he will never again be suffered to endure such an ordeal.

It is of interest to note that the elaborate certificate, though it is not embellished with beautiful mermaids as is the sailor's, does make rude remarks about those interlopers "Davey Jones and all his admirals of the fleet and their minions," and also reminds the veteran of the polar skies who boasts about the rigours and dangers of the Canadian Arctic, that this certified journey, "unlike that of the admirable Admiral Byrd, was conducted at so and so feet in air conditioned comfort" and that the only ice encountered by our adventurer "was in a glass container" — a far cry from being ducked at "ye Lee Main Yard Arm"!


There is an old saying in Service life that with responsibility goes privilege. This idea is seen today in the custom whereby seniors board a transport aircraft last and disembark first, to spend the least possible time confined in the aircraft, subject as it is, when on the ground, to the heat of summer and the cold of winter. This custom is centuries old and comes from the sea. Indeed, the word embark is derived from the old poetic term "bark" or "barque," meaning any ship or boat.

If a destroyer, for example, is lying at trots, as opposed to a jetty, or is anchored in a roadstead, passage to and from the shore or other ships is made in the ship's boats. All ranks may go in the same boat, but juniors in rank embark first and disembark last.

In the days of the "wooden walls," when this custom began, there was very real discomfort and a likelihood of getting soaked by the brine when the ship's launch, with a bit of a sea running, was being fended off by the boat's crew at the foot of the accommodation ladder. For the boat was much livelier than the ship; it rose and fell more rapidly. It was to avoid, as much as possible, having seniors exposed to the inconveniences of an open boat in a seaway that this bit of protocol developed centuries ago, yet it is still practised today in spite of the relative luxury of the Boeing 707 transport.


A feu-de-joie is a salute fired on occasions of rejoicing, just as the expression suggests — a bonfire, a fire of joy. The firing of muskets replaced the bonfires of ancient France and developed into the present ceremonial salute. A British admiral described the feu-de-joie a century ago as "a salute fired by musketry on occasions of public rejoicing, so that it should pass from man to man rapidly and steadily, down one rank and up the other, giving one long continuous sound."Footnote 37

The feu-de-joie, or "running fire," down through the centuries has been an expression of joy and celebration for a great variety of occasions. Sometimes it was on the grand scale. A recruit in the 56th (Essex) Regiment of Foot in 1799 described how Abercromby's victory in Holland was celebrated by troops at Barham Downs awaiting passage to the battle zone: " ... we were nearly 20,000 strong ... being formed in one extensive line, the firing of the feu de joie produced a fine effect ... certainly the finest sight I had ever witnessed."Footnote 38

As is often the case, a military custom may have its counterpart in civilian life. Admiral John Moresby tells how he experienced, as a youth in Somerset in the early nineteenth century, the excitement at the time of the apple harvest and the crushing of the fruit in the cider-presses:

... as night closed in, the custom, descending from heathen times, of wassailing the apple trees was faithfully observed. Every old gun, blunderbuss, or pistol that the village could produce was brought out, and master and men, women and children, all trooped to the principal orchard.... Then, with shouting and cheering, and a general feu de joie over the trees, all joined in the chorus: 'Old apple-tree, I wassail thee,' etc. etc.Footnote 39

Two ranks of soldiers with guns pointing at the sky.
Men of the 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, firing a feu-de-joie, Work Point Barracks, Victoria, June, 1967.

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It is rare for a feu-de-joie to be fired at sea, but such was the case in HMS Basilisk off the coast of New Guinea in 1873. Moresby, as captain of the Basilisk, describes the occasion when the possession of some islands was proclaimed. 'The Jack was then run up and saluted amid three hearty cheers. A feu de joie was then fired, and I said: 'Lads, in honour of what old Basilisk has done we will splice the main brace tonight [that is, serve out an extra ration of rum to all hands].'"Footnote 40

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the queen's forces were celebrating quite different occasions. Barely a month after its organization, the forerunner of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada on 24 May 1860 fired a feu-de-joie for Queen Victoria. The order read in part:

... the Active Militia Forces of No. 5 Military District of Upper Canada... will parade in brigades on Thursday, the 24th inst. in the field on the west of the Parliament Buildings, Toronto, at a quarter before noon, for the purpose of firing a 'feu-de-joie' in honour of Her Majesty's Birthday .Footnote 41

Twenty-five years later, on the old queen's birthday, another feu-de-joie was fired, this time in an operational situation at Battleford on the North Saskatchewan River during the North-west Rebellion. Two columns of Canadian militia celebrated the Twenty-fourth of May with a divisional parade and a full feu-de-joie was fired, including artillery. "This show of strength so impressed the Indians that they came flocking in to surrender...."Footnote 42

In modern times the feu-de-joie has been fired in Canada on numerous occasions. On 6 May 1935 the Calgary Highlanders joined with other units in a grand parade to Victoria Park, Calgary, where a feu-de-joie was fired as part of the celebration marking the Silver Jubilee of the reign of King George V.Footnote 43

On 12 May 1937 the temporarily-styled Royal Regiment of Toronto Grenadiers joined with its sister regiments, the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the 48th Highlanders of Canada, at Queen's Park, Toronto to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty King George VI.Footnote 44

Another memorable occasion was on 23 June 1959 on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec, when the three regular battalions of the Royal 22e Régiment were presented with new colours by their colonel-in-chief, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. After Her Majesty addressed her regiment in French, the ceremony which opened with "God Save the Queen," ended with the regiment firing a feu-de-joie and the singing of "O Canada."Footnote 45

Just as it had done more than a century before, the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada celebrated its 110th birthday in 1970 with the firing of a feu-de-joie.Footnote 46

A very unusual occasion was the honouring of the late Colonel R.S. McLaughlin, honorary colonel of the Ontario Regiment for forty-seven years, on the attainment of his one hundredth birthday. At a special parade of his regiment in September, 1971 a feu-de-joie was fired in the colonel's honour.Footnote 47

The Fly-past

It was after the Second World War that the ceremonial fly-past came into its own as a traditional form of salute on occasions of national importance. Over Ottawa, as well as other centres, such occasions are Battle of Britain Sunday, Canadian Forces Day, and Dominion Day. Aircraft fly in formation over a prescribed flight-path and an honoured personage in a conspicuous location formally takes the salute. In several respects it is not unlike the ceremonial attending the march-past of troops and vehicles and the sail-past of the fleet. Though this form of salute is largely a post-1945 practice, the first large-scale, ceremonial fly-past of the Royal Air Forces actually took place in 1935 at Duxford, England, when some two-hundred aircraft of the RAF passed overhead in review in celebration of the Silver Jubilee of King George V.Footnote 48 Of course, long before 1935, small-scale fly-pasts honouring commanding officers of stations and other dignitaries were fairly common. They probably had their origin in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service when squadrons returning from missions during the Great War flew past their stations at low altitude before landing.

Today, in addition to fly-pasts of nation-wide significance, the ceremony is performed locally on the occasion of a change of command or to participate in some civic observance.

Freedom of the City

One of the most prized honours of a marching unit is the conferring upon the unit of the privilege and distinction of the freedom of the city — the honour for all time of marching through the city with drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed. Several regiments have been so honoured in Canada in recognition of their honorable record and to demonstrate the affection and esteem with which they are held by the citizens. Nor is the granting of the freedom of the city exclusively a regimental affair. In the port city of Vancouver, the naval reserve division, HMCS Discovery, takes pride in being the first and only unit to be so honoured (1973). Similarly, the city of Trenton conferred the privilege on Royal Canadian Air Force Station Trenton in September, 1967.

Usually, the freedom of the city is granted to a unit which has enjoyed a long and happy relationship with a city. An example is the Royal Regiment of Canada which, in 1962, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the regiment, was so honoured by the city of Toronto, the first in the city's history. At the same time the regiment was reminded of its obligation "to hold itself, as a regiment, as the first official protectors of the city."Footnote 49 But sometimes the honour is granted to mark a people's gratitude for a heroic service, as in the case of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. In its jubilee year, 1964, the freedom of the city of Ypres in Belgium was conferred on the Patricia's for their exploits a half century before.Footnote 50

The conferment of the freedom of the city means, in the physical sense the granting of the privilege to march through the city with "drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed." Of course, everyone is familiar with the colour and pageantry of the military parade, which immediately raises the question, what is so important about the granting of this privilege? As in the case with so many of our traditions, this custom goes back more than three centuries in British military history.

There has ever been amongst British peoples a deeply seated antipathy towards a large standing army; large regular forces as garrisons in British cities have seldom been welcomed by the populace. This goes back to Tudor times, before and since, when the city of London jealously guarded its ancient rights and depended on its own trained bands to keep the peace and defend the city. Throughout our history, both in Britain and the Commonwealth, there is a strong tradition against the war-like appearance of large bodies of troops in the streets disturbing the civil repose and posing a threat, real or imagined, of infringement of ancient civic rights.

