I am a member of just two military societies, the SCS – of course – and The Friends of the Suffolk Regiment. The latter on account of my grandfather who served with the Regiment from 1906 until 1914, when he volunteered for the newly created Army Cyclist Corps. The latest issue of the Friends’ Gazette (No. 16, March 2020 pp6-7) touches on the Macedonian campaign, so I thought I would share this with you and explore further an inconsequential – but to me entirely fascinating – piece of military ephemera, which follows on very nicely from my previous post on slouch hats in Salonika.
First some background: the distinguishing colour of the Suffolk Regiment – found on their Regimental Colour, the collar and cuffs of their full dress uniform and elsewhere – was yellow. A significant badge of the Regiment is a stylised castle, awarded for their distinguished service in the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783). In Egypt in 1911 the First Battalion was instructed to remove yellow cloth castle badges from its khaki sun-helmets, badges that in some form or another had been worn on campaign in Afghanistan and South Africa. The Regiment wasn’t going to take this lying down and, to cut a long story short, they ultimately kept the cloth badge as can be seen from this photo of my grandad’s sun-helmet in Khartoum in 1914.
Now we move onto Salonika and this paragraph in The Gazette’s article:
The castle may have been worn in battle for the last time in the summer of 1916 when the 1st Battalion were issued slouch hats in Macedonia and they wore upon the upturned side, a red cloth castle (though as yet no photographic evidence has been found to support this).
This sent me scurrying to various publications in my collection (see references below), as Suffolk slouch hats with castle badges have been depicted by several military illustrators. Back in 1978, acclaimed illustrator, Gerry Embleton, showed a sergeant of 1/Suffolk in Salonika in 1916, wearing a slouch hat with a red cloth castle badge as described above.
The accompanying text, written by Don Fosten and Bob Marrion – two respected authors in the field of military costume – notes the red castle badge, red divisional strip and, unusually, a blue soldier strap (but that’s for another day). The text is explicit that a red castle badge was adopted by 1/Suffolk.
On the other hand Mike Chappell, former soldier and brilliant illustrator and documenter of 20th century British uniforms and equipment, chose a Suffolk slouch hat to illustrate the type in his excellent survey of field service headdress. He shows it with a yellow castle badge, with no comment.
Without knowing the sources used in these illustrations, I can only speculate. I’ve studied military uniforms long enough to know that it doesn’t pay to be too dogmatic and maybe red and yellow badges were in use, but I wonder if Mike Chappell – with his extensive knowledge – has assumed, not unreasonably, that the badge was yellow as in the previous fifty years. If he did see a photo, it would have been difficult to determine the colour.
The Gazette is clear that the badge was red and I suspect Fosten, Marrion and Embleton used the same source. We may wonder, though, why the Regiment had red castle badges, changing fifty years of tradition. I’ve never seen the connection made, but I think it’s clear. The battle insignia of 28th Division, in which 1/Suffolk served, was red as shown on this Player’s cigarette card. Red material was issued to make the slide for the epaulette and, with material left over, cut-out castle’s were made for the slouch hat. The Suffolks couldn’t have yellow castles because yellow was the distinguishing divisional colour of their sister division, the 27th. Further evidence for the use of the divisional colour to make slouch hat badges is provided by Mike Chappell in his examination of the uniforms of the Welch Regiment. 1/Welsh served alongside 1/Suffolk in 28th Division (both in 84th Brigade) and Chappell depicts a slouch hat with the Regiment’s Prince of Wales’ plumes in red cloth, whereas white was their distinguishing colour.
As to the lack of photographic evidence, it’s hardly surprising. Most formal portraits are face on so it’s impossible to see what badge, if any, is on the turned-up brim and most other depictions of the slouch hat show it with the brim completely down, to shield the wearer from the fierce, Macedonian sun.
Finally, there’s the question of whether the slouch hat and castle badge was worn in battle by the Suffolks. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I think not. Slouch hats seem to have had a brief flowering in the BSF until the preferred sun-helmets arrived. We know that slouch hats were worn on the way to the Struma – see this photo of 1/RIR, 27th Division, in June 1916 – but I suspect sun-helmets were soon issued. 120,000 steel helmets arrived from Egypt in July, so these would have been available for 28th Division’s first major action in Macedonia in September.
If you can shed any light on the Suffolk’s castle badge or the badges used by any other units of the BSF on slouch hats, I will be delighted to hear from you.
- Fosten, DSV & RJ Marrion (colour plates by GA Embleton) (1978), Osprey Men-At-Arms Series 81: The British Army 1914-18; London: Osprey Publishing Limited.
- Chappell, Mike (1987), The British Soldier in the 20th Century 2: Field Service Head Dress 1902 to the Present Day; Deal, Kent: Wessex Military Publishing.
- Chappell, Mike (1989), The British Soldier in the 20th Century: The Welch Regiment; Hatherleigh, Devon: Wessex Military Publishing.