British Cap Badges
Regimental Badges of the British Military
Regimental badges have a long history in the British military. The lineage of the badge dates back to primitive man who painted images on his body in order to distinguish friend from foe.1 The ancient Romans further integrated the use of badges, using them to identify individual formations within the military.2 These are just two examples of a long list of badge insignia that helped in the development of cap badges used by the British Army of the modern era. The leek, a stalky, onion-like vegetable, was first used by the soldiers fighting under King Cadwallader in 640 and is still used as a symbol in the Welsh Guards to the present day.3 Various badges have evolved throughout the history of Britain including the use of scarves by Parliament forces during the 1642 Civil War.4
The origins of modern British troop colors and badges can be traced back to two different sets of regulations issued by Parliament in 1751 and 1768. The 1751 Royal Warrant was the first of its type to try to systemize the uniform, badges, headdress, etc. of the British army. The warrant laid down a long set of regulations for both the Infantry and the Cavalry, giving distinct orders on what colors could be worn by what units. The 1768 Royal Warrant would help refine the regulations laid down in 1751.5
The first use of metal badges began with the introduction of the shako in the 1800s. The shako had a metal badge on the front that included the number of the regiment as well as a Lion and Royal Cypher.6 In 1881, the entire British infantry was reorganized and many new regiments were formed, combined, or renamed. This reorganization launched the introduction of most of the modern cap badges. Per regulations at the time, all units were given a badge to distinguish themselves.7
The modern cap badges in use during World War II (1939-1945) retained many of the same symbols utilized by historic units of the British army. For example, the Royal Cypher is found in many of the badges such as The Blues and Royals, The Royal Engineers, and the Royal Corps of Transport. The Royal Crest is used on several regiments as well, including the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, The Parachute Regiment, and the Army Legal Services to name a few.8
However, each badge is unique and many contain a symbol that is specific to that particular unit. For example, all Light Infantry units feature a bugle-horn, an symbol utilized by several countries to identify light infantry.9 Another example of a unique item representing a unit is The Brigade of Gurkhas, which features two crossed kukries, a type of blade used by members of the Gurkhas.10 Some of the badges also include special honors bestowed on the regiment. This can come in the form of a specific symbol such as the Lion of England or the title such "King’s Own."11 Most of the badges used during World War II were small and placed on the center of the cap. Newly formed regiments, such as the Royal Tank Regiment, were given new badges as they were formed, in this case one with a World War I model tank.12
Though some of the regiments formed have since been consolidated after WWII, many of the original motifs used by those regiments are still in use; though they have been combined with other units to form a new badge for the consolidated regiment. These badges continue to be used today to distinguish between the various British regiments.