Even the time-honoured method of recruiting "by beat of drum" was highly suspect in the citizen's mind because of past incidents not unlike those associated with the press gangs of the Royal Navy. Thus it became customary to request the permission of the chief magistrate, the lord mayor, before any such foray was undertaken.

Sometimes the sequence of words — drums, colours, bayonets — differs, reflecting different times and different conditions. For example, when the custom of conferring the freedom of the city first took hold after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660,Footnote 51 the bayonet was not yet in use. Today, the naval division has no colour. And it is only in relatively recent times that bands have come into use as opposed to the fife and drum of an earlier age. This would seem to favour the recognition of historical development in today's usage — first, the ancient drum; next, the colours; and lastly, the bayonet.Footnote 52

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The ceremony of granting the freedom of the city hearkens back to an even earlier time when cities had walls and gates were barred to friend and foe alike — to the foe for obvious reasons, to the friend until the city authorities were assured of the troops best behaviour and the purpose of the presence of the regiment seeking entry. Today's ceremony reflects the ritual which had to take place in the days when troops on the march had no barracks and required being billeted in the town for the night. The following was written more than two centuries ago:

As soon as the Town-Major ... has notice from the Sentinel that the Regiment is in view, he should take a Serjeant and a file of men, and go to the outermost Barrier, and order one of the draw-bridges to be drawn up after him, till he has examined the original orders or route of the Regiment, lest the enemy, by having notice of the march of the Regiment, should, under that pretence, endeavour to surprise the town.Footnote 53

These same procedures of long ago are to be seen today whenever a unit of the Canadian Forces is honoured by a city. The 2nd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, is a good example. As the battalion marched into the city of Fredericton in June, 1973, the chief of police stood his ground in the middle of the road, just like the city marshal of yesteryear, stopped the regiment and enquired of the commanding officer as to the purpose of the presence of the regiment on the march in the city. As the troops waited beyond the barrier of old, the commanding officer was escorted to the mayor who called a formal session of the city council, whereupon a resolution granting the freedom of the city was voted upon and approved. There followed an inspection and review of the battalion by the city's chief magistrate, and an exchange of scroll and gifts — all for the purpose of demonstrating the mutual esteem and respect of the citizens and the regiment.Footnote 54

The wording used in the scroll normally presented to a unit at the time of the granting of the privilege of marching through the city with "drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed" is colourful and varied. The following is the text of the illuminated scroll presented to the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment by the City of Belleville in 1964.Footnote 55


THIS DAY AND HENCEFORTH MAY IT BE KOWN THAT, on this occasion of the Presentation of Colours and in honour of the history and tradition of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment and its predecessor units that the Corporation of the City of Belleville in the realm of Canada of her Gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Second, by virtue of the authority of a resolution passed unanimously by the Council of the said Corporation on the sixth day of January, One Thousand, Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four, HEREBY PROCLAIMS AND GRANTS TO THE HASTINGS AND PRINCE EDWARD REGIMENT The Freedom of the said City of Belleville and all rights and privileges pertaining thereto, as long as the waters of Quinte Bay embrace the shores of the said city, to enter therein and march throughout its streets, thoroughfares and highways, without hindrance or trespass on any and all occasions with Colours and Battle Honours flying, bayonets fixed and bands playing.

This Freedom is granted and confirmed in grateful acknowledgement and recognition of services rendered and duty bravely performed since the formation of the Regiment's parent units, the First Regiment of Prince Edward Militia in the year, One Thousand, Eight Hundred, and the First Regiment of Hastings Militia in the year One Thousand, Eight Hundred and Four and continuing throughout a distinguished record of service in the wars of 1812, the Rebellion of 1837, the Fenian Raid of 1865, the North-West Expedition of 1885; the war in South Africa in 1898, the First World War of 1914 to 1918; the unit formally became the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in 1920, and this grant is particularly to perpetuate its feats of bravery, devotion and glory from 1939 to 1945 from North Africa to Sicily, to Italy and to the European Theatre, to witness the capitulation of its enemies and thereafter, in causes dear to the hearts of the said City and all its citizens.

In particular and without limiting the foregoing, This Freedom is granted and to be recognized as a memorial to all ranks from said Regiment and its predecessors contributing to its distinguished history, who have given their lives on the altar of freedom in the performance of their duty and earned for their comrades and all who came after them the honours now recognized and being secured to them in perpetuity by their fellow citizens hereby recorded.

SIGNED AND SEALED on behalf of the CORPORATION OF THE CITY OF BELLEVILLE on this seventeenth day of May, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand, Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four.


J. R. Ellis

A.S. Stalker



The levee has a long tradition in the Canadian Forces as one of the activities associated with New Year's Day. Officers of the various units and headquarters receive and greet in their messes visiting officers and other guests in the convivial spirit of the first day of the new year. Hospitality is dispensed in a variety of forms, from the special flaming punch of the Royal Canadian Hussars of Montreal, a concoction bequeathed to the regiment by the old 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade and which takes a month to prepare, to the famed Athole Brose, that brew of oatmeal, honey and whisky, of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Vancouver.

In line with this tradition, the chief of the defence staff, beginning on 1 January 1975 hosts a levee each New Year's Day in the new National Defence Headquarters at 101 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa.

The levee has an unusual origin. The word itself meant, originally, the action of rising, specifically from one's bed, coming from the French lever (to rise). As early as the seventeenth century, a levee was a reception of visitors on rising from bed, a morning reception by a king or person of distinction. In the eighteenth century, in Britain, it was an assembly in the early afternoon by the sovereign al which men only were received.

While the levee is still largely a male preserve, women, unescorted, do attend on New Year's Day. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland in 1975 are the only two provinces where women are not welcome at the lieutenant-governor's levee.Footnote 56

Make and Mend

A make and mend is a half day (afternoon) when normal work and routines are suspended. The expression is often abbreviated to "makers." Originally, in the days before naval ratings had a standard uniform issued, once a week, usually on Thursdays, the pipe, "bands to make and mend clothes" would be sounded so that seamen could make and mend the clothing which in those days had been purchased from the purser's slop chest. It was an afternoon to catch up on the wear and tear to which sailor's clothing was subjected in the days of sail.

With the advent of issued uniform clothing in the mid-nineteenth century in the Royal Navy, the make and mend gradually took on a recreational purpose including organized sports, both ashore and afloat. This was the case in the Royal Canadian Navy and, traditionally, this was on Wednesday afternoons.

However, even before the First World War, the idea of the make and mend as a time when a seaman afloat had some time to himself was gaining ground. "At one p.m. on Thursday, instead of clearing up decks as usual, preparatory to both watches, falling in the pipe goes, 'hands make and mend clothes,' which means that the afternoon is for the men to do as they like."Footnote 57

One author, an able seaman, gives a graphic description of what the make and mend meant to the sailor afloat in the 1920s:

... the majority of the ship's company may be relieved of routine duties between noon and seven bells. These are golden hours indeed, when, in summer weather the bluejackets may be seen stretched out on the forecastle enjoying sweeter sleep than any civilian knows.Footnote 58

In the period of the Second World War, in HMC ships, a makers was still a half-day on which ratings not on watch were to muster and repair and wash their clothing, and scrub their hammocks.Footnote 59

Today with unification and the five-day working week, there is a trend in HMC ships to return to harbour early on Fridays, with a make and mend, meaning leave for all but the watch on Friday afternoons. As a result, the make and mend appears in daily routine orders published in advance so that the ship's company may make their plans for week-end leave. Because the intention to grant a make and mend is known in advance, the pipe, "hands to make and mend clothes," is not heard so often today.Footnote 60 At sea, the same result is often achieved simply by piping the order, "pipe down."Footnote 61

An ancient nautical custom, it is of interest to note that the make and mend has an army background, too. An historian writing about the Royal Canadian Regiment in training on Salisbury Plain, England, in 1940, wrote: "On return to barracks ... there was the customary 'make and mend' day free from duties; one fifth of the Regiment went on leave and others began to practise for the Brigade sports three days hence."Footnote 62

Indeed, it is rather intriguing that while the navy has lost the original meaning of the term and today uses the term make and mend less and less, in the Royal Canadian Regiment and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry it is used widely, not only to denote a period of time when normal work and routines are suspended, but to signify, say on a field exercise, time to be devoted to maintenance of personal kit clothing, weapons, vehicles et cetera, not unlike the old make and mend of the days of sail.

