A cap badge, also known as "head badge" or "hat badge", is a badge worn on uniform headgear and distinguishes the wearer's organisation. The wearing of cap badges is a convention commonly found among military and police forces, as well as civilian uniform groups such as the Boy Scouts, civil defence organizations, paramedical units (e.g. the St. John Ambulance Brigade), customs services, fire services etc.
In the British Army (as well as Commonwealth armies), cap badges are extremely important, with every regiment and corps having its own. In some regiments, officers and other ranks have different cap badges. When a soldier is assigned to a regiment or corps, it is known as being capbadged to that organisation.
Soldiers of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment wear a cap badge on both the front and the rear of their hats. The back badge is unique in the British Army and was awarded to the 28th Regiment of Foot for their actions at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801. Knowledge of this honour encouraged the soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the defence of Gloster Hill during the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951 during the Korean War.
Variations of cap badges
British and Commonwealth military cap badges are commonly made of the following materials:
Plastic cap badges were normally introduced during a prolonged war (e.g. the Second World War) when metals became strategic materials. Nowadays many cap badges in the British Army are made of a material called "stay-brite" plastic because it is cheap, flexible and does not require as much maintenance as the brass ones.
Regimental cap badges are usually casted as one single piece but in a number of cases they may be casted in different pieces. For instance, the badge of The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) is casted in two separate pieces: the Queen's Crown and the thistle in one piece, and the stag's head and scroll with regimental motto in another piece. (see the first picture above)
A regiment or battalion may maintain different variations of the same cap badge for members of different sub-units within the same regiment. Such variations are usually made in terms of the badges' material, size and stylization. In most British and Commonwealth regiments, variations in cap badges are normally made for:
- Officers: usually three-dimensional in design with more expensive materials such as silver, enamel, gilt etc
- Senior Non-Commissioned Officers such as Sergeants, Colour Sergeants and Warrant Officers: a more elaborated design badge comparing with those worn by other ranks but usually not as elaborated as those worn by the officers
- Members of the regimental band and pipes and drums: usually a larger version of the other ranks' badge for the musicians' pith helmet or the pipers' feather bonnet or glengarry headdress
Some regiments, mainly the infantry ones, maintain a blackened or subdued version of their cap badges as shiny brass cap badges may attract the enemy's (especially the snipers') attention in the battle field. There are also cloth or embroidered cap badges for officers or the jungle cap.
A cap badge is positioned differently depending on the form of headdress:
- Service dress cap: the centre point between the wearer's eyebrows
- Beret: 1" (two fingers) above the left eye
- Side cap: Between the left eye and the left ear
- Scottish tam o'shanter: Between the left eye and the left ear
- Scottish glengarry: Between the left eye and the left ear
- Feather Bonnet: Slightly off the left ear towards the left eye
- Fusilier cap or bearskin: Slightly off the left ear towards the left eye
- Jungle hat or booney hat: Centre front or between left eye and left ear
Additional items that reflect the regiment's historical accomplishments, such as backing cloth and hackles, may be worn behind the cap badge. In Scottish regiments, for instance, it is a tradition for soldiers to wear their cap badges on a small square piece of their regimental tartans. Officer Cadets may wear a small white piece of fabric behind their badges. Members of the Adjutant General's Corps who are attached to a Scottish infantry unit may be seen wearing a Scottish tam o'shanter with their corps badge instead of the Scottish regiment's badge. Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers soldiers attached to regiments likewise often wear that regiments beret or headdress but with their own Corps badge.
The Royal Highland Fusiliers prefer to wear their white hackle instead of their cap badge with the Scottish Tam O'Shanter. Similarly, in the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), only the pipers and drummers wear the regimental cap badge with their glengarries and feather bonnet, while the rest of the regiment wears the red hackle with their blue balmoral and tam o'shanter.
For a period leading up to Remembrance Day artificial poppies are worn by many people in Britain to commemorate those killed in war. When worn by service personnel in uniform, the plastic stem of the poppy is discarded and the paper petals are fitted behind the cap badge. (On forage caps the paper petals are fitted under the left hand chin strap button.)
Several regiments in the Canadian Army wear a red backing cloth framing the cap badge to mark tremendous losses suffered by the active units during World War Two. Save for The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, all units following this tradition had personnel who participated in the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942.
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