Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Black Beret of the Royal Tank Regiment

The British Army has made a habit of adopting some headdress belonging to its allies or the enemy after each war. 

The bearskin of the Guards came from Napoleon's Imperial Guard; The Lancer's Cap was adopted in 1815, and came from the Poles and the top heavy shako adopted for the Infantry after the Napoleonic Wars was then in vogue among Britain's Continental Allies. The new style stovepipe shako adopted in 1855 was similar to that of their French allies in the Crimean War and eventually, the beret was adopted as well.

Originally, tank drivers and gunners were supplied with a primitive brown leather helmet, which was soon discarded. They were also issued with tin helmets with a chain mail visor to protect their eyes against splash - they were seldom worn.

Much of the uniform and equipment of soldiers during World War One was quite impractical for use inside a tank. In particular, the vision apertures in a tank were so small that it was necessary to keep the eyes very close to them in order to get even a limited vision. Thus, any headdress with a peak was entirely unsuitable. In May 1918, General Elles and Colonel Fuller were discussing the future of the Tank Corps and its uniform and General Elles tried on a beret of the 70th Chasseurs Alpins who were billeted nearby. A black beret was selected as it would not show oil stains.

No change in uniform was possible during the war, but after a prolonged argument with the War Office, the back beret was approved by King George V on 5 March 1924. The black beret remained the exclusive headdress of the Royal Tank Corps until its practical value was recognised by others and its use extended to the majority of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1940. On the introduction of the blue beret in 1949, the Royal Tank Regiment reclaimed its right to the exclusive use of the black beret, which may not be worn by any other Regiment or Corps (with the exception of the Berkshire and Westminster Dragoons Squadrons of The Royal Yeomanry).

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