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Manning and Cheering Ship

"Manning and cheering ship" is a very old custom. More than a mark of respect, it is an expression of esteem and affection by the whole ship's company for a particular person or another ship's company. This drill or ship's evolution, invariably carried out with spirit and enthusiasm, is to be seen when Her Majesty the Queen or her representative, His Excellency the Governor-General, visit, or make their departure from, units of the fleet; when HMC ships enter harbour after an engagement or victory at sea; and when one of HMC ships sails to her new homeport or to pay off. Sometimes a departing flag officer or other senior officer is so honoured.

In the days of sail, manning and cheering ship made a remarkable sight as each ship of the squadron vied with each other in smartness and speed to man the yards and rigging clear up to mastheads. Today, the ship's company line the rails of the upper deck, and, led from the bridge, give three mighty cheers.

Soldiers on the side of the deck of a ship saluting another ship.
The ship's company of HMCS Gatineau cheering ship as Her Majesty the Queen in the royal yacht Britannia leaves Canadian waters, July, 1959. (Note the historic arrangement of flags in Britannia: the Union Jack at the jack-staff; the admiralty flag at the fore; the royal standard at the main; the Canadian ensign at the mizzen; and the white ensign at the ensign-staff.)

Manning the Side

In the expression, "to man the side," there are two different meanings. One is the example where two war ships meet on more or less parallel reciprocal courses. One would expect to hear the alert sounded by bugle or bo's'n's call in each ship and the hands fallen in on the sides facing each other.Footnote 63 This practice has come down from the days of the heavily-gunned windship where, with most of the ship's company on deck or aloft, the gun could not be run out, indicating peaceful intentions.Footnote 64

The other meaning of manning the side is the very old custom of receiving senior officers at the head of the accommodation ladder or the brow with a side party in attendance. Such side party would consist of four or five ratings, once called side boys, all in a line, headed by a chief or petty officer with his bo's'n's call ready to pipe the dignitary aboard.

There is an interesting account of the practice of this custom in Canadian waters more than two centuries ago. It will be remembered that in the summer of 1759 Wolfe spent several weeks assessing the problem of taking Quebec. One day during one of his tours of inspection he encountered a young midshipman recently arrived from New England who had not yet acquired a uniform. Ashley Bowen's journal gives an account of the lively exchange between the general and the midshipman in which the latter proved his identity by detailing how Wolfe was received on board HMS Pembroke fifty guns, Captain John Simcoe RNFootnote *, earlier at Halifax. Young Bowen explained how only four hands were ordered to man the side until it was discovered that the visitor was none other than the commanding general, James Wolfe, when the orders took on a note of some urgency. In quick succession the sergeant of marines, the boatswain and the master-at-arms arrived at the double, and a proper ruff was beat.Footnote 65


Social and economic change has had a significant effect on the serviceman and attitudes regarding marriage, and thus on customs related to marriage. In the past, two things militated against early marriage — low pay, and the belief that undivided attention was essential to the young man's success in the learning phase of the military profession.

Ten years before meeting his destiny at Quebec, a young major of infantry, James Wolfe, pointed up a third factor when he issued this order: "Any soldier that presumes to marry clandestinely, ... that shall not consult his officer before his marriage, that the woman's character may be inquired into, every such offender will be punished with rigour."Footnote 66

A priest marrying a couple in a church.
Two service personnel exchange marriage vows, Nova Scotia, 1957.

This concern for the welfare of the young serviceman still persisted when the Royal Canadian Air Force first spread its wings in 1924. "Permission to marry may be granted by the applicant's commanding officer. Such permission will not be given unless the commanding officer is satisfied that the applicant is financially able to marry and that the woman is a desirable character."Footnote 67

Even as late as 1965 it seemed necessary to admonish young officers to tread softly in this matter of marriage. "If you are married you are bound to have more interests outside your army life, and then your work and learning suffer .... You must not expect to have special treatment if you do marry before the official age [23 years]; it would be unfair to the other officers."Footnote 68

But in spite of all the dire warnings, young men and the ladies of their choice found ways to begin their married lives and many were the joyous scenes when the young sailor went over the brow with long, white tapes securing the black silk about his neck, the symbol of his wedding day. That custom, of course, went out with the square-rig of bell bottoms and jumper. However one custom of this kind does survive, though it is only occasionally seen today — the hoisting of a garland.

When a member of a ship's company is married in the port where the ship is lying, a garland of evergreens is hoisted for the day between the masts of a two-masted ship, or on the forestay of the more likely single-masted ship.

A marriage custom which is very much alive today is the time-honoured arch of swords. In a Service wedding involving a commissioned officer, officer colleagues in uniform acting as ushers make the arch of swords for the bride and groom at the foot of the chancel steps at the end of the ceremony. Or, more often, the weather being fine, the ceremonial arch is made outside the church do or, the officer-ushers having made a rapid exit through a side door, leaving the bridesmaids to go down the aisle unescorted.Footnote 69

A lively marriage custom combining dignity and mirth is the one observed in the Second Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery at CFB Petawawa. Whenever a member of the regiment marries, he and his bride are joyfully assisted to a special seat mounted on the limber of a twenty-five pound gun. In this fashion, under tow by a 3/4-ton truck and escorted by a party from the regiment, the happy couple leave the church to begin their honeymoon.Footnote 70

New Year's Day

As in our society generally, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are times of merry-making and good fellowship throughout the Canadian Forces. In addition to the traditional levees (see page 94), activities, more of an "in-house" kind, are varied and colourful.

Formal balls on New Year's Eve are very popular in units from coast to coast, a typical example being that of the Saskatchewan Dragoons of Moose Jaw, where balls take place simultaneously in the warrant officers/sergeants mess and the officers mess.

New Year's Day in the messes epitomizes the camaraderie and goodwill between all ranks. In most units of the Canadian Forces the officers as a group call on the warrant officers and sergeants in their mess and then, in turn, the CO's are entertained in the officers' mess.

This custom in its various forms is of long standing. On the western front in 1915, the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (called the Toronto Regiment, a forbear of today's Royal Regiment of Canada) had spent Christmas Day in the sodden trenches facing the German army. But by New Year's Day, 1916, the battalion was out of the line in reserve. There, spread out company by company in huts and barns, the troops fashioned trestle tables, decorated them with holly, and sat down to dinners of remarkable ingenuity served by the sergeants and officers in a memorable atmosphere of battle-tried comradeship and good-will.Footnote 71

On New Year's Day, 1944 the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada were stationed at Bournemouth, facing the English Channel. But duties in wartime served only to heighten the sense of good fellowship when the regiment's commanding officer and his officers strode up to the door of the sergeant's mess and were invited in, in the time-honoured tradition, by the regimental sergeant-major, to have a glass together.Footnote 72

The traditional exchange of visits on New Year's Day between the officers and sergeants has, in the case of the 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, an additional happy development. The commanding officer and the regimental sergeant-major join forces and personally cook and serve breakfast to the lot.

A similar occasion is to be seen in HMCS Star where the captain hosts a luncheon for all the officers of the Hamilton Naval Division.

In HMC ships in harbour there is a long tradition of sixteen bell being' rung on the ship's bell at midnight on December 31, rather than the eight bells which normally would mark the end of the watch. On this occasion the bell is struck not by the quartermaster or the boatswain but usually by the youngest seaman in the ship, this to the accompaniment of sundry whistles and sirens of other ships nearby.

In HMCS York, the Toronto naval division, there is a very lively scene in the chiefs' and petty officers' mess which not only marks New Year's Day but which recalls a three-hundred-year old custom which has only recently disappeared from the fleet. A highly polished, brass-bound rum barrel is appropriately broached at the sound of the time-honoured pipe, "up spirits," and the irreverent but low-key aside, "stand fast the Holy Ghost!"

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A new tradition has been building for some years in HMC ships when in their home port for New Year's Day. More and more of the families of the members of the ship's company come down to the harbour at Esquimalt or Halifax to go on board and sit down to dinner in the congenial atmosphere of the mess decks of a ship of war. Where sailors must live in such confined quarters, it is indeed a joyous experience for them to hear the children's voices close at hand while they and their wives enjoy the good fellowship of the occasion.

The old French Canadian custom of gift-giving on New Year's Day is a highly cherished tradition in le Régiment de Hull where at a breakfast party in the armoury each officer and his wife receive a beautiful and tastefully chosen gift, often in silver, from the officer's mess of the regiment.

Reference to the year-end festivities in the Canadian Forces would not be complete without a word about that time of celebration so dear to the Scots — Hogmanay, the ancient expression for the last day of the year. The word itself is thought to have come from an old Norman word hoguinané, having the same meaning. To be present at the reciprocal visits between the messes of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg, where the pipes seem to come into play with a renewed spirit and there is joyful camaraderie on every hand, is to see a reflection of the meaning of Hogmanay in the Scottish regiments throughout the land.

The Oath of Allegiance

When a person joins the Canadian Forces, he or she is required to swear an oath of allegiance, or make a solemn affirmation, in these words:

I, (full name), do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successor according to law. So help me God. (The entreaty at the end is omitted in the case of the solemn affirmation.)

Such a statement, made under oath, is a form of contract, a solemn promise, between the recruit and the sovereign, who as the queen of Canada embodies the state, the sovereign power. This oath of allegiance, or solemn affirmation, is based on a practice thousands of years old.

In the legions of ancient Rome, the soldier took a military oath called the sacramentum. It was a set formula of words voiced under conditions of great solemnity and expressing a commitment so deep that a soldier would seldom dare break it, not so much from fear of sanctions, as from the impossibility of expunging the stain from his personal honour. He promised implicit obedience to his commanders, that he would not desert the Service, "nor at anytime refuse to expose himself to the utmost Perils, for the Safety and Welfare of the State."Footnote 73

This Roman army ceremony was re-enacted at the beginning of each year. It was an impressive spectacle. One soldier would be elected for his strong voice. He would repeat the formulated words after the tribune, whereupon the whole legion, as one man, would shout their consent to abide by the oath sometimes drawing their short, heavy swords and thrusting them in the air to emphasize their declaration.Footnote 74

Through the centuries, the conditions under which the oath of allegiance was administered, or whether it was administered at all, to recruits, have formed the background of many stories, fact and fiction. Much has been written about the "king's shilling," the acceptance of which at one time constituted an agreement by a man to enlist. Many were the tales of over-zealous recruiting sergeants inveigling a fellow citizen, too long languishing in the tavern, into accepting the king's shilling, the victim waking up next morning wondering how he was to escape being apprehended as a vagabond, or how to muster twenty shillings "smart money" to buy his way out of his "bad bargain." Or, it could go the other way, and that is why a useless soldier or sailor was known as a "king's hard bargain." Or, perhaps, the reluctant recruit never even saw a king's shilling, for in times of great national stress, the dreaded press gang produced "the bodies" if they could not be procured any other way.

However, it is of interest to note that Britons nearly three centuries ago had some protection against arbitrary induction into the forces. Since 1694, the attestation of a recruit was required to be before a civil authority to guard against a citizen "being entrapped, without understanding the nature of it, into a contract, which, even though not a contract for life, is one of a very serious nature."Footnote 75

Although the words of the oath of allegiance have changed over the years, there is a timeless quality in the expression of the relationship binding the sovereign and the subject. For example, there is something almost medieval in the phrasing of the soldier's oath in the days of Queen Anne nearly three centuries ago:

I swear to be true to our Sovereign Queen Anne, and to serve Her honestly and faithfully, in the Defence of Her Person, Crown and Dignity, against all Her enemies and Opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey Her Majesty's Orders, and the Orders of the Generals and Officers set over me by Her Majesty. So help me God.Footnote 76

During the Napoleonic Wars, the oath and the certificate of the magistrate or justice of the peace before whom the recruit was attested were printed forms. The oath taken by a soldier in 1799 was reinforced by this quaintly worded document:

I, (name) do make Oath, that I am by Trade a and to the best of my Knowledge and Belief, was born in the Parish of in the County of and that I have no rupture, nor ever was troubled with Fits, and am no ways disabled by Lameness or otherwise, but have the perfect Use of my Limbs, that I am not an Apprentice; and that I do not belong to the Militia, or to any other Regiment, or to His Majesty's Navy, or Marines.Footnote 77


The custom of promenading, as practised in the Canadian Forces today, is said to be one of considerable antiquity, yet, in the military sense, reference to it is difficult to find in print until the twentieth century. Promenading is associated with infantry regiments, particularly guards regiments, and is also practised in some armoured regiments. The word is taken from the French, meaning a walk taken at a leisurely pace for exercise or amusement, to and fro for display, or as part of a ceremony. The term dates from the sixteenth century and, in the eighteenth century, represented a fashionable practice of the European civilian scene.

Indeed, a rather colourful scene was painted in the words of a young officer of the 4th Regiment of Foot nearly two centuries ago, in 1787, recently arrived at Halifax for garrison duty. "There is a square in town called the Grande Parade, where the troops in garrison parade every evening during the summer; and where all the belles and beaux of the place promenade, and the bands remain to play as long as they walk."Footnote 78

Promenading has been defined as "a custom of long standing in the British Brigade of Guards by which officers on guard meeting, move to and fro in a leisurely, informal style in pairs prior to being called on parade for the changing ceremony. The officers march 25 to 30 paces in one direction, turn about and repeat the process."Footnote 79

Promenading, in relation to the assembly of a battalion, is carried out in some regiments in lieu of the practice where the officers are fairly casually marched on to the parade by the battalions' second-in-command, where they stand in line facing the troops awaiting the order for the officers to fall in or to take post.

In the "Standing Orders of the Royal Canadian Regiment" (1935), it is clear that promenading was practised but the word was not used: " as each Company is formed up Officers will walk to and fro not more than three abreast, well clear of the battalion."

The air force seems to have adopted something approaching promenading, though perhaps in not so informal a fashion. "The officers are to march onto the parade ground and proceed to march in quick time, in pairs, up and down along the directing flank of the squadron in rear of the trumpeter and the drummer."Footnote 80

In spite of the uncertainty of the origin of military promenading, the custom is still very much alive in the Canadian Forces today. In the century-old Drill Hall in Ottawa, at the commanding officer's parade of the Governor-General's Foot Guards, the officers walk informally, in pairs, traditionally with hands clasped behind their backs, behind the saluting dais, prior to taking over their respective commands.

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It is the rare individual who really enjoys getting up in the morning, particularly when he is being coerced into getting out of bed by some insistent, jarring noise, be it the harsh notes of a bugle, or the "cheerful entreaties" of a sergeant or a ship's quartermaster, or the raucous demands of the simple alarm clock wisely set in a dish-pan. Yet the rising is inevitable and that's what reveille is all about, particularly the dictionary meaning for se réveiller, to revive. Like so many things military, the word comes from the French imperative réveillez, meaning wake up, originally from the Latin vigilare, watch.

However, in spite of the nasty ideas associated with reveille, including that line from an old song — "Some day I'm going to murder the bugler!,"Footnote 81 the word reveille, probably more than any other, brings to mind one scene after another at such a rate and in such a variety of time and place, that when all put together conjures up in the mind's eye a most rich and colourful tapestry depicting the military heritage of the Canadian people:

The bright, chill air of an April morning in 1793 and the Queen' Rangers building new quarters at Queenston where the gallant Broek was to fall two decades later in the defence of Canada. "The Bugles sound at 5 every Morning & Coll. Simcoe goes out with the troops & returns to breakfast at nine."Footnote 82

The 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, at sea off Korea on 5 May 1951. "... reveille blew at 0430 hours and debarkation at Pusan began."Footnote 83

Major-General Smith-Dorrien's flying column striking out against Boer guerilla forces in the cold and fog of an African night in 1900. "Reveille sounded at 1:00 a.m. on November 6 and at three o'clock the columns moved off ... "including the Royal Canadian Dragoons, two guns of "D" Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, and a pom-pom, which was the advance guard.Footnote 84

The early morning assault of the 3rd Canadian Division over the Normandy beaches. "Reveille on D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was at 0315 hr. The water in the Channel was rough: the spirits of the men boisterously high."Footnote 85

The 10th Royal Grenadiers from Toronto on the march with wagon train north from Qu'Appelle to bring Riel's rebels to battle, camped on the prairie for the night. Next morning, 11 April 1885, reveille sounded at 4 a.m. and the long march continued.Footnote 86

The makeshift camp of the Calgary Highlanders on the Sarcee Indian Reserve at the outbreak of war in 1939. "Each morning Boy Bugler Bennie Lee would arouse the drowsy recruits — bankers, salesmen, clerks, cowboys, farmers, lawyer and men from all grades of civilian life. In their motley garb ranging from mufti to kilts and home-made glengarries, the troops grabbed pails and raced for the water pumps. The day's training had begun."Footnote 87

The shrill notes of the bo's'n's call in a Second World War destroyer and the timeless language of the sea. "Wakey, wakey, wak-e-ey! Rise and shine! Lash up and stow [your hammock]!"Footnote 88

It was April, 1885, when the men of the 92nd Regiment (Winnipeg Light Infantry) were at Calgary to march to the relief of Edmonton, bent on the capture of Big Bear and his forces after the massacre at Frog Lake. "... the strident notes of the bugle band sounded reveille at half past four, and breaking camp early we marched twenty-five miles our first day."Footnote 89

Camp Borden in the days of the old Canadian Air Force of 1922, before the RCAF was established; an office-hut adjacent to the parade square, the living quarter of an RCMP constable (station security) and the assistant postmaster. The latter was a sergeant of the CAF and it was his duty to play reveille early every morning. This he slyly did by poking his bugle out the open window of the hut "for there was nobody else around!"Footnote 90

In September, 1974, in exercise "Potlatch" off the mouth of the Nahwitti River, Vancouver Island, men of One Combat Group bedded down for the night in the cold austerity of the anchor cable space in HMC Provider, took it in stride when a petty officer announced an unusually early reveille for the troops, 0300, "because that's when we drop anchor," and the cable deck is no place to be when that massive chain cable starts rattling out through the hawse.Footnote 91

Although the early morning call or beat of the drum was known in Elizabethan times, probably the earliest instance of reveille in printed English was Lawes and Ordnances of Warre by the Earl of Northumberland (1640): "No victualler shall entertain any Souldiers in his house, tent or hutt, after the warning-piece at night, or before the beating of the Ravalee in the morning."

A similar warning is to be found in the Articles of War (1673).Footnote 92
In the eighteenth century, reveille was defined as "the beat of a drum, about break of day, to advertise the army that it is day-light, and that the sentinels forbear challenging."Footnote 93 Another purpose for reveille, other than for waking people up and marking the cessation of night duties, was as a signal to open the gate to let the horse-guard, consisting of a corporal and half a dozen troopers, do a quick reconnaissance beyond the walls of the town.Footnote 94

Today in the Canadian Forces, people know what reveille means but its use in the sense of a fixed drill or loud, awakening sound has all but disappeared. It is seldom spelled out in routine orders. Indeed, the way people start the working day in the forces reflects a less regimented, "do-it-by-numbers" way of life. The majority of personnel today, whose duty is performed on bases, stations and even in barracks, live on the economy, that is, in their own accommodation in the town or elsewhere. They are expected to get themselves up, transported and in their place of duty on time, and this is their own responsibility.

In barracks today the troops do not normally live in dormitories, but are accommodated two to four in a room, or even in individual rooms. In some barrack situations, the troops are on their own so far as getting up is concerned, while in others a duty CO goes around knocking on door to awaken people. At Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean, a duty cadet in each block has the same responsibility .

What it really amounts to, today, is that reveille is far from a standardized routine in the Canadian Forces. There is much variety and flexibility to allow for differences in accommodation and circumstances, for example, duty at a command headquarters, as opposed to arctic training up by the Coppermine River.

It is evident that in regard to the management of daily routine there is a marked difference between what might be called the training scene and the operational environment, a distinct diminution of the outward signs of disciplinary control. For example, at CFB Chilliwack, where people are under training, daily routines are regulated audibly by recorded trumpet calls and band music, electronically controlled from the guardhouse. Similarly, at the Royal Military College, Kingston, reveille is by recorded bugle call, reinforced by the voices of duty cadets, and even by the bo's'n's call in the quarters known as the stone frigate.

On the other hand, when troops are out in the field on a scheme or exercise, rousing people is done by the man to be relieved, by a shake or voice call, or if the tactical situation permits, people may be awakened by the piercing sound of a "deuce and a half horn," the air horn of a 2½ ton truck. But, generally the further one moves from the training establishment to the routine of the fixed base or station, with factors of shift work (as it is called) and of military duty occupying only a fraction of the weekly span, there is less and less of the outward signs of the traditional military life and more and more of what is called "civilianization" of the Service.

Yet, to visit a line regiment in garrison, is to hear the reveille of old sounding in the crisp morning air. For example, in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light lnfantry, to this day, a bugler of the regiment's Corps of Drums steps smartly out on the parade square and sounds reveille in the time-honoured way.

One area where there has been little change is in "rousing the hands" in HMC ships where the factor of having to live in relatively cramped quarters still obtains as it has since the days of Nelson and before. Here the "cheery" twittering of the bo's'n's call penetrates every mess deck by way of the ship's broadcast, "wakey, wakey, rise and shine," followed by a variety of rhymes of doubtful literary merit intended to convince the drowsy matelot that the view from the upper deck is "wondrous fine!"

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The Rifle Tradition

When the three former Services were merged into a single unified force by Act of Parliament in 1968, followed by a programme a year later of kitting up all ranks in a common dark green uniform the new garb seemed familiar and most appropriate to several units of the Canadian Forces — the rifle regiments. Eight years later, in 1976, when the minister of national defence authorized all rifle regiments to wear their traditional black web belts and sword slings with the Canadian Forces green uniform on ceremonial occasions, it was like coming home, a return to what has become known as the rifle tradition. Units such as the Regina Rifle Regiment, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, the Brockville Rifles, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment and other units with forbears of the rifle tradition, all take great pride in being a part of this nearly two centuries old distinctive form of infantry.

It all started back in 1797 in the British army when a special battalion of riflemen was added to the 60th Regiment of Foot (later to become the King's Royal Rifle Corps). Three years later much the same thing happened in the 95th Regiment (later the Rifle Brigade). Unlike the other line regiments who wore red, "the rifles" right from the start were clothed in green like the game keepers of the forest on whom to some extent the role of the rifles was modelled.Footnote 95

Both in uniform and drill, the rifles tactically represented a fighting man who blended into his environment and, therefore, was less readily seen, and a skirmisher lightly equipped, quick and flexible in movement. He was ideal for the campaigns in the forests of North America. Indeed, the 60th Regiment was raised for that purpose and gave a good account of itself in the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. A century later, the Royal Rifles were at the gates of Fort Garry, near where the Red and the Assiniboine rivers join in today's Winnipeg, to quell Louis Riel's rebellion.Footnote 96

Rifle regiments traditionally, in addition to a green uniform, used black leather (later black web) equipment, black head-dress, and black buttons. There were no fife and drums, just bugles used mostly for passing orders. They carried no colours and their battle honours were inscribed on their badge, traditionally a Maltese cross.

Unlike other infantrymen, who were equipped with the bayonet triangular in cross section, the rifles had a special weapon called a sword, and to this day a rifleman's bayonet is called a sword. It came about this way. Originally, riflemen were equipped with a shorter and lighter rifle than ordinary infantry units to increase their mobility. A longer bayonet was provided to make up for the length of reach lost by the shorter rifle. This bayonet was fitted with a hand grip to use alone for close quarter fighting. For this reason it was called a sword.Footnote 97

On the march, the rifle was carried "at the trail" to be ready for instant action, and the march itself was conducted at a pace faster than the normal cadence of the infantry. Drill movements were quick and quiet with a minimum of orders. Though strictly disciplined, quick, quiet flexibility and resourcefulness were the mark of the rifleman in the field. Emphasis was placed on the individual in developing alertness, stealth and speed of movement. High standards of marksmanship and ability to move away from fixed tactics and drills were hallmarks of the rifle regiment. These traditions are very much alive and proudly preserved by the rifles today.


Rounds are routine duties of inspection designed to ensure the security of a military force irrespective of its form, location or function. Sometimes called by other names, such as "duty officer's duties," rounds are essential to the safety and fighting capability of a force and therefore, in whatever form, are as old as the military profession itself. An officer a century ago came close to the mark when he defined rounds as "going round to inspect sentinels. The general visiting of the decks, made by officers, to see that all is going on right."Footnote 98

A much earlier conception of the importance of rounds is to be found in An Abridgment of the English Military Discipline, published in London in 1689 for the use of His Majesty's Forces: "In Garrison that are well Guarded, the Rounds go every quarter of an hour, To the end the Rampart may never be unfurnished."Footnote 99

So, whether the routine orders for rounds were written today or centuries ago, there are two basic purposes involved — ensuring against surprise by a hostile force, and preserving the safety and therefore the fighting capability of the force from being jeopardized by such things as fire, the elements, or conditions contributing to poor health. Consequently, rounds may range from those of the picquet thrown out round a night field position with sentries keeping watch, to the officer of the day and the duty petty officer on board ship in harbour making rounds in the mess decks before "pipe down" in the evening, to see that all is squared away and shipshape for the night.

Today, on land, the term rounds is not used as much as it once was. Seldom if ever will it be found, for example, in routine orders. It depends to some extent on the type and location of the military establishment. For example, in a barracks located in a city, the majority of Service personnel spend the night in their own private accommodation outside the barracks, resulting in much of what was called rounds being carried out by non-Service personnel, the commissionaires. But, even so, the orderly sergeant still makes his rounds in the early evening, and the duty officer still inspects hospital and guardroom facilities on a regular basis.Footnote 100

What it really amounts to is that the time-honoured system of rounds, like so many other aspects of Service life today, has been adapted to suit a variety of situations. There is little of the uniformity which once prevailed. On some bases, the battalion orderly sergeant supervises rounds as of old. On others, particularly within a regiment's lines, members of the unit, called regimental policemen, carry out this duty. On yet other bases, there are no rounds on foot at all; reliance is placed on the cruiser rounds of military police.

All of this, of course, reflects changing attitudes in society at large. Indeed, some say it is one more aspect of the "civilianization" of the military. For example, in the forces today, "hotel system" and "inn-keeper" are commonly used terms. Hotel system refers to the fact that troops in barracks no longer live in dormitories, but two or four to a room, or even one to a room. It means male and female Service personnel sharing the same barrack buildings. Very few people are required to live on base. To do so, except in training establishments, is a matter of individual choice. One hears the rejoinder, "You don't make rounds in married quarters, why would you in single quarters?" The innkeeper is the NCO responsible for keeping the block clean but not for the disciplining of its residents.

Flexibility in routines is, of course, essential in the context of a variety of situations. For example, during a prolonged exercise in the field, there are many occasions when picquets must be thrown out and sentries posted, requiring some form of round, however temporary the need may be.

On the other hand, in HMC ships, when the pipe "clear up messdecks and flats for rounds" is heard, all hands know that in short order the officer of the day and the duty petty officer in harbour, or the executive officer and the coxswain at sea, will soon be briskly walking through all the messdecks and all the spaces from forepeak to tiller flat, keeping a weather eye for any irregularity which might interfere with the safety and fighting capability of the ship. The captain's rounds are normally made once a week.Footnote 101

There is one aspect of rounds in the army tradition which has survived very much in a ceremonial form, and that is the mounting of a quarter guard in honour of a visiting officer of high rank, say to a military encampment. Such a guard consists of some ten to fourteen men, depending on the number of posts to be manned, for a period of some twenty-four hours. Issuing from the quarter guardroom, the men would be fallen in in two ranks, and pay appropriate compliments to the visiting dignitary. Then over a specified period the men would man sentry posts and perform the time-honoured ritual of the challenge and response, and of the new sentry taking over from the old.

Something of the timelessness of this ceremonial ritual may be seen in the standing orders of the old Toronto unit, the Governor-General's Body Guard a century ago:

A sentry should consider his duties as a sacred trust. After watchsetting, on any one approaching he will challenge, 'Who comes there?' and port his arms. If the answer is satisfactory, he will say 'Advance, friend, all's well;' should the answer be 'Rounds,' he will demand 'What Rounds?' If he is posted at the guardhouse, and the reply is 'Grand Rounds' or 'Visiting Rounds,' he will call 'Stand, Grand (or Visiting) Rounds, Guard turn out.' If posted anywhere else, he will say, 'Pass, Grand (or Visiting) Rounds, all's well.' If there is a counter sign, he will command them to 'Advance one and give the countersign.'Footnote 102

In a typical eighteenth century satire, there are these references to rounds in the form of advice to the major:

When it is your turn to be field officer of the day in camp, be sure to keep the picquets waiting as long as you can, particularly if it should rain: this will accustom the soldiers to stand the weather and will make them glad to see you.

"In going the rounds in the night, do not fail to keep the serjeant and escort in a good round trot. This will prevent their catching cold, and may be done without the least inconvenience, if you are on horseback."

To the private soldier:

If you are sentinel at the tent of one of the field officers, you need not challenge in the forepart of the evening, for fear of disturbing his honour, who perhaps may be reading, writing, or entertaining company. But as soon as he is gone to bed, roar out every ten minutes at least, 'Who comes there?' though nobody is passing. This will give him a favourable idea of your alertness; and though his slumbers may be broken, yet will they be the more pleasing, when he finds that he reposes in perfect security. When the hour of relief approaches, keep constantly crying out, 'Relief, relief!' it will prevent the guard from forgetting you, and prove that you are not asleep.Footnote 103

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She and Her

Ships are regarded as feminine and in the parlance of sailors are referred to as "she" and "her." This custom is centuries old but how it came to be is not known. There has been, of course, much conjecture, but much of this sounds contrived, for example, that "she's hard to manage," or "she's unpredictable." Yet, there is no doubt that the custom is very much alive in expressions, such as "the eyes of her," that is, the fore end of the ship near the hawse pipes through which the anchor cables are paid out. Or "to meet her," as used when the rudder has been put over in altering course and it is necessary "to meet her" with opposite rudder to prevent the ship swinging too far.Footnote 104

The suggestion that ships are referred to as "she" because most bear feminine names does not hold water, for thousands have been given masculine names. Similarly, while most carved figureheads adorning the stems of ships were female forms, many were not.

The most likely explanation for ships and boats being referred to as feminine is the traditional belief of sailors that a ship is very close to being a living entity, endowed with spirit and a distinct personality, demanding respect and, given proper consideration, most dependable. And, somehow, through some curious alchemy in the mind of the seaman in the days of sail, often away from the land for months on end, this near-human being took on the beauty and mystique of a woman.

Whatever the origin, there can be no doubt about the antiquity of this custom of speech. In a Spanish deposition regarding a South Pacific raid by Drake in the Golden Hind, there is this statement:

On Friday, February thirteenth, 1578, the ship of some English Corsairs, with a pinnace and skiff arrived at the port of Callao de Lima. Entering between the ships that lay at anchor there, the Corsairs enquired for the ship of Miguel Angel, ... On boarding her they found she did not contain the riches they expected, for the silver had not yet been carried aboard.Footnote 105

Similarly, in a letter written in 1610 by a young sea officer to the vice-admiral at Plymouth and referring to an inquiry about a particular ship, he wrote: "Concerning the ship the case thus standeth: Shee was taken by one Captaine Walmer whom we had like to have taken at our first arrivall in Ireland."Footnote 106

The Ship's Bell

Despite the inevitability of changing customs, functions and technology, the ship's bell remains, like the binnacle, one of the focal points of the ship. It continues to be one of the most valued pieces of the ship's original equipment. Indeed, it is often all that is left long after the ship herself has vanished. The reasons for this feeling toward a piece of highly polished, fine bronze are many and varied.

Traditionally, the bell is engraved with the ship's name and the year of her build. For example, the bell of HMCS Provider displays below the name in bold characters, 1963. The size of a ship's bell varies with the dimensions of the ship.

For centuries, the ship's bell was used primarily to indicate the hour, and therefore, in a sense, controlled the ship's routine. In the days of sail, when most of the people on the lower deck were illiterate and certainly carried no time-piece, the ringing of the ship's bell to mark the changing of the watch was of great importance.

Until Harrison invented the marine chronometer in the late eighteenth century (the first versions of which may still be seen in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England), the measurement of time was achieved by the half-hour sand-glass kept near the binnacle on the quarter-deck. It was the duty of one of the ship's boys to turn the glass, under the watchful eye of the quartermaster of the watch, and ring the ship's bell, the number of bells rung corresponding to the time elapsed, there being eight bells to each four hour watch.

This function of the ship's bell has now largely disappeared in HMC ships owing to the fact that the same information may be heard by means of the pipe over the ship's broadcast. Also, of course, everyone wears a watch although it is not many years ago in the Royal Canadian Navy that the wearing of watches and rings, et cetera, by people engaged in gunnery, torpedo and cable work was forbidden by regulation to prevent physical injury.

Another use of the ship's bell which has given way to modern means of communication is as an alarm as in the case of fire. For centuries at sea, the rapid ringing of the bell brought the swift attention of the whole ship's company to the receiving of orders. An illustration of this and what it meant when fire occurred in a lone ship far from outside help may be seen in the case of HMS Menai, frigate. She was on passage from her station at St. Helena, where she had been keeping a weather eye on the exiled Napoleon over that empty stretch of ocean to the Cape of Good Hope, a century and a half ago. The boatswain's yeoman had removed the candle from a lantern, left it burning by a beam, and forgot it when going to his supper. "[We] soon heard a murmur rising from the lower deck and then the awful cry of 'Fire' ... The fire-bell rang out; all went to their stations to fight the fire, which had broken out in the boatswain's store room, separated only by a double bulkhead from the powder magazine."Footnote 107 The ship's bell brought prompt action, and superb discipline saved the ship.

But the primary purpose of the ship's bell, today, is to help avert collisions between ships. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea requires that a vessel at anchor in fog, in harbour, or in a roadstead must ring her bell rapidly for five seconds at intervals of one minute. This practice is a very old one and well illustrated in the seventeenth century diary of Chaplain Teonge, Royal Navy.

Describing a convoy passage from Deal to Tangier in 1675, under the escort of the frigate Assistance, Teonge recorded one of the convoy instructions to the masters of the merchantmen. "If it prove foggy weather by night or day, we must ring our bells, and fire a musket now and then. And in dark nights each ship to carry a light." And, again, in 1678, this time from the Captain of the Royal Oak, sixty-four guns, "So great a fog that we are fain to ring our bells, beat drums, and fire muskets often, to keep us from falling foul one upon another."Footnote 108

A visitor to the Parliament Buildings, Queen's Park, Toronto, may notice that a ship's bell occupies an honoured place there. It is the bell of the cruiser, HMCS Ontario. A closer look will reveal the names of children inscribed on the bell, children who were baptized on board the Ontario. Traditionally, in Her Majesty's ships, children of members of a ship's company may be christened by a chaplain using the ship's unshipped bell inverted as a baptismal font. Afterwards, the consecrated water is returned to the sea by the chaplain and the side is piped during this part of the ceremony. The child's full name is then inscribed on the bel1.Footnote 109

Today, in Stadacona Chapel, CFB Halifax, the permanently fitted baptismal font is the bell of HMCS Uganda bearing the date 1944. Inscribed on it are the names of children baptised during the cruiser's periods in commission.

Splice the Main Brace

Even though the daily issue of rum in HMC ships was abolished in 1971, current regulations authorize seamen to receive a special issue of spirits in exceptional circumstances. Soldiers and airmen may receive the same treatment when performing their duties "under unusual and difficult conditions "Footnote 110

There is a long Service tradition behind the special issue of spirits, as may be seen in an order issued by James Wolfe as he faced the task of taking Quebec in the summer of 1759: "When rum is to be issued out to the troops on account of the badness of the weather, or their having suffered extraordinary fatigue, any soldier who is known to have disposed of his allowance to another ... shall ... be struck entirely out of the roll when rum is to be delivered out"Footnote 111

Similarly, a century and a half after Wolfe, the Royal Canadian Dragoons in their fighting march against the Boers from Bloemfontein toward Johannesburg and Pretoria braced themselves against the bitter cold with "the thrice-weekly issues of rum — two and a half ounces. This warmed the stomachs and brightened the outlook...."Footnote 112

Today, in the navy, there is a relatively rare issue of rum which is made on the order "splice the main brace," when every officer and man in the ship's company receives two and one half ounces of spirits. Such an occurrence is usually related to victory in battle, such as V-E Day, 1945, or observance of some happy occasion of national significance.

Such an occasion was celebrated on board HMCS Ontario, cruiser, in the port of Seattle, Washington, in August, 1950. The crash of the saluting guns shattered the windows in the dockyard and the local resident, streaming down to the jetty-side to see what the noise was all about, happily joined the ship's company on the fo'c's'le and quarter-deck for the splicing of the main brace. It was the announcement of the birth of Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne. The order, splice the main brace, may be given only by Her Majesty, the Queen or other member of the royal family, His Excellency the Governor-General, or the chief of the defence staff.Footnote 113 Governor-General Roland Michener gave the order in HMCS Preserver at Antwerp in 1971 and Governor-General Leger did so in HMCS Terra Nova at Victoria in 1974.

The expression itself has an interesting origin and is related to the theme of duty well done in exceptionally arduous conditions.

In a square-rigged ship, as most sailing men-of-war were, the main sail, the largest all carried, was set on the mainyard at right angle to the mainmast This great mainsail had an important part in the application of wind power to drive the ship ahead. To exert the desired wind force, the yard with its sail had to be trimmed to a particular angle relative to the direction of the wind and the course to be steered. This was done by hauling on the main brace, a very important part of the rigging. To splice the main brace, that is to repair or replace this heavy piece of rigging, required great skill and speed on the part of the ship's company, a strenuous task even in good weather a dangerous one in foul weather.

It is said that the expression, splice the main brace, in the sense of a special issue of spirits, dates from Captain James Cook's tiny squadron of 1773, when Lieutenant James Burney, commanding HMS Adventure, in reporting additional allowances of spirits, recorded amounts of rum consumed under "splice the main  brace."Footnote 114

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Submariners are probably the most unorthodox people in the Service with respect to dress, particularly once their boat has slipped from the buoy or the jetty. It is something of a paradox that the function, design and environment of their vessel has, over the course of some seven decades of submarine development, produced one of the toughest systems of self-discipline side by side with the least formal officer-man relationship in the Service today. These are factors essential to "fighting the ship" in the depths of the sea, as well as to the preservation of the boat and her company.

Space to live and work and even to stow gear, is extremely limited, as is fresh water for bathing and laundering. A submariner must live, often for weeks on end, in very confined quarters and the informality of his attire at sea is one of the ways in which the underwater sailor comes to terms with his duties and environment.

One mark of the submariner is his high-necked white sweater, a good buffer against the elements while standing watch on the open bridge atop the conning tower. The submariner's sweater has been in vogue since the early days of submarines in the Royal Navy prior to the First World War, and Canada's first underwater craft, the CC boats of 1914 at Esquimalt.

The normal rig-of-the-day in HMC submarines at sea is called "pirate rig," a wide variety of scruffy clothing, sometimes of quite an imaginative bent, often jeans and T-shirts bearing colourful designs and slogans.

Another effective garment of the submariner, particularly for duties on the exposed casing running the length of the pressure hull, is the "poopy suit," a snug coverall that clings to the ankles and wrists, and is so-named because of the necessity of removal to do the necessary.

Finally, in respect to submariner's dress, one must experience a mess dinner in the wardroom of a submarine to believe it. At first glance, it seems incongruous that in this space, little more than nine feet by ten feet, some seven officers not only live and dine, but enjoy an occasional mess dinner, properly served and using fine crystal, china and plate. But once again, it is attire that sets the submariner apart. At such a mess dinner any kind of rig is quite acceptable providing the diner wears a tie. And one can only imagine the weird and wonderful forms of neckwear which can be and are fashioned by the ever resourceful submariner.Footnote 115

Sunset Ceremony (The Tattoo and the Retreat)

Given the glorious colour of approaching sunset, and then, the gathering darkness; given the spirited movements of the troops and the mood of martial music; given the beautiful physical settings both natural and man-made with which Canada abounds — there is a sense of mystery and magic in the drama called the sunset ceremony. Simple duties of centuries ago, such as closing the gate, troops returning to their quarters for the night, and the setting of the watch, all to the beat of the drum, have in the course of time evolved into a beautiful ceremonial tradition reflecting our people's long military heritage. The sunset ceremony in all its colourful, smooth-flowing pageantry encompasses three happenings — the tattoo, the retreat and the lowering of the national flag of Canada. A full presentation may involve as many as one hundred officers and men. Basically, the detachment consists of a guard and band, and guns' crews.

Sailors kneeling in front of the Parliament Building.
Naval gun's crew practising for the sunset ceremony, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, June, 1971.

An interesting characteristic of the ceremony as laid down in regulations is that it can be carried out in grand manner, as is done occasionally on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, or on a reduced scale, as in a jetty-side presentation by a ship's company in a foreign port.Footnote 116

The portion of the sunset ceremony called the tattoo is of ancient origin. The word itself is of interest. In the historical sense, tattoo is defined as "Beat of Drum, or bugle call, at 10 p.m., recalling soldiers to quarters." In the seventeenth century, the word usually appeared as "tap-too," reflecting its Dutch origin, tap-toe, meaning to shut off the tap or spigot.

In the days before permanent barracks, troops in garrison or on the march were billeted on the town, sometimes in private houses but more often in inns and ale-houses.Footnote 117 After the day's duty, the place of resort for most soldiers was the inns and taverns of the town. The signal to get the troops back to their billets for the night was by beat of drum through the various districts of the town where the ale-houses were located. The beat of the tattoo conveyed two messages — one to the innkeeper, ordering him (originally in the Dutch tongue, doe den top toe,) to turn off his taps and serve no more ale or spirits; the other to the soldiers "to retire to their chambers, to put out their fire and candle, and go to bed."Footnote 118

An officer, a sergeant and a file of men followed within minutes the drummers, sometimes augmented by fifers, and woe betide the innkeeper who did not obey, for his premises would soon be declared out-of-bounds and therefore out of business. An indication of what befell the tardy tippler is to be found in orders issued by Major James Wolfe in 1748/49Footnote *** when he forebade

any man to appear out of his quarters, without a written leave from his officer, from half an hour after tattoo is beat till the reveille; any man who shall presume to disobey this order, and shall be discovered, to be put the next morning into the dungeon, and confined there for four days upon bread and water.Footnote 119

There is an interesting record of the meaning of the beating of the tattoo at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the eighteenth century. In May, 1758, a mighty fleet of ships of war and troop transports lay in Halifax harbour under the command of Edward Boscawen, Admiral of the Blue, preparing for the assault on the fortress of Louisbourg. The admiral's order read in part:

No petty officer, non Commissioned [Officer] of the Troops, Soldiers or Sea men to have leave to go on shore but on some very particular occasion, and that Leave to be given in writing by the Captain of his Majesty' ship, or the Commanding Officer of those embarked on board the Transports.

All the Boat belonging to his Majesty's ships, and all those belonging to the Transports to return on board their ship at the beating the Taptoo.Footnote 120

From the original lone drummer, the gradual increase of more drums, and then flutes or fifes, until the latter part of the eighteenth century when bands appeared in the regiments, the small but authoritative procession in the evening beating the tattoo has taken on the aura of marching entertainment, the elaboration of which has become the tattoo as most people know it today. Another aspect of beating the tattoo that is still with us to this day is the "Last Post" sounded on a bugle or trumpet. Something of the Serviceman's feeling for those notes rendered on the night air may be gathered from a trooper's description of life in a militia camp near Sussex, New Brunswick, before the outbreak of war in 1914:

When it got dark you could look around the camp and you'd see row after row of tents, on the flats and up on infantry hill, and every tent was like a Little triangle of light. They used candles to light them. At 10 o'clock you'd hear the bugles sound lights out. ...

Then you'd hear the Last Post. Everybody would get quiet when the bugler played the Last Post. It's strange the sort of hush there is in that music. You'd always get a feeling way down inside when it came across the camp there in the night.Footnote 121

"Post" here is used in the sense of a soldier's station, as in sentry post. In beating the tattoo, the drummers marched from post to post in the town or camp, the first post would be the signal of their having taken up position to begin their round, while the last post indicated they had completed the round.Footnote 122 (One can readily see here the symbolism of the "Last Post" at military funerals).

After the tattoo portion of the sunset ceremony, comes that part derived from the historic "beating the retreat." Perhaps it should be said here that down through the centuries, both in practice and in the literature, there is apparent confusion between the two routines, the tattoo and the retreat.Footnote 123 However, it seems quite clear that, basically, the retreat signified the closing of the gate at sunset and the setting of the watch, and the tattoo was the signal for soldiers to return to their billets for the night, which was after darkness had fallen, usually at 10 p.m.

The latter is the origin of le couvre-feu (the curfew) which is signalled by the booming report of a 105 mm gun at 9:30 every evening at the Citadel of Quebec. Like the noon-day gun so familiar to generations of the citizens of Quebec, the couvre-feu is fired daily by the Royal 22e Régiment from its station in the old fortification overlooking the St. Lawrence River and the Plains of Abraham — a reminder from long ago that it is time for members of the garrison to return to their quarters for the night.

Another point of interest here is that in the eighteenth century a dozen different drum-beats were used to convey orders, and these different rhythms or beats were well understood by every soldier. There were two retreats; one was the retreat at sundown in garrison or camp; the other was the tactical manoeuver in battle.Footnote 124 This latter was known in the Royal Navy and probably had to do with grappling and boarding an enemy ship. There is an amusing incident described whereby Midshipman Jackson, aged about fourteen years, was mastheaded for his sins, in HMS America, forty-four guns, on the Pacific Station in 1844. This item appears in Moresby' diary:

Jackson mastheaded during church-time at Callao, for telling the drummer to beat a retreat from division without orders. As church was rigged on the upper deck, Jackson occupied the position of the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft, and some ladies who had come on board manifested the extremest sympathy.... Footnote 125

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But the beating of the retreat, which is associated with the setting sun, is likely sixteenth century in origin and we have an early example, primitive but practical, in our own pioneer development. In 1642, the infant settlement of Montreal, then called Ville-Marie, was founded within a tiny stockade by Maisonneuve and a band of brave men and women known as Messieurs et Dames de la Société de Notre-Dame pour la conversion des Sauvages de la Nouvelle-France. These early settlers were almost constantly threatened by the Iroquois. Yet, in spite of the danger, the men gradually cleared a field for cultivation, toiling from dawn to dusk under the watchful eyes of a sentinel or two, posted at the edge of the clearing. In the gathering darkness, a bell would ring out from the stockade and the workers from the fields would wend their way to the safety of the barred gate.Footnote 126

A good eighteenth century description of beating the retreat by a British regiment reads:

Half an hour before the gates are to be shut, which is generally at the setting of the sun, a Serjeant and four men must be sent from each port to the main-guard for the keys; at which time, the Drummers of the port guards are to go upon the ramparts, and beat a Retreat, to give notice to those without, that the gates are going to be shut, that they may come in before they are. As soon as the Drummer have finished the Retreat, which they should not do in less than a quarter of an hour, the Officers must order the barriers and gates to be shut, leaving only the wickets open; after which, no Soldier should be suffered to go out of the town, though port-liberty should be allowed them in the day-time.Footnote 127

It was, of course, at beat the retreat that the piquet were formed and the watches set. In the modern sunset ceremony, allusion is made to this ancient routine in the section drill.

There follows the firing of a feu-de-joie, then the band commencing the thoughtful and familiar strains of an evening hymn. Finally comes the stirring rolls of the drums, the majestic rendition of "O Canada" and "God Save the Queen," and the lowering of the national flag of Canada.

Thus has unfolded down through the centuries, from simple military routine duties, this colourful and moving sunset ceremony.

And out of the same traditions have come the countless military tattoos, which have given such joy to countless thousands, from those of the militia at Camp Niagara in the 1920's (where the troops would rush from the field to catch the last steamer to Toronto); to that of the Royal 22e Régiment at that superb site, the Citadel of Quebec; through the peerless performances at Aldershot and Edinburgh Castle, where many Canadian units have taken part; to that magnificent blend of pageantry, humour and stirring drama that was the Canadian Forces tattoo in celebration of our nation's centenary in 1967.


An air force custom much enjoyed over the past quarter century, and one that has now spilled over into civilian life, is TGIF (Thank God It's Friday). TGIF is essentially a "beer call" heard in most air force messes every Friday afternoon at the end of the day's work.

Where and when TGIF first began is uncertain. But what is certain is that it is RCAF in origin and it was observed in the early days of Canadian commitment to NATO in Europe, specifically at Marville, France, in the mid-1950s.Footnote 128

TGIF, a gathering in the mess marked the end of the flying week, a time to chat over a friendly glass about the past week's operations, a time to compare notes about this aircraft and that mission or manoeuvre. The popularity of TGIF became even more pronounced as the five-day week rapidly became a reality in the 1950s.

The Wedge Cap

Current dress regulations of the Canadian Forces include this rather uninspiring, matter-of-course item: "Cap, wedge, green (optional) — worn on the right side of the head ... one inch above the right eyebrow."Footnote 129

Yet, the fact is that the wedge cap is a good example of how a tradition was born some sixty years ago and thrives to this day — the airman's affinity for this type of head-dress.

It all began when the Royal Flying Corps was established just before the Great War of 1914-1918, a force in which Canadians played a prominent part. The field service cap, as it was then called, was adopted by the RFC along with a tunic with a high stand-up collar and secured by buttons at the far right side of the chest. With the cap cocked well over to the right, this uniform with its jaunty air became synonymous with the daring new fighting man, the airman. The head-dress, designated wedge cap in 1941,Footnote 130 continued to be worn throughout the life of the Royal Canadian Air Force, 1924-1968, and is still the preference of many airmen in spite of the availability of the forage cap and the beret. There is little doubt that in the days when goggles and leather helmet were worn in open cockpits, the field service cap lent itself to handy storage in a pocket ready for use on return to base.

But the wedge cap is somewhat older than airmen and aircraft. It is of army origin and dates from the nineteenth century. Indeed, the airman picked up the field service cap during a lull in its use by the army.

This head-dress, first called the Austrian pattern field cap, came into official use in the British army in 1890 for other ranks and 1896 for commissioned officers.Footnote 131 This was the head-gear worn by Canadian soldiers embarking for service in South Africa at the turn of the century. The army largely switched to the peaked forage cap in 1904 and stayed with it until the Second World War when a reversion was made to the wedge-type cap until use of the beret became general in 1943.

Today's wedge cap, as every boy who served in the old school cadet corps knows, is a little different from the old field service cap, though they look very much alike. The older one was a rather ingenious garment fairly cool to wear when perched on the side of the head, but capable of being unfolded to cover the nape of the neck, the ears and the chin. Today's version is sewn so that it does not unfold. But even so, the green wedge cap of today looks very much like those worn by the air crews standing proudly beside the Avro 504s, Sopwith Camels and SE5As of the old Royal Flying Corps.Footnote 132


According to the dictionary, weepers were persons hired to mourn at a funeral, but, today, weepers is a highly popular thirty year old naval institution at Halifax. First begun in the wardroom in Admiralty House, HMCS Stadacona, about 1947, weepers is a gathering of maritime command officers after duty on Fridays. The significance of the term itself enjoys two versions: "to weep in one's beer" in the traditional "wailing wall" fashion, airing the problems of the week; and the glint-in-the-eye allusion to supposedly weeping wives waiting at home for their wayward sailor spouses.

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